Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

A Different Battle along the Alva River



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We recently played a large battle along a fictional river line with nearly 40 units on a side and two players on each team. It was a standard deployed set-battle piece with all arms well represented set in the War of Spanish Succession Period using my ever-growing 28mm WSS figures.

It was, however, markedly different from any Die Fighting game we had played before, because many of the main rule premises had been dramatically changed in order to test several new ideas I had been thinking about.

I am, as many who know me well will attest, always trying out new ideas, and seldom letting any rule set I play, or develop, rest on its laurels and be declared finished and cast in stone! Frankly, I can’t understand why anyone would do so. The joy of gaming and game design for me is the new idea, a different twist, and pushing the envelope so as to discover whole new ways of illustrating battle on a table top.

Lately, my thoughts had become more centered on the role of officers in battles, particularly in the Horse and Musket period, and the crucial nature of their leadership, skills, and ability to inspire. I was also eager to explore some new methods of using the red resource dice in the game, and trying some radically different methods of sequencing.

I warned the game crew that this one was going to be different, and with much good humor they said, “Bring it on!”

The battle terrain was set out to provide a wide range of tests for the new ideas, and also to be fairly balanced. Here’s a view from the table end:

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There was a variety of terrain ranging from a class II river, Class II and class III woods, a vineyard (III across, I along vines)some chateaux, croplands, two small villages. There were no hills, this was the river valley. Another view from the far end:

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The commanders reviewed the scene and deployed their extensive armies:

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Chris Caudill and Greg Rold (Allies) Terry Shockey and Ray Levesque (French)

Now, some background on the rule changes.

There were three major changes, and most tactical movement and combat rules remained unchanged as did the various Rules of Six.

The first major change was the turn sequencing. Instead of any of the methods covered in the rule book the sequencing was changed as follows:

1. Both commanders would roll a single D6 for which phase of the turn they would be in. If they rolled a 1, it was Specialized action, If a 3, it would be cavalry action, and a 6 would be Reload, Rally, Restore. The two commanders would be on entirely different phases.

2. Each turn still had 6 phases, and if an army rolled the same phase as before they would repeat that phase. The only phase that could not be repeated was RRR, which would be treated as a action-less phase by the army if re-rolled. AT the end of 6 phases, the RRR card would be available if rolled.

3. If both armies rolled the same phase, nether took action, though it still counted as a phase of the turn.

The result was there was no way of predicting when or if you would get a certain phase. This added a lot of suspense to the turns, but also had a few drawback that I will discuss below.

The second change was how red resource dice were generated. In a standard game you simply add up the unit worth totals, adjust by plus or minuses, and that is how many red resource dice you possess. This may then be broken down into multiple buckets using those rules, but that is how you generate the initial red dice. Resource dice can also be acquired by enemy units eliminated by catastrophic loss or retreat from the field, and by taking certain objectives.

Because of my latest thoughts on the worth of officers to an armies capability, I made radical change to the system for this game. Now each separate sub commander and the CIC would each, individually, roll their officer dice (ranging from 2 to 5) and that sum would be their initial red resource dice in their bucket. On each following RRR card they would roll again and add that sum. This use of the officer dice did not count against their use as additional dice in tactical situations, which was played as per the standard rules. (i.e. the use of the dice for RRR generation did not remove them from play. Only if used to tactically augment a unit loses a command die in a turn.)

The sub-commanders were only rolling for the units under their command and kept a separate bucket for their command that could only be applied to their troops. The CIC could allocate any dice in his bucket, in any proportion, on any turn; However, it could only be done on a RRR card.

The method of the CIC distributing his dice would be identical to the existing method of distributing Yellow Command Dice. He would roll his command dice to determine whether the assigned dice made it to his sub-commander. He had to roll a number equal to, or larger, than the distance in inches between them. If his roll failed the resource dice were lost. This made sure that better commanders had, in effect, a larger, more effective, command range, and that the CIC should try to stay reasonably close to a crisis. This was to play a large role in the test game.

This also meant that each commander had far fewer dice initially than in previous games, and even with a pre-game roll, there was a pause as the two forces built up capacity for the attacks. (More on that below)

The third major change was what happened when a commander ran out of resource Dice for his units?

In our past games, the game simply ended when one side had a sub-command out of dice, and the other still had dice. Clean and quick. This often took several turns and a few hours as both sides started with many, many more dice-literally hundreds. This was not true for this new approach. Judging just what could be expended for movement, and in combat became much more difficult. In fact, given that the losses from combat, and/or the catastrophic or retreat loss of a unit could still be many dice and a commander could be quickly embarrassed.

So the meaning of an empty bucket was changed. If a commander was out of dice, and could not “Pay” for his combat losses to an enemy, all units in his command went disorganized (giving the enemy a die advantage) and they could not advance, or engage the enemy in combat). Any combat that was forced upon them was waged as normal, except they, of course, had no red dice to contribute. This would generally mean, along with their disorganized status, a minimum loss of three dice from the usual mix-and led to almost certain defeat by the unit. The acquisition of Black Dice from losses would then accelerate the process even more.

Now, they were allowed to retreat away from the enemy using green dice, any black dice,and officer dice alone. They were allowed if good fortune struck and an RRR card came up, or the CIC got them some dice on the RRR card, to immediately lose the disordered status and again advance on the enemy. However, any black dice acquired while devoid of Resource dice remained.

We found that the added tension and decision making issues were really excellent. I am testing again as this may be the new”standard” system. It also wrapped up the game in a satisfying and even more rapid fashion than the old system. It fit in with my new ideas about the effect of officers.

These were the major changes affecting play, though a minor change of selecting officers by card draw was used and expanded. Simply put, actual historical leaders were put on a grid with each card from a suit indicating one of the officer for an army. each leader was given a three number rating on his officer dice-such as 5-5-5 or 4-3-3, or 3-2-2 or 3-3-2. a single d6 was rolled with a 5-6 giving the high “Good Day” value, a 3-4 meaning and average, and a 1-2 meaning a “bad”day for that officer. Certain other traits could be added that fit his historical personality. See the materials in the files section of the Yahoo! site for particulars. This method is an alternative to the random roll method, and not meant as a replacement. Depending on scenario either one might be more desirable. I like the card draw because it allows the actual historical character of general’s to be brought to play.

THE GAME PLAY

Because there was little need for dice calculation prior to play the game got off to a quick beginning and deployment was done by die rolls with each loser of a die roll required to place one command on the table. The initial deployments were very typical with a double line on each side with the Allies hugging the bank of the Alva, and the French anchoring on the villages and chateaux in their half of the battlefield. The allies had drawn a good command made up of Marlborough, Cadogan, and Eugene of Savoy. The French had the Steady Boufflers a very average Elector of Bavaria, and the excellent James, Duke of Berwick. The allies got their commanders on a good day, but the French found their command on a typical day.

The pre-turn rolls for Resource Dice left everybody feeling a bit unready for action, and their buckets looked much sparser than they were used to. Caution reigned, and only some preliminary cavalry advances, including both sides sending dragoons off into the woods were attempted.

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The dragoons contest the central wood

As luck would have it the allied dragoons stumbled upon a French officer scouting the woods, the red-haired Jean de la Mumbie, and captured him almost in the opening moments. He was treated well and offered Dutch beer and mutton prepared by an English cook, but he claimed he was being tortured by the enemy!

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Jean de la Mumbie captured by Hay’s and Lloyd’s dragoons

After the initial gathering of forces the Allíes took the initiative and attacked on both flanks with the Dutch-English-Danish on their left, and the Austrians under Eugene on the right.

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The Dutch-English advance on the French Bavarian Right Flank

This gave the French some concern as the Bavarian force on their right was quite weak, and even with the Clare and Royal Italien regiments using the vineyard as cover, they weren’t too sure about the command.

On the French left their Spanish cavalry and infantry under Berwick was their strongest force, but it was opposite Eugene and his Austrian veterans. Berwick immediately advanced on the attack just South of the left Flank Village, across the bridge, and possibly across the shallow Alva on the far left.

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Navarre, The Spanish Guards, and the Old Yellows Advance

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The Spanish Horse leads the French North of the Bridge While Conde Chevau-leger cross the bridge. The Austrian Cavalry and Infantry await. Note The Piedmont Yellow Dragoons South of the bridge. They were to be crucial.

The next turn was the point of decision. The French were feeling pretty good about their left flank attack against the Austrians, but the command deficiencies started to show. They never could never seem to roll an Officer Action (#2) card and when they did the Allies would roll the same negating the phase from the turn.

Their initial placement of the CIC (Boufflers) was too far from Berwick to risk sending Resource Dice, and Berwick was paying often and frequently to fuel the attack, and in losses, particularly from the Piedmont Dragoons across the river. Austrian Extra Heavy Artillery was also having steady and constant small effect. But, Boufflers never seemed to realize his danger and even with the players shouting at him remained motionless in the Center of the French position as No 2s were rolled, and when they did it was countered by a duplicate allied roll!

Berwick realized his danger and tried to slow the attack but the Allies then began a counter-attack. It was devastating. The Dragon Piedmonte fired a round and then saddled up and advanced on the French Navarre regiment and the Spanish infantry. They were well supported by the Austrian Alt-Daun Regiment and the Dutch Guard. Berwick’s resource dice plummeted and suddenly his bucket was empty. There was no RRR card to bolster him, and Boufflers could not assist from his distant position. The Left buckled as fire and melee against dispirited troops sent them reeling backwards from the field.


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The collapse of the French Left. Louis’ Wine wagon is in peril!


The rout extended North of the Bridge as well, as Berwick’s command crumbled.

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Austrian Hussars see an enemy running!!!

And, of course, once things fall apart, it can easily snowball! The Allied Dragoons took the woods. The Allied Left was closing in on the poor Bavarian troops. One look at his dissolving left and Boufflers retired his army from the action to fight another day.

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Berwick Recules!

The battle lasted for about three hours with over 70 units on the table and two players per side. Greg Rold and Chris Caudill played expertly, as usual, and the French players, Terry Shockey and Ray Levesque, did the best they could given their unforeseeable command problems. The test was viewed enthusiastically by the players involved and, with adjustments, further games will be played with these concepts. Additional materials may be found in the files section of the Yahoo! site.

Conclusions

As it was a test game, there were many surpasses for everyone involved, and some changes of tactics were obviously to be considered. Some rules will be modified in the future tests.

1. The gamers will be allowed a double roll of their command dice prior to the first move to insure a suitable initial energy and get the units moving more quickly.

2. I felt the die rolling for phases slowed things up a bit, and certainly provided some anomalies such as the French lack of mobility with their officers. It did provide interest with double moves, and missing phases that were nice, I just think it might be done more efficiently. In the next game I’m using another approach.

There will be a double deck of six phase cards for each side ( the 6 phases twice with Concede and Creative removed) that will be shuffled and then cut in half by sight unseen discarding 6 cards. The six cards that are left are active for the turn. They are placed face down and used in order with a standard single initiative roll at the beginning of that turn determining who gets to choose to go first or second.

If that deck contains any duplicate cards, they may be used as per normal until all six cards in the deck are used in a turn. This could allow multiple of any card up to two, and it could mean certain phases are not present at all! If both sides pull the same phase they may both use it.

At any point the commanders may introduce a creative card (no duplicate) if called for by a scenario or a Concede card (no duplicate) if they wish to quit the field and cut their losses. Both cards may be acted upon if, and when, drawn.

3. I am honing the effect of running out of dice on a command, and may try a few tweaks next time, but feel like its very close. This system, when polished, should allow one command figure per player, with his command and a dice bucket. This would allow convention games of ANY size!

4. I am going to further develop the Officer Card Draw with historical personages. This may end up as a custom deck for each period that would be sold separately. Note: random officer creation will still be standard and the cards will not be required.

I wish to thank the Quebec crew of Chris Caudill, Greg Rold, Terry Shockey, and Ray Levesque ( John Mumby in absentia) for their patience and help in this game. I’m a lucky guy!