Wargame Thoughts and Commentary
2013

What History? The Markerdom Of Tin Armies


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(top to bottom; left to right: Robert Louis Stevenson, H.G. Wells, Jack Scruby, Don Featherstone)

Before a recent game, Brent Oman and I were talking about flags, unit identification, and wargaming. He commented that he thought gamers seldom used flags and specific unit identification or markings in games, because many gamers simply didn’t care, and treated the various combat units and figures as generic infantry and cavalry and were only interested in their value-their mathematical worth-in the game , and little else. There were a few exceptions, of course, the Imperial Guard, or, regrettably, SS units, but, on the whole they were just game pieces and nothing more.

This is a great loss for historical wargaming. Wargamers assign units specific names, but, other than a few units, the identifications have no meaning in the game or to the gamers that distinguishes it from any other unit. The units are interchangeable and each is absolutely equivalent to any other unit of its type. They are demoted from being representations of any known historical unit to being an anonymous game piece and no more. Even worse, we (and I include myself) have all been too prone to leave officers and units unnamed, or we just make them up. Once again, we sever the connection with history. In an odd sort of way, the potted histories of fantasy and sci-fi units created by GW have more “history”, albeit repetitive, derivative, and stupid “history”, than our historical units possess. Our units become mere tin markers devoid of any distinguishing traits for the gamers involved, other than a generalized type, and possibly technology differences. This may suffice for the drab anonymity of later periods, but certainly not for a period involving flags, horses, and honor.

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We often hear of the great joys of the “Old School” war-games, which, one has to admit, are usually exaggerated by time and hagiographic memories, but we mistake what made them so good. It wasn’t the dully simple rules, the spring-loaded cannon, or the crude figures that made these games so memorable, but the fact that they existed in a narrative. They fought in a world where an imaginative and fun story was being told. Scruby understood this with his Mafrica games, and Don Featherstone, ever the man with a good story (which were sometimes true) exalted in the joys of a tale well told, including in the games he played. Stevenson and Wells interests in wargaming were solely a good tale. This required units to have singular personalities, and for officers and leaders to have a colorful backstory and fleshed out character. What has been lost in too many modern historical miniature wargame designs is the substitution of the quantitative, the calculated, the CRT, the deadly earnest, and the accountant mentality, for the creative, the Kiplingesque tale, the irrational, but true events of real life, the sense of a narrative.

It has been a great loss to the hobby and made for too many largely commercial, determinately simple minded, sterile, and ultimately boring war-games. No wonder so many young people have run off to fantasy and Sc-fi in the delusion that they are more imaginative, though, in truth, they are even more derivative and predictable.

Good Historical war-games should always tell stories, not be some mathematical equation, and risk-free assessment based on some old Avalon-Hill CRT (3-1 or nothing!). They should entertain on the basis of events and the drama that unfolds, not some sterile all-too-certain calculation. History, at its best, is facts told as instructive stories. History, in itself, is a cracking good story!

That was my initial premise in Piquet all these years ago, and remains the same in Die Fighting to this very day. I am heartened by the recent directions that Sam Mustafa has taken in developing new aspects of the narrative game, and Brent Oman’s FOB developments. Both are using cards, as I did in Piquet, to create true narratives and games that ring of drama, and echo what we read in the historical accounts. Richard Borg has had great success with some aspects of this idea, as has Richard Clarke at TooFatlardies.

The way out for historical wargaming is through the door created by Stevenson, Wells, Scruby, and Featherstone that stresses the narrative over the mathematical, and the experience of the story over some meaningless”Victory”. This does not mean the rules cannot be sophisticated, but it may mean historical gamers might be well served to look in different directions, the pieces on the table must be more than mere tin markers. Our gaming is vastly improved by giving them personalty and individual traits.


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This led to my epiphany, after labeling each of my units and, more importantly, my officers, as I described in may last Blog entry “Crafting Special Units.” I have decided to try to reintroduce history, and historical appreciation, of units and their abilities during a given war in a far more specific way than in the past. I also want the units and the commanding officers to have distinctive and continually developing traits, personalities, and quirks. I plan to overlay this on my preference for creating fictional battles for the armies to fight as opposed to simply refighting historical actions. Not that these changes will preclude refighting some historical engagement, but that they will reinforce history in the fictional scenarios that are created.

The first step in this process is clearly labeling every unit, and giving an actual historical name to every command stand figure in the game. At the very least the gamers should be made familiar with the names of the units and the real names of significant leaders in a given period.

Next, I plan to institute a new process for commanders and units ratings in games. Instead of just random rolls determining a unit’s worth, only corrected by a generalized national plus or minus correction from the Period Template, I intend to create a list with unit by unit corrections from historical reports. If a unit is mentioned positively, it will get a plus 1-2, if pejoratively, a minus 1 or 2. If the unit is either not mentioned or has a mixed record, there is no correction and a straight roll on the template is made. In some periods this will be the vast majority of units. This rating shall be done from scratch for each of my WSS, and, eventually, Great Northern Wars, and FPW armies.

Once created, this is the unit’s value in the game and every future game. It can only be altered by bad performance, or superior performance in a given battle. If the unit is wiped out, it can be reformed and re-rated with a suitable note made to its record. This status will require an assessment after every game/battle. Units that did nothing of note will be unchanged, others will be rewarded or punished as the history warrants. Each unit will have a card on a simple database, where a record is kept. Post-game evaluations will incorporate the feelings of the players, as well as the umpire’s assessment. There will be a slight variation for good day, bad day. A roll of 1-2 is a bad day -1 on rating die roll; 3-4 an average day no corrections; 5-6, an extraordinary day, add 1 more to the rating roll!

Over time, this will give real personalities and a wargame history to each unit ranging from unremarkable to admirable and even to scorn. I think this could add great fun over time to game play.

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The officers are another change I am experimenting with. My idea is to give an actual historical title and name to each officer/command stand in the game. They will then be given a rating that only varies by a set range depending on historical assessment. My present concept is to make it a simple 3 number range as described above.. Each officer will be rated by rolling a single 6 sided die. 1-2 equals a low rating, 3-4 a middling rating, and 5-6 a high rating, BUT each officer shall have different ranges that are based on history.

A Marlborough would be a 4 (low)-4(average)-5(High)in terms of DF’s command dice. Even on his worst day he’s pretty good. A Tallard would be a 1-2-3, even on his best day he’s average. General Cadogan may be a 3-4-4, pretty good, and average on his worst day. Some may rate out at 1-1-2! The best, which I cannot see ever granting, would be 5-5-5, and the worst a 1-1-1 , which may well happen. A “poor” roll of 1-2 will also trigger a second roll that will determine additional weaknesses, quirks, or problems with that commander’s actions; all based on historical texts. Therefore, a Charles XII could still be a 4 in command dice, but his aggressiveness as a leader might be prompted into rashness or foolhardy behavior. A Tallard rolling poorly could bring out his timid and lacksadaisical nature to a greater degree!

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Now, I can see the thought occurring to gamers, “Why would I ever take some miserable general, and not opt for my best available officer?” The answer is that you don’t get the choice! Either the King, Parliament, or the various national councils will choose who to command in a campaign or particular battle. My method for doing that will be making up the equivalent of baseball cards for each commander of any given army. The card will list their title, name, seniority, notable historical battles, and a short history of their actual career. It will also have their command dice range as described above, and any possible historical quirks, attributes, flaws, and unusual abilities. The Baseball card deck will be shuffled for each side and a draw for commanders and subordinate officers will be made. Each officer shall have a seniority number based on his reputation, and/or on his date of commission. The highest ranked is the commanding officer. The subordinates may be assigned to command the various brigades. Some officers will only be used as subordinates, other will always be commanding the entire army. Note this is by army in the WSS, as each nation had its own commander, that though subservient in battle field command, led the troops of his own nation. That is, English command English, French, French, and Austrians, Dutch, and Bavarians likewise. After each is assigned his role, the rating for the day of battle will be rolled to determine if they are on their game, or having a rough patch in their career.

Certain officers may have multiple cards in the command deck, increasing their chances of being chosen, or the scenario can stipulate a commander, and only the subordinates are chosen. Each army will have a range of commanders in their deck that ranges from “Oh, my God!” to “Hurrah!”. In lesser known armies (such as the Russian Army of the GNW) I may still have to create some fictional names, but that will be a last resort.

There will also be, in some decks, a few special commanders whose command will be limited to only certain areas of command. One I have in mind is Holcroft Blood of the British Army. He will not have an actual command, per se, but will allow some benefits to artillery he is near, in the form of extra dice. He may also allow the artillery some privileges during the initial deployment and even later movement! There are other commanders of horse, or specialized arms such as engineers, that may appear in the deck as they show up in my readings, or for a particular period. These will not count as a draw against the drawing army, but be a free addition to their army’s capability. I am open to other’s discoveries and additions to these officer’s “personalities.”

My goal with all of these experiments is to introduce more history in a narrative way to the game and strive to increase personality and historical fun and defeat the markerdom of our tin armies. When one reads Lloyd Osbournes’ description of Robert Louis Stevenson’s attic game in the winter of 1878 in Davos, one would begin to get the idea of my eventual goal. It is no accident that the first true recreational war gamers were writers by trade-Stevenson and Wells, they were the progenitors of the narrative wargame, because that’s what they did for a living, create narrative stories! After my experience at Getzcon this last September (see the September Blog posting) I am much encouraged that with Mustafa, Oman, Getz and myself all experimenting in Narrative Wargames that a true renaissance of the Stevenson, Wells traditions may be underway!

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Crafting Special Units


ID Tags

Many historical wargamers are so concentrated on the combat troops, and getting their forces to a sufficient size for the next game, that they seldom look beyond adding to the most effective units for their rulesets, and their forces quickly become very similar to every other wargame army in any period that they are now gaming. Everyone has the Imperial Guard, or British Rifles in Napoleonic armies, Panther Tanks in WWII, or, in the AWI ,the minutemen, and buckskin-clothed riflemen. Other than the quality of the painting, and styles of base terraining, there is a certain sameness that one spots upon roaming the game tables at conventions. (This is even more true of sci-fi / fantasy, but that’s another article!)

ll too often in war-games of the horse and musket era, one is lucky to see more than one flag on an infantry unit, and the cavalry often goes into combat without their colors. The guns are evidently self-propelled, because limbers are few, and, even when rarely used, the limber does not seem to have any physical connection to its team of horses. Any indication of logistics, or support weaponry is usually nonexistent.

This is a shame!

There are many ways to make the game presentation for the gamers, any onlookers, and, especially for the owner, a more effective and colorful production. Foremost among them is some attention to table-top terrain as mentioned in my earlier blog articles on that subject (July 2013), but attention to certain details beyond just the uniforms is an all-too-frequently overlooked aspect.

This can be the introduction of seldom modeled support units, or dioramic scenes to the table top. It can also be adding details that are often ignored, or omitted from regular units and take very little extra effort to add. The addition of these ideas to the wargame can also be creatively included in the gameplay or improve it, so they are not just decorative additions.

The addition of logistics and support units can add a lot of period color, and in the early to mid Horse and musket period were, in one form or another, very near the battle field. It is a lot of fun and not too much of a stretch to make them one of the game objectives. Certainly in the period starting with the early 1700s, to even as late as the Napoleonic Wars, their looting or capture was not uncommon. They make a great diorama effect positioned well behind the army’s lines.


This is an area for a little humor as well, using character figures, modeling odd impedimenta. In my WSS period games, I created Louis the XIV’s Wine Wagon based on tales of these wagons (if not specifically for Louis! ). I went out and bought a good bottle of French Rhone Wine that I keep in my wine rack. If the wagon is ever captured, the Allies each get a glass of the wine to drink and the French side will be given glasses of water!

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They can be unique custom units that you can create yourself that will make your army stand out. I scratch-built the Wine Wagon from an S gauge model railroad water wagon kit, adding doll house barrels, and then painted a very royal red! My siege train was made from a GW Imperial Army artillery barrel and frame, but with Front Rank heavy duty wheels replacing the plastic ones from the kit, and some details added on the elevation wedge, and limber Hitch. The limber is Front Rank as is the oxen team, but I modeled the harnessing and hitch arrangement from balsa and .10 wire, using historical art and photos as a guide.

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My pontoon wagon is a modified Hinchliffe 30mm wagon, to which is added a Reiver Draft Horse, two Front rank civilian figures, some balsa bridging planks, and some fine chain link from the local hobby shop.

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Note that even on this model, a harness lead is provided

The addition of detail to units of all types adds to their attractiveness and adds a sense of real historicity to the units. As I noted above, the addition of harnessing is a big get for little effort. Use .10 flat wire, superglues and leather paint, and you add a LOT to the model. I also used chain on my Siege model connecting the Oxen to the Limber, the Gun to the limber. Deployed artillery may have powder barrels, Shot wheelbarrows, chests, etc added to their stands.

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Maximum Harness!

But above all, flags and finials on the flag staff are absolutely necessary! If your armies carried flags then add them! They add a lot of color and history to the unit. You can do them yourself, but I use the wonderful flags done by the Flag Dude for most of my units, supplemented by Maverick and Flags of War out of England for units the Dude does not do.

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Barry Hilton on the League of Augsberg site has a recent posting on doing command stands as mini-dioramas, that I heartily recommend. See: http://leagueofaugsburg.blogspot.com/2013/11/i-wanna-tell-you-story-tales-with-toy.html One should always be on the look out for a unique “personality figure” to add to a command stand or unit. I also suggest you use a mix of manufacturers to widen the range of poses both between units and within them for greater visual variety. The days of a rigid line of identically posed figures is over, except for a few die-hard “Old School” types.

Added custom additions can also add clarity to game play and easier identification of the units involved in the game. I have long used base shapes as an identifier of unit types-especially in smaller scales such as 10mm and 6mm. My 10mm FPW army was the first that used this system. In all cases, and scales, I use Litko 3mm thick plywood bases. They are indestructible, take paint and terraining well without any warping, and give enough traction for all but the most fumble-fingered war gamers to grip the unit without grabbing the figures.

I assigned infantry 2x1” rectangles, Horse 2x2” squares, artillery hexagons (1” for 10mm, 3” for 28s), and command circles (again 1” for 10mm, and 3” for 28s). 2X1” ovals were militia and untrained infantry. Even at a distance, the troops were easier to ID in 10mm, and I liked the system so much that I kept a variant of it for my WSS 28s.

But my most recent detail addition occupied my last week of modeling.

We have been playing WSS at my house for over a year now-using DF rules. I had hoped that my good wargame buddies would soon start identifying the various units-especially the French- by learning the flags. I was too optimistic! It reached a crescendo last week when one gamer thought he was advancing with the English Foot Guards, when it turned out to be a lower rated Seymour’s 4th foot! Talk about the fog of war!

To be fair, I am VERY into the period and I own the figures, bought them, either painted or had them painted, and selected each one for a specific reason of history, color, or reputation. I know every unit as if it were family The guys come over and are intent on having some fun, our games are fairly social (food and drink flow freely) and they really aren’t deep into the weeds on the banks of the Rhine. It wasn’t exactly fair of me to demand that they share my interest down to the most arcane details of vexillology!

So I decided to solve the problem by making the identity of every unit as clear as a bell. by adding labels. This posed a small problem since the label additions would be after the troops had been mounted and terrained - which I didn’t want to do all over again. I also wanted to add information beyond a simple name. It had to be aesthetically pleasing and not ruin the diorama effect of the battles. They had to be classy. I also wanted to not spend a fortune on this change. Several challenges to resolve!

After some thought , I designed a label base made from typical modeler balsa strips and shapes, costing very little but looking, if I may say so,damn good. I own a handy device called The Chopper that jus available at many model railroad hobby stores that is one of the handiest tools I’ve ever owned for precision cutting. I began cutting strips of .5”wide strip, 2” in length and similar pieces of 3/16th strip. and 3/8ths wedge strips into a three piece construct that was glued together into a perfect fit for the edge of my 2” wide 3mm Litko stands. Once painted and sealed with gloss varnish, and then glued onto the command stand of every unit, they provided the perfect base for a label! Only the command stand was necessary since the four company stands were always with it.

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The labels themselves were done using the Table function in Word to fit the base perfectly. I used the Word ability to color the background and text of each cell so that I could by color clearly designate the nationality of a unit ( and the officer of the same color that was allowed to send orders to that unit). In addition to the name, I added the type description of the unit in DF (line infantry, guard, dragoon, etc). This meant that a gamer knew the unit’s name, its nationality, and its game type at a glance. They were printed on 4X6 photo paper which gives a great hard, gloss finish, and vivid colors with distinct lettering.

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Side view



I designed the label to lie at a 45 degree angle, which made it readable from both a standing or sitting position at my table. Its low profile, and similar coloration to the base, almost made it invisible from the front or side making it less obtrusive to the diorama of the game. The additions to the infantry and cavalry were done in a day.

The artillery and officers posed different problems. The artillery bases, being hexes, and crowded with gun and crew, required a shorter, and smaller, label. They were done separately.


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The officers were a more difficult problem since they were mounted on a round stand, my answer was to combine a duplicate round Litko stand, with a section cut out of a chord that was exactly 2” and a fit for a standard 1X2” Litko ply stand, these were glued together, and a similar wedge and strip balsa piece was glued directly to it.

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Once terrained and labeled they looked great! The artillery stand labels list a battery’s ID, weight of gun, and, by color, nationality. The officer labels list the title of the officer, his full name, and, by color, nationality.



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All of the above projects are fun to create, and very easy and quick additions to armies in many periods. They provide a nice relief and alternative to painting rows of identical figures, and they make your army stand out from the crowd. Try it! I guarantee you’ll like how you look!










Strassen Stream-A Black Die Test

On the 16th of November we fought a large WSS battle on a relatively flat terrain marked by only a small stream, light forest, a small village, Strassen, and two rough (class III) hills. The primary purpose was to test the black die concepts, as well as introduce hussars, howitzers, and a new Officer Action Card definition to play. We also tried a variant on the Multiple Bucket, die allocation, methods. The game was played by three gamers on a side`and treated as a meeting engagement. All units and officer ratings were strictly by the published rules. The Allied Army was made up of 14 Infantry battalions, 6 cavalry and 3 Dragoon units, 5 artillery-4 heavy, 1 light, and a 3 unit train, plus 5 command stands; A total of 332 figures over 36 units. The French had 15 infantry 7 Cavalry plus 2 dragoons, 6 guns including 5 heavy, and 1 howitzer, a 3 unit train plus 5 command groups; a total of 353 figures over 38 units. There were nearly 700, 28mm figures in 74 units on the table! For all that, the game was conceded after 3 hours of play.

Here is a battlefield map:



The Battle of STrassen 3
(Trains not indicated on battle map, but were located near the road exit for the French, and behind the British position.)


The initial set up of the terrain was intended to be simple with only a few necessary variables, as the primary purpose was to test the new black die rules, plus a few new changes to Officer Actions. We also introduced Howitzers, and Hussars to the scenario. Objective markers were kept to a minimum, with each road exit being worth 10x, the hills each at 8x, The bridge at Strassen stream at 8 and the three structures of Strassen village valued at 6x each. As it was a meeting engagement, it was decided that both armies would draw their phase cards from a randomly shuffled deck. The two sides rolled for the deployment of each arm, with high man having the choice of deploying or forcing the other side to do so.

In all cases, the winner chose to have the other side deploy so they could take advantage of noting his initial positions. The order of deployment was placement of artillery first, then infantry, followed by cavalry, and then, lastly the placement of command stands. The French won all rolls, except for the last for command. Units could be deployed 16” onto their side, which left 16”, or roughly 800 yards between the armies. This was somewhat farther in than the usual 12”, but I was anxious to get into action for the purposes of the Black Die Test as soon as possible..

The two armies had been rated the night before, and the results may be found on the Yahoo! Site in the Files section under Battle of Strasssen Steam. http://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/Repiquerules/files

We also used a new method of dice allocation for a multi-bucket game. We assigned dice values and quality corrections as per the standard rules, but we did not simply total all the dice into one pool and divide it into equal buckets of the sum of the players on a side plus two ( one “share” for each player, plus two shares for the CinC, one of which he distributes to any or all of the players as he sees fit prior to the game beginning, and one he can give to any ONE player on the RRR card after the first turn) Instead, each command was determined (primarily by nationality) and its total was entirely its own. From each 15 dice were contributed to the CinC’s single bucket, that he could then give in any number he liked, on any RRR card phase, to any player’s force he chose.

If any one player runs out of dice the game is over and his side loses, unless on the same turn, the enemy also suffers a player running out of dice. At that point, the battle may rage on, but it is usually called a draw in our group. I am writing an article on the Multi-Bucket concept that is more inclusive and complete than the one posted here a few weeks back.

Ratings and initial dice numbers are found on the yahoo site at the Battle of Strassen Stream folder in the Files section mentioned above. The number in parentheses after the total is the roll over number. We only issue half the total in the initial bucket, but then when it is used up, we flip it over for the other half of the dice-when it’s empty again the player is out of dice, and his troops are able to do nothing but retreat. To facilitate this we usually have two dice buckets per player one for the active dice and one for the “used” dice.

The Black dice rules in effect, and the new rules for Officer Action card, Howitzers and Hussars are all in the Strassen folder.

The Battle:

1-Players
Left-Front to back-John Mumby (Montpellier and Philip), Chris Caudil ( Villars and Conde fils), Brent Oman (Durant);
Right- Front to back- Ed Meyers (napping Van Voort), Terry Shockey (Eugene and Kronprinz Carl), Greg Rold ( Marlborough and Cadogan)


The Battle kicked off with a strong French attack on their right using the combined cavalry of the Spanish and the French Cavalry Reserve under Montpellier. This was hardly a surprise as Mssr. M. had an established reputation as being a hothead and rather foolhardy with his cavalry. It was a glorious advance-full moves straight ahead at the enemy flank cavalry.

French RW Cavalry Attack

At the same time, the Spanish infantry advanced upon the hill and its objective, while from the opposite side the Dutch Infantry, including the Dutch Guard, moved on the same objective. On the left flank of this action the Spanish artillery opened fire on the limbered Dutch Artillery which was attempting to gain a flank on the enemy units on the hill. That fire led to the civilian limber crew immediately depositing the artillery piece jus beyond the stream. The crew manned the gun, as best they could< as the limber gang fled the field!

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It was hard fought on this flank and many troops( and dice) were lost as the two sides fought furiously for the hill. Eventually, the Dutch Guard prevailed and their morale (and dice) were improved by a good roll for the objective. The Salisch regiment also caught the charging French/Spanish cavalry with a flank fire that destroyed the Conde Regiment, and sent the Curassiers du Roi back with grave losses. The tide had turned on the Allied left as there had been extreme losses of French troops and morale, for little gain by the Franco-Spanish force.
The Commnder of the French Forces, elected to cease any further efforts in this area, and the Franco/Spanish commander was down to less than a dozen dice! Other than an very high mortality among the Dutch Standard bearers, caused by some clumsy tactical moves by Van Voort, the Dutch had weathered the attack and had a firm grasp of the hill.

However, the Allies had already begun a flanking attack on their Right with their best troops and under the command of the CIC, Marlborough,himself! IN conjunction with the entire British command under Cadogan, the Allied mixed force of Cavalry, Hussars, and Dragoons has swept around, and through, the woods on the French Left with little resistance. To prevent the allies from strongly responding to this threat, the British infantry Led by Seymour’s Marines, And Orkney’s Royal Scots rushed the hill to the left of the woods, and through back a token effort by an on experienced commander to seize the objective with the Royal Italian regiment.

Allied Flanking attack on the Right

In the center, The French were also on the attack with a strong force advancing in the plain and a supporting force to its right storming through the village of Strassen made up of the Regiment Picardy supported by the Garde Suisse and Garde Francais.

The center attack was stopped cold by British artillery and superior fire discipline. As you can see in the photo below, both the Lyonnais Regiment and the Soissonais Regiment had acquired some black dice, and their advance was slowing and looking very precarious. This black dice were taking their toll, and rally was becoming difficult as command (yellow) dice were being diverted to the action on the hill to their left, and to counter the flanking maneuver by the British mounted forces.

Center attack fails

It was no better around Strassen. Though the French had taken the bridge and the town by a coup de main by the Regiment Picardie storming up the road, over the Bridge, and into the main part of Strassen, they were effectively bottled up by a large allied force of Prussians and Austrian Walloons, just outside Strassen arrayed in firing lines and just waiting for them to emerge from the cover of the village. Even the support sent by Conde of the Garde Suisse viewed any further advance (especially since their artillery was totally masked) as very chancy. Villars pondered his next move.

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Unfortunately for Villars, the situation was deteriorating rapidly. Some Piedmont Drogoons had infiltrated the wood to villas right and were peppering his second line, and making it impossible for them to advance without exposing their flank to short ranged fire which is deadly in DF. A Prussian Light Battery also took position between the Austro-Prussian firing line and the Dragoon infested wood and was also opening up on the French just across the Strassen stream. At that point the Garde Suiss took some hits and a black die. Word from his right of the impending collapse of the Spanish, and from his left of the Marlborough and Cadogan led flanking attack were very unsettling.

French Left Threatened

At that crucial moment, Durant was shot from the saddle, just as Cadogan’s Horse, supported by the Esterhazy Hussars, and Hay’s and Lloyd’s Dragoons emerged from the woods on the French Left. The only force to contest with them was a Bavarian Cuirassier unit (Weikel) and the Bouffremont Dragoons. The only uncommitted reserve for the whole army was the Maison Rouge Cavalry of Gendarmes Eccossais and Bourguingnon, and the Mousquetaires du Roi. Villars ordered them along with a few casualty free units to cover the retreat of the army as he conceded the field. The battle had lasted two and one-half hours of play and about 45 minutes of pre-battle chatter; three hours and a half by the time all had departed.

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The Gendarmes Ecossais cover the French retreat as night falls.


Conclusions:

The French committed a cardinal sin of warfare and DF, they attacked essentially on the whole front with no single focus for their effort. DF punishes these general attacks very harshly as they waste a great deal of resources and energy (Red Dice) by dissipating it over a wide front that the enemy can meet in a piecemeal fashion, defeating each in turn.

This was exacerbated by one commander (Montpellier) being characterized as Foolhardy, which meant that any charge launched by him was going to be a go-for-broke effort. It did and it was. On the other flank, the player was new to DF, and opposed to a skilled and experienced Allied commander that concentrated the Allies’ major attack on that flank. All of the other sections of the allied line were on the defense and punished the separate French Attacks.

The French center in troops and leadership (especially the Superior Conde fils) was the best single faction of the French force, but never really got untracked. It might have been the best place for a concentrated French attack. Their artillery was masked for much of the battle, and the village was a very disruptive factor in their advance.

Great applause must go to Marlborough for his very personal leadership and determined, concentrated, enveloping maneuver, which, along with the serious losses caused the French by the Allied forces in the center and on the Allied left, won the battle.

Game Mechanics:

1. The black die rules were generally viewed favorably. They play very simply, and instill a slowing and retrograde unit behavior without a ton of rules or tables. I love it.

2. We are thinking that a slight initial devaluation of unit die values, particularly for very large games such as this one, would accelerate the decision point. It is suggested that all units be lowered by two die points for games with more than 20 units on a side. I.e., A regular would be worth 10 dice instead of 12, Guards 14 instead of 16, etc.

3. We used a random card play of the six phase cards, and rather enjoyed it, especially for meeting engagements.

4. The new Officer Action Rule that allows rally attempts on that phase as well as during RRR was very much liked. It also instills some increased conflicts in the gamer’s mind about whether to use command dice for rally or for combat actions.

5. Neither the Howitzer rules or the Hussar rules were tested at all! The howitzer never had line of sight, and the Hussars were rear support for Cadogan’s horse and never really in combat. Next game.

6. Train rules were in effect, but the train of both armies was never threatened. Each train was given a commander with 2 command dice which could ONLY be used to augment the normal 1 die movement of the train. I have yet to pay up the bottle of Beaujolais for the capture of the Wine Wagon.




My Greatest Finds of 2013

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Each Year, prior to the Christmas Season, I like to suggest some wargame products released in the last year that I would recommend to other gamers for their Christmas Lists. Here is the 2013 list of “Greatest Wargame Finds”. It covers games, boardgames, wargaming, and just plain neat things. I offer the disclaimer that I have NO financial relationship, other than being a customer, with any of these products.

1. Everything that EBOR Miniatures of Yorkshire, UK casts! Their War Of Spanish Succession line is simply superb. This year, the Artillery sets with their wonderful posing, and their new cavalry charging, add to an incomparable line of figures. They are now Kickstarting a line of Swedish Army troops of the Great Northern War that promises to be every bit as good. Check them out, very competitively priced and excellent service. See: http://www.eborminiatures.com

2. Mark Adkin’s latest BIG book, “The Western Front Companion,” is another gem in the style of his earlier Waterloo, Trafalgar, and Gettysburg volumes. World War I is NOT my favorite period, but this book is just so compellingly written, so inclusive, and well illustrated, I would say it is a required volume for any military history library. Not cheap, but worth every penny of its $42 price(Amazon) See: http://www.amazon.com/Western-Front-Companion-Devastating-1914-1918/dp/0811713164/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1383773927&sr=1-1&keywords=mark+adkins

3. Battle Over Britain by Gary Graber is a clever, clever, little card wargame covering aerial combat in WWII that is great fun to play and says more about air combat with its rapid play and emphasis on “advantage” than many air war-games out there that move in a stately manner and seem to forget about the vertical dimension entirely! This very inexpensive game($11.95) from MInden Games is a great gift item for a fellow gamer. It is a lot of fun, and may attract the non-gamer as well. See: http://minden_games.homestead.com

4. Napoleon 4th edition from Columbia Games is an updating and upgrading of a classic block wargame that has stood the test of time and is now even more elegantly presented. Block games are, to my mind, one of the most creative and effective forms of board wargaming available. This game, along with Quebec 1759, were the inspiration for a whole new category of game design, and are one of the true conceptual breakthroughs of wargame design in my lifetime. This latest version is the result of a Kickstarter and features an improved mounted map board, some oversized blocks with metallic foil unit identifiers, a battle board, and rules that have been made, if anything, cleaner and more effective. See: http://www.columbiagames.com

5. Total Battle Miniatures makes the best resin terrain buildings I have ever seen. Crisp molding, great proportions, and they come in 10, 15,and 28mm scale for both Horse and Musket or Modern periods. They not only have excellent buildings, but roads, terrain tiles for the buildings and both medieval and Vauban period fortifications in all scales! Excellent service. Good prices. (I’m asking for the Vauban Fort for Christmas). Take a look at their site at : http://www.totalbattleminiatures.com

6. 2 de Mayo-this is an unusual little wargame that is based on the popular uprising of the Spanish population of Madrid against their French occupiers on May 2, 1808. This game is very unusual, quick playing and is growing in popularity as more and more people become aware of its seductive charm. A great mix of history, abstraction, and intriguing game mechanics. See: https://www.funagain.com/control/product?product_id=020838

7. Finally, for a non-military change of pace, I suggest you look out for Hanabi, a delightful card game for everyone with a Japanese fireworks theme. Great fun that good friends and a little wine and beer makes for a great evening of laughter.

May I be the first to wish you a Merry Christmas!

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Black Dice- A Final Touch


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In the last few months I have been exploring a wide range of ideas as I wrestle Die Marching and Die Fighting into agreement and shared systems. I have initiated the multiple bucket concept into our Die Fighting games to a degree that that is the way we now play the rules on every occasion. I have flirted with ideas involving Black Dice, which essentially function as a negative die roll, the earliest ones of which I posted in the Files section of the repiquerules Yahoo! site. I also added them as a new tool in the Colonial Wargames Template that I posted over a month ago. As time has passed, however, I have become even more enamored with extensions of the Black Die concept, and am thinking about making them standard rules for Die Fighting. I am looking at a few additional tests to just make sure everything is covered and there will be no surprises.

What is the black die and how does it function? As I said above it functions as a negative roll. In any roll for movement or combat it is subtracted from the total of any unit that is burdened with a black die. It slows down units and makes them more vulnerable in combat, but its effect is not some fixed “minus one or two” but a variable. This maintains the lack of sure predictability I prefer in all my designs. In Rally rolls it eliminates any resource, Free, or command die it matches. So if a duplicate 4 was thrown, but the black die was a 4, then that eliminates that duplicate. That’s it-simple and straightforward, adding no extra tables or time to movement, combat, or morale actions being rested.

When I initially used it, I simply made it an extra negative effect on a unit that had performed badly in a given game. It was a “Badge of Dishonor” for a unit that had spectacularly failed in its actions against the enemy. It really had no effect until the next game. and , even then, was confined to a very few units-no more than 1 or 2 on a side. It seldom had any great effect, though it could make long range fire by a dishonored, black die burdened, artillery piece rather ineffective.

In the Colonial Template, it was used to gradually add “drag” to attacking natives, and make European fire more effective than just simple loss and push back. It made natives behave as natives did in attacking the overwhelming firepower of modern troops. It was limited in application and not linked to the basic rules.

But its possibilities continued to intrigue me. So much so that I began doing private tests of integrating it into the combat system for Die Fighting.

I am changing the effect of combat loss from the original method found in the rules for an upcoming WSS DF game to be held on the 16th of November, and using that game as a test bed using the Repique Rules Crack Playtest Group. If it passes muster, I will do a longer article here.

For those of you that would like to experiment with the concept on your own, here’s the Rules as I sent them out to the Test Group:

New Combat Method-
A. Hits of 6 or less may be bought down as per original rules. No Change!

B. Hits of 7 or more are changed.

  • 1. You still owe the difference in red dice lost at 7+. No Change
  • 2. However, in combat, the distance retreated is determined by a single black die, which is then added to the unit. That die is rolled, thereafter, on ANY move or combat roll and is subtracted from the roll of all other dice. In movement a negative roll indicates no forward movement.

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The Black Die makes this a roll of 12 not 16!

  • 3. Upon a second hit of 7+ The losing player owes the difference in red dice lost, and an additional black die is added to the unit. If another black die is already on the unit, the unit will retreat the total of both black dice rolled. The two dice are thereafter rolled on any combat or movement roll and subtracted from the other dice totals. Any negative movement roll requires the unit to halt, even without immediate cause from enemy actions.
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Ooops! Black dice more than Red-Yellows don’t count! Total is 2!
  • 4. Upon a third or more hits the procedure is as above, with the three or more black dice total being subtracted.
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Yellows don’t count! Total is a measly 7.
  • 5. There is no limit to black dice acquired, but after two black dice, item 6 becomes increasingly likely.
  • 6. If on any action the total of the black dice exceed the roll of the red dice used, no Command Dice may be added to the total, Free Dice still count.
  • 7. Any unrallied, routing, unit, will be forced to retreat, straight back, along a line of least resistance from terrain the total distance of its black dice ADDED to two red dice, on each subsequent card phase of any type until it is either rallied or exits the table. A rallied unit will retain any black dice, other than the one removed for rallying. That is, a rallied unit may still have black dice after rallying. A unit is deemed routed if it rolls a retreat on any black dice total greater than 6 (7+).
  • 8. Catastrophic loss, where a unit suffers a loss of dice of more than its unit value plus 6 in a single combat resolution, shall still be as originally stated. The unit is removed from the table, being considered destroyed as a fighting unit.
  • 9. Black dice may be removed from a unit in two ways.
    • a. If the unit wins any combat roll for fire or melee, one black die is removed.
    • b. On a Reload, Rally, Restore Card phase, a rally roll attempt may be made using the usual procedures. Any successful roll eliminates one black die. Rally attempts by more than one officer, the immediate brigade officer and then the commander in chief, for instance, may be made, each time using new dice. However, any number thrown on an existing black die negates any one rally die rolled of that same number. Any triple that qualifies as a rally roll removes ALL Black dice regardless of number.

Few Battles, Many Wargames


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I recently was part of an exchange of emails from a gamer deciding what period to paint figures for next. There were many arguments back and forth about the merits of several periods, but one criticism came up which got me to thinking about wargame periods in a new way.

The opinion was advanced that some periods are not really worth consideration because so few battles were fought in the actual war. The exact period in question was the Great Northern War where it was asserted only four major battles were fought over twenty years of fighting, so what could a gamer really expect from the period? This was contrasted with the American Civil War and the Napoleonic Wars where dozens of good sized battle were fought. Other periods such as the WSS and even the American Revolution certainly had fewer major battles, and in the case of the AWR the ones that were fought were minuscule in size of the armies compared to European actions of that same time.

Just a bit of thought on this matter brought me to not only reject this line of argument, but to actually see some merit in wars that had fewer battles!

First of all, unless one limits one’s gaming in a period to recreating actual battles and refighting them, the lack of battles in a period is not really important. Even in periods with many battles, most gamers find themselves refighting three or four favorite “Old Warhorses” and ignoring most other engagements. I bet there’s a hundred Napoleonic gamers that have refought Waterloo, Salamanca, Leipsic or Austerlitz multiple times to every one gamer that has refought Ulm or LaRothiere. Likewise, Gettysburg seems to be the recurring ACW game, and Pea Ridge is only for the truly committed ACW miniature gamer.

More importantly, the VAST majority of games I’ve been in or seen played were fictionalized engagements built around a scenario that, though based on historical considerations, was entirely created for the purpose of playing a good game with challenging premises and not any actual events. Sometimes these fictional games were a form of alternative history where a real battle was altered in numbers, location, or timing and based on real events, but more often they are just created out of whole cloth. Again, great consideration was given to the historical technologies, drill and command limitations of each army, and even to insuring realistic terrain and uniform correctness, BUT the tabletop battle itself was a creative fiction, an act of imagination and artistic design. These are often great games, and are a VERY common form of historical wargaming at conventions as well as in private gaming.

As long as there is enough of a historical record to accurately estimate the effectiveness of arms, each armies tactical skills, and the quality of leadership and command, you can create battles for the tabletop that will be fun and historically instructive. In fact, there is a case to be made that periods with fewer battles encourage more of this historically imaginative gaming, which may be more rewarding and challenging than recreating actual battles.

If you know the Prussians will arrive in late afternoon at Waterloo, or that there’s nobody in front of you at Chancellorsville, or any number of certainties that the actual commanders did not have at that time, you will be making decisions on the basis of a science-fiction novel as you foresee the future, and the possible outcome from past strategies. Talk about unrealistic! However, if you are fighting a battle with no historical precedent, no sure timetable, and no precognition of bad or innovative tactics, you are far closer to a real commander’s experience than in a historical refight. In a fictional scenario, history is yet to be written, and you will write it!

Periods with fewer historical battles free you from the mindset and approach of historical predetermination. It is also true that there is NO LIMIT to the number of creative scenarios and fictional battles you may play in any period! You may fight many, many more battles in the WSS or the GNW than the actual commanders ever did! It is still historically accurate, perhaps more fun, and inspires creativity and not just filling in an order of battle. To be sure, a period must have enough battles and comparative data to accurately recreate its conditions, but as few as three or four engagements are sufficient. Minor actions, raids, and skirmishes also abound in almost every period to add to the information required.

So pick a period you like. If it has intriguing personalities, great uniforms, interesting tactical considerations and limitations, and good amounts of published scholarship, then the last thing to worry about is whether there were one hundred battles or just five! Just as in travel, where the best experiences are often staying and eating where the tourists seldom go; so in wargaming the periods that are a bit off the well-beaten path will often be far more rewarding!

Speaking of beating paths, you might want to beat a path to Nick Wragg’s new Kickstarter: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/eborminiatures/swedish-army-of-the-great-northern-war-by-ebor-min?ref=live

Process Oriented or Results Oriented?

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Late in the day at the close of Getzcon, Jim Getz and I sat for a while in my study and talked about war gamers and their reactions to various wargame designs. We also reflected on the way war gamers react to wargame rules. This was a particularly good time for our little discussion as we had just come off a micro-convention where several different wargame systems had been played, all of which shared a similar approach; Field of Battle, Die Fighting, Maurice and Longstreet.

We reflected on the different systems of wargame design, and how gamers either strongly approve of certain kinds of design or insist they don’t work, and that they will never play them. This even in the face of many gamers that find that those same designs do work, and that they would play nothing else!

Our discussion explored the ends and outs of designs that use variable card sequencing, variable unit values, and both conventional and unconventional combat resolution methods using cards, multiple die types, as well as direct and indirect means of measuring both unit and army morale. We chatted for quite awhile and then came to one conclusion; It isn’t anything intrinsic in the game design that leads to rejection of most rule designs, or even claims about whether they are impossible to play, but, rather, it is the gamer’s themselves!

Jim first suggested that gamers are either literalists and process oriented, or abstractionists and results oriented, in their expectations of a game design.

The process oriented gamer wants everything that occurs on the table top to be explained in the actual game play. If the Slobovian Guard advances on the enemy and exchanges fire, he wants to know how men fired and how many men, to the man, were hit whether an officer was hit and which one, and which way the wind blew the smoke after the fire. They want the game rules to break down each action into discrete steps that are each considered and overtly resolved, without equivocation or the “fog of war.” They want to know, and possibly control, every possible combat decision and outcome, with the minimal amount of chance or delay. Above all, they want outcomes to be the result of a literal and predictable process. They can only accept the outcome if it is the accretion of many,many layers of micro-decisions, all quite open, and without any irrational variables or hidden surprises. They see great generalship as a problem of weighing the factors that influence combat-drill, plan, weaponry, and muster, and, after weighing the obvious factors accurately, they expect a result that is always. always, highly predictable. They will only allow for a minimal effect of variables and unknowns-generally a die roll-and expect any outcome to be the result of the accretion of the processes without any surprises or unpredictable outcomes. They see battle as an extension of a rational, risk-adverse, process. It is chess.

The results oriented gamer is quite different. He certainly wants good history and valid decision points, BUT he wants fewer of them, and demands less “explanation” by the rule’s processes of the minutiae of what occurred. What he wants is a quick resolution that presents the next set of decision points. He wants the end result quickly and decisively. He is also far more open to surprises, the unpredictable, and the vast range of irrational events and chance that one finds in the historical accounts of battles. The results oriented gamer wants to deal with the issues at hand and wants to create the narrative of the game to move on to a series of problems to be solved, full well knowing that the resolution of this set of problems will lead to others. It is MANAGING battle field game play to maximize his “hand”, however bad, that fascinates him, not the accretion of advantages that lead to a certain, or near-certain, result. He loves the vagaries of a narrative replete with unexpected outcomes, upset plans, and the fact that there are few sure things. He wants his games to have a narrative with all the twists and turns of a good book or movie (and most battle histories). This is where card sequenced game design excels, as does the introduction of unpredictable elements into movement, troop values, troop effectiveness, as well as turn sequence. Clauswitz once said that battle is like a game of cards in its narrative aspects. It is poker.

Results oriented gamers often find process oriented games-just plain boring! It is not unusual for them to refuse to play process-heavy games, for the simple fact that it seems unexciting, and rather like drinking flat champagne. Results oriented narrative games require a certain imaginative mindset from the get-go.

Process oriented gamers simply feel that they don’t have enough information, or control, in a narrative game. It is too abstract in it’s weighing of variables, too unpredictable. They often refuse to play because the game makes no sense to them. When I first introduced Piquet many years ago, I remember Pat Condray deeming the design “Zen Wargaming” because it didn’t supply him with the, until then, “Normal” construct of facts, process, and accreted results that he had known for his entire gaming career.

There is no question that results oriented, narrative games have grown in number and sophistication over the last 20 years, but the Process games are still in the majority, and probably always will be-if for no other reason than they are more easily accessible to more people. They are more transparent and the aspects of good play are far more obvious. One of the characteristics of narrative games is the need for the gamer to deduce the best courses of action without the rules obviously stating them. This, alone, defeats the narrative games designs appeal to those who just want to be told what to do. Narrative games usually have a “puzzle” aspect to figuring out the interaction of the various rules systems for best effect. Process designs are explicit in their demands, while Results/Narrative designs are implicit.

There is, of course, room for both types of game designs, and either type of gamer is amply supplied with a tremendous variety of both approaches to wargaming. But make no mistake, when a design is rejected by a gamer or his group, the fault usually lies not in the game design, but in the gamer’s mindset. As with many other creative works, such as books, movies, or paintings, two different people will see very different things in the same object, and popularity is not necessarily the best measure of their intrinsic quality or long-term merit.

Getzcon-Micro-Convention

I had always wanted to host a gathering of gamers and designers that are exploring the narrative style of wargaming, often using cards, dice, and other innovative uses of any number of gaming tools. The occasion finally arose when my good friend of over 40 years, Jim Getz, arranged to come out for a few days in September. It, initially, was to be a simple visit of a friend, but I soon got the idea to broaden the visit into an event. Thus was born GETZCON! I craftily named it after Jim, so that if is was a failure his name, and not mine, would by forever linked with the event.

I sent out invitations to people I have known and respected, and knew would enjoy each other and the prospect of a few days gaming and talking war-games. No rules lawyers, no whiners, no gamers that weren’t open to new ideas and fun. I also decided to concentrate on those that were very supportive of narrative wargames-such as Die Fighting , Piquet, Field of Battle, Maurice, and Longstreet. I invited about twenty people from across the US and Europe. Conflicts and distance required some to decline, but the group that did assemble was really a singular group. On Friday, September 13th, and Saturday September 14th, they assembled in Denver at Chez Jones for the new Micro-convention-Getzcon!

They were Jim Getz of Napoleonique, Empire, and Chef d’Battalion; Brent Oman of Piquet and Field of Battle, Sam Mustafa of Might and Reason, Grand Armee, Lasalle, Maurice, and now Longstreet, Myself, author of Le Jeu de la Guerre, Piquet, Zouave II and Die Fighting, along with long time supporters of these designs like Californians Freddie Avner, and Iain Black (Who flew in direct from Amsterdam. With some excellent cheese, I might add!)), plus expert play testers such as Terry Shockey and John Mumby. My long-time friend, Ed Meyers, who was part of the Les Jeu dela Guerre rules of so long ago, and New friends such as Eric Elder. Tony Fryer brought his usual pure fun and enthusiasm, and doubled as grill chef during the closing Cook-out. Tony always creates fun scenarios, and his FOB game was no exception! Greg Rold was very involved in the FOB game and the Longstreet introduction, and could be seen analyzing the new rules very carefully. Everyone was very busy either talking, gaming, or eating for the two days of the event.

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Getzcon began on Friday evening with a cocktail party, which allowed a few people that had not met to do so, and for old acquaintances to talk about a wide range of topics, past games, rules, and the merits of good drink. It was a spirited and fun event with the conversation moving around the room accompanied by laughter and many a story about past experiences. Don Featherstone was one of the subjects and a toast was raised in his honor. Fond memories of meetings with Don, and David Chandler, were recounted.


Panorama


I had had T-shirts made up for the group with the motto “ Historia, Ludus, Rixor, Crapula” which pretty much captured the activities of the convention. These were distributed during the cocktail party. I also had recently discovered among my collection a number of 30mm painted Stadden figures of the Young and Old Guard that I had purchased at the Tradition Shop on my first trip to England in 1969. These were individually mounted on simple black plinths and presented to each of the assembled Getzcon attendees.

soldiersphoto copy 11photo copy 6

As a surprise to me, Jim Getz had brought a presentation with him to the party. He presented me with a replica of the Victoria cross that had been given to him by Don Featherstone. (Jim was great friends with both Don and David Chandler and had visited them often in England). It was a touching and most appreciated gift.

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But it was gaming that the group had come for, and starting after a small breakfast on Saturday the 14th, games there were to be! The morning games from 9:30 AM until 1:00 PM or so were a Die Fighting WSS game on the big table, and an FOB ACW game on the smaller table in the Fryer Lounge (recently converted from a storage room). The games began sharply at 9:30 with the attendees breaking upo into separate groups for the games.

The WSS game was made up of over 50 units on the 4X12 food table. It was a re-fight of a very successful game played in July, “Battle of Linswald”, that had been won by the Allies in a crushing defeat. (that battle may be found on this blog) . The field was unchanged from the earlier battle, but the set-ups could not have been more different.

Bob


The allies Ignored their left beyond the stream, and, instead, bolstered the center a bit, and added the bulk of their attack on the their right under Iain Black. The French again deployed in a balanced fashion with their dragoons on their right set to wend their way through the Linswald woods and take the undefended objectives, and then turn on the allied left flank. The center began a measured advance, while the left moved foreword to contest the Miasme Chateau.

Battle - CenterBattle - French Center

The Dragoons led by Sam Mustafa, did make their way through the the Linwald wood, and captured the road and the bridge over the steam, but the allies refused their flank.

Mustafa Attack


The Allies responded by sending the Prussians through the LInswald village, capturing most of the village. But the fatal blow was on the their right when they captured the Miasme Chateau and inflicted such heavy losses on the French left that their dice were running low (we played, as we do all games now, with the multiple bucket rule).

Crucial attack WSS

Even when the attack by the Dutch cavalry was blunted North of the windmill by the brave Bavarians, it was looking very bleak for the French Left as they had paid a dear price in troops (and Dice) for their defense.


photo copy 4Freddie and Ian

The crucial French error was a complete failure of communication between the CIC (Terry Shockey) and the Left Wing Commander (Fred Avner) as to his diminished resources (Dice) and the French had not committed the reserve dice to his flank on the last Turn. When that crisis became clear, it was a question whether Freddie could survive with a mere 14 dice left, before the next Rally, Restore, Reload card allowed the Reserve to be sent. Iain made sure with a full frontal attack that this would not happen! The French left ran out of dice and the battle was declared won by the Allies, while the French, once again, retreated back onto the Brabant fortifications. Thank heavens for the skill of Vauban! The game was concluded at 1:00 PM.

Meanwhile, the other gamers were fighting an FOB game in the adjoining room. Many shouts of “Union Forever! “and Rebel Yells were heard.

FOB

Here is the Union Commander’s report (since they were the victor they write the history):

“FOB game AAR

from: Brigadier General Greg Rold, U.S. volunteers, serving under Brigadier General Eric Elder

General Elder and I were ordered to probe the Confederate lines and were advancing our divisions side by side with myself on the left and General Elder on the right. As we encountered light resistance (the 4 Union Brigades initially faced 2 rebel brigades), I ordered up my 3rd brigade. (My 7 regiments were initially advancing against 3 regiments and a battery, 2 opposing regiments advanced while the other units deployed. I routed one of the enemy regiments and forced the other backwards.) At this point the advance of the fresh third brigade stalled as the commander lost his nerve. (This brigade had a huge opportunity to advance into close range with the outnumbered enemy and do some real damage, and after rolling a triple move to advance onto the board, he rolled a '1' on the next move card and stalled in place - this was a d8 leader). I had to threaten to relieve the colonel of command to get his troops moving again.



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This delay nearly cost us the battle as the rebels were suddenly reinforced by 2 additional brigades, which, after a slight mixup in orders (one brigade rolled the dreaded '1' on its attempt to move onto the table), were able to coordinate a heavy counterattack on General Elder. General Elder was able to repulse the attack although he suffered some significant losses. (At one point, Eric's C8-D4 unit fought 3 melee's against C8-D4, C10-D6, and a C12+1-D10 units, winning all 3 melees, routing 2 enemy units and forcing back the C10-D6 unit. Our regiment was quite heroic and should be mentioned in General Elder's dispatches.)

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At this point, my troops resumed the advance and exchanged heavy fire and assaults with the enemy. While my men did suffer some losses in the advance, we were able to force the rebels to retire hastily from the field. We did capture some rebel artillery and inflicted serious losses among the enemy infantry. (At this point, the Confederates were giving us morale chips, and they had a number of regiments that were routing or destroyed. We also had a few destroyed units, but were in much better shape to continue the contest. The Confederate players decided to throw in the towel. When we checked, the Union still had 11 morale chips along with the chips we were winning from the Confederates.)

Respectfully submitted by your obedient servant,

Brigadier General Rold”

(No one seems to know who that guy in the confederate forage hat was…he seemed mildly embarrassed by the fashion statement.)

Further commentary on this game may be found (along with scenario design notes) at Tony’s excellent blog: http://wargamebayou.blogspot.com Brent Oman’s site is at: http://wargamesandstuff.blogspot.com Additionally, more photos and text may be found on Eric Elder’s blog at: http://elderswargaming.blogspot.com/

The FOB game concluded at exactly the same time as the DF game, and left everyone free to break for lunch and catch a beer and a sandwich. Lots of chatter about the games filled the air, with the usual, “But if i’d only done ….,” statements.

The break was a swift one as Sam Mustafa was going to introduce all of us to Longstreet on the big table. Several players rotated through that demo and game, while everyone else watched closely. It is seldom that you get a designer willing to fly across country to coach you through your initial game of his new rules! Everyone was eager to give Sam’s latest a try. They weren’t disappointed!

Sam
Jim Getz seems absolutely mesmerized by Sam’s guidance!

The game was very much enjoyed by everyone playing. It is also a very different game than Maurice, which several had played before this game. It took only a few minutes of remarks and everyone was playing the game. It is very accessible!

LS-Cover

As luck would have it (or not have it, as the case may be) Jim Getz at a critical moment opened fire at the Confederate lines and rolled this:

LS-6 ones

Yup, six natural ones! Needless to say the Union was very demoralized, and the Confedrates were convinced at this point they were proof from shot or shell, and swept forward to victory. One of the morals here is never trust a rule designer to win a game! That’s not what they’re good at!

Needless to say, it was a great game experience and Sam sold a number of rule sets on the spot! Check out Sam’s rules site at : http://www.sammustafa.com/honour-forums/index.php

By 5:00 PM the afternoon session gave way to a cookout with burgers on the grill, sesame buns, bean salad, chips, wine, beer, and chocolate cake! After a leisurely meal, some of the group went downstairs for a scratch game of Maurice, while others of us stayed above for a card game of Hanabi, one of the most delightful “party” card games I’ve played in years. Tony Fryer brought it, and it was an instant hit. Lots of laughter and light-hearted banter. This was helped by the addition of some good scotch for those who partake. It was a perfect end for all involved as we said our goodbyes and all left for home-some nearby and others a long flight on the next day.

I very much enjoyed hosting this event, and only regret that all those invited could not attend-maybe next year. It was a perfect “convention” and game weekend with four different war games, many meals and drink, and lots of wonderful conversation. It was a particular delight to have four of the hobby’s most innovative designers under one roof, sharing their ideas, and listening to the group’s insightful comments and the sharing of several hundred years of experiences and memories. It was also the first gathering of people dedicated to “Narrative” wargame design to my knowledge. May some even more innovative ideas come from this event! Micro-conventions are the thing, that’s for sure!

The only blot on the weekend was the beginning of the rains that brought so much suffering to parts of Colorado in the foothills and Mountain canyons to the North. Though Denver was not greatly affected, everyone shares in our heartfelt sympathies and wishes for their rapid recovery from this awful act of nature.

The end



The End

Competitive or Cooperative?


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In recent years there have been a number of somewhat different boardgames that are really great deal of fun-even for people that are normally not much for boardgames. I’m speaking of Pandemic, Forbidden Island, and the new Forbidden Desert. The characteristic these three designs share is that they aren’t really competitive in the same way that past games have been. They are games designed to require every player to cooperate with the other gamers to win the game. They either all win as a group effort, or they ALL lose the game.

In Pandemic each player is a member of an epidemic containment and elimination team- a scientist, lab technician, forward facilities administrator, etc. Each player has a special skill that, in itself, is not capable of halting a world-wide epidemic, but if they work together, using their particular skill to contribute to victory, then they can stop the killer virus and save the world! In Forbidden Island-each player is the member of a team that is trying to remove valuable artifacts from the island before it sinks beneath the waves. Skills range from helocopter pilot who can flit about the island, and is the only means to get everyone off the island when the artifacts are found, to a diver who can transit flooded areas, or an explorer that has “Jungle Skills”. There are six people in all on the island, and they either all get off the sinking island with the goodies, or they all perish. Forbidden Desert is a variant where a team of archeologists and scientists are trying to recover a strange flying machine buried ion the shifting sands of the desert, and fly it out of peril, or they will all die of thirst or be buried in the treacherous sands.

All of these provide for a great evening’s gaming, and are unique in that everybody can be a winner.

These games got me thinking about wargaming with miniatures on a table top. It is a truism that most war-games, since they are a game based on battles, are competitive. Ties are rare. One army and general will generally win, and, as in history, one will lose. That’s a given.

But competitive games can lead to some really outrageous behavior by some gamers, ranging from cursing, throwing dice across the room, arguing some minor point to impossible lengths, passive-aggressive delays and sniping at the rules and the other players, or rudeness, and even, on rare occasions, to fisticuffs. I’ve always thought that the gamers most prone to these extreme behaviors have some other unresolved problems or difficulties, and are using the game to release these stresses by projecting their anger and bad behavior into the game. I’ve often felt some concern for the worst offenders, but it is limited by the obvious fact that this destructive acting out affects every other gamer, and can in a few moments destroy an enjoyable experience for everyone else.

I have begun to see the play of a wargame as not really competitive at core, but cooperative. When you sit down at a wargame table you are entering into a contract to help everyone else at the table use their minds and energies to create a work of imagination and fun, a distraction-rather like staging a play, filming a movie, or playing music in a band or orchestra. This illusion is built by hours of work painting figures and building terrain, reading rules and investing time in learning them, and by joining other people that have contributed their time and money to stage this entertaining bit of performance art. Everyone then has to pull on their own oar-even if competing against each other for the “victory”- to energize this endeavor and help contribute to the fun, drama, and social experience. If, instead, you get so caught up in the competitive aspects of the wargame that you begin to work against the total group, even players on your side, and destroy the illusion, the suspension of disbelief is shattered, and often cannot be recovered again. The game is over. The bubble is popped, and everyone is a loser. Hours of preparation and play can be wasted for EVERYONE, because of one person’s lack of consideration.

So, in a very real sense, war-games should be thought of as cooperative endeavors,and the joy we get from them should not be some meaningless “win” in a game, but the social interaction with others, the laughter, watching the creative suspense and developing narrative of the game as it unfolds, and this should be the case win or lose! There is NO occurrence in a war-game that warrants being destructive to the imaginative effort of all at the table-not one. A discussion perhaps, a die roll if necessary, but nothing beyond that.

There is a saying about Academia that the arguments are so mean spirited and nasty, because the stakes are so low. This may be true of wargaming as well, if reading the postings on TMP, or even worse, the Blue Fez, are any indication. (Last week’s interminable thread on TMP about the number of decks in Longstreet was one more example of the stupidly destructive behavior of some wargamers) It may be that the hobby attracts an unusual share of people that are trying to compensate for disappointments in life, and, therefore, they cannot deal with any further set-backs even in the totally artificial, and ultimately meaningless, activity where grown men move toy soldiers over a green felt terrain. It may be that some war gamers are simply anti-social, maladjusted, victims of arrested development, or really bad losers, but I hope that many more war gamers come to see that a wargame is competitive only up to a point, and is ultimately cooperative, and demands a commitment to all the players at the table, not just half of them, or , even worse, only to yourself.

If the wargame is well done and well played, we are all winners, and if the spell is broken-everyone loses…everyone. The sea will swallow us up, the desert will cover our footsteps, the killer virus will spread, and our enjoyment of that day’s wargame is ended.




Crafting A Wargame Battle

One of the keys to a great war-game battle, and the enjoyment of a set of rules, is the capacity for a rules design to allow both broad and subtle tweaks that not only model history, but add interest to game play.

Far too many rules sets are just flat obvious and predictable in their gameplay, and allow only limited means of distinguishing units within armies or between armies, command capabilities, and the effects of the battle environment on the units of either army.

Almost every rule set allows some sort of value placement on individual units by type, and a few bonus or penalize command, usually in some crude manner, and all games allow for terrain effects, and , of course, the sheer numbers to each side can influence the game play. These effects are usually pretty obvious (+1 or -1) and their interaction allows for little surprise. I have always had an admiration for the rules that were a bit more sophisticated, whether Maurice, FOB, Piquet, Command and Colors, Crossfire, The Columbia Block Games, or any of a number of Martin Wallace’s designs.

Die Fighting is my latest attempt to use simple general mechanics, but layered in a way that provides unique opportunities to craft the battle for excitement, surprise, and fun.

Here are some suggestions:

SEQUENCE
Start with the Turn sequence. In any design the sequencing of movements and the definition of “Turns” is critical to its play. I think DF may be the first design that allows for multiple sequencing options prior to play, and a seamless mechanism for changing the sequencing even during play. Though I recommend the rigid synchronous sequence (Both sides move in the same sequence)for the beginning DF player, it is solely to get the gamers accustomed to the game play, and NOT my recommended sequencing for general play.


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Use the sequence as the first means of providing a game behavior for both sides. The more flexible variable asynchronous sequences-especially the command quality variant-where one army gets to stack the sequence 1-3 cards in a row should be used by a force with superior command. The Fixed Asynchronous systems where you roll for where you start in the sequence at the beginning of a turn is best for the less capably commanded armies. For Solo Games the Random Variable Asynchronous Phasing-especially in suggestion #2 is a good choice. Remember, you can mix and match the system used by EITHER army, and you can set up conditions such as stipulated levels of die loss, say at 25% Or 50%,where the sequencing changes-usually to a less flexible one. I can even see where at the same time one army’s sequencing degrades because of losses, the other army’s sequencing could actually improve and become more flexible and effective. This is a fascinating area for experimentation.

INITIAL SET-UP
Set-up of armies is also an area for consideration. If you look at the army set-up special rules for both the Marlborough at Waterloo and the Battle of Linsford games, you will see some examples of this.

French Lines near Linswald


Most Battles fall into certain broad categories:

1. A Set Battle-Both armies have come to the battle in an ordered and planned manner, and have taken positions that will maximize their chances at success, whether in the Strategic or Grand Tactical Attacker or Defender posture. Example: Malplaquet

2. An Encounter Battle -Where both forces rather stumble into each other and fighting develops into a battle. Example: Gettysburg or Mars Le-Tour

3. A Surprise Attack- Where the attacker has “stolen a march” on the defender and has an advantage in position, terrain, or in troops over the defender. Example: Champion Hill

4. A Delaying Action- where the defender isn’t attempting a clear win, but to delay an attacker’s attack and subsequent actions to buy time for reinforcements, escape by a main body, or to wear the attacker out and dissuade him from further advance, at least temporarily. Example: Corunna

5. A Stout Defense- where the defense has placed itself in a firm position, with every advantage, and expects the Attacker to suffer for it! Example: Borodino

There are, I’m sure, other variations on the above, but these five represent battles where either the combatants come to the action as equals in number or position, or stumble into each other with neither knowing or fully appreciating any advantage, or where either the attacker or defender has some advantage.

Rather than having “March-on” battles which are VERY time consuming and rarely provide new games, one could just structure the set-up to reflect certain advantages, or disadvantages, to both parties in the defined situations.

A stand-up, orderly and even battle of Type 1, could do a set-up where after an initiative roll, possibly using both CinC;’s command dice and thus advantaging the better commander, or giving the nod to the attacking force (the larger force in most cases) the winner chooses whether to place forces first or second in the following sequence:

1. Artillery
2. Infantry
3. Cavalry
4. Command stands

I
n an encounter battle, the sequence could be thus:

1. Attacker Cavalry
2. Defender Cavalry
3. Defender Infantry
4. Attacker Command
5. Attacker infantry
6. Defender Command
7. Attacker Artillery
8. Defender Artillery
or
1. All Cavalry-Initiative winner’s choice of first or last.
2. All Command-Initiative winner’s choice.
3. Initiative winner’s artillery
4. Initiative loser’s infantry
5. Initiative winner’s infantry
6. Initiative Loser’s artillery

This sort of chaotic battle is PERFECT for a random Asymmetrical sequencing

In a Surprise attack:

All units of the surprised army are place, except cavalry and command
All Units of the unexpected attacking army are placed, except cavalry and command
Initiative roll for who places cavalry first, then…
Surprised army places command
Attacking Army places its command
Surprising army should get the initiative, and or several cards it can choose in advance as to the sequence. Perhaps the surprised army should have a random asymmetrical sequencing for the first turn?

In a delaying action (it is expected the delaying force will be at least 33% less dice in size):

Attacker (pursuing Force) must place all infantry
Defender (delaying force) must place artillery
Attacker must place artillery
Defender must place infantry
Attacker must place cavalry
Defender places cavalry
Attacker places his command
Defender places his command

Standard Asymmetrical Variable sequencing rolls. Delaying force units of any type may retreat (move toward a defined rear exit or board edge) on ANY card except for Specialized Action or Rally, Reload, Restore. The game should have a stipulated limit of turns, or losses to the enemy that the delaying force must meet.

Stout Defense would, perhaps, sequence like this:

Defender places all units on the table, except cavalry and command.
Attacker places all units on the table, except cavalry and command.
Defender places cavalry
Attacker places cavalry
Attacker places command
Defender places command

Attacker should have some force advantage. Defender is allowed good terrain, and some stipulated strong points such as gun emplacements, buildings, or rugged terrain. Sequencing can be any of the standard sequences, but either guaranteed initiative wins, or selection of cards 2-3 in a row, should be allowed the attacker for at least the first turn.

Sequence variations and set-up restrictions are excellent ways to craft a battle. I am hopeful that other Die Fighting gamers will suggest there variations and favorites.

TERRAIN OBJECTIVE VALUES

There is an article in the files section’s Die Fighting Folder on Terrain Objective Values ( http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/Repiquerules/files/ ). Read it. By the intelligent, and clever, placement of objectives and the setting of their values from the low end of possibilities to the highest values, is an excellent way to affect the battle, and to affect the player’s behavior as they see the values in their zone and the neutral zone.

COMMAND

Allied Command


The number of officer stands allotted and their die count is critical to an army. This is an area to experiment with. The tables are quite generous with command stands in order to encourage gamers new to the game, but experienced gamers, and a GM wishing to pose new challenges to his commanders may limit their number, perhaps lowering either or both sides by 25-33% of their command stands. Alternatively, curving the quality of commanders, or simply assigning their “personality” rather than rolling for it, is another excellent way to affect army performance in order to match historical peculiarities of a given battle, or a particular, fictional, scenario.

UNIT RATINGS AND OTHER PECULIARITIES

As with MANY other game designs, the quality ratings of the combat units, and the force ratios of the two sides may be used to craft a good game. This is standard fare, and needs little elaboration here, but Die Fighting has two other means of battle crafting to consider. One is the use of the Black Dice Rules found in the file section to lower the performance of certain units prior to battle. The other is simply an arbitrary bonus of extra resource dice to one side or the other, or, conversely, and arbitrary deduction of resource dice. This should have some narrative explanation-such as logistical problems, discontent in the troops, disease, etc.

Now that&#39;s dice!



So you can see there are a myriad ways to mold, shape, and craft a battle or scenario to enhance the experience of the gamers and make it more fun for all concerned. DO NOT HESITATE TO EXPERIMENT WITH THESE TOOLS, AND INVENT OTHERS OF YOU OWN!

Good Wargaming!



The Battle of Linswald-DF AAR

The Battle of Linswald-July 20, 1703


Being an account of the recent engagement between the forces of the Sun-King, Louis XIV, and his Bourbon kinsman, Phillip of Spain, and the Elector of Bavaria versus the assembled forces of the Allies led by the English General, John Churchill, and including the Dutch Republic. The Hapsburg Empire, and The Prussian forces of the Hohenzollern dynasty.

The Battle of Linswald attacks10

The forces arrayed. The Town of Linswald in the center, and the Linswald Forest on the right. On the left rear is the Moulin du Mougin sitting on a low ridge, and on the far left is the Chateau Miasme-a decrepit ruin of a once proud estate. In the distant left is a small farm and a low unnamed ridge.

The French (In White)have arrayed dragoons near the Linswald Forest-French Infantry spanning the stream north of the ford, a large mass of cavalry, including the Cuirassiers du Roi, The Royal Carabiniers, and Chevau-legere Regiment Conde to the east of the village. South of the village are a force of two Bavarian Regiments and Regiment Clare (Irish). The left is made up of a Bavarian Artillery battery on the plain. The Mougin ridgeline is held by a Spanish “Old Yellows” regiment fronted by some Spanish Dragoons, East of the Moulin, and a French Gun Battery West of it. Just West of the ridge is a cavalry group made up of Bavarian Cuirassiers and the Mousquetaires du Roi, and two regiments of the Maison Rouge-the French Guard Francaise and the Garde Suisse.

The Allies (in Red) deployed with the English to the right-the 1st Dragoons opposite the Linswald Firest, and a string of Austrian foot From the bridge to the gun batteries. They were backed by Prussian Ansbach cavalry and Austrian Cuirassiers. A Large “Grande Battery” of a Prussian, and two British batteries stationed themselves just South of the road and East of Linswald. Directly North of the town are the Anhalt-Dessau and Kronprinz Prussian Regiments. The British foot was on the Right, primarily around the small farm, which was fronted by a great troop of cavalry made up of Hannoverian horse, Dutch Nassau horse, Cadogan’s Horse, Lloyd’s Dragoons, and Danish Horse. The farmstead hosted a light Britih artilelry battery. The Allied Far Right was anchored by the Dutch with the Welderen regiment and the Dutch Guards assaulting the Chateau, and the Salish regiment linking the chateau with the Dutch battery on the ridge line.

Here’s a Oil painting showing the initial view prior to battle by our artist, Reggie Percy-Smyth Painted from notes drawn from a perch in a tall tree in the Linswald Forest:

WSS Battle July 20

And from the top of the ridge line on the allied Right Flank an opposing view of the initial positions drawn from memory in pencil by Willem von Loon of the Dutch Army Staff:

The Allied horse

A Full listing of the the troops involved on both sides may be found at the Yahoo! Site in the File Section ( http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/Repiquerules/files/Battle%20of%20Linswald/ ), as well as a page of “special” rules that were applied to this battle only. You should look them over before reading on as they provide a lot of information that makes the battle report even more understandable.

The Battle:

The French had deployed intending to take the Chateau Miasme, contest the Village of Linswald, and possibly steal a victory by a thrust by Dragoon through the Linswald Forest to capture the Allied line of communications at the bridge and road exit. They secured their train (the defending army gets the train) behind their French Line on the road.

The Allies saw themselves as defensive on their left, with only a light force holding the far left behind the Linswald Forest, but contesting the Village with the Prussians, and the Chateau with a token Dutch Force, but the main attack was a combined attack by the allied horse meant to sunder the French line West of Linswald.

The French Plan unraveled a bit when the Commander of the French Cavalry near Linswald, General Victor-Baptiste-Pierre-Raymonde Levesque, declared after the first round of artillery fire from the distant British and Prussian Guns “Merde!” and, “Il y a Votre artillerie!!” and launched a gallant and jaw dropping charge toward the Allied line!

The Battle of Linswald attacks4

This was to be the main French attack in the battle. If successful, it would sunder the Allied line, isolate Linswald, and open up flanking actions as well as exposing the Allied line of communications (and several lucrative objective markers).

Levesques’ attack was made up of three cavalry regiments, the Cuirassiers du Roi, The Conde Chevau-legeres,and the Royal Carabiniers. They were arrayed in a narrow column with the ranks closed up tight one behind the other.

The three opposing batteries opened up with hard shot that tore through the ranks, causing effect on all three units with bounce through. Leveque had to use a number of command dice, right from the beginning to keep the troops in order on the advance. This was going to be a near run thing!

Elsewhere on the battle front, The dragoons were advancing through the woods on foot, albeit slowly. The French were loathe to spend too many resource dice on this advance until they assessed the cost and the degree of victory of Leveques’ cavalry charge.

French slowly advance in the Linswald forest

The Bavarians and the Clare regiment advanced on the village from the South, while the Prussians entered the village from the North. This was to be a grinding, house to house affair with all the units being committed and locked into the village fighting. The only unit still outside the village was the Bavarian Mercy Regiment, and a supporting Bavarian heavy battery to its immediate left.

Fighting at Linswald

Both armies were also contesting the Chateau Miasme. This was pressed by the French Garde Francaise and the Garde Suisse. To oppose them the were the Dutch Allies, including the vaunted Salish Regiment. The Garde Suisse was to take part of the chateau, while the other half was invested by the Dutch. Both armies were surprised at the deplorable condition of the decaying chateau and its very low objective values. It appeared it was a waste of troops, especially for the French.

Chateau Miasme

Meanwhile, the Allied horse was strangely quiet.

The Dutch, British an Hannoverian Horse

But, these were but sideshows to the thundering French Charge in the center. Round after round tore through the tightly packed cavalry, but on it came! The brave horse men closed with the guns as they switched to desperate rounds of cannister.


The charge strikes home!

But at this crucial moment the French cavalry, rolled a 19 total on 6 dice! This included four 1’s even after all re-rolls! Sacre Bleu!

Bad Dice

There was a wavering , one artillery crew was driven off, but then the shattered remnants of three regiments of horse began to recoil back to the French lines, pursued by the Ansbach Cavalry, which had waited for their opportunity. The French Carabiniers valiantly tried to cover the retreat of their fellow cavalrymen, but then they too were swept away by the retreating mass and the determined Ansbach pursuit. Many, many men (and dice)were lost.

Ansbach Pursuit

As this grand attack was crumbling, the Allies then launched their cavalry force against the French line just West of Linswald.

The Battle of Linswald attacks9

The French were outnumbered the center infantry was firmly lodged into Linswald. All that confronted them was a Bavarian Battery, and some Spanish Horse and infantry on the Moulin Ridge. The guard infantry and the French Mousquetaires and Bavarian Cuirassiers were far to the West and unable to help.

The Allied cavalry rode forward. There was an attempt by the Spanish Horse to disrupt the charge, but it was summarily brushed aside by the Hanoverians, while the Dutch Nassau-Friedland Horse rode over the Bavarian Battery. The center was pierced! The only uncommitted Bavarians were flanked! and the Spanish on the ridge were about to be overwhelmed.

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The Linswald village was rapidly falling into Allied possession along with a number of Objective dice, the center objectives and the Train (incuding Louis’ wine) were exposed. The French had lost a sizable amount of their dice. Nothing could be done to rescue the center. The French generals conceded as the Train began its race to the rear.

The battle was over. The French would have to wait for another day.

The train races from the field copy

A graphic portrayal of the battle:The Battle of Linswald attacks11

Lessons learned by the French

  • Cavalry must charge on a broad front, and when confronted by guns, be spaced by 6” inches to avoid the bounce through devastation and die loss.
  • It is silly to station you best troops on your far left-taking the guard infantry and the best cavalry out of the main action. This was exacerbated by the low objective values of the Chateau Miasme.
  • You simply cannot hold a section of line of over 400 yards with two infantry, a horse and a single gun. This thinning of the line was partially the result of the set-up restrictions, but mostly was the commander’s fault (me). This is the second game in a row where I have stationed the best troops too far from the decisive area-and well away from a position where they could aid units in the crucial center, and also left an inviting line of attack in the center.
  • When you are inferior in units, outnumbered in guns, and have inferior numbers of command dice-you are foolish to attack. Let the other guy prove the point.

General Lessons:

  • Objective values, while low for the Chateau Miasme, were too high in other areas. the general consensus was to lower (yet again) the base values to 4-6-8-10-12 from the present 6-8-10-12-16. See the revised Objective value article in the files section posted today.
  • A concentrated battery of three guns is not to be trifled with without close infantry support.
  • We used the multiple buckets rules gain and it worked VERY well. It will probably be the pattern for all future games.
  • The Asynchronous Sequencing using both a rolled fixed method and allowing the Allies the flexibility of plus or minus one (see the Special rules document in this folder) worked very well and will be used again by scenario.

General Comments:

This was a delightful game. for many reasons including the genial and fun presence of Ray Levesque, who has the true spirit of a French Cavalryman! The Allied commander Greg Rold had a masterful plan-and a sure knowledge of the rules. His second in command, Chris Caudil carried out the Coup de Gras with expert timing and deadly precision. The game was completed in just over 3 hours-even including a reshuffling of the dice buckets from three to two a side prior to play.



Wargame Terrain Part II

WSS Battle July 20
In Part I on war-game terrain, I touched on the physical representation of terrain, and its creation and storage, Part II shall be about what it does and how it functions in Die Fighting and Zouave II.

Terrain in most war-games has a number of different effects on the game. It may restrict or slow movement. It may provide cover from firepower weapons and/or diminish their effect. It may increase the advantages of a defender in hand to hand combat. It may obstruct line of sight preventing any fire at all, and, in some rules, limiting the reaction of units to each other. It may increase the effectiveness of certain weapons in certain situations. It may, in itself, be an objective or goal of play, and constitute part of the conditions of victory. It may have an aesthetic effect increasing the appeal of the game and its sense of time and place for players and observers.

Here are some examples of each use or effect of terrain:

Restrict or slow movement: The most obvious and common use in war-games. Streams or rivers that cannot be crossed; woods that slow or prevent certain combat types from entering (i.e Artillery not entering woods); rough ground or hills that slow the rate of advance of units. Conversely, roads my either simply free units on them from the effects of surrounding terrain, or, increase the rate of movement by some units.

Cover: Woods, wall, structures usually diminish the effect of fire by either subtracting from the firer’s effect, or adding to the defense’s resistance to fire (saving rolls, etc.)

Defense increased: Another common effect is to increase the hand-to-hand effectiveness of the defender of a wall, structure, redoubt, hill-top, etc.

LOS obstruction: Probably the most contentious aspect of terrain in many rules. Usually some minimum exposure of the unit to the view of the potential firer is required for fire to take place. this may be stated as a percentage of the unit, X number of stands, or, in terms of geometric qualifications (ie. does a straight line from the attacker to defender pass through some point, such as a command stand). Some rules also restrict a unit’s reaction where Force A cannot advance on Force B unless they are in view prior to the start of Force A’s movement.

Increasing Effectiveness: Often rules give a firer or defender on a hill, or higher, ground than its adversary, advantages. The most common is that artillery in the Horse and Musket period shoots farther and with better effect from slight elevations. Downhill charges are often given advantage.

Objective or goal for victory: Surely, the most common war-game objectives are “Take that hill!”, or Take that town!” This was often the case in history as well, where taking certain topographic features were instrumental to winning a battle. Most often they were an element that facilitated victory.

Aesthetic Effects: Simply put, attractive and well done terrain is like a stage set for a play-it can set the mood, add to the sense of “reality”and be pleasing to the eye. It can add, if only indirectly, to the enjoyment of the game-particularly for those not actually playing the game, but observing.

All of these effects, with the exception of the last, must be clearly specified in a rule set, or if not, they must be agreed to, either by the player’s having a long standing agreement on such things, or a firm pre-game stipulation on any possible points of contention-especially LOS.

LOS-no matter the rules-will require some gentlemanly behavior-pulling out a theodolite during play can spoil the enjoyment of ANY war-game. Rules lawyering the last MM of a stand’s exposure is decidedly not fun. One of the reasons I included the “Unusual Actions Unforeseen by the Rules” (page 27) is to allow a mechanism to escape such game killing behavior.

WSS Allies


On the other aspects of terrain, I have the following thoughts and opinions, which are evidenced in both Die Fighting and Zouave II:

Any restriction on movement effects by terrain should be a variable, not a fixed deduction. This is easily handled if the movement system is already a variable roll, as it is in both of the Repique publications, but even in fixed movement games, it seems to me that terrain’s effect should not be predictable, and have wide variation. The occasions in history of terrain causing the unexpected delay or failure are simply too prevalent to ignore. The angst caused by entering woods or forests to commanders is rooted in the unknown effects that ensue-this should be a factor in the war-game. In periods such as the WSS, and even up through the Napoleonic wars, units that enter structures or villages and occupy them-should not find it easy to leave. We often stipulate that once they occupy they are there for the duration.

Cover from fire is relatively straight forward, regardless of the rule set, but the trick is finding a sensible proportion of such terrain on the tabletop, and not understating the effect of the low end of the terrain cover, and overstating the high end. The all-too-frequent mistake is to have too much covering terrain on the table. Let’s face it, generals did not often choose, especially in the horse and musket era, to fight in the badlands of the Dakotas, or the middle of the alps! The armies and weaponry of that period did not need much adversity to lessen their efficiency.

Even a cursory look at typical battle fields in Europe, and to some extent, also in the Americas, shows that a third to a half of most battlefields was open ground, another third was usually a mix between low rolling hills and copses of woods, broken occasionally by very minor streams that were a messy but crossable obstruction. A VERY small percentage was rougher than that, and that was often man-made structures of a village. Chasms, vertical hills, raging rivers, woods of fairytale density were certainly possible, but damn rare. In fact, terrain of high density obstruction-could happen, such as The Wilderness, the Mance Ravine, or the Bocage, but they were the exception, and noted as such, and not the rule. On the whole, keep the terrain severity and density down, otherwise I recommend playing Warhammer 40K, not historicals.

One should also look at the way cover diminishes effect. It’s not always a simple minus one and a neat even-stepped progression from one level to another. In most rules it’s a simple progressive subtraction from the fire effect, minus one, minus two, etc. In many games this will suffice.

In both Zouave II and Die Fighting I looked at different mechanics. Zouave II just looked for a net advantage in fire or melee to one side or the other, this allowed various opportunities to re-roll for a better roll, and, if extreme up one die type (from a D8 to a D10, for instance). This made the tactical advantages of terrain, less linear or progressive-and, other than the obvious advantages of having an advantage vis-a-vis re-rolls and die improvement-far less predictable.

Die fighting, took these concepts even farther-with the addition of more dice to a roll providing a higher potential low and high roll by either the attacker or defender. Because of the Die Fighting addition of die total mechanics, I had to take a counter-intuitive step in subtracting all ones, and multiple 1 re-rolls, from a Class I terrain attacker’s roll, all 1’s and 2’s from a Class II terrain, and all 1, 2, and 3’s from a Class II terrain. This preserved the potential, however slight, of the attacker scoring hits on the defender in class V terrain, as he could still roll 6’s-but he was going to need a bunch to compensate for 84% of his dice not counting. Class IV and V terrain in Die Fighting is pretty tough-much tougher than in other rules. Even class three which occurs relatively frequently as village structures, dense woods, or steep or rough hills is a bear, with 50% of potential die rolls not counting. I love the system for its simplicity, and for the easy mnemonic of the excluded die rolls matching the terrain grade. That the mechanic is essentially identical, though with different factors, for both fire and melee, greatly simplifies play.

LOS issues have always frankly bored me, as many gamers make them labyrinthine and very complex issues in their design. What’s at stake is simple; Can the unit see and fire at another unit? I HATE the quibbling over millimeters and using protractors to argue the finest point. Keep it simple! If 1/2 of the unit is exposed to at least half of the firing or attacking unit, case closed. If that issue is generating a quibble just roll the damn dice-high man gets his way. There is enough vagaries in war that attempting to find surety on this issue is absolutely silly! Use the rule on page 27 of DF, declare the older man correct, flip a coin! But please, don’t write 5 pages of LOS rules, most of which never are applied, and for which there is always an exception, or an extremely unusual case. One combat in a table top battle that involves dozens of units and hours of gaming will seldom, if ever, makes a crucial difference.

Terrain increasing effectiveness is a common effect. It is usually confined to giving an advantage to a unit attacking from a higher terrain than the defender, or artillery firing from a height. Fair enough, but keep an eye out for including all considerations in your estimation of the advantages. Guns from a height gain range, often have a clear view of the target, and the fire effect upon it, but ball from heights, especially against soft soil following a rain, or plowed ground, often buries in having less effect upon the unit, and bounce through is sometimes eliminated by the more acute angle of incidence of the ball with the ground.

Terrain as an objective or goal, is, in my estimation, far more important a mechanic than many rule sets give to it. It is also something that, by design, Die fighting does especially well by linking certain terrain features to the gain of resource dice, which allows the army to continue its attack and absorb the higher losses that an attacker generally absorbs. The fact is most battles do have grand tactical and strategic reasons for attacks being made in certain sectors or against certain parts of the enemy’s position, BUT those goals and aims are usually achieved tactically by the taking of certain, specific, terrain. A key bridge, ridge line, village, cross-roads, or the enemy’s escape route and lines of communications. In tactical war-games it makes great sense to reward the capture of certain identifiable terrain points as a measure of an army’s potential success in winning the battle.

It should not be a single point in most cases, but a collection of points that incrementally augment the chances of success. They shouldn’t, in my opinion, be of a fixed value, but a variable one that is weighted depending on the generally perceived “potential” value of that terrain point to the battle. The reward for this in easily implemented in DF by the award of additional dice, but other games could use a variety of point systems that relate to the games mechanics. The key for DF is that the addition of dice is simple, quick, and pretty inclusive of measuring army morale, as well as the military objective’s value.
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Finally, one last word on aesthetics. It only takes a bit of care to create a visually appealing game, and the terrain will be a good part of that artistic effect. Make the game a performance event for you and your fellow gamers, as well as interested onlookers. It can be elaborate, but needn’t be. Minimalist treatments can be stunning, and in many ways,, MORE beautiful than something too over the top. Just think about the appearance and layout of the terrain. Give it as much thought at the scenario and the painting of the figures. It can add immensely to everyone’s enjoyment when it looks planned, finished, elegant, and beautiful.









Wargame Terrain Part I

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One of the areas of wargaming that is often the most ignored and aesthetically slighted is the terrain. I have seen all too many games with some relatively well painted figures, but felt cut-outs and bits of paper representing hills, streams and forests placed on a bare tabletop or an old green blanket. While, I admit that the hobby requires imagination on the part of its participants, even five year olds invest a little more care into their playsets! Such “presentations” at public war-games are pretty uninspiring, and, even at home based games, makes one wonder why the gamer spends hours getting the figures just so and then piles rubbish on the table-rather like a well costumed professional play being performed in front of a 5th grade painted cardboard set!

There is an opposite extreme where the gamers are really refugees from model railroading and do an intricate, multi-layered, terrain that gets the battlefield correct, right down to the last hedge and tree. They look fantastic, but their failure is one of function, moving and adjusting troops in this cross between a diorama and an architectural model is damn near impossible. Troops fall over, don’t fit in the dense foliage, and get lost in the arboreal splendor. In fact, it is not only difficult to use in a gaming sense, but the terrain completely dominates the most important element, the troops and figures representing the combatants. Even the best painted units are visually submerged in the undulating green. This is a case of the scenery getting more attention and applause than the actors!

In truth, war-game terrain has to be a carefully wrought balance between functionality and visual impact. Gamers should seek the “Golden Mean” where the terrain gives an attractive and reasonably accurate representation of the real world, or the actual battle, but retains an ease of use that doesn’t frustrate play.

This will also underline the two different kinds of war-game terrain needs. I NEVER game at conventions or hobby shops, ALL of my wargaming is done at Chez Jones in the legendary Chambre de Petit-Guerres. This allows me to acquire and build some really nice terrain pieces( and troops) that never will suffer the travails of being carted miles to a large gathering where there will be at least one lout that, never having bought, painted, or built any war-game figures or terrain treats them like they were his plastic Marx playsets when he was seven.

People who do choose to game at stores or conventions often willingly make the compromise of less elegant, very tough, and damage-proof terrain and troops. Some terrain of this type could literally be stood on, or dropped a couple of stories and survive, The figures are so coated with clear enamel and dull coat that they will outlast the Pyramids!

Both needs can be met with aesthetically pleasing and functional terrain, but compromises in detail, materials, and delicacy of construction and painting must be made if you plan to do a road show. Some gamers may choose to create a collection for home use, and another for the “away” games.

Another problem of terrain is storage. In the joy of purchasing some scale representation of Hougoumont, the gamer may be excused for overlooking the problem of where in the hell do I put this thing between games?? Even a basic collection of hills, structures, and forests will take up more space than many gamers imagine until they run out of drawers and corners to put the stuff!

The storage issue varies a lot depending on period and scale. This is the justification for scale such as 6mm. or 10mm, and is a MAJOR problem with 28mm figures-especially if the gamer buys his structures in 28mm. Even a small house or farm covers a lot of table top space, and a village could easily cover half the table! What makes this especially problematic is that most war-games, for obvious reasons, use a ground scale that is quite different from the figure scale. We must do this, since a ground scale of 28mm to 6 feet would make musketry range 4 1/2 feet to 13 1/2 feet, and artillery canister would reach up to 26 feet away! Round shot would be out of the house and down the street! So we propose a ground scale, regardless of figure scale, that varies depending on the scope of the game from 25 yard to 100 yards an inch. This makes a single small 28mm scale building with, say, a measurement of 8 inches on a side monstrously huge in the ground scale-over 200 yards at even 25 yards to an inch! 400 yards at 50 yards to an inch!

Compounding this weird ground scale anomaly is the sheer size of 28mm terrain. I once had a collection of superb Herb Gundt created structures in 28mm; A French and Indian War wood fort, A Vauban fortification of over 3 feet on a side, a German Farm, a French chateau, a Three Musketeers Tavern, a large stone village home with a courtyard, etc. They were magnificent creations, but the took up too much space! Even with a war-game room that measures 12x 20 feet-dedicated to the hobby-they were consuming so much space in storage, there was little room for anything else! I sold them all. There just wasn’t anywhere to put them, unless I chose to live in a house that looked like a hoarder’s!

My answers to this storage issue? It’s an easy one, that I encourage every gamer to consider. Do the same thing with structures that you do with ground scale for weaponry- use structures for smaller scales! All of my terrain structures are in 10mm, with a few of indeterminate size, such as a windmill and some bridges, in 15mm. I use them with both my 10mm armies and my 28mm armies. The mind easily adjusts to the structure size disparities, just as it does to the disparity between figure and ground scale. All of my terrain fits in a two plastic storage boxes, that fit under one end of my table and on one shelf in my storage room. They take less than 50% of the space of 28mm terrain. If I gamed 15mm, I would look at 6mm structures for the same reasons.

I also took an added step of stipulating a certain size of terrain base, in my case 4”x 8”, that all my structures are built upon. Of, course larger structures, such as my 10mm model of la Haye sainte, are built, jig-saw puzzle-like, upon several interlocking 4X8” bases. Each base is defined as having a capacity of one regiment of troops, regardless of the number of structures upon it. This clearly defines the issue of how many troops may occupy a structure, or group of structures, and further defines just where that regiment is located in order to be attacked. The structure “Type” defines the cover the troops investing the structure(s) have in combat.

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Because all terrain structures share a common base, the issue of storage is further simplified and made even more efficient.

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Needless, to say, hills are hills and are of no particular scale, though for storage reasons I make sure all of my hills are flat topped.

I use trees that are from model railroading and are from 2-3” in height Each individually mounted on a tin disk so I can make a wide variety for forested areas. They are not so high as to get in the way, can be moved slightly to allow for occupying troops, and still give a nice forested look at any scale.

Streams are of no particular scale, but, again, I use segmented streams that allow for a variety of lay out and store flat in a shoebox.

Roads are to 28MM scale, two inches wide-simply because the units fit on them better, but I could have easily have chosen 1” roads-and may in the future. They are also segmented and store flat.

Wargame Terrain Part II , will concentrate on gaming concepts used in Die Fighting and Zouave concerning terrain and its effects on movement and combat. I hope to have it out next week, along with a battle report on this week-end’s game.






Metaphors

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In my many years in wargaming, I have often noted the intolerance that exists within the hobby for the other guy’s rules, the appearance of his tabletop terrain, the other guy’s choice of figure scale, and, even, what the other guy thinks he is doing when playing a war-game.

This critique usually takes the form of accused inaccuracy, “His rules are SOOOO unrealistic!”, or belittlement, “That game is just beer and pretzels!”, or damning of process,”They use Cards! Multiple sided dice! A variable turn sequence!” My favorite was a recent reviewer that incorrectly complained that Die Fighting used “A bucket of Dice”, thereby making it suspect.

Of course, the reverse is also true when claims are made that a group is refighting a historical battle and experiencing the “real” thing! Why they even included rules for the unit with the deaf captain and the illiterate messenger-that got lost in the woods in 1813!

It is important to remember that the first aspect of wargaming is the use of metaphors; the use of one object or process to represent another thing or process (either well or badly) . An example is to use the metaphor of a die roll to represent a round of musketry and its effect, or twelve metal 28 mm miniatures to represent 500 men and officers of a regiment, or a one inch high piece of foam, spray-painted green, to represent a thirty foot undulating hill.

Games are all about metaphors, and each metaphor is not only meant to represent some other thing or action, but that representation is abstracted in varying degrees set by an accepted rules structure. Do we need to roll a die 500 times, once for each actual soldier in a combat unit’s fire-or do we abstract that effect into 5 rolls, one for each hundred men, or a single roll? Do we actually need to place every figure into a structure-lifting the roof carefully, or simply declare that the men are in the house and “abstract” their presence? Do we need to remove figures from the table with we very “hit”, or simply mark a roster, or place a marker, or impose some immediate action upon the unit dependent on the degree of the loss? Does a unit have to have a set declared, ratio of figures to actual muster, or just declare that X figures represent the unit?

The truth is, that once you roll the first die, place the first figure on the table, draw the first card as a metaphor for the march of time, or accept that a cardboard and balsa box is a stone and mortar fortress-there is no certain answer to that question. It’s whatever your mind’s eye finds acceptable, and whatever your friends will tolerate or equally accept. There is no RIGHT answer!

However, it is also my experience that if there is one thing the hobby of wargaming has FAR too many examples of, it is literalness, i.e. the inability to abstract and remain open to indirect metaphors that can illustrate some truly meaningful things about warfare in a historical period, and combat in general. All too many gamers get so locked into the “Acceptable” metaphors of time sequencing, combat, movement, and command control that they are blind to alternatives that are no more “unrealistic” and , often, insightful in new ways in illustrating historical events and resolving strategic and tactical problems.

All metaphors are, by intrinsic meaning, false equivalencies, but they invite the mind to create meaningful, and better understandings from the use of the metaphor. The important thing is to be open to new ideas, new metaphors, and to have the intellectual curiosity to explore concepts that are new and different.

One man’s absurd idea, is another man’s brilliant metaphor!

Wise travelers often vary their route, no telling what wonders they might run across!

Why I Love The WSS!

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In “Picking a Wargame Period” I stated a number of reasons a person should select one wargaming period over another. Many of those factors figured in my current love of the WSS. I thought I’d tell you why.

When I started in wargaming in 1965 my first love was Napoleonics, There was something about the glorious and elaborate uniforms, the personas of the age such as Napoleon, Wellington, and even the world wide aspects of the war in the Levant and the Americas that really caught my imagination. Books by Chandler, Weller, and Oman were readily available. The period, even in those early days, was well supplied by Scruby, Minifig, Stadden, and several other manufacturers. After my first trip to Europe my interest was even higher as I had actually visited several battlefields and museums . ( Though, because of the cuisine, coffee and wines, not to mention sun and countryside, I switched my affection from the British to the French in war-game army preferences. It appears that a war gamer marches on his stomach as much as an army!)

The period was the bulk of my early wargaming and my first set of rules “Le Jeu de la Guerre” was a Napoleonic set. This set was one of the first to use hidden Combat Efficiency concepts, and had an interactive turn sequence. It was very popular in the early 70s, and some people still play it! It was in this period I first met Scott Bowden and Jim Getz. I spoke at the Napoleonic Symposium that Scotty ran in Dallas in 1980. I imported the “WarPlan 5/5 campaign system to the US and sold it for a couple of years. I wrote many articles for The Courier in that period-some of which on artillery use and ballistics, and on Lancastrian theorems- caused a bit of controversy and protestation-there were some epic exchanges with a fellow named Vietmeyer about Napoleonic national differences that also garnered some attention. Most of my writing revolved around Napoleonic wargaming.

It was then my life took on a different course, as I began a long career in television, and my career took precedence. During the 80s I had little to do with wargaming, and my figures never saw the table. During the late 80s, I edged back into the hobby, but was a little taken aback by the Napoleonic scene. The rules en vogue at that time had gotten VERY procedural and legalistic-often hundreds of pages in length, and one set had so many acronyms for its turn processes that it was like reading a foreign language! Many of the gamers playing Napoleonics has also gotten to a level of pedantry and petty bickering over inconsequential minutiae that was very off-putting. Instead of innovation, the answer for too many was layer upon layer of rules, sub-rules, and, coupled with the case numbering vogue, made Napoleonic gaming more bureaucratic than fun, and fresh ideas were crushed by “expertise.”

I was done with Napoleonics, and thought I’d try the American Civil War as a new refuge. This led to my writing, “Rebel Yell!”. There I attempted to combine roll-playing game-mastering with historical miniature play. It offered a number of new ideas, but was probably my least successful rule set. It did, however, provide some ideas that later blossomed in Piquet. I soon found, however, That the ACW, just wasn’t for me. The uniform variations were, to say the least, limited; the tactical variations were also fairly limited, with little role for cavalry, and with artillery not yet the dominating force it was to become, it was an infantry slugfest, which had settled down by 1864 into trench warfare in the East, and marauding raiders in the West. I also generally like periods where I can have some level of empathy with both sides of a conflict-and the American Civil War is as difficult for me as many theaters of WWII in that regard.

So, I was at sea for a period to concentrate upon. My answer? Do them all! This was exacerbated by my creation of a multi-period ruleset called Piquet which introduced card sequencing (not activation), highly variable turn sequencing, the concepts of being able to fire at any time, but not being sure when next you could have effect, and a novel means of morale assessment using chips. Some of the aspects of Piquet (especially the “Dress Lines” concept)-led to some calling it “Zen” Wargaming. It was, and is, a great set of rules, and many of its “wild” ideas are now found in many rule sets and are now accepted as standard practice. At that time they sure weren’t!

The need to expand out the Piquet series led me to acquire armies in the SYW, F&I W, Three Musketeers, ACW, Napoleonic, Hundred Years War, ECW, WWII, FPW, and Colonials! However, I had no real attachment to any one period, and most armies were brought up to numbers sufficient for a game, and not given the finishing touches that truly add character-such as mini-diorama scenes, and the impedimenta of trains, limbers, etc. It was a fun time in wargaming for me, and I attended every HMGS East show from 1994-2001 and wrote twos editions of Piquet and every rules supplement during that period, including the initial versions of Les Grognards, Hallowed Ground, Cartouche, Din Of Battle, and Point of Attack. I also brought several people into writing rules, supplements and scenario books during that period. My interests had no period focus as I was trying to do it all!

By 2001 two things occurred that, again changed the equation. First, I started my own company in TV Production and research which required me to step back from the hobby, and, quite frankly, I had burnt out on gaming. Burnout is a common enough result for many people who let the hobby become their business.

I retreated again from the hobby. I sold Piquet Inc. to Brent Oman, who I thought would keep it going, as he did. I sold all my painted figures and most of my unpainted figures-half of my library, and did not game again for almost eight years.

Then, as my career was winding down, and I was looking forward to retirement-it struck me that a return to wargaming was something I wanted to do. I thought again about experimenting with new concepts and ideas, and technology, which I had been very involved with, was now allowing increased control over the creation and publication of rule sets.

I contacted several old war-game buddies and started back into wargaming with the creation of RepiqueRules and the first set, Zouave. I was very energized by moving to a scale that was new to me, 10mm. and also, by the Franco-Prussian War, which was, in many ways, the first true example of a modern war, and presaged the horrific casualties, both military and civilian that were to characterize warfare for the next 75 years. It was the root cause of three wars-the FPW, WWI, and finally WWII. I found the reading of Alistare Horne’s books on the war and the commune very compelling. It had echoes of the Napoleonic past in the French Uniforms, and,yet, had the precursors of machine guns, trench warfare, and the administrative structure of armies and their staff. The numbers of combatants in battle began to edge to the massive scale of modern war, and communications and command control methods became central to military actions. It’s a very interesting period.

However, the period also has some intrinsic gaming issues, namely the French command was generally terrible, The Army had no real structural integrity, and the Prussians had, in their Krupp Breach loading cannon, an almost insurmountable technical advantage. You could compensate with clever scenarios, especially in the Republican period, and you could also, as a French player, adopt the “How well can I do given the limitations of the force?” attitude, but, over time, you yearn for a bit more balance in play.

It is here that I began to look around for another period to explore in conjunction with the development of Die Fighting. I made a list of characteristics I wanted in this new period. This was going to be a major choice, since I was probably, at my age, not going to start too many more armies (At some point you get your last cat, last dog, last car, and last war-game army, though not necessarily in that order!). Here is the list I created:

1. I wanted a period in which both sides were fairly balanced in their chances at victory.

2. I wanted a period in which historical information on tactics, uniforms, and campaign strategy was reasonably available and that information was portrayed by excellent historians and top-notch writing. I also wanted a period where the strategic aims were clear, and the tactics also clear, without too many exceptions and “fancy-footwork.”

3. The location of the conflict should be in Europe, though it would be a plus if it had wider implications and other theaters.

4. Colorful uniforms and flags would be desired.

5. It had to be supplied with figures by a variety of sources, and the figures available should offer more than static poses.

6. It would be in 28mm scale-since I already had two 10mm scale armies.

7. It would be Horse and Musket with a strong representation of cavalry.

8. It would be nice if the period selected hadn’t been gnawed upon by war-game pedants to the point where only a mangled carcass remained.

That was what I was seeking. As it happened, Die Fighting was being play-tested by a group in Norfolk, UK, and my point-man there was Tony Hawkins, a delightful fellow, and he, and the group were playing Marlburian games. The initial testing was all done in the early linear war period. AS we talked and that group gave me their spirited feed back, I began to look at the at period more closely. I had a few bags of Old Glory War of Spanish Succession figures ( the last done by Dave Alsop) that would get me started, hmmm….. I compared it to my list.

!. When one looks closely at the War of Spanish Succession, one soon realizes, that once you get beyond the British hagiographic portrayals of Marlborough and his victories at Ramillies, Blenheim, Malplaquet, and Oudenarde, that the war itself was quite a back and forth affair that the FRENCH finally won! With the exception of Blenheim, perhaps, the victories were all closely fought, and when one casts your attention across the Italian and Spanish theaters, the French allied forces had many a victory. You also begin to realize that there were many smaller engagements and skirmishes, and that a wide range of fighting occurred over the 14 years of the war, and it was more than four British battles and a bunch of sieges. It was a fairly well balanced campaign.

2. As for writers, You get the best. Churchill, and Chandler are well known to the English speaking world, and Chandler has an exalted place among Napoleonic buffs. Few gamers are aware that Chandler’s favorite period, and the one he preferred for wargaming, was the War of Spanish Succession! His ”Marborough as Military Commander,” and “ The Art of War in the Age of Marlborough” are essential reading.

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My favorite author, however, is John A. Lynn. Get a copy of “Giant of the Grande Siecle” and you will have one of the most impressive books on the period and , specifically, the French Army of Louis the XIV, that has been written. It is masterful. He has two other works, “The Wars of Louis the XIV, 1667-1714” and a shorter Osprey pub, “The French Wars 1667-1714” that are also very well written.

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Charles Grant has several uniform guides available, and Mark Allen’s series in Wargames Illustrated on the standards and uniforms of the 17th and early 18th century armies is now available on CD. Well written histories and information are readily available.

The tactics and drill of the period are simple. No light infantry, though dragoons often fill the bill, not a lot of artillery movement-you deploy them that’s where they’ll be unless you can coax the civilian train drovers to face fire (very unlikely) and the three arms are very much equal in their threat. Guns are effective, but heavy and not very mobile, and inaccurate at longer ranges, Cavalry is comparatively mobile and a threat to flanks, but must close; Infantry is a bit clumsy, but can hold ground, and the new impact of the flintlock is beginning to be felt.

The strategic aims are VERY clear-no grandson of a French King on the Spanish Throne-no Bourbons in Madrid! Sure, some squabbles over the low countries, a bit of hassle over The French border, but both sides are the usual suspects and the diplomacy is pretty straightforward. (The term “Perfidious Albion” certainly had its roots in the manner England exited this war!)

3. The WSS is, of course, a European War, but it has implications in North America as Queen Anne’s War, and segues into the Great Northern War involving Scandinavia, Russia, and Eastern Europe with little pause. Some of the troops are useable in both wars! It is not hard to adapt the WSS forces to earlier wars such as the 9 years war-though you may need to add some pike and matchlocks to the mix. No end of possibilities. For those so inclined, it also provides the opportunities of imagi-nations.

4. The uniforms are quite flashy and colorful, especially in 28mm! It is true that many nations used variations on gray and white uniforms with the huge cuffs supplying the reds, yellows, and other colors, but the pre-1707 Spanish coats are like a rainbow including purple, the Bavarians are (arguably) in bright blue, the English provide red coats, and the Prussians dark blue, the cavalry of many nations was in a wide range of coat and cuff colors. The flags are plentiful and very striking. Don’t miss the chance to have a LOT of flags! Because of the relative simplicity of cut and tailoring of the uniforms, the lack of turn backs, and, other than officers, a lack of gaudy lace and frou-frou, the units paint up quickly and are quite neat in their appearance. Remember, no powdered wigs in this period-even for the French!

5. Figures are available from some of the best casters in wargaming. Old Glory has a range, Front Rank has an excellent range ( I particularly like their cavalry and artillery), but my favorite is EBOR figures. I don’t think that there are finer figures being made anywhere! Their anatomy is simply wonderful-actually human! It is the posing, however, that sets them apart even more dramatically. The officers are available in a amazing range of poses-including shouting, waving hats or half-halbards, and their new artillery crews are simply unique in their imaginative, but correct, posing. Whether wiping a forehead, covering their ears from the concussion, or peering through a telescope to observe the effect-these figures are so very good! The line troops come with both grenadier hats or tricorns, and in a wide range of poses as well. The detail in the clothing is impressive-both in its richness, and in not being “too much”. When painted, these figures are really gems. As with most well designed, and cast figures, their excellence actually makes them easier to paint, and ben a basic paint job looks great! There are many reasons for my love of the WSS (as I am demonstrating in this article) but these figures are a major reason.

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6. With a period with the richness of uniform and flags of the WSS-28mm is truly required.

7. Thirty to Forty per cent of most armies were cavalry, and cavalry was often the arm that forced the battle’s decision.

8. There are pedants in the WSS, but the vagaries of the fine detail of uniforms and accouterments, coupled with the wide variation found within armies between regulation and practice-makes their certainty and the heavy hand of button counters a tad less effective. There is much range for opinion-especially informed opinion-and so greater latitude is allowed to all than in some later periods

So, the WSS is my period, and I look forward to adding a lot of period touches and detail (see the Wine Wagon on the forum) and my goal is about 30-40 units on a side to be used on my 12 foot table. I recommend it heartily to anyone looking for a great wargaming experience. I also realize that this is just my opinion, and that others may disagree and prefer other epochs, but they are, of course, foolishly wrong.

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Picking a Wargame Period

Selecting the periods we chose to war-game in is a key decision in our enjoyment of the hobby. This is particularly true when we are new to the hobby and “All Things are Possible,” but it is a constant issue as we game over the years. Heaven knows, there are many temptations along the way that can tempt us to try “just one more” period. There are also fads of brief interest in periods that are either little known or unusual that can lead us to scatter our interests and figure collection. This leads to the “hundreds of figures and no finished armies” problem resulting from a lack of focus that I mentioned in my “What I’ve learned from 50 years of wargaming” article.

So what should we look for in selecting a period?

Is it an interesting period? Of course, we would choose a period of interest to us, but is that enough of a reason? Are there other things we should ponder when making a choice that will commit us to a good bit of money and a number of years of study and painting or collecting the figures that are needed for a game?

Here are my thoughts:

1. Make sure you are VERY interested in the period. You should have some attachment to the period that is both emotional as well as intellectual. Do you find the historical personages admirable? Are they interesting as people? Does the history have an appeal to your own family history? Does the period just appeal to your personal tastes? It should have an emotional appeal to you that is much higher than you may find in other periods.

2. If the period marks some sort of watershed in military history, it is likely to have more intrinsic interest. There are several of these transitional periods that come to mind; The rise of cavalry in ancient warfare transitioning into the medieval period. The rise of gunpowder weapons in the 16th and 17th century, The transition from pike and musket to pure musket formations in the 1690 to 1710 period, the rise of light infantry and artillery in the late 18th century, Napoleonic “Nations at War” and the Corps System replacing “Wings” and “Lines”, the first modern wars in the 1860’s and 70’s; and, finally, the transitions that brought forth massive artillery, automatic weapons, tanks, and aircraft in the early to mid 20th century.

3. It would help if the period has a good level of literature and historical writings available. Certainly periods such as the Napoleonic era, ACW, and WWII are amply supplied-almost too much - as there is a LOT of crap and comic book-level history that often overwhelms the quality efforts. There is the old joke that a Light-year is the distance that all books on the American Civil War would cover if placed end to end. Other periods may suffer from not enough readily available information, but usually EVERY period has a few excellent works that can get you started. One of the keys to enjoying a period is developing a good bibliography, AND READING IT! This is the key challenge to historical war gamers, they have to read more than one work, and they may find excellent histories that differ on the factual record. Fantasy gamers read one codex and it is the TRUTH!

4. The search for uniform information is one of the joys of historical gaming, and I, personally, prefer a little bit of a search rather than having information too readily available. It adds to the joys of the hunt! In most periods, one must guard against becoming too literal and pedantic, by realizing that uniform information ( and tactical movement) are often imperfectly known, and open to more variation than the pedants seem to be willing to grant. There is much room for variation and personal taste in EVERY period, but some periods-such as Ancients, Napoleonics, and ACW seem to have more than their share of those that “Know what they know, and that’s the end of it!” All three of the above are very popular, but popular art, music, and movies might serve as a warning about “popular” being a positive description!

But the rest of military history has many wonderful periods that have not been overcropped. The 100 years War, The ECW and The Wars of Louis XIV, Marlborough The Great Northern war, SYW, The Wars of the French Revolution, The unappreciated FPW, and a number of inter-war clashes in the 1930s and into the early WWII period, all offer some very fresh and fun periods that haven’t been done to a crisp.

5. Figures are a key. NEVER go into a period where there are only one or two suppliers of figures. Wargame hobby businesses are notoriously ephemeral, and when the one maker of figures for some minor period goes under, you’re left holding the bag. But small companies that augment periods where figures are readily available from a wide number of suppliers are excellent sources for variety and for unusual units. I think it is wise to use a variety of figure makers as long as the figures aren’t too dissimilar in size. The different styles give good visual variety, and if used within the same unit can give a hint at the variety of sizes among the humans they model. If their size differential is too great then confine the overly large or small figures to one unit and do not intermix them. Units may vary greatly in size, but go unnoticed if not intermixed.

Occasionally, a figure maker comes along that offers such striking figures that one is attracted to a period solely because of their aesthetic appeal. In my next article on the WSS, I will explain how EBOR figures made me the WSS buff I am today. They are simply some of the best figures I’ve owned in all my years of wargaming, but more on that in my next posting.

These days it’s important to check if some manufacturers offer plastic figures in the period. If so, then the period becomes even more attractive. Plastic figures offer an inexpensive entry into a period by newbies, and are an excellent way to flesh out an army to a greater size than would otherwise be affordable by veteran gamers. When painted and mounted, plastics may be freely intermixed with metal units with no damage to the battlefield’s appearance. There is no real downside to using plastics figures that adding a little weight to their bases won’t cure!

6. Rules are a tricky area (and one where I am an interested party). Some periods offer scant variety in rules, or less than interesting rule systems, while some periods have too many options, so sorting the chaff from the wheat is very difficult.

All too often group think dictates which period will be played and with what rules. This has two immediate downsides; a tendency to go for a set of rules that are “Lowest Common Denominator” that are easy enough that a 6 year old can play them, or, even worse, a group that has played together for so long that the rules are incredibly complex with MANY house rules. Groups also gravitate to the most common periods WWII, ACW, Napoleonics, Ancients and seldom explore much else.

Having said that, they do provide a way to test out rulesets and periods before substantial sums are invested. They can provide, if you’re lucky, a good social atmosphere and exchange of ideas.

My own feeling is that a gamer, after a brief introductory exposure to rules, figures, and periods, should do his own thing. It’s your hobby, so find a period that you are interested in, select rules you want to play, buy figures that you find particularly good. Now, this requires that you commit to buying BOTH armies and completing suitably sized forces for each force. That is more expensive than “sharing” the cost between several people, but it has the signal advantage of you have ownership of the armies! If your friends move, or you move, it’s no matter-you can still play! If the group goes off on some fad, or the latest rule set, you still are in control of your own hobby experience. I have also found that if you provide the table, forces, and rule set-they will come! You will not lack for players in your games simply because you choose a separate path.

So be in control, build both armies in a period you enjoy, select rules you want to play, create a table and terrain that you find pleasing, and you’ll never lack for gaming partners and you’ll be doing what YOU enjoy.

7. Finally,do not become too narrow in your interests, both within a period, as well as curiosity about other periods you do not game. Broaden your interests to a more general love of history; read challenging authors-especially the ones that challenge the accepted truths; expand your interests into the arts and literature of a period, the diplomatic histories, and new scientific inquiries. DO NOT become the guy who counts buttons on a tunic, but has no idea what the Treaty of Paris was, or worries incessantly about the true description of the color “Aurore” but has no idea how Beethoven’s Third Symphony relates to Napoleon Bonaparte. Your choice of a war-game period can broaden your interests, increase your understanding of the world, nations, and even present day world affairs, and can, concurrently, make you more interesting to other people, or it can make you as small as the figures you paint, and with your intellectual horizons limited to the 4X6 foot war-game table.

In the next blog entry, I will extol my love of the WSS and how it happened.


A Question of Scale: Initial Ideas

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In the development of Die Fighting there were several issues that came up that interested me, one of which is game scale. Not the ground scale, or figure scale, or figure to troop ratio, but the size of the game in units, players, and dice.

Truth be told, I am not a great fan of the “Monster” games with multiple players, multiple umpires, and a table that stretches more than 12 feet in length. My gaming background and preference is always for a more intimate game of 1 or 2 players on a side and maybe 16-20 units total per side. However, I have the privilege of a private war-game room, and little need to “travel” for my games. Many people who lack a venue often find their only choice is a club or shop locale which generally tries to maximize the number of players and usually ends up with at least three, and often more, players per side in a game.

My complaint about such games is that they, by necessity, often require “convention” style game rules that are dead simple, not very complex, and where everybody gets to “do” something. This rather flies in the face of the rules I tend to write, and also, I believe, history. Rare, indeed, is the battle where every commander was actively defending or attacking, as the attacks were generally focused in one area of the battlefield at any given time. In most of my designs, focus, and a single line of attack, using a very simple plan, are rewarded. In fact, general, all across the front, attacks are often punished, as they often were in history. The usual complaint from unmodified multi-player Piquet games, or Die Fighting Games, at conventions is “I didn’t get to do anything!” That is, the action was elsewhere, and consuming the available energy in the game. Rather the equivalent of being on Little Round Top during Pickett’s attack.

But, a designer must also serve his audience and customers, so means are found to accommodate the monster game without doing too much damage to the ruleset’s conceptual underpinnings. This is usually done by breaking the battle front up into discrete, quasi-independent, separate games being played side-by-side. In Piquet ,this means that separate decks are used in each discrete segment, certain “special rules” are created for any actions that cross-over into adjoining sections, and combat and movement systems are simplified and made fairer by using special dice,and rules requiring a leveling of impetus available to both sides-often creating nearly equal “chances” to move and fire. It works. People enjoy it. Some games, such as Maurice, are, by design, not scalable, and restricted to their delimited size of 12-16 units, but most games can make some concession to scaling up. Few games are very scalable downward from the initial design-say playing Empire on a quasi-3-4 unit scale, for instance.

Similar scale problems exist with Die Fighting, though of a different nature-since movement is generally a bit more flexible, and the card phasing is also less rigid in its application, both sides always get a chance to move and take action. The best approach for very large games remains breaking down the battle front into several sections, with a different gamer having control within each area, and being opposed by another section commander across the way. In effect, each side is a number of concurrent games being played with the outcome in each section affecting the army as a whole.

The problem of scale that needs to be addressed in Die Fighting is related to two things, the application of the sequence deck, and the allocation of dice and dice buckets. Essentially, do the sequence cards apply to the whole army on one side, or just to each individual segment, and how are the dice buckets created and affected in each section, and what effect do they have on the whole army?

Here are some ideas:

1. If there are more than three gamers on a side, break up the game into sections. Each section uses the core rules as written. Within each section the “local” commander has complete discretion as to movement and combat. Each section may have more than one command stand, but those command dice may only be applied to troops in that section. The one exception is the Commander and Chief figure who may assign command dice, subject, to the usual distance limited die roll, to any unit on his side.

2. The number of dice available (and thereby units) to a commander in a given section should be limited to between 150 and 250 dice. (Once an army has more than 300 dice on a side, gamers should consider doing this even with games with fewer gamers but lots of troops.) The very large dice buckets otherwise delay the effect of dice expenditure when spread over an entire army when they exceed 250 per side. The game works, but the crisis and resolution are slowed down making for longer games. (One on one games of 200-250 per side are perfect!) Each has their own discrete bucket of dice, which when depleted, prevents them from taking any action but retreat.

My recommendation is to calculate the over-all army dice total and divide it into the number of players plus 2. If you have 5 players per side you’d divide the total dice by 7. If you have 4 players per side you divide it by 6. If you have 6 players per side ( and a lot of troops and a huge dice total), you’d divide by 8, etc. Each player gets one bucket, but the Commander in Chief gets two equal “Virtual Buckets”! He may assign the contents of one bucket in whole or part to any of his player/commanders at the table prior to play, thereby adding to their dice count. His other bucket is the “reserve” that he may assign on any Rally, Restore, Reload action card to any section-but must use the desired commander for a measured die roll to transfer the dice. The contents of the reserve may not be broken down, but must be assigned to one commander and section. The reserve may be a number of troops equal to the new dice, that enter the field in a section, along with their dice, or the commander may deploy these units as part of the initial deployment, and add only their dice at a later time-to ANY section-not just to the one they are in. The starting dice buckets of the various section commanders are hidden, so neither side can be sure as to the support a section has in dice available, or exactly what troops, if any, are not on the table.

3. When any army gets a one section advantage on the other army at the end of a six-phase turn. That is, one or more sections of one side have failed and run out of dice, and the enemy has either all sections functional, or one fewer “failed” section, the game has ended and the victor is declared. Point totals of remaining dice may be done for both sides and compared to measure the degree of loss.

4. For reasons of clarity and speed of play-use one deck for each army with the active phase card affecting alls actions on one side. One might experiment with separate decks for each section, but I feel the single deck gives a better game, and allows the Commander in Chief a more focused role.

This method does several interesting things. It keeps the pressure of dice expenditure immediate regardless of the size of the battle. It cleverly enforces the orders of the commander in chief, by restricting certain actions in their actions and enabling others. This is done without written orders , but has a similar, and enforced, effect. It adds suspense to the game since no section commander can be quite sure of the enemy section commander’s capabilities (i.e. dice) or, for that matter, his ultimate number of units.

It also imposes a distinct difference between the allocation or dice (ersatz orders) prior to battle, allowing a commander to sub-divide and tweak the starting totals of each sub-commander, but enforcing a strict one section, concentrated, commitment of the reserve later in the game. It does this while also disguising the ultimate intentions of the commander and also the option to disguise the ultimate total number of units available. It should be noted that the movements of the CInC figure may be indicative of the reserve’s ultimate commitment, but, given the 4 dice range of movement (24&rdquoWinking could be disguised to some extent by both movement of command units and their ocation near a section dividing line.

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This idea needs testing and development, but, I think underlines the amazingly flexible, subtle, and historically valid mechanisms that Die Fighting’s Dice allocation, acquisition, and expenditure concepts will allow scenario designers and campaign moderators.

What I've Learned From 50 Years of Wargaming! Part One

The only advantage to getting older is the ability to get a wider view of the world and more experiences-good and bad-to guide our actions.

I started in wargaming in 1960, and in miniature wargaming in 1965. I’ve had the good fortune to meet Don Featherstone, Jack Scruby, Scotty Bowden, JIm Getz, The “Duke”, and, more recently, Sam Mustafa. I’ve been writing rules since 1972 with Le Jeu De La Guerre, and have attended and run booths at Historicon, Fall In! and Cold Wars, plus a few local Conventions here in Denver, such as Tacticon. I’ve written articles for Table Top Talk, MWAN, Wargamer’s Newsletter, and a few others. So what “Gems of Wisdom” have I learned in that period to pass on? Well, Here’s a few:

1. FOCUS!

Select a period that you really find interesting and stick with it. An argument may be made to select a period in three or four major war-game subdivisions such as Ancients, Medieval, Horse and Musket, and Modern, but limit the number of eras you game in. I’ve seen too many gamers that shift willy-nilly from the latest fad period to another, never finishing any army, and ending up with fragments of armies from dozens of periods-including some so obscure that more people play war-games in the period than actually fought the original war!!!

This includes settling on a few figure scales that fit the period you have chosen. Certainly, some periods with colorful and interesting uniforms cry out for treatment in 28mm, while other, especially the modern periods from 1860 through WWII, might be better served with 10s or 15s-not only to better fit a visual agreement with ground scale, but because the later uniforms are pretty monochromatic and plain. If you have any periods with multiple scales, duplicating the same units in 15, 28, etc.-get real! You will have drawers full of unpainted figures, and, again, nothing will be completed.

2. SIMPLIFY!

This includes focusing on a few periods, and a limited number of scales, but includes defeating the hoarding tendencies of many wargamers. Foremost among these are the “collections” of books and magazines. These items take up a lot of space and are often the source of clutter and chaotic information resourcing.

You will never refer to those stacks of magazines again! Usually there is no index, no means of referencing exactly what article is in which issue; so after two or three years accumulate-they are wortless as you cannot remember, or find, anything when needed. Some of the more progressive pubs are digitizing some of their content by subject or theme and putting it on CD, often with an index. Lately, Wargames Illustrated did this with the Mark Allen 17th-18th century articles. Excellent! Buy the digital CDs, trash the mags-or sell them to some unmarried fool with more room than sense.

Books are even more egregious. Let’s face it, the number of truly useful references in a period, especially for war-game uses, are limited. Buying every damn book on warfare in every damn period, is a waste of money and postage. It may make you feel “smarter” by having walls covered with books, and stacks of books in every corner, but most of the books written on military history are repetitive, offer few new insights, and are not adding much to historical studies, and certainly not to popular literature on history so loved by war gamers.

Every period has a few really well written, and excellent histories, that can help a gamer understand a war, the tactics used, and give insights on the major characteristics of warfare as it was fought, but the gain from adding book after book is one of diminishing returns.

I used to play a mind game where I imagined I was going on a world cruise on a sailing ship and I could only take a six-foot bookshelf of all my books. What would I take? What would I discard? It focuses the critical faculties on what books are REALLY important to you. I have now instituted a wargame/history limit of one three foot shelf per period, and my periods are down to WSS, ACW/FPW, Colonial WWI Air, WWII Naval, War-game History and rules and a general warfare category that is allowed two shelves. Any new book coming in displaces the least needed of the remaining books on the shelf. I have culled my book collection to less than 1/3 its greatest size…and I miss nothing! What’s left is gold, no dross, and it never grows! Digital downloads are making space-consuming printed books less necessary, as is simple on-line research. I’m sure some of you have books with my bookmark in them!

An adjunct rule is that, if you have not touched, opened, or read a book in the last two years-it goes! This is easily instituted by placing a piece of paper in a book with a date written on it. A library card with a two-year due date!

Trust me, too many war gamers become a prisoner of their “Stuff” Free yourself from your hoarding instincts and you will acquire new energy in the hobby ( and some additional funds from their sale to finance your war-game activities)!


3. EMPTY YOUR CLOSETS!

No one benefits from those bags of unpainted lead in the closet. They are, instead, a testament to your procrastination and misspent funds as your wife constantly reminds you. Every time you see those silver mementos of impulse buying and lack of focus they are another indicator of action that needs to be taken. Either paint them, send them to Sri Lanka to be painted, or sell them! The same two-year inventory method used with books may be used with figures. Often, if they are older than two years the artistic and casting abilities of the figure-makers has advanced so far that they may be unsellable. Sell them NOW! This is even more true of figures that are mere fragments of past interests in a period you KNOW you will not pursue!

Think of it as passing on a pet to a good home that will take better care of them, and greater needs, than you have!

4. GET OUT OF THE RUT!

By all means try new things, read new historical studies, examine new rule sets, and open your gaming to new experiences. In fact, strive harder to do this. This may seem to be at odds with my advice to focus, but it is not. Within the areas you have a greater interest, simply diversify. Read areas of the history that extend beyond the military such as historical novels, plays. movies, music, poems from or about the period, diplomatic histories, memoirs, and scientific studies both archeological and science-based inquiry on the historical record. Try new rule sets instead of the same old thing. Open your mind, not by flitting about the historical record, but in expanding your experiences within your chosen interest. New ideas are the lifeblood of maintaining interest in a hobby.

5. STOP BEING A NICE GUY!

This is especially true when you get past the magic age marker of 50. Look, your time is more precious now than it once was, as the hour glass has more sand in the bottom than the top. (this is sometimes true of body shape as well). There is no need to do anything that you don’t enjoy doing, none. If you don’t like a certain set of rules. Don’t play them! If you don’t enjoy the company of certain people at your table. Don’t play war-games with them. Find the people that you do enjoy gaming with and the rules you want to play, and then spend your time enjoying them! Screw the rules-lawyers, people that make gun sounds with their mouth, those move-counter move, perfectly obvious, rule sets, the Napoleonic (or Ancients) pedants, the quasi-racists, and people who never actually read books. You don’t have to be “nice.” You have an obligation to your own enjoyment that is greater than some imagined need to be one of the bunch. Now, if you find that your perfect war-game experience is solo-you might want to reflect on your sociability, but, short of that, don’t be afraid to say “No!” and to be selective in your use of time. You owe it to yourself!

6. FIRM DON’TS!

Never eat at a place named “Mom’s”
Never sleep with a woman whose problems are worse than yours.
Never play cards with a man Named Doc.
Never play Ancients with a man named Phil.
Never play Napoleonics with a man named Todd.
Better yet, never play Napoleonics.









The Theoretical Basis of Die Fighting


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One of the great truisms of wargaming is that there are no bad or foolish war-game generals. No table-top general has ever been outfoxed as thoroughly as Mack during the Ulm Campaign, fought his troops as poorly as Hooker, was as incompetent as Bazaine in 1870. They may admit to being unlucky and rolling too many ones, or not getting the right cards in card activated games, but they would never admit to just being out thought and outfought.

In fact, most war-game designs that gamers find attractive, protect them in many ways from the embarrassment of just being soundly beaten. The rules provide many buffers, and layers, that allow them an “out” and excuse for the unfortunate outcome of a table-top battle. It is a long established tradition of wargaming for the analysis of the battle over beers that allows all sides the opportunity to claim bad luck, unfortunate timing, or an ill-written rules for any failures, and not themselves. The ultimate denial of responsibility for a loss is, of course, “The rules suck!”

The other truism is that many gamers want rules that constrain choices, and present a limited and unambiguous decision matrix. If they know the rule, and they apply it correctly, they want a predictable and expected outcome with tiny risk of variable results. They want to limit surprises, or the unexpected, as much as possible. They very much want to reinforce the advantages of knowing the arcane details of rules, and special application of a little known rules, so that their expertise and lawyer-like knowledge of the rulebook becomes a dominant factor is victory.

In my experience, war gamers may be the most risk-adverse people in the world!

All of his is totally unlike the actual experience of war that we find in reading their actual history, especially in the accounts of the actual participants as they are immersed in a battle’s unfolding narrative.

In my article on Piquet’s theoretical basis, I have previously discussed the many ways that gamers tolerate game conditions, especially the psychological conditions, that are totally at odds with the actual experience of command in battle. These range from helicopter views of the exact units on the table, their location, and movement, to obsessively limited and predictable combat outcomes (in the most extreme form this leads to the board game behavior of counting and stacking units to achieve the exact CRT odds that guarantee victory, much like a tax accountant calculates your tax bill). That article is still found on the Piquet website.

In Piquet, my design goal was to take gaming in a new direction that made the MANAGEMENT of unpredictability and surprise, and, yes, even unfairness and unequal opportunity, the prime goal of the gamer. It was not getting perfect odds, or making the perfect move with perfect intelligence, but in dealing with the vagaries of chance, estimations of threats, the inability to respond to every circumstance, the unfairness of the current situation and finding ways to turn events to your advantage and then to victory. This is what good generals do.

It also upset many gamers who had never in their lives actually managed anything, or any group of people. Gamers who had more of a desire to be a perfect general, with the limitation of risk to a mere die-roll here or there as a minimal concession to chance, and lacked any ability at seeing the big picture. They were detail people-details of buttons, weapons, and rule 12.0741 on page 58, not people comfortable with either ambiguity or abstraction. This was not surprising, since the last thing may people want is to be reminded of their actual capabilities, and instead, instead, be reinforced in an imaginary success and securing victories they seldom find in real life.

If anything, I was shocked at the number of people in wargaming that accepted the challenge in Piquet, and supported it so strongly. Even then, there was always a tendency to temper the pure distillation of the concept and make it “fairer” and to provide gamers with a more traditional move-countermove-equality of opportunity, and more limited range of combat outcomes. In more extreme forms, the variants became as rigid and obvious in their decision matrix as any other war-game and risk was once again relegated to a back seat. To use a metaphor I’ve used before; The Chess elements won out over the Poker elements in the design.

I see Die Fighting as a design to once again address the themes I started with Piquet, but from another direction. Instead of limiting opportunity for taking actions, as I did with the Sequence deck in Piquet, I came at the problem as one of limiting the degree of capability in taking each action, whether movement or combat, in Die Fighting.

Capability in war-games is usually measured in a few standard ways. When one can move a unit, how far one can move a unit, how much and how far a unit can project its effect on the enemy, and how well a unit can withstand that effect. Victory is usually determined by one army has either taken a certain stated objective, has eliminated the enemy, and/or his capability to reach his objectives.

In the simplest war-games, that capability is rigidly defined as I move-you move; Movement is rigidly stated as “Infantry moves 4” and Cavalry 12”” or something similarly stated, weaponry reaches certain points usually scaled to a stated able top scale, and has effect that is usually expressed as an attritional elimination of a figure or stand. In early wargaming the games were usually fought to the last man, until that became absurdly atypical of battle, and morale rules were introduced to allow units to rally, reconstitute, and reform and some sort of arbitrary loss ratio was created to declare one side a victor. Objectives were usually also simple; eliminate the enemy army on the tabletop.

Except, in every battle report by contemporary participants movement is not very predictable, distances covered are wildly removed from any sure D=T*D formula, weaponry performance, in all periods, is, while more predictable in the aggregate, is often extremely variable at the front line, often occurring at the extremes and not at the norm. Losses and retreats are on a local minor tactical level-NOT attritional, but sudden and immediate. Most of all the behavior of armies as a total force is not minutely controllable to either side, only less so to the losing side. Their orders may be specific. Their tactics may be drilled. The plan may be agreed to, BUT , as Clausewitz remarked, no plan remains unchanged beyond the first round fired.

In short, a mechanistic treatment of battle as found in all too many war-games misses the main, most obvious, aspects of battle in terms of confusion, human foibles and failures, the capability to manage variables, and the acceptance of risk. it builds a false impression of battle, that it is a formula, a mere assembly of assets and clever moves, that when perfectly done, leads to success. Learning the rules well becomes more important than managing often uncontrollable behaviors of individuals and units, and dealing with variables, both adverse and favorable, as they occur.

There are many ways these behavioral effects and variables may be portrayed in a war game design. Before I continue, I must remind any readers that I have a point of view. That does not make me right or those that prefer other solutions wrong-but it does determine what I choose to design and play. It is also true that, after 50 years of playing war-games, I’ve come to a point where i don’t have time for some aspects of gaming that are frankly just not that interesting to me. I will probably never play any miniature game that has a classic move-countermove turn structure, fixed movement rates, fixed turn sequences, or unlimited capacities for any of the above actions.

With that disclaimer, let me elaborate on Die Fighting.

Card Sequencing

I retained the concept of card sequencing first used in Piquet, but changed it noticeably. Card sequencing adds a great deal to every game that uses it. Foremost is the breaking up of time into sequences with varying degrees of unpredictability. It also allows the insertion of unique events. Where Die Fighting shines is the toolkit it gives in this area. Die Fighting has simplified the sequence deck into six elements that are constant in makeup, but allows a number of different uses of the deck for sequencing ranging from a near-conventional fixed sequence, to random sequencing, to mixtures of asymmetrical sequencing not seen in many other rules. It begs to be tinkered with, and provides some really clever means to illustrate the quality of command control of the entire army. It is simple, but the variations are very complex. I offer suggestions in the rules as to some period applications, as a guideline, but , depending on the scenario, nature of the competing armies, and for that matter, the number of gamers playing, any of the methods, plus some to be yet invented could be used.

This requires some thought by the scenario writer, and the gamers, but allows tailoring the game in some very exciting ways. It is the one area that many new gamers don’t think of as intently as I had hoped. My suggestions in DF are just that and not meant to be hard and fast dictates on which sequencing should be used. I am particularly fascinated with asymmetrical move sequences, where the two armies are not totally in sync in the move sequence. Aside from reflecting the chaotic narrative of most battles, it adds great drama to the game, while avoiding all sorts of movement “special Rules” found in many rules to deal with who moved first, or where in the move sequence units meet. Die Fighting makes that clear and certain.

Variable Movement

Rolling for distance moved is one of the primary variable limitations in capacity in Die Fighting. You never know the exact distance a unit may move. This means in the aggregate sou know about how far an infantry or cavalry unit, but because of everything from small fluctuations in ground not reflected on most tabletop billiard-like surfaces, but present on every battlefield, to small inefficiencies of training and command, the actual distance traveled will vary, sometimes exceeding all expectations, and other times falling miserably short. Die Fighting’s “Charge” Rule also makes the charge into physical contact by cavalry, or infantry less of a perfunctory thing, and open to both the glorious moment and the “high water mark” failure of a Picket.

Using distance as time, as the Rule of Six does, underscores the interrelation of those elements. Coupled with variable movement, mounting cavalry, dismounting, maneuvering, and deployment, all assume added risk and are not just a mechanistic surety.

Significance of Officers

Many war-gamers get so caught up in the details of weaponry, drill, and the often meaningless minute differences between armies (especially in the Horse and Musket era) that they accent these characteristics beyond all reason, and minimize the effect of the greatest single determinate of victory-the officer corps! Though Commanders in Chief get their due, many a rule set under-represents what I think is a chief determinate of victory the command structure, as represented by the officer corps-on the brigade level and the command level. Die Fighting does not. The use of the Command Dice is absolutely crucial to success. The Red resource dice are a fixed element in every action, the Green “Free” dice are the same for both armies in a given situation, BUT the command dice not only vary in amount, but are the key means for compensating for disadvantages, or insuring an advantage in a crucial actions. The placement of the command figures (and their dice) on the battlefield is key. Their judicious use within a turn is critical. No worse feeling than to have used up the command dice, just when you need them most. The use of the command dice for movement and morale is every bit as important as in combat. Movement uses are often not given the weight they should be by gamers, especially early in the battle when key objectives are to be gained.

These dice, coupled with the “personalities” given to officers, are key in initial deployments and the implementation of plans. Officers in DF are very important. Very important!

Catastrophic Effects on the Tactical Level

I hate attritional combat systems. I find war-games where the two forces lock grips and then push each other, over a voluminous number of die-rolls, back and forth a few inches, until one side loses “X” number of points, figures, etc. as excruciatingly boring. To be sure, many battles had some element of attritional combat-especially in attacks on towns, structures, or in sieges of forts, but most battles were far more fluid with a number of quick clashes at disparate points along an attack front, with much to and fro, until one side noticeably recoiled. They were seldom locked in combat-hand to hand - for any appreciable length of time, but engaged in separate distinct attacks-often quickly settled, that, in aggregate, determined whether one side o the other would advance. This is especially true of horse and musket periods and later.

Die Fighting handles this very well as the range of die results can be very wide, but with the ability to pay for minor loss with Resource dice, and the judicious use of Command dice, these extremes can be handled-for a while…But, eventually, a result that exceeds 6 will cause a noticeable retreat, and with the new Catastrophic Loss rule, a complete removal! The game delivers decisive results and not some muddling on of interminable combat. This is entirely consistent with the fact that a turn is scaled time and illustrates anywhere from a half-hour to hour of elapsed time and that most combat will have some sort of resolution on a local front in that time span.

This is achieved with no necessity for either figure or stand removal, except in the case of catastrophic loss of a whole unit.


The Diminution of Capability-Counter-balanced by Achievement of Objectives.

This is the primary innovation of Die Fighting. It is the source of the biggest misunderstandings and the loudest objections. It also, when properly implemented, is one of the few rules sets to capture a key aspect of battles, the exhaustion and loss of capability by one (or both) sides to carry on a battle.

First of all, YOU DO NOT NEED HUNDREDS OF DICE! A simple Chessex “box” of 30 for the Yellow, Black, and Green mini dice will do for the non-resource dice. even as few as 50 red resource dice would be fine for each side, but with the use of a dice roster for the red dice, as few as a dozen resource dice a side would do. I, personally, like the convenience of each side having 100 or 150 dice in a “bucket”per side ( A cost of less than $30 from Amazon). It is also very satisfying to hear dice being lost by the enemy.

What the dice do is put a limit on capacity to offer battle for the entire army. In a way they represent the energy, morale, and casualties of the army in one common measure. They put a price on every movement, every decision to offer battle, every troop that is rallied. Every action costs something of the army infrastructure, until a point is reached that the army can do no more. This is seldom handled by other rules other than as an arbitrary number or morale point. What those approaches lack, that Die Fighting possesses, is a sure linkage between decisions to take actions, whether movement, combat, or morale and an immediately observable cost.

If a commander is too unfocused in his attacks and moves about willy-nilly and attacks targets that are not critical to victory, he is the equivalent of a wastrel spending his father’s wealth, until there is no more. He will run out of capacity before his opponent and lose. The Die Fighting Resource Dice concept imposes a gradually increasing cost to every action and every decision, that over the game, if done unwisely ,will leave him at a great disadvantage to an enemy that is focused, economical in his use of force, and measured in his commitment of units. These are the basic tenets of commanders throughout history! It also is hard to escape the consequences of our decisions.

It does require balancing the expenditure of resource dice by an attacker with a reward of dice for capturing objectives and destroying enemy units. That is, the attack costs more dice than the defense in most situations (if for no other reason than the attacker is spending dice to move forward), so he must be rewarded for they endeavor by dice being returned to him by the taking of an objective. As with most battles, a number of local objectives taken, gradually contribute to the battle being won.

I call this establishing a rate of exchange in the battle scenario. It has been the part of Die Fighting that needs the most exploration and the most thought. In the original rules i offered some suggested rates of exchange, that were not sufficient, or interesting enough, when tested over time in our games. I have considerably fleshed this area out in the article found in the yahoo! sites file section “Die Fighting Materials”on Rules for Objective Placement and Values. This is getting very close to the mark. The area is not one that is easily codified for every battle scenario, and requires a bit of art as well as science, but one soon gets a sense of the proper value assignments and placement after a game or two. The ability for some creative people to create inventive objectives and their values is a very intriguing aspect of the rules. In the WSS period, for instance, I added the moving objective of the train to the defense objectives.

The best effect is that a definitive end to the game is provided by the empty bucket of the losing side, unless the inevitability of that outcome is such that an earlier concession is made.

The Crafting of Battles

The above section hints at the amazing capacity of Die Fighting to craft a battle scenario. By the judicious choice by the scenario designer of the Card Sequencing method for either or both sides, the number of objectives in either player’s zones or the neutral zone, the assignment of their multiple values, and the valuation of the commanders and their number, he can use far more subtle and effective means of crafting the game experience for the gamers involved than just the number and rated quality of units, and the placement of terrain that most rules allow. Die Fighting does this with a minimum of special rules in play, very few tables or special rules, and fairly straightforward and simple game mechanics.

Die Fighting is an open invitation to creative scenario designers. I intend to do an additional blog entry on the differences between one on one or two on two game play and large group gaming with DF-along with a small 1 on 1 game battle report in the next few days.