Monday, December 17, 2018

Braddock Down 1643

Pete and Jamie were over on Saturday afternoon for the Last Game of the Year, in this case, the English Civil War battle of Braddock Down in January of 1643 using Pikeman's Lament. The historical context was the Royalist Baron Ralph Hopton was trying to break his Cornish army out of Cornwall but was blocked by a Parliament army operating out of Plymouth under Colonel William Ruthven. Ruthven was hoping to score a quick victory to quash Royalist support in Cornwall altogether, and thought he had pounced upon the stragglers of Hopton's army – only to discover he was facing Hopton's main army as a whole. Both sides drew up on opposite slopes of Braddock Down, and Hopton's Cornish Pike attacked. Parliament fired but once (hitting two Cornwall men) and then turned and fled, ending the battle!

This game was very enjoyable, which is especially important for two reasons: first, because I had ginned up a very diverse set of unit profiles that I was hoping would give a much more balanced game with the right amount of period flavor (I'm going to post all of those up in a separate post). In this particular game, the new units featured where a new Harquebusier cavalry unit (a slightly less enthusiastic Galloper with no wild charge and a pistol attack added) representing "generic" English cavalry for the period used by both sides, '42-'42 Harquebusiers (Trotters) representing early Parliamentarian cavalry which used Dutch cavalry tactics, the vaunted Cornish Pike (regular pike but with better Morale and Move scores to represent their enthusiasm), regular infantry divided into Seasoned Regiments (regular Pike and Shot) and Trained Bands (lower Morale and Move scores to represent their slight lack of enthusiasm). Finally, I used the artillery rules I have been using in my Italian Wars games (reload actions, dice thrown varied by range), and artillery units counted as their own "companies" (so failures trying to shoot or reload did not count against your Officers' companies). Also, I increased all infantry movements to 8". All unit profiles are included at the bottom of this post.

The second reason this game's success was important was the victory conditions set out. As you can see, I poured lines of flock about 12" from each long board edge. Braddock Down was fought in a slight depression between two low hills. Both sides deployed on an opposite hill. The flock lines represent the hills. Since this is essentially a defensive battle for the Royalists, Parliament's goal is to have units outnumbered the Royalist units on the Royalist hill. The Royalists want to push the Parliamentarians back to their starting positions, so their victory condition hinges on outnumbering the Parliamentarians in the middle zone. Therefore, a "major victory" for each side becomes evident (for both sides, really, have +1 unit than the other in both the middle zone and the Royalist zone), with draws and possible "minor victories" as well. This doesn't seem complicated or even particularly innovative but I've become aware recently of how often players in a game will keep their armies stationary and "play it safe" by slugging away with ranged attacks, which is particularly boring and unsatisfying if nothing else. "Objective zones," or whatever you'd like to call them, force the players to actually fight for "control of the field".

I probably gave Parliament too much infantry and had too much of it be "Seasoned Regiments" instead of "Trained Bands" but oh well. Since there were three of us, and since Parliament had 13 units vs. the Royalist 10, I took a smaller portion of the Parliament forces with Pete taking the majority, and Jamie played the Royalists. The starting dispositions found the Royalists on Beacon Hill, with their center held by the Cornish Pike, their left by two units of cavalry and a falconet, and their right by three cavalry units and falconet. Additionally, a unit of shot (Seasoned Regiment) were deployed forward behind hedgerows by the farm. Opposite them, Parliament had cavalry on the wings and a larger mass of infantry in the center.

(Above: Starting positions, Parliament on bottom, Royalist on top)

(Above: Parliament infantry)

(Above: Another view, Royalists on left, Parliament on right)

Parliament surged off the hill and into the low ground, and its cavalry attacked on both flanks. On the Parliament right, harquebusiers used their follow-up attack to destroy a shot unit and rode right up on to Beacon Hill. On the left, Pete rolled boxcars and then another 6 and received a reinforcement unit of more '42-'43 Harquebusiers, and shooting by Royalist Dragoons was ineffective. With Parliamentary horse on the hill and the bulk of the Parliamentary infantry already halfway across the low ground in the middle, things seemed to be going extremely well.

(Above: Parliament center advancing)

(Above: Parliament center advancing)

(Above: Royalist harquebusiers)

But then the Royalist falconet fired upon aforementioned Parliament harquebusiers on the hill, and routed the unit, including its officer. This triggered a morale check on the other cavalry unit in that company, which also failed and fled. With the Parliamentary right gone, the Cornish Pike advanced down off Beacon Hill, and good shooting sent a unit of Parliamentary muskets packing as well. To top it off, Jamie rolled boxcars and the Royalists ended up with unit of Harquebusier reinforcements as well.

(Above: Cornish Pike at center right. This is just before the Parliamentarian cavalry at the left side there ran away)

 
After this counter-swing in fortune, the Parliament left's cavalry kept chipping away at the Royalist right, pushing them further and further back onto the hill. And in the center the Cornish Pike's advance faltered and began to break up. The "game clock" stopped when one side hit 50% units lost, and the Royalists were right on the brink. Parliament clearly had control of the middle zone, but the Royalists enjoyed a very slight (2 vs. 1) unit advantage on their hill. So Jamie played a little "dirty pool" (as described by Pete) and had his harquebusier unit attack Parliament pike in close order, a melee he predictably lost and therefore "stopped the clock." Parliament enjoyed a 5 units vs. 2 advantage in the middle ground and 1 vs. 2 disadvantage on the hill, so it was ruled a minor victory for Parliament.

(Above: Endgame, I think. You can see how close Parliament pike units were to climbing Beacon Hill in the center there)
 

You could argue that Jamie's "clock-stopping" was gamey and thus the "objective zones" victory condition didn't alleviate the sort of gamey-ness I was trying to solve. But I figure at least he was still attacking and not just turtled up, which is the behavior I am most-seeking to disincentive.


Further rule suggestion/modification arising from this game was to make it a little easier for guns to fire, since they are already limited by their needing a reload action and their limited shooting dice at longer range, a suggestion I agree with – if a falconet is only throwing 4 dice at 8"-16", you might as well let them plug away a bit.



ORDER OF BATTLE:

HOPTON (Royalists)

Horse Company #1
Dragoons 3pts
Dragoons 3pts
Dragoons 3pts

Horse Company #2
Harquebusiers 4pts
Harquebusiers 4pts

Foot Company
Seasoned Shot 4pts
Trained Band Shot 3pts
Cornish Pike 6pts
Cornish Pike 6pts
Cornish Pike 6pts

Falconets x 2 (6 pts)
Two light guns. These are hidden behind a horse unit. Secretly designate which.

TOTAL 48 points

RUTHVEN (Parliament)

Horse Company #1
Harquebusiers 4pts
Harquebusiers 4pts

Horse Company #2
'42-'43 Harquebusiers 4pts
'42-'43 Harquebusiers 4pts

Foot Company #1
Seasoned Shot 4pts
Seasoned Shot 4pts
Seasoned Pike 4pts

Foot Company #2
Seasoned Shot 4pts
Seasoned Shot 4pts
Seasoned Pike 4pts

Foot Company #3
Trained Band Shot 3pts
Trained Band Shot 3pts
Trained Band Pike 3pts

TOTAL: 49 points

UNIT PROFILES*

HOPTON'S ROYALISTS

HARQUEBUSIERS 4 Points
Attack 6+ Attack Value 4+
Move 5+ Defense Value 5+
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value/ Range 5+/6"
Morale 4+ Max. Move 10”
Stamina 3 # of Figures 6
Special Rules: Counter-charge; Compulsory Follow-Up (as per rulebook but can only be done once per game per unit)

DRAGOONS 3 Points
Attack 7+ Attack Value 5+
Move 5+ Defense Value 6+
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value/ Range 5+/12”
Morale 5+ Max. Move 12”
Stamina 2 # of Figures 6
Special Rules: Skirmish

CORNISH PIKE 6 Points
Attack 6+ Attack Value 5+
Move 5+ Defense Value 4+
Shoot -- Shoot Value/ Range --
Morale 3+ Max. Move 8”
Stamina 3 # of Figures 12
Special Rules: Close Order

SEASONED SHOTTE 4 Points
Attack 7+ Attack Value 6+
Move 5+ Defense Value 5+
Shoot 7+ Shoot Value/ Range 5+/18”
Morale 4+ Max. Move 8”
Stamina 2 # of Figures 12
Special Rules: First Salvo

TRAINED BAND SHOTTE 3 Points
Attack 7+ Attack Value 6+
Move 6+ Defense Value 5+
Shoot 7+ Shoot Value/ Range 5+/18”
Morale 5+ Max. Move 8”
Stamina 2 # of Figures 12
Special Rules: First Salvo

FALCONET 3 Points
Attack -- Attack Value --
Move 6+ Defense Value 6
Shoot/Reload 8+/6+* Shoot Value/Range 5-6+ /12”*
Morale 5+ Max. Move 8”
Stamina 1 # of Figures 4
Special Rules: *Reload: After a successful shooting action, cannot fire again until making a reload action at 7+, then 8+, 9+ etc.
Closing Fire on test at 8+.
Short Range (0”-6”): 12 dice @ 5+ (4+ if target Close Order) target @ -1 stamina & auto Morale test
Long Range: (6”-16”): 4 dice @ 6+

RUTHVEN'S PARLIAMENTARIANS

'42-'43 HARQUEBUSIERS 4 Points
Attack 6+ Attack Value 5+
Move 5+ Defense Value 4+
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value/ Range 5+/6”
Morale 4+ Max. Move 10”
Stamina 3 # of Figures 6
Special Rules: Caracole

HARQUEBUSIERS 4 Points
Attack 6+ Attack Value 4+
Move 5+ Defense Value 5+
Shoot 6+ Shoot Value/ Range 5+/6"
Morale 4+ Max. Move 10”
Stamina 3 # of Figures 6
Special Rules: Counter-charge; Compulsory Follow-Up

SEASONED PIKE 4 Points
Attack 7+ Attack Value 5+
Move 5+ Defense Value 4+
Shoot -- Shoot Value/ Range --
Morale 4+ Max. Move 8”
Stamina 3 # of Figures 12
Special Rules: Close Order

SEASONED SHOTTE 4 Points
Attack 7+ Attack Value 6+
Move 5+ Defense Value 5+
Shoot 7+ Shoot Value/ Range 5+/18”
Morale 4+ Max. Move 8”
Stamina 2 # of Figures 12
Special Rules: First Salvo

TRAINED BAND PIKE 3 Points
Attack 7+ Attack Value 5+
Move 6+ Defense Value 4+
Shoot -- Shoot Value/ Range --
Morale 5+ Max. Move 8”
Stamina 3 # of Figures 12
Special Rules: Close Order

TRAINED BAND SHOTTE 3 Points
Attack 7+ Attack Value 6+
Move 6+ Defense Value 5+
Shoot 7+ Shoot Value/ Range 5+/18”
Morale 5+ Max. Move 8”
Stamina 2 # of Figures 12
Special Rules: First Salvo

*NOTE:  I have opted to tinker with things like Morale and Attack activation values more so than Stamina or Attack/Defense Values. During the Braddock Down game I tried to pay attention to Cornish Pike morale checks, because I had increased their morale to a base of 3+.  I feel confident in saying Cornish Pike passed morale checks at 3 times and perhaps more by exactly hitting their target number. If their base morale was 4+ and not 3+ then all those passes are instead off by one and a Waver result instead. Similarly, the Harquebusiers have lower morale than their more rambunctious Cavalier cousins and the big difference between the foot of Seasoned Regiments versus Trained Bands is willingness to Attack and Morale and not Attack Values or Stamina.



Friday, December 14, 2018

Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader (1e)

I obtained the Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader (aka the first edition) rulebook because I fondly remembered its everything-and-the-kitchen-sink artwork.  Rereading I was reminded how thoroughly confused I was when I read it the first time: is it a RPG or a tabletop miniature wargame? Most of the rules by themselves, along with the photos, seem to indicate miniature wargame, but the writing style and a lot of the thematic bent felt more like a roleplaying game.

But rereading it, I felt like understood the book for the first time with great clarity: this was a wargaming skirmish ruleset, with a heavy emphasis on hosted scenarios.  Furthermore, the way units interacted with each other and the combat system are really really similar in feel to most 19th century imperial and colonial wargame rules and scenarios - this is the various military elements of a far flung empire combating uprisings, piracy, petty warlords, and imperial rivals.  Scenario objectives are crucial to avoid the game devolving into a pointless last-figure-standing slugfest.

So, after painting up four squads of ten space marines each for the loyalist Ultramarines and rebel Thousand Sons, as well as taking the time to draw up some handy reference sheets, we set up the "Hold on Tight" scenario from the Lion Rampant book.  The target objective for both sides was a small building in the center, and a given side would score a victory point if it was in possession of the building at the beginning of its turn.  The first side to accrue three points was the victor.  Both sides diced and the rebellious red Thousand Sons went first.


(Above: initial deployments, after one turn of movement)


(Above: Ultramarines, ultra-ing)


(Above: Thousand Sons)

All these figures are second-hand, some in pretty rough shape.  For the most part I made zero effort to remove old paint - just went in with new paint right on top, and stuck to my standard army painting block paint & wash & varnish routine.


(Above: Thousand Sons are first into the target building - why is it of strategic importance? Beats the eff outta me!)

Warhammer 40,000 Rogue Trader has a "Reserves" phase, which allows any figure that has not fired in its turn, and is more than 4" from an enemy, to move again.  This allowed the Thousands Sons to easily get to the building first and occupy it, while the squad on their right took up positions behind a long, low ridge...



With the Thousand Sons in possession of the target, the game's combat system came into play.  Missiles flew back and forth from both sides (mostly to little effect) while bolter fire took out a marine here or there.


Then the squad on the Thousand Sons' right made their move! Eight marines crested the low ridge and poured small arms fire into the Ultramarine squad lying in the nearby brush. At close range this was very effective. The Ultramarine center took it even worse, however, since they were in the open trying to assault the building. As the Thousand Sons picked up their second VP we almost called teh game, but decided to see what would happen on the Ultramarine turn.


What happened was the Ultramarines dropped a dead-on-target strength 8, -4 save Melta Missile into the building, killing all the remaining Thousand Sons defenders.  The Ultras then proceeded to occupy the building, and hold it for a turn, picking up a point!


Unfortunately, the squads from the Thousand Sons' flanks were able to converge on the center and retake the building.  The Ultramarines launched one last desperate melee attack to recapture the target.


And were thoroughly repulsed at great cost...


(Above: a pricey butcher's bill!)


And that was endgame as the Thousand Sons picked up their third VP.




This game is lethal! Out of 30 starting Ultramarines, seven were still standing at game's end. Out of 30 Thousand Sons, ten remained.  We were happy with the terrain in terms of providing cover and breaking up line of sight.  The borrowed Lion Rampant scenario idea was also very enjoyable.  If this was a line-'em-up-and-have-at-it game it would have been rather boring...  Playtime was about an hour and 45 minutes. We look forward to our next try-out game.

(Yeah I know non-historical)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Novara 1513

Last Saturday evening we played a scenario I set-up for the battle of Novara (1513) fought between a French army under the general Louis II de la TrĂ©moille (who was present at Fornovo(!) and Agnadello(!!), and later killed at Pavia in 1525) and an army of Swiss mercenaries under the Duke of Milan Maximilian Sforza (based again on a scenario presented in Peter Sides' Renaissance Battles 1494-1700 Vol. 1).  The historical context is that in December of 1512, the French were successfully dislodged from Milan, and Swiss mercenaries installed Sforza as Duke thereof.  The following spring the French returned to re-take Milan.  The Swiss executed a forced march overnight and surprised the French encamped at Trecate, a village 2 miles east from the town of Novara, 31 miles west of Milan. The Swiss pikes scattered the French stradiot light cavalry and disorganized Gascon and Navarre crossbow troops, and handily defeated the landsknecht pikes.  TrĂ©moille's gendarmes spent the battle fruitlessly pursuing Swiss skirmishers.  I recall reading somewhere that a contemporary called it the "perfect Swiss victory."

The set-up is therefore the village of Trecate in the center with several French gendarme units within.  The French left consists of stradiots.  To the French center, to the right of the village, are two units of crossbowmen.  The French line is then divided by woods.  On the far right are landsknecht pikes and medium guns. Opposite the landsknechts and crossbows are the largest concentration of Swiss pikes, halberds, and light guns.  Opposite the village are several units of Swiss skirmishers, and opposite the stradiots are two units of Milanese mounted men at arms and a single block of Swiss pike.

(Above: starting positions - French on left, Swiss on right)

(Above: Landsknechts in French service)

(Above: The main Swiss pike block on the Milanese left)

(Above: Milanese men-at-arms)

This was the first game using a lot of additional new rules and unit profiles sent to me by Stuart at Army Royal.  Stuart's very informative research (as well as his friend Oli's research as Camisado) were very helpful when I was painting my armies earlier this year. I am happy to say their research has produced some excellent rule modifications that I felt really captured the feel of Italian Wars battles.  Of particular interest to me was the simple change of having all infantry move 8" instead of mostly moving 6".  This change has the effect of bringing the foot into melee range much faster than before, especially the pikes which had a tendency in my previous games to lag behind and not really be involved in the game at all.  The real big change, however, was the unit profile for Swiss pikes!

(Above: Swiss pikemen advance towards French gendarmes)



 (Above: French gendarmes sortie against the Swiss center)

 Stuart and Oli have added a simple 'Ferocious Charge' rule to Swiss pikemen and halberdiers which allows them to re-roll missed attack rolls when they are the attacking or counter-charging unit (the counter-charge applies only to the halberds).  This led to Pete dubbing the Swiss pikes "murder blocks".  What's great about this rule is it imbues the Swiss units with the highly aggressive attitude which I have read about, tried to re-create, but never seen on a tabletop.  As the player, it was clearly to my advantage to get the Swiss infantry up and into melee as quickly as possible, even if not in close order!

 (Above: the main body of the Swiss close in on the landsknechts)


Conversely, the French, in order to counter the Swiss offensive punch, played historically accurate as well, leaning heavy on their artillery and heavy cavalry (gendarmes) as a counter to the Swiss superiority in infantry.  Pete stayed in line and hammered away with his cannon, arquebuses, and crossbows, and stradiot light cavalry, whittling the Swiss down casualty by casualty.  In a key phase, several Swiss pike units where at last in striking range of the French infantry, but I then managed to fail the command throw for all of the relevant officers, and the closing charges simply did not happen.  Pete's officers then made their activations and laid out another dose of close-range fire (the modified rules have a bonus to black-powder weapons at 6" or less), and the Swiss either took heavy casualties or fell back in confusion.

(Above: the situation after the Swiss advance stalled - casualty markers everywhere

In just one turn the game turned from the striking of a mighty punch by the Swiss to a line of heavily damaged units teetering on the edge of defeat!


So, alas, no "perfect Swiss victory" this time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Agnadello 1509

Last Saturday evening we played a scenario I set-up for the battle of Agnadello (1509) fought between a French army under king Louis XII and a Venetian one under Niccolo di Pitigliano (based on a scenario presented in Peter Sides' Renaissance Battles 1494-1700 Vol. 1).  The historical context was that the Venetians had positioned themselves defensively on a hill.  Louis XII was unwilling to attack them so began advancing towards the unguarded town of Rivolta, and the Venetians left their hill in pursuit.  The French then turned to face the Venetians and the battle ensued.  The set-up is therefore that the French right and Venetian left are facing each other, but the French left and Venetian right are still in marching formations parallel to each other and not deployed in anyway.  This game was set-up for four to six players but it ended up just being me and Pete (no objections here, I like being greedy sometimes and playing with as many of my little soldiers at once as possible!).  Each side didn't really have a "center", so basically each flank had three officers commanding some assortment of units. 

(Above: French left)

The French left consisted of four units of elite pike plus two light guns, and a lone gendarme unit. 

(Above: Venetian right)

Opposite them were three units landsknecht pike, three arquebusier units (bidowers), and three Italian mounted men-at-arms units. 
 
(Above: French right)

The French right consisted of two more gendarme units, two mounted French "Archer" cavalry units, six (!) arquebusier units (again, bidowers), and two medium guns.  The Venetians opposite them were two landsknecht pike units, two "militia" units (raw pike), two medium guns, and a single unit of mounted men at arms. The Venetians also had two units of stradiots roughly between their two flanks. 
(Above: starting positions, French at bottom, Venetians at top)
 
With the exception of the far right flank, the entire Venetian army was on one side of a dry riverbed (rough ground).  My plan at the beginning of the game was for the stradiots come down off the hill, cross the river bed, and beginning harassing either French flank from the center.  Meanwhile, the heavy cavalry on the right flank would also try to move to the center and then attack the French right.  The French right would be kept busy by the two Landsknecht pike units aggressively advancing forward.  The landsknecht on the left would do their best to keep the Swiss occupied.


(Above: game underway!)
 
Of course, what actually happened is the heavy cavalry just sat dead still for three turns or so.  Likewise the stradiots were very slow to move. We were using several rules adjustments from a recent issue of Wargames Illustrated ("Renaissance Rampant"), namely more incremental range options on artillery (which had a nice effect) and increased movement rates for pikes (8" instead of 6", which I also liked).   The increased movement rates meant that the Swiss and landsknecht pikes on one side quickly came to striking distance and there was some very aggressive combat on that flank.  On the Venetian left, the two two Landsknecht pike units (Victor's pike!) did indeed push forward aggressively into a field of arquebusier fire, and although both were broken before reaching any enemy units, they did ALMOST close the gap.




(Above: landsknechts on Venetian left begin their advance across dry riverbed with artillery support)


(Above: French archer cavalry crossing dry riverbed)

Meanwhile, French gendarmes made quick work of my Stradiots, and the next thing I knew the game was almost over!  Instead of tracking points lost, for this game I just totaled the number of units and said we would stop the game when one side reached 50% casualties and then evaluate the board.  The French were able to knock my medium guns and that pushed them over the finish line.  Looking over the board, only a lone Italian men at arms unit was on the French half of the field, and the Italian left was non-existant with several French units in that quarter of the board – so the field clearly belonged to the French!

(Above: things turning into a right hot mess! In center left of photo, Stradiots have finally crossed  the riverbed but are confronted by French Gendarmes. Pike blocks approach and clash with each other beyond)

(Above: action in the center)

(Above: looking down the line from the French left)




(Above: I thought I had the French Gendarmes dead to rights what with a point-blank cannon shot but I bungled the dice roll!)





(Above: Louis XII)

(Above: the last Venetian men at arms unit)


(Above: landsknecht pike (repeatedly) attacking Swiss pike)

There followed some post-game discussion.  It was agreed that the bidowers-as-arquebusiers stat block is a little unbalancing, simply because they are able to potentially Evade (and usually do) any attacked and get a shot off in the other players turn, which makes them very difficult to chase down by superior melee units such as pikes and even heavy cavalry.  The "Renaissance Rampant" article suggests an arquebusier profile very similar to bidowers but with the Evade rule removed (they can still Skirmish), which seems like a nice minor tweak to make.  The other tweak would be that artillery not count towards the 50% casualties, since they are too much the low-lying fruit in that instance.  I really like the artillery rules, which made artillery potentially powerful, but not guaranteed as such. 

Overall it was a game which was just a wonderful mess of melees that was fun to play as well as to witness.