Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Of Shieldwalls.

We ran two playtests of the Dark Ages skirmish game 'SAGA' the other weekend.  I played an Anglo-Danes warband and Gabe played a viking one.  I won both games, including a flawless first game where not one Anglo-Dane figure was lost.  Frankly my opponent did me a lot of favors by deploying his forces spread out and then having a solitary unit rush forward on its own with no support.

My only pregame strategy, which seemed successful, was I figured to take the learned Charles Grant's advice (something to the effect that if you play to the period, you will be rewarded) to heart, and do my best to replicate a shieldwall.  So, in both games I deployed my little dudes in a solid block - archers in the middle, flanked closely on each side by warriors, with my warlord and elite Hearthguard in reserve (see above photo).

It certainly paid off, as it allowed units to support each other quickly, and also allowed a bit more use of the higher-end special abilities since I did not have to use as many of my activation dice on movement.  On the other hand, the formation wasn't really tested - all it had to do was defeat one viking unit at a time (the solitary forward rush mentioned above).  Next time perhaps we will see if it can hold up to a more coordinated attack involving two or more units closing for melee in the same turn.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


The goal in setting up this Seven Years War game in 54mm scale (again using the All the Kings Men ruleset) was to minimize or better control the effect of terrain on the gameplay.  The previous playtests had used an I-go-you-go system of randomized terrain placement (I place a hill, you place a river, I place a forest, you place a house, etc) that resulted in cluttered playing fields and games which relied heavily on artillery duels.  The result was that G___ and I decided to agree on terrain placement ahead of time.  I web-researched some historical battles and presented him with two options in the form of hand-drawn maps: Hastenbeck in 1757 and Lutterberg in 1758.  He chose Hastenbeck.

The map for Hastenbeck was simply rendered by me as allowing for the French to deploy along one full side of the table, while the Allies deployed in a more constricted, off-center stretch of the opposite side (however the Allied left was guarded by heavy woods).  As a bonus, we each took a copy of the map and drew out our initial placements.  I was Allies again, and tried to deploy mainly in a nice defensive line with the rest of the force piled up in column ready to advance on the left next to the woods.  

This was the first "large" game, 10 units total on each side, and the first to feature skirmisher units.  Needless to say, the prearranged map and the total blind deployment resulted in period-appropriate long and dense battlelines at start the game (as hoped for).

After the first few moves, the Allied right's artillery had succeeded in driving the French Mestre de camp Général Cavalerie from the field with some incredible good dice throws. Meanwhile the French began advancing along the edge of the scrubby light woods (no movement detriment but capable of obstructing line of sight for fire attachs) which protected the Allies' left flank.

Skirmisher firefights and cavalry charges and counter-charges then ensued in the light woods on the Allied left.  The end results were that dismounted French Schomberg dragoons (light troops) held the woods, but the remaining French cavalry had been driven from the field, as had the Allied jaegers (light troops) and Hessian mounted dragoons.  The British 12th Foot regiment was taking fire from the French Rouergue and Acquitaine regiments.

The British 12th breaks in the face of French musketry.  The Allies try to pivot their right over to compensate.  At a key moment Hanoverian foot artillery is manhandled into canister-shot range of the Acquitaine infantrie!  12 dice instead of 8 for the artillery attack!

Bad dice strike!  The French weather the grapeshot like it was a summer breeze!  A follow-up volley from von Reden's Hanoverian infantry is likewise uneffective.  The intention of these volleys was to soften up Acquitaine for a devastating charge from the British dragoons still standing by in column by the woods. This charge never precipated...

A Hanoverian artillery unit is destroyed by French musketry and von Hardenberg's Hanoverian regiment is also broken.  The Allies have lost half their starting units and so the retreat is sounded.

Bad dice aside, G___ gets credit for deciding on a overall plan of attach based on his initial deployment, and for sticking with it.  I get discredit for (as usual) letting more fragile units (artillery, skirmishers, and cavalry) take all the risks while letting the infantry linger too long.

All in all an enjoyable evening, not the least because it looked and felt right historically, as well as being engaging.  The pre-agreed terrain was a boon and the largest fielded armies to date gave things an epic feel.  Artillery was nominal - the French barely fired a shot the whole game but won rather handily anyways.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Punctually and in good order.

Additional cavalry regiments having been mustered (as noted here), another clash of the French (played this time by my good friend Karl) and the Allies (again played yours truly) during the Seven Years War was diced out with about 130 shiny plastic little men. 

Since it seemed fair and worked well before, at my suggestion we used an ad hoc, I-go-you-go system to lay out the terrain.  However, this time the result was a rather cluttered table with little open space to maneuver or even advance short distances without intersecting woods, houses, walls, muddy fields, hills, or rivers.  As it was, the Allies ended up deployed before the bridge, and the French deployed on the other side around a hill directly overlooking said bridge.

The rules where again All the Kings Men, and again the deck-of-playing-cards activation system charmed all involved.  When the allies drew a deuce, which prohibits all further activations by a unit of one's choice for the rest of turn, the cause was ascribed to "oh dear! the colonel's hemarrhoids have flared up again."

Things would probably have unfolded predictably if the Allies had not marched a Hanoverian infantry regiment across the bridge and then (on a consecutive activation) right up onto the hill, where they formed up in line and delivered a volley into the French artillery.  However, bad dice throws meant the artillery was not wiped out, and said Hanover regiment was now in a state of disorder and stranded in the middle of the French line with no friendly forces nearby.

It then proceeded to take enfilade musket fire and canister shot from French artillery to its front and rear, but awesome dice resulted in it weathering the fire (huzzah!).  In a following turn it was finally broken.

The rest of the game was dominated by artillery dueling and a cavalry charge by the French which broke an Allied infantry unit, although the French cavalry was broken as well in the combat.  French artillery won its duel, destroying both Allied gun positions and also hitting the Allies' break point and ending the game.

Future games will employ some kind of agreed upon terrain before hand, and probably involve a wide open field in the middle - enough of these confounded fights from two sides of a river!  K___ was quite adamant about some sort of blind deployment, or an I-go-you-go placement of units.  I suggested a combination of both, with cards with "infantry," "cavalry", and "artillery" written upon the placed I-go-you-go face down.  The cards would then be flipped and the wee little figures placed. 

More units are also in the works: a few more infantry regiments for each side as well as light infantry.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Minden (or Something Like It)

Gabe came over the other night, and we had a round at wargaming with 54mm plastic toy soldiers.  The period was the Seven Years War (1756–1763) and arrayed the French army of Louis XV against an allied army of Hanover, Hesse, Brunswick, and Great Britain.

Both armies were assembled and painted by yours truly and consisted almost entirely of "BMC" brand American Revolution playset figures, sometimes customized a bit with Milliput-brand polyclay, but mostly just painted in rough approximation to actual historical units present at the Battle of Minden in 1759 in western Germany (although the game played was not a recreation of Minden).  The sole exception was the cavalry, which is HaT Industrie Napoleonic French dragoons with their helmets cut off and replaced with Milliput tricornes.  In all there were about 110 figures in play.

The buildings, river, and stone walls are cardboard and paper and paint.  The trees are cheapo model railroad O-scale trees and based in a lump of air dry clay. The hills were cut from packaging styrofoam.  And of course, who can resist the ubiquitous olive green felt for the main playing surface?  Those in the know can probably detect the influence of the photos from H.G. Wells' Little Wars (1913) at work in the flavour of the terrain and the glossy finish on the figures.  Also at work is the influence of 1970s wargaming authors such as Charles Grant who favored stylized terrain and buildings, as well as the stylish and stylized warfare of the 1700s.

For rules we used All the Kings Men by Ken Cliffe, a free-set designed with 54mm figures specifically in mind.  My favorite feature is the use of a pack of playing cards to determine whose turn it is - one side is red cards and the other black.  One side may thus be forced to agonize as the other player receives a series of six or seven turns in a row.  Of course, probability being what it is, such a streak will inevitably reverse, and, as they say, payback can be a bitch.  The feature is really quite brilliant, as I believe it simply captures the ebb-and-flow of horse-and-musket period battles, as well as the fog of war element which many systems usually address with more complicated solutions.

The card-based activation system resulted a rather slow and cautious initial phase as both sides jockeyed to position themselves.  This was then followed by several rounds of nail biting as each side sat through streaks and dry spells of card-drawing.  The allied right flank (commanded by yours truly) almost completely collapsed under a French cavalry charge, only undone at the last minute by a rash of cards in my favor which saw the French cavalry blown to bits by Hanoverian artillery.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, with actual gameplay only lasting about an hour and a half, and set-up prior to play only taking about 30 minutes.* 
I drank two pints of porter.
* The major improvement to be made before another game is that I need to get additional cavalry units painted up.  Both sides were comprised of 4 units infantry, 2 artillery units, and 1 cavalry.  The "menace" factor of cavalry was found to be relatively low in these proportions and combat value in the game almost negligible.