Morschauser – The way ahead?

In his comment about yesterday’s blog entry with the same title, Jim Wright made the following points:

‘I have only two questions concerning your commander conundrum.

Do you really want them in your game?

Do you really need them in your game?

Or is this want/need a reflection of you being influenced by years of using rules that had command thingies of one flavor or another.

We are a product of our environment. Maybe so?

Are commanders necessary to make the game fun for you?

If yes, then take the simplest course of action that makes you happy. That is all that matters. It is your game. Be happy.

I think all our suggestions are merely confusing the issue and causing you to pause on the road to a fun game.’

As ever, Jim has managed to get to the nub of the problem in one go. I had got myself so tied up in trying to write a set of rules based on those written by Joseph Morschauser and trying to add bits of probably unnecessary ‘chrome’ to make them appeal to a wider audience, that I had lost sight of why I was actually going through the process.

So what am I trying to do?

  • I want to write a set of simple, fast-play wargames rules based on those written by Joseph Morschauser
  • I want to be able to use the rules for solo battles as well as face-to-face battles
  • I want to use a gridded battlefield to reduce the amount of time spent measuring movement and ranges (and the associated disagreements that can occur in face-to-face battles)
  • I want to be able to use my existing collection of 15mm 19th century figures, most of which are based on 40mm wide multi-figure bases
  • I want to be able to have some means of representing an army’s commander on the battlefield, and I want that commander to be able to exert some influence on events as they unfold
  • Finally, I am writing these rules for my own personal use, not for anyone else; if other people want to use the rules – either as they stand or modified to meet their own requirements – this should be possible but should not be a defining factor in what I include or chose not to include in the rules

I have written my specification; all I have to do now is write my rules!

In praise of another blog …

I follow quite a lot of other blogs, and I continually draw inspiration from them. Some of them a written by people I know or with whom I am in contact on a regular basis – for example A WARGAMING ODYSSEY, GATHERING OF THE HOSTS, JOY AND FORGETFULNESS, MEGABLITZ & MORE, THE GAMES WE PLAY, WARGAMING FOR GROWN-UPS, and BATTLE GAME OF THE MONTH – whilst others are written by people that I only know via their blog.

One of the latter is MRFARROW2U(PLUS JACK & AMYS!!) DBA 1500 ONWARDS PAGE. I always enjoy reading the blog entries written by ‘Mr Farrow’, and I await each one with great anticipation because I know that they are going to be excellent. The most recent one is no exception.

The latest action fought out across the ‘pages’ of his blog is a refight of the battle between the Imperial Japanese Army and the Samurai army that is featured in the film THE LAST SAMURAI. The course of the battle is re-told in an exciting and inspiring manner, and kit is an exemplar of how it can and should be done.

Maximum marks ‘Mr Farrow’!

Morschauser – The way ahead?

I had been studiously avoiding anything to do with Joseph Morschauser’s rules – and my various adaptations of them – for the past few days in order to come back to them with a clear mind. This has not been easy, as I had had several emails or comments on my various blog entries about the rules and I had felt duty bound to read and respond to them.

Today I felt that I had both the time and the inclination to revisit the situation, and before I did so I briefly summarised the suggestions that had been made so far. They were as follows:

  • Omit Commanders altogether; this is what Joseph Morschauser had done in order to keep his game as simple as possible.
  • Represent command and control by a different means that does not involve having the army Commanders represented on the battlefield.
  • Have one Commander for each side who can defend themselves if attacked, and who can give an additional combat die to any Unit they are orthogonally adjacent to.
  • Make the Commander just like any other Unit, but give them the ability to influence events by restricting the number of playing cards they can deal and allowing them to support other Units they are close to during combat (N.B. this is similar to the previous proposal but does allow the Command Unit to initiate combat rather than just defend itself).
  • Allow a Commander to activate any Unit they are with at any point during a turn; this would enable them to show personal leadership in battle but would make them more likely to get killed.

These are all excellent suggestions. Some are mutually exclusive, others are not, and what I had to do is to decide which – if any – I was going to follow.

However, before I was able to make that decision I received an email that has made me think again. It came to me second-hand (i.e. via an intermediary) from someone who writes that they have been using Joseph Morschauser’s rules for many years. I assume that the person who originated the email is probably not a regular reader of my blog, may not be on a regular Internet user (hence the email being sent via someone else), and that they are certainly of a similar or slightly older age to myself. The gist of what they wrote is as follows:

  • He had heard about the work I had done developing Morschauser’s rules, and had been given a printout of the relevant blog entries by someone who knew of his interest in the rules.
  • He had used the rules as written in Joseph Morschauser’s HOW TO PLAY WAR GAMES IN MINIATURE almost since he started wargaming, and that most of his wargaming was solo.
  • He had never used a gridded tabletop, but thought that what I had done with the rules to get them to work with a squared grid made sense.
  • He did not see why I had stopped using multi-figure bases and moved over to single figure bases; if I wanted to make the game last longer, why not use the roster system?
  • He had used the roster system for a time, but in the end went back to the original ‘its dead or its not dead’ system.
  • At this point he also mentioned that at first he had misread Morschauser’s roster rules, and had thrown only one die per Unit until it was destroyed. As a result the battles did last much longer, but tended to end up as massive skirmishes. He also pointed out that throwing one die per Unit was quicker than one die per figure, and that the end result was not that different, especially if I continued to use the ‘saving throws’ I had introduced.
  • He could not understand why I was bothering with Commanders (he called them Commanding Generals) as they seemed to be making things too complicated.
  • He then asked why I hadn’t stuck with what Morschauser had written in his book as this made sense; Morschauser had done a lot of work over a long time to develop the rules, and had only added the section that covered Commanding Generals as part of the optional Morale rules.
  • He ended by saying that he was glad to see that someone else had realised how good Morschauser’s rules were, and that it was about time that his contribution to the hobby was recognised.

This is all very interesting and thought-provoking stuff. The gentleman who wrote this email is obviously something of a Morschauser purist – and I have absolutely nothing against that – and probably does not like some of the things that I have done with the rules. He does, however, make some very important points that I need to think about.

In some ways I am more confused now than I was before this email arrived, but in others I can begin to see things somewhat clearer. What I need to do is to go back to first principles, re-read Joseph Morschauser’s book, and then decide what I want to do next. The way ahead is beginning to get clearer … but is not yet totally clear.

Yet another book to read!

During today’s foray to the local shops I managed to get half an hour in Falconwood Transport & Military Bookshop, where I bought a copy of Terry Gander’s MACHINE GUNS (The Crowood Press Ltd. [2003] ISBN 1 86126 580 8) for £10.00, which is about half the original price.

I discovered this bookshop some years ago, and it is without doubt a little goldmine. Although it is only open on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday it is well worth making a visit to. The proprietor does go to lots of air and vehicle shows, and also sells on eBay. If you are ever in South East London on one of the days it is open, I recommend that you pay it a visit.

The contact details are: Falconwood Transport & Military Bookshop
5 Falconwood Parade, The Green, Welling, Kent DA16 2PL
Tel: 020 8303 8291
The following maps show its location.

Model bargains

The past few days have been a bit hectic. Work and other commitments have rather eaten into my time for wargaming and blogging. I have, however, managed to fit in a bit of shopping into my busy schedule.

Last night my wife and I visited our local, large shopping centre to do the weekly food shopping. As usual we also made sure that we set aside a bit of time for ourselves whilst we were there, and I spent mine visiting a branch of Modelzone.

They are currently having a sale of plastic kits, and these included several models manufactured by Pegasus Hobbies. The one that caught my eye was the ‘Jaguarundi’, which was a projected design by Porsche for a small tank to be built for the Wehrmacht in 1946. The project was also known as ‘P245-010’, and the hull and turret look more akin to a 1930s Science Fiction concept for a tank than a serious design developed as a result of six years of combat experience.

That said, the turret looked like it had been taken from an 19th century ironclad, and therefore has potential modelling uses. As there were two models in each box, and Modelzone were selling them for £2.99 per box, I bought three.

On getting them home I discovered that the trackwork and chassis of the ‘Jaguarundi’ tanks will be useful when I get round to building armoured vehicles for one of my 1930s and 1940s imagi-nations, and that the turrets will be ideal for small ironclads and/or gunboats.

Zubia – A ‘forgotten’ imagi-nation rediscovered

Some time ago – before I started writing this blog – I began designing and developing a Matrix Game based around a European invasion of a North African country during the latter part of the 19th century. The intention was to use the Matrix Game to run the campaign, with the battles being fought out on the tabletop. It was designed like this to facilitate the involvement of a friend who had been posted overseas. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, the whole thing never got off the ground, and the whole thing was filed away on my computer.

This morning I decided to have a trawl through my computer files. I do this every so often, deleting files that are no longer needed and logically sorting files out into folders. It was whilst I was doing this that I came across the Zubia file. Besides a short briefing document about Zubia, there was a map of the country.

It is very obvious that Zubia is based upon Egypt, but the map is actually a map of a river delta in Lithuania …

… turned through 90-degrees, and then re-drawn.

Thus Zubia was born.

The briefing stated:

The history of Zubia can be traced back to the beginnings of recorded history and beyond. It is one of the earliest cradles of civilisation, and its people live in the shadows of many ancient monuments. However its era of importance as a major power has long gone, and it is now just a dusty, insignificance province of the Ottoman Empire … or is it?

Zubia occupies a potentially strategic position in northeast Africa. At present its current ruler – the Khedive of Zubia – is a middle-aged, fat, and indolent individual who lives in luxury whilst the peasants live in abject poverty. He is descended from an Albanian soldier who was made Khedive over one hundred years ago by a grateful Sultan (the Albanian had saved the Sultan’s life). The country could be rich – it has the potential to grow far more food crops than the population can eat – but the Khedive has done little to improve the lot of the population. Instead he taxes them hard and uses the money to buy fine wines for himself, French dresses for his numerous mistresses, and to build himself bigger and more lavish palaces.

The River Zub is Zubia. Without it the country would not exist. The river brings the silt that makes the land fertile. Its water is used to irrigate the fields. It also provides an easy means of movement from one end of the country to the other. Along the banks of the river everything is green; away for the river everything is desert.

The majority of people in Zubia are hard-working peasants who live in the villages and settlements that dot the fertile area along the edge of the River Zub. They tend their fields, grow their crops, and pay their taxes – often under duress. They are not generally a warlike people, but when roused they can be formidable opponents. Most towns are populated almost exclusively by urbanised Zubians, whereas a cosmopolitan mix of European traders and bankers, Turkish civil servants, Albanian army officers, Levantine businessmen, and Zubian servants forms the population of the capital city – Zubairo – as well the main towns of Secundria and Port Zub.

A few Zubians still follow the old ways and live nomadic lives. They move from one oasis to another as the seasons change, and they depend upon their herds of camels and goats to supply them with almost everything the need. They rarely visit the fertile area along the River Zub except to buy essential supplies and to trade camel or goatskins.

The army of Zubia is small but reasonably well equipped (see Note 1). Its recruits are ‘taken’ (see Note 2) from amongst the Zubian peasants and the officers are mostly second or third-generation Albanians and Turks, although a few Zubians have been promoted from the ranks.

The Zubian Army is composed of:

  • 1 Battalion of Guard Infantry
  • 3 Battalions of Infantry
  • 2 Battalions of Zouaves (Light Infantry)
  • 4 Batteries of Field Artillery

In time of crisis a levee en masse would raise further troops:

  • 3 Battalions of Irregular Infantry
  • 2 Batteries of Field Artillery

The Zubian Navy is small and virtually ineffective. Like the army, its recruits are also ‘volunteers’ (mainly from the coastal area and the River Zub’s delta) and the officers are mainly Turkish in origin.

The Zubian Navy is composed of:

  • 2 ‘Flatiron’ Gunboats – ‘Khedive’ and ‘Zubia’
  • 4 Batteries of Coastal Artillery

Note 1: The regular infantry are armed with Remington Rolling Block rifles and the field artillery is equipped with modern Krupp breech-loading cannon. Irregular troops are armed with Snider-Enfield Mark I & Mark II rifles and rifled muzzle-loading artillery.

Note 2: Service in the ranks of the Zubian Army is supposedly voluntary, but almost all recruits are press-ganged.

I am really pleased that I rediscovered this ‘lost’ imagi-nation.

If you are wondering where the name Zubia comes from, the origin of the name came about as a result of an incident during World War I. The Royal Navy had a class of destroyers named are various tribes, and two of these were called HMS Zulu and HMS Nubian. HMS Nubian hit a mine, which destroyed the ship’s forward section, off the Belgian coast on 27th October 1916. On 8th November 1916 HMS Zulu was hit by a torpedo off Dover, and lost her stern as a result.

Rather than repair both ships, the Royal Navy decided to join the two undamaged parts of the ships together, and the ‘new’ ship – HMS Zubian – was commissioned into service on 7th June 1917.

Callan the Wargamer: Part 3

Yesterday I received my recently ordered copy of CALLAN: THE MONOCHROME YEARS. The first episode on the first DVD in the set is actually the pilot that was made as part of the ARMCHAIR THEATRE series, and that was transmitted on 4th February 1967.

The pilot was entitled A MAGNUM FOR SCHNEIDER and the plot was later used as the basis for the film CALLAN: THE MOVIE.

As in the film, Callan is set the task of liquidating Schneider, with whom he shares an interest in wargaming. This first comes to light when Callan deliberately bumps into Schneider in the corridor outside the offices where they both work, and seeing that Schneider has some military figures, Callan manages to get himself invited into Schneider’s office. On a table in the office Schneider has a display of some of his figures set up.

As a result of this shared interest, Schneider invites Callan to take part in a couple of wargames at his house. The first is a Napoleonic battle, which Callan wins.

The second battle that they fight is the Battle of Gettysburg.

Callan demonstrates his tactical adroitness yet again when Schneider orders Pickett’s division to charge …

… and Callan counters by outflanking the attackers with his cavalry.

At this point Schneider decides that rather than attack, he will withdraw. In the subsequent scenes Callan kills Schneider.

As will be obvious from the quality of the images, the original recording was made in black and white 405-line format, which does not allow current viewers to see a great deal of detail. The wargames were fought on maps rather than on a beautifully sculptured terrain, and the miniatures seem to be 54mm round figures, with the occasional larger scale figure thrown in for good luck.

By modern standards this is not quite how wargamers expect to see wargames portrayed on TV or film, but to a 16-year old (I was 17 three days after the programme was transmitted) this showed a lot of my sceptical friends that wargaming was not ‘playing with toy soldiers’; it was a legitimate, if somewhat little known, hobby.

It did wonders for my self-esteem, and I very pleased that I now own a copy of the programme.

Fielding commanders on the tabletop – some more thoughts

The more I think about how to include Commanders in the redraft of my Modified Morschauser ‘19th Century’ Wargames Rules, the more confused I seem be.

It started out as a simple exercise; just the addition of a few extra rules and simple mechanisms to reflect the presence of a Commander on the battlefield. In the process it has become something far more complex, and it is in danger of turning a set of simple fast-play wargames rules into a monster.

At present I do not seem to be able to find a way forward that meets the twin criteria of being compatible with the existing Morschauser rules and their underlying philosophy whilst also allowing Commanders to be represented on the tabletop.

I have therefore decided that the best course of action I can take is to walk away from the problem for the time being. If I do this, and concentrate on something else for a week or two, I will come back with a refreshed perspective on the problem. I may well not come up with a simple solution … such a thing might not be possible … but at least I will not get more and more frustrated with the rules as they currently stand, which is what is happening at present.

Fielding commanders on the tabletop

Almost as soon as I had made the latest (and what I thought was the final) redraft of my Modified Morschauser ‘19th Century’ Wargames Rules available via the RED HEX WARGAMES website, I started to get some very helpful feedback. The points made by Arthur1815 and Chris J have made me realise that I have still not quite got things right, and a further redraft will be needed.

If I get enough time today I hope to have a long, hard look at what I can do to improve the current rules for fielding Commanders on the battlefield. I hope to keep any developments that I do make as simple as possible; in the meantime, any further feedback would be welcome.

PBEM Kriegsspiel – The Waterloo Campaign

An extract from von Blücher’s diary for the evening of 12th June 1815:

Our troops have clashed with what appears to be the bulk of the French army today, and although we have suffered grievous casualties and have been forced to take up a defensive posture, they have not got away lightly.

The men fought well, and although there has been talk of too impetuous an attack by one of my generals, I cannot fault a man who attacks the enemy wherever he finds them. My last orders to him were to go forward, and that is exactly what he did.

I have also had news of His Grace, The Duke of Wellington. I had hoped that he would have been here today, fighting side-by-side with us in the battle against Bonaparte, but it was not to be. Such is fate.

I know not what tomorrow will bring, but I fully expect that Bonaparte will attack in the hope of destroying my army. If he does, he will find that we Prussians will fight to the death for our King and our country.