Shades of Morschauser

Despite all my good intentions, I was not able to mount a large play-test of the latest draft of my heavily revised PORTABLE WARGAME: COLONIAL rules yesterday … but I did manage a small skirmish!

It so happened that I found my green 3-inch square gridded felt cloth whilst looking for something else (isn’t that always the way?) and remembered that when Joseph Morschauser had written his original ‘Frontier’ rules, he had used 54mm-scale figures and a 3-inch squared grid. My collection of 54mm-scale Britains American Civil War figures was to hand … so I decided to use them. The resulting battle was a bit different from the one I had planned to fight, but nonetheless it was great fun!


ScenarioTwo small forces of Union and Confederate troops are scouting ahead of the main bodies of their armies. The countryside they are traversing is flat and featureless, and both sides are expecting to run into enemy Units during their reconnaissance.

The Union and Confederate forces are each comprised of four Infantry Units, a Cavalry Unit, and Artillery Unit, and a Command Unit. This means that both sides have a Strength Value of 24 and an Exhaustion Point of 12.

The Union side has been allocated Black as its Unit Activation Card suit colour, and the Confederates have been allocated Red.


The BattleBoth sides advanced with their Cavalry Unit covering one flank and their Artillery Unit the other. Both the Union and Confederate Artillery Units engaged the enemy’s Cavalry Units, and eventually destroyed them, although in the case of the Union Artillery this only happened as a result of the depleted Confederate Cavalry charging them and engaging them in Close Combat.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 3, Red 4, Red 2, Black 3, Black 3, Red 4, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Union side threw two of its Infantry Units forward, and they engaged the Confederate line with musketry. In reply, two of the Confederates Infantry Units fired back and then charged forward to engage the Union troops in Close Combat. In both instances both sides suffered casualties but the Confederate troops were forced to withdraw.

The Confederate Artillery Unit also fired at the closest of the Union Infantry Units, but missed their target.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Union troops were unable to make much progress before the Confederates launched a number of further Infantry attacks using musketry followed by Close Combat …

… not all of which were successful.

When the Union troops copied the Confederate example their choice of tactic proved to be costly, and ended up with one of their Infantry Units being destroyed.

At this point the number of Union casualties reached the Exhaustion Point, and the Union troops were no longer permitted to carry out any further offensive actions.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Red 4, Black 4. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Union troops continued to suffer casualties …

… but eventually they were able to extricate themselves from the battle and withdraw …

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 3, Black 3, Red 3. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The final Unit Activation Card turned over was Black 4. This allowed the Union troops to withdraw.

… leaving the victorious Confederates in possession of the battlefield.


Lessons learntThe main object of this play-test was to see if the revised Close Combat system worked … and it does.

A by-product of this particular play-test was the fact that I now realise that it is quite possible to use the rules with much larger scale figures than I originally intended to use them with (my plan was to use them with 15mm and 20mm-scale figures) … and that playing wargames with traditional toy soldiers can be great fun. As I have quite a collection of them, I can foresee using them in PORTABLE WARGAME battles as well as in FUNNY LITTLE WARS wargames.


Warships of the Chincha Island Wars (1864-1866)

My copy of WARSHIPS OF THE CHINCHA ISLAND WARS (1864-1866): SPAIN’S LAST IMPERIAL ADVENTURE by William Eugene Warner (ISBN 978 1 4812 2976 0 finally arrived from Amazon

… and now that I have had a chance to look through it, the wait was well worth it!

The book was written by a wargamer for wargamers, and it not only contains a description of the reasons why the war started and the major naval actions that took place, it also contains information about the navies and the ships that were involved. Of particular interest to me – and something that I had not known about before – was the fact that not only did Peru convert one of their steam-powered frigates – the Loa – into a casemate ironclad that resembled a smaller version of the Confederate Virginia, but also built Monitor named Victoria.

The book is divided into eleven chapters and two appendices:

  1. Introduction
  2. Background of the War
  3. Spanish Navy in the 19th century
  4. Ships of the Spanish Navy
  5. The Republic of Peru
  6. Ships of the Republic of Peru
  7. The Republic of Chile
  8. Ships of the Republic of Chile
  9. Ecuador and Bolivia
  10. Weapons of the Chincha War
  11. Sources
  • Appendix 1 – Echoes of What Might Have Been
  • Appendix 2 – Wargaming the Chincha Island War

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the more unusual and less well-known conflicts of the nineteenth century, and especially to those who share my love of naval warfare in the age of steam and iron.


Kriegsspiel at King’s College, London

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take part in a kriegsspiel session run by Professor Philip Sabin in the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London.

The session lasted from 1.00pm until 5.00pm and was split into three parts.

  • Part 1: A briefing that explained how the game worked (e.g. the placing of the opposing player teams in separate rooms, the sequence of play, and the role of the umpires).
  • Part 2: The wargames were fought. (There were sufficient players and umpires for two games to be fought simultaneously.)
  • Part 3: A debriefing where the umpires described the course of each wargame. This was followed by feedback from the players and a general discussion about the game’s design.

The wargames dealt with the situation in North Western Europe from 20th August to 18th September 1914, and were a re-run of the game Professor Sabin designed and ran at a conference that was held in Windsor Castle earlier this year.

The wargame had six turns, each turn representing five days. The map was made up of a number of large hexes, each hex containing a large town or city … or a forest. Each of the playing pieces/units represented three corps, and they could move one hex each turn. These units could be either ‘fresh’ (i.e. able to attack) or ‘spent’ (i.e. in need of reinforcement before they could attack again).

The letters shown on the map indicate the starting positions of each of the three-corps blocks at the start of the battle. Uppercase letters indicate fresh units and lowercase letter indicate spent units (i.e. units that need to be reinforced before that can attack again).

I was a member of one of the two Allied teams, and we managed to win our wargame. (We were either lucky or out-generalled our opponents, depending upon your point of view. My personal opinion was that we chose the right basic strategy … and had a few lucky breaks.)

The mapboard at one point during the game. The dark blue units are the French, the red unit is the British BEF, and the green unit is the Belgian Army. The yellow blocks indicate where we thought the fresh German units were, and the slips of paper are the assumed locations of German ‘spent’ units. Our positioning of the German units turned out to be less accurate than we had hoped … but not drastically so.

At the end of the session Professor Sabin gave each of us a copy of the rules, a copy of a simplified version of the game that came be played by two people (entitled SCHLIEFFEN), and a copy of his very short and simple solo wargame, TAKE THAT HILL!

All-in-all it was a great way to spend a Thursday afternoon … and I hope that the opportunity to do something similar will occur again very soon.


Changes to the latest draft of the Portable Wargame rules

I have been doing some thinking about the section of the rules that deal with Close Combat, and have done some minor but important re-drafting. It now reads as follows:

CLOSE COMBAT

  • If opposing Units are in orthogonally adjacent grid squares, they are in Close Combat Range.
  • A Unit cannot move past an enemy Unit within Close Combat Range without engaging in Close Combat.
  • If a Unit is blocked part way through its movement by a Close Combat situation, it cannot move any further.
  • Close Combat is conducted after an activated Unit has done everything else (i.e. moved and/or fired); it can never take place at any other point during a Unit’s activation.
  • The Unit that is initiating the Close Combat is the Attacker; the Unit they are attacking is the Defender.
  • To determine if the Close Combat has been effective, the Attacker rolls a D6 die for his Unit and at the same time the Defender rolls a different coloured D6 die for his Unit; the D6 die roll scores are compared with the relevant rows in the ‘Die scores required to hit an enemy Unit’ column in the Close Combat section of the Unit Data Table.
  • If the Attacker is facing the rear or flank of the Defender, the Defender’s D6 die roll score is reduced by 1.
  • A Unit that is hit reduces its Strength Value by 1.
  • In addition, the side with the lower die roll score must retreat 1 grid square immediately, and if they are unable to do so, they automatically reduce their Strength Value by a further 1.
  • If both the Attacker’s and the Defender’s die roll scores are equal, the Close Combat immediately continues for a further round (or – if necessary – rounds) until the Attacker or the Defender prevails (i.e. one side is completely destroyed or is forced to retreat).

The changes ensure that:

  • The Close Combat mechanism takes into account the advantage an Attacker would enjoy if they attack an enemy Unit in the flank or rear and
  • There is a definite result to each Close Combat (i.e. one side loses and is forced to retreat or stands fast but suffers greater casualties or is totally destroyed).

I hope to play-test these changes later this week or at some time over next weekend.


Oops!

I recently ordered a copy of WARSHIPS OF THE CHINCHA ISLAND WARS (1864-1866): SPAIN’S LAST IMPERIAL ADVENTURE by William Eugene Warner from Amazon …

… but when the package arrived, I received this instead:

Other than some sort of major hiccough in their system, I cannot for the life of me see how Amazon could have confused these two books and sent the wrong one to me. (I do have visions of some poor French businessman or woman who has been sent my book in place of the Personnel Record book that they had ordered. I suspect that they are probably more confused by what has happened than I am!)

I have contacted Amazon, and I am in the process of returning the book they have sent me in the hope that they will eventually send me the book that I have ordered. If it arrives in the near future, I will certainly write a book review about it!


Making them pay!: A play-test of the revised Colonial version of The Portable Wargame rules

Having written a new and revised draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME: COLONIAL rules, I decided that they needed play-testing. As the weather outside yesterday was terrible (it had been raining all night, and it continued to rain well into the evening), it seemed like an ideal day to do it … so I did.


ScenarioThe tax collectors are having more trouble extracting money from the tribes in Southern Zubia, and after one of them was beaten so badly that they died, the local Governor decided that the most troublesome tribes needed teaching a lesson. He therefore sent a small but heavily armed column out into the desert to find the tribal encampments and to ensure that the overdue tax was levied … along with a bit extra to pay for the trouble the tribes had caused.

As the column advanced deeper and deeper into the desert, they became aware that they were being shadowed. As a result they were fully prepared for an attack, and when the tribesmen came into sight, the column deployed to meet the threat.

The Zubian column comprised 8 units:

  • 4 Infantry Units
  • 1 Cavalry Unit
  • 1 Machine Gun Unit
  • 1 Rifled Field Artillery Unit
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 26 and an Exhaustion Point of 13.

The Tribal forces comprised:

  • 6 Infantry Units armed with hand-held weapons
  • 4 Infantry Units armed with smooth-bore muskets
  • 1 Smooth-bore Artillery Unit
  • 2 Cavalry Units
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 39 and an Exhaustion Point of 20.


The BattleThe Zubian troops advanced to meet the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

Both sides moved forward, with the Tribal cavalry trying to work around onto the Zubian column’s flank. The Zubian Artillery Unit fired at the Tribal Infantry Unit immediately in front of them, and caused the first casualties of the battle.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Black 2, Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 4, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Tribal Cavalry Units finally moved forward to engage the Zubian column’s flank, and whilst the battle continued elsewhere – without much effect – there were a series of close combats between the Tribal Cavalry Units and the Zubian Machine Gun Unit, as a result of which both sides sustained casualties.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 3, Black 2, Black 2, Red 2, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

Circumstances and chance seemed to favour the Zubians who, despite the loss of their Machine Gun Unit …

… managed to advance and pour a deadly volley of rifle fire into the line of Tribal Infantry Units.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Red 2, Red 4, Black 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

As so often happens, things now swung in favour of the other side, and the Tribal forces were able to charge forward and engage the Zubian troops in a number of close combats. As a result the casualties on both sides began to mount. (The Zubians had lost 8 of their initial total Strength Value of 26 and the Tribal forces had lost 16 from their initial total Strength Value of 39.)

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 3, Black 3, Black 3, Black 3, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The course of the battle moved towards its climax. The Zubians lost their Field Artillery Unit …

… but in achieving this minor victory the Tribal forces reached and passed their Exhaustion Point.

The Zubians were able to exploit this, and inflicted further casualties on the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 2, Black 3, Black 3, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

At this point it was obvious that the Tribal forces were beaten, but that the Zubians were only a hairsbreadth away from reaching their Exhaustion Point. As a result, both sides fell back to lick their wounds. The Tribal forces did so in the knowledge that the dreaded tax collectors had not been able to enforce their demands, and the Zubians were well aware that although they may have won the battle, they had not achieved their main objective.


Lessons learntAs expected, the rules work fairly well and produced a fun battle that did not take too long to fight. The combat results were reasonable, and the Unit Activation Cards ensured that there was a degree of uncertainty as to what was going to happen as events unfolded.

I think that the clear casualty markers (they are plastic Roman Blind rings) are less intrusive that the normal white ones, and make it very easy to keep a tally of the Units that have suffered casualties. I do need to have a better method of recording each side’s overall losses, and I am thinking about buying a cheap cribbage board to fulfil that function.

One aspect of the rules that I think does require a minor change relates to flank and rear attacks. At present the tactical advantage this should give to an attacker is not factored into the rules, but it would be fairly simple to do so. I have therefore made a note of this and will make the necessary changes to the next draft of the rules.


Miniature Wargames with Battlegames Issue 380

The latest issue of MINIATURE WARGAMES WITH BATTLEGAMES magazine arrived in the post on Friday afternoon, and thanks to the problems I have been having with my broadband service, I have managed to read most of this issue before writing this blog entry.

The articles included in this issue are:

  • Briefing (i.e. the editorial) by Henry Hyde
  • World Wide Wargaming by Henry Hyde
  • Forward observer by Neil Shuck
  • Fencing champion: The continuing tales of a wargames widow by Diane Sutherland
  • Fantasy Facts by John Treadaway
  • The Featherstone Annual Tribute: by Henry Hyde
  • Don’s colonial collection: Victoria’s empire is still fighting in Swindon by Chris Scott
  • Let’s fight Oporto 1809: Part 2: the rules and Orders of Battle by Jonathan Jones
  • Red versus Blue: Mass participation wargaming by Phil Dutré
  • Gravelines: Wargaming with Vauban fortresses: part 1 by Henry Hyde
  • Fields of Ponyri: A Battlegroup Kursk campaign weekend by Warwick Kinrade
  • A chat with Larry Brom: A send three and fourpence special outing by Conrad Kinch
  • SELWG 2014: Enthusiastic wargaming at Crystal Palace by John Treadaway
  • The Battlegames Combat Stress Appeal report by Henry Hyde
  • Hex encounter by Brad Harmer
  • Recce

There is a lot of interest for me in this issue. For example, I always wondered what had happened to Donald Featherstone’s wonderful collection of Colonial figures … and now I know! I am also a fan of Larry Brom’s work, and own three editions of his THE SWORD AND THE FLAME rules as well as his scenario portfolio and THE SUN NEVER SETS campaign system. Conrad Kinch’s interview with Larry – and the introduction and afterword to it – was my particular favourite article in this issue.

Henry Hyde announced a bonus for all of us who subscribe to the printed version of MINIATURE WARGAMES WITH BATTLEGAMES. As from this issue our subscriptions will be a Universal Subscription and will include a free digital subscription. This will entitle us to download the digital version of the magazine as well, and will also give us access to the archive of digital issues that have been published.

Now that is a REAL Christmas present … and I thank Henry and the team for this generous gift!