Thursday 21 October 2010

Scenarios...getting it wrong

I had conducted a couple of playtests of my own SYW rules using the scenario 'Vanguards Collide' from the pilot issue of The Classic Wargamer's Journal. This is a great little scenario which was fun to play (even solo) and gave the rules a good workout. Looking for something a bit more ambitious for an evening game against a live opponent (well, fairly live: we're talking Paul James after a long day at work) I came up with 'The Battle of Pfaffendorf'. This would be a basic encounter game livened up by making an effort with the terrain, which would represent a river valley across which the armies would fight.

The map and deployment are shown above. Table was 6' x 4'. Forces were:

1 - Grenadier infantry brigade: 3 grenadier battalions, 1 gun 
2 - Line infantry brigade: 3 infantry battalions, 2 guns
3 - Cavalry brigade: 2 dragoon regiments
4 - Hussar regiment (independent)
5 - Jager detachment (independent)
FK - Freikorps battalion (independent, in Pfaffendorf)

A - German infantry brigade: 2 infantry bns, 1 grenadier bn, 2 guns
B - Hungarian infantry brigade: 2 infantry bns, 1 grenadier bn, 1 gun
C - Light infantry brigade: 2 Grenz bns, 1 Bavarian infantry bn
D - Cavalry Brigade: 2 cuirassier regiments, 2 dragoon regiments

The three photos below show how the terrain came together: TSS tiles and hill contours were laid out, which were covered by two Games Workshop battle mats and then dressed with a FoW river and the usual bits and pieces. I decided to lay out the forces in full to save time deploying. My opponent would choose which side to play, or we would dice for sides if he had no preference.

I thought this all looked pretty good, for a quick evening game.

Prussian deployment.
Overall view and detail of the Line infantry brigade and its guns.
So far so good. But the weakness of the scenario was pretty obvious once we started playing. I had allowed for the river to be fordable within the woods and also for a section between the 2 streams, but it was still supposed to be a significant obstacle, taking a whole move to cross without being able to fire. Deployment was also pretty cramped, with little room for manoeuvre. The result, of course, was that a stalemate ensued with a firefight taking place across the water for the whole length of the river from the wooded table edge to Pfaffendorf. Neither side wanted to cross in the face of enemy fire.
At this point, the Prussians are getting the best of it,
having driven the Austrians back from the river bank.
I had hoped for some manoeuvre on the flanks, where I had given the Austrians an advantage in numbers. The Prussian left flank was, however, easily closed off by infantry units. Only on the Prussian right flank did some manoeuvring take place, when the weaker Prussian cavalry were predictably destroyed by the much stronger Austrian force, despite flanking fire from the Freikorps battalion. However, even here the flank was easily sealed off by a Prussian grenadier battalion (see below). In the end, both sides reached their breakpoint in the 5th move and the game was drawn.

The rules worked well and the battle played out as it might well have done in real life, but there was definitely some sparkle missing.

Consulting my copy of Scenarios For All Ages, by those kings of the scenario Grant and Asquith, I quickly found that where a river has to be attacked across in one of their games it costs a bit in movement but nothing else, and is usually fordable for its entire length. Pfaffendorf was inspired by the fictional Battle of Otterlitz in Volume 1 of the Classic Wargamer's Journal, but on closer inspection I found that the river valley in that battle (dating from 1957) was occupied only by a stream, which was easily fordable.

Ho-hum. The lessons are obvious. If almost the entire table is divided by a river, make it easy to cross. Or restrict your river to a small section of the table so forces can move around it. And if the table is filled by the opposing armies, give them the ability to get at each other and create gaps that can be exploited. Wargamers like manoeuvre: real battles may have often been a slogging match, but for our fictional wars we appreciate the dashing cavalry charge and the outflanking infantry advance.

However, all is not lost. I did like the look of my table when set out, so I will refight Pfaffendorf with the river removed and replaced by a road, and the town moved a little towards the centre to give the cavalry more room. We'll see how that goes.

See you soon!


Bluebear Jeff said...

Yeah, setting up terrain is trickier than it first seems.

All of your conclusions seem sound to me.

-- Jeff

Capt Bill said...

A spirited affair indeed! Great report and photos. Love the RSMs...

number7 said...

Ahh cool I think I had an uncle into this
So tell me is there ever "live action" type re-enactment events?

Keith Flint said...

Hi StepVheN,
The re-enactment thing is a whole different hobby. Some wargamers are re-enactors but only a minority (and I'm not one myself). But there are a good number of re-enactment events that take place during the year, in all historical periods.

Cheers, Keith.