Friday 24 August 2012

My Seven Years War Rules

A very quick post - the latest version of my SYW rules can be found here, and the playsheet here. Things are mostly the same, but a few tweaks have been made and hopefully one or two points in the rules are now clearer. Following the example of the Maurice rules, there is now no long range for firing, but musket range has been reduced from 12" to 8" to compensate.

Hope you enjoy reading them. 

Black Powder Command Rolls

It's been a while since I've mentioned the Black Powder rules on this blog. I've enjoyed developing my own rules, but I still regard BP as my favourite commercial set. My reason for posting here is to pass on some info which might be useful to players. Many may already be aware of this slight inconsistency in the rules but I reckon many will not - I first read about it over a year ago on another gamer's blog and I didn't really take it on board then.

Anyway, browsing the net I rediscovered the appropriate post on Craig Welter's wargames blog, Adventures In Miniature Gaming. I think most BP players (like me) assume without thinking about it that when making a command roll, getting one move is more likely than getting 2, which in turn is more likely than getting three. This would surely be logical. But as the rules are written, getting 2 moves is actually half as likely as getting 3 moves with a normal Staff Rating of 8. This is because the only way to throw 2 less than 8 (to get 2 moves) is by making a 6 with 2 dice, which gives you 5 chances out of 36. But to throw 5 or less with 2 dice (to get 3 moves) means you have 10 chances out of 36. Similar problems arise with other SRs. Craig's post shows all the probabilities. 

I can only assume the original rule is designed for ease of remembering. I have also seen it suggested that this greater probability of 3 moves is how the authors intended things to be, but for me at least this intention doesn't really make sense.

Craig has a very reasonable solution which works well - see his post. I will be using Craig's fix in future, which is straightforward. An alternative might be to get 3 orders only if one throws exactly 3 less than the SR. If you throw less than this, roll again.

Thanks to Craig for publicising the problem and suggesting a solution.

Sunday 12 August 2012

I'm Not Starting Napoleonics. Honest.

If you're choosing a wargames magazine, there's nothing like actually having one in your hand to flip through. Online, you can find the contents lists for all the glossies, but the quality of the articles and how they might relate to the broader hobby can only be appreciated by tracking down a copy in a newsagents (or maybe at a wargames store or show).

And so it was with WI298. The theme in this issue was Napoleonics, so I wasn't tempted until I found a copy in W.H. Smith's. Then I realised the quality of the articles was such that there was plenty that could be related to Horse and Musket wargaming in general, quite aside from giving a useful insight into a period I've never really even dipped into. Plus there were other articles worth reading, for example about the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 (relevant to me) and the Battle of Plataea. Have you noticed that a wargaming article about a period you have no particular interest in can be worth reading because it's well conceived and well written? Of course you have. 

As for Napoleonics, Barry Hilton had this to say in the opening article:

Most wargamers want something which gets a result in a few hours and does not require a second mortgage to fund or a lifetime to collect. After reading [this article] you could be gaming from scratch with 4-6 battalions within a few weeks.

That's the way to get people's attention: new periods can often seem daunting. However, I should freely admit at this point that I have no intention of starting Napoleonic wargaming. (Almost certainly my loss: if anyone within driving distance of Bristol has a collection and a good set of rules and needs an opponent, I'm you're man). But Barry went on to prove his point by providing a set of three small scenarios later in the magazine that I knew I would have to try out: not with Napoleonic armies but with those of the Seven Years War.

So finally we get to the point. The scenario for my latest SYW battle was this one, which Barry called 'Take The High Ground'. From the Peninsula in 1812 the action shifts to Silesia in 1758. Rather than the French attacking the positions of the Spanish on the fringes of a fictional siege of Avila, my imagination took me to the Prussians assaulting Austrian positions on the fringes of the siege of Schweidnitz. Thanks to Barry and WI for letting me use the map:

Reproduced by kind permission of Wargames Illustrated and Barry Hilton
Copyright Wargames Illustrated

Forces and scenario were:

Prussians (blue, attacking)
Infantry brigade of 4 line battalions
Cavalry brigade of 2 dragoon regiments
Artillery battery (6pdr), 2 model guns
Independent grenadier battalion

Austrians (red, defending)
Infantry brigade of 2 line battalions with artillery battery (24pdr), 1 model gun
Infantry brigade of 2 line battalions and 1 grenz battalion
Independent grenz battalion

The Prussians must attack and capture the ridge feature ahead of them. The Austrians must retain control of the ridge. Using the standard victory conditions from my own rules, this meant each side would fight until it reached its army breakpoint (i.e. losing half its units, rounding fractions down), with the main ridge costing the Austrians 2 army points if lost. To bring the isolated unit in the church/chapel area into the game, this location would cost 1 army point if lost.

The set up:

I was able to make a pretty good stab at recreating the table as per Barry's map, 
and placed the forces as drawn. 

The independent grenz battalion occupy the church area.

Move 1:
The Prussian main force of 4 battalions sets off for the ridge. To their right the artillery battery prepares to fire, but one gun is limbered and moved forward to support the Prussian cavalry who would have to handle the Austrian left wing infantry.

The Prussian cavalry are seen on the left. The Prussian grenadiers had been assigned the task of assaulting the church, and made an excellent start by rolling a double move. 
They headed up the hill in column.

Move 2:
The Prussian infantry managed a double move on move 2, but celebrations were curtailed when the right hand leading battalion received such heavy fire from the Austrian siege gun that it broke and ran off. 

The Prussians grenadiers also managed another double move which allowed them to smartly change formation to line and then charge the grenzers in the churchyard. Fire from the Austrian light infantry was weak and in the subsequent melee the grenz battalion was swiftly seen off, never to return. This lost the Austrians 2 army points (1 for the unit and 1 for the church). Losing just one more unit would lose them the game, but they braced themselves for a fightback.

Move 3:
The fightback started quickly in move 3 as another Prussian unit attacking the main ridge was broken by a blistering volley from the Austrian infantry, backed up by another effective artillery cannonade. Honours now seemed more even. In the background you can see Prussian infantry streaming away from the ridge.

The Austrian left had moved out steadily to confront the Prussian cavalry in something of a standoff. The other grenz unit on the extreme Austrian left flank had lost its chance to interfere with the attack of the Prussian grenadiers, so swift had been the latter's onset. The Prussians can be seen occupying the precincts of the church in the background of the photo.

Move 4:
Now things started getting really interesting. The Prussian commander decided that his cavalry would have to lend a hand at the ridge, but this meant crossing the line of fire of the Austrian infantry in front of them if the help was to arrive in time. The leading regiment took a stern volley in its flank and fell back (bottom left) but the other regiment won through and ended up nicely positioned for a charge on the Austrian siege gun (top centre).

Move 5:
Once again both sides had something to cheer about. The Prussian cavalry charged the siege gun, but their hopes of a flanking charge were dashed when the gun managed to turn and face them. However, the canister fire they received was not effective enough to see the cavalry off, and once the horsemen got in amongst the guns the result was a foregone conclusion. On the other hand, a third Prussian infantry battalion was seen off by the Austrians on the ridge with yet another devastating volley (bottom centre). Nevertheless, having lost 3 army points the Austrians had officially lost the game. You can see at top left that one of their infantry units on the ridge has been beaten in a musketry exchange with the last remaining Prussian battalion and is clinging to the table edge reforming (red casualty dice). This left just one battalion defending the ridge. However, I decided to fight out one more turn to see how things would go, especially as Barry's original victory conditions had specified a 6 turn game. And I wanted to give my rules a thorough workout.

Move 6:
Prussian moves on the ridge were predictable - the last infantry battalion moved up to give the wavering Austrian battalion in front of them the benefit of a volley, whilst the Prussian dragoons charged the other defending infantry battalion in flank. It was just as well for the Prussians that their commanding general (lower centre of the photo) was present, as the Prussian brigadier threw a miserable 1 for command. Normally this would mean his units would not be able to advance.

The results of the Prussian moves were equally predictable. The reforming Austrian battalion could not reply to the Prussian volley and were blasted off the table. The other Austrian unit was routed in melee and can be seen flowing around their commanding general as they run off. 
The ridge was in Prussian hands.

There was plenty of other drama on the final move. This photo shows the situation at the end of the game. In the low ground between the 2 ridges, two Austrian infantry battalions had faced off against a weakened Prussian dragoon regiment and the Prussian guns. A fierce volley from the left hand Austrian battalion saw off the cavalry, but the other Austrian battalion was itself broken by close range artillery fire. To add to the Austrian embarrassment, the skirmish which had been going on between the remaining grenz battalion and the grenadiers in the churchyard finally resulted in the grenzers breaking and running. The Austrians thus ended up losing 6 out of their 7 original units, so the decision reached in the previous move was roundly confirmed. However, with the departure of the Prussian dragoons, the Prussians themselves had lost 4 units which was their own army breakpoint. Nevertheless, with 5 units still active on the field and the ridge firmly in their hands, common sense said the Prussians had definitely won.

And finally...
...just to finish off, the bases of my commanding generals have recently benefitted from the addition of dismounted command figures from Minden Miniatures. The picture (and my paint job) doesn't really do these marvellous figures justice.

I also used my own mildly adapted version of Charles Wesencraft's weatherboard (from Practical Wargaming) during the game. As you can see, hardboard and a golf tee have been replaced by a chart and suitable figure. Weather remained fair throughout the game.

As I mentioned, Barry had 2 other scenarios to offer. This one worked out so well I will be sure to fight out the other 2 at some stage. These smaller actions are usually a lot of fun to play: it's interesting to be able to concentrate on the actions of individual units, and as the games are easier to set up they are often more relaxing than bigger battles which need more organising.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Discovering Wargames

I suppose you could call this the latest in an occasional series: posts where I dip into the world of nostalgia by recalling old wargames books and wargames personalities from the early(ish) days of wargaming. 

Recently I stumbled over a mention of John Tunstill's Discovering Wargames somewhere on the net, and remembering it from the past looked into whether copies were still available. Of course, on the internet these days just about anything is available, and I easily picked up a copy for peanuts - £4.86p, most of which was post and packing. 

Having the book (more like a booklet - just 64 pages) in my hand revived memories from my early teenage years around 1970 when I sought out any book I could on wargaming; usually via my local library as cash was short. In those days you requested inter-library loans on postcards which you addressed to yourself, which would arrive on your doormat a few weeks later announcing the arrival of your requested book at your local library. Strange to see the postman delivering a postcard in one's own handwriting. I remember with pleasure those walks to the library clutching my reservation card and anticipating reading a new book on my emerging hobby.

To be honest, I remembered Discovering Wargames as one of the less inspiring titles - rather brief, and lacking the reading pleasure of a Featherstone or Grant title. But for my minimal outlay I was pleasantly surprised with the little book when it arrived recently. For a start, I had forgotten it included some  photos of  old figures and games which added to the nostalgia value. And for someone with an interest in the development of our hobby the text formed an absorbing link in the chain.

Mr Tunstill introduces rules for the various aspects of wargaming as he canters through the periods - movement is covered in the ancient period, firing and melee rules are introduced in the early medieval period (or the Dark Ages, if you use the author's classification), morale appears in the later medieval period, then more firing rules appear as the horse and musket period emerges. There are yet more firing rules covering the later horse and musket period (the ACW in particular), before the author concludes that 'modern wars', from WW1 on, are rather too complicated and difficult to cover without developing rather complicated and difficult rules, which he has no room to include. This latter reminds me of Charles Wesencraft's conclusions in Practical Wargaming. All a bit strange considering Donald Featherstone had provided 2 perfectly workable sets for WW2 in his 1962 classic, War Games.

Mr Tunstill's approach, in a book first published in 1969, shows a strong faith in time and distance scales, and produces some straightforward and fairly traditional rules which are a little more advanced than those proposed by earlier authors. What is missing is an overview of how the various elements come together in a game move, though the traditional move-fire-melee-morale sequence is implied. Simultaneous movement to written orders is sternly insisted upon. For any newcomer in 1969 who was trying to 'discover' wargaming, cobbling together a complete set of rules for a particular period using this book might have been a bit tricky, though perfectly possible with a bit of initiative and research.

Interesting to note that by John Tunstill's time, 'wargames' appears to have become one word, a situation which has continued to the present.

Overall, an interesting read and a book I know I shall come back to in the future. A worthy addition to my collection of old wargames books. It is good to record that Mr Tunstill is still with us, at least according to this biography