Wednesday 29 May 2013

Black Powder - Variable Staff Ratings

Despite developing my own rules for the SYW period, I still maintain my interest in Black Powder, as these remain my favourite commercial set. My pal Steve J recently announced he was buying a copy for his own SYW gaming, so I have been been re-reading and generally revising the rules in anticipation of encounters to come. Fighting some battles with BP will provide a useful comparison with games played under my own rules.

One thing that caught my eye was the subject of Staff Ratings. The rules state that 'the same rating is usually applied to the whole army - so the General and Brigade Commanders all have the same staff rating' (p.11). I usually stick with this approach, except where an historical battle is being reproduced and Staff Ratings need to be matched to the abilities of real officers.

However, it did occur to me that some fun might be had by creating a variety of Staff Ratings within an army. This would hardly be ahistorical, as some variety in the ability of senior officers would be bound to occur. This was, after all, still an age when family connections and aristocratic pedigree counted for just as much as military experience and command ability. So I constructed a simple table to generate Staff Ratings from 5 to 10 for both the commanding general and brigade commanders.

N.B. percentages give a basic idea of how likely each rating is, but add up
to more than 100% as each was rounded up to the nearest whole percent.

This basic table I would use for Austria and Great Britain (don't forget this is the SYW in Europe). For other nations I would modify the dice roll as below:

Prussia  +1
France  -1
Russia  -1
Reichsarmee  -2

The modifiers are of course subject to the condition that a Staff Rating can never be more than 10 or less than 5. Change them if you disagree with my conclusions.

There is a decision to be made about when to employ the table. One could set out the forces, then roll for each commander in turn and see what you get. This would probably guarantee both pleasant and unpleasant surprises. Or, roll for Staff Ratings before deployment then allocate commanders to brigades, matching their abilities to your battle plan as far as possible. This latter might seem more historical, but remember that commanding generals couldn't always choose the brigade commanders they would prefer - as I have already mentioned, influence at court might count for more than military capabilities. A middle way might be to allocate brigade commanders to type of brigade (infantry, cavalry, artillery), then allow yourself to swap the commanders around after discovering their rating, but only between brigades of the same type.

You might also decide to leave the commanding general out of this process altogether and allocate him an historically typical Staff Rating. Personally, I think taking the chance on a random rating would be more fun. In BP, a low rated commanding general isn't a disaster, and the satisfaction of pulling off a victory with some dunce in command could be invigorating.

Nothing special about these ideas of course - any wargamer worth his or her salt could easily knock up something similar. But nevertheless I present them for your delectation and comments.

Friday 10 May 2013

Airborne Armour - Multimedia!

Well, you have to move with the times. First published in hardback in 2004, the original print run of 1000 sold out a couple of years ago. The book is still available in paperback, but Helion are determined to move with the times, so you can now also purchase Airborne Armour as an ebook for your Kindle.

Check out the 5 star reviews on Amazon!

So, what is the life of a best-selling author on military subjects like? To give you an idea, I've just received my six-monthly royalties - 12 'real' books sold (hey, that's one a fortnight!), and 9 ebooks. Total royalties £21.18. A good steady income of £3.53p a month.

So it's off to the Porsche dealers tomorrow.

So long suckers! 

Monday 6 May 2013

Giving Me The Corporate Creeps

I hadn't popped over to the Warlord Games forum in a while, but I did so recently in the hope of catching some interesting Black Powder posts (there weren't any). I was dismayed to find a new post from Warlord telling people 'Do Not Post Direct Links To Other Companies'. Such posts will evidently be deleted or edited.

Now, there is also a rule on the forum banning advertising by other companies in blog posts. This, I think, is fair enough. But how many times have you posted a link to some product in a forum post, merely in the spirit of sharing information with other gamers in a convenient way? I certainly have. Does this mean I can't even point out a useful book to read? I recently recommended Frank Chadwick's Benghazi Handicap scenario book on the BKC forum in response to another gamer's request for info.  Another poster helpfully added a link to the publisher's product page. This apparently would be verboten by Warlord

The post from Warlord is also locked, thus gagging any forum members who might wish to express disagreement with this policy. Now you may say that Warlord are entitled to do this - it's their forum, after all. Well, entitlement is not the point. The point is, this is not in the spirit of our hobby. In a phrase, it is just mean spirited.

Sadly I was reminded of two other examples of the corporate mind set from the past year. There was Games Workshop's attempt to punish a self-publishing author for use of the phrase 'Space Marine' in her book title. When you look at the details of the book itself, that phrase 'mean spirited' comes straight back to you.

Then there was Flames of War's ruling that only armies formed from Battlefront miniatures would be allowed to take part in official, Battlefront-run FoW tournaments. Apparently there were howls of protest on the FoW forum and some backtracking took place. Again, the 'it's their tournament, they're entitled' argument was trotted out, not least by FoW themselves. And again the response from me is, 'this isn't in the spirit of the hobby, and this isn't the way I want my hobby to develop'. And as someone noted, for some armies you need to use other manufacturers because Battlefront don't make the right models. It's well worth checking out that TMP thread for some of the quotes from Battlefront, which tend to the arrogant. See for example the lengthy quoted post from John-Paul towards the bottom of this page.

If readers of this blog have any more examples of the corporate tendency spoiling our fun, I would be pleased to receive them. In the meantime, well... at the end of that Warlord post there is a cheerful 'Thank you!' I can only respond to Warlord with an equally cheerful 'Screw you'!

Goodnight and God bless.

Sunday 5 May 2013

The Attack at Weissbach

Naturally, during a holiday weekend a wargamer's thoughts turn to, well... wargaming. Especially when the house will be empty due to wife and daughter being out each day attending the Badminton Horse Trials. My broken arm is getting steadily more comfortable so I reckoned I would be able to set up a proper wargame. With my old buddy Paul also available, we would have the luxury of a relaxed afternoon game.

My inspiration came from Warning Order, the online wargames magazine. Specifically, WO 34, which contains a SYW battle report between Austrians and Prussians played using the Age of Reason rules. The battle used a neat little scenario where a fairly basic attack-defence situation was enlivened by a flank attack taking place over a river crossing. This sparked my interest so I decided to steal the idea for my own game.

Laziness has prevented me from drawing a map this time, but the setup is pretty obvious from the photo below. Prussians attacking from the left. The name 'Weissbach' for the village or small town just popped into my head as I was going to sleep one night. I added a ford across the river near the Prussian baseline to give a little flexibility to Prussian movements should the bridge be too solidly held. I think my table (6' x 4') must have been smaller than the original, and my units bigger, because I found the table quite densely packed when I laid out the forces, which contained about the same number of units as the original battle.

I swapped the sides around so that the Prussians were attacking. Forces were:


Main Force

Grenadier Brigade
3  grenadier battalions
IR6 Garde Grenadier (1bn)
1 artillery battery
1 howitzer battery

Infantry Brigade
IR1 von Winterfeldt (2bns)
IR4 von Kleist (2bns)
1 artillery battery

Cavalry Brigade
2 cuirassier regiments

Independent hussar regiment
Independent jager detachment

Flanking Force

Infantry Brigade
IR33 de la Motte (2bns)
Freikorps le Noble (1bn)
1 artillery battery

Cavalry Brigade
2 dragoon regiments

21 units.    Army Break Point = 10


Infantry brigade
2 grenadier battalions
IR kurfurst in Bayern (1bn)
IR von Morawitzky (1bn)
1 artillery battery

Infantry brigade
IR 10 Jung-Wolfenbuttel (2 bns)
IR 37 Josef Esterhazy (2bns)
IR 9 Los Rios (1 bn)
1 artillery battery

Cavalry Brigade
1 cuirassier regiment
1 dragoon regiment

Independent light infantry battalion

14 units    Army Break Point = 7

The bridge and village would cost the Austrians one point for each - i.e. losing either would be the same as losing a single unit towards the Austrian breakpoint.

The Battle in Pictures

The setup (1): Hungarians from 1st Battalion IR37 guard the bridge.

The setup (2): showing the Austrian right wing. 

The setup (3): this photo is mainly to show off my new Total Battle Miniatures 'Town Tower', now that it's been painted.

The setup (4): my opponent Paul had brought a bottle of Maltese Moscato  to help the afternoon along. He elected to command the Prussian forces. We cracked the bottle and hostilities commenced.

Move 1. The Prussian grenadiers had been allocated the task of taking Weissbach. Their brigadier threw a 6 for command (double move), and without further ado they commenced a headlong assault. The independent hussar unit (in yellow) had the same luck and also threw itself into the attack alongside the infantry. The supporting artillery had its line of fire immediately blocked, so no artillery preparation was possible. So much for tactics - rolling those 6s had brought a red mist before Paul's eyes!

The result on move 2 was this scene of carnage. The grenadiers charged in  against Weissbach whilst the hussars charged the Austrian artillery battery. The brigade of dragoons attached to the flanking force had crossed by the ford (assisted by yet more high command rolls) and joined in, crashing into the Hungarians at the bridge. The attackers were met by a hail of musketry and canister.

The Austrian line held. The Prussians, weakened by the fire received whilst closing their enemy, were thrown back in all the melees.

But still they came on. Move 3, and the grenadier brigade again rolled a 6 for command.  With a 'dashing' brigadier they had no choice but to renew their attack. The result is seen above. The Austrians seemed demoralised by the elan of their attackers - defending fire was weak, and the grenadiers won their melee and drove back the Austrians in Weissbach. The Austrian artillery battery was destroyed in another direct assault by grenadiers - all this despite the absence of Prussian cavalry support on this turn. The Hungarians defending the bridge had little choice but to give ground in order to avoid being outflanked and destroyed the next move. This was bad for the Austrians - Weissbach was lost and the way over the bridge was open. One modest cause for hope was the dithering Prussian commander of the outflanking force (foreground), who remained motionless for 2 moves trying to work up the initiative to force the passage of the bridge.

Events were a bit less torrid on the other flank for the moment, but things still went against the Austrians.  Artillery and musket fire forced back one white coated battalion of grenadiers. The woods in the background contain Prussian jager and cuirassiers making an outflanking move - hence one of the Bavarian battalions in the second line has turned to face the new threat.

Move 4. The thoroughly rattled surviving units of the Austrian left flank reformed a line behind Weissbach as the Prussians completed their occupation.

Move 4 on the Austrian right flank saw a further disaster unfold for the defenders. The Prussian cavalry emerged from the woods to destroy the Austrian artillery battery attached to the right flank Austrian brigade. Limbers and panicking artillerymen fled back through the Bavarian unit behind, who were already under pressure from a detachment of Jager which had been inflicting casualties on them from their right flank. Not surprisingly, the Bavarians also broke. The Prussian advances had opened up the lines of fire of their supporting artillery, and this was concentrated on the Austrian grenadier battalion still holding the line of the road. When they fled, they took the other Bavarian battalion of the second line with them. The Austrian cavalry in the foreground didn't move the whole game. They had been placed in reserve but an opportunity to intervene never presented itself, and they ended up standing idle whilst the infantry line in front of them crumbled.

So move 4 saw the Prussians score a notable victory. The Austrians had now lost 6 units plus Weissbach and the bridge, and so had exceeded their breakpoint of 7. Only 3 Prussian units had been lost. The reckless attack of the grenadier brigade had been the foundation of the Prussian success. Here we see that, having let the the grenadiers do all the hard work, the Prussian flanking infantry was finally led over the bridge.

Concluding positions. The Austrians are pressed against their baseline all along the table, with a great crowd of panicking Bavarians ruining the Austrian right flank in the background. Both objectives are firmly in Prussian hands.

On The Question Of Moves
As you can see, the game was concluded in just 4 moves, which took about 2.5 hours to play. My rules seem to generate this type of game - a relatively low number of moves but lots of action in each one (see this post for example). This was not intentional - I just tried to develop a set of rules that would produce a fairly simple and brisk game. Doubtless the scenario contributed to such a vigorous action - the table was of a modest size and was well packed with units, which were therefore likely to go head to head without too much delay. 

Nevertheless, there is a strong contrast with rules like Charge!, where 20 moves to get to a conclusion seems common even where fairly small forces are in use. The move count in the Table Top Teasers in Battlegames bears this out. Whilst Charge! can hardly be considered a complex set, it seems to me it can be time consuming. I have always thought this was linked to the availability of a permanent wargames room in the author's home, and the consequent ability to wargame at a relaxed tempo. 

I'm not sure whether to regard the low number of moves usually required by my rules as a good or bad thing. I have achieved my objective of creating a set that will allow me to conclude a game in an evening (say 3 hours of play) whilst using most of my toys (about 350 figures of all types per side organised into around 25 units per side). What seems to catch some people by surprise is that players start to lose units quickly - melees are always concluded in one move, and firefights rarely last more than 2 moves before one side or the other retreats or is lost completely. Other rule sets I have used in the past tend to give players a slower build up to the point where they start losing units - I am thinking here, for example, of Rank and File, Minden Rose or Maurice. Black Powder is more akin to my own rules - the action flows thick and fast and desperate situations can occur right from the start of the game.

Whatever my eventual conclusions about my rules, the important thing with developing your own set is that the journey is so much a part of the pleasure. Whether I suddenly gain inspiration and decide to change the way my rules work doesn't imply an admission of previous failure - it is just the next step in a pleasurable process. Unless of course you're daft enough to try and develop a set for commercial release, in which case time pressures presumably make things rather more like work.

On Setting Up The Table
As in some other recent battles, I set up both sides in advance, giving my opponent choice of forces on arrival. This means battle can commence immediately, but of course it precludes the tactical interest of each commander making his own choices about deployment. This game was a natural for setting up on each side of a curtain, but with my broken arm, rigging the curtain in advance would have been too much of a trial.

But to be honest, I love to set up both sides once the terrain is laid out, just to see how things look and to complete the spectacle. So it's time to be a bit less selfish, I think, and allow opponents to choose the deployment of their own forces.

Anyway, this was a fine, agressive and action-packed game. No real alterations to my rules presented themselves. I think perhaps the advantage of forces was a little too much in the Prussian's favour, so I would probably remove their independent hussar regiment if I played the scenario again. It would also be interesting to play the game again using Black Powder, as comparisons can be very useful, but whether time or motivation will allow remains to be seen.