Friday 26 July 2013

The Seven Years War - Number Crunching

"Look. just bugger off. We're trying to concentrate here."

Trying to work out how well our rules create games that might approximate to real events is one of the central conundrums of wargaming. Of course it gets harder the further back in history we go, as the stream of film, photos, statistics and written records thins out and then disappears.

A rare chance to check out my own rules occurred this week whilst I was reading Christopher Duffy's The Military Experience In The Age Of Reason. On page 209 he briefly tackles the problem of how many bullets might have been fired for each death caused to the enemy. There was enough there for me to take things forward and see how my own rules squared up to historical reality.

Getting Down And Dirty
Apparently, after the battles of Mollwitz and Chotusitz, Frederick instigated an investigation to try and discover how effective his troop's fire had been. A gentleman writing in 1756 used the figures to estimate that around 650,000 rounds were fired at Chotusitz, resulting in about 2,500 deaths, 'and as many wounded'.

This gives a figure of 260 rounds expended per death. According to Duffy, this is in the same ballpark as figures arrived at for a number of other 18th century battles, although the examples Duffy gives are for some of the lesser known actions rather than the main battles of the SYW. Looking up Chotusitz online, it is easy to discover that the total Austrian casualties in that battle (killed, wounded, prisoners, missing) were around 7,000. In round numbers, this gives about 100 rounds per casualty. As Duffy explains, this ratio would be reduced by an allowance for casualties produced by artillery and cavalry, but increased by the fact that a good proportion of the rounds expended were not actually fired but quite likely simply discarded by the soldiers. We can already see that this whole 'investigation' is a very rough and ready process. However, let's continue.

And so to my own rules. I designate a turn length of up to 10 minutes (which seems to be the fashion these days. Those old 2 minute turns seem to have gone for good). As I'm not saying a turn is exactly 10 minutes, let's assume that an infantry battalion which is firing does so for an average of 5 minutes in a turn. So 600 guys fire 3 rounds a minute, making 9,000 rounds heading the enemy's way during 5 minutes. Using 100 bullets per casualty gives us an average of 90 casualties per turn. This would give 180 casualties (nearly a third of a typical enemy battalion) in 2 turns, and 270 casualties (nearly half a battalion) in 3 turns.

I found this generally reassuring. Firefights using my rules are generally resolved, at least temporarily, in 2 or 3 turns (retreating units may rally later). Whilst it was not uncommon for battalions to suffer more than 50% casualties in hard fought battles, even when winning, I am reasonably happy that a third or half casualties would be enough to take most battalions out of the fight for a bit, if not permanently.

Now of course the various assumptions and estimations used in arriving at these figures may well be inaccurate, or may have varied from situation to situation. There's not much we can do about the inaccuracy, except perhaps devote a lifetime of research to the surviving primary sources. As for the variety, I am prepared to let the dice and modifiers take care of that. At least my rules didn't seem to be wildly at variance with these particular calculations.

The Old Moving And Firing Problem
Following the example of Black Powder, I have left out a negative modifier for moving and firing in my rules until now. However, prompted by this post on Ross Mac's outstanding 'Battlegame of the Month' blog. I have decided to relent. My original decision was based on,

1. Simplicity. One less modifier, and more importantly no need to remember who's moved and who hasn't.

2. Encouraging aggression. I found that knowing your fire would likely be less effective than the standing enemy you were attacking made players (me included) reluctant to close to musket range. This is, I believe, a main reason the modifier doesn't appear in Black Powder.

Nevertheless, I find I can no longer ignore the rather obvious conclusion that the fire of moving units would be less effective than those not moving. Therefore a -1 modifier for moving and firing now appears in my rules.

As for aggression, players will have to behave more 'realistically', and gain advantage in an attack by artillery preparation and/or by arranging to outnumber the defending troops in one way or another, even if this means counting a first line as expendable.

In Black Powder, I have also succumbed in the area of moving and firing, by accepting a house rule developed by other players based on one of the special rules introduced in the Last Argument Of Kings supplement. My rule reads as follows,

'Infantry deduct 1 firing dice if they move twice, and 2 firing dice if they move 3 times.'

I give Prussian infantry an advantage by only making them deduct 1 dice if moving 3 times, with no deduction for moving twice. I suppose for really poor infantry (Reichsarmee for example) you could disallow firing completely if moving more than once. 

For any Black Powder players reading this blog, this set of house rules posted by Bill5549 on his blog are well worth your attention.

I'll Be Back
I wish I could promise some real wargames action on this blog in the near future, but spare time for proper battles is limited at the moment. The wargaming world will, however, be relieved to know that I have ordered some new deciduous trees to take the place of the lumps of lichen on sticks I have been using for the past 20 years or more. So the battlefields might look a bit better when they finally feature again on this blog.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Heft versus Cheapness...

...and a few other random thoughts.

Visitors may have noticed the absence of battle reports on this blog of late. The sad fact is that I'm now working away from home for 5 days each week, and this combined with the enervating effect of the recent heat wave has meant time and motivation for 'real' wargames has been limited. In these circumstances, the value of developing my DBA wargaming has become apparent. These rules give absorbing games using real toy soldiers, but with super-quick setup and clear away times, as well as limited impact on what the rest of the family is doing. 

I have however been managing a bit of painting and model making. This has triggered the following reflections...

Zvezda vs Skytrex (and others)
Most of my German tanks and transport vehicles for Poland 1939 are from the Skytrex 1:100th 'Command Decision' range. A lovely catalogue of vehicles: comprehensive, nicely proportioned, accurate and well moulded in white metal. They are certainly a bit pricier than most, but generally worth it, although some prominent wargamers seem to disagree. I've felt no great temptation to explore other ranges, but recently a few models from the Zvezda catalogue suitable for Poland have appeared, and I couldn't resist trying them out considering the ridiculously low prices. See pics below.

Skytrex Panzer II on the left. Zvezda on the right.
Although a little smaller, the Zvezda model fits in OK on the wargames table

Zvezda ZIS-5 on left, True North Miniatures Polski-Fiat 621 on right.
Not the same vehicle, but very similar if you're not too fussy.

Zvezda ZIS-5 poses with a pair of Skytrex Kfz 15s.

Regarding the Kfz15s, I have a picture book on the Polish campaign called September Storm, which I highly recommend. Lots of interesting photos with very useful captions. The Horch kfz15 features strongly amongst the illustrations, and was obviously a useful and well-used vehicle. Hence my desire to field a couple, which will find a place in a recce or motorcycle formation. The photos below give a flavour of the vehicle in action. Top one definitely Poland, lower one location unknown.

Which brings me to the Zvezda Sdkfz 251 Ausf.A kit. Although sold as an Ausf.B, the shape of the front armour plate and the unshielded mg on a crane mount reveal it to be an Ausf.A. The image below comes from the excellent Spotting Round website, which I thoroughly recommend.

Less than 3 quid? Bargain!

This is currently the only Ausf.A available in 15mm, and this was the version used in Poland. So why didn't I buy some? Well, I already had 3 kits from Parkfield Miniatures, bought some years ago from a line that was about to be discontinued. At that time, the Parkfield kits were themselves the only Ausf.As in 15mm. After around 2 years in my modest lead hillock, I finally got around to completing one:

Not the best model in the world, but in fairness to Parkfield Miniatures this was a very old kit that
 they were about to discontinue on the grounds of it not being up to their usual high standards.
When made up it's OK for the wargames table. Crew had to be added.

Now, to finally address the point made in the title of this post, what the Parkfield model lacks in finish it makes up for in terms of heft. Yes, it's heavy, man. Those crew figures are standing on a good, solid block of metal which is very satisfying to move around the table, and which stays where it's put in the heat of combat. The problem with those Zvezda kits is that they weigh nothing, and are easily flicked aside by a wayward hand or waggling extending ruler. That's one reason why I like the Skytrex kits - apart from the fact that they're usually better models than much of the opposition, they're all possessed of the kind of heft only white metal gives you. Don't underestimate the value of this quality if you've only ever used plastic kits: especially if you're a bit of a sad git like me. Thumping these guys on the table gives you the feeling you really are advancing with a Panzer Division. 

As for the Zvezda models, what everyone says about them is true - they go together nicely, are well produced and provide you with accurate if fairly basic models.

The Sdkfz251 in Poland, 1939
Now I know most WW2 gamers these days are obsessed with Normandy 1944 or Eastern Front 1943, so for the record I will confirm that some 251s were used in Poland in 1939. For example, I understand that about a company's worth were issued to 1st Panzer Division, who usually had the pick of the latest/best kit in the early war period. In all, I believe around 68 were issued for the campaign as a whole, some as command vehicles. The images below were found on this Polish language site

Hmm...dappled shade.

Hang on a minute. No shadows on the road. That looks like a two colour scheme.

IMHO, no doubt about it. That strong central dark stripe is obviously a shadow, but this photo and the picture above are the clearest evidence I have seen for the two colour grey/brown scheme in Poland. And applied on what must have been brand new vehicles as well.

These look all grey, but a nice atmospheric shot which shows tarpaulin covers in use.

So there we are. Not only can you field 251s in 1939, you can paint them in a 2 colour camouflage scheme as well. Nice.

Parting Shot
Those Zvezda ZIS-5s will be of particular interest to FoW customers left high and dry when the 'Battlefront' Polish range was curtailed. There are currently no infantry transports available in this range, and no vehicles to tow those anti-tank guns and artillery either. It just goes to show that the age-old problem of the incomplete range is not solved by having corporate players in the wargaming market. True North Miniatures can still supply Lazik staff cars and Polski-Fiat trucks, which are acceptable if not great. The Praga truck produced by QRF Models is also an historically correct vehicle for Polish forces, but again it is a distinctly average model.  

So come on Battlefront. I know I've been critical of you in the past. Now prove me wrong and bring on those Polish soft skins!

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Free And Online!

Just a heads up for the latest issue of Warning Order (no.35), which is now available online. A thoroughly interesting issue, I hope you'll agree. Please spread the word - wider recognition of this long-standing project is needed for it to continue and (hopefully) grow and develop.

And by the way, those DBA armies arrived in the post, and were just as nice in real life as in the photos (see post below). A real treat to unpack them and set them out. Very little damage enroute - just some straightening of javelins required. There was even time to squeeze in a first game with my old friend Paul, between the various weekend jobs that always crop up. A tantalising glimpse was obtained of the tactical options that will need to be considered in future games. DBA appears to be a small game with a big playabilty factor. Assuming playability is actually a word.