Monday 28 December 2020

Built Up Areas - Horse and Musket Wargaming

Well, I hope everyone had a good Christmas, or as good as could be expected in the circumstances. I thought I would use the relaxing period between Christmas and New Year to reflect on the way I represent towns and villages in my Horse and Musket gaming, in the hope it might be of some use to other gamers.

Back in the day (in my case the 1960s), what we now commonly call 'built up areas' were referred to simply as 'houses' in most rules. Usually each house was treated separately, with a set number of figures allowed in each, and there were special rules for assaulting these houses and fighting over them. This could all be good fun, but could also be rather time consuming. Of course, such an approach has carried over into the present time for skirmish level gaming, where each figure is one soldier and a single house really does represent just one house.

For bigger games, it made sense to many gamers to have villages and towns represented by a set and well-defined area, including of course some house models, within which all units were deemed to be inside a BUA. The BUA could then be fought over in a more generic and quicker way, with simpler rules. It has suited some rules writers, myself included (in Honours of War) and rather more famously in Black Powder, to have BUAs of set sizes able to accommodate set numbers of units. Once again this has to do with making the gaming rules work in a straightforward way.

I personally now find that approach unnecessarily artificial, and have moved on to treating BUAs in almost exactly the same way as woods, marshes or bad ground. That is, set out an area of terrain designated as a town or village with its outline clearly indicated, and write some simple rules for moving and fighting in that type of terrain. Then, use the terrain as you would a wood, etc. - it accommodates as many units as can be physically fitted into it, with the houses, walls and trees within able to be moved around if needed to allow the placing of units conveniently for gaming. 

For the delectation of readers, I thought I would show how I construct my BUAs in practice, using a series of photos. I start by placing down one of Metcalfe's OO/HO scale cobblestone sheets, which can easily be cut to various sizes or combined to make larger areas.

Then, some house are placed down, leaving plenty of open space to deploy units.

A bit more decoration can then be added, including trees...

...and walling.

Then you're ready for the defenders to move in. As you can see I use 16 figures to represent a typical 600 man battalion, which is a figure ratio of about 1:35.

Of course, it's not necessary to limit the BUA to the exact size and shape of the original base. The area can be juggled with, extended or re-shaped by using various terrain pieces.

And that concludes the demonstration. Yeah, I know, hardly rocket science. But such an approach is easy to use in a wargame, as you can fight opposing units in the same way you fight them in open ground, having them move here and there, advancing and falling back as the fighting ebbs and flows, rather than having rather artificial and specific rules for BUAs which can become complex and need to be understood separately from those relating to other terrain pieces. 

It can be convenient to use objective markers to show clearly which side is judged to be in control of the BUA. My own rule is that one side must have at least one unit 3" or less from the marker whilst there are no enemy units 6" or less from the marker. This easy-to-use rule is borrowed ('stolen' is such an ugly word) from Battlegroup Blitzkrieg.

My only other advice would be, don't write rules or use rules that make attacking a BUA too difficult. It was common for villages to change hands several times in a large battle, and having this happen in a wargame is good fun. On the other hand, long, drawn-out fights where the chance of seizing a BUA is minimal make for dull gaming.

So there we are then. It only remains for me to wish all readers a very Happy New Year. Go well.

See you in 2021!

EDIT: 31st January 2021

Some photos below of the concept in action from a recent game of mine. They illustrate how I currently use my rules to 'play through' built up areas. BUAs have their own specific rules, but you can see how buildings and other scenery are shuffled about to accommodate the figures, whilst units aren't artificially constrained by the limits of the BUA - some of the unit can be inside, some outside.

A belated Happy New Year to everyone!


rross said...

Thanks Keith, that makes a lot of sense to me as we have always had great difficulty assaulting even the smallest "defensive zone" in our house rules. So, like a wood, two opposing units can be within the bounderies of you BUA at one time, and simply fight a standard melee?

Keith Flint said...

Yes, pretty much. The attacking unit wouldn't get a charge bonus as their opponents would count as defending 'difficult ground'. Cavalry cannot charge into BUAs.

Neil said...

Great idea! Thanks.

Steve J. said...

Some good thoughts in BUA's there Keith. I made similar bases for my BUA's when I started playing HoW and they have been very useful, being able to move the houses about to accomodate units as they ebb and flow in the area. Also your comment on not making it too difficult to fight against BUA's is apt, as in some recent BPII games, they have been too difficult to take by fire or assault. So now I give them ninimal cover saves to make for a better game.

Keith Flint said...

Steve, I found the same with BP, one of my few real issues with those rules. Attacking BUAs was an issue with BKC as well, if I remember correctly.

James Fisher said...

Simple, perhaps Keith, but quite elegant and certainly innovative. It gets you away from the artificiality of a built up area, one unit per building approach, as you say. Presumably too, it also eliminates the idea of one side in and one side out of the building. Depending on what it represents, they are contesting the town, for example, as they might contest a wood. Appropriate modifiers apply. Brilliant.
(I really enjoy Kiley's book on Napoleonic artillery. I have not read it from cover to cover, so have not noted the repetition that you mention, rather treating it as a reference to look up/check about a particular nation's artillery. A top book.)
Regards, James

Wargamer Stu said...

Its how I've been doing mine for a long time now - lining-up around the outside of a house just not really being very convenient or precise.

These days we mostly agree how many troops could fit onto a BAU in advance and how many could fire from each side, again to remove lots of fiddly moving about. In effect treating "occupying BUA" as a formation

Keith Flint said...

James and Stu, thanks for your comments. It's nice to know I might be on the right track!

Amtmann B. said...

I think that your example is looking great and useful. The tools are not too expensive.

I sometimes thought about such a "basplate". I will look in the model train shop in Freiburg if there are such cobbles and if they are cheap enough.

Captain Nolan said...

I just ordered a copy. We will see how long it takes to get from the mother country to the colonies.