September 10, 2016

Here we go again

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Last Sunday H. decided to grace me with a visit. Naturally he insisted on dragging his unrully Saxons along with him. My Britons filed a strongly worded complaint to these plans and another clash in our semi-dormant Dux Britanniarum-campaign became unevitable.

Yeah, its’ been a while since I’ve hosted a proper game!

We’re still dipping our toes in the pool when it comes to Dux Britanniarum and trying out different scenarios that are included. In our previous games the games focused on some sort of loot – either plunder of a village or getting away with stuff already grabbed before the encounter in the game. This time around we choose a scenario that is a bit different from the rest of the lot included in the rulebook – a Briton patrol consisting of two warrior groups and an officer are returning from an uneventful stroll around the countryside. The rest of the Briton army is camped around the watchtower at the other end of the table, which also doubles as the ‘panic room’ for the patrol. Saxons have apparently gotten hold of playbook of South-American drug cartels (or would it be the other way around?) and figured out that snaching a noble could render neat little profit without having to deal with angry peasants and sniveling kids.

With a lot of random setup elements in the initial deployment as well as a terrain deployment controlled by players intending to block movement paths or trying to ensure escape routes, there seems to be a lot of replayability in this one.

Initial deployment

The terrain placement would obviously play a significant role in this scenario and it took us a while before we were done with all the sneaky shuffling around of bogs, rough patches, woods and hills. We agreed that all terrain features with the exception of stand alone trees, were medium difficulty terrain. The steep hill-side was impassable.

Next, I placed my units on the table. My forlorn patrol was allowed to move a bit towards safety of the building that proxied for the watch tower (future terrain project?), while the rest of my troops was deployed around it. Saxons had to roll for their entry edge, as well as how many units would enter on first round. H. promptly rolled a six, which meant that all his scoundrels would pour onto the table without any delay.

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The game

Plans, plans, plans… Well, the obvious part of my game plan was to make the patrol move as quickly as possible and hope H. wouldn’t catch them. What to do with the troops around my base was a bit more of a challenge, mostly created by myself. In deployment phase I was a bit flippant and spread individual groups around the deployment area – you know, ‘we are resting and doing nothing’-thing. Once the game started, I  realized however a bit too late that this dispersion gave H. an unintended advantage. It would now take time for me to gather everyone together and time was something I didn’t have in this game. By that time it was too late for regrets and I had to adapt to the situation I’ve decided to send my elites and archers under command of Noble on a dash toward the patrol as some sort of quick reaction force. In the meantime I would use my Lord to herd together my levies and when ready, try to get behind the Saxons, wherever they may be at that time.

H. must have read my mind and split his force in three groups – his two groups of hearthguard and two warrior groups set were arranged in separate formations and set of in a run toward their intended prey. Remaining warrior group, its numbers increased to eight warriors after his previous successful raid, accompanied by his archers turned toward my base in a clear attempt to secure the flank of main force.

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After a couple of rounds the character of the game started to take shape. Personally I suffered from a brain-freeze and threw my patrol into rough terrain in front of them, not only unnecessarily slowing them down, but also giving the a couple of Shock points. Really dumb move – I should have either rushed to the right of these boulders or rushed to the top of the hill, gaining superior defensive position. My choice now guaranteed that H. would catch my patrol detachment in the open. This meant forming a shieldwall and waiting for the onslaught of a shedload of now clearly visible horde of screaming Saxons, quickly closing the distance.

At the other end, my peasant levies tried their best to gather together, failing miserably, with one group being too fast for their own good and the rest dragging their feet. The ‘fast’ group ended up dangerously close to H.’s ‘security force’, which pounced on them without delay. Three peasants promptly went down in the violent melee that followed… but to everyone’s surprise, two Saxons also met their end in this initial clash! Unexpected casualties seemed to have taken a bit the fight out of the remaining Saxons, who probably expected some easy killing but met their match.

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This initial contact also put some ideas into my head – my rescue force was now about same distance from the position of my now stationary patrol as it was from H’s flank group. Due to its separatin, it presented a juicy target – with my peasants in front and comanipulares jumping them from the rear, they’d surely be dead meat! Said and done, I diverted my rescue force from the initial destination. The plan was now to wipe out these separated Saxons first and proceed with rescuing the ambushed patrol if there was still time for that. And if I didn’t make it in time? Well, eye for an eye, mate!

My decision shaped the game into its final form, consisting of two separate actions. The encounter between H.’s flank party and my comanipulares asssisted by a levies shieldwall was a one-sided affair. The outcome was assisted by H.’s consistently bad luck with dice rolls in this fight. His warriors took their time dying, but die they did, one or two at a time! The few survivors finally had enough and broke down, trying to make it to the edge of the board. In this they failed and were unceremonously dispatched by their pursuers. The noble leading this unlucky group managed to dodge all the blows (and there were many!) to the very end and was finally allowed to flee as last man standing. For me, the cost was one slain comanipulares – all things considered, a decent payoff.

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The main event was however the last stand of my warriors. And indeed, it was a last stand worth of songs praising this group of stalward heroes! SmileOver five rounds they stood their ground, not budging an inch, slugging it out with the best H. could throw at them. Over the course of this fight there were very few casualties, with just one man going down on each side, and my noble, leading by example, suffering a honorable wound. In the end, the fight was decided by the Shock mechanism, which dictates that each two points of Shock take away one attack dice for the inflicted group of figures. As the fight progressed, my shieldwall formation absorbed all but one kill result H’s hearthguard managed to score, but my Shock points increased steadily. When H’s warrior formation, which lagged behind, finally slammed into the side of my shieldwall, the jigg was up due to a scenario special rule, which said that if Saxons had three times attack dice my force could muster, my lads would give up. And that’s precisely what finally happened – abandonded, obviously in despair and completely exhausted, my warriors realized that further resistance was futile and laid down their arms. But they never broke!

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With the entire patrol in the bag, H. declared that he would be quiting the field. This he was allowed to do without any challenge on my part – the distance to the edge was too short and even if I managed to get to his main force before it left the table, it would be in disorganized manner. I would be asking for further losses, so it was better to bite the bullet and wait for the inevitable ransom demand.

Post-battle

In Dux Britanniarum, each scenario is set in a simple campaign setting. Once a game is finished players compare their results – were scenario conditions fulfilled, how many loses were suffered by each side, were any Nobles wounded or killed and so on… This comparison decides who won the game and how much of a success it really was. In this case, the destruction of H.’s warriors on the flank minimized the level of his victory to a rather phyrric victory. But a victory it was nonetheless and now he has enough money to advance career of his warlord to the next step in the overall campaign.

Musings after the battle

Well… there were moments in this game where I feared it would turn out into a frustrating, one-sided affair leaving bad aftertaste in loser’s mouth. But in the end it turned out to be a true nail-biter that could literally turn either way due to a single dice roll! Also, the rules are rock-solid in every respect, with combat mechanism actually surprising me with its, in my opinion at least, quite ‘realistic’ outcome in both main fights of this game. The post-game phase is also a bit of a blast with its capability to reduce a seemingly very sucessful encounter into a sour grape.

Two events that took place during the game require a further analysis. The first took place in final phase of the massacre of H.’s flanking force. The ruleset says that Nobles don’t suffer hits in normal way, instead a simple check is made whenever a group to which the Noble is attached suffers casualties. If a roll on a D6 is equal or less than the number of kills suffered by that group in a fight, the Noble takes that hit instead. In our game, H.’s Noble managed to avoid damage throughout the game and in the end only he and one last warrior was still standing. Three kill hits were dealt against them in combat round that followed. Common sense says that both men were hacked to pieces. But if rules are applied in ‘rules lawyer’ manner (which we chose to do), all these hits would be absorbed by the ‘last’ warrior and a check with a D6 would follow, with a result of ‘1’ resulting in a wound to the Noble. Our check left H.’s Noble unscathed and a lucky card draw allowed him to escape the field. I’m not entire sure how I feel about that outcome, as I would have loved to finish the man! Smile

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The other curiosity occured due to scenario conditions. As already mentioned, the ‘main event’ ended with my Noble and eleven of my warriors being taken prisoner. This event posed a question that is unaswered by the ruleset – how were these prisoners to be regarded in terms of loses in post-battle phase? The question is not trivial – a loss of eleven men could be a very significant factor when deciding level of victory, which in turn can have impact on development of the campaign. The noble will probably be ransomed, but would the British lord care about paying for captured warriors? Maybe, but would the Saxon chieftain want to release them? They would probably be worth more on slave market somewhere in Europe. In the end we decided that everyone in captured party had to be considered as a loss. It would however be nice to hear opinions of other players about this situation.

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All the ambiguities nonewithstanding, the fact remains – Dux Britanniarum gave us another excellent game and that’s the important thing. Also, with H. having successfully amassed wealth necessary to proceed in the social meta-game, we will now be able to expand number of troops in our games.

September 04, 2016

Take it on faith… or not

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It’s been a long while since I’ve really had my finger on the pulse of the hobby. I hardly ever visit the forums anymore. I have several dozens of Meeples and Miniatures podcasts left to listen to. Most importantly, sometime around beginning of 2014 I’ve decided not to buy any more wargaming magazines until I’ve gone through the very substantial stack of issues already resting on my to read-shelf. So these days my only contemporary source of information about developments in the hobby consists of feeds and news posted in a couple of Facebook wargaming groups I still belong to. It was from one such message that I’ve learned that Henry Hyde, as apparent consequence of change of the owner of this venerable wargaming publication, is leaving the position as editor of Miniature Wargames magazine.

aThis fact in itself made me quite sad, because Henry Hyde is one of the good guys in the hobby. To my best knowledge, he’s been doing his best promoting ‘hardcore’ historical wargaming for more than a decade. Also, based on his input in podcasts such as ‘A View from The Veranda’, I think he’s a really likeable person who seems to approach this hobby in a manner quite similar to my own. So personally I can’t imagine a more suitable person for the role of the editor of Miniature Wargames. A bit perplexed I went to the site of the magazine in search of explanation of this event. Once there, or more precisely, on magazine’s page at the site of new distributor of its digital version, I found out that Miniature Wargames is nowadays supposed to be some sort of jack of all trades that “looks at all forms of miniature wargaming, including historical, fantasy, Sci-Fi, pulp, steam punk and roleplaying”.

bIf that’s the future role for Miniature Wargames, I am not at all surprised that Mr. Hyde, being one of foremost champions of historical wargaming of current age, have gotten a pink slip from the new owner. I hope I’m wrong, but it seems to me that one of ‘institutions’ of the hobby is being put to sleep by some execs without a clue about what they’ve acquired. Not the first time it happens (‘Firefly’, anyone?), but it’s still a damn shame!

Anyway… after this probably far too long intro, let me get to the real topic of this post. As already mentioned, I’ve stopped buying wargaming mags couple of years ago? One of the reasons for this decision was the fact that all back issues of hobby magazines I use to read are available online as digital publications. Miniature Wargames, Wargames Illustrated, Soldiers Wargames & Strategy and more, they’re all online, every single issue easily available for your purchase whenever you’d need them or want them.

cWell… as it turns out, that’s no longer the case, at least when it comes to Miniature Wargames! While “investigating” possible reasons for Mr. Hyde’s leaving the magazine, I discovered to my shock that only the two latest issues of the Miniature Wargames are currently available for purchase in digital format from magazine’s shop. In rough numbers, some forty issues of one of the most prominent publications in the hobby along with all the issues of Battlegames (magazine created and run by Mr. Hyde before he merged it with Miniature Wargames) have been removed and are no longer available to the public audience. And, just to add insult to injury, the new owner seems to have moved digital distribution of the magazine to Pocketmags, which in my opinion is nothing else but a rental service for magazines and publications.

I must say that this discovery made me quite angry. Naturally, I am seriously annoyed with the new owner of the magazine, who in my opinion have pulled a serious douchebag move on the readers of Miniature Wargames. But, if I am to be perfectly honest, I am mostly annoyed with myself. Over last couple of years I must have visited Miniature Wargames’ webshop some twenty times, thinking about getting a digital subscription. And every single time I didn’t, because “what’s the rush, the stuff is there today and it will be there tomorrow, right?”. So I’d decide that I would create an account next month or maybe at the beginning of next year and leave in belief that things would never change. And now those issues are gone. Hopefully only temporarily, while the new owner works out the usual legal wrinkles with the old one. But… they may also be gone forever, lost in some legal maze regarding publication rights or some other legal BS. Wouldn’t that be a shame?

This entire episode also rekindled all the doubts I’ve always been having regarding purchases of digital publications that are accessible only through online proxies, such as for example Pocketmags. True, as long as things work smoothly, it may seem like a perfect way to buy a magazine. But under certain circumstances, the restrictions of this type of access do seem to raise their ugly head. This particular case seems at least for the moment to be the perfect example of possible complications with access to digital publications through proxies – you buy stuff, but you never really own it. A magazine can be sold off to an owner with a different technical solution for digital material, forcing consumer to adapt or rendering his purchases useless. Or the company that owns the publication can merge or be acquired by another company, which in turn may perhaps even not care about digital distributions. In the worst case scenario, the owner of a magazine can even go bust, with the third party distributor naturally pulling the plug permanently as a consequence.

I don’t know about everyone else, but personally I have always refused to subscribe or ‘purchase’ digital publications that are not made available to me in some tangible form, preferably as PDF files. Yes, I know, a house may burn down to a ground along with everything in it, hard copies can get lost or destroyed, hard drives with PDF files may crash… But the fact remains - as long as I have a useable, tangible copy of a magazine, I can always read it, regardless of the fact that my Internet connection is down, or that I haven’t updated my reader app to latest version or that my tablet is five years old and is no longer able to run some software.

That’s my five cents, for whatever it’s worth.

August 27, 2016

Review–grass tufts from Gamer’s Grass

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As long as the almost complete standstill in my wargaming persists, perhaps the best way to keep this blogg alive is by posting a review every once in a while. Let’s start off with grass tufts from Gamer’s Grass.

Allright, so to begin with, what exactly are grass tufts. Well, like pretty much all terrain and basing materials we use in the hobby, it’s yet another cross-over product from model railroads hobby. Basically, it’s a small lump of grass fibers secured at the bottom in a small drop of white glue or other type of transparent material like silicone. A bunch of such lumps is delivered on a sheet of wax paper. The idea with the product is that user is to peel individual tufts of the wax paper and glue them on terrain pieces or miniature bases either with PVA glue or superglue.

If I am not correctly mistaken, the product was introduced over ten years ago by a company called Silflor – they’re still the ‘top dog’ in this department and have by now developed a vast variety of products in this range. The thing is though that their products are rather expensive.

Gamer’s Grass offers pretty much same product While their range is smaller, it is  in my opinion at least, better directed towards the wargaming scene. Most of their tufts are about 6mm high, which seems to be optimal for 28mm miniatures. For 15mm minis, this height may be a bit overpowering on a base, so their smaller range of 4mm tufts is probably better choice. Other heights, such as 2mm and 12mm are also available.

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The tufts come in different colours and heights. Individual tufts are made in three sizes and are shaped as an oval. Some shades/sizes are also available in form of irregularly shaped lumps. An individual piece of wax paper holds between (approximatly) 120 and 40 tufts, depending on size of indivudual ‘lumps’. The price is what makes products from Gamer’s Grass really attractive.

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I’ve been using stuff from Silflor on a couple occasions and the comparison between their ‘top of the line’ product and what you get from Gamer’s Grass works out quite well indeed. As already said, we’re talking about lumps of grass fibers put in a ‘base’ of some sort of flexible material, so there is not much room for improvement! Smile If I am to be completely frank, it seems to me that the material used for the ‘base’ by Gamer’s Grass is a bit more fragile. As a result, couple of tufts have desintegrated in my fingers as I peeled them of the wax paper. But with a bit of caution, they can be handled without any problems. Once glued onto a base, they seem to be able to handle the abuse expected to be caused by handling of miniatures in games and during transports.

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Last but not least, couple of words about the customer experience. My order was placed through their webshop and consisted of over a dozen of different tufts. Payment was done through Paypal and order was promptly confirmed through email. The small package (with all ordered items) arrived to my delivery spot just over a week after placement of the order. Overall, a very smooth purchase without any issues.

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In pictures included in this post, you can see some of the sheets that I’ve ordered. Most of them are of standard 6mm height and in various sizes. If you take a look at previously posted pictures of my early Anglo-Saxons, you can see the tufts ‘in action’. I was really satisfied with that ‘test run’ and can recommend Gamer’s Grass without any reservations.

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July 31, 2016

Trying to turn things around

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Well, with first seven months behind us, it is safe to say that 2016 shapes out to be a really slow wargaming year for me! This in itself is a bit of a paradox – after all, I’ve managed to finish the “basic” setup for ‘Charlie don’t surf’ earlier this year. Funnily enough, after just two games, I seem to have run out of steam (or interest) in regard of Vietnam and can’t be bothered to set up another game! Rest easy though, I just need a breather and more fun in the jungle will surely commence in a couple of months or so…

Meanwhile, over last couple of months my focus shifted almost exclusively to my bunch of jolly Dannish imigrants preparing for their first ‘Dux Britaniarum’ tour of British shores. Just to recapitulate – last time I reported about this project, I was done with all of the rabble, eh… common warriors. Next in cue were the chaps arranging the whole trip as well as their closest buddies, aka hearthguard. In other worlds, I had to work my way through a pile of figures in chainmail and with spangenhelms. Some hangarounders with bows and arrows also managed to get some paint on them and voila, second project of the year is completed!

For those interested – this lot is a mix of minis from Footsore Miniatures, Westwind Productions and Gripping Beast. They all mix together rather well, with Footsore Miniatures and Gripping Beast being very similar in size and ‘heft’. Minis from Westwind are a rad chunkier, but once placed on the table with the the rest of their brethren, it’s impossible to see the difference from a meter apart. All minis were fun and easy to work with. I must however give the honorable gold star to sculptor from Footsore Miniatures – his stuff has definitely most ‘character’.

Last couple of pictures are ‘graduation snapshots’ for the whole lot just before their first trip to the ‘other side’. I must confess that I’m quite stoked over whole bunch, but that’s hardly a surprise, is it?

Finally a couple of words about the banner of my raiding party. It’s a simple thing – I found the boar shape on the Interwebs and gave it a quick once-over in Photoshop. Not the quality of Little Big Men Studio, but it will do. If you feel like using it, you can grab it at the bottom of this post.

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Boar Flag Final

May 24, 2016

The enormous time sink hole aka my own little Wimpy

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Well, 2016 hasn’t exactly been eventful on the wargaming front for me. There are various reasons for this rather depressing state of affairs, but one of the major ones over last couple of months is this little thing – a 1/72 kit of a Vickers Wellington I’ve been working on since pretty much start of the year. A relatively simple kit at first glance, but it turned out to be a gigantic time sinkhole for me.

Anyway, I am finally done with it and if you squint and look at it from a meter or two away, it actually does look the part! And now I may even make some progress with the Saxons for the long-planned Dux Britaniarum campaign!

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May 14, 2016

Iuka Redux

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As promised, here’s the AAR of the second take of Iuka scenario, this time with IABSM turn sequence and a bunch of other rules applied correctly. For the background information about the scenario and home rules in play I refer to the first report, since I haven’t changed anything in that department. It is however worth repeating that I planned for the game to run for fifteen rounds, with random extension of of between one and six rounds just to keep everyone on their toes.

This time around it would be a one on one affair, with L. yet again taking the role of Confederate commander, while yours truly would take over the Union troops. Poor bastards…

The plans

It became obvious rather quickly that L. intention was repeat his shock and awe aproach and run over the Union troops to his front with a bold frontal charge with one of his brigades, while the other one kept my flanking force at bay.

I must admit that I did spend a bit of thought on my initial deployment in the time that passed since the first game. I finally came to the conclusion that the original plan of Hå. was a pretty good one considering the initial deployment of troops and restrictions on movement imposed by terrain. I did however decide to make one major change – the first brigade of my ‘front’ force would take position at the edge of the woods at the left edge of the road. The second brigade would however not march up the road, but move quickly over the open field on my right flank, then turn left, traverse the woods and smash into the flank of Rebel forces which I suspected would attempt to repeat the events of previous game. The flanking column on the far side would at the same time try to push as hard as they could manage against L.’s blocking force.

The game

Right, let’s move over to the pictures.

P1020825We start the game somewhere around turn six or seven. L.’s first brigade has been spotted while still deploying for their intended frontal charge. My own troops are by now safely tucked away in the woods. The attached medium artillery battery is deployed from its blind at the road fork, since its unable to enter difficult terrain As it turned out, this prompt deployment played siginficant role in the events that followed, since this battery took rather severe toll on two of the Confederate regiments in its front and delayed their advance for a crucial round or two.


P1020833Couple of rounds later… With L’s assault on its way, I took the opportunity and unmasked my first brigade. Its position on the edge of the woods and supports to the rear would give them a bit of a bonus if Rebels managed to get that far. The effect of the fire of my artillery is already visible, with Confederate left flank starting to drag a bit. Also, it seemed like a good idea to move my skirmishers into a position that would enfilade approaching rebels.

The arrow illustrates my ‘cunning plan’ and the path I intended for my second brigade in its approach toward the enemy.


P1020837A bit more complete picture of the situation somewhere in the middle of the engagement. As can be seen, the situation on the flank is quite similar to that which developed in the first game, with both sides having difficulty deploying troops effectively. The major difference was that use of blinds in this game allowed me to freely deploy the artillery attached to that column where I needed it the most, in this case on the road. Once deployed, it started blasting away at the rebels in front of it, with considerable effect I may add. It actually managed pushing L’s blocking force back a bit all on its own.

 

P1020842There was however never any doubt that the main engagement would once again take place at the crossroads which were the target of Confederate charge. Despite suffering serious casualties on their way in, once in contact, the rebels had no problems mauling the green Union regiments trying to oppose them. Initial contact was made on my left flank, due to my artillery battery making the rebels to pay dearly for every step they took and temporarily halting their advance. However, where the contact was made, the rebels threw the Union regiment that took brunt of the charge back into the woods, pulling their supports in second line with them.

On the positive note my second brigade has now reached jumpoff position for its own assault. Also, the fire of my skirmishers on extreme left flank of my defensive line was surprisingly effective.

P1020843Whatever optimism I was able to muster from the butcher’s bill payed by the rebels during their advance was sapped away over next couple of turns. L’s seemingly unstoppable grey steamroller smashed into my line across the entire front, with disastrous consequences. My entire brigade was prompty routed, while the artillery battery which punished Confederates so severly was overrun and captured. It seemed like a repeat of L.’s charge in the first game. And indeed it was – once routed, my broken brigade got an unexplainable break and a chance to recover due to lucky unit activation sequence. This was helped by a quirk in TCHAE rules set, which I believe we run into for the very first time - routing troops move fifty percent quicker than troops which are in order. This allowed for my broken brigade to get away from their tormentors for a little while. Next a lucky/unlucky draw of activation chips allowed me to recover most of the regiments (one regiment and crews of the overrun battery run off the table edge and, I presume, of the face of the earth as is custom in tabletop wargames! Smile).

Also, the casualties that L. suffered in his brave, but perhaps a bit reckless advance did start to have tangible consequences -his best regiment having suffered more than 50 percent casualties became permanently defeated, while another was just two casualties from reaching same state. In plain language, two out of L.’s regiments had quite enough excitment for the day.

 

P1020850Meanwhile, on the other side of the battlefield, things took remarkably similar shape as in the first game. The activiation chips for forces involved here were few and far between, making any decisive action impossible.

By now we have reached round fourteen out of ‘regular’ fifteen and L. decided to call it a day. Somewhat exhausted after over four hours of gaming time, I readily agreed.

P1020853I was however a bit curious about how things would turn out if we continued and decided to play the game to its conclusion on my own. It took me a week to find the time and energy, but today I finally run the last couple of rounds.

The situation at the time L. and I decided to call it a day was rather peculiar. Union brigade on the receiving end of L.’s bold but costly charge was decidedly shaken, but still useable. At the same time my second brigade was finally in the position for its own assault into the rear of L.’s decidedly bloodied assault force. Aware of that fact, he switched the orders of his second brigade, calling upon it for support. Also, his artillery was in perfect position to blast into the backs of my ‘rescue force’ as soon as it came out into open. So the situation on the battlefield looked like a blue-grey-blue-grey-blue sandwich, with each layer posed to attack somebody.

Before taking on the role of CinC for both sides, I decided that Confederate artillery on the high ground could not be ignored by Union side. I therefore split my second brigade into two parts – two regiments were to advance against Rebels to the left, while the remaining regiment and skirmishers would engage the artillery batteries to the right.

The first two rounds (final one of ‘ordinary time’ and first bonus turn) went pretty well for boys in blue. Rebel guns weren’t silenced, but I did manage to mask them and cause some casualties among the crews. Also, my ‘assault force’ of two regiments seemed to gain upper hand against the single Rebel regiment that opposed them. Then second bonus round started and ended abruptly with first activation chip drawn being a ‘Coffee break’. This was followed by a roll of six on a check for next bonus round, bringing a rather anticlimactic finalé to this game.

Musings after the battle 
Right… let’s start with a quick explanation regarding the reason for me and L. wanting to replay this scenario. As already stated, first time around I bungled several crucial sections of the ruleset, such as sequence of play and what ‘mandatory’ effects close combat had on participants. I also managed to ‘forget’ the fact that units can move multiple times under certain circumstances and refrained from using the ‘blinds’, which theoretically at least allowed for more rapid movement. L. and I suspected that if the ruleset was applied correctly and with the blinds in play, we’d be able to move more often, providing a more rapid game.

It is safe to say that our expectations were not met – the contact between L.’s first brigade and Hå.’s defening troops in first game took place in round eleven, in our game in round ten. The action on the flank was as inconclusive as in the first attempt. My flanking force arrived to its jump-off position about the same time as it arrived to Hå.’s rescue in previous game. In other words, correct use of movement rules and taking advantage of supposed advantages of ‘blinds’ had no effect in this particular game. On the other hand, applying correct turn sequence certainly did make some of the rules more logical, but without influencing the ‘feel’ or course of the game in any significant manner. L.’s assault was in most respects a repetition of what happened in our first game, main difference being that he took much more severe casualties while charging my line. This was due to my deployment of troops, not because of the ‘corrections’ to the rules we used this time around.

The ironic thing is that paying careful attention to the rules in TCHAE led me to a couple of new insights about this ruleset and none of them is very positive. The ‘blinds’ mechanism, while providing intended fog of war, is also in my opinion something of a can of worms as soon as partial deployment of units is attempted. It is also the only the ruleset I know of where line of sight rules are not clearly defined. This omission forces players to make their own judgement calls when trying to comply with restrictions applied to multiple unit moves in same round. Also, both L. and I were a bit dumbfounded by realization that movement rates between line and column formations (for units deployed on the table) are exactly the same. I’m sure that the rules designer has good reasons for this decision, but the explanation for this rather odd choice would be welcomed.

I’ll be frank and admit that all the ambivalencies and question marks that pop up every time I play a TCHAE game are starting to bother me more and more. At the same time it is without a question a tabletop games ruleset I am most familiar with and therefore most comfortable with. The dilema I find myself with is  therefore somewhat peculiar – do I stick with TCHAE despite all of its annoyances or do I, for lack of better word, dump it and start hunting for a replacement ruleset?

Now, where did I stash that copy of ‘Guns at Gettysburg’…

First 'home turf' game of the year took place previous Saturday. And indeed 'home turf' it was in double meaning of the word, since we run yet antoher ACW scenario from Partizan Press 'Hearthland' scenario book and with 'They couldn't hit an elephant' ruleset. The well-trodden path one could easily believe... which makes the events that took place so much more peculiar. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The scenario I picked for our game is one of the most interesting in the 'Heartland' scenario book. It's based on first battle of Iuka and it’s actually something so rare as a true meeting engagement. A smaller, but qualitatively much better Southern force of eight regiments and assorted artillery tries to escape the clutches of a numerically superior, but rather green Northern force divided in two columns. Also, the terrain is something of a challenge in this one with all woods being difficult terrain, thus limiting possible advance avenues, but at the same time creating some opportunities for more 'adventurous' players.

The game objective of Rebels is to secure at least two thirds of the road stretch starting with their entry point and ending with the entry point the Union force meeting them head on. I marked the spot which I decided would be the ‘watershed mark’ with the red X on the topmost picture.

I run the game with my usual modifications to the rules – poker chits activated the leaders instead of cards and there was equal number of chits for both sides in the bag, with dummy chits balancing the number for the side with fewer number of leaders (in this case a single dummy chit was added for the Confederate side). As usual, I started the game with three coffee chits. That number was reduced to two coffee chits once first casualty was suffered by muskeet fire and finally to one coffee chit after first rout. This modification increases the friction slowly as the action heats up. Also, for some unexplainable reason I decided this time around to run the game without any blinds – all units would deploy in march columns from the start. Finally I decided we would run the game for 15 rounds with a possibility of extending the game based on a D6 dice throw before each round above 15. A 6 would end the game on round 15, 6 and 5 on round 16, and so on…

The game

Well, let’s move on to the pictures and see what we can make of them.

P1020756The initial eight or nine rounds were spent on sluggish march to contact – a consequence of me deciding not to use blinds and made worse by further mixups regarding the rules. More about that in final analysis of the game. Here we see the situation around round 5. The Northern force that is deployed on the board actually did start the game deployed in column of march on the road, with foremost unit standing close to the red ‘x’. Hå., acting cautiously and waiting for appearance of his second brigade, started deploying his regiments almost immediately into line. L., commanding the Confederates acted a bit more agressively, moving his foremost brigade quickly toward the enemy present on the battlefield. It became obvious rather quickly that he intended to use his second brigade to hold flanking Union column at bay. As things turned out, that brigade was severly delayed by bad chip draws.

P1020759More of the same. Hå. throws his skirmishers forward as L. deploys his front brigade into line. On the side road we can see avangarde troops of Union flanking force, a small cavalry regiment. Main force of that column is still to appear on the field.

P1020765L. is almost ready to strike, Federal brigade sets up to receive the expected assault.

P1020768Meanwhile, Hå’s reinforcements make their way forward, although they’re in no rush.

P1020771L.s frontal assault goes in and manages to push back entire Union brigade. Actually it was a pretty even fight, with superior numbers of Union regiments and well-ordered formation almost halting the Rebel advance. But in the end experience carried the day. L. had to repeat his agressive charges three times, final assault being carried out by a single regiment before…

P1020781…this happened. The final chage of a single Confederate regiment routed its Union opponents, and quite badly so. This sudden collapse of morale spread like a virus throughout the entire brigade, which promply skedaddled in total panic to the rear. I’ve never seen something like that in a TCHAE game and to be honest, it was quite fascinating to see how rout rules triggered one regimental collapse after another. For precious moment the road to escape was free for the Rebels.

P1020778In the meantime, to the rear of this intense action, the terrain made things very difficult for both sides. He.’s regiments moved very slowly toward the Confederate blocking force. When contact was finally made, everyone was hindered by miserable terrain, making effective troop deployment very difficult. The result was a typical, inconclusive engagement where both sides suffered casualties, but noone could achieve the upper hand.

P1020792For a short while, things hang in the balance at the focal point of the battle. Funnily, it was the rules that decided that no breakthrough would be achieved by the Rebels – at a critical moment in the game a situation occured where if the first leader to be activated was the commander of the Union brigade that routed, it would trigger mandatory rout move for all broken regiments.  That would remove entire brigade from the battlefield. On the other hand, if Union Commander in Chief were to be activated, the rout movement would not be triggered and he’d have time to restore order among his routed troops. Luckily for Hå., his commander in chief’s chit was the first to be drawn, followed promptly by chit activating commander of his second brigade. This gave him chance to not only recover his routed brigade but also to set up a stabilizing line of blue-clad troops between his broken brigade and the Rebels.

At that time we reached the end of round 15. With everyone somewhat exhausted and realizing that we would not be able to achieve conclusive result in remaining time (up to six extra rounds), we halted the game and called it a draw.

Musings after the battle

P1020808The fact is that the outcome of our game was pretty close to the historical events – Confederates pushed back Union line (which in the real battle took up position on the heights where Confederate artillery is set up in the final picture), but then run out of steam. However, the battle was then aborted by approach of the evening and in the darkness, the Union troops apparently panicked and abandoned their position, leaving the field and open escape route to the rebels.

This however is a very small and unimportant side note. The really important thing consists of a disclosure of a very significant aspect of this game - for some unexplainable reason, I managed to completely scramble ‘They Couldn’t Hit An Elephant’ in this game into something that can only be described as Frankensteinian hodgepodge of at least two, possibly three different rulesets. To begin with, I completely re-arranged the turn sequence, allowing troops to shoot when they shouldn’t have, move when they shoudn’t be allowed to and executed assaults at incorrect time. I also incorrectly limited allowed movement of troops by at least two thirds, slowing the events of the game to snail pace. Finally, I’ve gotten into my head that all troops that participate in an assault are automatically disrupted. This, I’m pretty sure was a ‘crossover’ from rules of a board game (‘This Accursed Civil War’ by GMT) which I haven’t played in ages!!! The result of this particular shortwiring of my brain resulted in L.’s charge never gaining the momentum it could have gained. Go figure…

Here’s the funny thing though! Despite me totally bungling my role as game master, we still managed to have a pretty good fun. Once I discovered my multiple fumbles somewhere in the middle of the game, the lads were totally understanding and we simply agreed to continue the game to its conclusion with all my unintentional ammendments ‘in play’. And this brings me to perhaps the only really important conclusion one can draw from this particular game – it’s not the rules applied with military precision, masterly painted miniatures or diorama quality terrain that make for a good game, but the friends you play it with.

That being said, the Iuka scenario has so much potential for an interesting and challenging game that L. and I decided to run it again this Saturday, this time around with correct rules. So stay tuned for Iuka Redux.