May 24, 2016

The enormous time sink hole aka my own little Wimpy

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!


May 14, 2016

Iuka Redux

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’…

May 02, 2016

Playing Iuka Scenario or how to bungle a perfectly good game

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.