Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Monday 29 December 2014

A Really Useful Link If You Are Writing WW2 Rules

John D Salt gets another entry in "best forum posts", this time on "The Wargames Website", where he discusses the armour piercing qualities of various weapons and the thickness/effectiveness of armour on many WW2-era AFVs: here and here.

Saturday 27 December 2014

Boxing Day DBA - Mohacs Re-Imagined

My plans for Boxing Day gaming had revolved around Star Wars and Formula De, but "events" got in the way, as is their wont!  I did however manage to get a DBA game in, having received a copy of the new version of the rulebook as a Christmas Present:

For the battle, I used the Battle of Mohacs 1526 scenario from Miniature Wargames #2.

 I don't have either Hungarian or Ottoman armies, so I used my Wars of the Roses figures.  The respective armies used were:

"Hungarians": 3 x Knights, 3 x Light Horse, 2 x Pikemen, 1 x Blades, 2 x Hordes, 1 x Skirmishers
"Ottomans": 7 x Cavalry, 4 x Light Horse, 2 x Bowmen, 3 x Psiloi, 2 x Artillery

The photographs aren't very good, but here goes:

More or less historical deployment, seen from behind the Hungarian Army.

On this high-angled shot, you can just make out the large Ottoman reserves hidden behind the crest.
About halfway through the battle: the Hungarian Knights have stalled on the hill and took heavy losses; the Mercenary pikemen in the centre are being engaged on two sides by Ottoman cavalry and light horse; the Hungarian light cavalry on the right is facing a mixed force of Spahis and Akinjis.

Those Pikemen did eventually defeat the Ottoman cavalry, but the Hungarian right is under severe pressure from the flanking Ottoman Cavalry and this led to the Hungarians suffering defeat.

I used the historical tactics of both sides and was rewarded with a pretty similar result: the Hungarian Knights and German Pikemen just aren't quite strong enough to overcome the Ottoman advantages of numbers and terrain.  Unusually perhaps, quite a lot of the combats went on for quite a long time with a little to-ing and fro-ing.

The new DBA is similar in gameplay to the old as far as I can tell - although I am sure the veteran players will notice large differences.  I would like to say though that the rulebook is brilliant: lots of clear explanatory diagrams and lots of interesting Army lists covering 4000BC upto the early 1500s, with the right amount of historical information without adding pointless fluff/pages.  I have found it amongst the best written rules, perhaps not quite as good as Sam Mustafa's offerings, but up at the top.  Although a couple of sentences require some concentration, the rules themselves are very short so you don't have to remember how different rules inter-relate and the diagrams are excellent, anticipating the majority of situations likely to arise in a game. I will try and review properly when I've played a few more games and used a few more armies.

Friday 26 December 2014

Peninsular War Campaign - end of December 1808

As a result of space issues, I've transferred the campaign game onto VASSAL until such time as I can set-up the game free from juvenile and feline interference!  So, the actual game map of the current campaign situation (asat 31 Dec 1808):

Hopefully this illustrates the main areas of action well:

The main French army pursuing the Anglo-Spanish forces as they retreat from their positions east of Salamanca around the Duoro towards the Southwest.

The advance of Soult to Astorga and the retreat of his opponent, Mahy, into the mountains of Northwest Spain.

The efforts of St-Cyr to reduce the remaining Spanish garrisons in Catalonia, whilst threatened by small Spanish forces advancing up the coast from their bases in Tarragona and Tortosa.

All of the units are on the map, but I'm still working out the best way of showing some of the game markers (especially depots) at the moment.  However, this isn't enough of a problem to actually stop me playing, so I'm looking forward to resuming play in the very near future.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

My First Ever Games of DBA

I have finally got round to playing Phil Barker's DBA (there is a good summary of its philosophy here).  I know that there is a new version out v.3, but I played the original version, which until recently was available as a free download from WRG's History Page.

I really enjoyed it, I thought it was very cleverly designed.  I used it to-refight Degastan c.606 AD, with a Bernician army taking on a Scots confederation, based on an article written by Guy Halsall for Miniature Wargames #3. The Scots confederation consisted of 10 Spearmen elements, plus an element of Psiloi (skirmishers) and Light Horse.  The Bernician army consisted of 7 elements of Warband plus an element of Psiloi.  In accordance with the suggestion of the article, I gave a +1 bonus to all the Bernician rolls to reflect their better morale and equipment.  I can see that there is a lot of subtlety to the system which only more experience in using all the different troop types can give.  I didn't find it that hard to understand the rules, although I did have to concentrate properly upon a couple of sentences.

The initial set-up: Bernicians to the south (bottom), Scots' Confederation to the north of the stream.

Initial position with different angle, to include the last Scots' spearmen and some Bernician archers.

The battle was mainly fought out on the Bernician right, as the rest of the Scots didn't manage to close before being defeated (the Bernician archery being given a stiff ignoring by the Scottish warriors to the left of the photo).  The Scots managed to break the right-hand base of the Bernicians (you can just make out the red flag of the the Bernician warriors in the stream), but the defeat of the two Spearmen elements opposite the Bernicians with the yellow flag in the centre will end the game.

Interestingly, it played out a lot more quickly than Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames, probably because of the attritional combat system he uses, whereas in DBA all the results are essentially either retreats or destruction.  I liked the simple 'command pips' system, I thought it gives interesting choices (especially as both sides were rolling very low scores!) but I'm familiar with the idea from Horse, Foot and Guns and in slightly different form, the Polemos system (pips plus bidding).

My initial reaction is that DBA is the (slightly) better game by having more period richness, but I need to play more of both games to be sure.  The design idea is different anyway, with OHW being firmly aimed at beginners, who will appreciate the more conversational writing style, the wide variety of periods covered, the extra simplicity and all the scenarios.  More experienced wargamers might prefer the extra substance and detail in DBA,

Sunday 26 October 2014

Miniature Wargames Scenario - Battle of Teugn-Hausen

The latest issue of Miniature Wargames features a Command challenge scenario written by veteran wargamer Steve Jones based on the Battle of Teugn-Hausen, which took place during the war between Napoleonic France and Imperial Austria in 1809.  I've never gamed a battle from this campaign before but I've been fascinated by it ever since I first read a copy of Petre's Napoleon and the Archduke Charles many moons ago.

Details of the scenario can obviously be found in the magazine, but they basically pit an Austrian Corps consisting of two infantry divisions and a small vanguard division against a French Corps of two infantry divisions.  The second French division arrives as soon as serious combat begins.  The Austrians have a little cavalry and the French have none, but unlike in many rules, the French are not unduly penalized by this in Polemos.

The battlefield looking South to North.  The Austrian main body is concentrated around the southern village (Hausen), whilst St. Hilaire's Division of Davout's III Corps is concentrated around the northern village (Teugn).  Vukassovich's small Austrian Vanguard Division occupies the ridge between the two villages and the two main wooded hilly areas.

Another shot of the set-up.

The view from the Austrian grenzers' position on the central ridge, looking down into Teugn.

Same position.

The French attack.  The French try to use their superior infantry to force an early advantage against the Austrians.  The Austrian grenzers have held tenaciously in the wood however and driven the French back.  However, the French musket fire has shaken the Austrian battery which has failed to halt their advance.  The Austrians try and rush their main body forward to support the grenzers and hussars before the French take the ridge.

A wider shot of the same situation.

The Austrian infantry force the French infantry back in the woods (top-left).  However, the advancing French infantry has captured, killed or driven off the Austrian gunners and forced back the Austrian Hussars and some of their infantry.  The Austrian general, St Julien,has desperately reformed his position halfway down the slope.  The other Austrian commander, Lusignan, has manoeuvred two battalions into position to make a flank attack on the French - who will seize the initiative?

French defeat!! To no-one's surprise, the French seized the initiative and attacked the shaken Austrian Hussars.  However, for the first of several times during the game, Davout badly fluffed a key die roll and shockingly, the Hussars held and their carbine fire and resolution caused the advancing French veterans to hesitate!  This gave time for the Austrian infantry to carry out their flank attack, which saw the French bundled back down the slope in considerable disorder.  The Austran Hussars then charged and routed the first battalion, but were in turn broken by a volley from the second.  The French infantry had had enough however and continued their retreat to the north.

A similar event occurred in the neighbouring woods.  The initial French attack was carried out with skill and elan and drove the Austrians back, but their resolution in turn led to the infliction of enough musketry casualties to allow the Austrian reserves to carry out a most effective counter-attack...

Which saw the Kaiserliks send the French fleeing back through the trees, their battle over.

A wider view of the position at this moment.  St. Hilaire's division is in some disarray, but he has hopes that his flanking maneouvre may change the situation radically.

But nothing is going right for the French now.  Their veteran light infantry has been held and driven back by the Austrian musketeers!

Fighting in something resembling the British style, the Austrians follow up their musketry with a charge...whilst the Austrians charge down the central slope (top right) to try and finish off the remainder of St. Hilaire's Division.

The French light infantry in precipitous retreat on the left.  The French infantry on the right have actually held and one battalion, led by Davout in person is advancing up the hill.  This has finished off the Grenzers who are now in full retreat, but the cumulative lossed have broken St. Hilaire's division and worse, the French army's morale.

A closer look at Davout's spectacular last-minute triumph, too late to affect the issue of the battle but enough to restore some pride (and break at least the Austrian Vanguard Division).  The grenzers can be seen coming back up the hill in their brown tunics and blue trousers.  The red counters, as ever, mark shaken units.  Davout's command group can be seen behind the French battalion to the left of the picture.

Another shot of the same situation.

The position on the Austrian right (East).  Friant's Division never quite got to grips with St Julien's brigades before the rest of the the French packed up.
Game Notes: An excellent scenario which I thoroughly enjoyed - I was quite disappointed that the battle led to a relatively early French defeat, but my miniature Davout's ability to fluff the key rolls was uncanny!  The French have a key advantage in this scenario - their infantry are much better.  In Polemos terms, they are 'Veteran SK2 or SK1' against Austrian musketeers mainly rated as 'Trained SK0'.  This basically translates as a +3/+4 advantage on opposed D6 die rolls (the basic combat mechanic of the game).  The Austrians maximized their use of the slopes, the woods and mutual support - and were bold enough to take a gamble on offensive action when the opportunity presented itself - and, in this game, were duly rewarded.  It was a pity that Davout failed his force morale role when St. Hilaire's division was spent - another key failed roll.

There was a long discussion on The Wargames Website recently concerning historical movement rates.  Polemos doesn't really specify time scales, but I think that based on the move distances involved a turn should be considered to be about 5 minutes.  The game took 15 turns overall, which seems about right for essentially a divisional action (since the French only got one division into action).

As ever,  I really enjoyed using the Polemos Napoleonic rules and they continue to give good games: find my review here.

Update: Austrian Napoleonic expert Dave Hollins  has kindly let me know that the terrain is wrong for an historical refight of this battle.  I have very roughly sketched the very nice scenario map in the actual magazine so that anyone viewing the blog can see what the terrain should look like according to the scenario writer as I only approximately followed the guidelines (to fit with the first hills that came out of the box...):

Grey rectangles = towns; black lines = roads; grey shapes = woods; green/brown lines = contours

Failed Game

I tried to play a game yesterday but it all turned out quite badly.  I'm not really sure why.  The scenario seemed interesting (an 1809 scenario from Miniature Wargames).  I was giving my Napoleonic Austrians a rare run-out against the French.  The terrain looked okay, certainly not worse than my usual offerings.  I was using my normal ruleset for Napoleonics - the Polemos set.  But for whatever reason, the game just didn't click, I quickly got bored and frustrated and packed it in.  Maybe I am jaded with the rules?  I don't cosciously feel that.  It was very disappointing though, as I'd been looking forward to playing all week - and it didn't feel like I was just not in the mood for gaming, on the contrary I really wanted to play.  Perhaps it was the very expectation that caused the problem, I'm not sure.  Or maybe it was just a general sense of feeling down.

Anyway, I'm hoping that the stars will align better today.

Friday 24 October 2014

Arnhem Timewaster

I suppose many gamers have battles that somehow fascinate them and like many, I have Operation Market Garden/Battle of Arnhem high on my list.  One reason I became interested in it was exposure to a fine computer game about the campaign made in the 1980s and I spent many happy hours playing it on an Amstrad against a mate whilst at school.  Anyway, I discovered a version on the internet and I've had a couple of games this week.  Obviously everything looks pretty basic, but I found that the addictive gameplay is still there, not least because the solitaire version forces you to play the Allies and their task in some of the scenarios is quite tricky - particularly 1st Airborne Division's mission!  I can usually win the other scenarios though and advance the Guards Armoured rather faster than in real-life, so that makes 1st Airborne's task rather easier in those scenarios which cover more of the operation.

Anyway, here is the link if you fancy a game: Arnhem

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Peninsular Campaign - Summary of Forces, End of December 1808

Imperial Forces:

VIII Corps (Junot):
16000 Infantry, 2000 Cavalry, 42 Guns (Pamplona)

II Corps (Soult):
28000 Infantry, 3000 Cavalry, 30 Guns (Besieging Astorga)
Caffarelli’s Division: 4000 Infantry, 6 Guns (West of Palencia)

Burgos Garrison: 2000 Infantry

Army of Spain (Joseph Napoleon):
6000 Guardsmen, 2000 Guard Cavaly, 12 Guns (Tordesillas)

San Sebastian Garrison: 2000 Infantry

Pamplona Garrison: 2000 Infantry

Tudela Garrison: 1000 Infantry

Zaragoza Garrison: 4000 Infantry

I Corps (Marchand):
16000 Infantry, 3000 Cavalry, 48 Guns (Valladolid)

IV Corps (Lefebvre):
7000 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 36 Guns (South of Tordesillas)

III Corps (Moncey):
24000 Infantry, 5000 Cavalry, 60 Guns (Valladolid)

Figueras Garrison: 3000 Infantry

VII Corps (St-Cyr):
16000 Infantry, 2000 Cavalry, 24 Guns (Figueras)
Chabran’s Division: 6000 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 6 Guns (Hostalrich)
Reille’s Division: 8000 Infantry, 6 Guns (Gerona)

Barcelona Garrison: 2000 Infantry

Rosas Garrison: 1000 Infantry

Grand Headquarters (Napoleon):
12000 Infantry, 2000 Cavalry, 60 Guns (north of Segovia)
Lahoussaye’s and Lorge’s Divisions: 5000 Cavalry, 12 Guns (south of Aranda)
Latour-Maubourg’s Division: 5000 Cavalry, 6 Guns (north of Aranda)

VI Corps (Ney):
20000 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 42 Guns (east of Salamanca)

V Corps (Mortier):
18000 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 36 Guns (east of Salamanca)

Allied Forces:

Cadiz Garrison: 8000 Infantry

IV Army (Elio):
12000 Infantry, 2000 Cavalry, 6 Guns (west of Granada)

Seville Garrison: 4000 Infantry

Malaga Garrison: 2000 Infantry

Huelva Garrison: 3000 Infantry

Army of Andalusia (Castanos):
12000 Infantry, 2000 Cavalry, 6 Guns (south of Salamanca)
Reding’s Division: 2000 Infantry (Ciudad Rodrigo)
Jones’ Division: 2000 Infantry (Salamanca)
La Pena’s Division: 5000 Infantry, 6 Guns (Talavera)

Granada Garrison: 3000 Infantry, 2000 Cavalry

West of Granada Garrison: 7000 Infantry

Ciudad Rodrigo’s Garrison: 1000 Infantry

Army of the Centre (Cuesta):
9000 Infantry, 3000 Cavalry, 12 Guns (north of Tarragona)

Badajoz Garrison: 6000 Infantry

Army of Galicia (Mahy):
26000 Infantry, 54 Guns (Ponferrada)

La Coruna Garrison: 2000 Infantry

Vigo Garrison: 3000 Infantry

Astorga Garrison: 6000 Infantry

Cartagena Garrison: 4000 Infantry

Murcia Garrison: 2000 Infantry

Army of Valencia (Cervellon):
18000 Infantry, 1000 Cavalry, 48 Guns (Bejar)

Valencia Garrison: 1000 Infantry

Army of Catalonia (Palacio):
6000 Infantry, 12 Guns (Caspe)

Tarragona Garrison: 1000 Infantry

Hostalrich Garrison: 1000 Infantry

Tortosa Garrison: 3000 Infantry

Gerona Garrison: 1000 Infantry

British Army (Anstruther - awaiting Wellington):
26000 Infantry, 54 Guns (south of Salamanca)
Hope & Paget’s Divisions: 6000 Infantry, 3000 Cavalry, 12 Guns (Bejar)
Loyal Lusitanian Legion: 3000 Infantry, 6 Guns (east of Ciudad Rodrigo)
Ferguson & Craddock’s Divisions: 10000 Infantry, 12 Guns (Lisbon)

Gibraltar Garrison: 6000 Infantry

Saturday 11 October 2014

Some Thoughts About Morale and Wargames

Polemarch is one of the most interesting wargaming bloggers in my opinion and in a recent post he was writing about the difficulties of making things concrete for wargames which are nebulous in reality.  One of the examples he gave was morale rules - wargame rules have to include rules on morale and by assigning them factors or probabilities in one form or another, then they by definition apply rules to something which is not reliably measurable.

Now, as it happens, there has been a certain amount of interest in this subject in military circles recently and I've read some of the literature on this subject:

The Stress of Battle
The Human Face of War
Brains and Bullets
Battle Studies
On Killing
Men Against Fire

Plus some stuff in military journals and it appears that there are certain factors which can be identified and their importance given a very provisional numerical rating.  So I have done a very imperfect summary of the factors identified as making the difference:

Some Notes on Morale, or Why Soldiers Don’t Fight

“It is a fact that scattered through the Army there is a great deal of experience and knowledge of the problems of morale.  But it has never been collected or systematised.  Everybody’s opinion depends on his own experience and observation, which may or may not be representative.

The result is that any discussion of morale sharply divides into two stages:

1.      The stage of woolly abstractions in which people talk solemnly of ‘leadership’ and ‘discipline’ or ‘group spirit’ without ever defining the meaning of these phrases in practice;


2.      The all-too-concrete stage, in which the whole subject suddenly degenerates into discussions about supplies of beer.” (Brigadier Nigel Balchin).

What Makes Soldiers Not Fight:

1.                  Being Surprised.  Surprise seems to be the single greatest combat multiplier available to a commander.  Poor troops who are surprised are almost inevitably defeated, but all troops are likely to be.  Panic and flight are the most likely outcomes.  Obviously surprise wears off quite quickly.  Within limits, troops who are surprised can be defeated by far inferior forces (numerically).

2.                  Being Shocked…  Troops in a state of shock are likely to fight very poorly, if it all, and may put up literally no resistance.  This could be achieved by bombardment, aerial attack, constant attack or defeat(ism).  Units and individuals do recover from shock, sometimes in a relatively short period, depending on the nature of the shock.   Longer-term effects seem to be a feature only of C20+ warfare (there was nowhere near enough fire to achieve these effects before that).

3.                  …And Being Suppressed.  On a tactical level, being suppressed seems to be a form of the same thing; but at the most basic level i.e. troops recover from suppression very quickly when the suppressive fire stops.  There is an echo of this in the way that the spirits of allied soldiers at Waterloo improved when they were about to be attacked by cavalry, as the artillery fire was stopped.  Also consider the crews of Tiger tanks who abandoned their tanks after coming under artillery bombardment or Typhoon attack.

4.                  Lack of Supervision and Leadership/Compulsion.  Soldiers who are not supervised are not likely to fight well in difficult situations, being reluctant to close with the enemy or fight as hard for ground.  This is not a matter of courage per se but more a matter of isolation affecting judgement of risk and reward.  Conversely, soldiers who are supervised by higher ranks are much more likely to perform well, even to maximal standards.  This is the basic reason why anti-tank guns generally outperform tanks in combat: a tank is a lonely, isolated place and a tank commander is a lonely and isolated individual.  The Napoleonic emphasis on the courage of officers and their leading by personal example clearly taps into the importance of this.   Discipline is another element of this – leaders need their troops to do what they tell them to do and units without that discipline are likely to come apart.  Troops can sometimes do incredible things simply because the boss is at their shoulder, watching...

5.                  Cohesion.  Sometimes it is cohesion, sometimes the lack of it.  In large bodies of men operating together, cohesion, along with leadership/supervision, keeps soldiers in the ranks and obeying orders.  This is why commanders were reluctant to give up close-order formations.  Armies/unit types which do not achieve this cohesion have trouble getting close to the enemy and will prefer to skirmish.  Melee combat between skirmishers is likely to be a desultory affair, with a couple of extraordinarily motivated individuals doing all the close-fighting, perhaps dragging a few people with them – so-called ‘Heroic Fighting’, but most of the soldiers will be fighting just outside effective range (or hanging back even further).  In close order units however, when some men break, the unit’s cohesion will work against it and the whole unit is likely to rout, as soldiers under no immediate threat copy the behaviour of those in the unit who are.

6.                  Weapon/Equipment Factors.  Troops perceiving themselves to have better weapons than the enemy and their fellows will fight harder.  Troops in the reverse situation will fight less hard.  This is particularly so when troops do not feel they have adequate weapons to respond (so troops without specific anti-tank or anti-aircraft weapons for example – the so-called tank panic and dive-bomber terror, etc).  In general, this is why troops fear indirect fire and mines/booby-traps more than anything else.

7.                  Confusion.  Troops confronted with a variety of different threats can have difficulty in doing anything at all as they or their commanders’ brains are overloaded with threats so they can’t think straight.

8.                  Being outflanked.  Being outflanked, even without being surprised or shocked or confused (although all of these things are likely), is more likely to force an enemy to run away/surrender, partly for physical reasons (can’t bring weapons and immediate reserves to bear), but seems to have a psychological effect of its own too.  Removing this threat – and the increase of supervision – is the chief value of the square.

9.                  Being given a credible alternative.  If there is a way to escape imminent death/disaster, then troops will take it.  Troops with no credible opportunity to run away or surrender are likely to fight harder.

10.             Not being a hero.  There are some people who naturally fight harder than others and some who will go quite a way to not fight at all.  The majority will respond to leadership and be dependent upon it.  Effective training and selection can reduce the size of the group reluctant to fight at all. 

11.             Aversion.  Troops are simply less willing to engage in combat than supposed, whether from reluctance to hurt others or by abstaining from activity, hope to discourage enemy activity coming their way.  This effect is quite large, particularly at close ranges or in hand-to-hand combat.  On the other hand, well-trained elite troops not subjected to any particular effective fire from an enemy who they think will torture or kill them if they surrender are likely to have an aversion level close to nought.  Supervision and cohesion probably help a lot in pre C20 battles, in the stages where commanders retain control and the visibility is reasonable.

12.             Struggling to Close with the Enemy.  There appears to be a range, just outside the effective range of enemy action/fire that people need a special motivational push to get beyond or to stay fighting at (if they are defending).  Troops that get through this are more likely to go all the way (to close), or to hold.  It appears to be the mechanism that prevented infantry units clashing in the horse-and-musket era.

13.             Fussing. Generally a thing in modern combat – prioritizing looking after equipment/weapons etc. rather than fighting directly.  A kind of displacement activity, but the muskets collected unfired with multiple charges inside them point to something similar.  May be seen in commanders at all levels in all periods, failing to focus on the fighting and allowing themselves to be distracted, a relative of confusion.

14.             Advertising.  Troops can be scared into running off or surrendering if it is made clear to them that something very nasty is coming their way, but they have an easy way to avoid it – either an easy withdrawal route or someone kind to surrender too.  Done at key moments then this is almost irresistible.  

Obviously there is a lot more to all of this - in particular points 2 and 3 - but the numbers behind it do seem to stack up.