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.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

"This Savage Way of Fighting" - The Battle of Culloden

One of the earliest games I played as a "full" solitaire game as a child was the Battle of Culloden, using a set of rules written by Andy Callan and published in Wargames Illustrated issue 3 called "This Savage Way of Fighting...".  I didn't let having no relevant figures at all hold me back - my extensive collection of British Napoleonic Highlanders were repurposed as the Jacobite rebellions, British Napoleonic Infantry became the Government troops and French Napoleonics helped out as the French regular and Lowland Scots.  I think that the Government cavalry was some form of British light cavalry, whilst the small number of Jacobite Horse were represented by French Cuirassiers or Polish lancers or somesuch.  Naturally, none of these were painted...Anyway, I did manage to make a more or less workable and enjoyable game out of it.  I knew I would get back to it one day, and today I did!  It is a pity that my younger self did not have access to the paper-soldiers version which looks very interesting.

WARNING: This game uses lots and lots of proxies (being a "Highlander" or "Redcoat" was considered close enough!) so purists, look away now...

In its own way, this game was just as heretical.  Although I have some Highlanders now, they are still opposed by British Napoleonic infantry and supported by Frenchmen (or in this case, the 3rd Foreign Regiment (Irish) - which wargaming trivia fans will know where the regiment featured on the cover of the very first Wargames Illustrated, and very pretty they were too).

Although the article accompanying the rules gives a sort of workable summary of forces, I used the scenario featured in Miniature Wargames 35 to flesh these out and use its map.

The numbers given in the two articles are quite different but are at least in reasonable proportion so I don't suppose it mattered too much, but what I ended up using was:

Government Army:
21 bases of Foot (representing 8400 infantry in 16 battalions plus a small contingent of loyalist Highlanders); 5 bases of which were 'Veteran' (3 in the front line, 2 in the second) and the rest 'Experienced'
4 bases of Cavalry (representing 800 horsemen)
5 bases of Artillery (representing 10 guns)

Jacobite Army:
9 bases of Highlanders (representing 3600 warriors in 12 clans/regiments)
3 bases of Lowland Scots (representing 1200 soldiers in 4 battalions) 'Experienced'
1 bases of French Regular Infantry (representing 400 soldiers in 2 battalions) 'Experienced'
1 base of Cavalry (representing 100 horsemen)
6 bases of Artillery (representing 12 guns) 'Untrained'

The Set-Up:

Government forces in three lines (bottom) facing the Jacobites in two lines (top)

The Jacobite Army: the Highlanders are in the first line with the artillery, with the Lowlanders and foreign troops in the second line

A closer look at the centre of the Jacobite line
The rather larger Government army deployed in the three lines with its cavalry on the flanks
   The Battle:

The battle begins with an exchange of artillery fire.  Both armies begin on hold orders, so Prince Charles must spend a couple of turns getting the orders to his warriors and soldiers...meanwhile the Government's rather more skillful gunners are dealing out more punishment to the Jacobites than vice-versa...
Unable to stand around whilst being used as target practice, certain Highland units "fly to the front" and charge the guns causing the casualties...
Both the Government gunners and the attacking Highlanders remain committed and the gunners cause quite heavy casualties during the charge...
The Highlanders manage to close despite the casualties and the guns are captured, and the artillerymen run!  The supporting Foot remain solid, however.

The next Highland unit attempts to charge the next guns, but is repelled by the close-range fire...

And a third set of highlanders close (centre)...

The highlanders are unable to close but are stopped short...

Their fire is pretty wild, but even so manages to cause enough casualties to persuade the gunners to run for safety! Again, the British Foot stays strong behind it...

Now that the Jacobites are more or less committed to the attack, Cumberland orders his third line to form up into column of march, ready to execute a flank march... (bottom-left)

The disorganized Highlanders are routed by fire from the British infantry, having failed to initiate another charge

A combination of musketry fire, canister and the moral effect of their comrades routing sends another Highland clan reeling back (centre)

And as they run away, another unit joins them!

Meanwhile, the Jacobite Right charges in...the charge is halted at short range and both sides resort to musketry, although the Veteran Government troops have a distinct advantage...

The next Highland unit (centre) braves the fire and captures another couple of Government guns, routing the gunners; the third unit (centre-right) is stopped at close range by more musketry

Another Highland unit charges in, attempting to overpower the guns...

But the "whiff of grapeshot" and its attendant casualties cause the Highlanders to break and run!
This begins a chain reaction, in which a combination of redcoat shooting and demoralization leads to another Highland regiment routing...

Then another, then another! The whole Jacobite front line is in rout, except for a couple of units who were forced to stop by the awkward lines of advance (centre)

Meanwhile, some of the Government Horse is about to charge the now unsupported Jacobite guns...
But they don't hang around: the sight of the horsemen bearing down and the masses of routing Highlanders persuades the gunners to flee before they are cut down...

The uncommitted Highlanders join the rout (centre-left) and more of the Jacobite gunners have abandoned their guns (right)...
It is all over for Prince Charles: even if a couple of Lowland units don't get swept away in the rout, then they will simply be outflanked and crushed...
 Game Notes:

I wouldn't want to face an Eighties' ruleset without one of these to hand...
A nice dose of nostalgia for me and although the mechanisms are about as Eighties as you could get...

...they did mostly work.  Designed for 6mm, they use percentage casualties: the author explains he designed it that way to aid in his campaigns.  So the casualties in this refight were 168 for the Government side and 503 for the Jacobites (although the Jacobites might have lost quite a few more if I had played the last section of the game to the ultimate bitter end).

There is an "attack sequence" at the heart of the game to simulate the Highland Charge and the regulars' defensive fire that tries to repel it, that works as follows:

Morale test (both sides)
Regular troops test for fire effect at long range
Highlanders test for skirmish fire
Regular troops test for fire effect at medium and short range
Both sides test morale
If both sides' morale holds, calculate the melee results (depending on who fails and by how much, other possibilities can happen, like the Highlanders' being halted at short range and then firing instead).

There is an uncontrolled advance mechanism which the Highlanders suffered from in this game: if left under artillery fire, they may decide to charge the guns without orders!  This was why the Highlanders attacked in two uncoordinated waves and were defeated in detail...

When everything was set up for a straight charge home, then the system worked reasonably well.  It didn't work so well when "other stuff" happened.  Firefights with artillery fell down because it isn't made clear how many troops are in a typical battery of the time although that was only so important, since even ineffective fire would cause enough casualties to persuade the gunners to clear off.  It wasn't that clear how attacks should be conducted if the attackers started from under 200m or so, or how infantry placed just behind and alongside the artillery should behave.  I think that I came to reasonable conclusions as to how the rules should work but I can't say that I am particularly certain I am always playing as intended.  For instance, the game seems to involve simultaneous movement, although I couldn't swear to that.  That brings its own issues of course, because of the situational nature of the morale checks: if everything happens at the same time, how do I know if the neighbouring unit (on either side) is going to rout or not?  This is especially true since there are supposed to be at least two morale checks per side per attack, bu could require more, interacting with potentially four sets of firing per attack.  Bruce Quarrie's Napoleonic Rules were forever falling foul of this kind of thing and rulesets like this need to have deeper explanations and long, worked examples of complicated game situations if you are going to be sure that you are getting the author's intent.

Since my bases use the Polemos standard 60mm x 30mm, then I made each base a standard sized regiment of 400 men.  This made doing the percentage casualties caused by fire relatively easily to do in my head, as well as calculating the morale effects (it is -1 from morale for every 2% casualties).  That doesn't work very well for the time scale and artillery effects incidentally: if the Highlanders remain under artillery fire for as long as they actually did at Culloden (about 30 minutes apparently) then they will never, ever charge at the casualty rates proposed in the rules.  But perhaps the author was thinking more of wargames moves rather than anything else (there is no way a player is going to let his highlander remain under artillery fire for 12 turns!).  More broadly, Highlanders look to be facing a very difficult task in charging Veteran troops, but a much easier task in charging Raw troops.  So I am looking forward to doing Prestonpans...

Anyway, a very enjoyable trip down memory lane.  Would I play them again, or try and develop them?  Maybe.  I have really, really enjoyed the recent series of Jacobite rebellion battles on the Wargaming for Grown Ups blog and the rules used in those games, "Va t'en Ecosse" looked very solid, so perhaps I will give them a go if the author publishes them at some point. Alternatively, an adaptation of Neil Thomas' Simplicity in Practice horse-and-musket rules might work.   That said, the mechanisms within the rules are very suitable for solo play, since the Highlanders pretty much must attack and a solo player can concentrate on the Government forces' response.  I would love to do some campaigns of the rebellions, too.


  1. This looked like a vert lopsided affair. I don't miss the days when having a calculator was SOP.

    Nice report!

    1. Thanks Jonathan! Yes, it was lop-sided although when the Highlanders overran the first battery, then I thought for a minute that they might get lucky...but not to be! I should make it quite clear though that if those Government troops had been Raw rather than Experienced and Veteran, then there was every chance that the Highlanders could have done some serious damage...

      No, it is amazing in retrospect that the gaming community thought individual casualties in battles involving 15000 people were the route to go down...

  2. I'm glad I missed the whole '80's rulesets issues as I was at Uni and then working my butt off. However the game did look good and sort of provided a historical outcome.

    We have played the '45 using Keith Flint's Honours of War rules with some minor amendments and have had very enjoyable games. The HoW forum has the amendments in the downloads section, if they might be of interest to you.

    1. Thanks very much Steve. I will have a browse over the Honours of War rules. I remember him talking a good game on Meeples & Miniatures ( so I am sure it will be worth a look, particularly if I ever get around to doing actual C18 armies. Although thinking about it, having actual armies is rarely a complete deal-breaker for me...

  3. It is always interesting to see how rules have evolved. It seems almost necessary that rules of old, written by people who had dome military service, did things in such a structured and measurable way. The looseness by comparison of todays offerings, make going backwards seem like work! Nice post.

    1. Yes, quite right. All ultimately philosophically derived from WRG Ancients I guess, although that was a bit before my time. I think it was probably a necessary step in the evolution of wargames rules although this evolutionary path hasn't yet delivered all the results promised for it. Perhaps I will write some more on this at some point.

  4. Very interesting run out of these older rules. There was definitely a focus on trying to manage every detail based on logical use of numbers and tables. I think I prefer the modern approach of abstracting to the likely effect of actions.

    A great clip of T'Pau - 80s power ballad-ing at its best :-D

    1. Thanks very much. I see why rules were designed that way but they do give a less good game experience than simpler rules (although these rules are amongst the most intuitive of this particular type, I must say - with enough games I reckon most people could internalize them, even the percentages).

      And yes, T'Pau and these rules - as 80s as each other...

  5. Very interesting! Culloden is one of the very few battlefields I've actually walked. I would recommend the trip if you haven't been there already.

    1. Many thanks. I would love to go one day and I expect I shall be able to manage it. I think I will try to make it part of a wider "Battlefields of Scotland" expedition.

  6. Always interesting to return to games we fondly remember (My one I want to go back and give is a play is Tractics). The WI rules do sound very 80s. I remember the casualty calculations of WRG Ancients, one reason I stopped playing them! They certainly did influence a lot of rules designs.

    While I was aware of the band, T'Pau never made their presence felt in Australia, thankfully (at least as far as my taste in music goes). But we did give you Kylie in the 80s.

    1. Very much so. There are a few more rulesets on the list. I actually really want to give Newbury Napoleonics a go, since those were the rules that my club at the time favoured, to see what I would make of them now. They regularly get absolutely slated now (I don't think I have ever seen a positive mention of them on the internet) but they seem to have been quite widespread at the time. I don't think there is much chance unless they are released as a free pdf or somesuch or they turn up at a bring and buy, but you never know. Otherwise, the Vietnam game "Bodycount" may get a run out, the WW2 game "Tactical Commander"...others will occur to me I am sure!

      Kylie did arrive in the 80s but since her career lasted, she doesn't scream out "80s" in the same way...T'Pau were number one when that edition of WI came out (I think!), so they seemed to set the tone nicely...