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.

Tuesday 28 April 2020

Rules Musings

I have been thinking about rules a lot recently, since certain quirks have impacted on my gaming.  What I thought might be interesting for myself, and others, would be to go through the rules I am using in different periods and where my thoughts are about them...

Ancient & Medieval:
I regularly use three rulesets, Polemos: SPQR, DBA and Neil Thomas' sets.  I won't repeat my previous comments about them but will instead concentrate on where one or more of them are failing (for me).
None of these rules is designed to be scalable.  DBA and Polemos are aimed at roughly the same size of game, in which a single infantry base represents about 500 troops: handily, a cohort for mid-period armies.  This works fine for games of 1-3 legions assuming 8-12 bases per legion, but the games get quite big after that.  Not a problem in general, but I run out of space quite quickly: the maximum size of table I can easily use currently is 5'x'3, and it is more typically 6" smaller than that on each side.  This may change a bit (for the larger) in the summer.  Neil Thomas is more abstract and isn't necessarily supposed to represent any particular unit size, although if one scaled it to the missile ranges, I imagine it would turn out to be a "unit" might be 500-1000 troops or so.
Neil Thomas in all his sets proposes a quite attritional view of combat.  Not saying this is wrong, but it seems more suitable for some periods than others: I would think it should increase in importance throughout history.
Anyway, slight concerns about the rules are still delaying my commencement of refighting the Gallic Wars - I have started three times now, and the campaign system works fine, but I just haven't been convinced enough yet about the tactical rules. Maybe Phil Sabin's Lost Battles need another look, but I'm not sure how one would necessarily go about doing an imaginary battle with them.
I think I am most dissatisfied with DBA and NT for Wars of the Roses: nothing about either game seems to really gel with my impressions of Wars of the Roses combat. More broadly, I want to feel like each army I play is commanded differently and with even the vaguest resemblance to how it may have been commanded in real life and I am not convinced that many of the big "Ancient Period 4000BCE-1525CE do that too well". I want to get hold of a copy of Comitatus again, too.

Pike & Shot:
Apart from some slightly powerful artillery in grand battery, the Twilight of Divine Right rules are working for me so far for the Thirty Years' War.  For battles of the War of the Three Kingdoms, I don't see much need to change from Polemos: ECW, especially since I am happy with the slight recalibrations I have done.

I am not quite sure where to go here.  Much as I like Polemos: Napoleonics and Horse, Foot & Guns - and I really like them both - I have a couple of niggles that I don't see any chance of going away.  HFG doesn't really do attrition at all, Polemos only does it in a very partial form but without attrition, it is hard to fight the way that Napoleonic armies fought.  That isn't to say that shock action wasn't important too, but without a mechanism for wearing down the enemy, it is hard to make wearing down the enemy a viable tactical choice.  I had been thinking of dusting off Grande Armee, although that is a little roster-heavy and a bit fussy.  Someone reminded me that Blucher might be a decent alternative option too.  Neil Thomas' rules are quick and fun - and I really like his C19 rules and his generic Horse-and-Musket "Simplicity in Practice" rules - but they are somewhat abstract constructs: in certain ways, Maida, Quatre Bras, Austerlitz and Leipzig are all going to feel somewhat samey.   This has certain benefits, especially in ease of play, but on the other hand a certain amount fo flavour is lost: commanding a large army of five army corps shouldn't feel the same as commanding a large brigade with a cavalry regiment attached - combat is not fractal. Other rulesets which I have tried and liked in the past are Shako (first edition) and Howard Whitehouse's "Old Trousers". Paul Leniston's rules weren't bad either (although I am not too keen on having brigades in square, column and line, a la Napoleon's Battles), nor were Bob Cordery's Napoleonic rules, although I would have to spend some time re-calibrating the latter in some minor ways to my taste.  I still really like Polemos Ruse de Guerre for its scope of action but it is currently designed to top out at 800men/base...perhaps I could fool around with a big battle version of these...I want to give "Morale Napoleon" a go too, since they are designed with solo play in mind.

I still like the WRG 1925-1950 rules for these, although I am thinking of giving second edition a fuller go (I am currently using) first edition.  I don't actually have much desire to do much else at the moment, my rules-focus is on improving the Threat Generation System for solo play (although Chain of Command and Troops, Weapons & Tactics are always good).  For smaller games, I still love Nuts! although I am going to give Five Men at Kursk a run-out too. For larger games, I am still looking, although my lack of organization has been as much of a problem for really getting into this scale of battle as anything else! I am still very happy with my adaptation of Bob Cordery's rules for air warfare and want to develop these further (although I am still quite partial to Lacquered Coffins as well).

Other Periods:
There are always lots of rules I would, in theory, like to try but new rulesets are a big investment in time, which is at a slight premium at the moment, so most of my experimentation will have to wait until 2021 I imagine.  One exception is Chrome Hammer - I have a fondness for Cyberpunk, so there is every chance I will make a point of getting that to the table.  2-Hour Dungeon Crawl and Five Leagues from the Borderlands also need more games played. 

Hobby Update 28th April 2020

Hobby Update:

A little update on the 'hobby' side of my gaming hobby: I am working on a separate one dealing with some thoughts about rules, scenarios, campaigns, projects and so on.  This is just to record what I have been working on recently:

Additional Celtic command figures (for my Gallic forces for my Gallic War refight)
Some armed Celtic women and non-combatants (to use as DBA denizens / horde troops for the Gallic War refight)
Some mounted Arquebusiers and sword-and-buckler men to expand my options for c.1500 battles.
Some additional Thirty Years' War officers and musicians (for extra standard-bearers for identification purposes, for refighting more TYW scenarios and starting my refight of the TYW).
Some Transylvanian light cavalry (as above)
Extra Napoleonic Russian Grenadiers and Jaegers, for refighting Borodino and so on; a refight of the 1805 campaign is also on the cards.
Extra Napoleonic Bavarian infantry and some Wurttemberg infantry, for use in 1809, 1812 and 1813 scenarios; doing La Souffel at some point is also a possibility.
Some buildings for 1809(and 1805)  scenarios to create a more "Austrian" feel.
Some sample troops from Irregular Miniatures for the Vietnam War.
There is probably some other stuff I have forgotten...

Gallic commanders

Amazons, painted as Celtic women with spears

With the Gauls/Celts based: just in the initial stages are many, many Thirty Years' War officers, ensigns and drummers

and some more Celtic villagers (left)

To the left, some more late C15 pikemen (Baccus); to the right, various mounted Crossbowmen and Arquebusiers (Irregular Miniatures)

A closer view of the pikemen

My 6mm WW2 collection was in a state and really needed some sorting out - Germans at the back, British at the front

A bit of a closer look - many, many Tiger IIs!

Then on the right, the stuff that actually gets onto the table...

With the infantry on too: it looks a lot, but what is more scary is that I think I have nearly as many WW2 British infantry in 15mm...project planning, you say?

Another view of those Pikemen

and those mounted arquebusiers - there are some 6mm Irregular miniatures for Vietanm on the right (more-or-less passing that "paint up well" test)

Those Transylvanian Irregular Horse are at the back

The timecast Aspern-Essling granary, with an Austrian farm behind it

A mini-Stonehenge I made with one of my bairns for a school project: I tried to make it nice enough so I can use it for some Fantasy games!
I just love the flags of the Thirty Years' War and even though I can use my WotTK armies as proxies for the TYW, I wanted the extra standards just for flavour and colour (and it does help me to remember what is proxying what!): French, Swedish and Protestant Union here...

And more here: Imperialist, Spanish, Saxon...

And en masse.  I  still have some Danish flags to go, I just need some more counters to use as bases

More Confederation of the Rhine troops: a few more Bavarians (right) plus my first Wurttembergers (left)

And Wurttemberg light troops

More Russian Grenadiers and Guard Infantry
 What's Next?
There isn't a great deal left in the 6mm lead pile.  There are some Brigade Models' 6mm Polish SF to base up (and very lovely figures they are too!); I have some 6mm WW2 of various types to re-base, and some will need re-painting - this is slightly on ice, since I can't decide exactly how to do this.  I am not sure whether to put all the infantry on 30mm x 10-15mm bases (i.e. WRG basing) and leave the vehicles unbased or to base all the H&R and similar stuff on bases for use in Spearhead and similar, whilst I keep the Baccus and GHQ stuff for WRG.  I have maybe four bases worth of Napoleonic French in bearskins that are going to be made into converged Grenadier and Carabinier bases.  And that's it I think, everything else (not much) is genuinely just spares.  So after these bits and pieces, I'll move onto 15mm: I have four platoons and four vehicles to do: Italians and Eighth Army for the Desert, and Soviet Motor Rifles and Australians for Cold War gone hot/Twilight 2000.  And then,I am into random odds-and-sods of 28mm figures...
I will see if I can get these done in the next fortnight or so.  I do want to make some more terrain for all my collections, especially the 28mm stuff.

Even More Montmirail

It is a little while since I have been quite as grabbed by a scenario!  So many thanks to Glenn Pearce (and Miniature Wargames, and Wargames Illustrated!) for designing such a good one.  Again, I was using Phil Barker's Horse, Foot and Guns rules.

The first battle report, which contains all the details, is here.  The second battle report is here. I won't repeat the details of the scenario set-up since they are all on the previous posts.

I gave this a third go to give it a last chance of lasting long enough to let the Prussians arrive.  After the second battle, I began to suspect that although the game isn't particularly deadly in any one combat, the amount of dice being thrown, especially for artillery, always gives a chance of producing elimination results.  Artillery will basically fire twice every turn (in HFG units fire in both the friendly and the enemy turn).  And with so many dice being thrown, the chances of more and more units being eliminated is quite high.

The Set-Up:

Sacken's Corps advancing (yet again!) from the top, Napoleon and elements of his Guard oppose them, with Ricard's infantry holding the left

Sacken's Right

And Centre

Nansouty's Imperial Guard Cavalry on the French Right

Napoleon and the Guard Infantry astride the main road to Montmirail

The Imperial Guard Heavy Cavalry
The Battle:

Sacken's right descends the hill again to threaten Marchais (left)

His infantry columns start to poke forward over the stream...

Sacken's infantry threaten the centre...

...but are hammered by the Guard Artillery!

French troops contest the advance in the woods on the extreme left...

The Russian infantry, having crossed the stream, prepared to assault Marchais

The counter-attack of the Imperial Guard infantry throws some of the Russian infantry back from the stream (centre-left)

Sacken's infantry make good progress pushing on to the left of Marchais

A wider shot: the Russian attack on the French left is progressing nicely (left), but has stalled along the line of the stream (centre)

Sacken's troops determined to hold in the centre in the face of the Emperor's grumblers and his beautiful daughters...

However, the Russian gunners are capable of returning the compliment, routing some of the Guard Heavy Cavalry...

Whilst the Imperial Guard Horse Artillery shows that it too is capable of great execution!

Ricard's infantry launch a counter-attack (left) to push back Sacken's infantry from Marchais

Whilst the French Imperial Guard are in turn pushed back from around the bridge, despite the losses suffered by the Russians...

Sacken's attack, in spite of setbacks, is now developing more fully around Marchais

His attack to the left of Marchais has been successful and the Russians are now around the French left flank!

Whilst there are further gaps to exploit after the defeat of the brigade of Imperial Guards adjacent to the bridge

Not too soon, more units of the Guard arrive (bottom) - a brigade is immediately despatched to help defend Marchais (bottom-left)

The French move quickly to form a defensive position with Marchais as the hinge to prevent an outflanking attack

More Imperial Guard infantry restore the line of the stream around the bridge

French counter-attacks push the Russians back all along the stream: the Russian Right is now somewhat isolated around Marchais

This hasn't affected their fighting prowess though: one of the French infantry brigades has been destroyed in the fighting!

The Russians go back to the attack, pushing back the French infantry in front of Marchais (centre)

Sacken restores his defences on the far side of the bridge

Subject to continuous bombardment from early in the battle, Marchais catches fire

The ebb-and-flow of battle continues - another brigade of Guardsmen has been destroyed and the stream is again passable by the Russians (centre)

Another French brigade in retreat, unable to make progress in the face of Russian muskets and guns

The garrison of Marchais bravely but grimly holds on against mounting Russian pressure

Napoleon rallies some Guardsmen

Just in time, as the Russians launch a desperate attack to clear out the Guard artillery which has caused so much damage around the bridge

But to no avail, as the French Guards and guns restore the position and force the Russians back

French Guardsmen launch a counter-attack to ease the pressure on Marchais (left); whilst more of the Russians retire from the intense musketry from its defenders

Napoleon brings up more guns - he now has 50+ guns blasting the Russian centre

At this moment, Nansouty and his Horse are launched forwards

But suffer huge casualties from the Russian guns (centre)

The Guards' counter-attack is successful (left) even though the French infantry is at last forced from the village (centre)! 

But the Russians are unable to exploit, since the supporting infantry is also pushed back (centre)

The French infantry cross the stream in front of Marchais and Sacken has run out of reserves to stem them...

Nansouty's troopers charge home

The Russian infantry is holding on...just!

But the Russian artillery in the centre is captured.

And there are French horsemen now in the Russian rear (centre)

Sacken's troops can do no more and being their retreat
Game Notes:
Another very exciting re-fight! I think of all the battles, the Russian infantry very nearly did turn the French flank but it was not quite to be.  The French reinforcement schedule does put a lot of pressure on the Russians to attack but by doing so, they begin the engagement which has a gravity all of its own and makes it very likely it will be all over before Yorck's Prussians arrive.  If Sacken simply sits tight, he is probably just allowing Napoleon to concentrate his entire Guard for a single irresistible blow; but if enough dice are being thrown, then the chances are he is going to suffer quite heavy casualties.
The problem here is that these eliminations are (pretty much) just as likely to happen on turn 1 as on turn 10.  I am beginning to think that this flat attrition line will nearly always prevent battles lasting a realistic amount of time.  In comparison to other rulesets, where the problem was simply casualty rates were too high, in these rules it is the lack of meaningful attrition mechanisms.  To be fair, how to combine the importance of attrition and shock in horse-and-musket warfare is not an easy problem - and I'm not sure anyone should be really confident about how it works in detail. Polemos' shaken mechanics, although by no means an ideal solution to this problem, seem a slightly better bet.  But, despite the many sterling qualities of these rules, I am starting to look around for some alternatives.    Perhaps I need to dust off Grande Armee.  Or maybe I need to take the plunge and write my own...
Figures by Baccus 6mm, most of these buildings are by Leven I think.