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 18 February 2024

Stratton: A Polemos ECW Refight

The Battle of Stratton took place in Cornwall in 1643, and was a significant victory for the Royalist cause in the South-West of England. It was written up as a scenario in a very early issue of Miniature Wargames, number 13. 

The issue is quite an interesting one historically, as it contains Paddy Griffith's The Case Against Toy Soldiers, which seems to have caused quite a stir at the time. It also contained this Battle of Stratton article, by Paul Eaglestone. This in turn was paired - and in the pdf scan I have, which seems to have reflected the genuine published magazine, it got jumbled up with - an ECW terrain article, which was written by Ian Weekley, a long-time contributor to Miniature Wargames. Was he the first regular 'terrain guru' in a wargames magazine? It felt like that to me reading magazines in retrospective, although of course that impression could be very wrong. In any case, he did sometimes include a scenario with his terrain piece, so one might have confused the authors quite easily here!

Anyway, back to the scenario. The set-up is tactically very interesting: a larger army on a hill and partly entrenched is surrounded by a smaller army. In most rules, that is one of the hardest obstacles to overcome so it is quite a good test to see by how much troop quality, leadership and good tactics can overcome some of the worst tactical modifiers troops are likely to incur. I played it with Polemos: ECW.

The Forces:

C-in-C: Hopton (Decisive)
1 base of Musketeers (Shot only, Trained-Elite)
5 bases of Foot (Pike Heavy, Trained-Elite) 
4 bases of Artillery

C-in-C: Stamford (Poor)
11 bases of Foot (Shot Heavy, Raw)
5 bases of Artillery (Raw)

Obviously a lot of this is very arguable! In this scenario, I trialled an authorial suggestion to revise the artillery to make it somewhat more effective than in the book - more on this in the game notes.

The Set-Up:

The Parliamentary forces on the hill, the Royalist forces surrounding it. The Royalist musketeers are in the woods. The entrenchments were not particularly extensive or effective, so are only considered a '-1' piece of linear terrain, rather than proper earthworks.  The slope to the East (i.e. right) is steep, the other slopes are gentle.

A closer look at the bottom of the hill: Hopton looks on (bottom-left)

And from a bird's eye, from the West looking East. Note the blue flag of the Royalist Musketeers' in the woods (top)
The Battle:
Apart from an artillery exchange, in which one of the Royalist units suffered some losses (top-left), the main action was with the musketeers at the edge of the wood (right); after wearing down their Parliamentary opponents, the musketmen see them wavering and charge in

A closer look - can the musketeers take advantage of the Parliamentary Foot's discomfiture?

One of the Royalist regiment's endures more casualties from the Parliamentary guns on the hill

The Parliamentary pikemen reform and send back the Royalist musketeers - the musketry exchange resumes.

Feeling that he must get a move on before the Parliamentary artillery fire hurts too much, Hopton orders two more columns forward...

Elan carries the Royalists up the slope, despite the intensity of Parliamentary fire

Meanwhile, the Royalist musketeers are causing more losses on the right

Parliamentary foot moves into a better position to resist the advancing Cornishmen...

The Royalist musketters make another rush forward, after seeing the Parliamentary regiment wavering once again

The main Royalist column has struggled to get forward for a while, held back by the intensity of the fire, which was ferocious without ultimately being that damaging - but eventually the Cornishmen get moving again

The Royalist Foot on the other side of the hill manage to carry out a neat simultaneous attacak which leaves the Parliamentary Foot somewhat flat-footed, and then the Royalists are on them!

Eventually, the Parliamentary Foot at the South of the hill gives way, both flanks more or less simultaneously - on the crowded position, two more regiments immediately joint the flight!

Although the Parliamentary Foot on the other side of the hill managed to hold off one attack, the flank attack proved decisive, and the regiment breaks...

Very shortly, regiment after regiment breaks and runs for the gap in the ring to the North-East, abandoning guns and equipment as they flee

Organized resistance collapses

Game Notes:

Quite a fun, neat game. Given the more-or-less historical result, perhaps my judgements about troop qualities weren't so far off. The behaviour of closely packed troops in the Polemos ECW rules does allow for the kinds of collapse which seem to have happened in reality, which is good.
The artillery did actually become a little too effective perhaps. The original rule is that artillery fire incurs a -1 for each base width of range beyond the first. The problem here is that artillery basically becomes entirely useless, since the best it can hope for is maybe a single maybe-effective shot. Incidentally, it is a lot more effective against pike-armed troops than musketeers, which is interesting! So David Heading suggested not introducing the penalty until after 4BW. But this then allowed plenty of fire against attackers. I had retained the generic +1 to all musket fire, since otherwise pikes are just too much better than muskets to be credible.
This stable of Polemos rules (ECW, SPQR, Counter-Reformation) I think is one level harder to play than the other stable (General de Division, Marechal de l'Empire, Ruse de Guerre, WSS). It is hard to work out why exactly but I suspect it is partly that the modifiers and attack sub-routines just seem a little bit harder too manage - perhaps there are just a few more factor to deal with. But noticeable nonetheless, especially compared to Ruse de Guerre, which is a lot smoother. But that said, a fun game and a convincing result, in both senses of that.

Figures by Baccus 6mm, earthworks from Irregular.

Thursday 8 February 2024

Planning My Next Campaign

Over the last couple of days, I have been planning my next campaign. It isn't actually a response to the latest chat about campaigns, but the timing is happened to coincide! This campaign was published back in Miniature Wargames 31 and was written by George Gush (of WRG Renaissance fame, inter alia). It is worth quoting part of his introduction, I think:

That is a very pretty cover!

One often seems to read general advice and ideas abou campaigns, but less often the nitty gritty regarding rules. map and so fonh - so I have tried to provide a practical package, giving everything necessary for running a short, simple campaign.

I definitely think we have moved on somewhat since then, and perhaps more campaigns are played now than then, but it is also still true that campaigns are more written about and contemplated than played.

In any event, I have been re-doing the map so I can record stuff more easily digitally, and I have done a bit of tinkering to make it more suitable for the tactical rules (the original was based around WRG 1685-1845). It is no great example of the cartographer's art, but hopefully it is clear and serviceable enough. I am hoping to get this kicked off in the next day or two...

Apologies to Italian people looking at this map: most of the locations look just about within the grounds of 'close-enough for a toy soldier game' map (admittedly written by someone who has never been to Italy), but Garessio looks badly out of place even by those standards...; also, for good and sufficient reasons, the first hex in Row A is A2...


Tuesday 6 February 2024

The Campaign Paradox - The Heretical Take

Top wargaming blogger Polemarch maintains his prinicpled refusal to court click-bait by showing pictures of gorgeously painted miniatures and lovingly sculpted lavish diorama battlefields and instead keeps on discussing a wide range of issues around wargaming. They nearly all pique my interest to some degree or other but this week's article was really searching. Perhaps it might be summed up as "so why don't wargamers play more campaigns, when many acknowledge it as the pinnacle of the wargaming experience?" And obviously, there is a lot to be said for this: I can think of many different wargaming 'thought-leaders' who designed, played and wrote a lot about campaigns. I can think of no wargaming writer who has argued that campaigns were a bad idea and a waste of time that could better be spent playing one more game of DBA (or one more game of 6th edition, 1000 points a side...).
I am not sure if this blog gets counted amongst those which do campaigns or don't. He mentions that most blogposts he reads concern historical refights (guilty) or scenario games, especially from Neil Thomas' One-Hour Wargames book (very guilty!). On the other hand, I have played and recorded quite a few campaigns over the years...but I guess they would be in the (slight) minority overall.  In any case, it doesn't really matter: I guess the point here is that if we think of campaigns are being the pinnacle, then I could have spent more time playing campaign games and less time playing historical refights or scenario games.
What are the positive reasons for playing scenarios and historical refights as one-off tabletop battles. Wargames scenarios are, on the whole, well-designed. They give a chance - definitely not an equal chance, but a chance - to both sides, either through balance of combat power or through victory points. Historical refights have a specific charm of their own. The 100 Days is interesting - but so are Quatre Bras, Ligny, Waterloo and Wavre as standalone events. The history supplies some context.  Of course, playing the campaign allows us players to look at the strategic and operational contexts...but wargaming with miniatures is largely (although not necessarily) an affair of tactics anyway. I think 'supplying context' is an over-rated justification for playing campaigns. If one's gaming interest is focused on the tactical - and there may well be an element of self-selection here, because if you weren't, it might be a bit surprising that you were into tabletop wargaming - then it isn't clear that setting things in a campaign context improves the tactical experience. The only tactical issue it solves is one that older players will remember as a real issue - rules tended not to have formation or army morale, so therefore it was always tactically optimal to keep on pushing until the last unit collapsed (because, you never know, right?). However, this was largely solved by rules adding in army and formation morale.

Both of these forms of game have other specific virtues too. The real-world is physically and conceptually complicated. Scenario games get around the problem of how to translate the real world directly onto the tabletop by accepting conceptually higher levels of abstraction, especially in terrain. The temptation to model every ditch and rise on a historical field is strong but that makes design and set-up quite difficult, sometimes. Typically campaigns won't generate the full possible range of scenarios unless the campaign rules have sufficient complexity to allow for the possiblity of rear-guards, raiding logistic hubs, reconnaissance parties and so on.In somewhat similar vein, historical scenarios, thrown up as an emergent property of that vast system 'real life', generates tactical situations that are hard to throw up as part of any campaign game, because the systemic constrictions on the latter reduce the possibilities that can be thrown up. Also, iconic battles have a romance of their own - again, Waterloo is interesting as part of the 100 Days, but also it is interesting in its own right.
There is also the reduced importance of failure: if a game doesn't work for whatever reason, then maybe you lost a couple of hours. But the failure of a campaign can represent a couple of months' investment of gaming time, perhaps more. And these seem relatively common.

So, those might be some of the under-played attractions of non-campaign games. What about campaign games themselves, why do they not lend themselves to as much play as might be imagined?

Well, one possibility that I somewhat favour is that they are somewhat under-developed as a game form. Yes, I do know that several very good books have been written about them - I have read them. But, at best, it resembles a situation where the 'key texts' would consist of:
Don Featherstone's Wargames
Charles Grant's The War Game
Bruce Quarrie's Napleonic rules
Tony Bath's rules
Lionel Tarr's WW2 rules
Phil Dunn's Sea Battles
Henry Hyde's Shot, Steel and Stone
Chain of Command
Polemos: Napoleonics
Sam Mustafa's Blucher 
Most THW and Nordic Weasel games
(we might include Paul Leniston's blog on here as an example of serious devotion to Napoleonic campaigns and specific rules to support them - or should that be the other way around?)

I don't think I am being unfair here: these are the authors who I can think of who have written somewhat influential books or rules on campaigns, but I have listed their tactical rules rather than their campaign rules. Now, this certainly isn't a bad list at all, but I think it would be a stretch to say that campaign rules development has been a focus for rules development in the same way that tactical miniatures rules have been, and it shows. If you take a skim through The Wargames Website or The Miniatures Page and so on, you will find lots more discussion about the tactical aspects of period than aspects which relate to the operational level or the strategic level. This is reflected in a lack of models that can be translated into campaign structures. Of course, board games add something to the thought that has gone on here but almost definitionally, they haven't included the aspects relevant to refighting actions in miniature except incidentally. I think it is worth noting that relative to the popularity of the periods, I get the impression that campaign games in WW2 and C20-21 generally are much rarer than in other periods - I think this is probably a reflection that the game structures don't exist to generate the types of tactical action that players generally want for many of the rules systems, although the 'follow the platoon in action' system of Nuts! and the ladder campaigns of Too Fat Lardies' pint-sized campaigns do seem to cater really well for the section-platoon and reinforced platoon levels of action.

What I will say is that integrating the various levels of warfare is hard. What I mean here is how to incorporate and integrate political, strategic, operational and tactical elements. Now, we don't want (at least I don't want) to create a campaign version of the tactical rulesets which demand that you simultaneously adopt the personae of 1 general, 4 brigadiers, 14 colonels and 50 captains. But if we concentrate on a single command point - say a Napoleonic corps commander or a WW2 German Kampfgruppe commander - how do we incorporate the levels of command that we aren't focusing on? This can be somewhat easier in eras where an army commander was all things simultaneously (to some degree, I think I am right in saying this was never wholly true in any period), but the issues remain.

And finally we come to the practicalities. Although it is relatively easy to improvise some campaign materials - a sketched map, a few scribbled in hexes, some home made counters, some notes in a notebook - the equivalents wouldn't necessarily be that pleasing for a tactical miniatures game.  Making nicer yet practical versions of these things is somewhat harder and more time-consuming. This is especially true for digital components, which have great advantages in terms of storage, legibility, portability and so on, but a higher overhead in terms of getting it to work in the first place.
Now, I have concentrated in this post entirely on the positive aspects of not playing campaign games and on the negative aspects of playing them. This doesn't represent my views - I love campaigns! But there are practical and theoretical issues to overcome - although conversely I think this does give an opportunity space for wargames writers who really want to take this on. For myself, I hope to get more campaigns to the table, and soon...


Monday 5 February 2024

Mollwitz - Polemos Ruse de Guerre

 With a little free time and in a short gap of my Kampfgruppe Heller WW2 campaign, I decided to have a another go at that venerable wargame scenario: Mollwitz, from Charles Grant's The War Game.

In typical style for the time, this was played with 30mm figures and used a 'representative' order of battle, with the Prussian and Austrian armies proxied by the author's 'imagi-nations' forces. For this refight, I used my 6mm WSS-ish armies, with the Franco-Jacobites standing in for the Austrians and the Anglo-Dutch standing in for the Prussians. As chance would have it, three of the regiments in my Franco-Jacobite army were also in the Grant original (Normandie, Dillon, Royal Eccossais)! One of the Grant armies was a very 'French-influenced' force...
The Forces:
C-in-C: Lord Berwick
1 base of Well-Trained Infantry (Gardes Francaises)
6 bases of Trained Infantry (Normandie, Lorraine, Dillon, Berwick, Clare, Royal Eccossais)
4 bases of Trained Cavalry (Royal Allemands, Etranger, FitzJames, Lifeguards)
2 bases of Poor Dragoons (can operate as either Cavalry or Light Infantry)  (du Roi, La Reine)
1 base of Trained Field Artillery - 6pdrs
1 base of Trained Light Artillery - 3 pdrs
C-in-C: Earl of Galway
2 bases of Well-Trained Infantry (Dutch Guards, British Guards)
8 bases of Trained Infantry (Leven, Fergusson, Lord North's, Lord Orkney's, Vicouse, Lislemarais, Albemarle, Murray)
2 bases of Trained Cavalry (Schonberg, Macclesfield's Horse)
1 base of Poor Dragoons (Lord John Hays')
3 bases of Trained Field Artillery - 6pdrs 
Both armies were organized into 4 brigades: the Franco-Jacobites had two infantry brigades, a cavalry brigade and a dragoon brigade; the Anglo-Dutch into three infantry brigades and a cavalry brigade.
I used Polemos: Ruse de Guerre rather than Polemos: WSS for this battle. I will discuss the reasons for this in the Game Notes later. Movement distances were halved, I have found this better for small table games. I didn't halve the firing ranges - some discussion on this later too.


The Set-Up:

The Anglo-Dutch at the bottom, the Franco-Jacobites at the top.

The Anglo-Dutch left: the Dragoons and Cavalry on the left, the Dutch brigade on the right

The Anglo-Dutch right: the combined Guards' brigade on the left, the British brigade on the right (in two groups)

The Franco-Jacobite left: Normandie and Lorraine on the right, Dillon and Berwick on the left

The Franco-Jacobite centre: Royal Eccossais and Clare behind the village, Gardes Francaises to their left.

Then the Franco-Jacobite Horse (Royal Allemands and Etranger at the front, the Life Guards and Fitz James' to the rear) and then the Dragoons on the extreme right (left), du Roi and La Reine.

The Battle:

The Franco-Jacobite Right advances, trying to 'pin' the Anglo-Dutch Left and create a hinge to exploit later - with the option of over-matching the Anglo-Dutch Horse, if an opportunity presents itself.

However, a storm of effective British gunnery destroys Etranger quickly - the French Horse backs off somewhat

The Anglo-Dutch Left arranges itself for an attack, coming under somewaht inaccurate French artillery fire as it does so

With the Franco-Jacobite Horse pulled back a respectful distance, the Royal North British Dragoons dismount and occupy the village to secure the flank (bottom-left); whilst the Dutch (okay Swiss-Scottish-Huguenot) brigade deploys in a little more depth, manhandling its artillery forward

The Anglo-Dutch attack begins on their right flank: Leven and Fergusson's regiments advance through the wood, Lord Orkney's and Lord North's regiments advance to the left of the wood.

North's and Orkney's regiments are driven back by accurate fire, causing serious casualties

Galway orders forward the guards to re-invigorate the faltering attack and give his regiments time to reform

The Anglo-Dutch Left engages in an artillery duel - the firepower superiority of the Anglo-Dutch gives it the advantage here

Meanwhile, Dillon's Regiment is broken by some very accurate British artillery fire across the valley!

Realizing that 'something must be done' i.e. the current course of the action is really going the Anglo-Dutch army's way. Berwick orders his Horse forward again...

The fighting is renewed on the Franco-Jacobite left: Berwick's regiment is driven back, although the artillery is still holding back North's and Orkney's regiments

In the subsequent musketry exchange, the Dutch Guards see off Berwick's regiment opening up a gap in the Franco-Jacobite line.

The Jacobite Horse charge the wavering Huguenots - the British Horse (Schonberg's and Macclesfield's Horse) take this moment to charge the French Dragoons in response

The British try to exploit the opening on the Franco-Jacobite Left, but the French infantry and gunners are resisting hard - most of the British infantry are stuck at the foot of the hill

The Huguenot's, despite the disorder, generate such effective fire that they drive off FitzJames's Horse...

But then the threat of the remaining Horse seems to discourage the Huguenot Regiment Lislemarais, and they break!

A wider-shot: the French Dragoons were pushed back but have reformed (left), and although Lislemarais is in flight, the remainder of the line, although shaken is holding...

A closer look: FitzJames' Horse in flight, from the shaken Huguenot Regiment Vicouse

Lorraine and the French artillery continues to defy the odds, as the British take some time to re-organize their attack...note that Normandie is still holding off Leven and Fergusson too

But the gunners cannot stand the British musketry any longer, and break

A wider view

The Huguenot regiment rallies and the line firms up; the French Horse bring up their reserve regiment to reform their line. The British artillery gets hit by some accurate French counter-battery fire

Lorraine and Normandie continue to hold off the British attackers

Royal Eccossais leaves the village, to try and instigate a flank attack on the Dutch Guards and British infantry beyond them

Normandie is taking heavy casualties from the combined musketry of the two Scottish regiments, but is still holding on

Unfortunately for Berwick's attempted counter-attack, Royal Eccossais are broken by accurate flanking fire from the British artillery

Their flight disorders Clare's regiment, holding the village; however, they are still keeping the Dutch Guards at bay, for the present

It had to happen in the end - Lorraine cannot take the pressure any more, and the troops break and run

The British Horse try another charge against the French Horse, supported by the Dragoons

Boldness pays off! Royal Allemands break and disorder the du Roi Dragoons supporting them

With the rest of the brigade dead or in flight, Normandie retreats from the village also

It has been a long struggle, but the British regiments have decisively triumphed on the right flank

With the Franco-Jacobite Horse also defeated, the whole of Berwick's Army retreats in flight

Position at the end of the battle

Game Notes:

It is always nice to break out one of the old classics and it genuinely gives a really good game. The tactical problem for the 'Austrian' side i.e. the Franco-Jacobites is can they create some kind of opportunity that a massed cavalry charge can exploit. Keeping that framing in mind is useful, since the effectiveness of firepower in the rules will essentially determine how likely the 'Prussian' side - i.e. the Anglo-Dutch - is to win. To this extent Polemos Ruse de Guerre gives a bonus to the Anglo-Dutch here, since it is quite a 'firepower'-based set of rules and one can see it in this battle: in my opinion, the key moments were the destruction of the Franco-Jacobite regiments Etranger, then Dillon then Royal Eccossais at critical junctures in the game, with the old gamers standby of 'if in doubt, roll high'. Crucial rolls of '0' really make a difference in this game, because they might (not always, but might) lead to the equivalent of the DBx 'quick kill'. It would be interesting to play Ruse de Guerre using 2d6-2 rather than a D10 for the combat rolls - there would be more shaken results and fewer break results. Similar considerations apply to halving the movement ranges but not the firepower ranges. If maximum range became 4 Base Widths (i.e. 24cm) rather than 8BW, then that really allows a lot of manoeuvre; but if it stays at 8BW, then that really rewards the side with more artillery.
I didn't use Polemos WSS although I was very tempted. The main reason is that Polemos WSS has some good, accurate deployment rules for march columns and how they deployed at the time. But to use them propoerly, you need a good bit of time and space to allow those lines of battle to be deployed. One could do it, but you would have to change the scenario a little to either give more deployment space or allow a freer deployment to have everyone starting in desired line of battle.
Figures by Baccsu 6mm, buildings from Leven & Battlescale.
This isn't the first time I have gamed Mollwitz: see here for an earlier attempt.