Monday, March 28, 2011

The Initial Clash

In all fairness, this part of the border between Saxe-Schweinrot and Grosser-Bierfest had never been adequately surveyed. The locals felt (rightly) that that much official attention would be followed by taxes. So surveyers were shot, bludgeoned, and otherwise dispsosed of. When that did not deter officials (surveying parties grew larger) they resorted to bribery. That was a mistake. The gold they used whetted the appetites in both capitols. Politicians are, after all, addicted to money.

The Erbprinz of Saxe-Schweinrot got wind of this, recalled a law dating back to the 13th Century that all government officials were members of the army who served at the Grand Duke's pleasure, and announced that what pleased the Grand Duke was for these officials to serve in the front line as the officer commanding battalions. There were those who questioned that law, but the Erbprinz produced a copy on parchment (after first using a forced draft from a local smithy to dry the ink). Now please recall that in those days the officer commanding the battalion had to stand in front of the battalion to give it "proper direction". Sadly the Erbprinz recalled that old aphorism: "You peculate the big bucks only at your peril."

The Duke of Grosser-Bierfest was a little more practical. As long as he got paid off, he didn't care how much you stole. However since he wanted 155%, it didn't take these officials long to decide they didn't want to be in debt to the Duke.

Both sides set up convoys that went into the area, mined the gold, and left. But soon rumors began to filter across the nominal border that there was a lot of gold to be had just over the hill. Both sides decided they wanted to control all of the gold, and were not willing to share. Both decided the best way to do this was to send a few troops out to secure the gold mine. And then they'd redefine the border to prove they were rightly just protecting their territory.

The Schweinrot forces mustered at the small river town of Wasserdam. They numbered six regiments of foot (12 battalions) and 20 squadrons of cavalry, just over 10,000 men. The Bierfest troops numbered 10 battalions and 20 squadrons (the battalions were stronger, so the total came to just over 10,000 men as well), plus a couple of guns. They mustered at the town of Muhlhaus, downstream of Wasserdam (both are on the Wasser River). Lt. General Plumper was put in charge of the Schweirot troops. He would face General Klepterov in the coming battle.

Note - the forces were determined by a die throw.

General Klepterov was not the most imaginative of generals. He flung a couple of squadrons out in front a couple of hundred yards as a "scouting screen", and on a fine autumn afternoon, marched out. Owing to the lateness of the day they made a mile before having to camp for the day. The second day they moved a little faster, reaching three miles. Clearly General Klepterov did not believe in exhausting his troops by marching. This "blistering" pace continued, but after three days they stopped to bake bread. Two days later they stopped to celebrate General Klepterov's wife's sister's birthday. Here they camped because nobody would campaign on a Sunday.

His opposite number sat in cantonments "analyzing" the situation. Only a direct order from the Erbprinz (and a sharp note from the General's wife that he had promised to be gone only a week) goaded him into action. Plumper made up for lost time by decreeing forced marches and "extraordinary" efforts. His troops responded with marches of 10 miles on two successive days. After such prodigious feats they had to rest for a day (the General was having second thoughts about hurrying home).

Halfway between the two gold mines lay the town of Giltbrick, a community that was there to serve the needs of the miners. It had a decent tavern, an imposing cemetary, and a church that people traveled for miles to see. Both generals set their sights on the town as a place to rest for the night.

Plumper was the first to decide something strange was going on when his cavalry scouts were seen having a drink with strange cavalrymen wearing the uniform of Bierfest cavalry. Reacting with celerity, Plumper deployed his men. They then had to endure an eight mile march while in line of battle. This necessitated frequent stops to correct the alignment, so it wasn't until two hours before sunset that they came in sight of the Bierfest troops.

On his part the near-sighted Klepterov remained oblivious to any approaching forces. He was just short of Giltbrick when he realized that there were enemy troops present. This happened when he stopped to utilize his flask, and a Schweinrot trooper had to help him get the cork out. This (and the particularly fine brandy) forced him to react. He called for a deployment of the whole army!

Deployments were processional, and so it took two hours to get the 10,000 Bierfest troops into line. As nobody wanted to be the second one to strike a blow, the colonels deployed their men in one line of battle with the cavalry on the wings. The Schweinrot troops had been disorganized by the last march, and two regiments had fallen behind owing to an inhospitable series of beehives. This meant that the Schweinrot forces were (accidentally) in two lines.

Note - I found some guys who were willing to try a "quick" scenario at a local hobby store. I set up the troops, and then sat back to take notes. One force promptly deployed into one line, while the other remained in two, but only because he couldn't get everyone in the front line.

Both sides decided the only proper thing was to advance to point-blank range and open fire. And so they did! Battle was immediately joined all along the line. The Bierfest troops enjoyed immediate success in the center, while the Schweinrot forces drove off the enemy cavalry, but only at considerable cost. After an hour of intense fighting (we were using 15 minute turns) the Bierfest flanks were both on the defensive (i.e. stationary) because of threatening cavalry, but the enter was advancing victoriously, the Schweintrot troops fleeing in panic in front of them.

Remember those two regiments that couldn't make it into the front line? The Bierfest troops learned about them while disorganized. Their advancing center was thrown back, and some of the Bierfest troops broke and ran. The lines stabilized and both generals frantically rode around patching things up (rallying troops from rout) while the troops blazed away at each other until it was too dark to see.

Night fell, and both generals stumbled into each other in Giltbrick as they sought a drink after an afternoon of carnage. Over dinner of poached roast pheasant they glumly assessed their losses. In immediate terms both sides could muster about 2,000 men. But with troops returning from rout both sides eventually worked out that they had about 7,500 men each. A truce to bury the dead was worked out, and the two sides sat there eyeing each other for the next week. Both governments ordered their troops back, except for cavalry to picket the area.


The importance of a second line was brought home to both sides, though I think only one side learned that lesson (Bierfest). The devastating dice throwing by a couple of the regiments in the Bierfest army was truly something to see. The only thing that saved the Schweinrot forces was the success of their Horse. They tied down 40% of the Bierfest army. So there was a glimmer of hope for both sides. Both generals were retained in command, though not the supreme command.


Both sides "absorbed" the "lessons" of this fight, even as delarations of war for this "unprovoked" attack were issued. More on that anon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Questions - and some answers

I have received some questions about what I'm doing here, and I'll try to answer those I think are relevant, or that pique my curiosity.

#1 - Why Don't You Post More Often
This is a simple one. Real Life. Work has been busy, and there are other requests on my time, such as my writing, some home improvement, and the like. I'm no longer a full-time wargamer; sad, but true.

#2 - What About Other Rules? "Ruleset XYZ is Much Superior, and..."
Wargame rules are personal. There are a ton of game systems out there, and they don't always fit what each gamer is looking for. There are different philosophies and mechanics between, say, Warfare in the Age of Reason and Koenig Krieg, and my past experiences with both sets of rules have prejudiced me against one of them -- and no, I'm not saying which one, but those who have heard my stories will know. Everyone who wargames finds this or that set of rules with which they are comfortable. For me, Volley & Bayonet works for this period. It feels right. Now as to the difference between v.1 and v.2, that remains to be seen.

I would sooner argue religion than debate wargames rules. There are people who take it that personally. I will go on record as saying that I prefer Hordes of the Things as an ancients set to Shock of Impact, having played enough of both to have a very FIRM opinion, but that's it.

#3 - What About "Minor" battles?
That remains to be seen. However I will probably post a CRT for those. But the whole point of campaigning is to: a) give a reason for the battles; b) generate something other than the evenly matched fight. And while 4:1 is no fun to play, I've pulled off a rearguard action against an entirely mobile force, and made it work. I've also been on the wrong end of 3:1 odds from converging forces, and gotten away.

#4 - Why Hexes? Why Not . . . ?
Because I have this perfectly good hex map sitting downstairs gathering dust. Maurice de Saxe once wrote that you would be hard put to find a position that could hold 50,000 men in each province. There was almost a kind of positional warfare in the 18th Century because everyone knew the good positions, and they would use them. Frequently. A box-to-box campaign system such as in Soldier Kings is very good at replicating this. But I had this map, see... So why not?

#5 - Will There Be Pictures?

#6 - Which Minor Countries Did You Choose?
I'm getting to that. Years ago, in a game of Blitzkrieg, I played a very nasty trick on my opponent. I did not invade one of the minor countries. I left a force watching the border, but I bypassed the country. Of course he had to do the same (detach a force) and those troops were a long way from the main front. That got me interested in those countries.

These two border on one of the major combatants of the game Blitzkrieg. They are both egged on by the larger power under the assumption that this is a good place to train officers, get some combat experience, and weaken these two minor countries for later seizure. However the other major power is pumping money into the area, too. This is giving these smaller countries a chance to buy a lot of troops that they could otherwise not afford. Will it suck the larger powers into a war? Perhaps. Smaller wars have a disturbing habit of becoming larger ones. But maybe saner heads will prevail at the Chancelleries. We shall see.

This conflict has been brewing for some time. The immediate cuase is a gold mine that is right on the border. As the very astute Duke of Plaza-toro, Ltd. (95 quarterings in arrears) once stated, "A Class A gold mine on the border is a causus belli." That has indeed proven true. Both of these minor countries realize they are being played, and are struggling to stand on their own two feet. Right now they have no realistic hope of a Woodrow Wilson showing up, mucking everything up out of pig-headed idealism, and laying the groundwork for a greater war. Those events lie in the future.

So, it is time to generate a border incident to spark the wider war. This will be a limited incursion by both sides, or something. Prince Tedron of Methylonia, who was ennobled for creating a border incident between two countries with no common border, will be consulted. And the details, and the actual combat, will be displayed very shortly.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Correcting the Math

I had a private email pointing out that my method of assigning initiative would given an even application of skills, contrary to my post, and produce a general with an initiative of 4. Neither was what I intended. So it's time to do the old DM trick: choose different dice.

Average dice have a 2,3,3,4,4,5 and those tend to group in the middle. Low-average dice are similar, but produce numbers weighted for the low end. A typical one would be 1,2,2,3,3,4, but in this case I want a little more extreme, so let's use one that goes 1,1,2,2,3,4. Come to think about it, usually matches my die-rolling in a lot of games. If we only subtract one instead of two, we get a nice range of lower initiative generals.

So, that'll be the measure of the generals. And remember, we're rolling for "divisional" commanders and above. Think wing commanders and "column" commanders in this period as the division hadn't been invented until 1745, and then only in Maurice de Saxe's army in Flanders.

Now when one gets promoted through attrition, you get to roll his initiative all over again! This means the guy with the initiative of zero might turn out to have a three at the next level, and vice versa. There is such a thing as promoting beyond ones level. And there's historical justification for this. There are generals who got promoted simply because there wasn't anyone else available, who turned out to be great at the higher level.

One reader asked a bout "special promotions" where you promote someone due to valor. Not quite. Not in this period. Instead the worthy gets a promotion within the nobility. He might well be the model of a modern Major-General, but now, instead of being a Baron, he is a Duke. That makes for a less-expensive promotion from the monarch's point of view as that worthy has to maintain his social standing at his own expense. Expect peculation to increase. Another promotion might be to give him his own regiment (an already existing one, of course), but one he can rename after himself. At his own expense, of course; new gowns for the mistress and the wife are not cheap, and he has to purchase that regiment, and pay you. See? When you're the monarch, money-making opportunities abound (why do you think the new Elector of Hesse-Kassel, when he came into the title in 1760, doubled the number of regiments in his army by simply splitting all existing foot regiments in two? All of those new Colonel-Proprietors had to pay him the purchase price).

So now we go on to the armies.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Initiative and stuff

It's a sad but accurate comment that during times of peace the generals with initiative are discouraged, while those who know how to play the paperwork game are promoted. Read the poem by Rudyard Kipling, "Stellenbosch" for an example. The early part of any war is spent shaking out the fighting generals from those who can push paper. Both have their places and both are useful. It is a sad state of affairs that many people have to die while this is taking place.

But with that said, there are generals who are more "pushy" than others. Sometimes they can be identified early in the process. Robert E. Lee comes to mind. He was as good as everyone thought he would be. And he had tons of initiative.

What Is It?

What is this initiative? He's the officer who has his men ready to march or fight, and is up getting a jump on his foe while others are still in bed. Or, in better chosen words, he's that "...silly pushing person" that Kipling refers to in "Stellenbosch".

So we'll rate the generals in our armies for their initiative. This will be a number between -1 and +3 to rate how they react to things. A 3 might be Jeb Stuart or Nathan B. Forrest (to go with an ACW reference), while a -1 might be McClellan, who needed a strong reason to move. For those who want to quibble and suggest Burnside, it's clear that you haven't studied the Fredericksburg campaign. If those *&%*%$ pontoons had been in place, he'd be hailed as a Great Captain for stealing a march on Lee.

Determining Initiative

Nominate a general. Throw 1d6. Subtract 2. That number is the general's initiative. It is used when marching or force-marching. Thus Stack A, with a General in command with an initiative of 2 throws for movement. He throws a 2, and adds 2 for his initiative, for a total of 4 hexes he can move.

Look at Stack B. This is commanded by someone with an initiative of 3. He is force-marching for whatever reason. He throws a 5, plus the 3 for initiative gives him 8, though the max he can move is 6. But as his total was 6 or more on his force-march roll, he loses 3 SP through march attrition. Your higher initiative generals can get out of trouble, but they burn troops. And remember, there are no replacements during the campaign season.

Promoting Generals -

Before you roll for initiative we have to assign the seniority of generals. This is important because those with greater seniority cannot be in a stack, or have fewer men, than someone with a lesser seniority. Also, as generals are lost for whatever reason, promotion is strictly by seniority. To do otherwise would be to insult the honor of those generals. And if this means your army is commanded by a general with an initiative of 0 or -1, well, that kind of sucks.


Not during the campaign season. After the campaign season ends troops enter winter quarters by going into a friendly unbesieged fortress and declaring they are in winter quarters. That means they are not subject to attrition due to bad weather. They also can't move. If the enemy is so crass as to then besiege that city, those troops will take part in the resulting open field fight before the siege starts.

During the winter season, while the officers and generals are off attending balls, the sergeants are busy rounding up fresh cannon-fodder. Basically all regiments that have at least one hit left on them are automatically filled out to full strength. Those regiments that were reduced to zero are "sent to the rear" and take no further part in the game. Moral - sometimes you want to give battle, but don't want to afford the losses that will happen. This also means that armies will get smaller the longer the war continues.

There are no new units created during the war. You have what you start with. This is because the administrative mess that would result is not worth the effort.

So, that SHOULD take care of the last of the details, now a look at the armies and the land they're going to campaign over. Then we'll have a shakedown cruise with a border incident.