Sunday, November 6, 2011

Back to Naval Gaming

I've given up using the Blitzkrieg map for land gaming. That was a bit of a bust, and as I said, I now know how Abraham Lincoln felt.

So what am I doing to replace it? Pre-dreadnoughts!, but not necessarily the stately battleships blazing away at each otehr with a huge amount of ill--aimed artillery. No, I just read Neptune's Inferno, and wanted to get back to something I'd done a long time ago: small ship actions in confined waters. Or, in other words, battleships may show up, but don't count on it. Expect cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats battling away.

I've tried a lot of naval rules. For personal reasons, I did not care for Cordite & Steel (ships blew up too much). Battle Stations was fun, but you have to have the passion for it. Fletcher Pratt - no, I tried it and don't care for it. General Quarters? Fun, but a bit more generic than I wanted. Shipbase III? Same as Battle Line - you have to really want to do it, but good set other than that. Fear God and Dread Nought? Grand Fleet? Mini-Fleet Dreadnoughts? Again in all three cases, you have to be a dedicated naval gamer. Damn Battleships and CA suffered from being too generic. All of those rules have their strong points, and I've done all of them at one time or another.

Back in the 1980s I played Fire When Ready with Dan Weisman. This was a Metagaming product with not so hot physical components, and a really excellent game system. I found out that the person who wrote Shipbase III wrote a computer program to do FWR. I found it on the web (a free download). Even better, it allows you to do your own scenarios, and ffers suggestions for conversion to the gaming table.

A couple of years ago I'd been seized by this urge to do Russo-Japanese naval battles. I had cruisers and destroyers. Perfect. All it needed was a scenario.

The iland of Bingo Bango likes in the Gulf of Bango. It is claimed by two adjoining countries. A plebiscite is going to be held, supervised by Great Britain and Germany (neither of who wants the place). In preparation for this plebiscite, both sides are trying to influence the people. Of course they can't do it through open means, that would be no fun. So one side will ship in bagpipes to annoy the othe, while the second side will bring in small yappy dogs and let them run free, again to annoy people. Sounds like what politicians would do, doesn't it.

To test things out, I arranged a preliminary clash. Each side had two cruisers. The fight would be in the fot. That meant the range was point blank. How close was that? Maximum range in the fight was 1600 yards. One side was sunjk, and the other was converted to scrap because of too much damage when it got home. Excellent!

The Real First Battle -

Both sides sent a convoy out, for merchan ships. Escorts were a cruiser, two destroyers (more properly torpedo boat destroyers), and four destroyers. Gamers were recruited at a hobby shop. Both sides started in line ahead, and on Turn 2 decided that close action was better. The cruisers stayed back, the rest charged into a melee.

The exact details of the fight got confusing. Torpedo boats don't take much damage. Destroyers don't take much more. There were collisions, deck fires, and sinkings all over the place. The last torpedo boat, while sinking, fired its torpedo at maximum range at the last surviving enemy ship (a destroyer) at maximum range, 400 yards. And scored the only torpedo hit of the game, sinking the destroyer.

The cruisers had shelled each other at long range with little to show for it. After the debacle with the smaller ships they carefully steered their convoys away from each other to bring them in. The merchants did conduct rescue operations for a bit. Thus both sides succeeded and failed. They didn't stop the enemy convoy, but got their own through.

Everyone wanted to go again (time constraints said otherwise). But a good time was had by all. And people are talking about the next battle.

Stay tuned.

Friday, June 24, 2011

So Much For That War

You would think that after a long personal experience with wargaming I would appreciate that different eras require different skill sets in wargamers. Someone who is good at a WW2 armor/infantry game might not be so good at ancients. How much worse, then, when it is the 18th Century? I've seen this in games of Frederick the Great (now by AH) and Napoleon in Italy. The 18th/19th Century gamer will respond to moves and countermoves. A lot of WW2 gamers will bull ahead, and we'll end up with a horrible smasyh. Maneuver to secure an advantage is a lost art with a lot of them.

For that matter, I've seen the "smash ahead" type WW2 gamers lose badly to someone who maneuvers and sets up situations.

So what happened?

Disaster on the Zocchi!!!!!

I have been in search of a general or two who would get the war off to a start. Every gamer I tried looked at the river, decided this was not their cup of tea, and sat still, awaiting events. Finally I found a tankie who decided that aggressive action was the key. And he had all of that cavalry just sitting there.

He crossed the river, going north. His opponent had set up cleverly one hex back from the river. We went through the steps outlined in previous posts. Our tankie massed his tanks, er cavalry, and charged.

I'm not sure if Operation Goodwood or Minden is a good example of what happened. To be blunt, the defender shot the daylights out of the attacking and unsupported cavalry. Then, when that failed, he belatedly tried an infantry advance. No finesse, just an assault all along the line. The same thing happened, and this time the defender unleashed his cavalry on disordered foot.

Well, that decided the battle then and there after only four turns. Then, with the former attacker now backed against the river, the former defender pushed forward and launched a new attack on an army that was basically a disordered mob.

The former attacker took 35,000 men across the river. In the first battle he lost8,000. In the second he lost 14,000. That's 22,000 lost out of an army of 35,000. That is an estimate, by the way. I haven't even bothered to look at the casualty rosters.

To quote a friend about a miniatures battle from long ago, it made Custer's Last Stand look like a near-run thing.


All that preparation, and it was fairly pointless. Still, if I wanted to boost my own ego, I'd take my 1813 Prussians up against this tankie. I don't even want to consider what would happen if I took my 1806 French up against him. After a while it wouldn't be fun.

After it was all over I heard him mutter that this never happened when he took his Jagdpanthers and Tigers up against Sherman tanks. I think I'll leave his education to someone else.

I might try this again, but a) with a different map, one I'll create and share; b) different gamers who are versed in the period.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

All Quiet on the Zocchi


Years ago I was told that from time to time a wargame situation would occur that actually mirrored real life. I can now attest that this is true. I know how Lincoln felt from just after Antietam until Lee began to move north in June of 1863. Both armies moved out, both went into camp, and both waited for the other side to make the first move. I goaded. I pleaded. I even rplaced commanders. Nothing worked. Both sides stared at each other and claimed the river prevented any activity.

So I'll have to think of something. This isn't quite the campaign I anticipated.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Armies Arrayed

I decided to use my 9mm figures because the lads hadn't been out for years and years, and needed the exercise.

This is more or less based on the French. The Army mustered 46 battalions, 47 squadrons, and 7 batteries. This does not include 4 squadrons of irregular cavalry (see, in the French Army, cavalry outside of the Household are "light"). They were promised reinforcements, of which more anon.

The base of the army was Hanoverian, of which I could field 9 battalions, 21 squadrons, and 3 batteries. To this was added mercenary contingent of Prussians, 33 battalions, 58 squadrons, and 5 batteries. Four irregular battalions, and four irregular squadrons came along for the loot and plunder.

Ober-Bierfest allies: Swedes, of which I have 6 battalions, 6 squadrons, and a battery.After due consideration I threw in the Russians, 7 battalions and 13 squadrons, and 4 batteries. The Cossacks stayed home. I might have the mounted arms appear first.

Future allies - we'll see.

So Saxe-Schweinrot has better quality infantry, but less of it, and Ober-Bierfest has quantity. The mounted arm favors Szxe-Schweinrot. As for the paucity of artillery, alas it is an expensive arm of war.

The muster points were set (VV-12 and OO-42), and now both sides sat down and pondered: here we are at wary. Now what?

Coming soon, the first moves.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Combatants, and more

There was consternation in the two capitols (OO-31 and JJ-46), and not a little head-scratching. A border clash! War! Excuse me, WAR!!! Immediately both parliaments and Crown Councils sprang into action, levying horses to field the armies.

The head-scratching came as ministers poured over the accounts. Just who had ordered these military expeditions? And where had they fought? You see, the border between the two countries is a river, and yet if you reread the account of the battle you'll see not a single mention of a body of water (and what was in the casks in the Quartermaster Stores did not count as water). Well, there is a simple explanation, one that covers everything.

Map reading error.

See, I told you I consulted the great and good Prince Tedron of Methylonia. He specialized in these sorts of affairs, and he so arranged everything.

Cooler heads wanted to know where was this gold mine, where was the border clash, and where were the regiments that had taken part. Rumors flew of corruption, of misleading reports, and so on. All for naught. There would be war when Spring rolled around, and that was that.


Now after all of that talk about movement systems, just how did this all occur? I used Campaign Cartographer to create a hex-based map. I didn't have a river on there, my bad, but it added to the fun. I took my "away" kit of miniatures, rosters, rulers, and foot-sticks, and rounded up some Warhammer and RPG types at a local hobby store to fight the battle after a suitable mini-campaign. I even provided the dice! All they had to do was sit down and play.

I think there is a truism somewhere that low throws in movement are balanced by high throws in combat, and vice versa (at least that has been my experience). The armies squared off across the hex sheet, and both commanders threw a '1'. Both decided to "stay off the roads because the enemy would be expecting that", and both ignored whatever movement bonus the generals had, so both moved a hex.

Another pair of '1's. This was going to take all day. After a third move, one of the commanders decided to build a depot (that was the baking bread reference). He forgot to garrison it so it was inactive. The other side threw a '5' for movement, which is why he suddenly moved fast. But after five turns of map moving they finally sighted each other.

One side promptly deployed his entire army, and had all sorts of problems dealing with the terrain. The other stayed in march column just a little too long, and lost some men when contact was made. By the way, both sides had their genrals well out front, leading by example. But finally they squared off to fight.

I'd forgotten that I was dealing with people who played a lot of Ancients. They promptly tried to put every man in the front line, read the rules about shooting being two dice, but melee being four, and charged.

This is where the dice "made up" for their poor moving experience. This was Volley & Bayonet, so 6's hit. Both sides threw a lot of 6's. Whole battalions vanished in a blaze of musketry/melee. One side rolled over the other, pressed on, and ran into the second line (the troops who wouldn't fit in the first line). Which promptly returned the favor. Again a lot of 6's were thrown. Blood was flowing in quantities sufficent to over awe even a WW1 General. It really looked like whoever had a regiment left would win.

Both sides were disordered, and half of each army was in rout. Neither side could really advance on the other, so I declared the battle over. I collected all of the rosters and other impedimentia of war and retired to my game table to sort through it. The gamers were talking (as I left) about using V&B for an Ancients set of rules, though they would get rid of distant shooting by the infantry.

I've seen this sort of deployment before. Once at Enfilade! I put on a 6mm Napoleonics battle, just a couple of divisions on a side with open flanks so the light cavalry got sucked off to the flanks to protect them. I deployed both the Austrians and the French in two lines. Both sides promptly shoved all of their men into the front line with no reserves. I concluded that a halfway decent tactician would have these guys for lunch. Worse yet, some of them wouldn't understand why or how they lost!

I really regretted that these Ancients gamers wouldn't get a lesson in 18th Century tactics and strategy, but they're somewhat irregular in their gaming (well, so am I), and people who get too badly hammered don't always return. I'll think of something.


So the armies are mobilizing. One country is significantly smaller than the other, but they "enjoy" higher subsidies from their patron, and so the armies will work out about the same. The countries are open with rolling ground and a few roads, so that'll make for some interesting campaigning. And I'm going to recruit some map generals who have some idea of what they're doing. Have to come up with a die roll method as none of these people will meet face-to-face for a while.

In the meantime recruiting parties are sweeping up the ne'er-do-wells and the young nobility, the two groups that traditionally are only a drag on society, giving them uniforms, and otherwise mustering. As the Spring Thaw sets in and grass comes into the fields the initial deployments will get made, and then the moves.

Stay tuned.

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.