Wednesday, 25 March 2020

The Battle of Soor played solo. Part 1

With Covid 19 in full swing, and the Roach household in lock down, my only gaming possibilities extend to painting, writing and solo gaming.

I set up the Battle of Soor three or four weeks ago. It was supposed to be gamed by Graham, Peter and myself but, after one night's play, the wheels fell off - actually it was Peter who fell off, hurting his leg - so we postponed for a week. Then government advice on Covid 19 changed and it was decided that gaming should be cancelled, like the football season, until further notice.

What to do with Soor? At first I thought I might just continue from where the first night's play had ended but, after some reflection, I reset the battle to the beginning so that I could do a full report on an action played solo from start to finish, with lots of pictures and some explanation of how the rules work, and why I think the Piquet style mechanism is the best mechanism around for fighting solo battles. In this latter respect, I hope the following series of battle reports will hold your attention; after all, with things as they are we might be on our own for some considerable time and solo rules might be the way forward for a while.

Piquet is ideally suited to solo play for three important reasons:
  1. It is basically a U-go-I-go rules set enabling the solo player to physically transfer from one side to the other, allowing the side he is on at the time to be played to its best advantage, following the move of his 'other self opponent'. Simultaneous order transmission, movement and the like are not, IMHO, very good for solo play. 
  2. Each army has a tailored made sequence deck, tailor made to reflect the individual army's abilities or lack of same, encompassing all the cards required to randomly determine when units can be ordered to move, shoot, change formation, melee, etc., and officers can act. These cards (usually 26 - 30) are shuffled, then turned using initiative points. This is where Piquet type rules outstrip other types of rules for solo play: You simply do not know when either side will be able to move infantry, or force a melee, or unlimber artillery, etc., as you can only act on cards as they are turned (each turned card effectively makes the previously turned card unusable until the next turn; you can't build a hand of cards). Thus, many of decisions the player has to make are made incrementally in an orderly fashion  and when playing both sides, especially in a big game, this is important as games should be fun rather than hard work.
  3. Each game turn, in which players might move units and carry out combats with them several times, is broken down into 'initiative phases'. Initiative phases comprise a randomly determined number of initiative points, unequally divided between the players, that are use to turn sequence cards and act on them (more anon). Again this is great for solo play. It breaks the game turn down into small chunks, and because the chunks vary in size, and because each player gets a different number of initiative points to play with, the solo player can never really know, from one initiative to the next, what will happen. The randomised initiative, mixed with a randomised turn sequence, makes for a tense, even exciting game, for the solo player.

Initiative points are a very valuable commodity, not to be squandered. They are the petrol in the engine and are used to turn sequence cards (one point each), and to act on them for either one point per unit or per command group depending on the action and circumstances under which it is undertaken.

I'm going to use classic Piquet rules, with the 1st edition Cartouche supplement, both amended (actually re-written) for fighting big 18C battles: A set of rules we call, after a quotation of Frederick the Great, "Men Are Like Lemons...." (the quote actually continues " be squeezed!" - what a nice guy). The reason I decided to heavily amend Bob Jones' Piquet rules is simple: Piquet is best (written?) for battles involving 10 - 16 units a side, and to be fair this is probably best for a single evening's play; when playing larger battles (this one has 47 units) classic Piquet, as written, begins to creak under the weight. Consequently, I rewrote classic Piquet with an eye to streamlining them specifically for larger battles: Initiative points can be used to better effect, and one or two concepts, such as opportunity chips, have been disposed of completely. I also took the opportunity to add one or two ideas of my own.

The biggest house rule amendment I have made to classic Piquet concerns how initiative points are determined for each initiative phase. Basically, in true classic Piquet the number of initiative points won is decided by the roll of D20s - each side rolls a D20 and the lower result is deducted from the higher; the side rolling higher gets the difference in initiative points and the side rolling lower gets none; if the dice rolls are equal, or the sequence deck of either side is completely depleted, the turn ends. This mechanism gives a very randomised fall of initiative points but, it can lead to some very unbalanced games because rolling off D20s doesn't guarantee a response to enemy action by the other side; one side can get nothing, followed by nothing, followed by nothing, ad infinitum, simply because he keeps rolling a lower D20 result than his opponent. Normally of course, things balance out over time but, just occasionally, one side gets to do very little for long periods and these games are frustrating and, frankly, no fun for the side that doesn't win the initiative (even when you are playing both). Consequently, we now use what I call 'Domino Theory', and it works like this:
  • Instead of rolling dice, both sides draw a domino from a bag (one set of dominoes per player) and the dominoes are compared: The side drawing the higher domino is the winner and gets the spots on both sides of his domino as initiative points and chooses who goes first (e.g. 6:4 equals 10 initiative points), the side drawing the lower scoring domino gets only the spots on the high side of his domino (e.g. 5:1 equals 5); if the dominoes have the same value (e.g. 6:1 and 5:2 both add up to 7) the player with the highest side on the dominoes is the winner (in this case 6:1 beats 5:2, so the winner gets 7 and the loser 5); if either side draws a double domino the winner is as above except, he gets the total sum of both dominoes and the loser gets the high side of his domino (e.g. 5:5 versus 4:3 is 17 to the winner and 4 to the loser) except, where the loser's domino is the double domino he gets both sides of his domino (e.g. 6:3 versus 4:4 gives the winner 17 and the loser 8) - note here that turning a double domino doesn't automatically make you the winner of the initiative round; where both sides draw the same domino (e.g. 3:2 versus 3:2), or the sequence deck of either side is completely depleted, the turn ends. It's a real mouthful but, it's a remarkably simple system in practice and generally gives the loser of the initiative round a chance to make some response to enemy action (unless he draws the dreaded 0:0 of course). 
Note: We didn't always use two sets of dominoes. At first we drew two dominoes from the same set, deciding before the draw who got the first and who got the second domino. 'Domino Theory' worked in exactly way except that end of turn draws resulted from double blank and a domino with an odd number of spots. The chance of end of turn with one set are 1 in 23, whereas the chance when using two sets of are 1 in 28; obviously, with D20s, the chance for end of turn are 1 in 20 (if my maths were right and my memory is correct.)

So here goes, The Battle of Soor, solo:

Turn 1. 
As the Prussians are attacking I decided, on a whim, that to get the battle going, whatever dominoes came out of the bag the Prussians would win the initiative. Thereafter, the Prussians would draw black dominoes and the Austrians white dominoes.

When describing the passage of play I will not describe the exact sequence of cards turned and only describe which cards are acted on or that affect play. This is because I'm playing an initiative phase out without notes, taking photos as I go, then writing it up before moving onto the next phase. This makes playing the game easier and quicker for me, and hopefully makes for a better battle report.

The Prussians draw 10 initiative Vs Austrians 5.
During the Prussians initiative phase they manage to turn two Cavalry Move in the Open cards and advanced their cavalry command twice then, with three points of initiative left, they turned Shock Cavalry Melee Resolution which allowed them to charge home with two of their forward units and resolve the consequent melees: They win both, routing the unit of elite squadrons which disorders the infantry to its rear as it retreats;the Prussian horse do not pursue.

The Austrians fearing that their infantry might be hit before they can rally (on an Officer Check card) shoot and cause the Prussian cavalry some loss. Then, with their last initiative point, they turn Officer Check and the infantry automatically rally (House rule note: We have two forms of disorder - disorder and shaken - disorder is automatically rallied on officer check for no cost, rallying from Shaken requires a check and costs a morale chip).

Note: The Shock Cavalry Melee Resolution card is a house amendment, it was especially added for SYW games and allows shock cavalry to melee more frequently; everything else can only melee on Melee Resolution cards and, to a lesser degree Heroic Moment.

Prussians draw 8 initiative Vs Austrians 4
The Prussians still have Shock Cavalry Melee Resolution showing so they fight the third melee. but lose.

The infantry advance on Infantry Move in the Open, wheeling some of their regiments to advance through Burkersdorf.

They finish by firing their artillery on Artillery Reload and reload.

Three notes: You do not need a reload card to shoot, you can shoot at any time, you just need to be 'loaded'. We load for free under our amended rules, whilst firing a unit still costs a point of initiative - initiative cost to shoot cuts down on the number of low odds shots being undertaken. Although not relevant at this point, we have done away with opportunity chips as they don't really work in large games.

The Austrians start to bring their Cuirassier command up to fight the Prussian cavalry. They turn a second Musket Reload (drawing both at this early in the first turn is very bad as they only have two in their deck) but manage to make the Prussian Cuirassier unit facing them to go Shaken.

Note the counters and markers: Stones show the number of  'casualties' (two in this case), and the broken wheel shows that the unit shaken; we use a 'tuft of tall grass' to mark disorder. On the base of the unit, the number on the brown disc is the unit's historical Regimental Number (in this case 1 for CR 1); the blue bead shows the unit is 'Eager' (up 1 for combat and morale rolls) and the black bead beneath it shows a number 2 (command group 2). No rosters are required in my games.

Austrians draw 13 intitiative Vs Prussians 3 
(Note a double domino was drawn: 5:5 Vs 3:0). 

Before the Austrians can turn a new card of consequence they turn a Command Indecision card which immediately reduces their available initiative points to zero. This is a special card added to their deck because Prince Charles (their C-in-C) is a donkey - in fact he's an ass, so he has two of these cards.

The Prussians turn Cavalry Move in the Open and pull back their wounded cavalry.

They finish their initiative with Infantry Move in the Open showing but have no initiative left to use it.

Note: I print off home made cards and put them in card sleeves to make them 'uniform' and easy to shuffle. I think the picture on this particular card is very apt (I found it on the web - source unknown). If you choose to do something similar my top tip is to buy the sleeves in one colour, rather than in different colours for each army, because in my experience, when making up decks it's better if all of the cards can be easily swapped about.

Prussians draw 13 initiative Vs Austrians 6
(Note another double domino was drawn: 5:2 Vs 3:3).

The Prussian infantry begin to climb the hill with thunderous artillery support and the crackle of rolling musketry.

The Austrian artillery replies with canister to great effect (causing 3 unit integrity loss to CG VI) but their nerve gives way first and they are forced to retreat (they fail a morale challenge with 3 UI loss of their own).

Then, on a Brilliant Leader wild card, converted to a Move in Difficult Terrain card, they deploy into Burkersdorf and on Officer Check, Buddenbrock rallies his shaken cavalry.

Heroic Moment combined with Infantry Move in the Open allows the Prussians to resume their well organised assault on the Graner-Koppe, relieving CG VI by moving IR 24 twice (the heroic move) with their last initiative point.

The Austrian infantry, looking on in awe, make some minor changes in deployment on Manoeuvre. Their elite squadrons retreat into the Konigsreichswald (woods) behind the Austrian position on Major Morale (departing the table).

Note: Another rule amendment has been made to rout and pursuit. IMHO, the rules as written are all over the place, so we have made them much simpler. Firstly, we added another Major Morale card to each deck and changed its definition. As well as dealing with major morale checks, this card also dictates when the routers and pursuers of both sides move, and BTW replacement officers might be found (on a difficulty check). This means routers and pursuers both move at the same time (making pursuit look right) and routers, of whatever army and number of applicable normal move cards, now all rout at the same speed - i.e. four times a turn, once on each major morale card, at normal rate for type. Movement of all routers and pursuers is free of initiative cost.

Prussians draw 6 initiative Vs Austrians 4
The Prussians draw Melee Resolution and must fight the ongoing cavalry melees. They win both, routing another unit and shaking the other.

Then they draw Heroic Moment and use it as a localised melee resolution card to resolve a single melee. This finishes off the first line of Austrian cavalry. The Prussians pass their pursuit checks (we simply roll base morale dice Vs D8 for this) and being disordered following their melees they choose to withdraw half a move, out of musket range, to rally.

As it happens, the cards work against them because their final card is Officer Check - they would automatically have rallied from disorder on this card and been able to continue their attack in good order without withdrawing, now they will have to start their accent of the hill again.

The Austrians bring up more cavalry on Cavalry Move in the Open. Just in the nick of time, as they say.

Note: The Heroic Moment card is a great card. It allows a unit or officer to act with an UP 1 modifier, or action on the next card turned to be doubled for a unit, or as a localised melee resolution, or to bend the rules for a unit or officer in any manner that seems reasonable because something 'heroic' has occurred. Truly, an inspired Piquet card. 

Austrians draw 11 initiative Vs Prussians 0.
 (Note: The Prussians draw the dreaded double blank!)

Is The Austrian's luck about to change?

The first card they turn is Infantry in the Open and they use it to straighten their line and begin an attack on the south west corner of Burkersdorf.

Back to back, they draw two Artillery Reload cards and blast the Prussian IR1 with canister, adding musketry to their effort to shift them from the buildings.

The Prussians have good morale and cover, they have taken some losses but probably not enough to challenge their morale, and they have two hits hanging over from the previous shot (you need three to cause another casualty). So Austrians go all in, discharging their artillery for the last time this turn and leaving it and two units of infantry unloaded for the remainder of the turn (they have no more reload cards in their deck). The gamble pays off, and the Austrians roll high - IR 1 has taken four losses and dissolves into retreat.

Note: In our amended rules all units have four unit integrity points. Infantry can take three hits before losing one; cavalry and artillery two hits. Units automatically rout on losing their fourth unit integrity point and are removed on losing a fifth.

Then, with their second to last initiative point, they turn another Infantry move in the Open card and develop their counterattack on Burkersdorf further.

In the words of Hannibal "I love it when a plan comes together."

5:3 Vs 5:3 - Same dominoes, end of turn!
Turn one is over. Each side gathers up its sequence cards and shuffles them in readiness for the start of turn 2.

This seems like a good place to end the first part of this battle report.

Part 2 of "The Battle of Soor played solo", coming soon.......

Monday, 16 March 2020

Limbering up. Doing SYW limbers on the cheap + model conversion notes.

Limbers and wagons are very much a non-essential nice to have. If anything, I have found wagons more useful over the years as they allow a wide variety of scenarios to be played; I have happily done without limbers for most of my gaming life, coming up with various ways of showing guns 'in train' without models of limbers and teams.

One thing that has put me off buying limbers is the price of the models, which has only increased with the size of my collections. However, when I started my Napoleonic collection I made a conscious decision to include them, if not one per battery at least enough to get by, and I discovered just how 'nice' it is to have them.

Consequently, I decided to retrospectively buy limbers for my SYW collection (Prussians, Russians and Austrians). I have six two gun batteries of artillery for each army so, initially, I thought this would cost me more than I really wanted to spend: In metal, with a four horse team, I priced each limber at £14.80. For one limber per gun (total 36) this would cost £543.60 - passion killer.

I thought about how to cut costs. I looked to War Bases (MDF) for a solution. They make various carts, perhaps they make limbers. They do, they make a Napoleonic French limber. They are not ideal but, they had potential for conversion and at only £1.50 each they had to be worth a punt. At this point I also decided to cut cut down the teams to just two horses each. Limber and teams would now only cost £5.90 each.

Warbases Gribeauval limber. A neat little MDF model.

I took out the bits then cut bits off (as shown) before assembling it as a simple 18 C limber.
Note: I cut the MDF tow spike off (piece on 
far left ) so that it could be replaced with a more durable wire one 

Assembled before being drilled for the wire towing spike.
To cut costs further, I decided on one limber per two gun battery and to paint the limbers natural, neutral wood so that they could be used for any army. Furthermore, it was hard to imagine a scenario where I would have six batteries on the move at the same time, so three or four limbers per army would be enough. I bought six limbers from War Bases and twelve draught horses from Front Rank. Total cost: £35.40.

However, I had made a serious mistake. As soon as I had painted them, and added a gun, I realised just how ridiculous they looked. I should have painted the limbers in national colours. I would need to buy more. I decided on four limbers per army, potentially doubling the cost to £70.80. With my ardour receding I decided to do the limber bases in two parts - one with the limber and one with the team. This would mean I only needed four more horses, rather than twelve, reducing the total price to £50.20.

Limber and team based as two pieces.
The limbers painted in national colours - Austrian yellow; Prussian blue; Russian red.
This weekend, with all the bits in place, and having a couple of afternoons to spare, I repainted the limbers, painted the horses, and based them up. I also painted up another Warbases wagon and team that I've had hanging around for a while (its load is teddy bear fur painted up as hay): Note that I have changed it two a single shafted model to allow a two horse team to be harnessed side by side rather than in tandem.

I will only need horses for two armies, so I split limbers and teams, thus reducing the cost of horses by one third.
Another benefit of basing the teams separately is the possibility of having four horse teams when not many limbers
 are in play at the same time.
I now have SYW limbers. Huzzah!

Friday, 21 February 2020

Soor point - A War of Austrian Succession Battle

A recent Crusades battle set up for To the Strongest
Having played a WW2 Western Desert over a three week span, plus four weeks gaming battles from the Crusades using To the Strongest, we feel the need to shift back to horse and musket for the first time in 2020.

At first, I elected to go Seven Years War but after leafing through the pages of a Duffy for inspiration, I noticed that the Battle of Soor 1745, fought towards the very end of the Austrian War of Succession, had a tented camp: I bought tents last year and any excuse to get them out gets my vote.

The Battle of Soor 1745 set upon a 10' x 6' table - looking south. Note tents, top left.
Soor is a battle I haven't gamed before. This might be because it looks like one of those battles best fought on a 'L' shaped table, or more probably because it looks like such a very long lined, strung out, battle on the map. However, closer investigation shows that the actual fighting only took part at the northern end of the field, and to a lesser extent, towards the centre. This makes Soor, with a bit of jiggery pokery, a far more interesting gaming prospect than I had previously thought. 

The Austrian army in position on the Granerkoppe.
The historical background to the battle is quite interesting. Following the Battle of Hohenfriedberg Frederick the Great seems to have taken his eye off the ball. He seems to have spent most of his time fannying about with his dogs and playing his flute. Consequently, it came as quite a shock when Prince Charles and an army of over 40,000 Austrians and Saxons turned up in the rear of his strung out camp and took up a strong tactical position in readiness to attack. He had been surprised; he was outnumbered by almost 2:1; he was in a weak tactical position; he was in trouble and about to get squashed.

The Prussians have moved north to attack the Granerkoppe from two directions. In the foreground the Prussian 'centre' is just getting into position to attack through Burkersdorf.
The Austrians had taken up position behind the village of Burkersdorf with their left wing anchored on the slopes of the Graner Koppe - a hill that dominated all of the surrounding ground. Frederick, with no time to lose, siezed the initiative by quickly rousing his men and marching them, in a counter-concentration, to assault the Granerkoppe from two directions. The Austrians didn't move. The Prussians attacked. The Austrians didn't move. The Prussian cavalry charged up the slopes. The Austrian cavalry didn't move, met them at the halt, and were routed. The Prussian infantry charged up the slopes. It was a blood bath; on the third attempt the Prussians took the hill. To the south, half of the Austrian army didn't move - they stood and watched their northern wing collapse before withdrawing into the woods - the Konigreichswald - behind their position. As a commander-in-chief it was, perhaps, Prince Charles' worst performance, and Frederick's best, to date.

For the set up I have combined, and in some respects ignored, two sources. The first are the works of Christopher Duffy, principally his "The Army of...." books. The second is the post by Jeff Berry at Obscure Battles. Jeff has done a super job on the subject, with his excellent map, OOB, and description of the battle. Given the scant information I've found on the subject, Obscure Battles should be any gamer's first stop for Soor (it's the only source I have that shows the position of the Prussian guns). Well done again, Jeff!

Looking south. If the whole battle was to be laid out, the Austrian line would extend at least another six feet.
Given my resources, to make this battle doable as a game, I have simply ignored the Austrians and Prussians that faced off against each other to the south - what's south of the line stays south of the line, so to speak. This enables the battle to fit nicely onto a 10' x 6' table and precludes the Austrians from bringing their massive numerical superiority to bear by marching Aremberg's (off table) infantry to the rescue. 

By leaving Aremberg's infantry off table I easily have the forces needed for the battle, except for the substitution of a few Saxon units with Austrians, and actually have a fair few of the proper units present. I even have enough Prussian regiments, something I can struggle with in the AWS due to there being very few Fusilier regiments until after this war and, again, I have a fair few regiments of those actually present - including the Garde (IR15) and the Guard du Corps (CR13).

Plenty of poetic license has been taken with the terrain. Firstly, the Prussian camp shouldn't feature at all but, where I have positioned it allows the whole available Prussian force to start on the table (the camp shouldn't effect game play in any event - being easily removable / ignored if need be). 

Secondly, the sources disagree about the orientation and size of Burkersdorf and the wood to the south of it - I've simply set up the table to make both places 'work for the game'. 

Thirdly the road system is out of kilter with reality but, again, this should not effect game play in any meaningful way. 

Lastly, and very importantly, looking at the terrain on Google Earth, especially from road view, I fail to see the "...steep slope..." mentioned by Duffy in his narrative. The Graner Koppe doesn't look that high or that steep, appearing more like a gently rising ridge. However, the battle narrative reads much better if the Graner Koppe has steep slopes and, in game terms, makes for much more interesting terrain to fight over. Therefore, my Graner Koppe looks like a proper wargame's hill (it is 3" high at it's summit) and the slopes will be classed as steep (Piquet: type ii terrain).

Because the battle was fought in late September (harvest time), I have added plenty of fields of ripened corn and I've dotted around some haystacks. They look pretty but, they have no game effect.

We will use our house amended Piquet rules (Men Are Like Lemons...) for fighting large 18C battles. This will allow me to hamper the Austrians with a poor sequence deck and enable the Prussians with a good one. 

Reading Jeff's description of Austrian cavalry doctrine, I have slightly changed the make up of the Austrian deck we use for the AWS: I have removed one of the Shock Cavalry Melee Resolution cards and replaced it with another Dress the Lines card. I have made Frederick a superior C-in-C, adding two Brilliant Leader cards; I've made Charles an abysmal one, adding two Command Indecision cards.

Prussian bits and pieces, showing extra sequence deck and morale chip cards from the Army Characterisation Deck, and two valuable Brilliant Leader (wild) cards.
Note an original card Piquet clock, glued to a piece of hardboard for strength, is pictured here - see below.
I've further cooked the books by assigning cards from the army characterisation deck rather than by random draw. The Prussians will get 26 morale chips; their infantry will be up one for morale; they will have an extra Cavalry Move In The Open card (to enable Buddenbrock to get up the hill quickly); they have an extra Melee Resolution card (so that both cavalry and infantry can get stuck in when they close). That's not too shoddy, for a 6 card draw. 

Austrian bits and pieces.
The Austrians get 35 morale chips - distinctly under par, for 7 cards.

The performance of the Prussian troops was quite something at Soor. Consequently, I have decided to make all of the Prussian troops (except artillery) either Eager (blue bead) or Determined (purple bead). 

The Austrians were fresh, well equipped and well supplied: All have been made Ready (green bead). They have the advantage of numbers (28 units to 19 units) and position on the steep slopes of the Granerkoppe.

Buddenbrock's cavalry prepares to assault the heights.
Victory conditions will be to compare historical performances. This will make a 'game win' quite difficult for the Prussians, though winning the battle should be more easily achievable.

So there it is, Soor 1745, or at least a game based on it, set up and ready to go. 

And I get to play with a new toy. 

Graham H. has joined a local organisation with a laser cutter and is busying himself making a medieval castle, amongst other things. A couple of weeks ago, Graham revealed that he had designed an old style Piquet clock. Then he pulled a couple, one each for Peter and I, out of his bag. I was over the moon. The old style Piquet clocks, printed on a sheet of card, with plastic spinners, are much sought after and very hard to get hold of. Graham's clocks are fashioned from two sheets of etched 3 mm plywood (glued together, back to back) with countersunk plastic spinners and are, IMHO, superior in every respect (see pic of an original above).

Graham's design for the Piquet clock.
I asked Graham if he was happy to make more. He is, for a price. If you want one of these superior clocks, drop me an email (my email address is in the sidebar) and I'll forward your request onto him.

Friday, 24 January 2020

The Chronicles of Kermit the Hermit - 'The Relief of Adhogg' scenario

Edited: 28:01:2020

This is a scenario for the Crusades using To the Strongest rules. It's been a while since figures from my (possibly) best painted collection saw action - here goes!

The Chroncles of Kermit the Hermit detail many lesser known military encounters in the Holy Land during the First Crusade and early years of The Kingdom of Jerusalem. One such entry relates to the Seljuk siege of Adhogg and its proposed relief by the Franks; the relevant part of the chronicle is as follows:

“….In the Year of Our Lord 1108 the Seljuk dehquan Toohdix laid siege to the Town of Adhogg. This place boasts impregnable fortifications which can only be overcome by a very long blockade or deception; the latter being how it fell to us in 1105.

The Franks felt secure behind their walls and trusted that the Seljuks would, as was their want, go home when winter arrived. The Seljuk Toohdix, by force of his will, kept the blockade intact through the winter and, with victuals running desperately short, the Franks were forced to call for succour. Oxo de Bouillon answered the call. He collected men and supplies together with great speed and set off on the road to Adhogg.

Toohdix, learning of the approach of Oxo, and leaving a trusted lieutenant in charge of the siege, detached himself with the best of his cavalry and set forth to intercept the relief column before it got near. He met the Franks, from ambush, at The Fork of Bisto…..”

So, our scene is set. The Franks are seeking to relieve the siege; the Seljuks will seek to ambush the Franks, where the road to Adhogg forks to go around Mount Bisto, and prevent them from reaching the town.


The terrain is pictured on the map above. The To The Strongest grid is 12 x 9 boxes. The table is 8' x 6'. Hills are yellow, rough ground is green. Roads and villages are brown. Red and blue lines show the limit of each side's initial deployment zones (see below).
  • Hills are low and gentle; they are high enough to overlook scrubby woodland and the three villages but, not other hills. 
  • Woody scrubland is difficult terrain and blocks LoS. 
  • Villages are difficult terrain to infantry and impassable to cavalry, they block LoS.
  • The road to Adhogg forks here to go around Mount Bisto (a little off table). The roads to Adhogg are equally long and easy to traverse so the Franks can choose to use either road or cut across country to reach the opposite table edge (see Victory Conditions). Units following a road do not need to activate to change face when they enter a box containing a bend providing they turn immediately to show their new direction – they are simply following the road. The roads provide the easiest routes for the Frank’s supply wagons to successfully egress the table. Supply wagons treat all off-road movement as one level more difficult than usual – they are heavily laden and the ground is generally unsuitable for them.

Otherwise all terrain is as described in To the Strongest rules.

Deployment Areas: The Franks can deploy in any boxes enclosed by the blue line; the Frank's three supply wagons units must deploy in the three road boxes as shown; the baggage guards must deploy with one of the supply wagons. 

The Seljuks can deploy in any of the boxes behind the red line (bottom two rows plus the two outermost side columns). Several of these boxes provide ambush positions (see below).

The Seljuks can secretly deploy troops in any box marked ‘A’ (ambush position) by marking their position on the map (see codes as detailed in OOB below). They can remain concealed (in ambush position) until they move, shoot, or the enemy enters an adjacent box. Troops not in boxes marked ‘A’ deploy normally.

Seljuks deploy first, Franks second. Franks move first.

Gaming Note: It might be an idea to put some kind of counter in each of the possible ambush boxes to remind the players that the ambush boxes can be 'scouted' from any adjacent box regardless of cover - the Seljuk player should always disclose if something, or nothing, is in a 'scouted' box.

Order of Battle:

  • Oxo de Bouillon, senior, heroic, attached general with a unit of veteran knights (Knights lance).
  • Two heroic, attached generals, each with a unit of knights (Knights, lance).
  • Three heroes.
  • Six units of foot sergeants (Shieldwall, spearmen, crossbow / bow).
  • One unit of foot sergeants detailed as baggage guards (Shieldwall, spearmen), with the option to split into two small units.
  • Two units of Turcopoles (Light cavalry, lance, bow).
  • Three supply wagons units with 4 extra missile chits each (see special rules below).
The Franks have '28 VPs' of troops.

  • Toohdix, senior, heroic, attached general with a unit of veteran Ghulams (Cavalry lance, bow) - ambush code TG.
  • Two heroic, attached generals, each with a unit of Ghulams (Cavalry lance, bow) - ambush code G.
  • Five heroes - ambush code H.
  • Three units of Seljuk veteran cavalry (Cavalry, bow) - ambush code S.
  • Nine units of Turcomans (Light cavalry, bow) - ambush code T.
  • Two pack camel units with 12 extra missile chits each - ambush code C.
The Seljuks have '25 VPs' of troops.

Victory Conditions: To obtain a victory, the Franks must exit the Seljuk's baseline with a supply wagon and 50% of their VPs. Exiting with 50% of their VPs will give them a draw. Anything else is a Seljuk victory. (Note: At present this scenario is untested and these conditions may change).

Due to the nature of the conflict, the break point for both armies is 50% of its 'VPs' rather than the usual 33%.

Scenario Special Rules: Apart from the road and ambush rules, detailed above, three special rules are in effect:
  • Supply wagons / camels: Initially I thought to classify supply wagons and camels as 'mob' but then decided to make them none combatant. Consequently, supply wagons cannot attack, they have two 'hits' and only save on 9+; camels are the same but are small units with one 'hit' each.
  • Supply wagon protection: Where a unit of foot soldiers is in the same box as supply wagons the Franks can declare the soldiers as the recipient of any attack (melee or missile), regardless of the direction of the attack. This represents them being among the wagons rather than 'forming up' in one direction or another; when doing so they strike on 8s rather than 6s and, because of their 'dispersal', they cannot shoot.
  • Extra missile chits: Extra missile chits can only be obtained if the activating unit is in the same box, or orthogonally adjacent box, to the supply element (friendly wagons or camels). However, success indicates that the unit may be replenished up to its maximum level of supply. Missile chits, in this game, can also be used as 'lance chits'.
Crossbows / Bows Rules Clarification: At this time the crossbow was not the windlass drawn arbalest of the 12th century. Consequently, I will class it as having a similar performance to composite bows. Because it has a slower rate of fire I will give crossbows four ammunition chits. Having classed the crossbow and composite bow as similar, it remains to downgrade the performance of the simple light European bows (non-composite) used by the early crusading Franks (later, they probably either adopted better locally produced composite bows or dropped them completely in favour of crossbows). Simple bows will have less hitting power than their heavier cousins and all saves will be modified +1. All bows have a two box range.

Historical outcome (From the Chronicle of Kermit the Hermit):

“….Toohdix met the Franks with unspeakable ferocity. Many Franks did not even know from what direction the enemy came. Almost all the Franks were butchered, Oxo de Bouillon among them. When the few that survived the slaughter reached Adhogg, the Franks there decided to sue for terms and give up the place. This they did, and the terms were honourably met by both sides. Toohdix entered the city to great rejoicing and there followed feasting that lasted fifteen days. Word of his success, and the celebration feast, spread far and wide: It was commonly heard in the market places of Damascus and Cairo that ‘Nothing can be as happy as Adhogg with Toohdix’….”

Note: For those unfamiliar with 'The Chronicles of Kermit the Hermit', Kermit is, of course, about as factual as Biggles and the Boogeyman.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Sidi Rezegh using BKC 4 leads to questions of scale and spectacle

Carrier Platoons of the Motor Companies shelter in a wadi, Sidi Rezegh.
Two carriers to carry a 'platoon' looks far better than one, though they only count as one for hits, etc.

As you know, I'm very lucky in that I have a war games room with a permanent table. This means I can leave games set up between weekly gaming sessions enabling big battles to be fought out over two or three weeks. All well and good but, sometimes I wonder if this arrangement leads me to be a little over ambitious to the detriment of some of my games.

II Battalion 104th Schutzen with engineers in tow (red edged bases) attack the Second Escarpment, Sidi Rezegh. 

Getting down to cases: Battles in the desert in late 1941 tended to be 'Brigade Group' affairs, or larger. Sometimes several hundred tanks could be operating in what might be regarded as my war gaming table space; to a degree, to my mind, I have to think 'Big Battle'. The battle at Sidi Rezegh on the 22nd November 1941, for example, involved four 'battle groups' (200 tanks) operating on a battlefield measuring about two miles by three. We are currently playing that scenario using Blitzkrieg Commander 4 rules and the game looks great but, so far, we have played just 5 turns in about 5 hours. My scenario has 112 Blitzkrieg Commander combat units fighting it out, and that is a lot of units for a one player a side game.

22nd Armoured Brigade (depleted) begins to arrive, Sidi Rezegh.

The mechanics of BKC 4 can handle games this size, for sure, but the dice rolling on multiple activation takes a lot of time to get through without the help of many hands. We have had several dozen units activating three or four times each turn - a single battalion rolling 100+ dice in a turn has happened at least four times: A big, two player, BKC game equals a slow turn game, and there is no getting around that fact. I like the level of detail and easy game mechanics in BKC 4 but, twenty units a player would be much better than fifty plus.

A13 command stand representing Brigadier Davy, 7th Armoured Brigade, Sidi Rezegh

The problem is, I don't want to play tiny bits of actions - which is certainly doable - because I want to see how one bit of the battle interacts with the other bits. I've never quite got on with scenarios which have narratives that go something like "...and there is a massive tank battle going on just off table to the west but, don't worry about it, it will not affect this action...."; though, inevitably, that kind of scenario is sometimes the only way to do an action. 

A15 Crusader in racing to the rescue, Sidi-Rezegh.
Those red and white Operation Crusader stripes will give the Germans something to aim at!

As I said in the first paragraph of this post, sometimes I think my ambitions are to the detriment of the game. The answer is easy, just hard for me to swallow.

German command stand representing Major General Ravenstein, Sidi Rezegh 

Having recently reassessed how I'm going to tackle the 'Peninsular War' project going forward by 'downsizing' the size of my divisions, I'm now pondering a scale reassessment for my Operation Crusader 1941 non-project (it's not a proper project, it's a 'now and then' sideline). 

25 pdr in action, Sidi Rezegh.

Currently, I'm playing my WW2 games at a figure scale of about 1:5 with about ten model tanks to a tank battalion and a dozen or so infantry stands to an infantry battalion. Now, I'm wondering, if big battles are my intention, should I halve my numbers and go for a figure scale of 1:10? Are five strong tank battalions big enough? Five or six 'units' are normally big enough for a 'command' but, are five or six stands?

Looking north east, Sidi Rezegh. End of turn 5.

The downside is obvious. Can I bear the loss of aesthetic spectacle? As a game, I think it would work much better if the game involved less stuff. Can I square my circle?

PzKpfw IV D, Sidi Rezegh. 

More upsides to downsizing: 

  • Downsizing would mean I have enough tanks to field the whole of 7th Armoured Division, representing about five hundred tanks and its supporting units, including the hundred or so 25 pounder field guns, at the same time (there would be no room to manoeuvre, even on a 12' x 6' table, but I could do it). 
  • It would mean I could field the best part of a British infantry division when required to do so. It would also mean I could field two Panzer Divisions (15th and 21st) instead of only one, which would be quite useful for some scenarios. 
  • It would mean I could probably afford to add the Italians to the collection, at divisional strength, at some point in the future - I probably couldn't afford the painting time or money otherwise. 
  • It would mean a more open battlefield, my desert (table) would start looking much bigger and more open, like a desert. 
  • It would mean I have surplus stuff (some of which is already painted) which I could sell to buy Italian stuff - now, that's a definite upside!

But, the loss of spectacle.

Brigadier 'Jock' Campbell's HQ, and officer commanding 4th Field Artillery, Sidi Rezegh.
Do I keep things as they are but keep the option to go half scale when required, or do I plumb for 1:10 and go for it, full steam ahead? 

Oh, the loss of spectacle.

10.5 cm L28 howitzer. Something meaty for close support, Sidi Rezegh.
Strokes beard. A lot to ponder. At 1:5, the spectacle is 'ambitious'.

On parade, the teeth of 15th Panzer Division at 1:5 (approx).

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

RAC Weapon Training Pamphlet 34: Fire Tactics (1940)

Weapon Training




Some years ago I bought this on ebay. As it was available for general sale and it's probably been declassified I'm going to risk breaking regulations by publishing photos of it, in full, here. If MOD wish me to take it down I will, but until then, or there's a knock at the door....

It makes for quite an interesting read. How much of it was followed and how much went by the board after first contact is hard to say. From a BKC player's point of view, it might lead to house rules on fire concentration.

All photos will enlarge if you click on them.