Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Piquet Ramblings 2: Being Braxton Bragg

A quick disclaimer to start. I don't consider myself a great writer. I'm a wargamer who takes the time to share some of his thoughts about gaming with whoever might be reading this blog. I'm not convinced these articles will be well-received. My battle reports with nice pictures always seem to get good reviews, but I'm not sure how much interest there is for articles that don't have eye candy attached.

I'm also a certified Piquet Zealot, so I feel a need to spread the word about Piquet, a set of wargaming rules that have been around for a long time, but receive very little attention compared to some of the more mainstream rules in our hobby.

As I've played wargames, I've learned that the games I want to play are those games that place the greatest focus on command and control issues. When I read accounts of battles, there are a few influential leadership factors that affect the outcome in most of them:
  • rapid decision making vs. command failure/timidity
  • clear vision vs. fog of war/commanders' perceptions and misconceptions of the battle events that are occurring
  • inability vs. ability to adapt to the battlefield and unanticipated events
  • insubordination/command failure of sub-commanders vs. initiative and decision making of small unit leaders
As game players and history readers, it is easy to criticize our historical counterparts. We have a bird's eye view of the battlefield. No clouds of black powder obscure our impeccable view of the battlefield. We don't have jerk-off subordinates who hate us and want to make us look like idiots. (Well ,most of us don't.) We are making decisions in a comfortable room with a ready supply of food, booze, and a good night's sleep.

Some rules simulate command problems by restricting or preventing movement, but even with these rules, the players still have a general idea that they will be able to perform a certain series of actions based on established turn phases or turn segments. Most rules guarantee you that after your opponent has moved/fired/charged, you will be given the opportunity to do the same. I understand this type of game convention is common and standard in most rules, but until I played Piquet, I never really felt the same doubt and uncertainty that many commanders seemed to experience in military history. In a real battle, you don't KNOW that you're going to get a Move Sequence.

Piquet presents the player with an unusual method to introduce the chaos and command friction that most armies experience once the bullets start flying.

WHO GOES FIRST?

Each army commander competes for Initiative. In the standard Master Piquet rules, each side rolls a d20. The high roller wins the Initiative and gets the difference in the die roll in Impetus Pips. The winner has the "Initiative". It's basically his turn. So, if Robert beats John by 9 on the roll, Robert gets 9 Impetus to use during his Initiative.

WHAT CAN THE TROOPS DO?

Each army has a Sequence Deck that consists of a set number (usually 25-30) of cards. It costs 1 Impetus Pip to flip a card from your Sequence Deck to be your active Impetus card. Your units can only perform the actions that are allowed by this active card. So, if you have an "Infantry Move in Open/Light Terrain" card active, you can move your infantry units. If a "Musket Reload" card is active, you can reload you musket-armed units. If you want to move your artillery, you have to wait for the "Artillery Move" card. If you want a unit to change formation ("That cavalry is on your flank!!! I can clearly see it approaching from my helicopter viewpoint!"), you have to wait to flip the "Deployment" card.

Some advantageous tactical situations do allow you to act without a card. For example, if you want to melee, you normally have to wait for a Melee Resolution card. Until you get that card active, your unit will stay in contact with the enemy and is only considered engaged. However, if you flank the enemy or contact a disordered enemy unit, you no longer have to wait for the Melee card and can fight a melee with him right away. It pays to turn a flank.

Unfortunately for Robert, acting on all of these cards is not free. You also pay Impetus Pips to act on the active Sequence cards. So, if Robert has 9 Impetus Pips, he has some decisions to make. If one of his infantry battalions has a threatened flank, and he flips a "Cavalry Move in Open/Light Terrain" card, he might want to fire a few units (1 Impetus each), move some cavalry units (costs Impetus), or flip more cards from the Sequence Deck (1 Impetus per flip) in an effort to find that "Maneuver" card he needs to change the facing of his threatened battalion.

Just like armies, all Sequence Decks are not created equal. Poor armies will have Sequence Deck that are less efficient than better armies. Great leaders have better cards that help their army's Sequence Decks:
  • One card that reduces efficiency is the "Dress Lines/Milling Around" card. This card is basically a wasted Impetus Pip when it flips. No actions can be performed when it is active. Bad armies have more of them.
  • Poor and Abysmal army commanders hurt their armies' Sequence Decks by adding "Command Indecision" cards to the deck (1 if Poor, 2 if Abysmal). When a Command Indecision card is flipped, it burns off all of the remaining Impetus Pips and ends the Initiative. A real attack killer.
  • Skilled and Superior army commanders help their armies' Sequence Decks by adding "Brilliant Leader" cards to the the deck (1 if Skilled, 2 if Superior). A "Brilliant Leader" card acts like a wild card and can be used as any sequence card that would be available to the army. In a way, it lets the better historical commanders improvise out of the restrictions of the card sequence system.
Sequence Decks can include cards that allow special strategies or battlefield effects that reflect the strengths or weaknesses of the opposing armies.

If you have no more cards to flip from your Sequence Deck or the Initiative die rolls tie, the turn ends immediately. This creates a built-in variable turn duration that can leave players gambling if they have to achieve battlefield objectives by a certain turn.

THE STRESS OF BATTLE

Another cool aspect of the Piquet Sequence Deck system is how losses on the battlefield degrade your Sequence Deck. In some rule sets, your Army of Northern Virginia fights just as well on Turn 1 as on Turn 8 when half of the army has been destroyed. Most of us can agree that an army probably doesn't respond as well after it has suffered what my old battalion commander used to call a "significant emotional event." In Piquet, you shuffle your Sequence deck between turns and pull out cards for the following reasons:
  • 1 card for each routing, routed, or destroyed unit
  • 1 card for each killed sub-commander
  • 1 card if Command is Poor
  • 2 cards if Command is Abysmal
  • 1 card if commander-in-chief is commanding a command group himself
  • 2 cards for a dead commander-in-chief
The removed, useful cards are replaced with the aforementioned "Dress Lines/Milling Around" cards. So, as your army suffers stress and damage, its Sequence Deck becomes less efficient. You lose cards that would have let you actually do things on the battlefield and they are replaced with cards that waste your Impetus.

The final card that is inserted into the sequence deck is your Major Morale Test card. Whenever your army has a unit destroyed, routed, or routing between turns, this card is permanently added to your Sequence Deck. The card sits in your deck and forces a Major Morale test, basically an army morale check, when it flips, but since the turns end irregularly, it is not guaranteed to make an appearance.

IT'S FRUSTRATING TO BE IN COMMAND

So, you understand that your deck might be good or bad.

Maybe you can accept that, but the hardest part of the game for players to accept is that they are not guaranteed to win Impetus back after their opponent wins it.

In the lame example I gave, Robert won Initiative and had 9 Impetus. Robert might win Initiative again. And again. And again. Meanwhile, John stares with disgust at his Initiative die and watches Robert flip cards and move units with gleeful abandon.

You aren't completely helpless during your opponent's Initiative. Each player does get a few Opportunity Impetus Pips that he can use to make opportunity charges with cavalry or fire in his opponent's Initiative, but the supply of these Opportunity Impetus Pips is limited and can only be replenished when he regains the Initiative.

It's difficult to have a plan and deployment for your forces and then watch your opponent's cavalry dart around your flank and set up a flank charge. But disasters like that happened a lot in military history. Maybe your corps commander never saw the cavalry coming because of a dip in the terrain. Maybe he ignored your orders because he's nobility and you are the son of a farmer. Maybe the courier you sent was killed by an unlucky cannon shot. This shit happened all the time.

Own that feeling of frustration and then you can maybe end a game and say, "Wow, Being Braxton Bragg really sucks."

The key is understanding that eventually the tide will(might) turn in your favor. Every time your opponent spends Impetus, he can't be sure that you won't win the Initiative on the next Initiative roll. In the long term, the die rolls should even out.

This type of simulation isn't going to be for everyone. Some players don't want to be Braxton Bragg. Some players won't like the irregular and uneven action that is generated by the combination of Impetus and random card draws. However, few rulesets can take two players and make one into McClellan and one into Lee the way Piquet can.

In all fairness, I use the poker deck system for Initiative which replaces opposed d20 die rolls with draws from a standard poker deck. One side gets the black cards and one side gets the red cards. Face and 10 cards add 10 to the following cards if they have the same color. This gives Impetus results of 1-19 with Jokers ending the Turn. The poker system at least reassures the player whose ass is getting kicked on Impetus that there are some cards in the deck that might throw some Impetus Pips his way.

The opposed d20 die roll is hardcore Piquet. No guarantees.

A great advantage of this unpredictability is that the Piquet system is also a great ruleset for solitaire play. Since you don't know which card is going to come up or which side will win and keep the Initiative, it's easy to play both sides without subconsciously favoring one side over the other.

So, I recommend checking out the rules. Piquet master rules are only $5 on the piquet.com website! Rules questions are answered on the Yahoo Group with a response time that would make a fire department proud. Once you read through the standard rules, you can then decide if you want to invest in a supplement for your favorite period. Did I mention it's only $5? For a printed rulebook? Okay, I'll stop now. $5!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

First Bull Run Piquet Scenario July 21, 1861

"You are green, it is true, but they are green also; you are all green alike."
Abraham Lincoln to Brigadier General Irvin McDowell

The first battle of Bull Run was the first major American Civil War battle that took place in the eastern theater between large armies. Both armies largely consisted of green volunteer infantry. The Union did have a few regular US infantry units and artillery batteries from the United States' standing army.

The Confederate forces were defending the southern side of Bull Run, a creek that was crossable at a large number of bridges and fords. The Union army was based at Centreville, just north of Bull Run. General McDowell, the Union commander-in-chief, sent a flanking force that crossed Bull Run west of the Confederate left flank. By the time the Confederates were aware that the Union had crossed over Bull Run, their left flank was in danger of being turned by a large Union force.

The Confederate brigades of Evans, Bee, and Bartow were defeated on Matthew's Hill and fled behind Henry Hill. Jackson's "Stonewall" Brigade made a stand on Henry Hill supported by Confederate artillery and repulsed all Union attempts to drive them off. General Joseph Johnston rushed reinforcements to the threatened flank and the bolstered Confederates were able to rout the Union forces and drive them back.

The Confederacy had passed its first major test of arms and the legend of Stonewall Jackson was born.

This scenario begins on July 21, 1861 at 10:00 am. The Union are approaching Matthew's Hill which is defended by Evans' brigade. Evans has requested the assistance of Bee and Bartow.

The scenario is designed for battalion scale Hallowed Ground, a Piquet supplement. At this scale, the units are regiments, battalions, and batteries. The commands are brigades.

ORDER OF BATTLE

The Confederate order of battle is as follows:
  • Evans' Brigade: 2 militia infantry regiments and 1 militia medium smoothbore artillery battery. Evans is Average.
  • Bee's Brigade: 4 militia infantry regiments and 1 regular medium smoothbore artillery battery. Bee is Skilled.
  • Bartow's Brigade: 5 militia infantry regiments and 1 militia medium smoothbore artillery battery. Bartow is Average.
  • Jackson's Brigade: 4 militia infantry regiments and 1 militia medium smoothbore artillery battery. Jackson is Superior.
  • Early's Brigade: 3 militia infantry regiments and 1 regular medium smoothbore artillery battery. Early is Skilled.
  • Kirby Smith's Brigade: 4 militia infantry regiments and 1 militia medium smoothbore artillery battery. Smith is Skilled.
  • Independents: 8 militia infantry regiments, 1 militia medium smoothbore artillery battery, and 1 elite medium cavalry battalion.
  • General Beauregard is the commander in chief. He is Average.
The Union order of battle is as follows:
  • Burnside's Brigade: 4 militia infantry regiments. Burnside is Average.
  • Porter's Brigade: 3 militia infantry regiments, 2 regular infantry regiments, 1 regular medium cavalry regiment, and 1 regular medium rifled battery. Porter is Average.
  • Sherman's Brigade: 4 militia infantry regiments and 1 regular medium rifled artillery battery. Sherman is Skilled.
  • Keyes' Brigade: 4 militia infantry regiments. Keyes is Average.
  • Franklin's Brigade: 3 militia infantry regiments and 1 regular medium rifled artillery battery. Franklin is Average.
  • Willcox's Brigade: 4 militia infantry regiments and 1 regular medium rifled artillery battery. Willcox is Average.
  • Howard's Brigade: 4 militia infantry regiments. Howard is Average.
  • General McDowell is the commander in chief. He is Poor.


Battle rosters for each side and the map are stored in the Hallowed Ground folder in the Files section of the Piquet Yahoo Group.

Infantry regiments were armed with a variety of small arms. Regular infantry regiments should be armed with rifled muskets and carbines. 30% of Confederate militia infantry regiments can be armed with rifled muskets and 50% of Union militia infantry regiments can be armed with rifled muskets. The rest should be armed with smoothbore muskets. You decide.

PIQUET NOTES
I determine the armament of my infantry units when I make the Troop Quality Check for each unit. I roll a d10 for each unit and if I roll a 3 or less (Confederates) or a 5 or less (Union) the unit is armed with rifled muskets.

The battle is a large battle and I recommend using two Sequence Decks per side. The Union forces should use two Poor decks and players can split the brigades between themselves based on table location. The Confederate players should use two decks. One deck should apply to Jackson's Brigade and the independent units and should be Superior. The other Confederate deck should apply to the other brigades and be Average.

SPECIAL SCENARIO RULES

This is the battle where "Stonewall" Jackson and his brigade earned their famous nicknames. Units in Jackson's Brigade add +5 to their Quality rolls before the battle.

A special Stratagem card should be added to the Confederate Sequence Deck: "Don't shoot! Those are our boys!!" Once flipped, this card is removed from the Deck and held by the Confederate player. The card can be discarded at any time to unload any Union unit of the Confederate player's choice. This card recreates the uniform confusion during the battle caused by the similarities between the uniforms worn by both sides at this early point in the war.

Players might want to add a Ragged Volley or Undisciplined Fire card to each deck to simulate the lack of musketry training of the newly recruited militia infantry regiments. The cards should only affect militia infantry units.

MORALE CHIPS

Total strength for the Union is 26 militia infantry regiments, 2 regular infantry regiments, 1 regular medium cavalry battalion, and 4 regular medium rifled artillery batteries. A total of 33 units. The Union have 48 morale chips.

Total strength for the Confederates is 30 militia infantry regiments, 1 elite medium cavalry battalion, 5 militia medium smoothbore artillery batteries, and 2 regular medium smoothbore artillery batteries. A total of 38 units. The Confederates have 52 morale chips (not including the morale chips for Henry Hill).

REINFORCEMENTS

Reinforcements arrive on table in any formation as follows. Independent regiments are marked with an (I). Reinforcements can enter within 9" of their entry points:
START:
Confederates: Evan's Brigade, Bee's Brigade, Bartow's Brigade, Jackson's Brigade, Hampton's Legion (I)
Union: Porter's Brigade, Burnside's Brigade.
TURN 2:
Union: Sherman's Brigade at B, Keyes' Brigade at B.
TURN 3:
Union: Franklin's Brigade at A. CinC McDowell at A.
Confederate: 33rd VA(I) at D. Medium smoothbore artillery(I) at C. CinC Beauregard at C.
TURN 4:
Union: Willcox's Brigade at A. Howard's Brigade at A.
Confederate: JEB Stuart's elite medium cavalry(I) at C.
TURN 5:
Confederate: 8th VA(I), 18th VA(I), and 49th VA(I) at D. 6th NC(I) at C.
TURN 6:
Confederate: 2nd SC(I), 8th SC(I), Kirby Smith's Brigade, and Early's Brigade at C.

Independent Confederate units enter the table out of command. Only Jackson can assert command over independent units. They then become part of his command.

Until the commander in chief arrives on the table, brigade commanders must make Major Morale tests themselves.

The scenario is 10 turns long. Union troops rout toward their assigned entry points. Confederate troops rout toward the woods containing entry point D.

TERRAIN

The creek and woods are all Class II. Both hills are Class II hills. Henry Hill is a plateau worth 8 morale chips to the last player to completely control its top. The hill is flat on top and any unit on Henry Hill can see any other unit on the same hill as if they were on the same level of elevation. Intervening units can still block LOS.

I also put rail fences along the sides of the road that runs from Entry Point A to Entry Point C. It's possible that both of the major roads were lined with rail fences.

TACTICAL TIPS

The Union player should push the tempo early and use his early numerical superiority.

The Confederate player should decide early where to make his stand and hold on for dear life (HINT: Follow Jackson's example.). Help is coming! Also, it might be a good idea to position your artillery on Henry Hill. Artillery placed on Matthews Hill might not ever be seen again.

VICTORY

Subtract the Union morale chip total from the Confederate total.

Greater than 20=Crushing Confederate victory. Jackson captures Washington.
Greater than 10= Decisive Confederate victory. Historical result. Go read a history book.
Greater than 0=Marginal Confederate victory. You can't stay behind Bull Run forever, can you?
Less than 0=Marginal Union victory. Confederate army forced back to Fredericksburg. Guess what happens there.
Less than 10=Decisive Union victory. Confederate army retreats in disorder. Lee assumes command.
Less than 20=Crushing Union victory. Confederate army is flanked and routs from the battlefield. Confederacy falls after a brief siege of Richmond.

If you play this scenario, feel free to give me feedback in the Comments section of this blog.

Playtests: 1

(01/31/2011 Added Piquet Notes)

(02/06/2011 Lengthened scenario to 10 turns. Matthews Hill no longer worth any VP's)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Piquet Ramblings 1 : Listening at the Campfires

Young Frederick sat in his headquarters and issued instructions to his generals. Once his plans were made clear, his commanders quickly left to attend to their assignments and prepare for the next day's battle. All except one.

The young king noticed that the prince of Anhalt-Dessau still stood staring at the battle map. The Old Dessauer was shaking his head as he pointed to the map. "This hill is the key to your plan, my King. If you cannot hold it, we will be swept away before your attack strikes their flank."

Frederick knew Dessau still thought his role was to instruct him on the art of war and swallowed his anger as he responded to his old teacher. "I realize that, Leopold. You'll notice I've stationed the grenadiers there. My best infantry."

"Frederick, the grenadiers are in no condition to fight. You marched them all night to reach the battlefield and they are exhausted. They will crack at the first challenge."

Frederick rolled his eyes. "Even if that is true, they are supported by my guard cuirassiers. Their battle record is unmatched. "

"Frederick, their commander is a foppish coward. He can barely ride his horse during parades. The cavalry have no faith in him."

"Very well. Are there any regiments in my army you would recommend, Dessau?"

"Regiment #18."

"Old man, they are fresh recruits, barely outfitted with their uniforms!"

"My king, they are indeed fresh men. Their health and enthusiasm is not ground down by the wear of the campaign. I walked through their campfires last night. They have few foreigners and are all recruited from Pomerania. The soldiers are in good spirits and eager to prove themselves."

King Frederick looked up the regiment in his muster book. "Leopold, my battle roster disagrees with you."

The Old Dessauer stepped so close to Frederick that his nose filled with the smell of musty uniform and stale tobacco. Frederick stumbled backwards. The Dessauer caught Frederick by his coat, pulled him close, and growled in his ear, "My King, your roster lies."

There have been many battles in history where veteran elite units underperformed and raw untested units showed surprising and unexpected quality in the heat of battle. A variety of factors can contribute to irregular performance in battle: lack of supply, heavy prior casualties, poor or excellent unit leadership, exhaustion, political motivation, regional rivalries, religious inspiration, luck, or extra ammunition. Many of these factors would be hard to detect by the army commander as he watched his troops march off the road and into battle line.

Units in Piquet usually have a Fire Die, a Melee Die, and a Morale Die. Modifiers in the game can improve or reduce the type of die the unit rolles for its test.

Piquet has a nice process wherein you roll on a d20 for the quality of your units before the battle to see just how good they are. Until you roll for their quality, you don't know what lies in the hearts of your little metal men.

The most likely result is Ready. Ready will give the units average dice for Fire, Melee, and Morale.

High quality rolls can give better results like Eager or Determined. A low quality roll might make the unit Battle Weary, a result that will give the unit bad dice.

The most interesting result is Vacillating. A Vacillating result means you roll again for the current quality, but the unit quality has to be checked again and can change when the unit is in its first combat.

Certain armies have modifiers to this Quality Roll to reflect the army's strengths and weaknesses. For example in 1862 American Civil War, Union artillery might add 2 to their Quality rolls while Confederate cavalry from the same period might also add 2.

You do have some intelligence about how good your units might be. There is a range of quality you can expect based on the unit's description. In the American Civil War, your infantry will usually be rated as militia, regulars, or elite. An elite unit will usually be pretty good even if it gets a Battle Weary result, but a Determined militia unit can be a match for it. Regulars are slightly better in melee than Militia.

Militia units tend to be the worst. Battle Weary militia infantry are unlikely to last very long in a fight.

I (along with many other Piquet players) take this a step further. I don't roll for the quality of my units until they have to use their quality to achieve something on the battlefield. So when I launch my main attack against my opponent, I just have to hope that brigade at the spearhead of the attack is feeling good today. If I get a Vacillating result, I don't record the unit's dice on my roster so I'll remember to check Quality for the unit again the next time it has to use dice for something.

So, if you want to defend a critical objective during a battle, do what the real generals did. Assign it to an elite unit and hope for the best. Of course, if your luck is anything like mine, your elite units will be Battle Weary and your Militia will be Determined fanatics.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Antietam Battle Report 1

This is my first play test of the Antietam scenario I posted on this blog.

The Union did pretty well for impetus, but most importantly, the Union avoided losing large amounts of impetus to the two Command Indecision cards in their army deck. These cards wipe out all of your current impetus.

Quick Piquet explanation. In Piquet, you never know when you'll be able to move your troops or what you'll be able to do. These actions are determined by the impetus you get and the quality of your army's unique Sequence Deck.

In my Piquet games, we use a poker deck to determine how much impetus each side gets. When a black A-9 card is drawn, the Union gets the Initiative and depending on the poker card, 1-9 impetus pips to spend. Red cards give Initiative and impetus to the Confederates. 10-K cards add 10 to the impetus gained, but only if they are followed by a A-9 of the same color. This system generates between 1-19 impetus per Initiative. Jokers end the turn.

The impetus pips are used to flip cards from your army's sequence deck. The player can then use his impetus pips to act on the flipped cards: Move on an Infantry Move card, Reload Muskets, etc. Firing a unit costs 1 impetus pip. Keeping units in command is important because an entire command can pay for movement and move its "in command" units for 1 or 2 impetus pips, the same price as a single unit. Each side also can store a few impetus pips to use for opportunity fire and cavalry charges during the other side's Initiative.

Combat, shooting, morale checks and all other challenges are determined by opposing dice that change size from d4(the worst) to d6, d8, d10,d12, d12+1, etc. Circumstances on the battlefield modify the size of the dice up and down. For example, shooting at long range (DOWN2) would make your d10 shooting die a d6 instead, but if you also had First Fire (UP1) because your infantry had not fired yet in the game, you would end up at a d8.

Morale chips measure your army's will to continue the fight. Your army loses morale chips for a variety of reasons, but mostly when your units take casualties, fail morale tests and lose melee combats. The commander in chief can move morale chips between commands and bolster a weary command with fresh morale chips during an Officer Check card. When a command reaches zero morale chips, it is broken, it must take more serious morale tests, and its losses to enemy attacks become much more severe. A command with no remaining morale chips can quickly disintegrate under heavy combat pressure.

I've learned that when you have a bad deck, you really want to use all the impetus on the table when you get it. Cycling through your deck just increases the chance you'll flip a card that will hurt you. Once you're down to 1 or 2 impetus, then you can start flipping cards because drawing the Command Indecision card doesn't hurt you as badly.

For this particular battle, McClellan intended Hooker's initial opening attack to be a heavy hammer blow against the Confederates, so he gave that command a large share of the morale chips from the army's morale chip reserves. On two occasions during the fighting, McClellan had to send more morale chips to Hooker in order to keep the momentum of his corps' attack going.

By the end of Turn 2, Hooker was pretty spent. Turn 3 ended almost immediately. Turn 4 started with a large Union impetus streak and an Officer Check card that organized Mansfield's and Sumner's corps. An Infantry Move card then let Sumner launch an assault that crushed the Confederate center. By the end of Turn 4, even Mansfield was through the East Woods and putting pressure on Lawton's Division near Miller's Cornfield.

R.E. Lee was well-placed between the front and Sharpsburg and was able to use his considerable charisma to rally the Confederate brigades who routed early in the game, but as the game progressed, the Confederates couldn't draw an Officer Check or Brilliant Leader card to help get the fleeing rebels back into line. Instead there were a series of Confederate Infantry Move cards that just made the routers flee toward Sharpsburg even faster and drain impetus while they fled.

By the end of Turn 4, things look very dangerous for the Army of Northern Virginia. Burnside could become available in Turn 5, and once he crosses Antietam Creek, Burnside can really endanger the entire Confederate position.

Turn 1.
This is a view from behind Hooker's Union I Corps. Hooker is opening the battle by attacking the Rebel divisions of J.R. Jones and Lawton. Hooker's mission is to seize the West Woods, the Miller cornfield, and unhinge the Confederate left flank. Hooker starts Turn 1 in musket range of the Rebels. Can you see Hood's Texans lurking in the woods to the right?





Those sneaky Louisiana Tigers are waiting for Hooker's bluebellies in the corn.












Here Sumner's Union Corps starts facing the Confederates defending the Sunken Road. On Sumner's right, Mansfield's Corps can be seen further north in the East Woods. Both corps start the game out of command.









The battle was well underway by the beginning of Turn 2. Fighting Joe Hooker himself can be seen trying to rally one of his routing brigades at top left.

Smoke marks units that fired and are unloaded. The two casualty figures behind the closest Union brigade tells me it is disordered. For some reason I used two rebel figures. Aaargh!!

One casualty figure marks a brigade as out of command. The router has one red arrow in front of it. If it had 2 red arrows, it would be routing and unrallyable.

Here's a view of the battlefield from the South. Sharpsburg is to the left in the foreground. The smoke is rising from above the treetops of the West Woods as evidence of the intensity of the struggle. Yet the Union corps of Sumner and Mansfield (right side) still dawdle and waste time organizing their commands for action.







Feeling the pressure from Hooker's attack, R.E. Lee gets his reserves moving.



Anderson's Division hits the turnpike.



McLaws' Division moves up behind the Dunker Church.








And Hood's Division charges through the West Woods and into the 1st Corps.







The clash of the elites. A column of Hood's screaming Texans burst out from the woods and fight a melee with the Army of the Potomac's Iron Brigade. The Texans are sent routing 6-3.








At this point, Hooker's Corps was out of morale chips. McClellan sent Hooker more ammunition, artillery batteries, and spare regiments in the form of 10 more morale chips, but the fighting was so ferocious that Hooker spent the extra reserves in no time. His corps' attack began to stall and both sides settled down to lick their wounds.







Turn 3 ended after 5 minutes and only one impetus draw. The beginning of Turn 4 saw a big Union impetus run that allowed Sumner and Mansfield to get their assaults underway. Sumner's lead brigade nervously approached the Sunken Road. The raw volunteers lined up and fired a devastating volley into their Confederate opposition. The shocked Rebels broke and ran in spite of all the best efforts of their officers to stop their flight.

Sumner's men entered the Sunken Road and after a lucky Maneuver card, wheeled and began rolling up D.H. Hill's flank. The flanking brigade crushed the flank of another defending Confederate brigade before D.H. Hill was able to enfilade the victorious mob of Union soldiers with his artillery and the Confederates last opportunity impetus pip.

"Bull" Sumner's blood was up and he drove his corps over the Sunken Road. His victorious troops advanced up the slope toward Sharpsburg while D.H. Hill desperately coordinated the timely arrival of the reinforcing divisions of D.R. Jones' (left) and Mclaws (right).

By Turn 6, Sumner was starting to run out of morale chips and Sumner was screaming for support.




(ABOVE) DR Jones' Confederate Division marched up to help DH Hill and routed Sumner's leftmost brigade. Jones then turned his brigades and caught Sumner's troops in the flank as they attempted to reorganize in the Sunken Road. (CLOSEUP BELOW)

(ABOVE) Sumner's Corps began to waver as its supply of morale chips ran out. Where was Burnside? As Lee sensed Sumner's attack waver, the Virginian threw in McLaws' Division to put extra pressure on the Union. Sumner's troops had enough of the fighting and his brigades began to break and run.
(ABOVE) Sumner as least had the decency to die while trying to rally his routed corps. The battle was over. Hooker was spent. Sumner's corps was wrecked and Mansfield didn't have the strength to fight alone. Burnside never did get across the bridge. Game over by Turn 8. Confederate decisive victory.

(Edited 12/30/2010 to include all of the turns of the AAR)











Sunday, December 12, 2010

Antietam Scenario September 17, 1862


This is an American Civil War scenario I designed for Piquet Hallowed Ground. The scenarion is ideal for Hallowed Ground's Grand Tactical scale.

At this scale, units represent brigades and artillery battalions. The commands marked on the map are Confederate divisions and Union corps. The scenario lasts 10 turns.

The Battle of Antietam was a battle where General McClellan's Army of the Potomac had a tremendous numerical advantage over the Army of Northern Virginia. McClellan squandered his advantages and attacked the Rebels without coordinating his corps. Any Antietam scenario needs to simulate the delays of Hooker's sister corps in coming to his support as well as the absence of Burnside's 9th corps for much of the battle.

Initially, Hooker has a significant numerical advantage near the West Woods. He is no slouch as a leader and his 1st Corps is very capable. The Confederate player should be biting his fingernails as he throws his available divisions against the 1st Corps tide as he tries to stem it. If Lee stops Hooker, there should be no time to breathe before those divisions then have to rush to stop the slow-starting Mansfield and Sumner in the center. Then the clock begins to count down to see if A.P. Hill will arrive in time to stop Burnside.

The Union army has the following troops divided among four corps and an off-board grand battery:
  • Hooker's 1st Corps: 1 elite rifled artillery battalion, 2 skirmish stands, 1 elite infantry brigade(Iron Brigade), 5 regular infantry brigades, and two militia infantry brigades. Hooker is Skilled.
  • Mansfield's 12th Corps: 2 regular infantry brigades and 3 militia brigades. Mansfield is Poor.
  • Sumner's 2nd Corps: 1 skirmish stand, 1 elite infantry brigade (Irish Brigade), 3 regular infantry brigades, and 4 militia brigades. Sumner is Poor.
  • Burnside's 9th Corps: 1 regular rifled artillery battalion, 3 regular infantry brigades, and 4 militia brigades. Burnside is Abysmal.
  • McClellan is rated as an Abysmal commander-in-chief.
  • Artillery Reserve: 3 heavy rifled artillery battalions fire at long range from off-board at any Confederate units east of the Hagerstown turnpike(The road running from the south board edge to the north board edge.) Treat as if it is a grand battery. The grand battery's line of sight is only blocked if a Union unit is within 9" of the target. All of its shots are treated is if they were frontal shots regardless of the target's facing..
The Confederate army has the following troops divided among 9 divisions and 1 grand battery:
  • JR Jones' Division: 1 skirmish stand and 2 regular infantry brigades. Jones is Average.
  • Lawton's Division: 1 skirmish stand, 1 elite infantry brigade (Hays' LA) and 2 regular infantry brigades. Lawton is Average.
  • Hood's Division: 1 skirmish stand and 2 elite infantry brigades (Texas Brigade and Law's MS Brigade). Hood is Skilled.
  • DH Hill's Division: 1 regular smoothbore artillery battalion, 2 regular infantry brigades, and 1 militia infantry brigade. DH Hill is Skilled.
  • DR Jones' Division: 2 regular infantry brigades and 1 militia infantry brigade. Jones is Average.
  • McLaws' Division: 2 regular infantry brigades. McLaws is Skilled.
  • Anderson's Division: 1 skirmish stand and 3 regular infantry brigades. Anderson is Average.
  • Walker's Division: 1 regular smoothbore artillery battalion and 2 regular infantry brigades. Walker is Average.
  • AP Hills's Division: 1 skirmish stand and 3 regular infantry brigades. Hill is Superior.
  • SD Lee's Grand Battery: 2 regular rifled artillery battalions. Grand battery. SD Lee is Skilled.
  • Robert E. Lee is rated as a Superior commander in chief.
Total strengths are:
  • Union: 1 elite artillery battalion, 1 regular rifled artillery battalion, 3 off-board heavy rifled artillery battalions, 2 elite infantry brigades, 13 regular infantry brigades, and 13 militia infantry brigades. 33 units.
  • Confederacy: 2 regular rifled artillery battalions, 2 regular smoothbore artillery battalions, 3 elite infantry brigades, 19 regular infantry brigades, and 2 militia infantry brigades. 28 units.
It's also important to note that designations like militia and regular don't describe the regular/volunteer status of the brigades. In Hallowed Ground, regular brigades are slightly better at melee than militia brigades. In this order of battle, the large proportion of Confederate regular brigades in the ANV reflects that most of the Confederate troops that followed Lee across the Potomac River were the battle-hardened veterans who were most committed to the Confederacy. Many of the Union troops were fresh with little combat experience. (Of course, this is Piquet, so your regular brigade might turn out to be Tired while the hopeless militia brigade next to those jaded vets rolls up as Determined and they fight like tigers!)

PIQUET NOTES

I determine the armament of my infantry units when I make the Troop Quality Check for each unit. I roll a d10 for each unit and if I roll a 6 or less (Confederates) or a 8 or less (Union) the unit is armed with rifled muskets.

The battle is a large battle and I recommend using two Sequence Decks per side. The Union forces should use two Abysmal decks and players can split the commands between themselves based on table location (maybe Hooker with one and Mansfield/Sumner using the other). The Confederate players should use two Superior decks. One deck should apply to Jackson's Corps in the West Woods and the other should apply to Longsteet's Corps near the Sunken Road and table area south of the West Woods. Divisions can switch from one corps to another for 1 Impetus on an Officer Check card as they are committed to battle.

The Confederate army gets 45 morale chips in its army pool. The Union army gets 60 morale chips.

West Woods and East Woods are Class II Woods.

The center ridge is a Class II hill for movement and LOS only and allows artillery to shoot over intervening units, but it is a gradual slope toward Sharpsburg and does not count as Class II terrain or superior/inferior position for melee or shooting.

The Sunken Road is Class II defensive terrain and superior position facing to the east only. The Sunken Road does not affect movement and offers no advantage whatsoever to the rear or flanks. The only section of the road that is treated as "sunken" is an area two brigades wide marked by the words "Sunken Road" on the map. The rest of the road is just a road with no combat effects.

Sharpsburg is a Class III town.

The Dunker church, and most roads have no effect on the game. You might want to give a road bonus to units moving in road column along the Hagerstown Turnpike. It runs from the south board edge to the north board edge.

Miller's Cornfield was in the north end of the battlefield and was a large field with tall corn. If you wanted, you could make the Cornfield on the north end of the table block LOS as if it was Class II woods, but it should have no other effect. Even that LOS effect is probably gone once a brigade has marched through it and trampled the corn.

The Confederates have to defend the following terrain objectives:
  • West Woods. If they lose the woods, the Confederates must give the Union army 4 morale chips.
  • Sunken Road. Worth 5 victory points to either side.
  • Road intersection just east of Sharpsburg. If they lose this intersection, the Confederates must give the Union army 10 morale chips.
The historical battle led off with Hooker's morning attack on the Confederate left wing in the West Woods. 12th Corps and 2nd Corps start the battle with all units out of command. Both of these corps took a while to get into the fight and when they did fight, their attacks were disjointed and/or poorly led.

Burnside's 9th Corps is a special case. Burnside spent much of the morning stalled behind failed attempts to capture the bridge that now bears his name. Eventually, the 9th Corps discovered it could cross the Antietam Creek at other locations. How do you simulate these delays?

In this scenario, Burnside's Corps becomes available on Turn 5. The Stratagem card is inserted into the Turn 5 Union Sequence Deck. After it is flipped, Burnside's corps appears on the east board-edge marked with his name after the Union pays the following impetus in any one Initiative: 14 impetus in Turn 5, 12 impetus in Turn 6, 10 impetus in Turn 7, 8 impetus in Turn 8, 6 impetus in Turn 9, and 4 impetus in Turn 10.

Robert E. Lee was also waiting for A.P. Hill's Division to arrive from Harper's Ferry. Hill is available on Turn 7. The Stratagem card is inserted into the Turn 7 Confederate Sequence Deck. After it is flipped, Hill's Light Division appears on the west board-edge marked with his name behind Sharpsburg after the Confederate player pays 4 impetus in any one Initiative.

NOTE: It is important to ensure that the Stratagem cards are in the Sequence Deck, so be sure to insert them AFTER you have removed cards and degraded the decks with additional Dress Lines cards.

Hill's Division arrives with its own supply of 10 morale chips. Burnside's Corps must be allocated morale chips at the beginning of the battle from the army supply like any other Union corps.

Union routers rout back toward their corps' entrance area. Confederate routers rout toward Sharpsburg. Once they reach Sharpsburg, Confederate routers are treated as if they routed off the table.

Advice for Union players:
  • You have several Command Indecision cards in your deck so never miss an opportunity to close with the Rebels and cause damage.
  • You face a tough decision concerning whether you want to wait to completely reorganize Sumner and Mansfield before they attack or throw their troops in gradually as they get brigades under command.
  • Give Hooker's 1st Corps plenty of morale chips. He can receive a lot, his troops are your best, and he can do a lot of damage to the rebels if you give him the resources. He is also pretty good at rallying his brigades, so his casualties might not impact your deck quality as much as the other corps.
Advice for Confederate players:
  • Get McLaws and Anderson moving north as soon as possible. Keep them in good movement formations to speed their arrival. You have good troops and leaders, but they need to be in the right places to help you.
  • Keep Lee near the action where he can transfer morale chips to divisions that are wavering.
  • Keep gambling. You're Robert E. lee.
  • Don't worry. Those flags you see are A.P. Hill's Division. Right?
So who wins? After 10 turns, add victory points to your remaining morale chips. Subtract the Confederates' remaining morale chips from the Union's remaining morale chips:
  • Greater than or equal to 30 = Crushing Union victory. McClellan eventually becomes president. He then makes himself King. Hooray for democracy.
  • Greater than or equal to 20 = Decisive Union victory. Great job. Lincoln ignores the fact that there is no pursuit. McClellan gets his triumph.
  • Greater than or equal to 10 = Marginal Union victory. McClellan is replaced by Burnside who obviously saved the day.
  • Less than 10 = Marginal Confederate victory. Historical result.
  • Less than or equal to 0 = Decisive Confederate victory. Great job. Your Piquet skills bested RE Lee's battlefield experience. Go buy yourself a beer and tell people all about it.
  • Less than or equal to -10 = Crushing Confederate victory. Army of Northern Virginia winters at the Lancaster Host.
Alternate victory conditions: If Lee dies in the battle, the Union player wins. If McClellan dies in the battle, the Union player wins. Just kidding!!!

Amended 12/18/2010 (Added skirmish stands. Reduced McLaws Division from three to two brigades.)

Amended 12/25/2010 (Changed impetus cost for Burnside's arrival to a sliding scale in order to make it possible for Burnside to actually arrive. :) )

Amended 01/15/2011 (Reduced J.R. Jones' Division from three to two brigades. Adjusted morale chip numbers in favor of Union. Clarified size of the Sunken Road)

Amended 01/31/2011 (Added Piquet notes for musket armament and sequence deck advice)

Playtests: 3

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Theater of War: Campaigns made easy


Theater of War (hereafter referred to as TOW) is a Piquet campaign system written by Brent Oman. I wanted to write this review because the rules are really a gem and they don't seem to be well-known in the wargaming community. TOW is written with Piquet in mind, but could be easily adapted for any rule set. The small booklet contains 92 pages of tables and rules and the pack includes sample rosters, sequence cards, and maps. The rules can be used to play any historical campaign from Biblical Wars to the Vietnam War.

I've participated in many campaigns in my wargaming career and almost every one has started with a great deal of enthusiasm, but inevitably one campaign side killed the campaign by massing forces for a battle that were larger than the tabletop forces could represent. The campaigns would also generate battles that the players weren't interested in fighting on the tabletop. "Oh yeah, I'd love to defend with my 5,000 militia against your 40,000 regulars. Let's devote a weekend to that battle." TOW avoids both of these campaign-slayers.

First, you have to set the time scale and map scale for your campaign. Are you campaigning around Gettysburg in July 1863 or are you recreating the Eastern Theater in 1863? My intent is to use TOW to recreate Lee's 1862 Sharpsburg campaign. The map will have the Potomac as its southern border. It will be roughly divided by a north-south mountain range. The action will take place in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

The map can be divided up into map areas that are defined by terrain type as Light, Medium, and Heavy. Light areas cost less movement points, Heavy areas cost more movement points. Certain movement areas might be worth from 1 to 4 campaign(victory) points. In my campaign, Harper's Ferry is valuable and would be worth 4 points.

You next have to establish your campaign roster. This a roster of all the units that will be available to your side during the campaign. A formula allows you to calculate the campaign roster size based on the quality of your army's Piquet sequence deck and army list. You then compare the unit total from the formula with the army list from the appropriate Piquet supplement and fill out the roster.

For example, my 1862 Confederate campaign roster lists 2 elite infantry units, 6 regular infantry units, 5 militia infantry units, 2 regular smoothbore artillery batteries, and 3 regular medium cavalry units. A total of 18 units. The 1862 Union sequence deck is terribly inefficient. As a result, the Union campaign roster calculation authorizes a total roster size of 28 units!!! 1 elite infantry unit, 11 regular infantry units, 11 militia infantry units, 3 artillery batteries (1 of them is elite), and 2 cavalry units (1 is militia). Starting to look like Antietam, huh?

So, right now you know the Rebels will never have more than 18 units on the wargaming table and the Union will never have more than 28 units. Now, you Rebels shouldn't get too worried because General McClellan might have those units available, but he still has to get them to the battlefield.

Okay, so how does Little Mac get all these units onto the table?

Your armies are called Battle Groups(BG). BG's range in size from 1(smallest) to 4(biggest). Your BG's move around the campaign map according to how your campaign game plays out. The total sizes of your BG's depends on your historical period, Medieval can have a total of 6, ACW can have 8, Vietnam has 10. Basically, as your staffwork becomes more sophisticated, you can have more individual BG's running around on the map.

You have your map. You have your roster. Now you build your Campaign Sequence deck. If you have the Piquet supplements, your army Sequence decks convert directly into the Campaign deck. When you play a campaign turn, you roll a d20 vs your opponent's d20. The winner gains the Initiative and is able to use the die roll difference in Impetus to flip cards from the Campaign Sequence deck. (So, in my campaign example, the Confederates roll a 17 and the Union rolls a 12. The Confederates gain the Initiative and have 5 Impetus.)

Being McClellan (or Lee)

The Sequence deck supplies cards to your Campaign Hand. There are three basic types of cards: Campaign cards, Battle cards, and Campaign/Battle cards. It costs 1 Impetus to play a card, draw a card from the deck, or discard a card from your hand. There is a maximum size of your Campaign Hand. Summer: 6, Spring/Fall: 5 and Winter: 4. Playing the Campaign cards from your Campaign Hand allow you to do the following:
  • move BG's into Light Terrain,
  • move BG's into Medium Terrain
  • move BG's into Heavy Terrain
  • establish supply depots, combine/split BG's
  • you waste an action
  • some bad cards make your BG's withdraw or drain your remaining Impetus
  • scout enemy BG's
  • trace supply, count campaign points for occupied map areas
  • besiege fortresses
  • build your Battle Hand
  • engage in a battle
  • halve movement costs
  • wild card (any of the above)
The Battle cards in your Campaign Hand are called your Battle Hand. The Battle Hand can be used to increase the size and power of your tabletop army in a battle. Battle Hand cards are Attack*, Defend*, Retire*, Flank*, Strength, and Strategic Reserve (if appropriate). Instead of playing cards to move your BG's on the campaign map, you can instead place these Battle Hand cards into your BH hand to use in case you become engaged in a battle.

When two opposing BG's are in the same campaign movement area, and the Initiative player plays an Engage in Battle card, and burns an Impetus to initiate the battle, we now have a tabletop battle. Initiating a tabletop battle ends the Campaign turn. The Campaign turn also ends when a player runs through his entire Campaign Sequence deck or both players tie on their Initiative die rolls.

When a battle is started, both sides now play their Battle hands. The Battle cards I marked with an asterisk above are battle type cards. You can only play one kind of battle type card in battle, but you might have more than one of that kind in your Battle Hand. A table in the rulebook cross references the played battle type cards and dictates what type of battle will be wargamed: Attack vs Defend, Encounter, Flank vs Attack, etc.

More than one battle type card (i.e. 3 Attack cards) can increase the value of your table top army. Strength cards also add to the value of your tabletop force. The Strategic Reserve card can add special "Imperial Guard" type reserves to the battlefield if that is appropriate for your particular campaign.

Picking your killing ground

Once you play the cards from your Battle Hands, you can determine which side has the advantage based on better Battle cards and/or superior BG size. The advantage lets you flip more Army Characterization Deck(from basic Piquet) cards than your opponent to determine the size of your tabletop force. Generally the advantage will let you randomly draw more units than your opponent from your campaign roster. Some special cards also let you hand pick the best units instead of trusting the random draw.

The units selected from the campaign roster are entered into each player's battle roster. The units are formed into commands. TOW uses card draws from each army's Sequence Deck to establish the terrain on the battlefield modified by the campaign area in which the battle occurred (Light, Medium, or Heavy). The battlefield objectives are established using card draws from the same Sequence Decks. Some objectives award victory points. Some objectives confer morale bonuses on the owners.

Once the terrain and objectives are laid out on the table, it's time for each player to deploy their commands. Each player simultaneously flips cards from their Sequence Decks. The flipped cards dictate who deploys commands first and in which zones on the table they can be deployed.

When the troops are deployed onto the table, the combat begins. Based on your particular rule system, once the battlefield victor is determined, the level of victory is translated into consequences in the campaign game. There are three levels of victory: Crushing, Decisive, and Marginal. Losing battles make your BG's retreat on the campaign map and a percentage of the units in the losing BG's will suffer a downgrade in combat effectiveness in their next battle. Winning battles also moves you closer to victory in the campaign, right???....

So, how do you win the damn campaign?!?

Each side has National Will (NW). When your National Will reaches zero, you lose the campaign. Each battlefield loss costs your side a corresponding loss in NW. The level of victory, size of the losing BG, and value of the campaign map area where the loss occurred can all increase the cost in NW that a battle loss will inflict on the loser.

Another way you can lose NW is when the Campaign card "Supply" is played for the first time during the Campaign turn. Both sides then add up the Campaign Points (VP) of any campaign areas occupied solely by their BG's. The side with less occupied Campaign Points deducts the difference from its National Will.

This is interesting because in my Sharpsburg campaign, I might leave AP Hill's Division in Harper's Ferry, hoping to score some Campaign Points, but if the Supply card doesn't come quickly I don't get to count those points. So, the Rebel player might leave old AP down there waiting for the points when he could really use his BG back with the main army. It becomes a race against time. Do I leave a BG down there to score the points or bring it back to fight the incoming Union troops? Sound familiar?

Summary

Theater of War lets you run a campaign, organize the armies, generate the battlefields, and keep track of victory. Like most Piquet-based systems, the sequence decks generate a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds for your little Battle Groups.

You might want your BG to move into the light terrain outside Frederick, Maryland, but until you get that Light Terrain Move card, it's not going to happen for you. Just like in real historical campaigns, your armies and subordinate generals don't always react right away to your orders and desires.

Do you concentrate on marching your armies to execute your masterplan or try to build up your hand to improve the Battle cards you have available in case Stonewall Jackson is lurking in ambush behind that mountain range? Is that Battle Group in front of you a screening force or the Army of the Potomac on the move?

Even if you're not a Piquet player, the cards supplied with the rules allow you to customize each campaign deck to reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing forces. With some tweaking, TOW can be modified to give you an excellent campaign system.

If you are a Piquet player, the rules allow you to fight campaigns with any army from any Piquet supplement you own. This is a must-have for the Piquet library.

The production values are decent. Some of the type is a little small and you won't see any interior color pictures, but the book is jammed full of typo-free tables, charts, and rules. There are some black and white photos of nicely painted miniatures. The package includes sample battle maps, campaign maps, and sheets of Campaign Sequence cards you need to cut out to play with.

Theater of War is available for $30 from the Piquet website

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

LED Gunfire Lights


I went to Historicon this year and had a chance to watch a great Napoleonics game put on by Architects of War and the Perry Brothers. While I watched the game with great admiration, I suddenly saw one of the players put smoke in front of one of the units. The smoke had little flashing lights inside of it that made it look exactly as if the troops were firing their muskets.

I was very impressed by the effect these smoke markers created on the table. You put a few flashers behind a strip of pillow batting (filling for pillows available in cheap large bags from JoAnn Fabrics) and you have your gunsmoke. It gives the battlefield a very active look as if combat is occurring even in areas where the player action is not focused. For Piquet, they make great markers to indicate unloaded units who have fired.

Almost immediately after getting off of the airplane from Pennsylvania, I emailed Architects of War and asked about the lights. They told me the lights were LED flashing lights. An extensive search on the internet found two websites that supplied them in a variety of colors.

extremeglow.com
flashingblinkylight.net

They're called a variety of names like "LED blinking round body pins". Apparently they are used for rave parties.... Whatever.

The LED flashers are thimble-sized metal cylinders with a magnetic bottom. You pull out a small paper tab, twist the bottom half, and they begin to flash two different colors. Don't lose the paper tab because you can reinsert it into the flasher to keep it from accidentally lighting up. They give off no heat and come in a variety of color combinations.

Red/Yellow works great for tank fires, cannons, and building fires. I prefer Yellow/Yellow for musket fire. Other colors would work great for sci-fi and fantasy. Yellow/Yellow is actually hard to find.

I made a video to show how the lights can look on the battlefield. Obviously, it's hard to see them in a photo. I lowered the room lights a bit so the flashers are more visible. It makes them a little more "flashy" in the low light, but in good lighting, the flashes look more like real gunfire. Neither of these are professional films, okay? I made them quickly to illustrate the effect, so spare me the filming critiques. :)


video video

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Battle of Preacher's Knob Part 1


I recently purchased Theater of War(TOW) and Hallowed Ground(HG) from Piquet. TOW is a campaign system designed for use with Piquet. HG is designed to wargame battles from the Mexican War to the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. I plan to use it for my American Civil War armies.

TOW uses the existing sequence decks for Piquet armies of any historical period and converts them into campaign decks that are used to march your armies on the map at a higher strategic level. When armies become engaged in a battle on the campaign map, the rules then use the armies' sequence decks to generate:

  • the units that appear on the battlefield (from a campaign roster),
  • the type of battle that is fought (Attack, Defend, etc.),
  • the terrain on the table,
  • the victory objectives (some give you victory points, some give you a morale bonus), and
  • the sequence and location that commands deploy on the table.
One of the nice aspects of the TOW rules is you know how many units you will need to have painted before the campaign begins. A formula calculates the size of an army's campaign roster based on the quality of the army's sequence deck.

My campaign is an 1862 Eastern Theater ACW campaign. Using the TOW rules, the Confederates get 18 units on their campaign roster. The Union army gets 28 units on its campaign roster because its deck is poorer in quality.

On Saturday, we generated a battle using the TOW rules. This battle is a Level 3 Union battlegroup attacking vs a defending Level 2 Rebel battlegroup. The Level 2 Rebel battlegroup had a one level advantage from its battle hand.

The Union drew 18 units from their campaign roster. The Confederates had a great draw that pulled all 18 units from their campaign roster. The Union had a 3:2 artillery advantage. The Confederates had a 3:2 advantage in cavalry.

We used a roster for the units and didn't roll for their quality until they saw action. This adds some fog of war to the game because you don't know how good your troops are until they "see the elephant." I actually rolled very well for troop quality with some minor exceptions.

The commander of the Union (played by Greg) is McClellan (ABYSMAL skill) while the Rebel commander (played by yours truly) is R.E. Lee (SUPERIOR skill).

Hallowed Ground is actually 3 rule sets in one. It allows you to game at three different tactical levels:
  • one unit is a company
  • one unit is a regiment
  • one unit is a brigade
For this game we will be using the Grand tactical rules, so each unit is a brigade. This battle will represent a full battle between the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac.

(ABOVE) Here's the battlefield that was generated. The Confederates deployed on the left long side. The Union on the right long side. The hill in the Confederate center is Preacher's Knob. It is worth 4 morale chips to the occupier. In the far Confederate left corner is a swamp that overlooks a road that leads to the Confederate line of retreat. It is worth 8 morale chips. In the Union right flank corner is a Class II woods worth 11 victory pojnts. In the Union left flank (off picture) is a swamp worth 5 victory points.

(ABOVE) The Confederate left flank. Dismounted cavalry is deployed in the swamp to protect the Confederate line of retreat. Unfortunately I rolled a POOR commander for them. That might come back to haunt me.

(ABOVE) My Confederate center, on top of Preacher's Knob, is occupied by Hoods's division. It's my best division led by Hood, a SKILLED commander.

(ABOVE) The Confederate right flank is guarded by Johnson's Division. A.P. Hill's Division is resting in the woods behind Preacher's Knob as the army reserve.

(ABOVE) The battle begins as artillery from Anderson's Division duels with the Union Artillery Reserve.

(ABOVE) Wheeler's dismounted cavalry stares across open ground on the Confederate left as Hooker's Union 1st Corps emerges from the woods opposite them (BELOW). Where is JEB Stuart when I need him?

(ABOVE) McClellan (Greg) elected not to dismount his cavalry. He sent them riding around in a wide sweep to attempt to get behind the right flank of the Confederate position.

(ABOVE) Unfortunately for the Union, I then pulled 11 Impetus. This allowed Johnson's Division to advance and one of his infantry brigades unleashed a terrible volley into the flank of a cavalry brigade. This volley devastated their mounted ranks and led to a rout by that brigade. (BELOW) Also, ATTENTION!!! ATTENTION!!! If you look at the smoke in the picture below, you can see one of my LED flashers in the smoke fired by the infantry. If you haven't started using them, I recommend them highly. They make the units look like they are firing with flashing yellow lights lighting up the smoke. The LED flashers don't usually show up in the photos, so I'm excited.

(ABOVE) Greg's cavalry commander (Custer?) was not to be discouraged by this result and he continued on his ride around the Confederate right flank. Here one of Johnson's brigades is again shooting into the remaining cavalry brigade's flank. The brave cavalry brigade took casualties, survived(!?!), were meleed in the flank, won the melee(?!?!?), routed my infantry(??!!?!?!), pursued, until they were finally finished off by a volley from the second line of Johnson's Division. Not a bad ride.

(ABOVE) Yeah, I know the gunner is in Union uniform. Maybe it's a militia uniform. It is 1862.

(ABOVE) Here's Greg's view of the same gun. His artillery must have taken ten shots at this battery.
(ABOVE) The Union launched Hooker's I Corps from the woods into an attack against the Confederate left center. Greg ran off a string of 30 to 40 Impetus in a row and two of his brigades smashed into an elite Louisianan brigade and a fiesty Floridian brigade. The Texans turned out to be tired (rolled a 3) and the Floridians were determined (rolled a 20). None of it mattered and the Union routed both brigades.
(ABOVE) Anderson attempts to rally his units as the routed flow around him like an unstoppable wave.

(ABOVE) Close up of the shot. This reminds me of Bragg attempting to rally his army as they ran off Missionary Ridge.

Greg had to leave just as he was starting to win, so I plan on leaving the game set up so we can finish it at a later date.