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!)


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