Monday, 10 December 2018

Squad Hammer

I was idly surfing the 'net last night, and I got seduced by another set of Nordic Weasel rules - Squad Hammer. These have been around for a while, but I haven't heard of them before (partially because there don't seem to be too many game reports around).

Anyway I downloaded them and skimmed them last night, and this evening I gave them a try.

They have no specific setting, but are really designed for 'shooting' settings and more specifically post 19th century ones. Including sci-fi. Indeed I think the rules were very much designed with sci-fi settings in mind. Units are essentially squads of 6-8 figures or individual vehicles or larger creatures, with each player having 4-6 units (maybe more if they are the attacker in an attack/defence game).

The rules are very much a toolkit, with no clearly defined troop stats, but lots of information on how to prepare such things. This may not be to everyone's tastes; even the combat factors are pretty much Do What Seems Appropriate, but it seems to work. It's not designed as a tournament-tight game, but as a means of getting a handful of figures onto the table quickly and in an entertaining manner.

On their turn a player activates a number of units in their force, and an activated unit can move (and attack), redeploy (which is a faster move away from the enemy), withdraw (which is a move that allows the rallying off of a hit) or redeploy (which simply allows the removal of up to three hits). Combat is a roll to hit on 2D6, followed by a damage roll, which will either be 1D3, 1D6 or best of 2D6. Units are lost if they take more than six hits.

I got out my Epic 40K elements and ran each one as a squad. I put together a force of Orks and one of Space Marines, diving gleefully into unit design as I did so. I then ran through the mission generation system, and got this terrain and setup:


The brown counters are objective points. Two units on each side were also counted as objectives.


The dice show hits. The Orks took lots of hits.


Get close and your shooting becomes an assault, which is more effective. The Orks also had assault bonuses.


These Orks were cut down in a firefight with two squads of Marines


These Marines were destroyed by a fearsome Ork charge.


Mostly, though, Orks died to gunfire.


More close assault.



Basically the well-armoured Marines used shooting to take out the Orks before the Orks could close and use their close-combat bonuses, which weren't that great anyway. Or, put another way, my unit designs were overly complicated and basically a bit bollocks.


So I was a bit disappointed with my first game. Not the fault of the game, but the way I went about using it.

Later on, though, I had another go. This time I just simply played the game as basic as possible. I used the mission setup, but used no special rules on the squads; I just ran Orks and Marines as the same, just to get a feel for the flow of the game. So I gave each side four normal squads, and a leader with bodyguard. The latter got a combat bonus and, when activated, could rally a hit of a nearby unit.


With simpler forces the game rattled along at a cracking pace, and was a lot of fun, thus reminding me that, sometimes, less is more. I can start adding extras as I go along, but maybe use them more like seasoning rather than chucking a whole load of things in one go.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Sawmill Village

And my playing around with an ACW Portable Wargames continues ...

Yesterday I decided to follow up my Prairie Grove game with something using a simpler terrain. I was flicking though Charles Stewart Grant's 'Scenarios For Wargames' when I came across Scenario 41 (Chance Encounter). This is, of course, the classic 'Sawmill Village' scenario which I've often read about, but never played. And, according to the intro, it was first played in 1958, so is celebrating it's 60th anniversary.

It would have been rude not to play it. 

I adapted the terrain for a square grid. 


And gave both sides eight units instead of six.


And added in the road after I started playing.

I had each side march along their entry edge until they reached the road, then turn onto it and march along it until they spotted each other. How did I do this? Well, here's how:

Both sides were set up in their order of march. When a side's card came up, they moved two spaces along their route, with units entering the board in the preset order. After the move I checked line of sight. The sides could see each other if their closest units were at or less than the number shown on the card which activated that side. The village counted as two squares for the purposes of this check. From the next card onward the units would activate as normal.

Here's the two columns approaching each other, blissfully unaware of each other's presence.


The Confederates reach the edge of the village and spot the Union column. The fight is on!



Both sides form up, but the Confederates hold the village.


The Union send forward their cavalry (dismounted, of course, but I adopts the OHW approach of not bothering to represent this).


A fierce fight ensues for the village.


The Union fall back and reform, but have already lost their cavalry.


A run of activations gave them a chance to form up properly and press home some decent attacks on the Confederates.


The Confederate left collapsed.


And the Union took the village.


Unfortunately the cards now gave the Confederates a counter-attack ...


... and they retook the village.



This pretty much broke the Union force, so I called the game at that point.


And I set it up again, partially because I had a better idea for terrain and cover, and wanted to work it through. To be honest I'm not sure where I'm going with it yet, though.

This time the Union got a run of moves, and made it to Sawmill Village before the Confederates had really got too far onto the field.


They spot each other.



The Union form up and the shooting starts.


Both sides got their troops organised in a neat and tidy manner.


The first Confederate attack on the village was halted by Union cavalry supporting from a nearby hill.


Meanwhile the Union artillery was doing fearful execution on the Confederates.


Soon the rebels were cleared from around the village, but they were mounting a second attack from the woods on the Union left.


It was a bold try, but their losses were already high, and after a few assaults their army withdrew from the field, beaten.


Really this scenario seems to be won by whoever holds the village first, since it forces the other side into attacking an equal force in a defensive position. Even if that side captures the village, the attack weakens them to the point where a decent counterattack will generally retake it. It was great fun to play such a classic scenario, though, even if I haven't currently resolved my terrain issues.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Prairie Grove

I was looking for a scenario with which to try out my Portable ACW Wargame changes yesterday, when I stumbled across the fact that 7th December is in fact the 156th anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove. So I found the post where I last fought it with the Portable Wargame (back in 2012), set it up and gave it another go.

I gave both sides ten units each. The Union forces were split up into Herron's command (on-table) and Bunt's force (which would arrive at some point. or not at all).

Confederates: 4 x Trained Infantry, 2 x Green Infantry, 1 x Veteran Cavalry, 1 x Green Cavalry, 2 x Trained Artillery

Union (Herron): 3 x Tained Infantry, 1 x Trained Cavalry, 1 x Trained Atillery
Union (Blunt): 2 x Green Infantry, 1 x Veteran Cavalry, 1 x Trained Cavalry, 1 x Trained Artillery

Blunt's troops had to march to the sound of the guns. On any Union card, the Union force could assign a number of the activations to Blunt's command. At the end of ll activations I rolled a D6; if the score was equal to or less than the activations allocated, Blunt would move one 'space' close to the battle. He needed to move twice, at which point is troops could be placed on the edge of the battlefield (I allocated two entry squares) and units could enter via normal moves in subsequent activations.

The terrain and setup:


The Confederate line.


Herron's comand. I allowed the artillery to fire over woods and other troops at targets on a hill.


The Confederates pushed Marmaduke's cavalry forward to contain Herron whilst they bombarded his men with artillery.


Although some of the cavalry was lost, they badly mauled Herron's troops.


The Confederate artillery was especially effective.


Blunt's force arrived, just in time.


With a good run of initiative cards they pressed forward a bold attack.



The Confederates repulsed it, though


And their right flank, having finished off Herron's troop, turned on Blunt's flank.



At that point I called it. The Confederates had barely been troubled, whilst the Union were soundly beaten.


This is a tricky scenario to balance and for which to set objectives. The Union start with half of their troops off-table and yet, on the day, attacked the Confederate line quite fiercely. They were repulsed. As I recall the problem was that Herron thought he'd encountered only part of the Confederate army (rather than all of it), but in turn Hindman (the Confederate commander) thought he was facing the full Union force and behaved cautiously.

What I'll probably do is set those two grey houses as objectives with control of both giving the side a break-point bonus. But I may hamper Hindman's command ability util Bunt arrives; reduce his cards so that he doesn't get to activate too many units. This gives Herron a change to rush forward and maul his force even before the reinforcements arrive.

As for the changes, I'm beginning to find that whilst they look good on paper they don't do it for me in actual play. I will persevere with them and see how they go in other games.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Portable Shooting

In playing around with an ACW Portable Wargame setup I have been considering how to build in a little more depth with regard to how cover works. In the standard rules cover simply gives a -1 modifier to shooting or close combat, regardless of what it is. It would be possible to allow really strong fortifications to give a -2 modifier, but that's about as far as it could go. A shot normally only hits on a 5+ on a D6, So there's not a lot of leeway in terms of factor - an issue with the granularity of a D6 roll. What I wanted was three levels of cover - light (fences or just being uphill, which otherwise has no benefit in a purely shooting game), normal (woods or a settlement) or heavy (fortifications).

However once a shot hits there is a test to see if the target retreats or (in the version I'm playing with) is destroyed. In the basic game this is based on quality - it's 50/50 for a trained unit, with destruction being 66% for a green unit and only 33% for a veteran one (-1 and +1 to the roll, effectively). As recorded elsewhere in this blog I have used a method where the test for retreat/destruction is based on the unit's strength and quality. Units have a basic strength of  2 (Artillery), 3 (Cavalry) or 4 (Infantry), modified with a +1 if veteran and -1 if green. If you roll equal to or less than the modified strength the unit retreats, otherwise it is destroyed. I realised that there was scope for building the effects of cover into that test.

So here's what I'm currently working with. First roll to hit. You need a 5+ on a single D6.

+1 if at range 1 and shooting into the flank or rear of the target
+1 if the unit didn't move (cavalry or infantry)
+1 if artillery firing at the same square and target unit as its previous shot.

If the shot hits, then the target must roll to see what happens. Roll a D6

+2 if shaken (see below)
+1 if Green
-1 if Veteran
-1 if in light cover
-2 if in normal cover
-3 if in heavy cover

If the score is 0 or less then the unit stays where it is but becomes shaken.
If the score is less than the unit's base strength (2-4, depending on type), the unit retreats if it can.
If the score is more than the unit's strength then the unit is destroyed.

Adding the 'shaken' effect is the big change here. Simply use a marker of some kind. A unit which is already shaken simply stays shaken; there's no cumulative effect. If the unit is activated or retreats then the shaken status is immediately removed. Essentially the effect of being shaken is that further attacks on the unit are more likely to cause a retreat or destruction. So a unit in cover might need a couple of telling hits to oust them, and veteran units in fortifications will be exceptionally hard to shift.

Why add the shaken status at all? Well, I didn't want a shot that hits to result in any kind of 'No Effect' result. If you score a hit you should be rewarded with an advantageous result of some kind which you can then exploit. Shaken does this, even if you may have to plan how to exploit it carefully, or get lucky with your activation cards.

The nice thing with this mechanism is that modifiers can be applied either to the roll to hit or the roll for effect, depending on where you feel they are appropriate. For example I am thinking of penalising long-range artillery and infantry fire. Initially I thought a -1 to hit would work (and it still might), but a simple +1 on the effect would work too; the shot has the same chance of causing an effect, but the effect isn't as dangerous at longer range.

Anyway, I'm currently playing around with it and will see how it works out this weekend.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

The Other Civil War

I've started to feel I've got a bit bogged down in the ECW Portable Wargame recently, and maybe need to step back from it and stop fiddling. Get the written rules up to date, and then leave them for a little bit.

However I have a bit of a head of steam going on gridded games, so I thought it might be good to revisit some of the other things I've dabbled in over the years. I thought I'd get my ACW stuff out last night, and play around with a variant of the One Hour Wargames rules that came to me whilst I was out walking yesterday lunchtime. I played a couple of games and they kind of worked, and I even scribbled down a few notes on movement rates, ranges and how cover and terrain affected firing.

One feature of the OHW ACW rules is that there's no close combat; all combat is shooting. When I first started using the rules I found this a little dull, but further play has shown that it makes for some interesting decisions and tactical play. A unit can either move or shoot. If you decide to sit and shoot from a distance then you may get more shots in on the enemy, but your units may not necessarily be in the best position to exploit any openings you create. But spend too long moving into a better firing position and you may find your troops unable to stand up to the ensuing firefight. I certainly found this last night, with one side winning a local firefight, but then being too far away from where the focus of the battle had shifted in order to effectively exploit their advantage.


Anyway, after a couple of games I felt that I might have something worth writing up at some stage, but decided that the Portable Wargame was still my better bet for a gridded game. Although I did create my own heavily modified variant of it a few years ago ('Mighty Mean Fowt Fights') I thought that it might be interesting to go back to the 'original' rules as published in Bob's recent books and see what I could do with them.

I ended up playing two more games, starting with the Late 19th century rules from 'The Portable Wargame', and adapting and modifying them as I went along. And one aspect I played with was not having close combats. I've always found these a bit of a sticking point in the Portable Wargame, because of issues of balancing things like flank/rear attacks, how retreats work and even whether to engage in close combat or simply shoot in the first place. These are certainly areas I've struggled with in my ECW adaptation. The no close combat OHW approach works OK for the ACW; I simply had all combat as shooting. I did add in a flank/rear attack modifier - +1 to hit if shooting at a range of one into flank or rear - but this is harder to achieve since a unit can't generally get around an enemy flank and then shoot in a single activation, giving their opponent some chance to respond.

I'm rambling. Suffice to say I have some interesting ideas running around in my head, which I need to explore with some more games. For Portable Wargame fans, I used card-based activation and single hit kills. However on the latter I used my own method of the unit's strength and morale being the indicator of whether it retreats from a hit or is destroyed - so a strength 4 infantry unit retreats on a 4 or less, improving to a 5 or less if it is veteran.

I hope to get in a few more games over the next week or so and see what comes out of them.

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