Sunday, 6 May 2012

Guns For Pancho Villa!

And with that title I reveal the subject of yesterday's teaser. Read on ...


It's strange how one thing leads to another sometimes. As I posted last week, I was browsing The Junior General  looking for some figures for a project I've had rattling around inside my head for the last couple of years. It's one of those things I'd like to try out before I invest in any figures, so I was looking for some top-down bases I could use just to try out concepts with. At the same time I was reading archived posts on Bob Cordery's blog Wargaming Miscellany and was impressed with his use of simple (and very retro) rules, often using a square or hex grid. My project needed some rules and it came to me that some of the ones he used, and makes available, might work. The advantage of simple rules is that they can be tweaked and adapted to fit particular conflicts.

So I had my figures, and I possibly had some rules. But I wanted to try out the rules and, since this project is what we shall charitably call 'alternate history' I decided to try whatever set I selected on an historical conflict first. And the thing with The Junior General is that there are paper figures for more conflicts than you can shake a stick at.

I selected one I'd had on my To Do list for about ten years - The Mexican Revolution of 1910-20. It has some elements in common with the project I'm working on, and similar technology, so would give me a test-bed. But since it was a conflict I'd always wanted to game, I would get satisfaction just from the testing. The Junior General has a comprehensive selection of figures available for it - you can find then HERE.

During the week I set about constructing two forces, firstly importing figures into Photoshop for rescaling to 15mm, then printing them out, cutting them up and basing them. I had settled on the idea of using a set of rules based on a square grid, so I marked up some cork bathroom tiles accordingly to give me a battlefield 20 squares by 15. I felt that this would be adequate for my games. Terrain was either sourced from my existing collection or manufactured from more cork tiles. You can see the results in the previous post to this one.

I also immersed myself in some of the history via the obligatory Osprey book, plus a number of magazine and journal articles I have printed off over the years. I have started rereading Frank McLynn's 'Villa and Zapata'.

The Rules

The rules used were Bob Cordery's adaptation of Morschauser's modern rules - they can be found at the bottom of this page - in fact here they are. However after trying a few test combats and sample turns I fiddled with them somewhat. Here's what I did:

(i) I changed the initiative system, as I didn't want to mess around with cards. Each turn both sides roll a dice, and the highest has initiative. They can choose if they want to go first or second. The player with initiative can activate one unit. They then roll a dice. On a 4 or more they must activate another unit. They keep activating units until they fail to roll a 4 or more, at which point play shifts to the other player. They activate one unit for free, then roll to activate another, doing so until they fail activation. Once that happens play passes back to the first player, and so on. Activation swaps backwards and forwards between the players until all units have been activated. If a player runs out of units, initiative passes to the other player, who activates the remainder of their units in any order they choose.

Example: Player 1 has units A, B and C. Player 2 has units X, Y and Z. Player 1 wins initiative and decides to act first. They choose to move unit A, then roll a dice. They get a 3, so initiative passes to Player 2. Player 2 moves unit X, then rolls a dice getting a 5. Player 2 now activates unit Y. Rolling again they get a 1, so initiative passes back to Player 1, who can activate either B or C. This continues until all six units have been activated.

(ii) I reversed Close Combat Power, so higher numbers are better. This seemed more intuitive. To score a hit you roll equal to or less than your Power. Anything with a Power of 3 is now 4, whereas those units with Power of 5 now have a Power of 2.

I also gave cavalry the ability to fire - 1 square range, hitting on a 6.

(iii) I limited what a unit could do when activated. When a unit is activated it may move then fire, fire then move, or move then initiate close combat. You may not fire and initiate close combat in the same activation. Artillery and Machine Guns cannot initiate close combat. You also can't initiate close combat on a unit in terrain you can't enter.

(iv) I ran fire combat saves as a modified die roll rather than a table. For each hit roll a dice - on a 6 or more you save, on a 5 you must retreat one space from the firer. If you can't retreat take a kill. If a friendly unit is in the way of a retreat you pass through it to the first vacant square beyond.

The roll is modified - +1 if you are in soft cover, +2 if you are in hard cover and +1 if the firer is firing at over half range.

(v) I altere close combat as described above. The number of close combat dice rolled is determined as in the rules, but you roll equal to or less than your Combat Power to score a kill. Subtract 1 from your power if the target is uphill and subtract 1 if the target is in hard cover. Soft cover doesn't affect close combat - it generally just makes the target harder to see, and in close combat that's irrelevant.

If the defender (the unit that didn't initiate the combat) takes more casualties than the attacker, then they must retreat one space away from the attacker. The attacker is allowed to occupy the space the defended vacated.

The Figures

I decided to start my foray into the Mexican Revolution by starting at the beginning, so I used figures from the Maderista and Porfirista sheets, which cover the battles of 1910-11. The size of my tile-based playing area limited the size of my grid; to maximise its use I went for 3cm squares. This meant basing all of the figures on 3cm square bases or smaller. Junior General figures are, usually, about 25mm in size, which would be too big, so I used Photoshop Elements to rescale the ones I was using to about 15mm in height. This allowed me to use a standard 25mm square base with four infantry figures, two cavalry or one gun/machine gun and crew. Officers would be on smaller bases which allowed me to use them as bases in their own right or attach them to other bases - since I wasn't sure at this stage precisely which rules I would be using I wanted some flexibility.

The results are rough and ready, but usable. In under a week, with minimal effort and virtually no financial outlay I have produced about six cavalry and ten infantry bases for both sides, plus supporting artillery and machine-guns; more than enough to try some basic games.

Here are some of them. Firstly the Maderista revolutionaries:

And the Federal troops of Porfirio Diaz:

The Scenario

It is 1911. Maderista revolutionaries are fighting the forces of Porfirio Diaz across northern Mexico. They are enthusiastic, but always short of good quality arms and ammunition. Word reaches one group that a local hacienda is well stocked with weapons, so a force is sent to capture them. However the owners of the hacienda get wind of what is afoot, and telegraph for assistance from the Federal forces.

The board was set up as follows:

The buildings are the hacienda, and are hard cover. The fields slow movement and do not block line of sight, but the ditches and fences in them count as soft cover to infantry and machine guns. The hills slow movement if entering them from a lower elevation, and give a bonus in close combat. The chaparral counts as soft cover, blocks line of sight and is impassable to cavalry.

The Maderistas have:

Three units of Cavalry (each Strength 3)
Three units of Infantry (each Strength 4, but with firing limited to a range of 4 to reflect their poorer weapons)

They enter on the first turn at the top of the picture.

The hacienda is defended by:

One unit of Infantry (Strength 3)
One Machine Gun (Strength 3)

They may start in any building.

Federal reinforcements consist of:

Four units of Cavalry (each Strength 3)
Three units of Infantry (each Strength 3, representing low morale troops)
One Machine Gun

These enter on the lower edge of the board. At the end of each turn the Federals roll a dice. On a 5 or 6 the cavalry appear, ready to be activated on the next turn. At the end of any turn after that on which the cavalry appear, a 5 or 6 will bring on the infantry and machine gun.

The Maderistas must take the main building of the hacienda. They capture one lot of supplies, up to a maximum of three, for each full turn they are in undisputed possession of the building. They may then withdraw off their starting edge.

The Game

Soundtrack: The second Mariachi El Bronx album.

Here's the initial setup. The hacienda defenders are in position, whilst the Maderista infantry advances using the cover of a hill. The Maderista cavalry covers the flanks (one unit is out of shot to the right):.

Turn 1 - The Maderistas get the initiative, but force the Federals to go first. Their two units are obliged to activate with no targets in sight or range. The Maderistas then advance, but their fire has no effect.

Turn 2 - The Federals get the initiative, and open fire on the Maderista infantry inflicting heavy casualties. Return fire inflicts a hit on the machine gun.

Here's the position at the end of the second turn. The small pieces of cork tile on the bases represent hits.

Turn 3 - The Maderistsa get the initiative. One of their infantry units moves into the fields flanking the hacienda, and their accurate fire at close range wipes out the defending infantry unit. Maderista infantry and the Federal machine gun exchange fire to little effect.

In this picture you can see the Maderista infantry attacking the hacienda from the fields:

Turn 4 - The Maderistas get the initiative, and use it to finish off the machine gun, then occupy the hacienda. There is still no sign of the Federal reinforcements.

Turn 5 - The Maderistas start looting the hacienda.

Turn 6 - The looting continues, but the Federal cavalry arrive:

Turn 7 - The Federals get the initiative, and attack the Maderista cavalry, destroying a unit with a fierce charge. The other Maderista cavalry unit on that flank makes a run for it:

The Maderistas finish looting the hacienda; they can now attempt to withdraw. But the Federal infantry also appear.

Turn 8 - The Maderistas win the initiative, and start to fall back, pursued by the Federal troops:

The Federal infantry - have they arrived too late to save the day?

Turn 9 - The Maderistas win the initiative, and continue their retreat, but their weakened infantry units are seriously threatened by the Federal cavalry:

Turn 10 - The Federals win the initiative, and press home their cavalry advantage:

One Maderista unit is attacked, but manages to retreat to the relative safety of the hill. Other units fall back, but the Federals are pressing them closely. Undamaged units hold back to help the damaged ones get off safely:

Turn 11 - The Federals win initiative again, and get their machine gun into position:

On the other flank the Federal cavalry drives off their Maderista opposite number, but fail to prevent the infantry retreating:

Turn 12 - The Maderistas win initiative, and their last units retreat to safety, ending the game.

The Maderistas lost two cavalry units, and had two infantry units badly shot up. The Federal cavalry took a small number of hits, but otherwise the only Federal losses the defenders of the hacienda. However the hacienda was successfully looted, so the Maderistas could claim a victory.

The Federal infantry remained unblooded, having not managed to fire a shot, but their cavalry did a good job in almost preventing the retreat.

The rules worked well, and were simple to use, giving a quick (under an hour) fun game. I'm not entirely sure I like the close combat mechanism, and may rework it to be something close to the firing process.

Big thank yous to John Gypson for his paper figures, and to Bob Cordery for the simple, but effective rules.


  1. Really enjoyed that report. It just goes to show that you don't need a 200 page rule book to be able to have an enjoyable game.

    The Paper Soldiers look excellent!

  2. Nice work and a very interesting report. I've been toying with the idea of paper for everything, especially since I can't seem to bring myself to paint.


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