Friday, August 30, 2019

A nostalgic review – Wargames Research Group (WRG) War Games Rules 1750-1850

I was poking through my stack of rules recently and came across my old dog-eared, battered copy of these rules.  The red paperback cover features truly amateurish sketches, a long stretch from the current hard cover coffee-table rules.
Back in the 70’s I had a lot of fun using these. They produced a game that had an elegant feel not seen in other rules since, though they had some distinct problems. They were a welcome change of pace after we went through a period playing Napoleonique. One reason the latter games were a pain to play was because we took rules aimed at a division per side and crammed three per side in Gerry’s basement in Brooklyn. Using way more troops than the game was designed to handle is often a bad idea. But we were young and had loads of figures.

The WRG rules were used on a table in Rick’s apartment with a reinforced division per side. We soon were able to play games at about 15 minutes per turn. Our games in the Napoleonic period worked well enough. Straying into the American Revolution yielded some strange results. Our one attempt at a South American War of Independence battle was hilarious but not a real game. We played a couple games based on my dim understanding of the 1848 Revolutions. These eventually led to the design of Junta. But that’s another tale.

The WRG rules were published in 1971 and like most rules of that period had a specific basing scheme for 25mm figures, 15mm per line infantry, 25mm per light infantry/heavy cavalry, 30mm per light cavalryman and 75mm for artillery sections. The scale was 10 paces to the inch, which led to artillery ranges of 120 to 150 inches and canister at 30 inches. Musket range was 12 inches. Artillery could fire clear across most tables, perhaps even hit people in the next room.

The turn sequence was: write orders, declare charges, simultaneous movement, resolve firing, resolve melees, resolve morale issues due to routs, losses, etc.

Firing and melee used a table similar to the one in the WRG Ancient rules. You cross-indexed the number of figures firing or fighting with the factor plus the die roll. Every 15 hits removed a figure. Critical to the system was the number of casualties per figure. Each one was a flinch point. There were others, like being flanked or having friends rout, etc. The unit with more flinch points than their enemy became disordered and backed up 3 inches per extra flinch, breaking if there were many. This made for some very interesting results. In many other rules, a unit is either following orders or has failed morale. Flinching a good distance away from the enemy wasn’t all that bad. Flinching while in close proximity left one open to being routed. This is what made the game. You could break a unit and all their nearby friends would flinch. If you had another unit in good order close at hand you could rout one of these on the next turn, causing the others to flinch again. Meanwhile your first attacking unit could rally and dress ranks. Three well-coordinated units could keep an attack going when all was well. Units ignored the routs of lesser friends, so having a better class unit in reserve was one way to break up such an attack. If you broke the cycle most of the routed units would rally. This gave a flavor I’ve not seen in other rules.

On the down side, the orders system was vague and liable to misuse. The points system, like most, was not all that great. Being young, we assumed that the semi-scientific name of the publishing group insured everything about the rules was scientific. Sure, right. Light infantry was the strongest thing in the game. Since they were based differently, we only used them in something resembling the correct proportions. But if you wanted to win, history be damned, the way to victory was to field all light infantry.

Deployed light infantry in open order could shoot cavalry charges into the ground. Trained and elite line infantry could do the same. Post 1783, infantry had to form square when cavalry arrived within charge distance. This had an incredible effect, slowing infantry attacks. Once a superior officer gave orders to advance, the infantry could form line and advance with loaded muskets on those foolish horsemen.

We tried the rules for the American Revolution. WRG said to rate American militia as poorly trained light infantry. In a straight firefight they could decimate line infantry. One of the few games of this saw poorly trained light dragoons ride down Tory militia. But it wasn’t until we put a South American game on the table that our eyes were opened. WRG said to field all units as poorly trained variants of European types. (These days I would disagree with that.) A game with numerous infantry and a reasonable amount of cavalry revealed that poorly trained infantry in the open was helpless against poorly trained cavalry. Within a couple turns most of the infantry on both sides had been chased off the table by the cavalry regiments present. I suspect the designers had used trained British and Sepoy troops against Indian Princely forces and found it working, more or less. I can’t believe they actually put a South American game on the table. The final blow against these rules came during a game of French levee-en-masse troops against a smaller force of trained troops. The rules handled a single column against a single line unit quite well. But two columns of conscripts against a single line unit could not be stopped. It was obvious this would also be true for trained troops, destroying the balance in our games. That put an end to using these rules.

Many other Napoleonic rules have the problem of the massed column phalanx. It moves faster than line and cannot be stopped. It is worthy of note that similar massed infantry formations failed at Waterloo and Albuera. In the latter case, Zayas’ Spanish troops held off twice their number of French veterans for two hours, until relieved by fresh British troops. And those massive formations were slower than lines.

Anyway, the games provided much entertainment until we came up against the limitations. Looking at the rules now, I note a certain lack of clarity. Some disorganized units must rally before they can advance against the enemy again. A good number don’t have to. Now that my age-acquired wisdom notices this sort of stuff, I can’t recall which units were disorganized by charging or pursuing or being in melee, and which were disorganized by seeing friends rout or moving through rough terrain or over an obstacle, etc. Ah, but while it was good, it was very good. It might have had a lot to do with being young.

Edit: the rules can be found here.

Friday, August 23, 2019

DBA: Huns, Franks and Romans

Last evening we played two DBA games. First up saw new recruit Carl take the all-mounted version of the Huns against my standard early Frankish army.

It turns out I made a rules error on the camp. Camp defenders and attackers use the factor against foot in all cases. I was looking at the close combat factors and this little gem was in the paragraph above that. Well, I’ll likely not make that error again. For sake of the narrative, perhaps the Huns had bribed someone in the camp to leave part of the barricade undefended. As Philip (Alexander’s dad) said, no city can count itself impregnable that has a postern gate large enough to admit an ass laden with gold.

After dinner with wine and conversation, the second game saw Rick take Attila’s Huns against Andrew’s Western Patrician Romans.

I managed not to make any critical rules errors in this game. One of Andrew’s cataphract units pretty much won the battle by the simple expedient of rolling high dice several times in a row, after other Roman units had made a less than stellar start.

Edit: I goofed here too: Attila could retreat some distance before hitting the friends who were not facing exactly the same direction. If they started out in such contact they could not recoil. Good thing I have the Fanaticus website to check out rules interpretations.

I must sometime play against the Franks so their pretty shields get into the photos.

Next game will be September 5, and then a hiatus until sometime in October.  

Friday, August 9, 2019

DBA: Huns vs. Franks

The Fencibles had an abbreviated session last night. Many were away and one was detained by a serious family emergency. We wish his family well. Andrew appeared, having just dodged a strong storm on his way in. The storm dispersed a large concert at the nearby amphitheater. After dinner Andrew and I decided to have the Huns meet the Franks. He opted for the Franks but I thought since this was only his second DBA game he should have the Huns, who are a tough customer for the Franks.

A die roll determined that the foolish Franks had wandered into the steppes. I decided to form up around my camp, using the lone bad going gully to protect my front.

A note on the Hun horse archers: don’t look at what direction the horses are facing. The direction the archers are shooting is the front of the unit. Many are aiming the “Parthian” shot over the rear of their horses.

The Franks can only kill light horse when they flank them or the light horse don’t have room to recoil or retreat. Doubling them just makes them flee, whereas doubled warriors die. If the Huns had paid more attention to their flanks the game would not have been so close. Andrew did well for his second game of DBA and the first with quicksilver horse archers.

Edit: here is the brand new and so far unused Fort Toothpick:

Edit 2: One of the chaps on the Fanaticus DBA website noted that my Frankish army should have had a cavalry general rather a knight general. It was my error reading the army list. A cavalry general would have been more to my liking. Oh well, next time...

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Vendee Rebels completed

The Lancashire Vendee Rebels have been painted, varnished (gloss and matte) and based. Here they are, with their older Minifigs/GFI mates. A couple units of Blue Moon settler militia have been added as possible skirmish units. The skirmishers in the Vendee seem to have been taller, 18mm instead of the regular 15mm. This force, taken as normal units, would total 29 points as per the following list.

1 large unit of "Natives"  5 points
5 units of "Natives"         4 points each
2 units of  skirmishers     2 points each
total                               29 points

The "Native" troop type is fast, not great at shooting but tough in a hand-to-hand fight. This seems to represent the peasants of the Vendee, with their superior local knowledge of terrain, their mix of muskets, pikes and farm implements and their elan. I think this is a better troop type for them than the intended North American woodland Indians, often depicted in cinema and some war games as ferocious with tomahawks but poor shooters. The skirmisher troop type is a better depiction of the way they are said to have fought in historical accounts of period battles. But I digress. Some time in October we'll see how the Vendee "Natives" fare in the hedges of the bocage. And now for the Royalist Rebel peasants:

Thursday will see a rash of DBA games based on the swan song of the western Roman Empire. Stay tuned.