Monday, November 30, 2020

Book Review: The British Are Coming

I’ve recently finished reading Rick Atkinson’s “The British are Coming”, volume 1 of his planned trilogy on the American Revolution. I’ve read his Liberation Trilogy about the US Army in the ETO during WWII and was pleased with that. I like this too and await his next volume.
Atkinson has a number of details that I’ve missed in other accounts, like British General Clinton’s talented violin playing, or the full story of the attempted attack by Bushnell’s early submarine "Turtle" in New York harbor. You can see the maps and illustrations here.  The maps are not the detailed tactical maps that we gamers crave, but they do give a better idea of the operational situation than usual in books about this war.
I like the illustrations, which include a number of telling portraits of the principal characters.
'Brigadier Hugh Earl Percy, son of a duke, led a brigade from Boston to reinforce the battered British regulars retreating from Concord. “I had the happiness,” he told his father, “of saving them from inevitable destruction.” '

I got my copy from the local library. If you’re interested in this war, I recommend it. He doesn’t spend that much time on the causes of the war. For more on that topic, I heartily suggest Fred Anderson’s “Crucible of War”. This excellent history of the French and Indian War concludes with the best explanation of the break between Great Britain and the American colonies I’ve read.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Eutaw Springs 1781 III, Loose Files

One more time… this is the last Eutaw Springs game and the last Loose Files game for this year. The game ended in a complete surprise to me but I much prefer this version of the rules. I used Andy Callan’s “Paperboys Peninsular War Rules” to determine who fights in combat and how multiple unit combats are divided up. I junked the vague reference to orders a while back. Last, I tried the card activation method from the Paperboys rules. Each side has three cards in the deck, 3 red (for the British) and 3 black for the Yanks. Your first card is when you fire, the second card is when your cavalry moves, the third card is when your infantry and artillery move. Leaders can move on any card. Combat is resolved at the end of each movement phase.  Retreats and routs are done immediately after combat. After all cards are done, both sides rally. It works well. I suggest yellow markers to show a unit can't move for a turn and red for routs.

 This time the deployment photo is behind the British. It must have given them a rush, for their dice were hot. And I bungled the Americans.

Lee’s Legion will fall back, about face and move back a little. If you pull troops out of the line to reorganize, take them all the way out. Taught myself a lesson. Pickens and Malmedy both were disorganized by musket fire and decide to fall back through the regulars.

The Maryland Continentals moved forward to cover the militia and were met by a blast of fire. They about-faced and started to move off. The British wanted to charge but could not fire and move in the same turn.

But on the next turn the British infantry move card came up first. The 3rd Foot could not fire since Williams had moved out of range, but the movement dice allowed them to charge and hit the badly disorganized Marylanders in the rear. Ouch.

On the American right, the 64th Foot charged and caught Lee’s Legion Foot reorganizing, facing the wrong way. As stated earlier, they should have fallen back further to rally. Instead they were routed. In these rules, good units routing cause infectious disorder and desertion among friends within 6”. Almost everyone who wasn’t within 6” of the Maryland rout were within 6” of Lee’s Legion. It was over. The army was a wreck.

It took about 90 minutes to play 5 turns. American losses were extremely high, 21 stands of infantry and 3 of cavalry, about 414. Many of these were either prisoners or troops who bolted due to panic. British losses? One stand of infantry in the first fight with Lee’s legion Foot. Taking into account the 400 British foragers snapped up before the battle, both sides were even but the repulse was humiliating.


In spite of this I was quite pleased with the way the rules worked. The card system removes any possible problems arising from simultaneous movement. If you’ve played such in the past, you know; “if you do this then I do that”. I recall some dreadful rows about such things. This is way better. Your card comes up, put up or shut up. Having the cavalry move on their own card makes coordination much harder. I might steal one more thing from the Paperboys rules: troops are only affected by the retreat of their own arms. So, infantry think nothing of cavalry clattering past to the rear and vice versa. But when your own sort gives way, look out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Eutaw Springs II via Loose Files AAR


My last solo run of this battle got the following comment from Jeffers,

“The Firing rules confuse a lot of people. It is meant to represent long range fire only, basically long-range pot shots. Close Combat is not melee or hand to hand: it includes close range firing. It’s better to get stuck in sometimes as good quality troops will easily shake off this nonsense; close combat has a good chance of causing damage, even if you lose.”


It being well over a decade since we last used Loose Files, I decided to try the battle again with this in mind. I also put Pickens and Marion in as unit leaders (a scenario rule), and based on Novack’s OB gave the Americans a section of light artillery. A deployment map was discovered that showed Lee’s Legion foot deployed next to Marion’s militia, so that was done too. A number of events interfered with the game as will be seen below. But Jeffers’ comments were worthy of note.


Deployment and opening moves follow. 

Previously I thought Loose Files needed a few house rules. Now I think it needs clarity. Who is in combat, especially when units are different sizes in a game of linear formations? And when more than one per side is involved, what are the losses? In the case below, Marion and Lee’s Legion Foot attacked the 64th and supporting artillery. Marion’s left was within 4” (combat range) of the Loyalists. So, I included that whole unit, which skewed the odds heavily against Marion and Lee. The result was an easy victory for the Crown, get 1 DP. I gave both infantry units and the artillery section 1 DP each. The defeated loser gets 2 DPs and loses 2 casualties. Applied to both losing units, that was 4 DPs and 4 casualties. I wonder if the winners should get 1 DP only and the losers 2 DPS and casualties only. Hmm.

Pickens was hit but his boys proved that they had what it takes. 

Another lesson: don’t let enemy artillery approach to within canister range. The Loyalists are about to get hosed. 


Stuart rallied off some DPs from the Loyalists but the artillery put them right back. The Loyalists were losing troops to the canister fire and had 5 DPs, the maximum. They went about and headed back into the camp looking for a respite.

At the end of the 6th turn Pickens’ boys finally threw in the towel. Both they and the 3rd Foot were a wreck, with 5 DPs and numerous casualties. If Washington’s Dragoons had been in support instead of wandering around changing formation and such… Williams’ Maryland Continentals were trading long range fire with Marjoribanks’ elite companies and both handing out DPs to each other. Malmedy’s NC Militia attacked the Loyalists from the rear and were held. But later on, I realized that the Loyalists also had two casualties that should have been part of the combat calculation. Instead of a stand-off, it should have been a success or even an easy victory for the militia. An easy victory would have seen the militia 
pursue into the camp and very likely start looting.


I had stopped the game after turn 5 to prepare dinner, a grilled ribeye, roasted veggies, Bordeaux and my wife’s company. During turn 6, a dear friend called, upset over the state of the nation. It took a while to calm him. Can’t blame him.


That’s my excuse for making the combat error. Looking at it today, I didn’t have the will to figure out what to do about the error to continue and decided to write this up instead. The British center is like Swiss cheese at this point. If Campbell’s Virginia Continentals can double-time without getting too disordered, they could smash the center wide open. Again, if Washington’s Dragoons hadn’t been fiddling around. Would-a, could-a, should-a…


I played 6 turns in about 90 minutes or so, not counting the breaks for dinner and phone call. Crown losses so far were 5 stands of regulars, 3 of Loyalists, about 144 troops. Continental losses were 4 regulars, 8 militia and 2 cavalry, about 240. I really have to have a game of this whenever we get back to face to face gaming.


Again, I now feel the game needs fewer house rules and more house interpretations of the rules as written. Who is engaged in combat? And how are the penalties shared among multi-unit combats? I’ve already dispensed with orders, since they were mentioned one time and never defined. And threw out the cavalry changing speeds. The infantry doesn’t have to plan a turn in advance to attack, why should the cavalry? As it is, whenever I move cavalry, they roll a 2 and pick up disorder. Nothing in the rules, the dice gods just know.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

USS Cairo, City Class Ironclad

This ship (pronounced Kay-Row) was an early ironclad, one of “Pook’s Turtles”. It saw action at the US capture of Fort Pillow and was later sunk by a mine at the start of the Haines Bluff expedition. At the time of the sinking the water was low. The top of the ship remained above water and none of the crew was seriously hurt. It was discovered in 1956 and over the years salvaged, repaired and opened as a museum at the Vicksburg National Military Park. I visited it in 2016 with my wife and rediscovered the photos recently while transferring data from my old Windows 7 PC to the new Windows 10 (sigh) PC.


These armored boxes on wooden hulls were the terror of the rivers in the heartland. Civil War buffs and fans of steam punk might appreciate a look at the ship. Here is the bow, from starboard and then port.

A Yankee tourist posing by the port guns. I suppose damyankee is one word.

The internal paddle wheels.

And for the die-hard steam-punk fans, the engines.

The starboard armor.

It was quite impressive. One of only 4 surviving Civil War ironclads and as far as I know, the best preserved. I planned to visit the CSS Neuse until discovering that only the keel and ribs remain, no armor, no guns.

Edit: a great video about this gunboat here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Eutaw Spings 1781 AAR via Loose Files & American Scramble


Yesterday I tried out my Eutaw Springs scenario. It didn’t go as expected. While editing the photos, I mistakenly labeled the British commander as Rawdon. Oops. It was Stuart. Too late now for the photos. The deployment and opening moves follow. 

All the militia brigades were badly shot up. The British dice were better and the artillery at close range kept putting disorder points (DPs) on them. 3rd class troops (experienced militia and green regulars) cannot rally away DPs on their own. Their DPs rapidly built up to a dangerous level. Pickens turned and retreated in the nick of time. Marion waited too long.

And then on the 9th turn Greene was hit. The only Whig officer was down. Very soon after, Stuart had to roll on the risk to general table and escaped when a ball went through his cocked hat. (A house rule. Following the rules as written he would have a light wound.)

What game is complete without a cavalry charge? It led to dead horses.

It was a clear British victory, superior to the actual bloody muddle that saw the British recapture their camp from looting Americans in the actual battle. The game took slightly over 2 hours to play 12 turns. One reason it went so quickly was the British did nothing but shoot, the only movement by Stuart as he rode along the lines, rallying off the odd DP now and then.

Continentals losses (from 67 stands), 2 Continental infantry, 6 militia (another 4 ran away) and 1 cavalry stand (Lee’s Legion). My house rules for officer casualties determined that Greene was out of action for 6 weeks. British losses were negligible; that is, none, aside from Stuart’s cocked hat. American losses would be from 380 – 760 depending on if you count a removed stand as all lost or as half losses, half people helping wounded friends to the rear.

I agree that the heaviest losses in this (and most) periods occur when troops turn their backs and run while in close proximity to the enemy. But I have noted in the past that musket fire causes none in these rules until the DP level is high. Most of the British DPs were on Marjoribanks’ elite battalion, which was able to rally away 2 every turn as long as they stood still. Elite as they are, they aren’t bullet-proof. I am considering allowing 3 DP hits in a single attack to be converted into one stand lost and a DP. If that were the case Crown forces would have lost at least 3 stands even though they never got close to a dangerous DP level on any one unit.  


Units are only forced to retreat or rout by close combat, not by fire alone. Perhaps a unit that has more DPs than surviving stands should retreat in the same phase as units losing close combats. A unit with twice as many DPs routs. Last, the rules about cavalry changing speed is interesting to read but an extra thing in practice. I intend to junk it and allow cavalry to gallop from a standing start. It is simpler.


I really like the Loose Files rules and merely seek to make them clearer without making them more complex – easier to say than to do. I know the British Grenadier rules are based on Loose Files but I suspect they added a layer of complexity. I need to redo my QRS and put it in turn sequence order.


Now, on to correcting my scenario. Perhaps exceptional unit leaders should be represented. Pickens and Marion are two that come to mind. They stay with their units but can rally off a DP each turn. They are also liable to being hit like normal leaders. Nothing can be done about the British dice, which weren’t hot so much as the Continental dice were cold as ice unless shooting at the bullet-proof elites.


Further cogitation is required…

PS the new release of Blogger has some good things and some bad. If you load a group of photos the order is reversed, meaning you have to do one at a time. Previously thumbnails didn't impinge on the stuff on the right hand side of the screen. Now it does. If anyone knows how to gripe to the designers, please let me know.