“Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it” - Napoleon
Wargaming for grownups
- Capture the period flavour of the WSS
- Be readily playable by a toy soldier novice
- Be quick and simple, with a result in 3 hours
Looks easy, but I think that's quite a difficult ask. The rules we played were in quite good shape due t the previous playtest with Phil, but I was aware bits were still missing (command and control is rudimentary to say the least) and I had to rely on being able to gloss over the shortfalls or just make stuff up on the spot.
Gary and I decided on the scenery between us. I had no scenario in mind, other than an encounter battle. At this point Gary confessed he hadn't got to the bits about the fighting yet in the book, so I filled him in on the basics of early 18th century West European Warfare.
Gary got the Anglo Dutch, - to the left of the picture, - and I got the French. I put my chaps out first, and then put the kettle on whilst Gary sorted out his deployments. He went for a strong left and right wing with a gap in the middle covered by cavalry. I tried to deploy in several mutually supporting lines of infantry and cavalry.
First off we both advanced. Here's Gary getting used to measuring things with a tape measure.
Gary had a lot of cavalry in the middle in march column. He moved it forwards quite aggressively. I warned him about not allowing enough space to deploy. Like he'd done in "Ney vs Wellington".
My army has shaken out into rows, and it looks quite...."Marlburian", if a French Army can ever be that. Gary has pushed his cavalry quite far forwards....
.... and then, scared by my foot, he about faced and ran away. On his left, Gary has set up all his guns in a big battery, and is lining up to make a defensive corner behind the stream.
And on the other wing he's setting up a defensive line on the hill top. He's covered his flank with a couple of units of cavalry.
Meanwhile my infantry are making a brave showing in the centre, supported by my cavalry. It's all looking good.
The Anglo Dutch cavalry continues to flee before our advance. Perhaps my opponent is drawing me into a trap.
Gary finally unleashes his cavalry straight into the front of some formed infantry. A devastating volley brings them to a halt.
My cavalry then sweep past to exploit the gap that is opening up.
On my right, having softened them up with some artillery and musket fire, my cavalry punches a hole through the Anglo Dutch Infantry line. Alas, the cavalry may have gone too far. What do the pursuit phase rules say? Oh, I haven't written them yet.....
As I press forwards in the centre the issue with the game sequence becomes clear. You can't fire the turn you step into range, so end up getting blasted by your stationary opponent. This needs looking at (although, as we all know, by the 1740s the accepted tactic was to make your opponent fire first).
It is all looking jolly splendid. I'm on the attack everywhere, but a lot of my stuff is looking a bit ragged. And I'm running out of cavalry as it chases off its opponents.
Not so short that I can't take a chance on over running some infantry trying to cross a marshy brook, however.
Over on my right I deem it time to start pressing my opponent a bit. My troops advance from the village, and I move cavalry up in support.
On my left my single unit of cavalry has seen off one of Gary's, but is in no fit state to face his fresh reserves. Sensing my weakness, the Anglo Dutch have started to advance from their hill top position. My artillery on this flank, by the way, didn't hit a thing all game, pretty much. However, I sense the opening of an internal flank on my left, so I swing some of my centre cavalry across to exploit it.
As predicted my left flank cavalry are off towards the table edge, helter-skelter fashion. By the way, that's a square just to the right of the hill. There's a problem with 3 element units in this period.
In the centre Gary is trying to charge infantry frontally again, after he saw it work for me.
A coordinated infantry and cavalry attack lets me get to grips with the Dutch infantry at the base of the hill.
On the right centre Gary is trying to get some forces in place to cover the return of my pursuing cavalry.
I break the Dutch infantry on the left, who flee up and over the hill. Gary manages to get his other foot out of the way in time to stop it all turning into a rout.
I'm pressing forwards everywhere, but I'm light on reserves now. On my left there's some cavalry out of the picture about to cause me some grief.
On the right two infantry battalions have finally closed and their melee is swaying backwards and forwards.
This the position when we finished the game. I've cracked the centre with my infantry, but have too little cavalry to exploit this. I've got nothing to cover the cavalry on my left, which has over run my guns. On the right I have the initiative, but I'm outnumbered. If the Anglo Dutch infantry sort themselves out I've got problems.
So, how did I get on with my three aims?
Well, it looked like a WSS battle. Phil popped in part way though and agreed on this point, so that's not a bad start. The way we set up and fought didn't give me much chance to test the rules allowing cavalry to fight & recover behind infantry. Units degraded more quickly than I might have liked, and artillery, in Gary's case, turned out to be more powerful than I would have liked.
Gary got to grips with it quickly, and his problems were what to do with his army, not understanding the rules. So, big tick there.
Finally, it took us 5-6 hours to get this far, with a break for lunch & drinks. So, more than the three hours, although part of that was because it was a new rules system.
Good progress I reckon. Areas of the rules need to be looked at, and I think my attempt to get Neil Thomas simplicity has to go. I want flavour in more areas and perhaps it's just a type of rules I can't write.
I wonder if I can get the re-write done before Monday?
As you can see we were well supplied with appropriate levels of Socialist refreshments and all had suitable hats. At the head of the table Chris K was "The Great Leader". To his right is Nick, playing the Dear Son, effective foreign secretary. Phil is to his right, as defence secretary. Chris A is to his left, and he's head of intelligence. I was head of the committee that investigated traitors and corruption and was also the umpire.
This game was organised by John, a friend we all know through WD, who runs great free kriegspiel type committee games like no one else. This gamewas based on the North Korean seizure of the USS Pueblo in 1968. Historically this did not end well for the US. It was a massive humiliation and a major intelligence failure in that masses of top secret and, for the time, modern surveillance and encryption equipment fell into the hands of the North Koreans and their allies.
The set up of the game took a while. As we had four locations, - see last blog for details, - communications was key. As the mobile phone is ubiquitous (except for The Great Leader, who won't have one), text messaging is a central part of the game, and is how the foreign ministers of the various countries communicate, how intelligence is disseminated to the teams by the umpires, and how the actions of the teams are coordinated through the local liaison umpires. Together with Skype, which enabled a multi-location telephone conference for briefing and debrief, this enables a unique type of game to take place without the need for umpires scurrying between teams.
After the briefing we all had a chance to work out our aims before the game started. In reality it was 3 games, one each in Holborn, Sheffield and Shedquarters with a plumpire in Scotland. The games overlapped but also ran separately. In other circumstances I guess you would play the USA & South Korea, with the other reams reflected by umpire input, but this way drives the game with maximum player input and involvement.
In truth being the North Koreans may have been the easiest hand of the lot. If no one rumbled that our air defences were weak, that our armoured brigades were a bit shoddy, and we needed support from both China & the Soviets without giving up sovereignty we'd be okay. If you look at the original crisis the North Koreans play a deeply cynical yet perfect game. The USA has the biggest problems to solve, - after all, they're fighting the Vietnam War as well.
John altered the sequence of events, so we had the discretion to launch the Blue House Raid when we wanted. Historically this happened before the capture of the Pueblo, but in game terms it worked well that we could do it afterwards. Of course we did, and again failed to kill the South Korean President and some of the hit squad got captured This gave the US hostages to trade for their guys on the Pueblo. We denied any connection, and argued they were South Korean dissidents.
The US then tried to destroy the Pueblo with an air-strike. We shot off a lot of our SAMs, and managed to shoot down an aircraft. They also missed the Pueblo. Notwithstanding the failure, I reckon this was not a bad idea.
We were then desperate to rebuild our arsenal, and traded access to the Pueblo for more SAMs and "Tractor Parts" from both the Soviets and the Chinese. No problem that we discovered after the game that the Soviet SAMs don't work. We also held off both the Chinese and the Soviet from getting bases in North Korea (interestingly, the Russians thought we'd given in on this point. We just said we'd think about it, and then ignored further references. We have the texts to prove it.)
At the end I think we'd done really well. We certainly had an interesting game.
As for me...well I was a CIA mole as well, and spent half the game texting "game updates" to my CIA handler. Some turns there was nothing to say, so I just made stuff up. I did, however, manage to cast a lot of suspicion on the "Dear Son" and convince the Great Leader that the head of defence was staging a coup. I did get him to swap them in their jobs as a preliminary to me being promoted, but we ran out of time.
I could go on, but that's enough to give a flavour of the game. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
So the rules have been out with a couple of people for comment, and the feedback has been very helpful. I've also taken the radical step of reading some books on the subject. This has proved to be quite illuminating, as it seems my memory isn't quite what it was. It seems that my recollections of the research I did for the Seven Years War when I was a student has crossed over a bit with the WSS, and rather contaminated the knowledge pool.
So, a few revisions required. Nothing that requires me to change the core mechanism, which looks remarkably robust. I like games to have unifying mechanisms. I'm not a great fan of, for example, using dice for shooting, cards for melee and dominoes for movement.
The challenge is to produce a quick playing interesting game where lines of infantry blazing at one another doesn't become dull, and you can capture some of the key battlefield tactics. The way cavalry retires behind infantry and reforms at Blenheim is important, and most writers stress the way Marlborough, and also Eugene and Tallard, tried to produce an all arms battle.
All the time the need is to keep this clear and straight forward. I was hoping for two pages of A4, but I'm up to five. Some of that is the introductory stuff about unit basing and so on, and I tend to be generous with the white space and size of print to make them readable.
Some times it is complicated to make things simple.
Anyhow, they need to be put on one side for the moment, as they're not being used to Monday, when my board gaming buddy is coming over for a day of figure gaming. Before then we've got a multi-location telephone game of the Pueblo Crisis.
We've got the Soviet Union in Sheffield, China in Stirling, South Korea and the USA in London, and North Korea in Shedquarters.
We've tested the comms this afternoon and it's all looking good.
Which strangely enough, proved to be simpler than expected.
It also had some rules I didn't quite grasp in terms of their significance at the start. I needed time to sit and look at the counters and the map with the rules for a few hours before playing, instead of being stuck in a hotel in Belfast.
This was a first time play for it. Like a number of games in Gary's collection it was mint & unpunched.
I am finding the counters a bit fiddly for my aged fifty plus fingers now, especially once we get stacks of counters attacking en masse. I think I was doing okay when we had to finish.
Gary remarked that he had a few (?) games from the Marlburian period - I had quite a good one on Blenheim I recall, back in the day - and I , noticing he had acquired a copy of Henry Hyde's Wargamers Companion, suggested we could do a table top WSS game for our next meet up in Shedquarters.
(Little by little we will turn Gary into a toy soldier man. Partly because the game units are less fiddly than cardboard counters. And also because it is easier to tell what units are if there are actually models of them on the table.)
Well, Gary says that's a good idea as long as I send him the rules beforehand. Of course, says I. It then occurs to me when driving home that I've never actually written a set of WSS rules. All I've got on my shelves suitable for the period are Black Powder and the rules Richard L was writing that I seem to have lost. So, technically, they're not on my shelves at all.
Light bulb moment. WSS is my project for the next COW. Fast (ish) play rule for my 20mm plastics. And I need a working prototype for the end of February.
No problem. A few ideas came to me whilst I was driving home, and some others whilst I was asleep. I've decided not to go "squared" this time, so that will present some challenges as I haven't done that for a while, so that'll be refreshing to try. An hour or two on Sunday was all it took to get most of my ideas straight. The core mechanisms are in place, capturing the ideas I want, I just now need to sort the fine detail.
I also need some more units. Alas it seems that Airfix Washington's Army are now very rare, and are going for silly money on ebay. Anyone who knows me - if you have any in an old box, regardless of paint condition, let me know.
Phil was able come over for a play test this afternoon. It was a fairly gentle run through, - we have other things to discuss on the Edgcote project as well, - so we probably got about an hour's play in a three hour period. It went like this.
I'm the French, on the left. Phil is Anglo-Dutch, on the right. Most of my infantry is in march column. Phil's is in a mixture of march column or line.
I set off with my mission to capture the cross roads. I needed to hold the flanks, or delay them, as Phil has more cavalry. And more guns. Which soon started to do a lot of damage (die rolling was lucky, but they are too powerful at long range)
My cavalry is shaping up to face Phil's as they trot forwards. I aim to take him at the halt, and shoot him off with my carbines, before counter attacking.
I'm pushing forwards in the middle, putting off the moment when I have to choose my battlefield formation. You can only fight in either line or attack column. Once you have deployed from march column to either of these you can't change formation again. Keeping units in march column keeps them flexible, but also vulnerable.
The cavalry clash at last. It's a bit raggedy as some British refuse to charge home. My carbines are reasonably effective.
The centres are closing as the cavalry surge back and forwards. Lots of notes are being taken on the rule sheet.
Photograph of British infantry lining a hedge because, well, why not?
My lead units on my right are in attack column, but they've taken some pasting.
We're pressing on in the centre, hoping to overwhelm by sheer force of numbers.
Finally, some infantry open fire. It's the British Grenadiers!
One of Phil's badly beaten up cavalry units tries to turn the flank of my line. They baulk at the charge order.
Some of my stuff is running away now in the centre and on my left.
And my right isn't all that clever either. Time to finish with the British on top.
Lots of things to update in the rules, but they're definitely going in the right direction.
And Phil says he's got some boxes of Washington's Army he can spare. And some cuirassiers.
Yes. An afternoon well spent.