Tuesday, 30 December 2014

One Hour Great Northern War Army Lists

Most of the scenarios in One Hour Wargames use armies of six units each, with a few featuring four or three unit forces. The armies are generated using a D6 roll. Each set of rules features four unit types, and the tables take this into account; for any given period you will get a majority of one core type and a selection of the three other support types.

I have based my Great Northern War rolls on the ACW tables, as the troop classifications are the same - Infantry as the core, with Cavalry, Artillery and Veteran Infantry (Zouaves in the ACW lists) as the support. However I decided to tweak the rolls to take into account national characteristics. The tweaks are:

(i) The Russians would tend to have more Veteran Infantry than the Swedes, representing the Guard regiments. Indeed I will refer to the Veteran units as Guards. The Swedish infantry would be more homogeneous in quality.

(ii) The Swedes would have the possibility of a higher proportion of Cavalry than the Russians.

(iii) The Swedes also have the possibility of Cossacks

(iv) The Swedes have less Artillery.

To this end I created the following 'rules' when rolling for armies:

The first Veteran Infantry the Swedes roll is instead replaced by a Cavalry unit. If, however, the army already has at east one Cavalry, they get a unit of Cossacks instead.

The second Artillery unit the Swedes get is replaced by Infantry.

This gives the following lists:

Russians - 6 Units

1 - 3 x Infantry, 2 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
2 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 2 x Guards
3 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Guard, 1 x Cavalry
4 - 4 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
5 - 4 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Guard
6 - 4 x Infantry, 1 x Guard, 1 x Cavalry

Swedes - 6 Units

1 - 4 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
2 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Guard, 1 x Cavalry
3 - 3 x Infantry, 2 x Cavalry, 1 x Cossack
4 - 4 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
5 - 4 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
6 - 4 x Infantry, 1 x Cavalry, 1 x Cossack

Russians - 4 Units

1 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
2 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Guard
3 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Guard, 1 x Cavalry
4 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery
5 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Guard
6 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Cavalry

Swedes - 4 Units

1 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
2 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
3 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Cavalry, 1 x Cossack
4 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery
5 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Cavalry
6 - 3 x Infantry, 1 x Cavalry

Russians - 3 Units

1 - 1 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
2 - 1 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Guard
3 - 1 x Infantry, 1 x Guard, 1 x Cavalry
4 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery
5 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Guard
6 - 2 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry

Swedes - 3 Units

1 - 1 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
2 - 1 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery, 1 x Cavalry
3 - 1 x Infantry, 1 x Cavalry, 1 x Cossack
4 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Artillery
5 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Cavalry
6 - 2 x Infantry, 1 x Cavalry

Unlike the original book lists, the Swedish lists will give duplicate armies under some rolls. In practice this doesn't seem to cause too many problems though. In addition I don't distinguish between dragoons and cavalry. At the scale and granularity of games I'm playing I don't think it really makes a difference.

I have played through probably more than a third of the scenarios in the book with these armies, and they generally give good, close games. The next step, I guess, is a campaign of linked scenarios.

Monday, 29 December 2014

The Great Northern War Squared

In previous posts I have mentioned that I have fought some of the One Hour Wargames scenarios using my Great Northern War figures on a square grid. The rules I used are derived from the ACW ones I posted yesterday - indeed the principles are exactly the same. But there are a few changes in them to allow for more aggressive (and effective) cavalry charges, Swedish infantry attacks and the less mobile artillery.

Here are the rules.

As ever, comments and criticism are more than welcome.

Family Games

Some friends of ours apparently have a family games afternoon every Sunday, and this week we got invited. This was because, unlike them, we own a Risk set. And Marco - you remember Marco? - really, really wanted to play Risk.

I don't know why we have a Risk set. It's years since we played it because, frankly, it's pretty tedious, but I think it's one of those essential that you have to have in your cupboard, like Monopoly and Cluedo. People kind of expect it.

Anyway, we hit a basic problem from the start in that Risk is designed for up to six players, and there were eight of us. So the older generation played as husband and wife teams, whilst the four offspring (all over eighteen, so no longer children) played individually.

I actually enjoyed the game more than I thought I would. Catherine and I were the first to be knocked out, though, as we gut stuck in Europe and just couldn't expand properly in any direction without getting picked off from another. Claudia and John suffered the same problem, lasting one turn longer than us by virtue of the fact that they picked us off to get our cards and give themselves some reinforcements. Marco went for the famous Dig Into Australia strategy, Maya took over North America and Eric went for Africa. South America switched between Eric and Maya for a while. Cei ended up in the China/Siberia bits of Asia, neither expanding nor contracting.

Marco likes to win, so the main game plan was to stop Marco winning. This worked. Eric shoved Maya out of the Americas and, after a epic series of reinforcement cards wiped out first Marco, then Maya, before running out of steam with Cei. Cei rallied and regained a lot of lost ground, but Eric came back to clinch the game. Pretty much how every Risk game goes really; one player spends an hour steamrollering a couple of others whilst the three players who have been knocked out watch.

Here's Eric's epic cavalry charge from Greenland into Canada.

After an aborted game of Newmarket, abandoned mainly because no-one but John seemed to like it, we played a few rounds of Tsuro, which is actually designed for up to eight players. Everyone seemed to enjoy this and, given that it's mostly luck, most people got a chance to win or, at least, survive until near the end. Tsuro is becoming a bit of a favourite for the quick and easy game option.

One thing that did come out of the afternoon was the proposal that we have a games evening on New Year's Eve instead of hauling off to sit on the harbour-side for three to four hours watching fireworks and then spend an hour getting out of the car-park afterwards.Catherine and I had a long tradition of playing games on New Years Eve, mostly due to the fact that having small children we didn't get to go to parties, so this will be a bit nostalgic. I'm not sure what we'll be playing though. Not Risk.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

One Hour On A Square Grid

I promised myself that I would try out some of the scenarios in 'One Hour Wargames' using rules other than the ones in the book. The simplest option was to try the basic square-grid rules I play around with from time to time. These are designed for ACW games more than anything else, so I broke out the 6mm armies again.

I decided to play as close to the 'One Hour Wargames' setup as possible in terms of army sizes, and in fact the square-grid rules work OK at those unit densities - most scenarios have six units a side, with a few giving one side only three or four. In addition it was easy enough to use the 'One Hour Wargames' unit types, so I could use the random army generator table as well - this would give armies composed of Infantry, Cavalry, Artillery and Zouaves, which is the author's catch-all term for veteran/elite infantry. I'll call them Veterans.

The first scenario I rolled was 24 - Bottleneck. An attack must be made up a road against a numerically inferior defender. But the road passes between a wood impassable to the attacker and a swamp impassable to all units. The attacker must clear the road, but, in a neat twist, only defending units in the open count as blocking it. Thus the defenders can use the woods to make the attacker's job harder, but units hiding in the woods don't help them win directly.

The Confederates attacked, with two Veteran units, three Infantry and one Artillery. The Union defenders had three Infantry and an Artillery.

The Union defended the woods against an attack up the road, whilst the Confederates sent the Veteran units in a wide sweep around the swamp. This sweep was successful in clearing Union units beyond the wood, but the Union nearly stymied the Confederate plans when one of the units defending the woods emerged towards the end of the game to contest the road. Unfortunately it was forced to retreat, and the Confederates just clinched a win.

I then randomly determined another scenario and got 12 - An Unfortunate Oversight. In this one army is defending a town which covers a bridge over an otherwise uncrossable river. Uncrossable, that is, aside from the undiscovered ford out on their left - which the attackers have just found. Victory is about controlling the hill in the defender's rear.

The Confederates were defending with one Veteran infantry, four Infantry and an Artillery, whilst the attacking Union army was similar, but had an extra Veteran infantry unit.

The Veteran Union infantry attacked the town ...

Whilst the infantry was sent over the ford to seize the hill.

The Confederates moved units to counter the flank march.

The attack on the town wasn't pressed with much enthusiasm.

The battle continued on the Union right, with honours going mostly to the Confederates.

With time slipping away, and the attack over the ford stymied, the Union make a thrust at the town and take it.

However time was running out, and a rush at the hill to at least force a draw wasn't enough. As night fell the Confederates still held the high ground.

The rules I used were probably not much more complicated than those in 'One Hour Wargames', and at some stage I guess that I should write them out in full, instead of having them scattered across various blog posts and in my head.

Both games played out in an hour, although I set up the first game before I went to bed yesterday, and played through the opening moved whilst simultaneously cooking a full-English breakfast. I finished it after I ate. So in that respect they live up to their concept - 'One Hour Wargames'.

Friday, 26 December 2014

The One Hour Great Northern War

Before I got One Hour Wargames I did some fishing around on the 'net to see what other people thought of it and read about the games they played. In the AMW Yahoo Group I found variant rules in the Files section, which took the basic OHW rules and tweaked them for either different periods or to add more flavour for specific periods.

One of the sets is for the Great Northern War, so I printed it off and gave them a run today (in two half-hour sessions, broken up by a visit to the cinema to see the third part of The Hobbit. Don't bother. It's bollocks.)

The set seems to be based on the Pike and Shot set, with a few changes. Troop types are now Infantry, Dragoons, Cavalry and Artillery. Dragoons are really just slower, less powerful versions of Cavalry. All units may charge (indeed nothing restricts Artillery from doing it, but I house-ruled that straight away), but only Infantry and Artillery can shoot, running out of ammo on a '1'. Shooting now has two range bands, with long-range fire being less effective. Close combat is much the same as the Pike and Shot set. There are some national differences; Russian Infantry fire at one point better at long range, but Swedish Infantry get a one point bonus in close combat.

I added a couple of bits of my own, including some thoughts on how arcs of fire are blocked (which I'm still working on) and allowing units to retire directly to their rear as a move - the unit must move straight back for up to half of their movement distance. They may only turn at the end of the move, either 45 degrees, or a complete 180 degree about-face.

The rules have their own tables for generating armies. I generated a Swedish army of four Infantry, one Dragoon and one Artillery against a Russian army of four Infantry, one Dragoon and one Cavalry. I picked a scenario at random and got 16 - Advance Guard. This has a road crossing the table from one side to the other, with a town in the centre. The two armies are marching down the road until they meet in the town. Victory goes to the side which controls the town.

Both armies led with their mounted troops. The scenario states that they must march down the road until one army occupies the town, but mounted troops can't do that. So I assumed that their passing through the town was considered good enough.

The Russian Dragoons unit (represented by Cossacks) passed through the town and engaged the Swedish Dragoons. For this game I used three-base units, as I felt that they looked better on the 2' x 2' board. I used the same groundscale as the previous games with distances reduced by a third.

The Russians move into position, moving infantry into the town, and other units into support or reserve positions.

The Swedes also moved into position, covering against Russian flank moves, whilst preparing to assault the town once the cavalry melee before it was resolved.

The Swedish cavalry broke, leaving the Cossacks facing a strong Swedish infantry line.

With no retreat open to them, and doomed to otherwise stand in front of the Swedish infantry and be shot to pieces, the Cossacks charged.

And were dispersed.

The Swedes pour musketry into the town.

On the Swedish right their artillery came under attack after it ran out of ammunition. I added an extra rule here, allowing an artillery unit that neither moved nor fired on its turn to replenish its ammunition. I'd add the fact that it shouldn't be in close combat as well.

On the Swedish left they routed a Russian infantry unit ...

... but were charged by Russian cavalry ...

... who routed the Swedes.

Another Swedish unit broke from fire received from the town, but a reserve unit was in position to replace it.

The Russian cavalry kept up the attack.

The Swedes assaulted the town, whose defenders put up a bold defence.

More Russian infantry moved to garrison the town.

A good job, as the first unit flee back, dispersed by the Swedish assault

The Russian cavalry also fled.

The Swedes continued to press their attack, but they were now fighting a fresh enemy unit.

The Swedes ran. In the background some Russian infantry was, after far too long, finally finishing off the Swedish artillery.

Only one Swedish unit was left now, and into the town it went. The Russians held attack after attack, and the victorious artillery killers were on their way in support.

On Turn 13 the final Swedish unit broke, giving the Russians a victory.

I found this a far more satisfying game than the one yesterday, with the extra 'chrome' added to the rules making for a more playable game with no real additional complexity. They still have the issue that, when used with the scenarios, the games are really decided well before the scenario time-limit. This game went to 13 of the 15 turns, it's true, but by about turn 9 or 10 it was really obvious that, barring a major run of appalling Russian die rolls, the Swedes weren't gong to win. I can't see how the rate at which units were lost could be slowed down, so the time restriction was never really going to be an issue. I do like the idea of some kind of rallying mechanism, where unengaged units can roll to recover lost hits, which may keep them in the fight a little longer. But it would have to be very simple.

Anyway, I may try another random scenario tomorrow, using this variant set.

Thursday, 25 December 2014

One Hour Wargames

As I posted the other day, I got a copy of Neil Thomas' 'One Hour Wargames' for Christmas. I have been quite excited about getting this after reading various posts elsewhere on the 'net. I was prepared for it being nothing new; the rules contained in it are simplistic in the extreme, and many of the scenarios are based on or similar to those in the Charles S. Grant book that I already have. But I felt the book was worth getting and reading just because sometimes inspiration for games and rules can come from the smallest throwaway comment, and it's always interesting to see the design process which goes on behind rules, even if the rules themselves are not to ones taste. In addition the book is being discussed elsewhere, so there is already a community of people playing with the concepts in it, thus doing some of the work for me, if work was required.

So what do I think of the book so far? I've read the introductory section, and the rules and period notes; I still have most of the scenarios to pick through. The introduction could have been written in 1974; I'm not sure it entirely applies to wargaming as I'm experiencing it now, but it's quaint, and I'm happy to read someone else's opinions. It also sets up the reason for the book; small games in a short time-frame.

The notes for each historical section are interesting, despite being brief. The author has concentrated on nine periods, each with a set of rules - Ancient, Dark Ages, Medieval, Pike and Shot, Horse and Musket, Rifle and Sabre, American Civil War, Machine Age and World War II. Some of these are focused on particular aspects of the era; the Dark Ages section is pretty much focused on Britain, for example. This focus is because for each period he has a set of rules and for each set of rules he restricts the games to having four troop types only. So his Ancient rules have Infantry (by which he means heavy infantry), Skirmishers, Archers and Cavalry. The idea is to give a flavour of each era without bogging it down in too much detail.

Each set has roughly the same mechanisms. The games are alternate move and a player can move all of their units; there are no command and control considerations. Units move, then eligible units shoot, then units in close combat roll to hit their opponents. In some eras some or all units can move and shoot. In others units only move or shoot. Combat is a D6 roll to determine how many hits are inflicted n the enemy unit. This can be adjusted by +2 or -2 depending on unit type and, sometimes, target type, then halved or doubled for certain tactical situations. Hits don't degrade a unit's ability to fight or move, but when a unit takes 15 hits or more it is removed.

The book contains 30 scenarios, designed to be played on a 3' x 3' board using about 6 units with a 4-6" frontage. Obviously you can scale that to fit your own figures and play area, scaling the rules appropriately. I would like to have seen perhaps a paragraph on doing this, but it's not hard to work out for yourself. The rules and scenarios could have been better written, perhaps, by using an arbitrary measuring unit like DBA 3.0's Base Width, then defining unit sizes, moves, ranges and board sizes in terms of this unit. However it's a minor quibble.

Anyway, having read the rules and the first few scenarios, I decided to set up a game. I went for Scenario 5 - Take The High Ground. Here's the terrain. The hill, wood and road are significant. Everything else is garnish.

One army sets up a couple of units on the hill, and is expecting the rest of its force as reinforcements at the top of the picture. The attacking army enters at the start of the game from the bottom of the picture. The objective is to control the hill at the end of the game.

I decided that I fancied using my Great Northern War Risk figures. This is an awkward choice because it fits partially into two periods covered by the book - Horse and Musket and Pike and Shot. I opted for the latter, because the rules looked a little bit more interesting.

The Pike and Shot era has four units types - Infantry (with musket and pike, naturally), Swordsmen (infantry with a melee capability only), Reiters (cavalry using pistol-shooting as a tactic) and Cavalry (cavalry that charge to contact). I decided to fit my armies to the rules rather than change the rules to fit the armies. After all, this was a test of the game, not my capacity for rewriting it.  The book has both armies randomly generated from tables. Any Infantry gained would obviously be infantry units. That was easy. I decided that Sworsdmen would be Cossacks, depicted as mounted, but possibly fighting on foot with sword, axe and short-range musketry. I did make one change for the other two troop types, deciding that all Reiters and Cavalry generated for the Russians would count as Reiters only, whilst the Swedes would count everything as Cavalry. Thus the Russian horse would be more ponderous than their Swedish counterparts, with the plus that they had a ranged-capability, representing dragoons or similar.

Armies in the book are generally of six (yes, just six) units. As generated I got:

Swedish - Four Infantry, one Swordsmen (Cossacks), one Cavalry
Russian - Four Infantry, two Reiters.

I randomly determined that the Swedes were defending, and diced for which units started on the hill - an Infantry and the Cossacks.

The Russians march on to the table. Ranges in One Hour Wargames are quite generous, so the shooting started straight away. In the Pike and Shot rules a unit which shoots (Infantry and Reiters only) must roll a D6 - on a 1-2 they are out of ammunition, and cannot shoot for the rest of the game. However these unit types cannot charge into melee until they are out of ammunition. It's an odd rule, but works in a way.

The Swedish reinforcements arrived, with their cavalry making a run for the opposite flank of the hill. Cavalry move quite quickly. I was using a 2' x 2' playing area rather than the stipulated 3' x 3', but just dropped all distances by a third. In the case of the 8" and 10" moves of Swordsmen and Reiters I just made them both 6", and assumed it wouldn't be an issue. It wasn't.

The Russians close up on the hill. The marker on the one unit shows that it's already out of ammunition.

On the other flank the Russian cavalry attempts to delay the Swedish reinforcements. Their range is also generous, representing horsemen riding forward in small groups to harass the enemy with pistol fire.

The Swedes took the initiative, with the Cossacks attacking off the hill before they were cut down by Russian musketry.

On the Russian right the woods were getting in the way. Only Swordsmen can enter woods in the Pike and Shot rules

The Cossacks attack!

Once a melee begins it only ends when one unit is eliminated; there's no rules for breaking off, falling back or anything like that.

Both Russian infantry units attacking the hill were out of ammunition now, so charged in.

On the other flank the Russian cavalry and Swedish infantry were closing. But without their firepower the Russians were going to be at a disadvantage fighting the pike-armed Swedes in close combat.

The battle for the hill continued. The rules are all about attrition really.

The Swedish cavalry was working around the flank, but came under fire from the Russian's reserve infantry unit.

In danger of being whittled down by musketry, the Swedish cavalry charge. Because that's what you do when you have a horse under you.

Meanwhile, two Russian infantry units break and run.

The Russian right forms a line as the Swedes move more units towards the hill.

The Cossacks swing into the extreme end of the line.

Meanwhile the Swedish cavalry break and run. The cavalry get a plus in melee, but against infantry they are penalised against the pikes.

The Cossacks also run; they took a lot of hits in their earlier combat, and this second attack was one too many.

Russian infantry turns to meet a fresh Swedish attack. The Swedes are now very much on the offensive, and the attacking Russians on the back-foot.

More Russians rout. And we're only just halfway into the game.

Russian cavalry breaks. They are now down to their last couple of units, and the Swedes still hold the hill.

A last Russian advance ...

 ... routs one Swedish infantry unit.

But it's not enough.

The final Russian unit routs, ten turns into a fifteen turn game.

The game played out OK, if a little fast for a scenario designed to last fifteen turns. But I did have some issues with arcs of fire and whether they were blocked by other units or terrain, whether you could fire on units in close combat and whether certain contacts were flank contacts or not.

I decided to give the scenario another go, but with the rules for a different period. Enter my 6mm ACW figures.

The ACW set is a little strange in that there's no close combat; all combat is shooting. To be honest for this scenario it made for a dull game, with two lines blazing away at long range, and the defenders being swept off the hill long before any reinforcements came up. And what was the point of their being on a hill anyway? It confers no combat bonus or advantage of any kind in this set.

The game settled into a long firefight and I gave up on it before the end, mostly because I got interrupted and forgot whose turn it was when I got back.

And another issue. In this set infantry can enter woods. And when two opposing units enter woods they can still only shoot at each other. But at what range? How do woods block lines of fire? The rules don't say.

Don't get me wrong. I think there's some interesting ideas in the rules given on One Hour Wargames. And any set of rules with designer's notes is worth the effort, because seeing how a person's mind works is always an insight. But I'm not convinced that the two sets I tried work as written; they need extra explanation (even a single page before the sets with some basic concepts would have helped).

The scenarios, however, look excellent. The maps are a little short on terrain, but that's not an insurmountable obstacle, but otherwise they mostly offer interesting tactical situations, and should provide a range of great games. It's just that I might try them with other rules.

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