Monday, April 20, 2015

Experiencing Shock

There are worse ways to while away a Sunday than playing a series of wargames.
For the first time in over 50 years my Mini-Marx Knights on their white steeds take the field. These  are the only 25/30mm figures I have that were around when How to Play Wargames was published, so  figured I'd include a few.

I started off just dumping a few pieces of terrain on the table then reread the rules with especial attention to winning and losing, a topic I couldn't remember much about, with reason. He is just a tad vague on the subject other than to urge you to have objectives for each side to avoid a fight to the finish with victory to the last stand standing. Luckily I'm not starting completely from scratch so declared that both armies were seeking to dominate this pass between wood and hill and that any army that suffered 50% stand loss would be incapable of further offensive action. No attacks and no shooting but they could defend in melee.

A basic Shock Period army in Morschauser consists of 35 stands, 10 Heavy Cavalry, 5 Light Cavalry, 5 Heavy Infantry, 10 Light Infantry, 5 Missile Infantry. I had about 1/2 of that ready to go on 60mm bases or something close so the Empire fielded 3 HC, 2 LC, 3 HI, 4 Lt I, 4 Archers.  (Given the long ranges, the armoured handgunners were fielded as Lt infantry rather than Missile Light Infantry). The Turanians of the Great King of Kings fielded 5 HC (there are no elephant rules and HC are the toughest troops on the table), 4 LC, 4 Lt Inf and 3 Archers.  I used the roster method with 4 hits/dice per unit.

The Turanians
The Empire's mercenaries.
The game which lasted nearly 1/2 hour was more interesting, more challenging and more fun than I expected and I can see how a master player could use game tactics to great effect to discombobulate an opponent. With every melee ending in the death of 1 side though, an historic clash of hoplite phalanges would result in about a 3 turn game with most of both sides dead. Essentially heavy troops kill everybody, especially each other. Joe gives tactical advice which is reasonably sound about finding ways to create holes in the enemy line and then dashing through to sieze objectives but it sounds a but more like Patton than Ptolemy.

It took a few turns to get used to not having any command control rules and having only the dice, my judgement and the enemy's moves to provide friction but I soon got used to it.

It was a good starting point. I reset the table.

The end of Game 1. With the Spear Phalanx holding the hill and handgunners holding the wood, the Imperial Heavy Cavalry smashes the Turanian center and brings their army to 50% so that no counter attack may be launched.  

I didn't want to change too much too fast (my all too frequent approach in the past) so I started with a few minor adjustments to fit my troops and table, added some more unit types and a way to have  melee not be necessarily decisive.

The first step was to cut the movement and ranges to suit my smaller table. In the original rules the stands are 3" square and all distances are in multiples of 3". That sounds alot like ye old Base Widths to me. He recommends smaller bases for smaller figures and since I was using 60mm square bases, I converted all 3" segments to 60mm and improvised a new measuring stick marked as Melee/HI/LtInf/HC/LC & Bow. (For the first game  I used the stick I made for Comitatus a few years ago.)  Even this minor adjustment helped the game fit better on my 5x6 table.

To address the quick and deadly melee I simply ruled that there would only be 1 round of melee each turn rather than all melees continuing until 1 or both were dead. In addition, the sight of spearmen fiercely battling  each other from 3" away had just not looked right, OK for musket armed troops or even peltasts perhaps but I addressed it as Rob & I did in Rough Wooing by keeping the zone of control aspect but requiring troops to move into contact for melee.

The troop additions were on top of the rules not a replacement these were:
1. Spearmen. Cavalry attacking the front of light or heavy infantry with spears, loses 1 from their "Power". This does not apply if the spears attack (loss of formation?). Obviously this begs for troops like Romans to have their own bonus but I only dealt with what was on the table.

2. Horse Archers. The Light Cavalry in the rules have no missile capacity but have the same fighting ability as heavy infantry except they move twice as fast. I picture them as standard cavalry while the Heavy Cavalry in the rules sound like knights or cataphracts. My Turanian Horse Archers seemed to need something else so I gave them the LC move, a 6" (2 BW) Bow range and a melee factor of 3 instead of 4.

3. Peltasts etc. I also gave light infantry with short ranged missile weapons a 6" (2BW) range with no deduction. So tougher than archers in melee but a shorter range,

4, I left the elephants at power 5 but reduced their move to 12 (4 BW) like light infantry, and ruled that cavalry fighting elephants would lose 1 from their Power.

Lastly, I realized part way through that the system where you only rolled as many dice as the enemy left larger units at a disadvantage if there was only 1 round of rolling so I eventually allowed units to roll as many dice as they had strength points remaining.

The resulting game lasted about an hour and 1/2 and was actually quite interesting and fun with more nuances. It ended in a draw with both the hill and woods still in dispute and neither army able to attack.  I was getting a feel for handling troops under the system and when to risk combat and when to pull back for "strategic" reasons and the system was growing on me, reminiscent of the early days of Rough Wooing. The only real sore spot was that heavy troops were as easy to kill as light ones in melee. Armour was only effective against shooting, in melee it just helped you kill. That didn't seem right. I reset the table.

In game 2 the long spears tried charging uphill into the elephants and belated realized that they have a terrain penalty and just forfeited their bonus. oops. In game 4 both sides were more cautious.
Rob and I had discussed armour saves as an approach and so I tried them. With 4 hits per stand the result was tedium and very slow results. OK perhaps with a dozen units a side but with 30 or more units aside with the figures already on hand it didn't look good. I switched to 1 hit per stand and it felt too random and almost as brutal as the original. I forget who won in the rush to reset the table.

After a break for supper and a bit of thought including several failed ideas like varying strength points,  I eventually thought about how being uphill protects you by lowering the enemy's chance of hitting. I added a loss of 1 to a unit's offensive power if attacking a heavy unit (minimum of 1) and started playing again.

Game 4. After a long, tough, seesaw, struggle, the Turanians drop to 1/2 and must cease offensive actions.  Now outnumbered by the Imperial heavy troops and unable to reply to the fire of 4 bow units the Turanians cede the field. 

There is more work to be done but this was a game that I could see playing again.

Cliche or not, sometime Less really is More.


  1. Ross Mac,

    Very interesting ... and nice to see you using Joseph Morschauser's rules as written and then with the gradual changes you have made.

    All the best,


    1. Using them straight was interesting and worthwhile. Some of my expectations were right but some were wrong.

  2. Entertaining stuff Ross.

    I take it that standard field rations of the age are giant marshmallows and cocktail weenies stuck on spears and lances so as to roasted over an open fire?
    Cheers, PD

    1. If I ever find some chocolate brown caps the lads will be ecstatic.

  3. Short and violent - sounds like fun.

  4. Interesting post and changes made. I am intrigued re the Old school fantasy rules you refer to- do you mean Chainmail or what?

    1. Chainmail was one of if not the first but in the 70s there were quite a few fantasy rules out or fantasy supplements to ancient/medieval rules. Even WRG had a page at the back with fantasy suggestions which explain why there is a picture of a frog labelled 'unlucky wizard' in the Purple Primer.

    2. Alan, Ross is helping me out with this, in his inimitable way. My figure collection, based as it is today, would make Chainmail difficult. I have lots of fragmentary bits of units, suitable to be a WRG based element, but tough to pull together into a Chainmail unit. I justed posted pictures of my rehabilitated Minifgi wargs (I remember your posts with them in '11), but three of them is all I have, for example.

  5. All good stuff Ross. The idea of playing a ruleset "as written" and then adding stuff little by little one playest at a time had never entered my mind. Thanks for posting.

    1. Belatedly, Thanks Shaun. I have had a tendency of rushing into too many changes too fast and of writing off mechanisms that I don't like the sound of but I've been learning to be open and go slow.