Peninsula Reflections

In my last post I mentioned that terrain was required to enable us to refight Gaines’ Mill and more miniatures, and by therefore additional terrain, were required to refight Glendale & Malvern Hill. Despite a busy month all goals were finally achieved. The result being we have managed to refight both Gaines’Mill and the combined battles of Glendale and Malvern Hill. As such this completed a series of battles to mark the 160th anniversaries on the Virginia Peninsula in 1862 using my 6mm miniatures and the Volley & Bayonet rules.

Gaines’ Mill was a particularly challenging engagement with the Union defensive position being particularly strong. Refighting it twice it was interesting to see a general historical result replicated each time, but only just. Our first refight of Gaines’ Mill can be found here. Our second here.

Then over last weekend the troops were deployed to refight the Battles of Glendale & Malvern Hill. As with all the battles on the Peninsula force coordination was a significant issue with many Confederate divisions failing to arrive on the first day. Union command can best be described as disorganised, thanks to specific scenario rules, much as they were historically. A report of our game can be found here.

I accept historical refights are not for everyone, but I do find them fascinating exercises and a great way to reinforce my readings of particular battles. Now it’s time to consider General Lee’s next move, while McClellan career is in question…

Richmond & Beyond

Back in February I provided an overview of some planned projects for the year. Given the year is disappearing at an alarming rate perhaps it’s time to check in with something of an update.

Painting has proceeded at a slower than planned rate, but progress has been made. At the time of writing this year’s 6mm American Civil War goal, set early in the year, has been reached.

It can be best described as an eclectic mix of infantry, cavalry and artillery to expand my collection for specific battles. Some additional rifled artillery as well as some horse batteries, several infantry brigades and an assortment of cavalry, both mounted and dismounted. A selection of which are above and below, all in 6mm using Heroics & Ros miniatures.

These reinforcements allow me to refight my initial batch of 1862 battles. Specifically, a couple from the Peninsula Campaign and then Second Bull Run and Antietam before switching to the west for Stones River at the end of the year.

A new stretch goal has been set for Glendale & Malvern Hill. This requires a few additional Confederate infantry brigades to be completed.

The first 160th anniversary battle has also been played. In particular the Battle of Seven Pines, shown above. We actually refought Seven Pines twice, once each side of the anniversary. For those interested a summary of our first refight can be found here.

The result of each refight was different, yet in both the key historical narrative was followed. Confusion, delayed reinforcements and challenges with command all proved critical. All testament to the Volley & Bayonet rules and the historical scenario.

Next up is Gaines Mill, assuming I can complete the terrain in time…

Points to Ponder

Historical refights, campaigns, scenarios or competitions using points systems for balance. What is your preference? Over recent weeks I’ve listened to a few podcasts and YouTube videos where various people have articulated their preferences, sometimes with clearly strong views. A theme has been a dislike for points systems almost always linked to competition formats. But is it as simple as that?

In a previous post I mentioned that I have no interest in competition games these days. Without doubt this is a result of my experience with overly competitive players, both during and before the game. A hallmark of such players, apart from their “in game” antics, are customised lists tuned to give every benefit possible. In my view these customised armies are a far cry from an historic general’s challenge of making do with the troops available. That said if you have a good group of players then competitions can provide an excellent means of playing games, at least against a group of likeminded players. I do recall several excellent events in the past. But if competitions are out for me then what do I base my games around?

Above, an historical refight of the small Battle of Teugn-Hausen from 1809, all without a hint of points.

I have refought several historical battles of the Napoleonic or American Civil War periods, as well as a few others from other periods. Reading historical accounts, modelling the terrain and deploying the armies can, I find, be immensely satisfying. How did terrain impact the battle, what determined a particular strategy? All these factors combine to help me further understand an historical battle. Unfortunately I can only refight so many historical battles, and of course the preparation time can be significant.

Campaigns have a strong draw. Historical campaigns have the same appeal as historical refights, yet my experiences suggest a successful campaigning can deliver terribly unequal battles, which are not particularly satisfying. I’m of the view that campaign mechanics must be simple providing a narrative for a scenario game, or be played as a seperate campaign in an evening, likely as a board game.

These days the majority of my tabletop games are scenario based. Yet scenarios can be challenging to develop. How do you create a tactical problem that is generally balanced, interesting and of course challenging?

Here, a Seven Years War set piece engagement developed using a scenario.

One option is scenario books. I have found some published scenarios have produced very interesting battles. Yet, sometimes the terrain or force requirements are challenging to replicate, reducing the number of scenarios that can be played. If the scenario book is too generic they are at level that doesn’t interest me. I am for example interested in the larger battle. So five Napoleonic regiments capturing a bridge doesn’t normally interest me. So, if scenario books are not always of use what do I do?

Well, if the scenario designer has done his job correctly he has somehow balanced the scenario, assuming he wants to provide a tactical challenge with an equal chance of success for each side. Here for me is the clue.

Above, Cold War West Germans await the arrival of a Soviet attack. In this game there was considerable difference in points budgets between the attacker and defender.

The majority of scenarios I play have been developed by scenario system either as part of the rules, or as a close addition. Particular examples are the well designed system within Volley & Bayonet and my own system for Spearhead. To help balance the scenario both examples use points systems.

Does this bring me full circle? I mean points and the inherent optimisation they bring are the very problem with competitions aren’t they? Well I don’t think so. I feel points systems can be a useful tool to help balance a scenario. However, that only works if players do not restrict themselves to the same points budget or composition in each game.

The most obvious means of variation is to changing your army composition creating variation. For example using more or less cavalry or different battalion formations. Alternatively you could use a fewer points than your opponent, giving him an advantage. Montrose didn’t seemed that concerned by points budgets. Perhaps different budgets can be used between games. Such a change certainly creates different force structures and therefore challenges. In my view all add variety and tactical interest, much like historical battles.

This of course has been something of a long rambling post. However, in summary I believe points can be a useful tool to balance scenarios. They need not always be associated with competitions.

Before I sign off I must ask, is your preference historical refights, campaigns, scenarios or competitions and of course, why?

Battles on Small Tables

We frequently play reasonably large Volley & Bayonet games, often involving two or more corps. Occasionally we play large games with several corps on each side. However, recently an opponent and I thought we would try playing remotely using Skype. As a result I thought it best to try a smaller game on equally small table. After a little thought Mollwitz was selected. With around 20,000 troops per side, as well as a small physical battlefield, measuring just 2’ x 2’ in our ground scale, it seemed ideal.

After building a snow covered battlefield the miniatures were deployed for what was a fascinating engagement. A summary of the first game can be found here. A week later we refought Mollwitz again. This time I recorded a summary of the game as a video. For those so inclined it can be found here.

More recently we deployed the miniatures again, but this time for a Napoleonic encounter. The battle selected was an old favourite, specifically, Teugn-Hausen from the 1809 Campaign. Again a relatively small table is required, measuring 3’ x 2’.

This battle, while still small, was more complex to refight due to the terrain – a particularly complex wooded ridge and various reinforcements throughout the battle. Despite these additional complexities it proved rewarding and closely followed the historical battle. I have compiled another short video report which can be found here.

Now it’s time to think of something suitable for our next remote game. Ideally it needs to be fought on a reasonably small battlefield with limited troops…

The Year Ahead

Well, I am really pleased with the painting and games I’ve managed last year. Armies have grown and some stirring games have been played. Not a minor achievement in a challenging year where the pandemic has rolled on while also changing employer. Yet somehow January has come and gone. How it disappeared so quickly I’m not really sure. Worse those minor wargaming projects I had planned to action over January have also failed to be started, never mind completed. This of course provides a degree of concern for other projects being considered for the year.

So what are these projects for the year I hear you ask? Well I feel this year I really do want to complete some additional historical refights. Some require only minor additions to the miniatures I have, others a little more work. All are in 6mm, which increasingly is my focus. Here is my current list, subject to change of course…

Firstly, I must completing the terrain project required for the American Civil War Battle of Stones River (1862). December will mark the 160th anniversary so there is some time. In addition a stocktake is required to determine what other minor painting is required for a couple of other battles of the Civil War in 1862, including Second Manassas and Antietam.

Next is completing the Seven Years War Austrians required for Kolin. The Austrian army is certainly playable but with a little more focus I should be able to complete the last infantry and cavalry required to expand the army to that needed for Kolin. There is a degree of satisfaction that the SYW Prussians were completed last year, so surely I can assemble the paint brushes for a final push on the Austrians. There is a possibility I may get distracted with some terrain for a minor battle of the period. Distractions are so dangerous.

Finally, I must return to the Hundred Days project. With the Prussian reinforcements having arrived a couple of months ago from Heroics & Ros there needs to be a focus on at least completing one more Prussian Corps this year. Clearly I need to do some planning on this. The additional Prussians will of course be so useful for 1813 games, that at least is what I’m telling myself as I write this.

This all sounds like a busy year. It would however be remiss of me to ask about your projects. So, what are they?