Tuesday, May 12, 2015

AWI Rules Test: Fife and Drum

last week, Ambler Gamers tested the "Fife and Drum" rules by James Purky.  We used the same terrain as we did for our ACW game last week. We just adjusted the armies back in time about four score and seven years.

It has been a while since we games a rules set that allows each side to activate all of their units.  Steve contemplates directing traffic with so many British units at his command.

Joe casually brings his Hessians into range.
Despite holding a stone wall, Mark's riflemen fell back against a virtual wave of British line infantry. 

Mark and Joe trade shots. Despite sometimes shaky Continental morale, Washington's troops made the British and Hessians pay for every yard they gained.

My French artillery. This heavy battery was shockingly effective at long range. I almost felt guilty.

Two of my French line units.  All they had to do was keep Steve's Brits pinned on the other side of the stream.  Not an impossible task, but they were clearly outnumbered.
The Hessians begin their slow, costly, but inexorable advance around the Continental left.  Joe has a son in the Marine Corps, and it broke his heart to rout the Marines who anchored the American position.  Just for a little bit.

The British advance.

This was the one sector of the battlefield where the Franco-American army saw its greatest success.  The angle by the woods turned into a devastating killing ground. However, that meant the other sectors were stretched thin, and the line eventually began to crumble. My two large French units advance across the stream, creating that deadly angle.

As hits accumulate, the morale of the American army starts to waver.  The forward militia units begin to seek safety.

Monsieur? Time for le dejunner?

In the end, the left of the American army began to crumble against the stubborn Hessians, who repeatedly managed to rally after taking heavy casualties. With the flank now exposed, the Franco-American army had little choice but to cede the field.

We found that the rules gave satisfactory results, and no "unrealistic" outcomes caught our attention.  For our after-work gaming community, we found that the counting-up of figures and then dividing by four was more math than we were used to, and that tended to slow the game down.  It was also a bit disorienting to reliably command every unit on a given side on its turn--we have grown accustomed to the vagaries of rules that simulate uncertainty and friction, and its absence was a little jarring.  The rules were designed around a simple and consistent mechanic, which made the core concepts easy to pick up and apply (though we found the need to roll low a change. Speaking as someone who cannot break a 3 on a roll of a ten sided die, I was perfectly happy with this design principle!).  Finally, on retrospect, I think the rules did a good job of modelling the different qualities of training doctrines of the infantry units on the battlefield. regular troops proved their worth over militia, and while Continental regulars could not stand toe to toe with their British counterparts on every occasion, they sometimes showed tenacity.

Next session, we are going to refight the same battle with a different set of rules, to provide a side by side comparison.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

ACW at Ambler: An AAR

Mr. President,

I am writing to inform you about the recent action in Maryland, fought this last Wednesday near the town of Ambler.  Since the serpents in the press have gone on to characterize the battle as a decisive victory for the rebels, I feel that it is my moral and professional obligation to set the record straight.  

Despite my repeated requests for more troops, I had no choice but to engage the enemy at a vast numerical disadvantage.  While some naysayers might estimate the Confederate force as roughly equal in number to our own, my own intelligence reports indicated that the rebels outnumbered us by at least three to one.  Thus, I felt that a quick effort to turn their flank was the best way to win this engagement.

Our boys made a fine sight as they demonstrated against the Rebel center. Endless months of drill served them well. I know that my critics felt that our soldiers' time would have been better spent practicing their marksmanship, but then they would have been denied the magnificent sight of some of our finest regiments storming the woods that anchored the rebel position, hoping to drive out the dismounted cavalry that held it.

On our left, the rebel position was marked by another wooded area, which not only concealed a regiment of infantry, but also the careful fortifications which the rebels had clearly spent months constructing. I realize that this engraving neglects to show these fortifications, but the press is clearly out to destroy my reputation, I assure you. Also, the sun was in our eyes and we could not roll a six to save our lives.

The aptly named General MiddleBrigade valiantly demonstrated against the rebel center, but his hopes of being relieved by the flank attack of Gernal Alexander were clearly dashed when Gen. Alexander's troops found their leisurely game of Base Ball to be of more interest than crushing the Rebellion. I recommend you relieve Gen. Alexander of his command and demote him to a position that suits his talents, like boot scraper.

As you can clearly see, my left had to advance against overwhelming odds. The rebel reinforcements are clearly hidden where only my trained and experienced eye can see them.

Here we the dastardly rebel commanders disregarding all conventions of civil conduct in their devious attempts to undermine our troops' morale by shooting more accurately than our boys did.

The Confederate General Pilch wonders why his troops have yet to see action. 

After a fierce firefight, we received reports of a sizable but unseen Rebel force moving to our rear. Hence, we decided on a rapid redeployment to the rear in order to protect Washington from a cunning Confederate stratagem.

After we fought the rebels to a standstill, the Confederates chose to declare victory by virtue of their spurious claim to have inflicted three times the casualties that we did and to be holding the battlefield after the last shot was fired. To the contrary, I see this engagement as a glorious victory since it gave so many valiant and loyal Union soldiers a chance to die for their country.

Yours loyal servant,
Gen. Geo. McClellan

In all seriousness, despite the one-sidedness, this was a really fun night of gaming with the Ambler Gamers.  The confederates were able to quickly maneuver into position against a lumbering Union army, and they seemed to have a local advantage wherever we attacked.  Great 28mm minis from Mark's collection, the hospitality of Joe and Olivia, and a lot of laughs as the Union army did their early war best.   PS: I don't really want to demote Joe. He's the best!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pennants streaming...to this battlefield.

The final day of our Sword and the Flame extravaganza.  The game was a huge hit among the students, and several wished they had been playing this game the entire semester.  Well, gang, for me to do that, I'd have to buy individually mounted 28mm troops for every period I teach,..hmmmm.

Tim reacts to some nasty British artillery pounding his Zulu hordes.  Note my Tardis in the background. It's messier on the inside.

Zulus on and over the Ramparts.  Just as in the historical battle, the hospital fell, but the British rallied behind the biscuit boxes around the storehouse.

After the first attack petered out, the Zulus invoked the "zombie rule." All Zulu casualties were allowed to return to the field, but the British were allowed to redeploy inside the compound.  Sadly, few of the British reinforcements made it that far.

The game at the end. The surviving British made a stand inside the "well-built kraal."  Three waves of Zulus threatened the drift, of which the British were able to fend off one.  Lots of blood and heroism. A great way for these students to wrap up their senior classes!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spearpoints gleaming

And so the game begun in the last installment continues.

For some reason, my parents collected African art in the 1970's. Anyhow, this Zulu should qualified as art. They gave it to me when they cleaned out their belongings before moving to Florida.  "Hey, Dr. Rabuck. Can I play with your shield?"  "Good God, no."

On turn Three, British reinforcements arrive like the Riders of Freakin' Rohan.  On the British left, a platoon of infantry and some irregular cavalry.

And on the right, some NNC and a pair of field pieces. In retrospect, two field guns are crazy dangerous.

Zulus on the ramparts!

OK, guys. Look badass.  Seriously, is that the best you can do?

After two unsuccessful charges, one Zulu impi breaks through. Lt. Bromhead is killed by an assegai thrown at short range.

Well, don't they make a tempting target, lads?

The infantry screen the cavalry...  Given their firepower, though, the men on horses aren't really needed.

As an added wrinkle, I'm giving the Zulu side the option to pull back and regroup, bringing all dead units back into the fight.  Zombie Zulus!  The downside is that this will allow the Brist to regroup anywhere they want inside the compound.  We'll see how this pans out.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Young Men of Harlech

 My Military History course is offered to second semester seniors. Every kid in class knows that the die has been cast in regards to college admissions.  Thus, keeping them engaged is always a challenge. With this in mind, I front-loaded my Military History course with the academics in January (Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Marlantes).  Then, for the remainder of the year, we did case studies, watching a movie sett in a period, reading four or five quality sources about the engagement depicted, and then playing a tabletop game recreating the conflict.  As you might imagine, the students are having a blast.

The finale this year was the Zulu War of 1879. While the prequel film Zulu Dawn delves more into the politics of the conflict, there is no equal to the 1964 epic Zulu.  At first the students laughed at some of the hammy acting by the extras, but by the end they were wiping away tears as the two armies serenaded each other before the final round of slaughter. How could we not conclude the year with the attack on Rorke's Drift?

We used 28mm figures (mostly Old Glory, with some plastics from Warlord and Wargames Factory thrown in). I picked up the Rorkes Drift MDF buildings for a song on Ebay. they make a fantastic centerpiece for the battle.  For rules, we're using the tried and true The Sword and the Flame.


Zulus, sir, approaching from the southwest.  Several of 'em!

How could I resist the Warlord "Hollywood" minis?  Here, the hard-as-nails Chard and Colour Sergeant Bourne steel for another wave.

The cheeky Hook offers Lt. Bromhead a drink while Bromhead contemplates a career as a butler to a brooding superhero.

Now that I think of it, I may have under-garrisoned the compound.  That's a lotta Zulu.

British soldiers await deployment.

the head and loin of the Buffalo

And the right horn of said Buffalo.

Two of the Zulu players played war chants from the movie on continual loop.  Stay classy, boys!

More to come as the game unfolds.  Stay tuned!