Monday, October 23, 2023

Battle of Kernstown, March 1862

 A group of us here in Newport News, Virginia, convened to fight out the first battle of Stonewall Jackson’s 1862 Valley Campaign. This battle was at Kernstown, Virginia, which occurred in March of 1862 and featured a light snowfall on the field. The rules used were my own homegrown set, entitled Minieballs and PigStickers. 

The historical battle was a meeting engagement between Brigadier General Shields’ Union Division and Major General Thomas Jackson’s Division. Shields, based in Winchester, attempted to draw Jackson north, where the Union forces could overwhelm the Confederates with numbers. Shields’ plan worked and the forces met at Kernstown on March 23rd, 1862. Jackson literally walked into a trap but, ever the firebrand, went on the offense immediately. Colonel Nathan Kimball’s brigade, supported by three batteries, was stationed on Pritchard’s Hill. Colonel Erastus Tyler was marching to Kimball’s right from the Union camp located to the north. Stonewall Jackson immediately ordered Colonel Samuel Fulkerson’s brigade to attack Pritchard’s Hill to allow the rest of the Confederates to maneuver to Sandy Ridge on the Union right flank. 

View from the Confederate side of the table

Brigadier Richard Garnett’s “Stonewall” brigade advanced up Sandy Ridge to a stone wall near the Glass farm. Tyler’s Union brigade arrived to attack this position soon afterwards. Wave after wave of blue-clad troops began to savagely charge the Confederate position. Meanwhile, Fulkerson’s small brigade was easily thrown back from Pritchard’s Hill. Sensing an opportunity, Kimball began to march his brigade to his right to catch Garnett’s brigade in a pincer. 

By this time, the exhausted Confederates were running out of ammunition. Garnett made the fateful decision to withdraw from the stone wall in the heat of battle. Jackson was furious, as this compromised the entire Confederate position. Jackson had no choice but to order a general retreat, but reserved his wrath for Garnett, arresting him to be court-martialed. 

It was Jackson’s first defeat, but he would be ultimately successful in a brilliant campaign over the next few months, tying down over twice his numbers and keeping these Union soldiers from being able to reinforce McClellan’s campaign to the east. As for Garnett, he was eventually exonerated, but the stain of his decision never fully subsided. He fell at Gettysburg leading his next field command. As for the Union, Colonel Kimball was promoted to Brigadier General and had the distinction of being the only Union commander to defeat both Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee (earlier in West Virginia). Final historical casualties were approximately 600 Union and over 700 Confederates. 

In our fight, Fulkerson succeeded in pinning Kimball’s brigade on Pritchard’s Hill and the battle indeed centered on the stone wall on Sandy Ridge. This time, Garnett’s brigade stubbornly held on to the wall as elements of Burk’s brigade pierced the woods in between Kimball and Tyler’s commands. A notable event saw General Shields (who wasn’t on the field historically) leading a charge on the stone wall and catching a Minieball in his forehead for his trouble. Shields’ death caused some morale problems for the Federals at the wall. 

Vicious fighting at the stone wall

In our game, the fight ended as a draw (with a slight Confederate edge). We had a great time and the rules worked smoothly and efficiently. Final casualties in our game were 425 Union losses and 300 Confederates. 

Thanks to our group for participating. I can’t wait until the next ACW fight !

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Minieballs And PigStickers : Rules for the ACW

 Here are my miniature rules for fighting actions in the American Civil War. I’d love feedback from anyone. These are not for a “beer and pretzels” type of game; there’s a fair amount of detail.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Napoleonic Action in Spain using Battle Command

Battle Command is a relatively new (released in January) evolution in the world of Picquet. Closely related to Field of Battle by Brent Oman, it is even more of an evolution of the classic Picquet system. We decided to put it to the test and gathered some forces for a fictitious battle set in Spain in 1809. 

The scenario was planned as a meeting engagement between British / Portuguese troops under LtGen Wellesley and French, Polish, and German forces under Marshal Soult. Both sides had seven brigades in total and the march order onto the table had to be planned beforehand. After rolling for each leader and unit (and then labeling), I had roughly an hour and a half of invested preparation time. Both Wellesley and Soult had high leadership rolls (both a D12) and the troops on both sides ranged from Raw to Crack. There were even a couple of British Foot Guard units on the table. The French had a numbers advantage, but the British had a quality advantage. We allowed two brigades on each side of the table to be deployed. After rolling for Morale Chips (French 29, British 24), we were ready to go. 

In characteristic fashion, the French outmarched the British, and as this was a meeting engagement, the ability to get the French into position was critical. The British stumbled with movement the first couple of turns. This allowed the French to take possession of the center town at the pivotal crossroads. It also allowed the French to deploy a couple batteries into position to begin bombarding the British columns as they advanced. 

One by one, each side’s brigades entered the table. The British under Mackenzie was able to advance and deploy onto the overlooking ridge that dominated the table. Sarrut’s brigade, made up of Nassauers and Badeners advanced to attack the ridge. At this point, it was obvious that the French were targeting the British artillery that was struggling to get into firing position; two entire batteries were lost. On the French right flank, the British cavalry under Cotton had gotten off to a bad start and was uncharacteristically inept in its movements. Meanwhile, French cavalry maneuvered from the right flank into the center to keep the clumsy British advance further disrupted. 

Mackenzie’s British on the ridge were able to throw back the German troops, but the brigade’s battery was destroyed in the process. With the arrival of the French cavalry, Mackenzie fell back to regroup. Both sides suffered a few routing units, but the French were slowly grinding the British, as Morale Chips were being lost at an alarming rate. 

Both sides suffered from traffic jams, as arriving brigades struggled to get to the front line. Finally, the British cavalry recovered their sluggishness and moved to attack the French infantry near the town. Unfortunately, for the Anglo cavalry, a French battery was able to escape in the nick of time, while French infantry formed square amidst the vineyards, effectively blocking the British cavalry attack. 

French cavalry closed against the British infantry at the bottom of the ridge. British musketry were able to repel the Chasseurs and Hussars, but the 13th Cuirassiers charged and broke some British infantry caught in March Column, as the British squared up around them.

As the Morale Chips fell on both sides, the British were able to knock the French out of the center town, but were immediately counterattacked and thrown out themselves. The British were down to zero chips at this point to the French 8, and the battle was called (didn’t wait for an Army Morale Card). The French did suffer significant casualties as well, but held their ground admirably, winning a Minor Victory. The British fell back to lick their wounds. 

So how did the rules work?  First off, we had a great time and the game definitely told a story. With the new Action Matrix, the decisions that needed to be made were ample and provided a challenging context.  One of the criticisms of Classic Picquet was that “the cards dictated the game and no decision-making or planning was necessary.” With Battle Command, nothing could be further from the truth. At no point did either of us feel that we weren’t in control; the card deck merely presented the situations that we had to think through. The constant interaction between Initiative and Reactive sides provided a fast-moving game that flowed well and kept our attention throughout. Also, because the maximum cards that can be drawn is now 2, there were no longer any periods in which one side or the other went on an extended roll, while the other side sat there while being outmaneuvered. 

We both gave the rule and the experience two solid thumbs up ! 

We did draft some house rules that would satisfy our views of Napoleonic warfare, but these were minor and just added to the experience. Specific areas were infantry moving in line vs column, no “first fire” for units in skirmish order, artillery prolong moves, artillery bouncethrough, and a couple of others. 

I probably put a bit too much restrictive terrain on the table, which severely hurt the British after the French “got the jump” and forced the Brits to attack a tough defensive position. 

I’ll be setting up a new scenario with the British deployed on the ridge and the French attacking (in other words, a classic Peninsular War scenario) using the same orders of battle and modified terrain. I can’t wait !

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Weekend Ancients with Mortem et Gloriam

This past weekend, Bradley and I got together to bash some Ancient armies at each other. He brought his Carthaginians and I fielded Gallic Foederate Romans. The system of choice was our favorite, Mortem et Gloriam. We played the Maximus scale of 10,000 point armies. I placed a Large wood in the center of the table, which irritated Bradley to no end. His Carthaginians outscouted me by 70%, so I was on the receiving end of that move. 

The game began with my Foederate infantry moving through the thick woods to engage the enemy. I also pushed my Skirmishers on my left flank up to slow down his advance. I had my Roman-trained Warriors on this flank, and I only intended to fight defensively here.

Bradley countered by pushing his Numidians fast up to my cavalry on his left flank. I immediately charged and began pushing my strong cavalry on this flank. After taking some missile hits, the Carthaginian cavalry and Numidians melted away here. 

The fighting in the woods was vicious, as both sides beat each other up.

The action on the Roman left saw mostly skirmish missile fire, as both sides took grievous casualties. The Romans stood motionless, waiting for the inevitable clash on this flank. Carthaginian cavalry began to move around the enemy, towards the line of Roman steel.  In a flash, both sides’ Archers and Javelin-men ran, leaving the way open to attack the motionless Roman-trained warriors. At this point, the Romans were feeling confident with an 8-2 lead in points. 

At this point though, the tide began to turn. In the woods, Carthaginian infantry charged the Foederate Germans in the flank, beginning to inflict massive casualties. On the Roman right, the victorious cavalry ran into reserve infantry armed with long spears. The results were devastating to the Roman cavalry. The score tightened and then was suddenly tied 8-8. 

On the Roman left, Balearic slingers and Numidian horsemen began to pelt the Roman-trained warriors, who were forced to adopt Testudo. 

Right before the three hour point, the rest of the Foederate infantry collapsed in the center and that was the game. In a stunning comeback, the Carthaginians won 12-10. Bradley played brilliantly and definitely deserved the win. What a game !

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Picquet: What’s it All About ?

In the world of historical wargaming, the Picquet family of rules seems to be on the fringe of an already niche hobby. Picquet has its raving fans, as well as its detractors who positively hate it. I personally am not an experienced veteran of the system, but I have played in several games, at least enough to formulate an opinion. 

Picquet is a gaming system which is based on the underlying foundation of fog of war. Each side has its own sequence card deck that can be based on leadership or national military philosophy (for example. Imperial Romans and Germanic warriors have very different decks). Each unit and leader is meticulously rolled for in the areas of Firing, Combat, and Morale (in the Classic Picquet system - see below). The game then begins with a roll-off to determine how active one side is and for how long. I won’t go into nitty-gritty details, but turning cards to see what units can do and then actually executing these actions per unit burns up these actions. When the actions are completed, another roll-off determines the next set of actions. At the end of a total number of actions (20 in Classic PK), the turn ends and the card decks reshuffle and a new turn begins. 

Fans of the systems say that the games play like a story and that the fog of war provides true realism when it comes to control of the flow of battle. Detractors state that the cards dictate the game and too little control is left to the players. In addition, the biggest criticism is that one side can continue rolling for actions at the expense of the other side. In theory, the turns should balance out, giving each side equal opportunity to make their moves. In reality, these “swings” can happen. 

The Picquet family is further split into the afore-mentioned “Classic PK” (originated by Bob Jones) and what I’ll call “evolved PK” under the ownership of Brent Oman. “Classic PK” has master rules and separate period rules for more grit and flavor. The period rules like Hallowed Ground (ACW), Archon (Ancients/Medieval), and Les Grognards ( Napoleonic Wars) are just a few examples that cover almost every period in history. Field of Battle (covering the horse and musket period and a WW2 version), Pulse of Battle (covering the Ancients period), and Din of Battle (covering colonial actions) are rules based on the principles of “Classic PK,” but the criticisms of that system have been addressed. No longer does one side go on an extended streak of actions while his opponent sits there idly as his army is destroyed before his eyes. The initial rolls dictate the number of impulses for both sides in an alternating fashion. There is now more decisions to be made with each card that puts the wargamer in the driving seat. The cards provide a context; the original concepts of the cards providing a “storyline” and fog of war remain, but the gamer is now in control of how to use the cards. This “evolved PK” has been refined even further with release of Battle Command. My initial reaction to these rules is that it’s an even more refined and improved version of Field of Battle. I’m excited to play my first game this weekend. 

So, in summary, Picquet has a reputation among wargamers. Some love it, some hate it. But I really think there’s a brilliance lurking in the system that many rules do not contain. I think Classic PK is more suited to 1-2 players of like-mindedness; it is especially entertaining as a solitaire platform. I do think that the series of rules under the leadership of Brent Oman are improved versions of the classic system. I highly recommend the Field of Battle family of rules for solitaire or group games. I do think the many detractors of the “Classic PK” series would be mildly surprised at the improvements. Give them a try and join me in traveling down this path. 

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Comparison: Republic To Empire vs General de Brigade

 Republic To Empire vs General de Brigade

Today’s comparison is a tough one. I’m a fan of both systems, for different reasons. They both share a common figure ratio (20:1) and both originated in the UK. Republic To Empire was originally written for a 28mm scale, but can be easily modified for smaller figure scales. 

1. Table appearance (do the unit sizes and organization look like a battle?  Both systems utilize a 20:1 scale with detached Skirmisher bases. Guns are scaled as 2 tubes per model base. Both look great on the table with nice, beefy units. A total Draw here. 

2. Command and Control (Is C/C challenging and realistic?) General de Brigade utilizes an easy and straight-forward method of changing orders. It is very effective and a streamlined portion of the rules. Republic To Empire actually sports one of the most interesting command /control mechanisms I’ve ever seen. Command points are rolled for based on commander rating. Individual brigade orders are tied to the brigade commander quality and have varying command point costs every turn. To maintain an order, these points must be used first, then orders may be changed with left-over points. Finally, if a unit executes an action apart or different from the rest of the brigade, it must be paid for. In addition, charges must be paid for at the end of the turn. It sounds a bit complicated, but works very well. A tremendous amount of thought must go into the command phase. Although General de Brigade’s system is smooth and effective, I have to give the edge to Republic To Empire. It is refreshingly different !

3. Flow of the turn (Is it clunky or smoothly elegant?) Both rules are similar in that they are tactically gritty with multiple morale checks for units throughout the turn. Charges are similar mechanically. I do think General de Brigade has a bit smoother flow to it, so GdB has a slight edge.

4. Mechanics (Are the mechanics easy to pick up? Do the mechanics have enough detail? Do the mechanics slow the battle down?)

Both systems are tactical games with a lot of detail. Both rules can bog down in detail amid frequent rules look-ups. It’s a Draw here. Those who are drawn to grit and detail will love both systems. 

5. Historic results (Do the results seem realistic? Are there wild swings of outcomes?) Both rules pride themselves on realism. General de Brigade typically uses a 2d6 system for firing and melee, while Republic To Empire uses more of a bucket approach which is modified by the tactical situation. It is much more effective than, say, Black Powder’s bucket approach. Both systems work well with how they approach results. Another Draw…..huh oh, I’m seeing a pattern here. 

6. Historic tactics (Do historic tactics work? Does the system reward the use of historic tactics?) Since both systems feature very detailed tactics, abstraction of anything is hard to find anywhere. Even massed columns possibly colliding are covered in General de Brigade. I have to say that both systems excel in this area. Yet another Draw. 

7. Morale (Does morale feel right on the unit or brigade/divisional level?) Both systems feature multiple morale checks on a unit level. General de Brigade does go a bit further with Brigade morale checks. Players who hate multiple dice rolls for one result will be frustrated by both systems, as no “morale” stone is left unturned. General de Brigade is a bit smoother and less clunky in this area, so gets a slight nod.

8. Playability (Do the rules provide for a fun game, or is it mired in too much detail, etc) If you like tactical games, you will love both systems. General de Brigade is a bit more straight-forward, and Republic To Empire takes a little longer to master, but frankly both rules are exceptionally playable. Another Draw.

9. Ease of setup (what does pre-scenario work look like? Is figure basing too specific? Do the rules require very specific basing?) As for pre-game preparation, both rules are similar. General de Brigade though, is much less flexible in the area of basing. Skirmish companies must be accounted for in the unit by figure. To be honest, it’s a bit frustrating with any collection that may be based for other rules. Republic To Empire is definitely more flexible in this area and gets the win.

10. End of battle (Do the rules give results that can be useful if conducting a campaign? Are Victory objectives taken account? Is Victory defined by the rules?) Victory objectives are scenario specific and must be planned for. Both rules are not meant for tournament play, although General de Brigade does have a detailed points system and terrain placement system for pick up games. Neither system has a post-battle system for use in campaigns, so house rules are required. I would give this area a close Draw for both. 

In summary, each system wins in two areas, and result in Draws for every other area. I know, not fair ! I honestly can’t commit either way. Republic To Empire’s command and control system is incredibly cool, but General de Brigade is smooth, elegant, tried and true. Both are very similar when it comes to scale, mechanics, and playability. I guess my advice is…….play both !

Friday, May 5, 2023

Comparison: Mortem et Gloriam vs Warrior

Warrior vs Mortem et Gloriam

Today is a comparison/discussion of 2 Ancients rules. Both rules systems are highly regarded by their fan bases. Warrior is a rewritten version of the classic WRG 7th edition, while Mortem et Gloriam is relatively new on the scene. Both systems utilize a number of “elements” (stands) to build a unit; typically a Warrior unit is composed of 2-12 elements, while a “unit group” in Mortem et Gloriam is dictated by the army lists and typically ranges from 4-9.

1. Table appearance (do the unit sizes and organization look like a battle?) Both systems are similar in appearance and have similar unit sizes, so this will be a Draw.

2. Command and Control (Is C/C challenging and realistic?) I have to give Mortem et Gloriam the edge here. The color-coded chips (or cards) are critical to the game. It is innovative and adds a very challenging feel. Warrior does have a command and control system but it’s almost secondary with respect to mechanics in the game.  

3. Flow of the turn (Is it clunky or smoothly elegant?) Warrior is an IGO-UGO system that is split into Tactical Moves, Firing, Grand-Tactical moves, Charges, etc. Mortem et Gloriam is an alternating system that keeps both players engaged throughout the turn. Although both systems work, I have to give Mortem et Gloriam the edge here. 

4. Mechanics (Are the mechanics easy to pick up? Do the mechanics have enough detail? Do the mechanics slow the battle down?) Both systems have a lot of detail when it comes to mechanics. The mechanics on how to move, when to do morale checks, etc are clear and straight-forward. This has to be a Draw. 

5. Historic results (Do the results seem realistic? Are there wild swings of outcomes?) Mortem et Gloriam is more luck-based and abstract, while Warrior is very statistics-based. I have to give Warrior the edge here. 

6. Historic tactics (Do historic tactics work? Does the system reward the use of historic tactics?) Who knows, as none of us were around to witness the ancient world. We can only glean specific tactics from books and research. I will say that Warrior rewards a shooting army more than Mortem et Gloriam. The use of Skirmishers are also a bit more powerful in Warrior as well. Mortem et Gloriam is a bit more abstract when it comes to specific tactics as a unit is actually defined as a “unit group” in MeG. I think Warrior has a slight edge here. 

7. Morale (Does morale feel right on the unit or brigade/divisional level?) Routs can happen in a flash in Warrior, while it usually takes multiple turns to grind a unit down in Mortem et Gloriam. The number of routed units does affect a specific command in Warrior, whereas they don’t in Mortem et Gloriam. But on the other hand, there is a definite Breakpoint for the overall army in MeG. Both systems utilize morale checks on surrounding units due to witnessing routs. I think both systems excel in this area. A definite Draw. 

8. Playability (Do the rules provide for a fun game, or is it mired in too much detail, etc) Mortem et Gloriam has the edge here. It is a smoother game than Warrior. The statistics and data are on simpler charts and are ingrained in the colored die system. In Warrior, the charts are more complex and the math can be cumbersome. It takes much more time to master Warrior than MeG due to the mathematical calculations needed to play the game. 

9. Ease of setup (what does pre-scenario work look like? Is figure basing too specific? Do the rules require very specific basing?) Both rules use pre-planned army lists based on a points system. Warrior is a bit more fiddly when it comes to base sizes for loose order and close order troops. I think MeG is a bit more flexible in this area, so a slight nod to Mortem et Gloriam here. 

10. End of battle (Do the rules give results that can be useful if conducting a campaign? Are Victory objectives taken account? Is Victory defined by the rules?) Its a Draw in this area. Both systems use very specific scoring methods to determine Victory or Defeat outcomes. They are both primarily tournament games. Neither system has a detailed mechanic for permanent casualties for use in a campaign, but house rules can be easily applied in this area. 

So, in summary, it’s a close result. Mortem et Gloriam wins in 4 categories, while Warrior wins in 2 categories. The other 4 parameters result in Draws. I think if you want a smoother, yet still challenging game, you have to go with Mortem et Gloriam. If you are more old school when it comes to charts and modifiers, than Warrior is the more attractive system. It does take much more investment to master the Warrior system, but there are still enough subtleties in MeG to make it a challenging and realistic system as well.