A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A Nation Divided – into Hexes? (2) – Foot & Artillery

Continuing from the previous post, this is an attempt to produce a game based on GMT’s Commands & Colors: Napoleonics (CCN) which will work successfully for ECW and (maybe) 30YW. CCN, for those who are unfamiliar with it, is a card-driven board game played on a hex grid. The game uses purpose-built Combat Dice, which are marked with special symbols – Infantry (x2), Cavalry, Artillery, Flag (used to initiate retreats) and Crossed-Sabres (which has various uses – including melee hits and hits on Leaders).

Standard CCN is played with labelled wooden blocks – typically, for example, an infantry battalion consists of 4 such blocks. The game can also be played with miniatures, using a base of figures as a “block”, or some equivalent mapping.

One immediate issue which arises for ECW infantry is that the units are mixed – muskets and pikes – and thus casualties cannot simply be removed as a block/base – the result on the mix of arms remaining would be disproportionate. First proposal, then, is that losses against infantry units will be recorded by adding Casualty Markers, which represent a proportionate reduction in all arms. This may not be necessary for other types of troops, for which the units are homogeneous, but it might be more sensible to have the same approach for all arms.

Thus the first rule is that a unit is eliminated when the number of Casualty Markers is equal to the number of blocks/bases. In what follows, the basic rules are CCN unless otherwise stated – if you are interested, you may download the CCN rules from the GMT site here.


In my ECW army – primarily because it is being built to be suitable for Victory without Quarter – a unit of Foot consists of 3 blocks – 2 of muskets and 1 of pikes. Other mixtures are possible, including all muskets, but the 2:1 mix appropriate to the later years of the war is the norm here.

In CCN-speak, infantry units will be of classification FT – they may move 1 hex and Battle. In melee, pike blocks count 2 dice each, muskets 1 each; identified veteran units (which may not be more than 25% of the FT units fielded) count an extra dice. The number of dice available is reduced by 1 for each Casualty Marker.

In Ranged Combat (shooting), the musket blocks count 1 each, the pikes zero. Range is 2 hexes. Again, veterans may count +1 dice, and 1 dice is deducted for each Casualty Marker. I decided not to halve the number of Ranged Combat dice if the firers moved (CCN does reduce it) – there may be weak historical justification for this, but firepower is so feeble anyway that it hardly seemed worth the complication.

FT units which have pikes may adopt Stand of Pikes formation against cavalry – the rules and operation for this are exactly the same as for Squares in CCN.

[I considered allowing a variation, such that some FT units might have a 1:1 muskets:pikes ratio, however the blocks fielded might look. In such a unit, the 3 blocks would really be 1.5 blocks muskets and 1.5 blocks pikes. Melee power (rounding up) would be 3 for the pikes and 2 for the muskets, and firepower would still be 2 for the muskets (rounded up), which is not reasonable given the smaller number of muskets present, so overall I decided that such a unit would appear to have too big an advantage if I bent the rules for it. A big 1:1 FT unit with 2 musket blocks and 2 pike blocks would be OK, but otherwise the guideline is that units must be mixed in the same way as the blocks fielded. If you want a 1:1 foot unit, you can have a little 2-block one or a big 4-block one, but if you’re fielding a 3-block one they have to be 2:1] 


Units are all of type FA – I have not yet considered the issue of different weights or calibres of guns. The units consist of 1 or 2 blocks, and may move 1 hex or fire. Moving and firing is not allowed. They have zero melee capability, so may not attack, and can only battle back with zero dice! In ranged combat, each block in the unit throws 1 dice at range 2 to 4 hexes. If casualties for artillery are kept as Markers, then 1 dice is deducted for each Casualty Marker, as with infantry.

Since I think that it is very unlikely that the artillery of the day would have been able to co-ordinate with other arms, the Combined Arms Attack rule in CCN is not used in my ECW variant.

I haven’t yet decided what to do about batteries which are overrun. I assume that the civilian gunners would clear off pretty smartly if attacked, so there is maybe a case for captured guns being used by the other side – I would like to claim that I am thinking about this, but my historical knowledge is so poor in this area that what I am probably doing is sitting wondering what to do!

At the moment, I am hoping the Terrain Effects chart from CCN may be imported as is.

Next post will look at the units of Horse (including a very brief look at the Caracole, which came close to distorting the entire game), and Dragoons.


  1. This seems to be coming along fine and I think you've probably taken the best options for the look and feel that you want. It should feel right. Buttttttttt....being unable to avoid heretical thoughts, thoughts so heretical that I should probably sign this with a pseudonym so that anyone who doesn't bother to look at my user id won't know where to send the hate mail, but I digress.

    My thought is twofold, on the one hand, it seems unlikely that all the hits would fall on musketeers or on pikemen, your proposal nicely handles this visually, but, the first hit will 1/2 the fire strength of the unit. Explainable as fouled bores etc etc that units seem to have been willing to carry on a slow fire longer than they were willing to charge in while this will encourage the opposite I should think.

    Secondly, I'm not up on current ECW thoughts but at one time is was thought that some units did attempt something approaching the Swedish methods with small bodies of pike and shot interspersed rather than the Dutch system of 1 central pike body with wings. Lining the muskets with pikes is even mentioned. Perhaps while the troops are painted and based traditionally, the melee and shooting strength could be a unit attribute irrespective of the exact mix of miniatures? So with a base of 1 die shooting and 2 in melee for a standard 3:2 unit, a pike heavy unit might gain a die in melee and lose 1 die when shooting while a musket heavy unit gain a die in shooting and lose 1 in melee.
    or something like that.

    -Rosco the Heretic

    1. Hi Rosco - this is good stuff - thank you. I agree that there is no real reason why the armament or fighting capability has to reflect the line-up of the dumb little painted soldiers - I'd been thinking along the same lines but am trying to avoid keeping rosters (which is OK, since could just define different ratios as different unit types, if I restrict the choices). More complex issue is arranging simple casualty system so that reduction in fighting strength behaves correctly. Hmmm. Back to the drawing board.

      Appreciated - thanks again - exactly the reason why I want to exhibit this half-baked stuff here!

      Cheers - Olaf the Morsel

  2. It will be interesting to see how much useful feedback you can get on your ideas as they develop Tony. Ross makes some interesting and valid points about how casualties are recorded/ distributed in a typical ECW pike and shot regiment. I would agree with him in that I feel it is more realistic to spread losses to both shot and close quarter fighting amongst the unit as a whole rather than attempting to treat each musket block separately and the pike block as separate again. For a start it really overcomplicates rules, although it has been successfully done by George Gush back in the WRG days, but above all I personally think it is more realistic to treat an ECW Regiment of Foot as a single unit comprising different troop types. Apart from occasions when maybe some shot would be drawn off from the parent body for a specific task – forlorn hope, ‘commanded’ muskets etc, I believe that the inter dependency of pike and shot was regarded as vital. Thus a regiment would advance as a single body, engage the enemy as a single body, fight hand to hand as a single body (there are many references to musketeers reversing their pieces and using the butt as a club!), and take casualties as a single body. A flag signal to fall back on the colours would see the entire regiment hurriedly retire and reform around the flag, and when in a tight spot this could indeed be in a manner described by Ross as the ‘Swedish’ method, musketeers huddled beneath and between the long pikes for protection.
    I would not want to pretend that re enactment makes for being any kind of period ‘expert’ but it does give you a realistic perspective on how it felt to be involved in a noisy, confusing and frightening situation. My first experience many years ago now was one I will probably never forget, I DID experience a certain fear around what was coming, especially when I saw all the front rank pikes putting gum shields in just before the advance! What followed was mayhem, we engaged Newcastle’s Regiment, who I was told had a serious reputation for being ‘hard’ and during what was probably a 20 minute fight I found myself crushed to the point where I could barely breath, with my breastplate digging into my ribs painfully, my feet could not reach the ground, my helmet was butted by one of our Whitecoated opponents which left me dazed slightly, a pike point (rubber luckily) was thrust into my groin, and once I finally went down I had a heap of big armoured guys crash down on top of me. We withdrew, handing Newcastles the victory in that little melee (there was a certain etiquette involved here to avoid any further injuries). At the signal to retire on the colours I was struggling for breath, could barely lift the pike again and was actually pulled out and sent back for water and recovery by an officer. Several of our guys were carried off on stretchers to the First Aid tent, concussion, bleeding noses and shoulder injuries being not uncommon. Tough men those Geordies, for the following week I was black and blue with bruising, and could barely swallow due to bruising around my neck.... such fun!
    I offer the above Tony as being a flavour of what it MAY have been like in reality only, we were not actually tying to kill each other of course! It became a very confused and mixed up melee, with musket butts to the fore, swords drawn, thrusting, stabbing, shouting and swearing, but the regiments fought as entire bodies, and my reading would confirm for me at least that this would indeed have been the case during the period.
    Hopefully more food for thought. I think the ‘Forlorn Hope’ rules ratio method may be the best way to handle this, difficult as unit sized varied so widely from a couple of hundred up to a thousand or more (in theory at least), and the ratio of pike to shot could also vary widely from the ideal of 2 muskets to 1 pikeman.
    Sorry for rambling, I hope you find some of it useful in some way, I think I’m going to try this myself too now 

  3. Gorman and I will be playing a pike and shot game using a set we hammered out over sherry a few weeks ago.

    We decided on four block units, three shot and one pikeman. Pike only count in melee and ignore retreats caused by cavalry. Players choose where the want the losses to fall.

    I'll report back once we've played a few.