Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday 30 May 2022

WSS: The Delicate Matter of Interpenetration


[Nurse - the screens...]

From my recent playtesting game with Ian, we ended up with a note of about 12-14 points in the rules which needed some change - or at the very least some reconsideration. Well and good. That is what the game was about (apart from the social delights), and it had gone well enough to encourage me to get on with thinking about what, if anything, needs to be done.

One area of the rules with which we had some problems (i.e. for which we found we were making things up as we went along, to cover holes and clunky bits) was that of interpenetration. I realise that this gets us into all sorts of disagreements about definitions, so I shall skip lightly over that, and also I shall continue to avoid reading drill manuals, other than the references summarised in the works of Chandler and Nosworthy.

By interpenetration (which is a vague word, but I hung on to it because it affords me some adolescent amusement), I am broadly covering the matter of troops passing through their friends, and in two situations:

(Type 1) voluntarily moving through friends as part of ordered movement

(Type 2) moving round, through (or over) friendly troops when retiring or routing

Since plagiarism is the most sincere demonstration of respect (which is why I am pleased to be so widely respected on TMP), I did a lot of reading, especially of prominent rule sets, some for periods which were not entirely relevant. I looked at, among other sources:

Beneath the Lily Banners

Piquet's Field of Battle (3rd edition)

Black Powder

The Twilight of the Sun King

Polemos's Obstinate and Bloody Battle

Honours of War

Charles S Grant's updates to The War Game Rules

and I got a lot of useful information online - in particular from the excellent Rod's Wargaming blog. I also revisited For King & Parliament, and I have the rules for Tricorne, which is the AWI member of the Commands & Colors family.  

A lot of excellent stuff here - some of it made more or less suitable for my purposes by the underlying game scales, but all of it the product of very sound reasoning. Impressive.

The thing which surprises me is the frequency with which these experts appear to disagree about how such things worked, and even the extent to which they did work. I am not going to produce a table of differences or anything, but the view seems to range from units being able to move freely through each other without delay or disruption (provided they have sufficient movement allowance to get clear of each other) to much more restrictive approaches.

In particular, Field of Battle's basic approach to the topic of Type 1 (voluntary) interpenetration is very detailed and pretty liberal, and I always take very seriously the way the Piquet games are thought through and researched, but in the period-specific section for the WSS it says that such voluntary movement is not permitted, except through deployed artillery batteries. This came as a bit of a surprise, and further reading got me into online debates about whether there should even be such leniency towards moving through artillery - a couple of writers expressed strong views that batteries took up more room than is normally assumed, and that the idea they were mostly space is incorrect because of the crowd of support wagons and limbers, not to mention people racing about with ammunition. I suspend judgement on the porous nature of artillery, then - for the moment. There are a lot of very earnest people out there. Bless them all.

I'm somewhere at the start of a dialogue with Ian about what we learned and what he thinks of my thoughts for changes, plus ideas of his own, etc, so none of what follows is intended to pre-empt any of that discussion, but I'm sketching out some thoughts - mostly prompted by the wide range of opinions elsewhere. I must also emphasise that my priority is to produce a game which is enjoyable and which runs without hitches, rather than to reflect the inspired detail of military thinking at the start of the 18th Century, but it must bear some resemblance to what really happened!

It seems to me, after all this private study, that the fundamental principle of military theory at the time was to prevent the enemy's lethal units of Horse getting around your flank, or breaking through any gaps in your line. Squares were almost unheard of, except in odd instances where a single unit might be isolated somewhere, so the ideal was an unbroken line, from horizon to horizon, the only discontinuities being strong terrain features or built-up areas. The second line of units might have intervals, but never the first; it was an established fact that cavalry could not defeat formed musket infantry attacked from the front, so give them nothing but front to attack.

This means, I think, that the spaces between units which I have claimed, in other periods, give room for routers or reinforcers to pass through were virtually non-existent.

Early days yet, and this is a sketch, but I'm thinking along the following lines for the Type 1 (voluntary) interpenetration situations (note that my game uses hexes, but the principles should hold good in any event):

* Friendly (march) columns and limbered artillery may move freely through or past each other, and any troops at all may pass through friendly unlimbered artillery, but in both these cases they must have enough movement allowance to avoid ending up in the same hex, and may not come into contact with the enemy while so doing.

* Friendly lines which are adjacent, parallel and either one behind the other or directly facing each other, if both are given orders to do so, may exchange places, provided neither of them is in contact with the enemy at any point of the manoeuvre.

And that might be about it for Type 1.

Type 2 needs some more detailed thought. Despite its pretty strict view of Type 1 interpenetration in the WSS, Field of Battle allows routers to pass through (leapfrog) anyone behind them, there seems no limit to how far they can jump, but they have to keep going until they are clear of the rearmost. I'm not keen on that at all, not in a system of units with no gaps in between.

Ian and I prefer a version where retreating units may push a single unit back, without upset to either party, but if this is not possible without pushing back a second unit, or if impassable terrain (or the enemy) gets in the way, then they have to take any extent of the required retreat which they are unable to comply with as losses. Yes, this is very like Commands and Colors - well spotted!  

I'm still reading and thinking - any helpful ideas will be very welcome - any prepared lectures on the full procedure for Passage of Lines will be less warmly greeted - I've done a bit of that this week!

Thursday 19 May 2022

WSS: Testing Action at Ober Eschenbach (1704)

[Since Blogger this evening appears to have become a competely new experience, I am pleased to have produced this post in a fraction of the time I expected, so I am about 36 hours ahead of my intended publishing date!]

 On Wednesday I was delighted to welcome Stryker - who hasn't been here for over two years - to join me in a playtesting game for my developing WSS rules. I (as the Elector of Bavaria) commanded a Franco-Bavarian force, defending a ridge position against a slightly larger Austro-British army under the command of Marshal Styrum (Stryker was very taken by the impressively red British contingent!).

Since we were testing the latest version of the rules, some of the action deliberately involved some rather risky choices - just to see what happened (at least we will claim so). Normally, my playtesting games can be heavy going - on occasions they have verged on embarrassment - but this week's game went well, a large part of the credit for which must be due to Stryker for his enthusiastic approach!

Since I am waiting for a suitable supply of figures for French and British general officers, the battle was run by Bavarian and Imperial commanders, but no matter.

We set a target of 9 Victory Pts for the win. In the event the French side got up to 8-2, but then it was pulled back by the Allies to 8-5 and eventually we stopped at this score, since time was running out before Stryker had to brave Mad Max and his pals on the return drive on the Edinburgh Bypass, and we felt the remaining time would be better spent reviewing how it had gone, and which bits of the rules needed tweaking. In any case, the Allies had done so well to establish a good hold on the ridge that the scenario should really have included objective bonuses - point noted...

A lot of good stuff on the rules front came out of our game. Once again, I am deeply impressed by the extent to which these development challenges are improved by the two-heads-are-better-than-one doctrine. Very productive.

Some form of game narrative should emerge from the pictures.

The Allied army, with the Brits on their left, start on the side of the table near the village of Ober Eschenbach

Still looking at the Allies, this time from the right (Austrian) flank. Note the famous church of St Michael the Plasterer - the village also included Shakespeare's birthplace, by the way, to give a suitably international vibe

Here we get a look at the opposition, with the Bavarians (most of them) at the near end; the French troops at the far end are partly dug in, to cover vulnerable parts of the ridge - their army is rather smaller

The Brits get themselves organised for an advance; here we see the Scottish Fusiliers (Rowe's Foot) and a glimpse of the artillery - still dressed in red in 1704. Below you see the Régiment de Poitou, two battalions strong, ready behind breastworks on the other side of the valley

A general view as the Allied advance gets moving...
...while (in the interests of rule-testing) the Bavarian horse attempts to bully their Austrian opposite numbers
In this game, combat (which includes musketry at ranges up to 80 paces and hand-to-hand stuff) can only take place between units in adjacent hexes, so there are now a number of views of the field as the French wait for the Allied attack to come across the valley. Keeping the line straight is a slow and ponderous procedure! In the meantime, the French artillery did what damage it could, but wasn't hugely effective

Note that a couple of the British units had to advance through some woods, which slowed everything down, but was handled well

When they eventually got across to the ridge, they gained a couple of footholds quite quickly - here are Ferguson's Foot, aka the Earl of Angus's Regt, aka the Cameronians, reaching the objective at the "Elector's Tree", with their attached battalion gun to the fore
Another British regiment joins them up there...
...and is quickly driven off again by the recovering boys of the Navarre regiment
The Poitou lads did very successfully drive off an [experimental] attack on their earthworks, but otherwise were not disturbed much
French horse

The Franco-Bavarian HQ, with the Elector possibly stretching his abilities a little, but having a grand day out

The ridge was gradually being overrun, as the Austrians joined in the attack

After 10 turns, we halted the game - the current score was 8-5 to the Elector, as you can see. In theory, the target was set at 9 points for a win, but in fact the straight losses tally did not reflect the success the Allies had achieved in taking the ridge, so the setting of victory targets becomes one of the areas of the rules which needs some attention!

  Again my thanks to Stryker for his company and encouragement - a most enjoyable and useful day all round. I'll have some thoughts on rule fixes and maybe post about them on another occasion. For tonight, let me say that the latest revisions to Blogger, whatever else they have done, have allowed me to complete this post in a single evening, which recently is unheard of, and is a big advance indeed. Credit where credit is due...



WSS: More French Horse

 The scheduled battle took place yesterday - I hope to put a brief report up here in the next day or two.

Because I hadn't had time to get their bases and flags finished in time, these two new units missed the cut, but will be ready for action as from today. They are painted, again, by Lee, for which many thanks. They took advantage of the sunshine to have a quick trot outside. They seem happy enough.

Regiment de Grignan in the front, Lavallière behind. Paintwork by Lee, flags from Robert Hall

Monday 16 May 2022

WSS: Game Coming Up This Week

 Very pleased that a much-postponed game is going ahead here this week. If it goes well enough, I'll probably hash together some kind of report. We'll see.

I've scaled back my original ideas of the bigger table, groaning under the weight of the troops, in the interests of commonsense. What we are left with is the little-known Battle of Ober Eschenbach, in 1704, with Marshal Styrum's Austro-British army attacking a Franco-Bavarian force under the command of the Elector of Bavaria.

Let's see what happens. Tomorrow I must go foraging to raise some suitable rations for lunch... 

This is more like it. 

Styrum's Alliance troops are on the side of the field with the village. The opposition have been digging in a little on their right flank. Looks as if they've had it turfed too. Nice job.


Tuesday 10 May 2022

WSS: En passant par la Lorraine - and a quart of pea soup, please

 More sabots. I painted most of my stock of special one-size-fits-all WSS sabots a while ago, but the time has come to paint the rest of them. In some ways, the WSS has been an opportunity to try out some of my more peculiar OCD ideas, and the sabots are one of my better efforts. I designed my basing for this period so that it could be used with Maurice, Beneath the Lily Banners, Piquet's Field of Battle and my own WSS rules - infantry in column are 150mm long, in line they are 150mm wide, and the cavalry measurements are also standardised, so I have one size of sabot which will handle all horse and foot in either formation.

Part of my obsession with sabots, of course, is to do with the fact that I use old Les Higgins figures, which have the most ridiculously fragile bayonets ever, so wargaming here is HANDLE BY THE BASES ONLY.

I stirred up a nice big pot of the house baseboard green, and the last of the sabots have now had their first coat. These are the last MDF items I bought from the much-missed Tony Barr before he retired, so I view them with some affection.

You can never have too many sabots - it's a fact. I just need to get a bigger box to keep them in now.

Yes - that's right - the second coat will look after the end I left for handling, and the third (touch-up) coat will check the edges for charcoal traces showing through

Sunday 1 May 2022

Painting Desk - Out of Traction; Resting

 Very pleased to report that the repairs to the desk seem to have worked as hoped. I still need to polish up the finish to get rid of PVA smears, but it looks OK.

My engineering department did a quick analysis on what had happened to the poor thing. This is all a semi-educated guess, of course:

(1) The unaccustomed heat in the attic last Summer may have offended the old glue somewhat (which must surely have been made of dead horses, or fish).

(2) I observe that the drop-down deskfront (which becomes the writing/painting surface when lowered) no longer recesses properly into the opening - it matters not at all - it simply means that the desk top will sit a few mm open at the top edge, which you can't even see, and which actually makes it easier to open, without scratching round the edges.

(3) However, I recall that the desk top did not close fully when I bought it, two years ago, though it has been doing so lately, before the repair. I believe that I may innocently have got into the habit of pushing the lid closed, which, though not requiring much effort, has produced sufficient leverage to pop the joint in the side panel.

(4) I shall not do this in future. With luck, that is the end of the episode. If the newly-glued joint fails again, I think I'll just scrap the desk and replace it, though I don't think this will happen.


Separate Topic - New Book from Amazon

Today I took delivery of a book I pre-ordered a while ago. This book has been available for a few weeks from other retail outlets, but I'm pleased to have it. I had a quick squint at it when it arrived, since James Falkner's efforts (of which I have a few) tend towards the dry end of the creative writing spectrum, and he does specialise in restricting his studies to English language sources, but this volume seems OK. 

The package was expected yesterday, courtesy of Amazon's own delivery service, but didn't arrive - they claimed they were unable to reach my house. They managed today. I believe I know why.

Yesterday, like all the other days since Storm Arwen was cleared away, the 0.75 mile lane from the A198 to my front gate was open for access, my house was in its correct place, and there was someone here. However, Amazon's drivers (who are more reliable than most, I find) tend to leave the public road at the entrance to the next-door farm, and come along the long and winding (and bumpy, and narrow) private road, between the fields, to arrive at our place from the reverse direction. It is slower and less convenient for them, especially when sowing, spraying or harvesting are in full swing, but I have to assume they use some alternative sat-nav system. Yesterday the farm was not busy, but this alternative route was closed because the Berwick on Tweed Motor Club was holding some special stages of one of their Historic Rallies on the private land.

My point, apart from the mystery of why the drivers use this odd route, is simply that if they had come the more obvious way there would have been no problem. Anyway, all's well etc, and my book got an extra trip to Edinburgh and back.