Sunday, 15 March 2015

One-Hour Wargames 11: Surprise Attack

Following on from the successful and (more or less) decisive game we had last month, we thought we'd kill two birds with one stone by trying out another of Neil Thomas' scenarios from his book One-Hour Wargames, but again not actually using his rules...
Austrian Line (Roundway Miniatures 15mm)
Scenario 11 'Surprise Attack' is supposed to represent Quatre Bras where Ney encountered the Anglo-Dutch army two days before Waterloo at the strategically important crossroads.  The original 3' x 3' layout described in the book has a lake where we put the (impassable) hill instead, which was substituted as we didn't have a piece of lake scenery to put there.  
Initial dispositions - Austrians in white, French in blue.
However, stung by my comments on our last battle, Geoff had conjured up a bit of road from a strip of painted lino, which did the job perfectly, at least for one of the roads (the crossroad being defined by buildings with the lateral roads depicted by hedges).  You can see I've been experimenting with MappingBoard to try to produce some better maps.
Initial positions viewed from Austrian right
The scenario required that a third of the defending forces (the Austrians) be deployed in the centre of the table, with the remaining two thirds coming on in two waves subsequently; the objective being to deny the French control of the crossroads.  The French could bring on all their forces at once, but had to deploy from the road.  As noted we were not using the Horse and Musket rules included in Neil Thomas' book but instead were play-testing Field of Battle 2 for the first time, which we started with high hopes and the excitment of the novelty of the 'sequence cards', the like of which we had never used before...
Austrian infantry brigade and grand battery (Roundway & Warrior 15mm)
Anyway, the Austrians (me) elected to start with an infantry brigade and an artillery brigade on the table blocking the road between the wood and the hill.  The French (Geoff) started the game with a cavalry brigade and the lead elements of an infantry brigade.
French advance (Hinchliffe & Naismith Curassiers; Naismith Dragoons)
Sadly, as is often the way when we are pressed for time and are trying new rules, things did not go according to plan.  At all.  The first thing was that because of the system of rolling for initiative and then turning sequence cards to enable various activities (any activities), it took an inordinately long time for anything to actually happen.  Not to mention the oddly frequent occurrence of 'Lull' cards.
Austrian Brigade (Warrior figs in the centre, flanked by Roundway minatures)
This, coupled with our unfamiliarity with the rules (not improved it has to be said by my having read through them at least three times beforehand in the preceding weeks and still being none the wiser) meant that we really didn't get very far before we had to pack up for the night.
The Austrian grand battery produces smoke, but very little fire
The first activity permitted was that the Austrian grand battery could fire at the (Hinchfliffe) curassiers lined up in front of it, but through (I think) using the incorrect factors and making numerous abysmal die throws this had very little effect on them (we realised later they could well have been blown away).  The curassiers having got off lightly, and after a bit more hanging around, eventually (after a few rounds of initiative, lulls and waiting for a Movement card) they closed to contact whilst the battery was not able to fire again.  Hmmm.
Curassiers try to contact Austrian infantry
Meanwhile, the other regiment of curassiers attacked the infantry regiment closest to the artillery but was caught by close-range opportunity fire (as they had been out of range earlier) which pushed them back.

However, having contacted the artillery in one go it was proving difficult for us to work out how to resolve the melee.  Basically FOB2 has rules and examples on what to do if more than one unit attacks a single unit, but not what to do if one unit attacks multiple units simultaneously (i.e. the artillery units making up the grand battery, which had different combat dice).  And that is where we got stuck.
Curassiers try to charge home (reverse view)
This actually, gets to the nub of our issues with the rules - the dispersed and semi-sequential way in which they have been written.  I write and review a lot of academic and technical reports in my professional life and one thing I can pick up on very quickly is where it seems that the writer is so close to the content that he or she seems unable to imagine what it is like not to have the knowledge and presuppositions that they have, i.e. to be able to step back completely from the detail and assumptions and lead someone through it who is not familiar with whatever the report (or rule set) is about.
Austrian line repulse the curassiers back to the starting line, apparently
And this is what we have in these rules (as is often the case with wargame rules, it has to be said): the writer is clearly so close to them that unless you have played earlier versions and/or have an experienced player to explain them to you, then you are not going to have much hope in working out what to do, particularly when it is late on a Friday night, you've had one too many herbal teas and the clock is ticking.

I'll give another example of the perplexities of these rules: firing.  Everthing in FOB2 is driven by sequence cards and, for example, to be able to fire (at least after the first time) you need to be able to play an Infantry or Artillery Firepower card.   Why therefore are the firing rules not all in one place where the Firepower card is described, instead of dispersed in various locations within the rules?

Another issue I struggled with was the very basic concept of moving, i.e. if you draw a Movement card does that mean all your units can move or only one?  The rules are not explicit.
Austrians: Hungarian regiment (15mm Warrior Miniatures)
I know a lot of people don't like WRG rules because of their prescriptive and sometimes didactic delivery (step forward DBM and DBR) but at least everything is laid out logically and sequentially and you don't have to go hunting back and forward through the rule books to piece together what one does in order to fire some muskets.  Perhaps I am old school (wait, what? I am old school), but I do like things being laid out as clearly and simply as possible, preferably matching the actual sequence of play and in locations that you are likely to need that information all in one place.

Anyway, rant over.  To this end, for the next Napoleonic game we are going back to basics (not as far back as Bruce Quarrie though) and will be using WRG's 1685-1845 rules.  Some people seem to have problems with the cleverly meshed turn sequence they use but I seem to remember never having any issues with that at all.  And if these don't turn out well, there are a lot of other rules to choose from, Napoleonic POW2, and the free Fast Play Grand Armee and Pro Patria being a few that spring to mind...


Dave Gamer said...

Sorry you had problems with Field of Battle - it's one of my favorite games (although I do have some issues with a few things). Yes, I remember having some issues learning FOB from the rules too - a lot of the rules are actually in the card definitions section, rather than in the main rules. For moving, when you draw a Move card then each "command" (a group of units organized at the start of the game under a leader figure) gets to roll their leader's die against a D6 to see how many move segments they get - if the leader rolls a natural "1" then they don't get to move. So yeah - everyone normally moves on a Move card. For shooting, you can fire at any time - once you shoot you place smoke marker in front of the unit. A unit with a smoke marker can't fire until it is removed by pulling a Firepower card. Most experience players don't shoot until they pull the Firepower card (when you pull a card you are allowed to shoot before you actually act on the card) then after they shoot they use the Firepower card to immediately remove the smoke marker so they are ready to fire again (and yes, they could shoot a 2nd time after they remove the smoke, but then they'll be "smoked" and wide open to attack if they don't get another Firepower card before the enemy starts pulling cards...)

David Cooke said...

I'm planning to use the scenarios with other rule sets too. The fact that the terrain is spase is an advantage. It allows either random extras or campaign driven additions. Like your figures and report. Hope to see a completed game next time. :)