Monday, 25 November 2013

On the borders of Gaziristan: An Itchy and Scratchy play-test

I set up this small battle in order to play-test the latest draft of my Itchy and Scratchy rules. Because it was played solo I used an alternative move sequence that relied upon playing card tiles to activate each side's units.

The turn sequence was as follows:
  1. At the start of each turn a small playing card or playing card tile is deal or picked out of the bag and placed FACE DOWN next to each unit and General on the tabletop.
  2. Once each unit and General has been allocated a small playing card or playing card tile, the small playing cards or playing card tiles are turned over and units and Generals are activated in turn. The order of activation is in ascending numerical/face value and suit order precedence (i.e. Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, and King being the numerical/face values, and Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, and Spades the suit order precedence).
  3. Once both sides have moved and/or conducted combats with each of their units and Generals in turn – subject to any restrictions laid down in the rules – the turn is complete.
  4. Once both sides have moved and/or conducted combats with each of their units and Generals in turn they must check to see if they have reached their Exhaustion Point. Once that has been done, the turn is complete and the next turn can commence.
This play-test also gave me the opportunity to experiment with an idea that I had, and that was:
  • To allow a General to activate a unit they were co-located with when it was the General's turn to be activated and
  • To allow the unit the General was co-located with the be activated when it was the unit's turn to be activated.
By doing this it was possible for a unit to be activated twice during a game turn and gave a command role (rather than just a supporting role) to the General.

Background
Gaziri tribes, led by Mohamed Bashir Khan, have been raiding into Chindia again. The local army commander – Sir Hector Boleyn-Green – was given the task of preventing further raids, and as an old frontier hand he knew that the only way to do that was to mount a punitive expedition into Gaziristan. He could then disperse Mohamed Bashir Khan's supporters and destroy his base.

Mohamed Bashir Khan had based himself just inside the Gaziristan border. He had taken over and rebuilt an ancient stone tower in a valley which he thought he could defend with ease. His supporters had built a number of sangars atop the hills at the entrance to the valley and further sangars on the valley floor. Mohamed Bashir Khan knew that these defences would be difficult to break through and that any attackers should suffer serious casualties.


The forces he had available to deploy in the valley's defences were not insignificant, and include six warbands of tribesmen and two batteries of smooth-bore cannon


Sir Hector Boleyn-Green had been given a small Infantry Brigade (part of the Gaziri Frontier Field Force) with which to mount his punitive expedition. The brigade included:
  • 1st Battalion, MacBean Highlanders
  • 2nd Battalion, Royal Surrey Regiment
  • 3rd Battalion, Frontier Guides
  • Gatling Gun Detachment, Yorkshire Fusiliers
  • X Battery, Royal Artillery

Turn 1
The playing card tiles were picked out of their bag, placed face down next to each unit and General, and then turned over.


The units and Generals were then activated in turn.

One of the Gaziri Red Turban warbands opened fire on the MacBean Highlanders at maximum range ... and hit them!


This was followed by one of the Gaziri artillery batteries firing at the Frontier Guides ... to no avail.


The next unit to be activated (a Gaziri Cream Turban warband) remained where it was and did not fire.

The other Gaziri artillery battery then fired at the MacBean Highlanders, but their fire was inaccurate.


It was now the turn of the Frontier Guides, who moved forward and fired at the Gaziri Cream Turban warband in the nearby sangar. Their fire was on target but caused no casualties.


The next unit to be activated (a Gaziri White Turban warband) remained where it was and did not fire.

In the centre the Royal Surreys advanced but did not fire.


On the right flank the MacBean Highlanders advanced and fired at the Gaziri Red Turban warband in the nearby sangar ... and inflicted a casualty!


The next unit to be activated (a Gaziri Red Turban warband) remained where it was and did not fire.

X Battery, Royal Artillery moved out towards the left flank of the advance so that it could fire on the nearby sangar next turn.


The Gaziri Cream Turban warband in the sangar fired at the oncoming Frontier Guides, but inflicted no casualties.


At this point Sir Hector Boleyn-Green moved forward ...


... followed by the Gatling Gun Detachment, Yorkshire Fusiliers.


Mohamed Bashir Khan also moved forward to join one of the Gaziri artillery batteries.


The final unit to be activated (a Gaziri White Turban warband) remained where it was and did not fire.

Turn 2
The playing card tiles were picked out of their bag, placed face down next to each unit and General, and then turned over.


X Battery, Royal Artillery engaged the nearest sangar, and thanks to some superb shooting they inflicted a casualty on the Gaziri Cream Turban warband in the sangar.


The next unit to be activated (a Gaziri Red Turban warband) remained where it was and did not fire.

The Royal Surreys then opened fire on the Gaziri Red Turban warband, but their rifle fire was ineffective.


The next unit to be activated (a Gaziri Cream Turban warband) remained where it was and did not fire.

The Gatling Gun Detachment, Yorkshire Fusiliers then fired at the same Gaziri Red Turban warband. Their machine gun fire was much more effective than the Royal Surrey's rifle fire and caused a casualty.


Sir Hector Boleyn-Green, who was co-located with the Gatling Gun Detachment, Yorkshire Fusiliers, encouraged them to fire again ... which they did, inflicting a further casualty on the Gaziri Red Turban warband.


Not to be outdone by his opponent Mohamed Bashir Khan exhorted the Gaziri artillery battery with which he was co-located to open fire on the MacBean Highlanders ... but their fire was inaccurate and they missed their target.


It was now the turn of the Frontier Guides to engage the Gaziri Cream Turban warband in the nearby sangar ... and despite being under cover the Gaziris suffered a casualty.


At this point the MacBean Highlanders moved forward and engaged the remnants of the Gaziri Red Turban warband that was occupying the sangar. The Gaziris fought back, but the Highlanders prevailed and destroyed the Gaziri warband.


One of Gaziri artillery batteries opened fire on the Frontier Guides ... and missed.


One of the Gaziri White Turban warbands moved out of its defensive position and fired at the Royal Surreys ... but their rifle fire was ineffective and caused no casualties.


At that point the Gaziri Cream Turban warband in the sangar fired at the Frontier Guides without effect.


The next unit to be activated (a Gaziri White Turban warband) remained where it was and did not fire.

The Gaziri artillery battery that was co-located with Mohamed Bashir Khan fired at the MacBean Highlanders in the hope that they could inflict further casualties on them ... but despite the short range the artillery fire was inaccurate.


Turn 3
The playing card tiles were picked out of their bag, placed face down next to each unit and General, and then turned over.


One of the Gaziri White Turban warbands charged forward and engaged the Royal Surreys in close combat, causing one casualty and forcing them to withdraw.


The Royal Surreys replied with a volley of rifle fire which caused a casualty on the Gaziri White Turban warband.


The Gaziri artillery battery that was co-located with Mohamed Bashir Khan fired yet again at the MacBean Highlanders ... and caused them a single casualty.


X Battery, Royal Artillery fire at the nearby sangar that was occupied by a Gaziri Cream Turban warband but was unable to hit their target.


The remaining Gaziri Red Turban warband rushed forward to reoccupy the sangar and this brought them into close combat with the MacBean Highlanders. Both sides inflicted casualties on the other, but the MacBean Highlanders were forced to fall back.


The second Gaziri artillery battery fired at the Frontier Guides and inflicted a casualty upon them.


Despite this set-back the Frontier Guides were still able to fire at the Gaziri White Turban warband that had earlier engaged the Royal Surreys, but their rifle fire was ineffective.


As it appeared that the battle was beginning to go their way, the Gaziri White Turban warband that had been positioned behind Mohamed Bashir Khan moved forward and onto the lower, passable slopes of the mountain.


The Gaziri Cream Turban warband in the sangar fired at the Frontier Guides ... and reduced their numbers even further.


The remaining MacBean Highlander fired at the nearby Gaziri White Turban warband, and caused them to suffer a casualty.


The Gatling Gun Detachment, Yorkshire Fusiliers that was co-located with Sir Hector Boleyn-Green fired at the Gaziri Red Turban warband in the sangar ... and inflicted a casualty upon them.


The Gaziri artillery battery with which Mohamed Bashir Khan was co-located fired for a third time at the MacBean Highlanders ... and wiped them out!


With the urging of Sir Hector Boleyn-Green, the Gatling Gun detachment, Yorkshire Fusilier fired yet again at the Gaziri Red Turban warband in the sangar ... and inflicted yet another casualty.


Seeing an opportunity to deal the Frontier Guides a mortal blow, the Gaziri Cream Turban warband that had been on the lower slopes of the mountain charged forward ... and wiped out the Frontier Guides!


At this point Sir Hector Boleyn-Green realised that his troops were exhausted and stood no chance of winning the battle despite the fact that they had inflicted far more casualties than they had suffered. He therefore decided to withdraw in order to regroup and bring up reinforcements.


Mohamed Bashir Khan realised how close he had come to defeat, but the sight of his enemy retreating gave him and his surviving troops good reason to rejoice. A feast would be held to celebrate this victory over the accursed infidels ... but after that Mohamed Bashir Khan knew that he would have to prepare for further battles against his sworn enemy. He may have won today, but only Allah knew who would win tomorrow.

Conclusions
I fought this battle on and off over the space of three days, and the playing card tiles made it very easy to see which units had been activated and which had not.

The playing card tiles also made it easier to fight the battle solo as each activation was – in effect – a separate sub-turn. I looked at the tactical situation as a unit was activated and decided what its best course of action was at that particular moment.

The rule that allowed Generals to activate a unit that they were co-located with when it was the General's turn to be activated worked well, and I intend to incorporate it in the next draft of the rules.

20 comments:

  1. Bob,
    A very entertaining report - as always - with attractive photographs.

    The idea of allowing the General to activate the unit with which he is co-located makes good sense.

    As you know, I favour the idea that units should continue to execute their existing orders until new ones are received (or the situation renders it impossible). I would, therefore, only allow a change of orders when it was the General's, rather than the unit's, turn to be activated. So, if the General's activation occurred first, he could issue new orders which would be executed that phase and later in the unit's own activation; but if he was activated second, the unit would have continued with its existing orders for its phase, and would only execute the new orders during the General's phase. This would prevent players exploiting the potential double-move too much.

    What do you think?

    Regards,

    Arthur

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  2. Bob,
    Another thought regarding the activation of units, that you have probably already considered and chosen not to follow!

    The system of placing the tiles beside units allows the General to know not only when each of his own units, but also those of the enemy, will be activated. With such knowledge, he can coordinate manoeuvres by some of his units to take advantage of the fact that he knows certain enemy units will not be able to do anything until later in the turn. Combined with his ability to make the unit with which he is co-located take a double move, he seems to have too much knowledge/control, though it is the same for his opponent.

    I would suggest having counters labelled or linked to the units, and draw one at a time to determine which unit acts next, so that one does not know in advance the order in which one's own/enemy units will be activated. A bit more preparatory work, perhaps, and slightly slower in play, but surely more realistic?

    Regards,

    Arthur

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  3. I am very impressed with the way the I&S game system works. Mind you I thought the Imperialist shooting in the circumstances showed to what pitch their intensive training had brought them. The dice seemed somewhat to go in their favour. However, this might simply be an impression only. At any rate, it might be worthwhile playing through the same scenario once or twice more just to see how it goes.

    Mind you, the task Genl Boleyn-Green (great name!) set his troops looked a pretty tough call!

    I'm still interested in discovering whether the game system will work on 'free' gaming surface rather than gridded. I may try it myself sometime...

    Cheers,
    Ion

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  4. Hi Bob,

    First of all it was great to see you back in action again after what seems like an age!

    I enjoyed the report enormously and it was a pleasant surprise to see the NW Frontier rather than your more usual Sudan/African adventures. I like the tribesman - what figures are they?

    The idea of the General activation is a neat trick and certainly gives the use of command some real benefit other than just a combat bonus.

    As far as using the tiles is concerned I have the following to offer. Deploy the tiles face down next to each unit. Each side selects a unit they wish to activate and turns the tile over. The highest value tile activates first. This means that whilst each side is activating a unit alternatively the order in which they do so will vary - a sort of mini initiative.

    I have not thought that through so please feel free to pick it apart!

    A great actin though and one that could give rise to a follow up action in due course.

    All the best,

    DC

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  5. Looks very interesting!

    Where did you get the playing card chits from, please? They look very useful!

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  6. Arthur1815,

    I am pleased to see that you liked the battle report, and that you think that allowing the General to activate the unit with which he is co-located is an improvement. As to the photographs ... well I use a simple 'point and click' camera and simple editing software. I would have preferred not to have had the dice in the pictures BUT they are there to help readers understand how the combat mechanism has worked.

    I suspect that you and I are never going to agree 100% about units sticking to the order they have been given by a General during a wargame ... although I entirely agree that what you suggest would add an additional and very interesting challenge to the players. My only real objection is that whereas what you suggest will work very well with a wargame designed to be a simulation, my rules are intended to be more of a game. Our differences - for want of a better word to describe them - are more a reflection of our differing perspectives of what we want from our wargames rather than being anything fundamental. That said, I may well try out your idea as I suspect that it would make the game a better one!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. Arthur1815,

    I have toyed with the idea that you suggest as I like to see my playing surface unencumbered with detritus during my games ... and that includes the playing card tiles. (At least they are smaller and less intrusive than even the smallest playing cards I could find!)

    What I would like to do is to make a 'playing card' for each unit taking part in a battle. These would then be shuffled at the start of each turn and placed face down somewhere convenient. The top card would be turned over ... and that would be the unit that would be activated. This would continue until all the units had been activated. In that way the player or players would not have any knowledge of the order in which units would be activated.

    As you suggest, this would make the game somewhat less predictable from a General's point of view ... and would also work well with your 'continuous orders' concept.

    Much food for thought ...

    All the best,

    Bob

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  8. Archduke Piccolo (Ion),

    As the person that sparked the whole thing off, I am pleased to see that you are enjoying what I have done with your original idea.

    The 'British' were very lucky with their dice throws during the battle, but in the end numbers and a superior position ensured their defeat. Had the Gaziris been armed with less effective weapons, the battle may well have gone against them, although the 'British' were taking a chance using such a small force for such a large job.

    I cannot see why the rules could not be adapted for a non-gridded playing surface. The only problem would be that you would have to make some form of measuring sticks for weapon ranges/movement.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  9. David Crook,

    It was great to be back fighting a wargame after what seemed like such a long break ... and the choice of the North West Frontier of 'Chindia' was made because I fancied a bit of a change from Africa!

    The native figures (and some of the 'British') were Irregular Miniatures, and will 'do' for both the NW Frontier and the Sudan.

    I am pleased that I tried out the rule that gives Generals a bit more of a role. It seemed to work and to improve that game.

    I think that your idea regarding the use of the playing card tiles to generate a number of swings as to which side had the initiative during a turn would work very well in a face-to-face battle ... and I can see us trying it out one day!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  10. Simon Miller,

    I am pleased to see that you enjoyed this battle report.

    I have two sets of playing card tiles. One set came from a Poker-based board game called PLAY 5 and the other from a second-hand board game called CROSSHAND.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. A nice little action. I'm glad that the rules seem to be meeting your expectation.

    Re the question of orders. I have spent considerable time consideringthe question over the last few years from both the gaming and the simulation POV. In an opposed game it adds a great deal of mental stimulation as one forms a plan and tries to figure out the enemy plan. In solo games I find this severely lacking as both sides know all and the effort to pretend otherwise and/or the use of manual ai systems add tedium rather than fun.

    From a simulation pov, I tend to fight relatively small games with fairly long turns (as in average time represented) with a lot of downtime in each. This means a mobile commander will often be close enough to be aware of what is happening and issue orders before the unit acts again (in game terms). When replaying historical battles using the historical movements, this seems to work out.

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  12. ps. I meant to mention that it helps if movement rates are generous so that one ill advised move is enough to get a unit into trouble.

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  13. Bob,

    I quite like David Crook's idea - a rather neat compromise between our respective positions - with one amendment: I would not put all the tiles out at the start of the turn, just draw them as required to determine initiative/activation between units on opposite sides, to reduce the clutter on the tabletop (an argument I forgot to make in support of my proposal!).

    The tiles could be left in place afterwards to show that units had been activated for that turn, or replaced by some less obtrusive markers.

    If one had individually based troops, or a separate command group, officer or colour-bearer, the position of that group/figure relative to the unit could be used to indicate whether it had been activated or not.

    Regards,
    Arthur

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  14. Ross Mac,

    It was an enjoyable little battle to fight … and I suspect that it is the size of action that most of my wargaming is going to be for most of the foreseeable future. The board was 9 hexes x 8 hexes – which is by no means large – but with the rules I am using it is large enough to give a bit of space to manoeuvre.

    Orders in solo games are a real problem … which is why I tend to ignore them and just do what I think is most likely to happen at that particular moment in time. I have experimented with all sorts of alternatives, but unless one has a live opponent one has to either accept some less than satisfactory ‘artificial’ opponent.

    Interestingly enough the playing card activation system has proven to work very well indeed in the face-to-face recreations of historical battles that people like Ian Drury have set up over the past few years. It introduces just enough friction-of-war to prevent players from undertaking battle-winning – but unhistorical – manoeuvres on the tabletop.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  15. Ross Mac,

    Anything that encourages players to make make ill-advised moves will always get my vote!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  16. Arthur1815,

    David Crook’s idea is a very attractive one, and I hope to explore its potential in due course … and your suggested amendment would make it a simple mechanism with lots of potential to cause problems for players, which makes it even more attractive!

    I am in two minds about whether or not to stick to having individually mounted figures or multi-figure bases for units. (This is something that I keep coming back to because both have merits as well as disadvantages.) I think that single figures with a command core base would be best for anything for 1915 to 1914. The single figures could be removed to indicate losses but the core command base would remain until the unit was wiped out. The individual figures could then be aligned with the core command base to indicate its activation state. For post-1914 I am tending towards having multi-figure bases and magnetic numbers to show strength (as in MEGABLITZ) as this would give me the opportunity to use the figures with other rule systems.

    I hope to have another play-test in the near future which will examine an alternative activation system that uses unit cards rather than playing card tiles as per your suggestion. It is just a case of doing the preparation … and having the time to set up the battle.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  17. A very nice report. I like the card activation and the expanded role of the general. I'm still toying with the idea of a pseudo Great Patriotic War campaign, but I'm up to my neck in projects at the moment.

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  18. Sean,

    I am pleased that you have enjoyed reading this battle report, and if you want a copy of the rules at some time, just let me know and I will send you one.

    Projects! Would we be wargamers if we did not have too many projects that we wanted to do at the same time?

    All the best,

    Bob

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  19. Bob,

    I can appreciate your desire to keep things simple for a good game; I also think that you are - rightly - inclined to allow unit orders to be changed more easily because most of your games are set in later periods when individual officers had more discretion and units had more tactical flexibility - at least in European-style armies - and, in the 'modern' period, faster communications.

    In a Colonial game such as this example it might be interesting to allow the Imperial forces to change orders as normal, but require the commanders of the tribesmen to visit units in person to issue new orders.

    As Ross Mac has pointed out, the time represented by a turn is also significant. I can appreciate his use of longer turns/move distances to deal with the iniative issue; personally, I rather like to have the opportunity to watch the action develop over several turns, rather than rushing from one critical moment to another.

    The new General rule would suit the earlier 'heroic leadership' periods in which significant changes to battle orders could only easily be given by the commander riding over to the troops/units himself admirably.

    It could also work to portray Wellesley's style of command in Napoleonic games, whilst not being available to more sedentary generals like Kutusov and the older Napoleon.

    Regards,
    Arthur

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  20. Arthur1815,

    I think that you have precisely identified the reason why we have a different approach to what could loosely be described as ‘command and control rules’ … and probably one of the reasons why I have never been a great enthusiast for wargaming anything much before 1850.

    I like my units to have a degree of autonomy once the battle has started, and that includes the ability to react tactically to events as they unfold. This does seem to be historically less prevalent before 1850. I think that you point about Native tribes is a valid one, and I think that I have an idea as to how that could be modelled within the existing rules without too much problem. (Basically it would make use of some sort of ‘command zone of control’ wherein units within the zone will be assumed to be doing what they are ordered to do and those outside it will need to be sent or given orders.)

    I have deliberately avoided setting any form of time scale for my rules as I feel that it can be too limiting. That said I can see why Ross Mac has gone down that particular path as it does remove the need for ‘orders’. Like you, I prefer to see things unfold and develop. On a separate point, I like shorter moves because I am using a restricted space within which to fight my battles (the last play-test used an area 9 hexes x 8 hexes); if a unit could move much further than 3 or 4 hexes in a turn it would seriously – and in my opinion detrimentally – affect the way a battle would unfold.

    What is interesting about the latter part of the nineteenth century is the degree to which the concept of ‘heroic leadership’ had become enshrined in the psyche of European – and some Native – leaders. The young Napoleon and Wellesley had tended to be where the action was, and this was seen as being a positive trait. This remains true until the ‘Prussian’ way of doing things began to predominate post 1870. After that Generals commanding large armies – as opposed to smaller armies involved in Colonial warfare – seem to want to sit somewhere directing operations via maps and messengers. (This is – of course – a very sweeping statement, and I can think of lots of Generals during the period 1850 to 1900 who led from behind … but as most of my battles are brigade/division sized actions, this was not as common and Generals were expected to lead from the front.)

    Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking discussion.

    All the best,

    Bob

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