Monday, June 3, 2013

Designing rules for a horse and musket wargame

Order of March sketch found in General Green Clay's papers.

Designing a tactical wargame for the Napoleonic/ Federal Era is very difficult. Most existing wargame rules for the horse and musket period rely upon a certain level of abstraction. However, as General Braddock found out, the difference between victory and total defeat could lie in the maneuvers and steadiness of the smallest units--companies and platoons.

Few tabletop wargames seem to capture the fluidity of a disciplined infantry battalion. In real terms, a battalion's usefulness on the battlefield was in direct proportion to how well it had been trained, and its ability to carry out the maneuvers. A sketchy or needlessly complex book of tactics could send even an experienced battle unit into discord. With this in mind, General Harrison tended to form his troops with the simplest maneuvers, such as marching by the flank, right and left facing, and wheeling.

How can I add manuvuers into a tabletop game based on Battlecry? I dug up some Risk game pieces as a substitute for miniatures or markers, and did an experiment.

An American force formed in line. From right to left: 
  1. A company of Foot Artillery, including one 2-gun section of six-inch howitzers, and two 3-gun sections of six-pounders.
  2. Two companies of Infantry.
  3. A squadron of light dragoons.
  4. Ahead of the infantry, a line of light infantry in skirmish order.
  5. Mounted officers. Company officers (if represented) stand on their unit's flags, field officers stand on their own flags to distinguish from the other units. The tabs in practice  would incorporate unit info such as designations and morale levels.
 Screened by the light infantry, the infantry companies march by files right. Unit flags or tabs are moved to the front to represent flank movement.

The importance of flankers and discipline is illustrated here. Inexperienced troops under fire would tend to get snagged up, throwing the whole column into discord.

The infantry companies in the center have formed a column of companies, which is simply a column marching by a width of one company rather than one file. French tactics of this period emphasized compact columns of one or two companies abreast. 

By wheeling to the right, the center companies form line. The light infantry reforms into a third line company on the left flank. Most infantry tactics involved "packing up" a mass of infantry into a mobile, compact column, then "unpacking" it into a firing line. The other arms, artillery, light infantry and cavalry, play a role in screening this process from enemy firepower and disrupting the opponent's attempts to form his own line.

How did combining these two component systems turn out in practice?

I made up rules for a skirmisher screen: it should not be decisive on its own, but be more resilient to fire. The red figures are British allied Indians: they stand on the hex in a "cloud". The American and British light infantry or riflemen are distinguished by using files, two men in a compact formation. For either type of light infantry, at least one file of two figures (about 20 men) is required to hold a hex.

In this case, the two-hex company of light infantry rolls -2 to their 4 morale points against the Indians, who get an extra -1 because of the dense wooded area. The single dice comes up with a flag, meaning that the whole unit must move back one hex.

The line infantry company gets taken in the flank by a vedette (small skirmishing unit) of British light dragoons. They lose almost all their morale points, which makes it difficult to fire a volley during their next turn. They roll a miss here, and the field officer behind them gives a +1 bonus to their volley. Unfortunately, it also misses

The American light dragoons hurry up, without deploying out of column. This means they can only attack with a portion of their strength, but the charge leaves some breathing room for the infantry by forcing the British horsemen to retreat. A bonus roll for the field officer being there earns them an additional hit: the Brits lose an additional morale point. Behind them a single howitzer has been manhandled into battery (firing position) but has no line of sight to any targets.

Below is a set of new counters for the units:

 Above: I for infantry (any sort, militia or regular), * for officers (co. commanders usually assumed to be part of the unit), R for riflemen, N for natives or Indians, LI for light infantry, FA for foot artillery, HA for heavy or garrison artillery, LD for light dragoons.

Second counter sheet: officers including Captains, Majors, Lt. and Full Colonels, Brigadier and Major Generals.  G for grenadiers, S for sailors, MR for mounted rifles.
 Explanation of the unit tiles. The basic type is printed: particulars are hand written in based on the unit. I'm still not sure how to use officers without unbalancing the game. Perhaps the ability score can determine how often they can give a boost to an adjacent unit, and rank can determine how distant the boosted unit can be. Tiles should be 1"x1" and mounted on cardboard.