Thursday, 28 April 2022

Bakers Creek 1863

 Another outing for the Neil Thomas ACW rules, and the third in my ACW Western Campaign. This time I wanted to try and fix the real estate problem I'd hit in the last game, and played it using hexes rather than a tabletop. Using a grid introduces some complications of its own, but also simplifies some things.

Bakers Creek/Champion Hill involved Grants Army of the Tennessee surprising Pembertons Confederate garrison of Vicksburg marching to join up with Johnson. Pemberton was drawn up on Champions Hill, with its flanks resting on rough ground, but Grant identified a route around Bakers Creek on the right and was able to move some divisions right around behind the CSA flank.

The closest battle to this one in the One Hour scenarios was Scenario 7, 'Flank Attack'.

Battlefield from the east, the suggested table layout bears an uncanny resemblance to the Bakers Creek battlefield.. Champions Hill is the big hill on the far side. Bakers Creek is on the top right but the creeks are just for show. The only significant terrain feature is the dense woods hex (which funnily enough is almost exactly where it was on the real battlefield, as is Champions Hill. The other trees are just scatter terrain.

General setup of forces as per the scenario suggestion. Some US forces on the hill nearest, the rest around the right flank near Bakers Creek. The CSA are all on Champions Hill facing south.

One seasoned and two green US infantry, supported by two Parrot guns. Each unit roughly corresponds to a US division (they had eight in the real battle but one was very small). These units are a very klong way from Grants leader figure, so may have some problems activating for movement. I chose the Parrots as they have an opportunity to fire right across the valley and are more effective at long range than Napoleons. 

To use hexes I allow one unit plus a gun to stack, the gun is 'protected' by the unit, so the unit takes hits first. Units can face hex sides or vertices, allowing a range of movement options and firing arcs. Each hex corresponds to roughly 4" on the tabletop.

The CSA. irl they had three divisions, so assume each unit is half a division. They have got two Napoleons in support. The CSA quality is higher and they have two Green, two Seasoned and two Veteran units. The seasoned units are on the right, the veterans in the middle and the green troops on the left. 
The main problem they have is that they have to deploy on the hill facing south, and I've put them away from the crest on the right to protect them from flanking fire. Hopefully they can turn as the US troops attack from the flank, which is also why the Napoleons are split between two lines.

The US outflankers. irl this was only two divisions but the scenario calls for two thirds of the attackers to be here. I compromised and deployed four infantry and one Napoleon here. The US have more troops as their average troop quality is lower, and their better units are here. Three Seasoned and one Veteran infantry. They have a Napoleon as it will need at advance with them and it may be able to fire cannister at close range. Grants command figure is also here, positioned in the wood so he can see everyone.

The battle opens with the US artillery firing across the valley. 9th, 10th and 12th Divs all make their activation rolls and advance into the valley. The only CSA response is the single gun on the ridge which opens fire. I've reverted to the low power artillery as suggested by the rules (one dice per base), it is often enough to make a difference but without dominating the game. I'm assuming the infantry divisions have attached close support batteries.

Things are more exciting on the hill. The US forces charge up the ridge, but the CSA deployment means none of them get to make an assault and the Confederates are protected from any prep fire. The downside is that they have given up some of the ridge without a fight. The CSA units turn to face the US units and one of them fills the gap in the line in the centre. All these CSA units are veteran or seasoned. You'd almost think I'd planned it that way... 

Unfortunately because they turned, the US units get the first fire and a withering volley rings out, including point blank cannister fire. 9th, 10th and 12th Divs march to within rifle range of the CSA units on the ridge. The US fire inflicts serious losses on the Confederates and two of their units fail morale tests and retreat, although the (veteran) zouaves stand. 

This raises a question about the order of retreats, and I decide to be kind and let the CSA do it in a way to avoid units being destroyed as they can't retreat. I've already binned the rule that the whole unit goes, instead they lose another base if they can't retreat (so more like the nineteenth century set). I also let them choose how far to go, as I've slightly upped the infantry movement rate, but it has to be at least one hex.

The CSA responds in kind with its own volley, although one of the retreated units (Bowans brigade) moves sideways to cover the rear. Pemberton goes to support the zouaves (Tilghman) who don't have a retreat route. The fire inflicts losses all along the line, but only one US unit loses a base - the green 9th Div, which passes its morale test on a 6.

More US fire pours in. More CSA bases are lost. Greens brigade on the left retreats due to losses, leaving the artillery exposed. The Confederate front line is now held by their two best units, Featherstone and Tilgmann, although the latter is down two bases. 

The pounding continues, 3rd US Div loses a base but also rolls a 6 for morale. The other US divisions have all taken moderate losses.

The entire US Army is now firing and the Confederate position suddenly doesn't look very healthy.

With catastrophic results for the CSA units wedged into the angle of the line. Both Tilghman and Taylors brigades are destroyed, while Green is forced back again. All the Confederate guns are left isolated and Pemberton is also suddenly all on his own! 

The Confederates fall back from the exposed position on the eastern ridge and form a hedgehog on the southwestern side of Champion Hill. A brigade moves up to support the northern gun, and the other gun falls back to join Green.  All this moving around means there aren't any opportunities for firing apart from the northern gun.

The CSA units on the northern side of the ridge are outgunned 2:1 now.

But in the east the US are forced to climb the ridge to get at the Confederates. 9th Div fails its activation roll but 10th and 12th Divs move up onto the ridge.

Which masks the batteries on the eastern hill. Doh. One of them just has a shot at extreme range.

The concentrated US fire removes another Confederate brigade. The remaining CSA units blaze away at the new targets.

The artillery fire manages to push back the US Zouaves with significant losses. 

The rest of the CSA fire is fairly ineffective, and the US try and assault the isolated CSA gun. Two units fail their charge morale tests, and the division in the far west fails its activation roll. I've reversed the morale tests for charging, so green units are more likely to charge than veterans (Paddy Griffiths noted that it was the more experienced units who were reluctant to charge frontally). It doesn't change the odds markedly, seasoned units still nee a 5+, but veterans need a 6 and green units 4+.

The 10th Div is attacking the flank of the guns so doesn't need to test and charges in, although this blocks some of the other US units.

The unsupported guns are overrun and US fire pushes back Bowen again.

There isn't a lot the CSA can do now, so they just stand and fire. This is enough to push 9th Div back again. 

US return fire destroys another Confederate brigade and pushes the other two off the ridge.

The Confederates re-occupy the southern end of the ridge and their remaining guns managed to knock a base off 12th Div. But they roll a 6 for morale and stand (12th Div are green).

Time to wrap up. 9th and 12th Divs are both green, and both pass their charge morale checks and pile into the remaining CSA units. Their defensive fire inflicts some losses but not enough to stop the Yanks. The other US units move up in support and the charging divisions win both attacks and push the Confederates back off the ridge. Close Combat really is a crap shoot, but both US units had more combat dice than the Confederates.  

Bowen and Green try to return the favour in a last ditch attempt to regain the ridge, but Green fails his charge morale test. 

Bowens brigade is gunned down by the US defensive fire and disintegrates. Greens small arms fire is ineffective. There is a reason why units became more reluctant to charge as they became more experienced!

By now half the US Army is in position to fire on Green and his brigade disintegrates under a hail of fire. 

Final position, a very comprehensive US victory. Although their units had taken casualties, no complete brigade had been removed, while the entire Confederate army had been routed.

Flank Attack is a very hard scenario for the defender (it is based on Leuthen) and I have never seen the defender win in more shooty periods, although I have seen a defender win in the Ancients set. It was remarkable how the OHW Flank Attack scenario terrain mapped onto the Champions Hill terrain as outlined in GDWs 'Battles of the American Civil War' though. 

It occurred to me that I might have been better off putting the CSA units on the northern edge of the hill as even with exposed flanks, they would still have an uphill advantage in close combat and it would give them a bit more real estate. Otoh, it would expose them to shattering fire on the first turn and they would still have to turn to face.  

The rules mods to play on hexes worked very well, and I was much more pleased with them than I expected. Playing the game threw up a few questions around LOS and facing, but nothing out of the ordinary for imposing a grid. The best solution seems to be to allow units to face all 12 potential points, with no turning at all allowed for charges. Allowing artillery to stack worked really well, and it produced and interesting dynamic where one of the command decisions was whether to move forward to 'save' unsupported guns or to pull them back. The low dice guns also worked well, so I'll leave that alone. Using the firepower equivalent of Simplicity in Practice (where guns produce as much fire as an entire infantry unit) would have completely changed the flow and feel of the game. It means essentially I can field several artillery models for each side without unbalancing things. 

I'll stick with the hexes for the next battle in the series, Chickamauga, so watch this space!


Wednesday, 27 April 2022

Reggia Aeronautica - Fighters

 Well, the RAF had got some proper planes for the western desert, so time to sort out the Italians with some 6mm air support.

They ended up with a couple of Fiats. A CR42 on the left and a G.50 on the right.

This H&R CR42 model is rather elderly and originally served as some of my Spanish Civil War Nationalist air support. It just needed a bit of tarting up and the correct markings adding.  The CR42 was essentially obsolete at the start of WW2, but like the Gladiator, it saw a fair amount of service in North Africa.

I had to repaint some sections of the original colour scheme to accommodate the Italian markings, but they basically came out OK.  The hardest thing was doing the wing markings which involved carefully painting a white circle over the top of the SCW black circle while leaving a little bit of black showing around the edge. I did the fasces with a micron lining pen. The whole marking is only a few mm in diameter.

The Fiat G.50 was an early war fighter, but like the I-15, still had an open cockpit and was a far cry from Bf 109s and Hurricanes. It is considerably more modern than a CR42 though. The colour scheme is from 'Axis Aircraft of WW2' and tbh started off a bit of a mess until I worked at it a bit. It is supposed to be green and brown camo sprayed over sand. The yellow cowling and spinner set it off nicely though, as does the fuselage band.

The wing markings were a bit easier to do on the G. 50 as they are larger. For these I painted the white circles then did both the fasces and the edging with a micron pen.

Here they are patrolling the dining table. The radial engines give a nice contrast on the front of the fuselage.

Both nice additions to my 6mm Italians, and both aircraft considerably smaller than a Hurricane.

Saturday, 23 April 2022

Quadwrangles and the rise of Don Corleone

 Ian brought along a game he's been working on to cover multi faction conflict in a variety of settings. The basic system is called Quadwrangles, and is a fine abstract game in its own right, but it really came to life when applied to a historical context.

The basic concept is very simple. Each faction/colour has a base area, the bases are connected by five movement areas. Your counters can move one area at a time or shoot one area or melee counters in the same area. There are limits to how many counters can leave the base per turn, and also little gold markers appear which can be swapped for reinforcements if you have sole possession at the start of the turn. If you manage to occupy an enemy base you get five reinforcements, the winner is the player at the end with the most counters. Sounds simple doesn't it?

Here we are after a few turns. Red, blue and green have taken some losses, most of the players still have quite a lot of stuff in their bases apart from blue. There has been a bit of a bloodbath over the central zone. One element which makes a degree of forethought necessary is that the player who moves first each turn changes, indicated by the big star marker. This allows cunning manipulation of the turn sequence.

Getting close the end now. Green has captured Reds base and is swarming all over the board. Blue only has two counters left while Black has five but both are essentially pinned down by Green. There is a great pile of reinforcement tokens which Green has got locked down too.

I'd actually read the rules beforehand, unlike my Co conspiratirs, so you can probably guess who was playing Green. Ahem. The game ends when only one player is left or the playing cards (used to generate reinforcements) run out. From the situation above it only took me a few turns to finish off the other two players. 

While it is a very simple system, there is an awful lot to think about each turn, and every decision is critical and related to achieving the objectives, not mucking about with mechanisms. The interplay of conflicting player choices, coupled with appearances of the critical gold tokens, made for a very interesting and challenging player experience. 

The system is obviously designed to model multi faction conflict, so the next evening we took it to a real world example.

Welcome to Manhattens Lower East Side in the 1920s. The Five Families are going to battle it out to control the lucrative liquor trade. Corleone was white, Tattaglia was Red, Barzini was Green, Stracci was Blue and finally Cuneo was Black (played by me). 

We each had a gold chip outside our bases and the only additional rule concerned NYPD raids which would sweep down from time to time and disrupt our nefarious plans.

Everyone was fairly aggressive at first, apart from Tattaglia who hunkered down in his base. For some unaccountable reason Sacci and Tattaglia kept gunning down my guys as we emerged into the street, which rather limited my ability to get any reinforcements. Meanwhile Corleone was spreading his sinister white hordes across the map.

After several turns of pounding I was stuck in my base, penned in by Tattaglia goons, however both Sacci and Tattaglia had also taken a bit of a beating. Barzini was content to sit outside his base sniping at anyone nearby but not taking much offensive action. Corleone put in a big attack on Tattaglia, manipulating the turn sequence, but the attack was broken up by a police raid! (You can just see the police badge outside the Red base).

Having been driven off from Tattaglia's patch, Corleone instead took me out, followed by Sacci (you can see the white token in the blue base) while keeping Barzini penned in.

Tattaglia fought a brave rearguard action and put a bunch of wiseguys out in the street, but they were rushed by Corleone mobsters with Tommy Guns.  You can vaguely see quite how many white counters are jammed into the Corleone base!

Despite Tattaglia's defiance, the Corleone gangsters shot their way into his base and the game was over. Time for us all to swear alliegence to Don Corleone.

That was really good fun, and putting into a historical context made it come alive. A very clever design with applicability across all sorts of situations. The Mexican Revolution was mentioned, as was modern day Iraq. 


Wednesday, 20 April 2022

More river sections

 My recent foray into various ACW battles has revealed some shortcomings in my selection of river sections. I've actually got about 20 feet of river in various sizes and shapes, but playing on smaller tabletops for remote games has needed more of the short sections rather than the longer pieces.

The 1st Bull Run scenario essentially used up all my short river sections and there was one, and only one layout which actually worked and required a bit of creative thinking. They aren't hard to make and I had a spare afternoon, so time to make some terrain. 

Eight more river sections to add to the collection. Those little one angle pieces are really, really useful for filling in gaps.

I already have quite a few of the two angle sections which go like this.

But not many which do this. Yes, they really are different and it can make doing some setups a real pain if you don't have enough of both. You can turn them over, but then the unflocked side shows. Urgh.

Anyway, I just chop them out of thin clear plastic sheet, such as this old roller blind container. The existing river sections act as a template and I just trace around them with a thin marker pen.

Go over the rear side lightly with some bluish paint, I use all the old emulsion match pots we have lying around from DIY projects. Ideally it needs to be streaky so some of the base terrain colour shows through the plastic sheet. I was a bit heavy handed with these as my original greenish-blue match had dried out, and the replacement was a bit runnier than I'd anticipated. I can always scrape a bit off.

The edges of the top side is then daubed in undiluted PVA and flocked. I have a big bag of green Noch static grass which matches my Hexon tiles. When measuring the templates you need to allow for the 'banks'. For these smaller rivers I allow for each bank to be half the width of the watercourse (5mm each side, 10mm in the middle). 

The ends are left rounded and clear of flock so a series of sections can overlap neatly. It also means you can have side branches which overlap the bank and don't have a wierd bit of grass in the middle of the river. Thank you to however first suggested that idea (I used to do river sections with square ends).

The angles of each section are carefully designed to align with the Hexon hexes. That took a certain amount of measuring and trial and error. For the original set of river sections I made up templates from thin card until I was happy with the size and shape, then used the card templates to trace out the sections on the plastic.

Obviously you can use them as normal river pieces across the hexes (or a base cloth or whatever).

I really like these river sections, they work for all sorts of things and are very easy to store and use. Bizarrely, they even work as wadis in desert terrain, despite having green banks. Some sort of trick of the eye (and some of the desert colour shows through).

Great, job done, plenty more river sections now. Time spent on terrain, like reconnaissance,  is rarely wasted.