Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Casualty Counters, Chickens and a Man in a Hurry

Casualties, chickens and one guy in a hurry.
Click to enlarge all pictures.

I spent last week in Costa Rica for my daughter's spring break so I lost a week's time for my preparations for the SYW Association Convention on April 5th and 6th in South Bend, Indiana. 

My Costa Rica Vacation
Not that there is anything wrong about taking a vacation in Costa Rica, in fact we had a good time with the weather sunny and in the 80-95F temperature range. We spent the first part of the trip in the Arenal area, which is where many of the volcanos are located. With the higher elevation, the temperature was mild (70-80F range). Our hotel had a large hot springs pool which was kind of nice.

The second half of the week was spent on the Pacific coast, where the air is drier and the temperatures are oven hot. I'm not one who likes to sit around the swimming pool roasting in the sun, so we went on three Eco-tours to see the countryside and the wildlife: sloths, various types of monkeys, Caymans and alligators, birds birds birds, and a few snakes.

Here are a few pictures of the wild life that we saw on our trip: 

Some Howler Monkeys have the right idea, take a nap in the trees.

A big old nasty Cayman sunning himself on the bank of the Canon Negra river.

Our riverboat nature tour.

Painting Challenge
I'm participating in a Painting Challenge with some of my friends and acquaintances and so I was finally able to enter some items in the Challenge. It is not a competition and there is no pressure to paint lots and lots of figures. The idea is to give one a short time goal in which to do the painting.

I finished 18 Russian casualty discs, one RSM Aide de Camp, one dead Cossack and one Hovels vignette of a farm girl feeding the chickens.

Mostly Minden casualty figures in green coats and Foundry Russian casualties wearing the red waistcoat.
The Cossack and horse are also foundry figures. 

Russian ADC/messenger - RSM figure mounted on a Minden horse - and the  Hovels farm girls

Casualty Discs
I use the casualty discs to represent the removal of figure stands during a game. Most of my battalions have 5 stands of 6 figures, so when there are 6 casualties on the stand, it is removed and replaced by a fallen soldier to mark the spot where the stand was remove. Over the course of the game, you can see where the battle is moving by looking at all of the casualty discs that are scattered across the table.

The casualty discs can also be used as "Victory Points" in my games. Each side gets a VP for each enemy stand that is removed from the game. For the cavalry, I use only one casualty stand to mark the place where a cavalry melee occurred.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Full Russian Artillery Pix

Minden SYW Russian artillery battery complete with limbers and munitions wagons.
Please click or double click on all pictures to enlarge.

I have been working my tail off trying to get my Russian army painted and ready for this year's Seven Years War Association convention on April 5 and 6, 2018.

This week I finished four limber teams and a stand of artillery fusiliers for each of the four cannon models that the Russians will use in my Zorndorf game. I will let the picture captions tell most of the story.

I like to take the time to assemble and paint limber teams of four horses, the limber and the artillery train driver (the "driver" rides on a horse, not on the limber or wagon). I then add a stand of two figures representing the laborers or the trained artillery fusiliers, as the case may be. I used Russian artillery crewmen and placed muskets in some of their hands. Others hold ropes to drag the cannon back into position and several hold wood poles to use for who knows what - I just like the way that they look.

I also like to add a munitions wagon to the artillery battery. In this case, Ed Phillips hand built these colorful Russian wagons and I have eagerly added them to my artillery contingent. When you put all of the elements together, you can see that there is a lot of extra equipment located behind the cannons which would make it a bit of a problem to move through the battery.

Front view of the battery: two 12-pounders (left) and two Shuvulov Howitzers (right).

I also needed a new General Fermor command stand and so I painted and terrained Fermor and his staff over the past couple of days.

"Petr, look at the flowers, look at the flowers!"
General Willim Fermor (mounted, pointing) and two staff members.
I have no idea  what it is that they find so interesting.

Close up view of the battery depicts the stand of 2 artillery fusiliers standing behind the cannon, the munitions wagons for each of the two gun sections, and limber teams (4 horses and one driver). The battery commander is in the upper left hand corner of the picture.

A close up view of the Fife & Drum limbers and artillery train drivers. I used the Austrian driver as a Russian. The colorful munitions wagons were scratch-built by the talented Ed Phillips, to which I have added a pair of limber horses and a train driver.

Side view of the Russian battery. Sorry about the first cannon being a little bit out of focus. The Minden civlian laborers set No. 2 have been drafted into the Russian artillery corps. They are carrying a heavy box that is probably full of things that go BOOM!


Friday, March 2, 2018

Manteuffel's Attack at Zorndorf - Game Report

Russian Shuvulov "Secret Howitzer" greets the Prussians near the Stein Busche.

I wanted to test drive one of my Zorndorf 1758 game scenarios ahead of the Seven Years War Association Convention on April 5th and 6th this year, so I played a solo version of the scenario yesterday. The benefits of play testing a game are obvious: it uncovers problems with the terrain set up, the balance of forces and any other gremlins that might pop up in a game. Better to deal with them now and fix them rather than be confronted with the problems in situ.

One of the issues in any scenario design is creating "brigades" or player commands to use in the game. I try to give every player at least four troop elements and to position their commands in places where they can get into the action within the first couple of game turns.

I will be hosting two games at the SYWA convention this year, both based on the Battle of Zorndorf fought in August 1758. The first game will take a slice of the battle and just focus on the opening phase of the battle when Manteuffel's advance guard attacked the Russian left wing, which was isolated from the rest of its army by the impassible Galgen Grund terrain feature.

A good map is key to understanding both a battle and a wargame scenario of that battle. One of the best maps is that found on the Obscure Battles blog   Zorndorf Map - Obscure Battles Blog . The maps and the blog are created by Jeff Berry and both wargamers and historians are fortunate that Jeff has done such brillian work on these battles. A copy of Jeff's Zorndorf map is shown below.

The attack scenario takes place in the area between the Zabern Grund steam on the left and the Stein Busche woods on the right. Click and double click on the map to enlarge the view.

An excellent map of the Battle of Zorndorf, created by Jeff Berry on his Obscure Battles blog.

The second game will be the grand enchilada, the whole game, in totus porcus if you will. This version will be played on a 6ft by 15ft table with a couple of 2.5ft by 6ft side tables that can be moved around to provide needed depth on the table top battle field. This game will cover the area from the Zabern Grund to the open plain to the right of the Stein Busche, per the map above.

Attack of the Prussian Advance Garde at Zornforf
What follows are some pictures of the smaller scenario involving the Prussian advance garde assault on the Russian right wing at Zorndorf. The table view and directions during this game will be made from the Prussian perspective of the table. Thus any mention of the "left" represents the Prussian left wing that is anchored on the Zabern Grund (obviously, this is also the Russian "right") and the "right" is the command of Kanitz, which has its right flank anchored on the Stein Busche wooded area.

Prussian Order of Battle
 1. Manteuffel's Brigade (3btns of grenadiers, 1 btn of musketeers, 2 x 10pd howitzers)

2. Kanitz's Brigade (2 btns of musketeers, 2 btns of fusiliers)

3. Dohna's Reserve (2 btns of musketeers , 2 x 12pd cannon

4. Seydlitz's Cavalry Brigade ( 2 regts of hussars, 2 regts of cuirassiers, 1 regt. of dragoons)

Total Prussians: 10 btns of infantry and 5 regts of cavalry and 4 heavy cannon

The Prussian cavalry brigade of Lt. General von Seydlitz is deployed on the west bank (left) of the Zabern Grund, and is thus separated from the Prussian infantry that is deployed on the east (right) bank of the same terrain feature.

The Russian brigade of von Browne is isolated from the Russian right wing by the Galgen Grund. Historically, the majority of the Russian army was deployed east of the Galgen Grund where von Browne's command is located on our table. So he is not alone....

Russian Order of Battle

1. Saltykov's Brigade (3 x musketeers, 1 x grenadier and 1 x 12pd cannon)

2. Galitzin's Brigade (4 x musketeers and 1 x 12pd cannon)

3. Gaugreben's Cavalry Brigade (1 horse grenadier, 1 dragoon and 1 Cossack regt.)

All of the above brigades are deployed to the west of the Galgen Grund feature that is in the center of the battlefield. One infantry brigade of von Browne is deployed to the east of the Galgen Grund.

4. von Browne's Brigade (1 grenadier, 2 musketeer and 1 Observation Corps musketeer regt., plus one heavy Shuvulov Secret Howitzer.

Total Russians: 12 btns of infantry, 3 heavy cannon, and 3 cavalry regiments

Rules: I used my own Der Alte Fritz rules for the game and will do so for my two convention games. You can download a copy of the rules for free by visiting the Fife & Drum Miniatures web store site Free Rules

If the rules link is not working for you, then go to the Fife & Drum web store and click on the "More" pull down menu and select Rules and Articles and scroll down to the PDF marked sywrulesmay2014.pdf for your free copy.

The rules are printed on one side of a standard 8.5 by 11 inch sheet of paper and are very very easy to learn and understand. This is a necessity for any game hosted at a wargame convention because the players need to understand the rules quickly and they don't want to be bogged down in military minutia in the rules. I find that my game players have the rules basics down by the second turn of the game.

My unit organization: I field infantry battalions of 30 figures and cavalry regiments of 24 figures. The cavalry are sub-divided into two 12-figure "squadrons" for game purposes (they are not really historyical squadrons as there would typically be 5 squadrons in a cavalry regiment). More recently, some of my Russians have 32 figures in their battalions. Artillery sections have one gun model, four crew, 2 helpers, a limber team and one munitions wagon.

Each brigade has a brigade commander and one ADC, both of whom can be used to augment the morale of a shaky unit. There is also one army command figure.

The Game Report

So the forces were set up on the table and I gave the first move and first firing phases to the Prussians, since they were on the attack. Artillery bombardment and casualties caused by the same occured on the first two turns and there was no musket fire until turn 3, when both sides closed within musket range of 8-inches.

A little skirmish of no consequence broke out on the west bank of the Zabern Grund as some Russian Cossacks rashly decided to charge the Prussian Puttkamer Hussars. It did not turn out well for the Cossacks since they were unformed troops fighting formed troops - a very bad situation in my rules. The Cossacks scrambled back to the village of Quartschen, where they were content to sit out the rest of the game and loot the Russian encampment on the back table.

Prussian Puttkamer Hussars (HR4) open the show by driving off some Cossacks
to the west of the Zabern Grund.
The pictures below depict the deployment of Manteuffel's Prussian advance guard brigade on the left, and Kanitz's brigade to the right of Manteuffel. A Prussian battery of 10-pound howitzers were deployed on the Fuchs Berg so as to fire over the heads of the advancing Prussians. The picture does not show the ground elevation very well, but the hill was one inch higher than the flat area. Since the Prussians are shooting howitzers, I have no problem with them firing with there own infantry in front of them. However, once their infantry close to within musket range, then the howitzers can no longer fire at the Russians that are in front of the Prussian infantry.

Manteuffel's Advance Garde Deploys in front of the Russians.
A battery of 10-pound howitzers deploys behind them on the Fuchs-berg.

Kanitz's brigade deploys to the right of Manteuffel, resting its right flank
on the Stein Busche wooded area.

The Russian infantry are deployed in brigades, with Saltykov on the right, Galitzin in the center, and von Browne on the far left. Saltykov and Galitzin are separated from von Browne by the impassable Galgen Grund.

Saltykov's Russian brigade on the Russian right, anchors its flank
to the protection of the Zabern Grund.

Wisps of cotton smoke indicate that the artillery are firing at the advancing infanty, who are not in musket range until the third turn. Prussian infantry generally moves 8-inches in line formation, compared to 6-inches for Russian infantry, who are not as well trained as the Prussians in the art of marching.

Both sides open up with their artillery as the Prussians advance into musket range.

A Prussian 12-pound battery opens up on the Russian left near the Stein Busche.
Two battalions of IR5 Alt Braunschweig get diverted into the woods.

Turn 3 found Saltykov and Manteuffel trading opening volleys at one another. The Russians had the honor of firing first, but two of their front line regiments must have aimed too high as they completely whiffed on their volley. To make matters worse, the second battalion of the Permski Regiment failed its morale when the Prussians returned the musket fire, and routed 12-inches to the rear -- on the first turn of musketry no less!

Manteuffel's Advance Garde trades volleys with Saltykov's Russians. The Perm Regiment (white and green flags) routed.
(Russian right flank/Prussian left flank)

Turns Four, Five and Six saw the Prussians winning the important first fire. We use an IGO-UGO system in the rules. The two commanders have a dice-off with a D10 (ten-sided die), but the Prussians get an extra plus one to the number on the D10 since they have the superior commander in Frederick. The side with the highest initiative roll gets to choose between first move/second fire or second move/first fire. As you might surmise, it is usually better to choose the first fire because units that take casualties are required to test their morale immediately. Thus the receiving unit could run away before it gets an opportunity to fire back. Such is the unfairness of war...

Manteuffel is now fully engaged with the Russian front line.
Kanitz brings up  his brigade in  support (the three battalions in the middle left of the picture)
Turn Five was particularly painful for the Russians as four of their regiments routed (Chernigov, Kazan, Narva and 5th Observation Corps Musketeers). The Prussian Itzenplitz musketeers also routed from the front of the firing line. 

At this point in the game, the Prussians had 41 dead compared to 53 for the Russians. Whenever a stand of infantry is removed from the table I place a fallen casualty figure on the spot where the stand was removed. As the game progresses one can see the ebb and flow of the battle by locating all of the casualty discs on the table.

The Narva Regiment of Galitzin's brigade routs in the center.
Turn Six saw three of the four Russian regiments rallying from their routs. Only the 5th Observation Corps musketeers continued to skeddadle.  One of the Prussian grenadier battalions ("Hessian") also routed on the turn. 

A unit gets two chances to rally before it is removed from the table for good. Morale is tested by rolling two D10 dice and trying to score a certain number or lower, depending on the number of casualties that it has already received. So the more casualties that a unit has, the lower the number it needs to pass morale. For example, a unit needs a "9" or less on two of its dice to pass morale when it has 1 to 4 casualties, but the number falls to "7" then "5" then to "3" and to "1" as the casualties pile up. Extra dice are given to the unit for officers attached or secure flanks. Thus a regiment with two officers attached and secure flanks could gain three extra dice in addition to the two dice that it always uses for morale tests. The player rolls the D10 and keeps the two best dice and discards the other dice.

Turn Seven started with the Russians firing first, but the Prussians all passed their morale tests. The Hessian Grenadier battalion rallied from its rout on Turn Six, On the return fire, however, the Russian Perm and Moscow regiments in Galitzin's brigade routed and the Shuvulov howitzer crew were all shot down. A big gap was opening up in the Russian center around the Galgen Grund.

Turn Eight, Prussian cavalry commander von Seydlitz deemed that now was the time to throw his cavalry into the fray, so he started to send his squadrons, in column, across a ford in the Zabern Grund. Two squadrons of Prussian Hussars and one squadron of the Krakow Cuirassiers charged into the Russian Azov musketeer regiment on the Russian right wing. The Azovs fired off a round of musketry but inflicted only three hits on the Prussian cavalry - not enough to slow them down as they passed their morale tests.

The Azovs went shaken on their morale test, meaning that they could not stand their ground to melee with the cavalry, but they were not routing, only falling back 12-inches. However, the Prussian cavalry got in some free unopposed hacks at the Russians and killed off four of them.

By the end of Turn Eight, it appeared that the Russian center and right brigades were close to crumbling. They had only 4 viable battalions remaining on the field and 4 battalions that were trying to rally from routing. The Russian cavalry was fresh and unused, but it's path was blocked by its own infantry and thus they could not charge into the Prussian cavalry.

Prussian cavalry Lt. General von Seydlitz deems the time right for launching the cavalry
across the Zabern Grund to attack the Russian right wing.

Zieten's Prussian Hussar brigade bears down on the Russian Azov regiment.

Turn Nine saw the Prussian Hussars barrel on into the next Russian regiment, the Perm regiment, while the Krakow Cuirassiers matched swords with the Russian Kargopol Horse Grenadiers. In both instances, the Russians prevailed and repulsed the Prussian cavalry. What heroes are those men from Perm!

Prussian cuirassiers and dragoons provide support to the charge of the hussars.
Elsewhere on the field, Manteuffel's brigade of Prussian grenadiers was nearly played out as all four battalions fell back out of musket range, allowing the cavalry to take over from there. Kanitz continued to press the Russian center, but the Russians had the first fire on this turn and inflicted 10 hits on the second battalion of the Prinz Moritz (IR22/2) Regiment! The ensuing rout was inevitable.

So at the end of Turn Nine, things were still looking grim for the Russian army, but they had stopped the charge of the Prussian cavalry on their right flank, albeit if only temporarily, and the rout of the Prussian Prinz Moritz battalion bought some time for Galitzin's musketeer regiments to recover from earlier routs.

The Prussian hussars ride over the Azov regiment and carren headlong into the the  Perm regiment in the second line of Russian infantry in Saltykov's brigade. Russian dragoons await their opportunity.

Aeriel view of the action later in the battle, after Kanitz's Prussian brigade attacks the Russian center next to the Galgen Grund and their baggage train. At the top of the picture, the Prussians have launched a cavalry attack
on  Saltykov's brigade (see top of the picture)

Turn Ten was deemed to be the end of the game. While the Russians had staved off disaster on the prior turn, it was clear that the Prussian had the upper hand in the battle. 

There were four squadrons of Russian cavalry still in play but they were faced off against ten squadrons of Prussian cavalry on the Russian right wing (Prussian left flank). In the center and right, there were only two viable battalions of Russian infantry and two more battalions in von Browne's command on the far side of the Galgen Grund, which as you may recall, was impassable to infantry and could not offer any help to the Russians on the west side of the Galgen Grund.

The Prussians had two fresh unused fusilier battalions in Kanitz's brigade and at least one, maybe two viable grenadier battalions still in Manteuffel's brigade. The Prussians had also assembled a grand battery of four cannon in the center of the battlefield where they could easily blast any remaining Russian infantry into oblivion. 

As a result, the Russians decided that they would have likely retired from the field with what infantry and artillery remained and cover the retreat with the Russian cavalry. This was not too unlike the result of the actual battle, save for the fact that the historical Prussian infantry was shattered and it was their cavalry, commanded by von Seydlitz, that was winning the battle for them in this sector.

Recall that nearly half of the Russian army was still intact and untouched on the east side of the Galgen Grund.

The Butcher's Bill
The numbers show that it was a very bloody affair for both sides:

Prussians 79 casualties out of 336 figures at the start of the game - 24% lost (4 routs during game)

Russians 116 casualties out of 360 figures at the start of the game - 32% lost (5 routs in game)

Historically, I recall that casualty rates higher than 15-20% were considered unusually destructive to the army, so in this battle, both sides would have gone off somewhere to lick their wounds and recover. Again, the outcome resembled history, but how it got there was a little bit different.

Some Final Thoughts
I thought that the rules worked fairly well, as expected. I have been using these rules in some way, shape or form since about 1994 so most of the bugs have been worked out of them a long time ago. I tested some new ideas designed to shorten the playing time:

1)  battalion guns fire as artillery until the battalion closes into musket range of 8-inches; thereafter the battalion gun simply adds an extra D10 die to the battalion's musket fire. Once two stands of the parent battalion's infantry are lost/removed, so too is the battalion gun removed from the game.

2)  cavalry melees were changed so that the defending infantry could fire off a shot in defense and hope that this might stop the cavalry charge. If the cavalry passes its morale from any casualties received from musket or cannon, then the infantry is deemed to have not stopped the cavalry charge. The infantry will either retire 8 inches facing the enemy or rout 12 inches. The cavalry will get some free and unopposed hacks at the infantry before they leave.

3)  cavalry fight a maximum of two rounds of melee. If neither side wins, then both units retire a full charge move to the rear to reform. I don't worry about them moving through or around their own units as long as they are not routing. I just pick them up and put them 20-24 inches to the rear and place a disordered marker on them. 

4)  Early in the game, I removed a couple of Prussian cavalry regiments from the game as it was clear that I had given them too much cavalry. I think that I will also reduce the Prussian infantry from 10 battalions to 9 battalions while keeping the Russian infantry at 12 battalions.

See you in South Bend, Indiana on April 5th through 7th at the SYWA Convention!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Zorndorf Terrain Adjustments

The new Zorndorf battlefield with the Zabern Grund and Galgen Grund features.
The lichen has not been added to the depressions in this picture.

I have been fiddling around with the terrain set up for my Zorndorf game that will be played at this year's Seven Years War Association ("SYWA") convention on April 4-6, 2018 in South Bend, IN.

I decided that the Zabern Grund terrain feature needed to look more imposing and I could barely make out a depression in the ground where the Galgen Grund was located. While I would dearly love to make purpose-built terrain boards, I don't have the time with the convention game coming up in about six weeks. Also, the terrain needs to be portable.

My terrain system involves placing some insulation board on the table top and then placing my game mat on top of the foam boards. I can add pieces to create elevations or make cuts in the boards to create rivers, streams and a few Grunds.

I bought some one-inch thick pink insulation board at Home Depot and transported the boards, which I had cut down inside the store, from 8 feet long to 6 feet long. It was a very windy day and so the boards all wanted to take flight. To make matters even more difficult, I could barely fit the boards into my SUV vehicle, which I had imagined would have enough space to do the job. I was able to cram a couple of the boards into the car, but the others had to be cut lengthwise. Fortunately, the boards come with scored lines that make it easy to break off sections along the length of the board. I finally got everything loaded and delivered to my basement.

The first step in the process was to lay out some markers to make sure that I was making enough space for the Prussian battalions of Manteuffel's advance guard to deploy. By coincidence, my infantry battalions are 12-inches wide when deployed in line, so I was able to use foot long rulers to stand in for my infantry. Thus I could estimate how much room I needed for troops before I started cutting into the foam boards.

I also set out some dowel rods to mark off the area of the Zabern Grund; placed the footprint of the Stein Busch on the table; set up a temporary Galgen Grund; and placed some Russian infantry on the far end of the table to see how much table space I would have on the far side of the wooded area.

Working on the layout before cutting into the insulation boards.
 I wanted to have enough room to deploy four battalions in the area between the Zabern Grund and the Stein Busch.

Conveniently, my infantry battalions are 12-inches long when deployed in line. Thus I can set 12-inch rulers on the table to estimate how much room I will need on the table for the troops.

More of the pre-cutting layout work as seen from the opposite end of the field.
 Once I had the troop placement set in my mind, it was time to start cutting up the foam boards. I hope to keep some of them intact (without cut outs) so that I can use them over and over again for other scenarios. I only had to cut one board to create the Zabern Grund and a second board had just a small cut out, otherwise it was a whole board.

Cutting the Zabern Grund (nearest to the front) and Galgen Grund (mid-lefthand side of the boards)

The next step was to lay my game mat on top of the foam boards. Now you can see the depressions of the two grunds on my table top.

Now that the cutouts are made, I can lay my game mat on top of the insulation boards and get a nice deep Zabern Grund terrain feature.

Now I start laying the trees and foliage on the table.
The Galgen Grund and the Stein Busch can be seen in the middle part of the table.
I now filled up the grunds with trees and lots of lichen to give it a wild appearance. The Galgen Grund was not passable for troops and I think that this is conveyed by the new terrain. Below is a picture of the new Galgen Grund

The new Galgen Grund terrain feature.
Now it is clear that the feature is inpassable to troops.

Another view of the new Galgen Grund, with the Russian light baggage train
providing further obstacles to troop movement
The Zabern Grund was decorated in the same manner, although this time I added some small stream pieces that I had purchased many years ago at Historicon.

The new Zabern Grund - deeper and more imposing looking.
The lichen really makes the depression in the ground "pop".

Russian infantry anchor their right flank on the Zabern Grund.
Cossacks patrol the right bank of the stream.

A view of the Stein Busch. Troops can move through the feature at a slower than normal speed.
European woods were often more open to allow livestock and wildlife roam through it.
You can just barely see the tip of the Galgen Grund at the bottom of the picture.

The finished new tabletop terrain with the Russians deployed on the left side
and the Prussians deployed on the right side of the table.

I will have to rent a van to carry my terrain to the convention, so the boards shall fit inside rather easily. I have to rent a van anyway because I am also transporting all of by Minden and Fife & Drum inventory bins, and my game troops, to the convention.

I'm giving some thought to maybe running a couple of Zorndorf games at this year's Historicon convention in July 2018. Stay tuned to this blog for more information about a possible Historicon appearance this year.

As of today, I have most of the Russian army needed for the game painted and based. So now I can focus on painting some of the accoutrements such as limbers, wagons and casualty markers, among other things. I also want to make a hill that I can set on top of the map, rather than under the mat, where I can deploy the Prussian artillery. For this game I shall allow the cannons to fire over the heads of the Prussian infantry as it advances towards the Russians. At some point the infantry will be too close to the Russians to allow for Prussian artillery fire. However, the Prussian guns will all be howitzers so that they can fire on other targets deeper into the table.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Ebb and Flow of Morale in a Wargame - Mine and Yours

A battery of German 88s deployed behind a sand dune. l.

This past weekend I played in my first WW2 wargame ever, not counting HO figures that I played with in my sandbox as a kid. The battle was set in North Africa in 1942. We were using 15mm tanks and equipment played on a long table measuring about 6ft wide  by 15ft long, so there was a lot of maneuvering room to work with. The rules used were a house variation of Blitzkrieg Commander II. I found that the rules were relatively easy to grasp, so that helped to overcome some of my trepidation about playing a game in something other than the black powder horse and musket era.

Because I had a box full of German Mark III tanks and a couple of big "You Know Whats" that I had never played with, our host, Bill P. let me play on the German team.

You know the old saying, "if you are playing in a poker game and trying to figure out who is the mark then it is probably you." That was easy to figure out - the chump was undoubtedly me  since I knew next to nothing about WW2 tactics.  

So I went into the game with something less than a peaceful easy feeling about my play in the game.

This game report is more about the ebb and flow of morale in a wargame. I'm not talking about the morale of the Little Men on the table, but rather, the morale of the players in the game. There are some interesting dynamics going on from that perspective.

The Scenario
It went something like this: there was a town in the middle of nowhere call Sidi El Something Or Other (the names are not important when you are just learning the ropes). The town was at a crossroads. The Germans and their Italian allies were approaching  from the south (I just made that up) and they had to make a right turn at the town and exit the table. There were three ridges going across the width of the table and they were widely spaced out so that they could easily hide those naer do well British Tommies.

A view of Sidi El Something Or Other and some of those cute little Harringtons comming towards ME. The middle ridge is to the left of the town, the far ridge is off in the distance where the road leads to the next village. I have already passed the ridge that was hiding the Germans.

Let the Game Begin - the Recon Phase
The game started with four turns of reconnaisance, with cute little Marmon Harringtons and German Pskvxkzrt 's (that is, the vehicles had long names without any vowels). I have no idea what they are called, but they seemed to scoot around the desert and they had a little pop gun of a cannon that couldn't hit anything.

The Italian scout vehicles entered the table on the left and my two German Volkswagens scooted across the table on the right. The spotting rules were easy to learn and soon we had a little game of cat and mouse as the British scurried hither and yon. I figured that there was probably something big, mean and bad on the other side of the central ridgeline on the table. (Gee, you think?).

My Vowel-less VW zips across the sand and raises a dust cloud. In the upper left corner you can just barely see the yellow ochre colored Italian Ferrari scout vehicles heading towards the middle ridge to see what is on the other side of the hill.

After four turns of recon, the clank of treads was heard and large clouds of dust were seen on the horizan as Big Armor came rumbling onto the table for both teams. At this point, the real game would start and so we got down to the business of moving our vehicles and trying to exit the table.

The British scout cars put it in reverse and lay a patch. Was it something that they saw or was it tea time in the Sidi?

This is what the Harringtons saw rumbling down the road trying to loosen their load.
Seeing those panzers really lifted my morale, to say the least.

At this point in the game, my personal morale was pretty good because I hadn't been blown up yet and a passle of panzers was coming up behind me in support.

It's Clobberin' Time!

So things were looking wonderbar on my side of the table (the right) and the Italians were helpful as they made a bee-line for the central ridge. They were chasing a couple of British Harringtons back towards the town. The Italians crested the ridge (come on, you know what is going to happen) and watched as two big dust clouds headed their way.

To their left were a few small Grants, but to their right was a platoon of some Big Nasties, Chieftans I think. I heard a lot of big booms and pops to my left, but paid them little heed as the tune Alte Kommeraden played in my head as I watch four Mark III and one awesome looking Tiger (I know, but its just a game and you bring what ya got, right?).

The booms and pops turned into a rising mushroom cloud of flame and smoke as one after another, the Italian tanks started blowing up. I looked over at my Italian ally and I could see that his personal morale was heading south after that ugly encounter with British armor. I am certain that the British players detected the shift in Italian morale as they came rumbling over the hill to give chase. Doesn't anyone learn anything?

To my immediate front, this is what I saw! I flatter myself to thing that they were coming for me! 

A bunch of nasty looking British tanks come out of hiding and block the Germans' exit road. Oh fiddlesticks. 

What ho! The British were more interested in the German panzers than they were with me and my little VWs. My morale level was dialed in at "Relief".

An aerial view from a German Stuka shows the German ridge and a platoon of tanks on the road.

One thing that you learn in a wargame is that when the Big Guys are going at it with one another, the Little Guys had best get out of the way. One of my Volkswagens was caught in the middle and blew up in the ensuing tank fight. My other scout car, probably an Audi or something fast, decided that the safest place on the board was in downtown Side El Something Or Other. So I headed into town and nobody paid me heed as I hid out in Rick's Cafe until the fighting settled down.

Payback Time!

Undoubtedly the morale of the British Chieftans was sky high as they followed the Italian armor over the central ridge. Then they saw a sight that probably soiled their trousers:

I deployed my tank platoon in front of the German ridge and set up a pair of 88s behind the sand dune.  Mwahahaha!

Yes, I had just deployed my platoon of Mark IIIs on the other side of the central ridge and was warming up the 0le 88s for good measuring. My personal morale was about to go sky high.

It's a beautiful thing if you are a German...

Even with the Chieftans hull down on the central ridge, the whole platoon got blown to bits by the weight of all of The Krupp Works best munitions. I watched as one tank after another blew up and erupted into fireballs - five times!

...not quite so if you are the British though.
The remnants of the Italian tanks can be seen burning in the background while those of the British, in the foreground, are billowing black smoke. Their day is done.

Now I'm sure that the personal morale of the British tank commander had to be at its nadir. Mine would if I were in his boots. However, he put on a brave face and didn't show any signs of being downcast. This is a good point to make and a teachable moment - never let your opponent see your morale going down. Kudos to the British player on this score.

A Comical Interlude
The British decided that the time was ripe to unleash the RAF onto the line of German panzers, all eight of them at the moment, all sitting pretty on the ridge.

An RAF Hurricane draws a bead on the German tank line.
My memory of this is rather hazy, but I think that the RAF managed to take only one German tank out of play. The flyboys missed everything on their first pass, but their aim improved enough on the second pass to knock out one of our panzers.

I should point out that there was a second Hurricane, but it couldn't get off of the ground for at least two turns. It finally experienced liftoff on the third attempt, but the pilot's Mr. Magoo Myopia kept him from hitting any targets. We named him, Eddie the Eagle.

We Were Getting A Little Too Full of Ourselves

At this point in the game, the British were on the run all across the desert. The two British heavy tank platoons lost 9 of their 10 tanks (all 5 on the ridge, and the other 4 that were guarding the exit road near the Sidi. Two of the light Grants were also out of action and skedaddling over the far ridge.

So what does a good cocky German tank commander do in this situation? Why pull an Elmer Fudd of course and chase Bugs Bunny back over the central ridge.

Here come my four remaining Mark IIIs emerging from the smoke and ruins in pursuit. Sort of reminds of the scene in Animal House when the badass car emerges from the smoke to inflict havor on the parade.

The Italians were feeling pretty good too. You can see them in the background on the right as they too rumble towards the ridge where Glory awaits us all.

There is another old saying (I love old sayings) that "when something is too good to be true, it IS too good to be true." My personal morale is insanely high at this point, afterall, I put a can of whoopin' on the British tanks and I had a couple more cans yet to give away.

Well not so fast there Ace.

Boom Boom, Out Go the Lights

As I was emerging through the smoke of the burging Chieftans on the central ridge, I looked through my binoculars at the little village on the last ridge and saw a little man in a khaki peaked cap, sitting on the roof of a mud house, and he was waving to me and laughing.

Insolent little pup, I thought to myself. What could be so funny.  I was about to find out:

Um, uh what happened. Egads! That's my panzer platoon  going up in smoke.
In short order, a barrage of explosive shell came over the hills from far away and landed smack dab in the middle of my panzer formation. Italians to the left of me, little Harringtons to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you!

The vehicle of my destruction was not the Stay Puffed Marshmellow Man, but rather a full battery of five big old ugly Royal Horse Artillery 25 pounders.

This is what happened to me. Looks like every single British artillery piece in North Africa.

If you go out in the desert on day and see these guys, then kiss your derrierre goodbye.

My command was wiped out, save for one Mark III, but it was not allowed to move on the next turn because my command vehicle was also a smoking ruin.

My personal morale was totally shot to pieces, just like my tanks. Sweet Baby Onions, I thought, what the heck just happened to me?!!! 

Well, here is what happened; that little man in the peaked cap was an artillery spotter and he was calling in the barrage on me. 

My tank command after getting pounded by British artillery - three times.
(image is of the Highway of Death in the Gulf War in 1991)

What did I learn from all of this? 

Well a couple of things actually; first, it is always a good idea to find out what is on the other side of the hill before you go wandreing over; and second, whenever you see a single little man with a pair of binoculars in his hands, you had best train all of your guns on him before he calls in an artillery barrage on top of you.

There is another lesson of sorts to be gleaned from all of this, and that is just as there can be an ebb and flow in a wargame, so too can our personal morale shift up and down during the course of the game. It is best not to get too high or too low in your personal morale. Don't be visibly too happy when the game goes your way because you can bet your bottom dollar that the weather vane will eventually turn against you in the same game. It is important how we wear our emotions and our morale.

At the end of the day, I had a good time playing WW2 for the first time. It was not too technical as I had feared. I had some early success and I also got clobbered. I was expecting the clobbering before the start of the game so I came out of it better than I had thought possible.

I think that we all had a good time playing this game - a good host, good food and amiable players all add up to a good day. Here is a post game picture of our band of brothers

Bad Guys: Jim P. (me), Michael M., and John B.
The Good Guys: Keith J., Bill P. and Bob M.

Undoubtedly I misnamed or misidentified most of the tanks and equipment used in the game, so no corrections please. LOL.