Wargaming the Battle of Eutaw Springs – September 08, 1781 & 2018

The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last major battle in South Carolina in the American Revolution. The main battle was fought on September 8, 1781. Luckily for me, September 8 fell on a Saturday in 2018 so I was able to get some historical wargaming in!

The Battle of Eutaw Springs has two parts to the engagement. The first part is the Meeting Battle where the American army runs into the British foraging party. Historically, the “rooting party” was overrun but a few soldiers escaped and alerted the British camp. The main battle followed. The two wargames I used to refight Eutaw Springs took different approaches to the battle and the relevant events.

The first wargame I pulled out was Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017).  This is Compass Games’ version of venerable designer Richard Borg’s Commands & Colors-series for the American Revolution. The scenario is one of the larger ones in the base game and focuses on the main battle starting after the events of the foraging party. As with the historical situation, the Americans are deployed in two lines with the Milita forward and Regular troops behind.

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Opening setup from British perspective

In today’s game the British could just not get anything going and the American dice were hot. The turning point was the death of a British Leader (+1 VP) followed by the Rout of three units. The Morale rules in Commands & Colors Tricorne are maybe the most important to consider. In this case, all three units were forced to retreat and then conduct a Morale Check. A Morale Check is a die roll using the number of dice equal to the remaining blocks in the unit. To pass the check the roll has to have at least one Flag rolled. There are a few modifiers but that’s essentially the rule. In today’s battle, two FULL STRENGTH units that were forced to retreat outright FAILED their Morale Check and Routed away! The end result was a run-away victory for the Americans.

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Endgame – British routed away….

The second game pulled out was the American Revolution Tri Pack from GMT Games (2017). Although not listed in the subtitle (Guilford, Saratoga, Brandywine) this game actually has a fourth battle included; Eutaw Springs! This battle has two versions that can be played; a Historical Battle that starts after the events of the foraging party (around 10am in the morning) or a Campaign Game that begins at 7am before the foraging party is encountered. Depending on the result of the foraging party battle the British may be alerted or caught unawares. Having already played out the battle, I set up the Campaign Game to see what might happen differently. Alas, the battle of the foraging party resulted in a Retreat which meant the historical result, an alerted British camp, happened again.

After that though, nothing went historically for the British. Once again the American dice were hot with many Disruption results in combat. Disruption results force retreats but more importantly reduce the army Morale Track. The battle saw many British units Disrupted with few actually Eliminated. The Americans were able to continuously push the British back as they were unable to keep a solid line to stop the American advance. By noon (Turn 6) the battle was pretty much a foregone conclusion. Even with the late arrival of British reinforcements was unable to stem the tide. As with the historical situation, once the Americans got into the British camp there was some Looting (though less than historically) but it did slow down any pursuit of the British.

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Disruption after Disruption….

As with my Fourth of July Gaming, it is always fun to play a wargame battle on the anniversary of the event. Doing so brings fresh insights into the battle and the events around it. It demonstrates the real teaching power of wargames which match fun with learning.

Featured image “Battle of Eutaw Springs” by Granger courtesy fineartamerica.com

 

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There’s a good game in here…somewhere. Thoughts on Yarmuk (Command Magazine / XTR Corp., 1997)

Yarmuk (XTR Corp., 1997) was the second game in Command Magazine Issue #45 (Oct 1997). The game recreates an epic battle in 636AD between Byzantine and Moslem armies. Yarmuk is a relatively simple game that decently captures its theme but suffers from unclear rules and lack of a “gimmick” mechanic to make it truly unique and memorable.

Spelling errors litter the rules of Yarmuk. Thankfully, the rules are short and fairly simple. In some ways Yarmuk is an early Command & Colors-style game with alternating formation activations, a very simple combat resolution system, and several possible special “events” playable each turn. After going through the rules and playing the game, these are the ones that stand out to me:

5.2.A.2. Parley Check. One in six chance of skipping a full day in the game (the battle is six days long). In my play through I rolled Parley on Day 1.

5.2.A.3. Sandstorm Check. One in six chance of a sandstorm for the day. Reduces combat effectiveness.

5.2.A.4. Duel of Champions. First day only. Good chrome that makes the game “feel” more thematic with little rules overhead.

5.3 The Sword of Allah. One of two “unique” game rules that reinforce theme. Twice each day, the Moslem player gets an extra Action Phase using Moslem cavalry. This is the only time Moslem cavalry can charge (9.8).

6.0 Zones of Control. Units must stop when entering an enemy ZoC. To leave an enemy ZoC is a morale check. Units starting the Combat Phase in an enemy ZoC MUST attack. Units retreating though the attacking units ZoC must make a morale check.

7.0 Stacking. What should be a simple rule is actually confused by the rules layout. Rule 7.1 Stacking Generally specifies that at the end of each phase only two units can be in a hex. However, in the second half of rule 7.2 Stacking Specifics (which is unfortunately found on the next page from the rule header) states that, “only the top units in a single hex may attack or be attacked in a single combat. The stacking order in a hex may be changed only by shifting an activated units during its movement phase….” I missed this part of the stacking rule in the first few days of my game and it totally changed the complexion of combat.

9.1 Combat Generally. Combat is a simple affair. The difference of attacking units to defending units yields a column used on the Combat Results Table (CRT). Or it should be, but again the rules as written get in the way:

  • “…undisrupted units…may attack. Any such unit starting its combat phase in an enemy ZOC must attack.” (Units in enemy ZOC must attack, or may they?)
  • “A single unit may attack up to six adjacent defending units.” (One unit, six attacks?)
  • “Up to six units may attack a single hex.” (Surrounded unit)
  • “Each attacking unit may participate in only one combat per combat phase.” (So one unit – one attack, not up to six attacks as above?)
  • “A single defending unit may be attacked only once per combat phase….” (What about a single defending unit with two enemy units in its ZoC? Attack by only one? Or both? Per above both must, or may?)

I think the intent of the rules is that each unit can only attack (or be attacked) once per combat phase. I think this is the rule, but as written it is difficult to determine what the rules actually say.

9.3 Retreat. Requires very careful reading. A retreating unit that is forced to retreat into a ZoC of a non-attacking unit is fine, but if it retreats into the ZoC of the attacking unit it must make a morale check and, if it fails, disrupts of routs and must continue to retreat until reaches a hex not within ANY enemy ZoC.

10.0 Supreme Effort. The second unique game mechanic. Each formation has a Supreme Effort (SE) chit that can be played for extra combat power. Well, each formation should have a chit except for a printing error on the counters which has the back side of one formations SE chit on a combat unit. To offset the power of SE, using SE can lead to backlash (10.3 SE Backlash) which is a negative combat effect and risks morale.

At first glance, Yarmuk appears to be a game with simple rules and just enough theme. The sad reality is that confusing rules get in the way of enjoying the thematic elements. Furthermore, Yarmuk has a very Command & Colors feel to it. I cannot find a Yarmuk scenario for C&C so maybe making one is worth it. Doing so is more likely to result in a positive game experience because trying to sort through the Command Magazine/XTR Corp. version of Yarmuk is probably more effort than it’s worth.

Featured image courtesy boardgamegeek.com. By the way, the setup shown is wrong because, according to 3.0 Setup, “Each leader must be stacked with any unit under his command.”  None of the leaders visible are stacked with a unit but in a separate hex. Appears I’m not the only one confused by the rules….

 

The Lesson from Morale – or – Elite can be Defeat in @gmtgames #Panzer

Often times, wargamers get caught up in the material of war. Comparisons of which tank or airplane or ship is better dominate the hobby. Wargames that are more simulationist reinforce this condition. The impact of war on the human condition is overlooked or even outright ignored. In the RockyMountainNavy weekly game night, the impact of morale was brought front and center and forced all of us to think about it deeply. To my surprise, the lesson came from the Panzer series from GMT Games; a game that I consider detail-oriented and a good game for comparing tanks. When the game was finished, the lessons learned had little to do with which tank was better and everything to do with the role of morale in combat.

The Youngest RMN Boy is getting into the machines of war. After diving deep into the aircraft of World War II and battleships of World War I he has turned his attention to armored vehicles of World War II. Last week, I introduced Panzer from GMT Games to the boys. This week he hounded me for a bigger, better battle.

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Courtesy Opsrey

Youngest RMN Boy recently purchased a copy of Osprey Publishing’s M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943-53 at a used book store. He read with fascination the accounts of battle between Pershings and German tanks at the end of World War II. After playing Panzer he wanted to see for himself how the match-up could of gone. I created a home brew scenario where a German Elite platoon of 4x Tiger II tanks, supported by a Jadgtiger tank destroyer, had a meeting engagement with a US Veteran platoon of 5x M26 Pershing supported by a platoon of 3x M36 Jackson tank destroyers with a single ‘Easy 8’ Sherman. Although the Germans were outnumbered almost 2:1, their better morale and training actually gave them a slight edge in scenario points.

In order to expedite the game, I once again played as umpire. Youngest RMN took the Germans while Middle RMN led the Americans. Both boys are still learning tactics, so I was not surprised they both split their forces on set up. Once the shooting started, something very incredible happened.

In Panzer, the experience/morale level of the unit impacts several game mechanics. On Initiative Rolls, units that are Elite gain a +40 while Veterans gain only +20. The level also determines Command Range – the distance units can be apart and still share a common order – with Elite having a 2-hex range and Veteran only 1-hex. In AP Fire, the superior training of Elite units gains a greater positive shift in combat (translating to better chance of hit) as compared to Veteran units. Taken together, Youngest RMN Boys’s Elite Panzers were not only superior in firepower and protection, but with their better training should have gained the initiative (control of the battle) more often. The American tanks had the advantage of numbers and mobility (both in terms of raw speed as well as turret slew rates).

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Tiger IIs in France (courtesy tanks-encyclopedia.com)

The battle actually devolved into two separate skirmishes. In the north, two Tiger II faced  off against the 5x Pershings. In the south, two Tiger II and the Jagdtiger took on the 3x M36 and Easy 8.

First blood was drawn in the north where the Tiger II’s firing at ranges between 1600-2000m “brewed up” two M26’s. Even using better ammunition, the M26s were impotent against the German armor protection.

Another game mechanic in Panzer where morale/experience is represented is Bail Out. When tanks are hit, even with a non-penetrating/non-damaging shot, the crew must roll for Bail Out. In the case of a non-prentrating/no-damage AP hit, the crew will Bail Out on a percentile die roll of 10 or less. Elite units gain a +5 modifier, literally meaning there is only a 5% chance of an Elite unit bailing out.

At the end of the scenario, four M26 Pershings were knocked out along with two M36’s. The Jagdtiger and a single Tiger II were immobilized by Track Damage. But the most astounding result was that in three of the the five German tanks the crew bailed out from non-penetrating/non-damaging hits. Statistically speaking, this was an astounding outcome.

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CoH (courtesy BGG)

Youngest RMN Boy was greatly disappointed. He was even a bit angry at his brother. The Youngest RMN Boy plays other wargames where morale is important, like Command And Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017) with Routing units or Academy Games’s Birth of America-series with the Flee combat result. Even his favorite World War II tactical combat game, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games)  has morale in there, though it is more “baked into ratings” than visible in a die roll like Panzer. I think what made him angry was that unlike Militia units in the American Revolution or early-war demoralized Soviet units where he expected the morale failure, he never could imagine that his Elite Panzers could be the same and simply run away.

That is perhaps the greatest lesson of Panzer; the greatest tank with the best guns and armor does not always translate into battlefield success.

I fear that in this age of push-button warfare and video games that the human factor in combat is ignored or forgotten. This is also why I play games, and wargames, with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I want them to know that war is not machine versus machine but human. I did not expect GMT Games and their wargame Panzer to be this vehicle of learning, but I am very happy that it is.

Featured image courtesy @RBMStudios on Twitter.

“There is something wrong with our Hessians today….” The Battle of White Plains in Command and Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (@compassgamesllc, 2017)

A snowy day in the mid-Atlantic region on this President’s Day weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to pull out Command and Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017). I categorize this as one of my “lite” wargames that combines easy to understand rules with a thematic experience. In the case of Tricorne, it is the Retreat and Rally rules that make the difference:

Players, that are familiar with other Commands & Colors games, will soon note that unit combat losses in a Tricorne game are typically not as great as other games covered in the Commands & Colors series. This is a direct result of the linear tactic fighting style of the armies that fought during the American Revolution. Unit morale is the main thematic focus in a Tricorne battle as it was historically. Knowing that an entire unit, that has only taken minimal losses when forced to retreat, may actually break and rout from the battlefield, will definitely keep players on the edge of their command chairs during an entire battle. [commandandcolors.net]

The battle of the day was White Plains from 28 October 1776. The British are trying to turn the Continental right flank. I took the British, while Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy took the Continentals.

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Battle of White Plains setup (minus one Continental leader in upper right). Notice Continental Militia in left section. Easy pickings, right?

Understanding that the Continental Militia are the weak link, having less firepower and retreating more for every Flag result, I focused my attack on my left section. The plan was to roll up the Continental right and then push down Chatterson’s Hill. Historically, I was attempting to repeat history:

The British regiments attacked directly against the American positions while the Hessians attempted a flanking manuever against the American right flank. The British were forced back with heavy casualties but the Hessians took up a position beyond the American left flank, which was held by inexperienced New York and Massachusetts militiamen. The fight lasted only a few minutes before the militia fled. The fleeing militia exposed the flank of the Delaware troops. The appearance of the advancing Hessians threw the Delaware troops into confusion. [myrevolutionwar.com]

It almost worked for me, if it had not been for those d*mned Continental Militia!

As my Hessians pushed forward, they pushed back the Militia like I expected. But the Militia refused to Rout. To my great surprise, Middle RMN actually counterattacked with the weakened Militia and, to my greater surprise, Bayonet Charged with them! Caught off guard, the Hessians melted before the Continentals (ok, he got some great die rolls while mine…sucked).

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Continental Bayonet Charge decimates the Hessian Forces. Hessians lost an entire artillery battery in one die roll.

At this point I tried to bring my Elite Infantry Grenadiers into the fray. As much as they tried they just could not push the Continentals back. One leader in particular, Alexander McDougall, just did not give up. I even had a five-die attack against McDougall and a weakened infantry unit and – against all odds – whiffed completely.

After that, it was only a matter of time. Since I had concentrated on my left, I had failed to bring the center to engage and, once I tried to advance, faced the well-prepared Continental artillery. Already behind in Victory Banners, it was only a short matter of time before I lost completely.

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End game. McDougall (upper left) refuses to give ground. British middle takes artillery fire and routs away. Unlike history this is a victory for George Washington.

Total game time, set up to clean up, was only 90 minutes. I really enjoy Tricorne in that it can deliver a very intense game in a short period of time. The game also reminds players that expectations do not always meet reality. Tricorne will definately be getting more play with longer scenarios to come.

Happy Birthday George Washington!

Ice Outside – Hot Games Inside

Icy day in the neighborhood meant that school was out for the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Mrs. RMN also had a job interview lined up so I decided to take the day off. This gave me some time for gaming!

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Courtesy Compass Games

The morning saw a quick game of Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017). Youngest RMN Boy and I played The Battle of Stono Ferry (June 20, 1779). I took the British who are a rear guard and set up in defensive positions (behind fieldworks and fences) with the impassable creek behind them. The Americans are a mixed lot composed mainly of Militia and Light Infantry. In C&C: Tricorne the real “killer” is not combat, but Retreat and Morale. If a unit is forced to Retreat, it must roll for Morale; if it fails the Morale roll the unit Routs and is eliminated.

Our game actually started out a bit slowly as I had not reread the rules in a little while and it took the first few turns to remember certain elements of the game. That said, the game played quickly. The Americans pushed forward their left flank and actually dislodged an Elite Infantry Highlander unit from their fieldworks and eliminated their supporting Light Artillery and a Provincial Infantry unit through Routs. Meanwhile, the American right aggressively moved out with two Light Cavalry charging directly into the British defensive position. In the ensuing Melee combat, the British were dislodged and forced to retreat…but with the creek at their back the retreat path was cut off. This quickly eliminated several more units. In the end, the Americans won 5-3. Total play time (including set up) was just over one hour.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

Later in the day, Mrs. RMN was teaching so having a bit more time to fill the RMN Boys and myself pulled Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) off the shelf. I have not played Queendomino in a while so I took a few moments to skim the rules. The game experience was more enjoyable from the start (unlike C&C: Tricorne in the morning) and we quickly found the turn rhythm (Place-Tax-Build-Burn-Pick). Even so, our game took the full 25 minutes it is rated not because we were struggling with the rules but because we all had a touch of analysis paralysis. I started the game using a city building strategy but in the later half the dominos didn’t fall my way. Even though I had the most Towers and the Queen I ended up losing…again.

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Courtesy HABA USA

Mrs. RMN’s student today was the kindergarten girl and once she finished studying she badgered the RMN Boys and myself to play games with her. She saw Rhino Hero: Super Battle (HABA, 2017) and Rhino Hero (HABA, 2011) on the stairsteps and was interested. Both these games are new in the RockyMountainNavy house this week. We played one game of Super Battle and two games of the original Rhino Hero. Super Battlewas just bit too overwhelming for her because she didn’t really grasp the strategy behind the game. Rhino Hero was fun (our tower got up to something like 10 levels or more each time) and she did not make it fall, but again her bouncy-bouncy nature did not mesh well with the fine motor skill game. In reality she was anxious to get back to Animal Upon Animal (HABA, 2005) that she played last week. A few games followed with fun had by all even though her bouncy-bouncy nature got the best of her and she repeatedly knocked the animal pile over.

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Animal Upon Animal (Courtesy HABA USA)

All in all a good family gaming day; a wargame for me, a family game for the Boys, and teaching good gaming to a young one.

Featured image courtesy @CapitalWeatherGang on Twitter.

Kicking Off the Year with Kickstarter

I know that Kickstarter is a big part of why board gaming is so popular. Even so, I have my doubts. That said, so far this year I backed two Kickstarter games. Either I have overcome my Kickstarter fears, or am really stupid.

Part of the reason I am gun-shy at Kickstarter is because I backed, in March 2016, Squadron Strike: Traveller. I was a bit doubtful because the Squadron Strike system looks a bit complex (much like Birds of Prey, one of my least-favorite games). But I really love the Traveller RPG so I went for it. I pledged $109 for the Boxed Game. I even had to add extra money in the BackerKit in 2017. It has not delivered. Nor does it seem it will ever deliver.

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Courtesy Compass Games

In 2017 I backed Command & Colors: Tricorne – The American Revolution. I backed at the $95 level for a single copy of the game. The only stretch goal that was included was a single extra scenario. To be honest, I felt a bit ripped off by Compass Games. To me, the Kickstarter campaign was nothing more than a pre-order system. There was no price advantage. Indeed, less than a year later I can find new copies for a fair amount less.

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Courtesy Triplanetary Kickstarter

In January this year, nostalgia got the best of me and I backed Triplanetary from Steve Jackson Games. I remember seeing this title when I was a rookie gamer. As of the writing of this post, the campaign has funded and is supposed to be delivered in August 2018. We will see.

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Courtesy Agents of Mayhem Kickstarter

Finally, my love of Academy Games led me to pledge for Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon. This pledge is heavily influenced by my love (and respect) for Academy Games. I pledged even though tactical skirmish games, like this or Imperial Assault, are really not in my wheelhouse. I must admit I am looking forward to this game with its many innovative combinations of components. The last big Academy Games Kickstarter project, 878 Vikings – Invasions of England did deliver very close to on time (at least the English-language copies in the US). As of the writing of this post the game is funded with 9 stretch goals unlocked. Delivery is scheduled for September 2018.

I think I am going to slow down, if not stop, further Kickstarter support for the year. At least, that is, until these deliver (except for Squadron Strike: Traveller as I have given up). It is going to take a very special game to get me to change my decision.

#GamesPlayed October 2017

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BoardGameGeek My Played

October 2017 was actually a relatively game-filled month for me. Of my twelve games played, nine were “actual plays” while three are what I call “rules exploration” or “familiarization play.”

The Saturday Game Night was mostly boardgames (i.e. not wargames) with Terraforming  Mars getting to the table two weeks in a row. In a lucky turn of events, what should of been a “familiarization play” of Command & Colors: Tricorne became an actual play.

I got two good solo plays in, The Expanse Board Game and Pacific Fury. I really need to get more wargaming going. With the coming of winter (hard to tell with unseasonable upper 70’s outside) I hopefully will get more tabletop time to do so.

Looking forward to November, my niece will be visiting. Last time she was here she became obsessed with Ticket to Ride. This time the RockyMountainNavy Boys want to get Scythe to the table with her. We shall see.