29 December 2010

Attributes and States

In this post, I'll just talk about infantry.  Cavalry and artillery need something as similar as possible to do the same job, but most of the work is done by infantry.


For now, Germans in Brigades of 4 stands, French in divisions of 6.  Each unit has a clear command stand that also functions as a combat stand.


Size is automatic and not really distinct -- it is just the number of stands.  However, some rule may be needed to detach some stands, or to allow for the unit to be badly spread out.

Resolve will measure willingness to attack or hold.  Events in the battle will decrease or increase resolve.  A unit (army?) will have a starting resolve and a maximum resolve.  Units will have to test for control at various points.  If the resolve is too high they may attack when not ordered to; when the resolve is less than some value they will become reluctant.  At zero (perhaps) they will break.  This should be the only number we need to track. 


I think we can get by with just one -- Posture, which can be route-march, offensive, defensive, or routed.  Keeping routed units on seems a good idea, since they did tend to clog march routes and add friction to releaf or withdrawl.

Is formation a state?  I suppose so, since it is a limited set of discrete values and rules for moving between them.  Formations could be used to indicate posture - 1 rank defensive, 2 ranks offensive etc.  It could also have a continuum of values in which each stand has its own facing -- or perhaps that is a part of a defensive posture.

There is a temptation to give the stand a fair amount of latitude to match what battalions were up to in the smaller battles - but eyes on the prize, it's what the brigades and divisions did at the big battles that matter.

Rules for the last kilometer?

My thinking so far is to have a a sequence of play consisting, broadly, of
  1. Grand-tactical movement, which would leave troops out of effective rifles range of their opponents (more or less).
  2. Some sort of bombardment/counter-battery phase for artillery fire
  3. An assault phase that covers movement through defensive fire and into close combat, with a resolution of the assault.
While we are looking at a 2 hour turn, most authorities agree that the time that men would stand actively exposed to fire is pretty limited - measure in minutes not hours.  That makes resolving the whole of infantry combat for a single turn quite sensible, and keeps the pace up so that we are not swamped with detail and fail to make our time target.

However, we do want the combat process to tell a story -- the process should drive out results like a repulse, or being driven to ground as well as varying degrees of success in taking or holding the position.

There should be some level of give and take as well - I could see a series of attacks and counter attacks as the two sides move and resolve combat until basically the front goes quiet.  Maybe something like this:
  1. Players determine initiative.  I would suggest that whichever player has the most stands withing assault range of the enemy and in an offensive posture has the initiative, and must attack first.  Some mechanism should probably force some, if not all, such units to attack.  Let's call that player the "attacker" for the moment.
  2. The attacker advances all units which will/must attack to within one inch of the enemy.  Some units may already be there because of previous results.
  3. On a unit-by unit basis, resolve combat- ideally one roll per unit. Results would be
    •  Repulsed - back to 4" from enemy, change various stats
    • Go to Ground suppressed  - find a nice hole, and stay in it, 2" (500m) from enemy  Will need intervention to get moving again.
    • Go to Ground firefight - find a nice position and stay an inch from the enemy, still scrapping.
    • Close Combat Engaged - still fighting, indecisive
    • Take ground - defender falls back and goes to ground - firefight
    • Take ground - defender falls back and goes to ground -suppressed
    •  Take ground - defender repulsed.
One the attacking player was finished, eligible defending units could/have to assault or counter-attack.  This would be followed by a counter-attack cycle for the attacker and that is that?  Or more such cycles?

Next post I'll muse on stats/attributes/whatever?

16 December 2010

Mr Krupp's guns at war

I commend to your attention Dennis Showalter's book Railroads and Rifles.  Showalter goes into fascinating detail on the development of railways for war, the needle rifle, and the Krupp gun from roughly the 1820s through to the war of 1866, and at the employment of each in that war.  Long out of print, but I found a copy at the local university libary.

 Anyway a couple of points of application here:
  • In one corner of Konnigratz, in a gun duel with Saxon and Austrian gun at 3,000m "the adversaries bombarded each other with virtually no result"  over several hours.  One Prussian battery lost two men and two horses over the whole engagement.
  • Austrian rifled muzzle-loaders, and experimental Prussian bronze muzzle loaders used in 1870, were not particularly at a disadvantage compared to breach-loaders.  This suggests that the French guns themselves were not the real problem of the French artillery in 1870.
  • Just before the FPW, in 1869, the Prussian technique for ranging a battery was to estimate the range (say 1500m) then "straddle" the target by ranging individual guns to 14, 15, and 1600m and adjust fire from there.
  • According to Prussian analysis, a six gun battery was thirty times as effective than a company of infantry at 1000m range.

13 December 2010

Artillery frontages

Living at the fringe of civilization and only reading English put two serious brakes on my opportunities to access research material; fortunately the local university with the best library did, in the 19th Century, consider the needs of potential British and Canadian officers.  I'm going to assume that the contemporary practices for the British Army is not totally out of line with continental practice.  If I can get actual French or Prussian numbers I will use them in preferences.

This means I have been able to borrow "The Elements of Field Artillery" by Captain Henry Knollys of the Royal Artillery, published by William Blackwood and Sons in 1877.

Three batteries might be deployed on a frontage of as little as 114 yards (close intervals), or as much as 345 yards (full intervals).

A single battery in column of route is 208 yards long. 

If we look at our stand front, the smallest on which a gun looks good is 2cm, while wider than 3cm will be out of place with other frontages.  I want to use 2cm; it is very much in line for 2 batteries, probably acceptable for 3).  At 4, we are really starting to push things in wheel-to-wheel.  On the hand, it is a lot easier when the base stand frontage is the narrowest possible rather than the widest.

Lets do another calculation.  The Prussians had about 600-700 guns at Sedan.  If we divide that into stands of 24 guns with 2cm front, that gives a total of 25-30 stands,  with a total front of roughly 20-24".  Given the importance of the Prussian guns, I do not see that as a problem in terms of how it will look on the table.

The stand depth will be 3cm - assuming 600 m for three batteries, that will meant we need to fit the limber in 3cm.  That is optimistic for most 10mm models.  I like limbers; if we can fit them in a 5cm deep base, that would give is a nice 800m (8cm) total for 4 batteries.

Knollys  also states quite flatly that the longest possible range (given the limitation in human eyesight) is 3000 yards.  However, he also cites a Special Committee of Rifled Field-Artillery, which suggests 4000 if the ground is at all open, with villages unsafe at longer ranges.  The first British rangefinder is still "about to be introduced" in 1877.

He also says that under 800m the gunners are too close because of the risk of rifle fire on the gunners.

12 December 2010

A Prussian division on the march

Henderson describes a Prussian division (Kamecke's, 5th August) on the march

The Van consists of a squadron of cavalry and an infantry battalion; reserve follows the van and has the rest of the infantry regiment, a light gun battery, and pioneers with light bridging equipment.  The main body follows well behind.  The whole thing occupies 6-7 English miles of road, say 10 km - 40" in our scale.

Of course, route marches should not concern us very much -- there are more compact and flexible ways to maneuver in a tactical context; but they can be how troops arrive on the battlefield.

But lets see how this compares to Chadwicks's  version of a march column is Volley and Bayonet.  We have 8 stands of infantry and one of cavalry - 9 * 15mm = 135mm, + 1 artillery at 30mm = 16.5 cm  For march column, V&B multiplies the base depth by 4, so 66cm or 26" give or take.  If you then represent   the intervals (a total of about 5") with simple empty space, you get a total of 32" - probably close enough for government work if you add in logistic stands.

I am not sure how we will in fact represent this, or how for example this will translate into revealing blinds.  It is worth keeping in mind, however, that if you decide to concentrate a division in column on the advance guard, the lads at the rear are a full turn away,

Should divisions have a command stand?

Why they should not:
  •  We are only talking half a dozen stands, the basic building bock of the game.  If you need to designate a particular stand for command functions, why not just use a specially-marked combat stand?
  • And related to that, why add 20 or more stands to each side?  They will slow things down.
Why they should:
  •  If we let the German division operate as brigades, a division is starting to look like a small corps with cavalry, guns, and 2 infantry maneuver elememts
  • It gives us a way to represent the command/control center of the division  - this may be important if we let elements start to wonder about.
  • It gives us a place status and order markers without cluttering the main line of the action.
A related question:  Are French and German divisions different enough in capability that there are two different answers?

Divisions, brigades, fronts, words

From Howard:
  • Kameke's attack on the Rotherberg at Spicheren; Six battalions attacking on a front of 4 km.  Decisively defeated.  An 8-stand Prussian division spread across 16" actually looks OK.  For 4 stands of a Brigade to do that they have to be 5" apart.
  • This brings another question along with it.  Can we better represent German tactical flexibility by letting them either (1) Operate in 4 stand brigades instead of 8 stand divisions (2) allow wider movement to the Germans say in 2-stand "regiment" units - but still operating within the divisional mission.  This would let us get a bit more details in to smaller battles, would it cost too much in the big ones.
  • In a couple of other points in Howard's account of Spicheren, attacks by 6 battalions are mentioned.  This re-enforces the idea that the Brigade is a key tactical layer.

A sidebar about words.  I have been thinking about phrases like "posture" or "intent" for what binds the actions which a division is allowed.  Posture works well for me for the current state, and gets at phrases like "changing from a defensive to an offensive posture"  -- but whatever the current posture, a division would have a mission from the corps commander.  I think this should be concrete and tied to a geographic point; it should dictate the postures that the unit can voluntarily assume and provide a "leash" that ties it to the orders from higher authorities.  And the German leash, in that analogy, should be longer.

11 December 2010

Division Frontages

A crude estimate, based on a map of Mars-la-Tour from the Osprey "History of the Franco-Prussian War" by Stephan Badsey 

Suggests an expectation that a French division can be responsible for 900-1200m of front.  This is just one datapont, with more to follow.

10 December 2010

Base sizes again

Just got some figures - bare metal as of yet, but enough to think about basing.  In the fiddly trade-off I was thinking about avoiding too-fiddly manipulation by using 30mm square bases.  Problem is, two ranks of figures looks good for concentrated troops but is a bit chunky to look like an extended line.

So, the plan.  I think I will go to 30mmx15mm infantry bases.  This gives a nice extended line look (1 rank, 3 figures).  To keep the manipulation down, we will use a stand = 1500. This will give a nice look; concentrated troops can be represented by putting one stand behind another.  The counts would be 6 stands for a French division and 8 for a Prussian

Guns will fit nicely on 20mmx30mm - this will reduce the frontage down to 200m; I might want to differentiate French and German divisional artillery by frontage to allow for the extra battery.

Cavalry I am uncertain about - 2 figures looks OK on 30m square, and will just fit the depth on 30x20.  Two upon 20x30 is also an option. In any event, Cavalry are bit players so I am not going to worry too much.

Pictures to follow as we get some lads painted.

While we are playing with Googe Earth

Coulmiers  was notable as a true French victory.  The landscape is about as flat as it gets.  Here's a kilometer line roughly north-west from the German position at Coulmiers.  I chose this so that I would have some hope of orienting on the road.

Here's a view down the road.  You can see the forest, but the road disappears after only a few hundred meters.

Now, this image is from down the main highway, labeled "Alternate view from here" if you enlarge the image with the line.

You can't really make out the road, but what is interesting is the degree of dead ground.

09 December 2010

More pictures

Lets look at a couple of pictures - and if you have Google earth you can actually visit some interesting parts of out battlefield.

This image is  from street-view, and is looking to Rezonville.  You will have to blow up the image, but I am pretty sure that the clump of trees on the horizon right of centre is Rezonville itself.

If so, then we have an interesting distance.  The yellow line below which links what I think are the two points we are talking about is 4.5 km long.
Food for though!  The line is 18" on the gameboard.  And in the same space, here is a 300m base -- the faint yellow square roughly centre low.

08 December 2010

How far can you see and know what you are seeing

It's not hard to find guidance on the distances at which troops can be seen. For example, this nice little table from the Kriegsspiel website. Problem is, there are two factors that make such figures of limited use.
  1. They don't take commonplace optics into account -- officers frequently had a set of binoculars. Modern (well, WWI) optical range finders were not yet in use, so you don't have a lot of help in ranging for artillery fire, but you can get a grip on the presence and nature of a body of men at a far longer range.
  2. What really interferes with visibility is not distance, but the clutter between the observer and the potential observable.
So, how do we take this into account. Well, first, for the sake of argument lets set an upper limit for observation, say 3km - that will be 12" on the table. That will be to see formed, concentrated troops.

Now, lets limit that. Lets divide the world into flat and slope. That's more than a bit artificial, since the world is just not that flat. But our wargames tables are and that is what we have to work with. We'll also divide the world into levels, to lend some meaning to our hills. We won't worry right now about what sort of height difference we mean.

The point here is that, if you are in a hill or a slope and what you are trying to see is on a lower level or a slope facing you, you will able to see some over proportion of obstructions. Likewise if you are in a town with a convenient church steeple.

On the other hand, while you can see a regiment in column of companies easily enough, men in an extended line who are taking advantage of the terrain will be far harder to see. Unless they are shooting at you; there is no smokeless powder in this war.

So how does this turn into rules? I'm not sure yet, this is just where my thinking is right now.

06 December 2010


Lets look at what we can represent with the infantry of a four-stand French division. The idea is to represent the posture and intent of the formation by the position of the stands. If the rules work properly, transitions between states and the movement of the stands should be natural. In an ideal world, perhaps formation rules are not really needed -- instead, the interaction of the individual stands with each other and with enemy stands should drive out the desired effects.

Anyway. This infantry division is concentrated. It should be able to move handily and respond to threats from all directions, but should be vulnerable to fire and reasonably easy to see. I suppose it can be thought of as battalions marching in parallel in columns of company.

This infantry division has extended a firing line but is supporting it with a solid reserve. If the reserve is in cover (say behind a ridge line) the units in the firing line would be refreshed with rotation of new units. The reserve would also permit the division to respond to threats from the flank or rear.

This infantry division has committed itself completely to the firing line. It has maximum firepower in the defense, or the greatest power to find and encircle enemy flanks in the attack, but it cannot easily reply to flank threats.

05 December 2010

A progress report

I have started working on version 0.1 of the rules. In a couple of weeks, I should be able to start working through them on the table with blank bases. As soon as I have something worth proof-reading I will post it here.

I am getting some success out of LaTeX. I find that I am quite comfortable with adapting programming concepts to organizing the source for the document. I am, of course, having great fun with discovering those commands that do not do even slightly what I expect them to; developing specialized commands, on the other hand, is far easier than I thought it word be. Being able to change a couple of lines in the "\toprule" command definition and have every rule I have written so far comply is very enabling -- and this is from someone who makes pretty consistent use of MS Word styles.

03 December 2010

Utter Madness

Two events today in the journey towards these rules
  1. I ordered another 2-3 divisions worth of Prussians and French. That means, if I get down to it over the holidays, I should be play-testing with figures on the table early in January.
  2. I downloaded and installed LaTeX. As I wrote in my last post, while Word is a fine tool for what it is best at, complex technical documents is just not it. I'm already bald, so pulling my hair out was not an option.

02 December 2010

The Rules as a Document

As I consider trying to organize a series of drafts, I'm going to state a few principles. We will see how many of them I end up ignoring. Some of these ideas will be more experiments.

One guiding principle: I am not going to try to publish this a book, in print, to make money. Doing so is (1) to damn much work. I have a job thanks. (2) it brings in considerations of page count and binding that I would sooner not worry about, especially where a need for economy compromises design, especially in the use of white space. If produce a good set of rules, I expect people to want to download them and print them -- but the complaint I usually read is not about volume of ink rather than page count.

Writing style is also important. Early on, I was told that rules (and business documents) should be as short as possible since every word you write increases the risk that you will contradict yourself. I've considered that for a while, but I think that there is a more important principle: learning styles vary.

Some people prefer find it easier to learn precisely written procedures reminiscent of the best boardgames. Others prefer more loosely written rules that discuss the procedures rather than specify them.

The experiment I will try (which I vaguely recall was actually used to some extent by Young and Lawford's Charge!) is based on a principle I learned for presentations: Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them; tell them what you have told them.

How could this apply to a set of rules? The structure I propose is:
  1. An overall orientation that should set out all the major points of the game clearly and economically, but not too precisely.
  2. The balance of the document set out into sections that clearly divide what you need to know to prepare for play from what you need when playing.
  3. Within those sections, each rule will be stated in very precise language, with paragraph numbering for cross reference. The "precise" statement will be followed by a discussion of the rule, using examples, showing the reasoning behind the rule, and how it interacts with the other rules. Instead of risking contradiction I see this as both a chance to address different learning styles, and to provide a proof reader or play-tester to identify points where the rule I have written does not match the explanation I have provided for it.
  4. As a distinct section or a side document, collect the precise (or "summary") rules into a single section that can be printed for use during play.
  5. The final "what you told them" are play aids, which should cross reference back to both other rules sections and, of course, provide everything a practiced player needs during play.
Now, all of this doubtless sounds very ambitious for a set of rules people are going to download off the internet and maybe even play. But what the heck, one might as well aim high.

Stating the same text multiple times invites the thought of a tool-driven printing approach, perhaps involving XSL-FO transformation of document fragments.

Now I have written some huge documents with word -- hundreds of pages with dozens of illustrations and scores of cross-references. Those exercises have mostly left me convinced that we have not begun to consider the next software to ease the production of documents -- granted we have eliminated the typing pool (yes, I have had documents prepared by a typing pool. I am not young), the typesetter (yes, I remember linotype machines too) and cut and paste with scissors and tape. A modern word processor used to it's full potential by someone who understands its features is an amazing thing. But I am sure that there is a next step begging to be taken.

But I'll probably just start with Word and PDF.

01 December 2010


Krupp divisional guns (4 and 6 pdr) had a nominal effective range of 3000 m, but were usually not employed over 2000. Used a shell with an effective percussion fuse.

French divisional guns (4 pdr ) had a 2-setting timed fuse (effective around 1500 and 2800 m) but the back-up percussion fuse often failed. Later in the war, newly manufactured shells worked fine. The French kept similar 12pdr guns concentrated at Corps.

The Reffye and comparable mitrailleuse reached out to 2500m and doctrinally was designed as a superior light artillery, to be used to compensate for the lack of grapeshot or case for the rifled guns.

In representing these guns and tactics, there are a couple of considerations. A French division simply had fewer guns than a German division. This could be represented by using different stats for the French fun models; one might ask if this should also be reflected in base size. I am not sure yet. Simply having more German gun stands may get crowded.

How do we represent the Mitrailleuse? They are part of the "pretty" factor so cannot be left off the table?
  • They could be factored into French divisional gun stats, and some proportion of divisions represented with Rayffe models instead of 4pdrs.
  • They could their own models, at division level. This runs a risk of being fiddly
  • They could be concentrated at corps, or handed out to some fraction of divisions.
Again, still in the thought stages.

Also need to reflect on artillery tactics, especially re-arming procedures, but that is another post.

29 November 2010

Rifles and Ranges

There are two battlefield technologies that really set the Franco Prussian war apart; the first is that both sides used breach-loading rifles, the second is that the artillery of both sides were equipped with percussion fused explosive shells (although one must remember in the French case that it was only under the republic that the shells worked, those in stock at the start of the war having been the victims of corrupt procurement and shoddy manufacture -- only the timing mechanism worked, although they were designed to have a percussion backup).

Getting the battlefield effects and relationships of these weapons and each side's tactics is critical for representing the period.

However, a couple of principles:

  • Close combat includes (indeed primarily is) close range fire combat. Those instances, for example, where infantry stopped cavalry cold with rapid fire at 100m will be represented as a part of the charge/defend cycle. Why? Because measurements under a centimeter are fiddly.
  • Range and fire effect breaks should be the same for both sides. That does not mean that performance should be the same for all weapons for any range, but that if, for example, the needle-rifle gets a particular fire effect in the 0-300m range, the Chassepot should not have it's best range band from 0-400m. Why? Because this creates narrow sweet-spots which are both fiddly to measure and not, as far as I can tell, actually exploited historically.
So, some basic range data.

Weigle (1870) notes that the Chasspot was sighted to 1200m, but with an effective range of at most 500m. This is in general agreement with other sources. There are example of longer range fire being effective. One should note that the Prussian Guard was stopped 700-800m from the french line at St. Privat.

The Dreyse, in Comparison, was sighted to about 600m but considered effective under 300 - and German practice was to not fire above that range.

There were a number of other rifles used in the conflict - the Podewils, system tabatiere, various rifles obtained by the Republic from overseas sources - but the most important can be modeled as one of the two main weapons.

This suggests a set of range bands like this:

Effective Long Extreme
Dreyse Melee
300 600

600 900 1200

Now, the problem with this is that it only allows for technology. Under 300m, most sources agree that German fire discipline and marksmanship training was superior.

The von Tschischwitz Kriegsspiel makes another interesting point. Men did not stand by under fire. According to the Kriegsspiel, men in a firefight under 300m would only hang around for less than 2 minutes (one Kriegsspiel turn). His table goes out to 20 minutes at 700-800m.

This does suggest, with 1-2 hour turns, that fire combat is part of a process of combat that starts with troops entering the beaten zone with some definite objective in mind, and that the success or failure of that objective should be resolved before the turn ends. In this conflict, we actually have an interesting asymmetry. The French actually have the option to advance on the Germans with the intent of entering fore combat without the Germans being able to fire back.

I must think more on that. In the next post, however, I will look at artillery performance.

23 November 2010

Inches or Centimeters?

In the anti-finicky department, I am thinking of doing measurements in inches of 250m rather than in centimeters of 100m.
  • The upside of inches is that we are using rulers with bolder and more clearly marked units.
  • The downside is that, if I keep everything in even inches, then the breakpoints for some ranges may not be exactly what you find in the standard texts - Dreyse ranges may break at 250/500 instead of 300/600 for example. However, I think 5mm of fuzziness is not a high cost to pay for faster distance readings.
A quick survey on TMP suggests that, while some folks have to go to a bit of work to get Imperial measuring tapes and rulers, they are obtainable by some means pretty much everywhere.

21 November 2010

An initial vision of sequence of play

Lets see how much this changes as we go along:

Embedded within the usual administrative phases we have (assuming a turn equals about 2 hours):
  • Shared operation movement phase where formations and blinds more than some distance from the enemy and in a formation and state to do so move rapidly, but end at a distance either still out of range or at some long range. This should probably include or be proceeded by some recon component, where blinds are revealed voluntarily or otherwise. Movement would be a good long way, say up to an hour's distance. I think some sort of alternating movement by brigade.
  • A deployment and intentions stating phase.
  • A series of combat phases, alternating with the sequence driven by initiative. This could include a number of cycles until both players decide to stop attacking or are unable to. Movement in this phase would be limited to a scale kilometer or so.
  • Perhaps a closing operational phase where players exploit or consolidate their situations?
Glancing at movement, Kriegsspiel offers 100 paces a minute for foot, without a whole lot of variation -- about 4.5 km.

Volley and Bayonet offers 1.6 km for a 1 hour turn operating as a mass, but in march column 3.2km cross country and 4.8km on roads.

Ardent du Picq at one point mentions that column of companies is a poor way to move troops over any distance because it is close and confining, and they will tend to suffer from heat exhaustion.

20 November 2010

Morale and other unknowns

Here's a good point well made:


I agree with the idea that the effects of combat on units in a game should mostly be morale effects; and that separating morale and casualties into separate tests is avoidable and probably best avoided.

That does not mean that there are not cases - many cases - in the war in which the primary effect really was physical. The 52nd Brandeburg regiment, for example, during the battle of Mars-La-Tour, lost a third of its strength mostly in the attack on Flavigny. In the same battle Cuirassier of the Imperial Guard lost more than a third of its numbers in a single charge.

Still, while dead men cannot advance morale is still an important effect. It was the remnants of the 52nd that the Cuirassier charged; they stood their ground and decimated their attackers.

Still, the morale of a unit is not always clear to its officers -- or to the men in the unit themselves. Patry, in The Reality of War, describes an incident during the defense of St Privat. His battalion was pinned down, tanking casualties but shooting back and apparently in reasonable shape. The commander stood, gestured, encouraged his men -- it was time to move into a more forward position. Party describes himself a standing up, certain he was about to advance -- then he and everyone else in the battalion heading for the hills.

On the other hand the Prussian Guard, which lost a quarter of its strength in about 20 minutes in front of St. Privat, and was pinned down for an hour, was able to stand and advance as the Saxons turned Canrobert's right and the French defense started to break down.

Here's roughly the mechanism I want to use. A moving, active unit accumulates hits which are resolved immediately and have their effects which may include degradation in capability or an unwillingness to move. If enough hits are take, the unit breaks and will probably just be removed from the table. Some hits should probably be reversible with a deliberate effort to rally the troops. Some proportion will not.

Once a unit goes to ground - either voluntarily or pinned as a combat result - fire will not cause immediate hits, but potential hits. Those hits will be accumulated until a unit faces a "test" - a "moment of truth" (I like the second phrase better, since it does not have the baggage of "morale test") and then they will be resolved and the actual hits applied and resolved. Potential hits may still cause effects such as a slacking off of fire (are they dead, or conserving their ammunition?).

I have two moments of truth in mind at the moment.
  • The player attempts to move the unit, either forward or back.
  • The unit comes under close assault
The sense I get from the accounts I have read so far is that once infantry have settled in, you have to use the bayonet to get them out.

Lets Talk About Frontage

Not of the stand, but of the zone of responsibility expected of a higher-level formation.

I'm just going to grab a few examples, and look at the number of units dedicated to the frontage covered.

At Gravelotte-St Privat, according to Waro, French III Corps covered a frontage of about 4km. Based on the OBs posetd earlier, that is roughly 16 regiments of infantry, 16 batteries of various calibers, and 6 regiments of cavalry. That is, crudely. 8 men a meter.

At the other extreme, at Wissembourg (excluding the detachment in the town, and using the OB from 1870 and the map from Waro) we have 5000 men defending a front of about 2km. Crudely again, 2.5 men per meter.

Of course, this war is far from the linear warfare of the 18th century. On the breach-loading battlefield, at the scale of armies, the number of men that can stand shoulder to shoulder two ranks deep in a certain width really does not help us understand the frontage our stand should have. It is my belief that we have to:
  • look at the formations that existed withing the tactical doctrine of the opposing armies.
  • determine (guess?) the trade-offs between control, firepower, morale and close combat capability implied by that formation
  • establish a pattern of the placement of the stands of a formation (still in my mind a division) so that the tactical formation is uniquely indicated, and the pattern is both evocative of how the formation would appear on the ground and visually attractive when looking at the table.

So how do we want the figures to look on the table? Well, we want them to look like this, of course:

19 November 2010

Alternative stand counts

Without looking at detailed organization, lets work back from those raw stand numbers and consider some alternatives.

French German
Men/Stand Infantry Guns Mg Horse Infantry Guns Horse
Foot Guns Horse 118000 360 72 12500 152000 636 20000
2000 12 500 59 30 6 25 76 53 40
3000 18 750 39 20 4 16 50 35 26
4000 24 1000 29 15 3 12 38 26 20
5000 30 1250 23 12 2 10 30 21 16

The first three columns offer ratios of represented troops by stand type. The first line of very large numbers are troop counts - those are reverse engineered from the stand counts in the earlier OBs so don't take them too exactly.

The fist line below shows the assumptions of the earlier posts. The next three offer alternative ratios and the number of stands derived from that ratio. This ignores the need for a compelling and reasonable organization of the units, but it does help us think about how to structure the information.

Tentative OB for Granvelotte - German

Here's the German variant, same source.

Infantry Guns Horse
I Army

VII Corps

13th Division 6

14th Division 6

Corps Artillery

VIII Corps

15th Division 6 2 1

16th Division 6 2 1

Corps Artillery

1st Cavalry Division
1 6

II Corps

3rd Division 6 2 1

Corps Artillery
3 1

4th Division 6 2 1

IX Corps

Advance Guard 1

25 Cavalry Brigade
1 2

18th Division 3 4

25th Division 3 2

Prussian Guard

Advance Guard 1 1 1

1st Guard Division 6 1

Corps Artillery

2nd Guard Division 6 2 1

Guard Cavalry
1 4

XII Saxon Corps

Advance Guard 1 1 1

23rd Division 6 1

Corps Artillery

24th Division 7 2 1

Cavalry Division
1 2

II Corps

Corps Artillery

6th Cavalry Divisions
1 5

X Corps

20th Division 6 1 1

Corps Artillery

5th Cavalry Division
2 9

Total 76 53 40

22 "divisions"

8 Corps

figures 456 53 80

In a later post, I'll look at what this OB implies.

A quick tentative OB for Gravelotte/St Privat - French

Based on the excellent OB from 1870 for the follow-on battle to Mars-La-Tour, this gives a picture of what the French unit structure might look like for a major game.

Infantry Guns Mg Horse

2nd Corps

1st Division 4 1

2nd Division 4 1 1

Brigade Lapasset 2


Cavalry Division


Reserve Artillery

3rd Corps

1st Division 4

2nd Division 4 1

3rd Division 4 1 1

4th Division 4 1

Cavalry Division


Reserve Artillery

4th Corps

1st Division 4 1 1

2nd Division 4 1

3rd Division 4 1 1

Cavalry Division


Reserve Artillery

6th Corps

1st Division 4 1 1

2nd + 3rd Divisions 5 2

4th Division 4 1

1st Reserve Cavalry

Imperial Guard

Voltigeur 4 1 1

Grenadier 4 1

Cavalry Division


3rd Reserve Cavalry

Reserve Artillery

59 30 6 25

21 "divisions"

6 Corps

Figures 354 30 6 50

One immediate observation is that, at 3cm frontage, that is 3 running feet of guns. Guns were important, sure, but that is unmanageable and visually overwhelming. I am going to either have to find a way to get the guns on 20 or better 15m frontage bases, or I am going to have to re-structure the OB to drastically reduce the number of gun models.

18 November 2010

I Go, You Go, We Go, Hugo?

My first miniatures gaming experience was Charge!; early on I got used to writing orders and moving my figures at the same time as my opponent. Always seemed to work well, and we never that I recall had a problem that could not be solved by breaking the moves into quarters.

More recently published rules work that way as well. Both Command Decision and 1870 use a chit to express commitment to an order with the details worked out in a shared movement phase.

Other rules use a system where only one player, and generally one formation, is moving at a time. This may be a completely alternating system where I move all my units and you move yours, or it may be an interleaved system where sides alternate moving subunits either picked by the player or by a card draw.

My main experience to compare these two approaches in rules for the same period and level of play has been Command Decision and Blitzkrieg Commander. Both are excellent systems, well supported, with an enthusiastic following.

Both games were full of surprises, but they came from completely different mechanisms.

In playing Command Decision I found that most of my decision making took place in the few minutes I spent laying chits. During the shared movement phase I discovered the implications of the intersection of my decisions with my opponent's. My heart would sink, my hope would be buoyed up, but I would not be making decisions.

Playing Blitzkrieg Commander, I find myself constantly making decisions. Do I try to get another action, do I shoot or do I move if I am the player who's turn it is? Do I use my opportunity fire now, or wait f I am the non-moving player?

I like making decisions. There is a momentum to how battles are fought, especially in the days before radio, that should constrict how quickly a formation can reverse a decision made and disseminated an hour ago. But within the bounds of that overriding decision, there should be decisions for the player to make constantly through the game.

Lets make that an objective:
  • Every player should have decisions to make constantly through every turn.
Another audience to consider (especially since I am liable to be one while developing the rules) is the solo player. Inherently, in solo play, only one formation is moving at a time. I am not sure that having to wear both hats at once to work out shared movement situation will be all that much fun.

So, looks like I will be going with some variation on I Go/You Go. But I am not sure of the details yet.

Just a quick aside on sequence of play. While I like fluidity in rules, I do (probably because I played boardgames for so many years) like to see pretty much every key activity allocated a place in the sequence of play. The SoP is not just an order in which things are done. It is a checklist to make sure that we do not forget anything.

Lets talk about time for a second

First, lets review one of our guiding principals. I pulled 6 hours out of the air for a duration, but after a perfectly unscientific but interesting poll on wd3 and some other discussions I have decided to halve that, and set 3 hours for a target. That is not long for a big battle; I am also allowing some slack since 4 hours seems widely acceptable. But it is easier to use up setup, take down and chat time.

The members of a group I had a chance to play Triumph of Will with mentioned that they never got to use some of the interesting features of those rules for rallying troops and bringing them back into action because they only had a pub evening to play the game. I want to avoid that problem.

So, a 12 hour battle in 3 hours of play -- we will have to trip along with an average of 4 times time acceleration. Of course, not every turn will take the same amount of time to resolve, but that average will be have to be kept in focus. Time and motion study time, I guess.

17 November 2010

Lets talk about blinds and dummy units.

One way to provide real uncertainty is to use dummy markers or blinds to represent the real or suspected presence of forces not yet confirmed by the enemy.

I have played one game of this type -- I Ain't Been Shot Mum from Too Fat Lardies -- but only once. I do plan to test some of these ideas with Hearts of Tin the next time I have a chance to get out my SYW armies.

One observation is that the common images of blinds in Too Fat Lardies show fairly large sheets of paper more or less attractively displayed. Having though about the matter a bit, and looked at these lovely examples by Steven Thomas, I think that we can have a board with quite a few blinds on it without having it look like I accidentally spilled my paper crafts on the table.

So, purely on speculation, what do we need in the way of preconditions and rules to make blinds works (and I need a better name for them, too).

Well, we need to not actually know the enemy OB. If I know what forces the enemy starts with, eventually I will know if I have found them all, or how much I have to worry about them. To get the full effect of Mars-La-Tour on Bazaine, for example, you need the possibility to exist that in fact the whole German army is moving into his line of march. The latest version of Volley and Bayonet includes the Road to Glory subsystem for dealing with uncertain OB, and I will look at it in more detail in a later post.

To continue the uncertainty, I think you need to have some way to keep blinds in play. If they are not ugly, then as units -- or empty blinds -- are revealed there should be a way to bring them back. This could include splitting existing blinds into two, allowing units that have moved from sight to re-blind, and of course having blinds return on entry points as possible re-enforcements.

We need to decide what can be in a blind. Since the basic maneuver unit will be a division, clearly a blind can contain a division. It can also, of course, contain nothing. I suppose it should be able to contain detached cavalry regiments for doing recon (and what rules shall we have for detachments - something for another post).

We need rules for revealing blinds. Should all reveals be complete, or should I be able to reveal one stand (which may be all that is there) to force an enemy blind to reveal?

We need rules to keep unrevealed blinds out of sight of each other. Blinds should not be a free recon unit.

Not a huge list I think. Should be interesting.

Random and uncertain are not the same thing

"No calculation of space and time guarantees victory in this realm of chance, mistakes and disappointments. Uncertainty and the danger of failure accompany every step toward the goal ... In war, everything is uncertain."

...Helmuth vol Moltke, 1869 Instructions, quoted in Hughes, Moltke on the Art of War

Who are we to argue with the master? However we are not fighting a war, we are playing a game. One of our objectives is that the game be fun; and one of the things that can suck fun out of a game is frustration.

This may seem odd -- after all at some level everything that gives an opponent a chance to win a game frustrates our desire to win it; in this respect the source of uncertainty hardly matters -- uncertainty is just another frustration.

I believe, however, that there are two kinds of uncertainty. The simplest form of uncertainty is simply not to know the situation; in an ideal game, I might have no idea of the enemy is unless I send out reconnaissance. I send out my cavalry -- or not. I am surprised -- or not. The enemy frustrates my intention -- or not. This is perfectly legitimate, and for people who ought to play wargames in the first place quite tolerable. You pulled one over on me, good for you.

In a typical wargame, on the other hand, I know exactly where my enemy is and exactly where my units are. I know where their commander is, and I know there is exactly an 86% chance that they will follow him to a successful attack. I know that there is one chance in 36 that they will do something utterly ridiculous, and in fact on 1/6th of those occasions they will simply march off the table. In fact, I know far too much about what may or may not be about to occur. All that I don't know is what the dice will decide. And when I roll 12 followed by one, I am frustrated; I am not uncertain or apprehensive (which are reasonable emotions to feel in a game with an opponent) -- I am just plain annoyed. Of course I should not have started my attack knowing how it would come out. But this sort of thing makes the dice the main adversary.

Now there is friction in war, grit in the machine, time and chance happen to all. When Steinmetz took over control of VIII corps and drove it to fruitless slaughter at Gravelotte, von Moltke was profoundly frustrated. A very pleasant exercise in frustration can be enjoyed by playing a multi-player game. People are intensely frustrating - but this is a proper form of frustration. Rolling a bungle with the VIII corps commander followed by an uncontrolled advance models the effect. But it does not feel right; it is those damn dice, it is my rolling, it is Fortuna Imperitix Mundi.

Humans personify bad luck. Good gamers work not to, but no one is immune to it. In this design I want to minimize the extent to which I resort to random frustration to model imperfect knowledge and control by the players.

Confusion, Uncertainty and Frustration

There are basically three approaches that have commonly been used in wargame rules to place limits over the ability of a player to respond to the situation as he sees it on the table. This is critical, since in an unrefereed miniatures game a player has far more information than would be available to any general.

One way is to tie the player to a intent expressed prior to the next round of enemy action being known. This is often linked to some sort of simultaneous resolution. Charge! and Command Decision are examples of this approach.

A second is to impose uncertainty about the ability to act on the commander's intent, by forcing a roll to determine if, and to what degree, a unit can act. Black Powder, Blitzkrieg Commander, Warmaster and Hearts of Tin take various approaches to this.

A third is to vary the sequence of action, by using cards to select the order in which units act, or what they can do.

Some attack the problem indirectly, for example by limiting what can be done outside of a certain radius of a command stand; or push the solution somewhere else by constraining movement or combat.

Most rules mix these in some way - 1870, for example, uses command radius, order chits, and random chance of activation.

All of these have their virtues. And to cover a situation like Mars-La-Tour where so much depended on Prussian bluff and French passivity, you need something.

So, I have listed some great rules that I have played with pleasure. Why don't I just steal the best bits and get on with it?

In the next post, I will vent my concerns about random activation and player frustration.

16 November 2010

Stand Sizes, redux

Number two. Beauty being everything (or we might as well play with cardboard counters) it occurs to me that while a 30mm frontage looks OK as a march column, 40mm looks quite naff especially where everything else is 30mm (except command stands, but they don't count).

I was just going to edit the old post, but since this is a log...

Cavalry Regiment, both sides: 2 figures - 5-600 horse, 30mm x 30mm
1/3 of a Brigade - 2 battalions, 2000 men, German: 6 figures, 30mm x 30mm
Infantry Regiment - 2000 men, French: 6 figures, 30mm x 30mm
Guns (2 batteries, 12 guns): 1 gun and crew 30mm x 30mm or 40mm depending on model size.

That will make a French brigade 2 infantry stands, and a German 3.

A plan for basing - number one

I wonder how many of these I will work through.

Anyway, assuming 10mm figures and with the first dimension the stand front:

Cavalry Regiment, both sides: 2 figures, 30mm x 30mm
Infantry Regiment, German: 8 figures, 40mm x 30mm
Infantry Regiment, French: 6 figures, 30mm x 30mm
Guns (2 batteries): 1 gun and crew 30mm x 30mm or 40mm depending on model size.

Division command will have to carry status information, so perhaps 40mm square or circle with a small command diorama and space for markers. Likewise for Corps and Army, perhaps with different shapes.

I am also considering "markers stand" to provide spacing for march columns (a wagon and marching troops on say a 30mm x 60mm stand).

15 November 2010

So what about Cavalry

Dramatic uniforms, moments of glory, but basically cameo appearances in the real drama of the battles.

Still, if we want to put put the building blocks of a Prussian infantry division, we have to represent the cavalry regiment - 5 to 6 hundred sabers.

As a side note it is truly amazing how many books go onto loving detail about the headcount of a French or Prussian infantry company, but breeze past a cavalry squadron as if everyone knows what that is.

Cavalry divisions seem more variable - 2 brigades generally, plus a battery or two of horse artillery. Sometime three regiments to the Brigade, sometimes two. Sometimes even three brigades. Often of different "types" within the same brigade.

Anyway, I am inclined to represent cavalry regiments as regiments.

And a stand represents....

That's an interesting question in a lot of ways. There are a lot of things that make the wargamer's idealized OBs and TOEs a matter of fiction. But at the same time it is a fiction we must embrace. Unlike computer games, or boardgames, or even the original Kriegspiel where units can be subdivided as much a suits, miniatures have a certain size that makes it hard to break down units beyond a minimum granularity.

But so be it. I have already pretty much decided that the lowest level of commander for a multi-player game is the corps commander, and in 1870 for both armies the building blocks of corps are divisions. The way they corps are built is very different between the French and Prussian armies, but that is another post. I'll set the Cavalry divisions aside for now as well.

On the French side, a "typical" infantry division is more or less 2 brigades, each of 2 regiments of line (with the 1st brigade having a battalion of Chasseurs as well a bonus) plus 2 batteries of field guns and a battery of Mitrailleuse. Since a French battalion is 750 men at full strength, that gives line regiments of 2250, and brigades of 4500-5250.

More of less, give and take. Units can be below strength to varying degrees, battalions can be detached, battalions can be attached -- all of these things I may want, or need, to consider at some point.

Before I get into the German formations, I shoudl make it clear that I am starting with the Prussian practice, before looking at the rest of the North German Confederation, and then at the various South German allied states. Although the Prussians were more-or-less the models the other states were moving toward, in 1870 the integration was not complete and German practice in general is not exactly always the Prussian model.


The Prussian infantry division is a bit more complicated. It likewise has 2 brigades each of 3 regiments. The regiments, however, are made of 3 x 1000 man battalions. The Brigade therefore is 6000 men at full strength. While each French division has a battalion of Chasseurs, Prussian Jaegers are a corps asset, so one may or may not be attached to a division.

The artillery firepower is far greater, with 2 batteries of Krupp lights, and 2 of heavies. In addition, a 600-saber regiment of cavalry was integrated with the division.

This means our Prussian division at paper bayonet strength is nearly 25% larger than its French opposite number, setting aside supporting arms.

So, how to represent this?

There are several ways to go, each with it's own advantages and disadvantages.

The simplest is "a stand is a division" - nice big stand, all types of figure on it.

For the next level there is a split. We can take a uniform stand size and figure count and say "this is so many thousand men" -- So if we take 3000 per stand, a Prussian division gets 4, a French 3 and Bob's your uncle.

The problem with this is that it cannot map any historical designation by the stand for both sides. At a stand equals 3000, each stand lines up nicely with a Prussian regiment, but a French brigade is a stand-and-a-half. At 2000 men each, the French Regiments sort out nicely, but a Prussian regiment becomes a stand-and-a -half.

Is that a problem? If we are just talking about the Division and the stands are just representing states and formations within it, this should be no worse than the common practice or representing a lace wars battalion as several stands and ignoring the platoon or company organization within it.

You can tell I am waffling on this issue.

The alternative is to have each stand represent a fixed formation - say a French or Prussian regiment -- and have the difference in size represent in the base size and factors. Then I can say "That stand is the 2nd Turco Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division." This is especially nice for the French, with their fancy uniforms.

At the moment, I am not going to worry about the Brigades of the Army of the Loire, which paired a Regiment De Marche with a regiment of Guarde National Mobiles in each of its brigades.

Except perhaps to consider it simplest to break a division up into either 4-6 2000 man stands or 3-4 3000 man stands.

the larger number reduces the number of stands, making it easier to make the time objective. The smaller lines up with the French regiments for the sake of the pretty uniforms, and make the stand or that pesky 600-man attached cavalry regiment a bit more beefy in its figure count.

In the next post, I will try to fit cavalry into this picture.

update: Ive been kicking this around a lot.  Here's the July 2012 iteration.

14 November 2010

Implications for Scale

So what do the objectives apply for scale?

The maps in Ascoli's Day of Battle cover an area of (roughly) 9 by 6.5 miles. The short dimension is the more constrained. Converting to metric, this gives a minimum of about 86m per table centimeter. One hundred meters per centimeter gives a nice, round number on the safe side.

After a few years of experiment I have found that the smallest base size that works easily for me is 30mm square. I could end up with larger bases, but 30mm on the smallest dimension will be a basic guide.

Day length is interesting. It is easy for a North American to forget how far north European cities are. While the action proper was about 12 hours, a dawn-to-dusk struggle could easily run to 15-16 hours.

Focusing on 12 hours, however, with a six hour duration objective, we have to be able to resolve 2 hours of action each hour. At the peak, something like 20 division(ish) French units were involved. For the "Gravelotte-St Privat" battle the French Numbers are similar while the Germans have something like 15 larger and more complex divisions. At 20 "command units" a side, we would get something like:

  • If a turn represents one hour, it must last 30 real minutes. Assuming movement is not simultaneous, time is shared evenly, and a two player game, that gives 15 minutes a side or 45 seconds a division.
  • If the turn represents two hours, we have a minute and a half per divisions.
So, if we say a division is 5-6 stands (cavalry divisions are quite different of course).
  • 4 infantry regiments (in two brigades)
  • 1 double battery
  • for the Prussians (with small variation for its allies) a second double battery and a cavalry regiment.
how long should such an entity take a normal player to move? Personally I am quite quick about such things but that varies a lot and the "not frustrating" objective suggests that I should not be unreasonable.

On the other hand a slow player with a chess timer could simulate Bazaine very well indeed.

Of course, a formation could be a deal simpler -- one stand per division, one per brigade, guns factored in or out. But that would be another post.

Considering wargame rules for the Franco Prussian War

Every project needs a well defined object. Here is mine:

To produce a set of wargames rules with which I can:

The rules, of course, must be usable for smaller actions in proportionately less time and space -- but not battles where the size of one force or the other falls below the basic resolution of units.

So much for the positive. There are a few negative objectives as well:
  • The game must not be "fiddly." My fingers are arthritic and my vision is blurring. This means that base sizes must be reasonably large and small status and tracking markers must not be too numerous or tiny.
  • The rules must not require specialized terrain boards -- they must work with more-or-less ordinary wargames terrain, preferably from my existing stock.
  • No rosters. Status tracking displays I can build and put on the table or fine, but I dislike paper checklists.
  • The game must not be frustrating. A game must be challenging, but the player must believe that he wins or loses based on his own decisions most of all.
It is also important that the rules follow as much as possible a proper point of view. It is a good general guideline for a wargame that an Army commander should control corps and know where his divisions are, and that a corps commander shoudl command divisions and know where his brigades are. While details below that level can be technically very interesting, they do not belong at this level of games. There are many tactical games that address that level very well indeed.