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.