Saturday, October 3, 2015

Neil Thomas One Hour Wargames (OHW) AWI Brawl

Goodness it's been busy at the office!  The Papal Visit, a Hurricane, and a Nor'Easter!  Not much time for gaming at all lately, so I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to try out Neil Thomas' "ONE HOUR WARGAMES" rules, since I literally had about an hour to myself over the last few weeks and the rules promise a quick, simple, practical game.

I decided to play a "Horse & Musket" battle with my 15mm American War for Independence troops.  I took 3 x 10 sided dice and rolled for the scenario [there are a whopping 30 scenarios to play in the back of OHW!), getting Scenario #16 in the OHW book "Blundering into Contact."  I thought this would be literally perfect for a Battle of Saratoga, Freeman's Farm or Bemis Heights scenario, where battles seemed to develop as a result of a strong reconnaissance of the enemy position.
Continentals in the foreground.  British in the background.  Note the multiple forests the British would have to negotiate through.

Quite a polyglot of units who probably never saw the same battlefield together...

Green Mountain Boys still based for Guns of Liberty from "The Hubbardton Project"

Mr Thomas also refreshingly has a force generator in the back of the book where you can determine the composition of your force ahead of the game.  The British received 4 "regular" infantry units (let's call them "Battalions"), 1 "skirmisher" unit (my prized Light Bobs), and a section of light Artillery.  So this battle actually IS shaping up to look like Saratoga!
My South Wales Borderers.  Forward 24th!  Still unflocked!

Light Bobs.  I added some individually based troops around the lights on both sides.  Also the "skirmisher" units are based on narrow stands.

Royal Artillery section.

minifigs brits

British side.  Note the tough terrain they had to get past to get everyone to the hill.

Morgan's Riflemen!

Massachusetts troops (left) and Marylanders (right) advance to contact!

The Continentals drew 3 "regular" (I use the term loosely) infantry units (let's call them Regiments), 2 "skirmisher" units (I made 1 a unit of riflemen), and a section of light artillery.

The scenario specific rule to this battle was that both sides must travel at 9 inches per turn and are not allowed to fire until the objective in the center of the table has been captured, at which point both sides move at 6" and fire normally.

I deviated from the terrain setup and added a generous amount of woods to one side, and instead of a village in the center, a small hill dominates the map and makes a fitting, "upstate New Yorkish" objective for this engagement.
Plotting my next move...

Continentals advancing

British assembled for battle!

Note the 2 British units on the hill and the Lights

Here they come lads!

Green Mountain Boys next to the Pennsylvanians 

Lights!  The blue dice are their casualties so far

The British units on the hill start to evaporate under heavy American fire.

11th Mass and Maryland Infantry side by side preparing to assault the hill.

Pennsylvania Line

Royal Artillery!

As in real life at Saratoga, the British drew the short straw and started on the side with much more terrain to negotiate.  Unfortunately for them, they only had 1 unit of lights who were authorized to enter the forests, so the regulars got into the fight piecemeal, and I can feel the ghost of "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne lording over me at the table.  Interpenetration is a no-go so you must manage traffic.  No easy task when units arrive "stacked up" and not able to easily deploy. 

The Americans had no such trouble since they had a clear view of the hill with no major woods to circumvent.  The British went for the throat and sent 2 battalions and the light artillery section straight up to the hill along with the lights. Courageous Massachusetts troops were waiting for them at the bottom of the other side.  The Americans got the first volleys off and they were brutal, scoring, almost to a Regiment, a "6" for each volley.

As an interesting aside here, I really like how these games go.  Horse and Musket battles are never a sure bet and the side who breaks first after trading series of volleys is the loser in real life.  In OHW, to fire you simply roll a 1D6 and the result on the pip is the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy from your volley.  Certain units have modifiers to that roll based on their capabilities so it's possible that even after a "cannonade" or volley the enemy may not receive any meaningful casualties.  Things go they way you imagine they would in a "stand up fight" between 2 trained armies.

Units are eliminated after a specific number of hits.  All games last 15 turns.  This one was effectively "over" in 10.

As the battle developed, the British got the worst of things and many units evaporated after trying to weather volley after volley from American units.  Not easy at all as the Americans were able to mass their forces against the hill while the British needed to bring up battalions in successive waves. 

First the light bobs disappeared, then the more solid British lines atop the hill.  By turn 10, a single remaining British Battalion attempted to extricate itself in good order from the hilltop, only to be cut down by the Marylanders.

Thoughts on OHW and Lessons Learned
These were terrific little rules.   Makes me want to try out the other periods in the book (ancients, pike & shot, ACW, World War I, and World War II. If you don't own OHW, I recommend you buy them.  Besides their gaming value, they make an excellent book.  They feature 30 scenarios to use, as well as rules for most periods you could want to game! 

Be advised that these are not a "staple" set of rules you will want to use all the time, but they're definitely worth trying out every now and then for a good, satisfying game.  The game was over so fast it got me thinking about trying out an actual historical scenario like Freeman's Farm or Brandywine with them to see how that would go.  I have Neil Thomas' rules from his "Introduction to Wargaming" and also his Napoleonic rules, both of which I really enjoy playing.

A thought on tactics - managing unit movement is important.  To turn, units wheel at the center so they'll need lots of room.

Your Artillery has tremendous range and there is absolutely no reason to bring it along with you, provided you can keep a fire lane open.

skirmishers are good "throw away" units to be used harassing the enemy.

Units who can get all their "stuff" to fire each turn will have an advantage, although you cannot move and fire.  You've been warned!  The British moved much more than they fired, and the opposite was true for the Continentals.  The only way to win is to reduce the enemy force.  You can only do this by shooting!

Monday, September 21, 2015


"Initial progress reports received at Army Headquarters from their attacking divisions did not leave much to be optimistic over.  Ammunition expenditures, casualty rates among the lead divisions, and of course supply constraints were problems that were keeping the Army commander up at night.  What was infinitely more troubling however was the failure of the lead divisions to capture their D+1 objectives.  The 1st British Corps was not folding under the pressure as quickly as Front's planning calculus had anticipated, and the British reluctance to give ground was not allowing the Army to achieve the freedom of maneuver it needed to reach the Weser River on time."  
-Major Fyodor Antonov,  Deputy Plans Officer 

Ken and I were finally able to link up and play a larger game of SABRE SQUADRON with the "proper" rules that arrived in the mail last week.  (ironically, when we finished the game and I walked out of Ken's house, the rules were sitting there on his porch but he had the PDF copy and I brought my hard copy with me). 

The game was a "Planned Attack" from the SABRE SQUADRON rules allowing me 2 x more points than Ken, preparatory bombardment, and Ken was allowed to dig in initial battle positions, and emplace 2 minefields!

This game would feature my Soviets, consisting of 2 x T-80 platoons and 1 x BMP-2 mounted infantry platoon squaring off against Ken's magnificently painted Chieftain main battle tanks and FV432s.  In order to bolster my points, Ken let me use his BTR80 platoon along with some Flames of War WWII Soviet infantry.  Ken subbed his WWII British infantry for modern Brits but you couldn't tell much from the pictures.  We played using Ken's table and outstanding terrain.

My Soviets.  90% are Quality Casting.  The smaller-ish BMP is from QRF.
The Soviet objective is to capture a small village on the ridgeline on the far side of the board.  Lots of terrain on this board ensured a much more challenging game, and Ken made full use of it to slow me down, forcing my infantry to leave their comfy BMPs and BTRs early to try and dig British squads out of their positions.
NORTHAG, British I Corps AOR.  Looking west along the Soviet line of march

more shots of the battlefield looking west.  The ridgeline and small vilalge in the upper right of the picture is the objective.

British infantry in the woodline.  MILAN and infantry teams

Small village along the Soviet line of march

red chits are corners of the first British minefield

second British minefield.

The plan was to send the infantry up the forested area, taking a covered route to the objective, while the armor moved through the gap in the tree-line to provide cover fire for the infantry to seize the village.  I have only 10 turns to capture the town.

 Due to the command confusion rules, I was forced to managed traffic fairly well but this also canalized me in the gap and stacked up my armor moving into the attack in order to not mix platoons up.  The result was that instead of forming properly for the attack, 1 x T-80 platoon moved first and was immediately engaged by Ken's Chieftains on the opposite ridge.  Once again, Ken's great use of the SABRE SQUADRON action options enabled him to take quick shots at me, then duck into cover.

The initial, preparatory bombardment only beings after all of your the enemy's units have entered the table, so really the beginning of turn 2, as the Soviets are stepping off on the attack, the steel starts raining down on the British positions.  The initial barrage is really something and knocks out a couple FV432s and a Chieftain on the ridgeline!

Ken and I had questions about assuming "hull down" as one of my T-80s ended its movement sort of going up the hill.  We also wondered about the crest of the hill and how hills are modeled.  The author is very specific about hill height and hills providing concealment.  That being said, is "hull down" tied to a specific terrain feature?  Or can you declare "hull down" as an abstraction?

BTRs on the approach march.  The BMP there is subbing for a BRM.  The Forward Observer team is inside.

Ken's infantry scurrying for cover!  Not really, they're all dug in anyways.  

One of the FV432s knocked out by the initial barrage.

BMPs crossing a farm field!  Headed into the attack!

Guards T-80s on the hill.  That big red poker chip is Ken's aiming point for his artillery!

First blood!  British Chieftain from the ridge ahead scores a kill.  The T-80 on the right would also come under MILAN fire soon...
As an interesting aside here - the penetration and armor protection statistics of these 2 Cold War heavyweights ensure that a hit achieved by either the Chieftain or the T-80 on one another will most likely result in a kill - reminding me of the old adage from training "if you can be seen, you can be hit.  If you can be hit, you can be killed."

So with my armor making beautiful targets for the Ken's artillery by being bunched up on a small hilltop, my infantry was forced to push through forested terrain (open forest, but still unforgiving on movement) in order to locate the British defensive positions.  Ken wisely held his fire and kept his unit out of the tree-line.  I sent the attack in to capture the first position and dismounted my infantry to flush them out.  Ken moved his infantry back to try and get to their FV432.  I finally was able to push a squad through the British minefield on the road and dismounted a squad to engage Ken's Brits at the rear edge of the woods.  First contact was made and a firefight started to develop on the right!

The small rock indicates "suppression"
 Meanwhile on the left, Ken's artillery arrives on top of my T-80s but doesn't kill any of them.  That's OK his direct-fire more than makes up and by turn 5 the lead platoon loses 2 T-80s with #3 suppressed.  The second T-80 platoon is working its way around the lead platoon which has started the war in a most inauspicious manner...

Soviet tank attack on the Soviet left.  Note the rear T-80 platoon jockeying for position to get around their stalled comrades.

FV432 behind the initial British left battle position

Soviets dismount to clear the woods.  As of right now they can't see the British in the woods yet.

Soviet Platoon Leader 

The right-most platoon's morale plummets to "halt"

The battle unfolds.

Ken planning his next move.  Meanwhile my T-80s in the lower part of the picture burn!

BTRs swing into action.  On loan from Ken.  They are carrying substitute FoW WW2 Russian infantry, also on loan from Ken!

Soviet infantry dismount to clear out the woods!
Short-lived attempt to assault the woods to their front.  The Soviet infantry remount their carriers and move out!  The lead BTR has made contact with British infantry at the edge of the woods further west!

Contact!  Soviet fire team mixes it up with the Brits inside the light woods.  Ken attempts to remount the FV432.

final dispositions of the infantry assault at turn 5

British squad continuing to break contact!

Scratch ANOTHER T-80 but at least their morale is holding...for now!  

Ken's skillful use of terrain and orders is taking a toll on my T-80s.

At the end of the day, we both experienced, what I believe to be "realistic" casualties for this modern battle.  Ken lost a few armored vehicles to artillery fire thanks to that devastating preparatory bombardment,  and I've lost quite a few to direct fire from Ken's Chieftains. 
 So far a very fun and satisfying game although we still have numerous questions about the rules (more so, it seems than we had with the introductory rules?)

I will go over some of the things I liked and disliked about the game and full rules thus far.

I really like the differentiation between prep artillery fires and calling for and adjusting artillery fires during the game.  There is a marked difference in the process with prep fires being much more abstracted and feeling "out of your hands" as the commander.  It's a great rule.

Speaking of great rules, I like how in this scenario the defender gets to place the remainder of his forces on the second turn.  This accounts for hidden positions nicely and gives the defender an advantage, accounting for pre-sighted weapons, range cards being filled out with dead space marked, and the defending soldiers having a better feeling or understanding of the ground than the attackers, as it should be.  It's a refreshing rule that takes this set above the rules currently out there.

Again, kudos to SABRE SQUADRON for the "everything on a 5+ / 1D10 die roll" or you can do anything on a modified roll of 5 or better on a 10 sided dice.  It speeds up game play considerably.

The full rules are very comprehensive in terms of main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.  I would have liked some stats for Soviet tracked recce but it's completely understandable that they weren't in there yet.  That said, we used the stats for the BMP2 for my BRM recce.  I think that's a good compromise.

I also love the range rules in SABRE SQUADRON.  Tanks can range most of the table on a large sized table and that gives them a deadly advantage during the game.

The artillery seems even harder to get when it's on-call and I believe it's a forcing function to make you purchase organic mortars.  I didn't research it, but I'm willing to bet the 120mm self propelled mortar is a nasty SOB in this game.

There are some things we will need to clarify prior to completing this game (Ken was nice enough to offer to keep the game up!).

Infantry fire - we played with infantry fire in the last game but for some reason seem to be even more confused by it now.  Our first infantry firing scenario was a "messy" one with multiple units in and out of cover, multiple weapon systems, etc.  We haven't closed to close combat range yet either but I'll bet it's going to be a mess the first time we try it.

The issue with terrain and the status of hill crestlines will need to be figured out.  Is the terrain "what you see is what you get" or is it more abstracted?

Also, and I will preface this with a warning, be careful what you wish for.  I wished for a revamping of the infantry movement values from the introductory rules and they have been updated.  Needless to say, I now prefer the older, intro rules because they calculations were done for you in regards to movement.  (I didn't like fractions, even easy fractions, in 4th grade and I don't like them now.)  I think the way around this is to make a cheat sheet that has the movement calculated.

The full SABRE SQUADRON rules have "movement segments" listed with the effects that terrain have on your allotment of "movement segments"  Those segments are the total inches you can move.  So if a tank has 4 "movement segments" and 1 "movement segment" is 2 inches in a given terrain, you get 8 inches.  I think it would just have been easier to calculate it for us.  It does allow for more variations or terrain restrictions on movement and allows for varying effects on the force, but I'm a lazy gamer above all else with a mere 2 brain cells to rub together.  I would prefer to spend those calculating my tactical plan and not figuring out if I can get my BMPs up into the woods or not.

Again just my preference.  I love the rules.  I will keep playing them!  I can't wait to complete this game.