Sunday, January 16, 2022

Developing a Hubbardton Scenario for "Live Free or Die" - The [fudged] Order of Battle

 It's not always easy to get your hands on good orders of battle, which is why I suspect wargaming reference books will always have a place in this world.  Luckily for anyone who is developing an Order of Battle for Hubbardton, 1777, the battle took place in an era when men wrote things down.  The British Army of the period already have a halfway decent staff system in the mid to late 18th Century.  The Continental Army was doing whatever it could to model itself after the British Army, and so we have officers who documented the returns from the fighting.

My first place when researching OOBs is always the George Nafziger collection, housed at the US Army's Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and available free to the world.  (my link at right is broken since apparently the site moved.)  Unfortunately for this lazy gamer, the collection only lists returns from a few weeks after the battle of Hubbardton, and even then only lists Brigade strength - not the individual Regiments of the Brigade.  The British force list has no numbers until September, 1777.  So this time the Nafziger Collection can't help!

Numbers listed are Officers / NCOs / Staff / Rank & File

The staff ride resource I posted yesterday has an awesome Table of Organization (TOE) for a British, Continental, and "German" Infantry Regiment and shows the authorized company strengths.  This is super helpful to know if we can't get good battlefield returns.  Here is an example of a Continental Infantry Regiment TOE from the Staff Ride Read Ahead:

Knowing the per-stand strength in "Live Free or Die" to be 1 Stand = 50-75 men, we're on a good course.  The paper from the Vermont Historical Society lists the British overall strength of Fraser's advance guard to consist of "22 companies (approximately 850 men) under his detachment."  The Continentals also have a good approximation of their rear-guard force strength.  As everyone knows, things aren't always as they seem and all of this data is subject to interpretations, so there will be fudging.  

Upon arrival at Hubbardton, Francis was to place himself under the command of Warner. Once united, this rear-guard, drawn from the best units St. Clair had available, would constitute a force of somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 men under Warner and Francis, two experienced, and highly regarded officers.

The foot notes clarify the strengths even better and quote the book "The Battle of Hubbardton - The American Rebels Stem the Tide" by Bruce Venter.  The Vermont Historical Society paper then gives the overall Continental strength as:  Hale 126 men present, and fit for duty, Francis 206, and Warner 99, for a total of 431; 110 were present, and sick, and 332 “on command” for a total of 883. Seven men were sick absent, and three on furlough. The rear-guard that departed Mt. Independence was about 450 strong; adding Hale’s, and Warner’s, 225 men plus some 300 stragglers, sick etc we arrive at a number of around 1,000 men at Hubbardton.

So I have the overall forces for the Continentals by-unit.  Sort of.  The numbers of the "Regiments" by their Colonels don't add up to 1,000 but addition of a generic "rear guard" of 450 comes close.  The British were tougher to get specific strengths online, so I turned to the Osprey Book "Saratoga, 1777" and of course my old friend Ketchum, whose "Saratoga" is quite possibly one of the finest books I've ever read, period.  More on that at another time.  Ketchum puts the British strength at 2 x companies of the 24th Foot (assuming full strength that's 2 x 67 =134 troops), 10 companies of lights (10 x 67 = 670 troops), and 10 companies of Grenadiers (20 x 69 = 690 troops.  The eagle-eyed among you will note the addition of "2" to the Grenadier Company.  The extra 2 troops are fifers.  I wonder if Grenadier fifers caught alot of flak from their messmates in a Grenadier company.  Anyways, I'm not sure there were 10 full companies of Grenadiers or Lights because other accounts only list 4-5 company's worth of Grenadiers. So I'm digging into Osprey, but at least we have our max ceiling for both companies.

Anyways, our picture of the battlefield strengths is coalescing now:

Continental Troops (1000 roughly, all ranks)

  • Rear Guard detachment 450 troops + (Since I dont have specifics I'll amalgamate these into the line units below, 150 each, this will make sense when we start assigning stands to units)
  • 2nd New Hampshire (Hale) 126 + 150
  • 11th Massachusetts (Francis) 206 + 150
  • Green Mountain Boys (Warner) 99 + 150

British + Hessian Troops (900 troops roughly, all ranks)

  • Combined Grenadier Battalion (Acland) Companies from 9th, 29th, 34th, and 62nd Regts (Osprey) 276
  • Combined Light Battalion (Earl of Balcarres) Companies from 9th, 29th, 24th, 53rd, and 62nd Regts (Osprey) 335
  • 24th Foot 140
  • Loyalist Scout Detachment 100 (?)
  • "Hessian" Forces under Freiherr Von Riedesel (Jagers, Grenadiers, Chasseurs) 1100 however in the interest of speed, (and according to Ketchum) Riedesel left the majority of them behind to keep up with the American rear guard along the military road from Ticonderoga the previous day.  Giving us a Hessian force of roughly 100 Grenadiers and Jaegers.  They'd arrive as the battle was coming to a close the following day.  I think.  We'll find out.

Stand and Unit Composition in "Live Free or Die"

The "Live Free or Die" Rules (LFoD) call for a stand strength of "50-75 men" per stand, along with overall commanders who are assigned "command points" and "stars" which enable them to assist units during the turn.  I could probably fudge the stand values a bit (+ or - 5 or 10) and I dont think that would dramatically impact the game.  I'd like to have units that were at least 3 stands as 2 wouldn't look quite as good but I dont want to mess too much with the mechanics of the game.  Clearly the leadership values will be subjective so I'll  have to assign them myself and I'm sure that could make many folks' heads explode on TMP...Perhaps I should issue a warning atop this post?

The unit quality is pretty well established from historical accounts and from the troop types present.  LFoD gives us unit classes for each:

  • 1st Class: Grenadiers, Light Infantry
  • 2nd Class: Regulars, Continentals, Rangers, J├Ągers
  • 3rd Class: Raw Regulars, Veteran Militia, Loyalists
  • 4th Class: Militia, Indians & other Irregulars

Since by all accounts, St Clair (overall Continental Army Commander) assembled some of his best troops to serve as rear guard (see quote above) and based on the good accounting the units gave of themselves, we have to assume that as far as Continentals go, the American forces "aren't too bad".  The 11th Mass and 2nd New Hampshire were both good units in their own right.  That said, the men were completely exhausted.  Warner made a controversial decision to bed down where he did instead of completing the additional 6-10 miles he probably should have gone.  This allowed the British advanced guard to catch up with him the following day.  Also about 1/4 to 1/3 of the force are sick and stragglers from the main body's retreat to Castleton.  The men were hungry, tired, and nursing some of the slow moving stragglers.  So I'm not inclined to be too generous when assigning the Continental unit classes...  Anyways here goes.

Here is my fudged, totally unofficial OOB for The Battle of Hubbardton for the Live Free or Die rules:

Combined British Force

  • Combined Grenadier Battalion (Acland) 1st Class, 5 Stands (remainder 25 troops)
  • Combined Light Battalion (Earl of Balcarres) 1st Class, skirmish optional, 6 Stands (remainder 35 troops)
  • 24th Foot 2nd Class, 4 stands (140 men from the unit and the 60 from the remainder pool above)
  • Loyalist Scout Detachment  (?) 3rd Class, 2 stands
  • Hessian Forces Detachment (Baron Von Riedesel) 2nd Class, 3 stands (totally fudged this for unit composition)
  • Hessian Reinforcements 2nd Class 8 stands
  • BG Simon Fraser 4 Command Points, 3 Stars
  • Major John D. Acland, 2 Stars
American Force
  • Skirmish Line from Rear Guard, 2nd Class, 3 stands (skirmishers)
  • 2nd New Hampshire (Hale) 3rd Class, 5 stands (26 remainder)
  • 11th Massachusetts (Francis) 2nd Class, 7 stands
  • Green Mountain Boys & Warner's Continentals (Warner) 3rd Class, 5 Stands
  • Colonel Seth Warner, 3 Command Points, 2 Stars
  • Colonel Ebenezer Francis, 2 Stars
There were a host of other colorful leaders present (Earl of Balcarres, John Stark of the French and Indian War , Bunker Hill, and Bennington fame, and Baron Von Riedesel who outranked Fraser and was younger than him by at least 10 years) in this scenario and while I'd love to include all of them, this is not technically a skirmish set of rules so I wont.  Since Francis died at the battle (and is buried on the battlefield) I'm including him on the field.

Now that we have a playable OOB for the battle, there are 2 other major ingredients we will need next.  The first are the scenario's "coordinating instructions" IE what are the victory conditions, when do the reinforcements show up?  What are the starting positions?  How many turns should the battle last?  Once we've answered those questions, the third question, the battlefield, should be an obvious next task to finish.  After we get those things done, I dare say we will have ourselves a proper battle!

For those of you who stuck with me to the end of this post here is a sneak peek at the scenario "product" I'll be putting together.  This is the "officially unofficial OOB" for my Hubbardton LFoD scenario (and my apologies to Colonel Ebenezer Stevens, whose painting I used to represent the likeness of Colonel Francis).  The rest are all accurate likeness of BG Fraser, MAJ Acland, and COL Warner.  Google told me so!

Now in the "scenario coordinating instructions" component, we'll need to figure out just where and how all of these various units were used.  That means that the positively huge Hessian "main body" may not actually make it into the fighting, same with the Loyalist Scouts!  We'll also need to get clever as to how we assign victory conditions here.  Clearly the British have an edge (as they almost always do in the AWI) but Warner's job is to slow them down, not stop them! 

Lots more fun coming up in the next installment of Developing a Hubbardton Scenario for "Live Free or Die" - Scenario Coordinating Instructions.  I hope you're having as much fun reading this as I'm having putting it all together.  

Stay tuned!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Developing a Hubbardton Scenario for "Live Free or Die" - The Resources

Compared to many other well-known engagements of the American Revolution, the Battle of Hubbardton in 1777 was quite small.  Being a "meeting engagement" of sorts, it was a fight that pitched an advance guard of very high quality and highly motivated Crown forces against a rear guard consisting of a mix of decent quality Continental troops and stragglers from their retreating army.  The battle was fought as part of the Saratoga campaign in July, and the British Army in the north must have been riding high with the recent capture of Ticonderoga. 

Battle Map from British Battles site.  Used w/o permission.

The small and relatively compact size of the battlefield means you can spy most of the key points and key terrain in the engagement area from the same position atop "Monument Hill" as it is called now.  (I have been there many times, having attended military college about 45 minutes from the battlefield.  It is a wonderful (rural) place to visit if you are looking for solitude and quiet!)

Typical Vermont road!

The compact nature of the battlefield and battle also makes it an extremely attractive battle to model for the wargamer when testing any set of AWI rules, and I have been known to use the battle for playtesting of other rules sets, including Norm's "Two Flags One Nation" ,an ACW set that I tried for AWI, Guns of Liberty, and even One Hour Wargames' "Horse and Musket" rules.  

When LittleWarsTV announced their "Live Free or Die" rules, I immediately purchased them with the hopes of putting on desperate AWI clashes on my table.  I like many of the facets of these rules, although admittedly I have not yet played them.  So with all that being said, what do I have in store for you? Let's get into it!    

So I will be uploading some blog posts on developing a Hubbardton Scenario for Live Free or Die, including the OOB and troop qualities, the terrain, and the scenario coordinating instructions.  This will all culminate in either a download you can use for LFoD, or simply some pics on the blog that you can snip and use on your own.  My intention is to use this as a very down-and-dirty introduction to the rules, so stay tuned!  

In the meantime, here is a list of resources to get you and I started.  These are not definitive by any stretch, but they're not bad for a Saturday morning on the internet:

  • Quick Primer on the Battle of Hubbardton from British Battles.
  • Wikipedia page that has links to some of the more colorful personalities from the battle.
  • Vermont Historic Sites History of the Battle (excellent troop strength references - this is honestly one of the best battle accounts with plenty of primary source info quoted within)
  • A good military Staff Ride resource for the Saratoga Campaign that has a good section on the fighting at Hubbardton.  Check out page 84.
  • Here is an animated map and video of the battle and its events.  I love this map because it's topographical and gives you a much better sense of the nature of the terrain unlike the British Battles map which makes it look relatively flat with intermittent hills.  Rather, the battle was fought among undulating hills and mountains.  Sargent and Zion "hills" are very impressive in their own right.
  • The absolutely obligatory Steve Jones "Tales from the Paint Shed" Hubbardton video which provides much inspiration!
  • For books, Ketchum's "Saratoga" is a natural first starting point, followed by Wards' "The War of the Revolution" and finally the Osprey Saratoga 1777 book, all three of which are open on my desk now!

That's all for now.  Look for an OOB post coming up in the coming days!

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

New Year - New Gaming Area

Continuing on with the New Year's theme (11 days into 2022) I thought a change was in order in the gaming bunker.  For those of you following the blog for the last 5 years, you'll remember the last change was in 2017 when the basement underwent a massive overhaul.  (read about the expensive insanity starting at the link in the previous sentence with SAPPERS FORWARD!).  

This time I just moved the furniture and gaming table around, but it looks good, doesn't it?  

The new & improved Sound Officers Call gaming bunker - a place you'd want to game in!

The painting desk has been turned 90 degrees and sits against the east wall of the basement now (vrs the south wall under the long window).  It's worth mentioning this was the arrangement I had when we first moved in and I claimed this space in the name of miniature wargaming...

The small "hutch" in the back right comes from my grandfather's house and was where my grandmother stored all of her knick-knacks.  I'm happy to report it's been repurposed as a storage area for much of my gaming paraphernalia.

I'll be the first to admit that I'm incredibly fortunate to have a dedicated gaming and hobby space, and to look at this area just makes me want to set up a game and invite people over to play in it!  

I've been reading up on rules lately (Blucher, Fate of Battle by Buck Surdu, Absolute Emperor to name a few) and have been busy hatching my spending plans for 2022 (curtailed significantly this year) as well as gaming plans and am hoping to make the best use of my time.  

Also - apparently the AWI project wasn't finished.  I discovered 24 British and 24 American loose AWI  15mm figs.  They're on the painting blocks now and they'll have a shed-load of drummers and NCOs but it's another unit of 6 bases each for Live Free or Die bringing my total stand count up to 102 stands for both British and American.  Could a reply of Germantown or Brandywine become a reality this year???

Anyways, I'm looking forward to lots of great games in 2022.

Monday, January 3, 2022

Da Skwad and 2021-22 Ramblings

 Here we have "Da Skwad", a squad of Orcs ready to do battle in the "nightmare future of the 41st Millenium" or perhaps sooner.  These lovable creatures are from Vanguard Miniatures' "Defeat in Detail" range, linked here. 

 The race of "not Orks" is called "Skinners" in the Defeat in Detail universe.  I confess to reading a ton of Dan Abnett books when I was in the Army and while I'm not a 40k player, I got hooked on the 40k universe and some of the storylines.  I had always dreamed of recreating some of the Gaunts Ghosts battles and other battles from the 40k and Warhammer Fantasy world especially in the books I've read.

'Eavy metal with some sort of crude bolter / grenade launcher combi.
I'm still searching for a good set of skirmish rules to play with these guys but much of the fun will be doing the "historical" research into sci fi or other skirmish rules.  I absolutely owe Ski a playthrough of his "Stardust: Ground" rules (and still insist he make them into a WWII set! and sell to Osprey)

So what do we have to say for ourselves?
Not too much blog activity.  2021 was a pretty slow year for gaming and blogging, despite the lofty ambitions, so I opted against a 2021 look back and am not doing a 2022 look forward, despite still having megalomaniacal plans for the upcoming gaming year :) I will say that according to the Tier I, II, and III priorities, I did accomplish alot in terms of painting.  the 10mm SYW project (Tier I) was all but finished, 10mm Napoleonics (Tier II) took center stage as I rebased all my Napoleonics on 30mm squares and touched up paintjobs.  The resulting French have 20 x "units" that can literally serve as Battalions, Regiments, Brigades, or heck even Divisions! (looking at you, Absolute Emperor).  Tier III got alot of attention with the Ancients Project finishing the initial purchase run but there are legions of legions behind them waiting to be painted.  

If you must know, Eylau Plans are still going forward, though not for February (I am buying all the Russians), more Seven Years War and AWI plans being hatched (Honours of War, Volley and Bayonet, Post of Honour for SYW, and perhaps, Live Free or Die for AWI coming to the table soon!).  Plans on completing the Ancients project and finding my favorite Ancients rules for 15mm, and starting a NEW 10mm project this year!  Lots of exciting things happening at Sound Officers Call so stay tuned.  Hoping not to be derailed too badly by normal life this year but you never know.  I figure if I dont put it in writing, lots of great stuff is bound to happen.  Right?

And no Orc "unit" would be complete without da boss - he's bigger, badder, has more teeth, and will jump into the fray just for fun.

da boss.  He had goblins paint the pea dot camo...

I tried to paint an Orc skull on the bottle on his back but it looks more like Wilson...

What Orc horde would be complete without an Army to fight against?  Here are some rag-tag planetary defense forces that look a bit cooler than the Imperial Guard troops being sent to fight along side them.

PDF Platoon Command

The PDF troops are from a Khurasan collection and if you thought they had a distinctly Soviet vibe to them you'd be correct!  I am painting them with the Soviet painting set from Vallejo.

Orcs!  Light em up!

Heavy Weapon 

L to R a rocket propelled grenade gunner, 2 x AGLs, and some "riflemen" with "standard template construction" lasguns. (sorry couldn't help myself)

Right now I have 6 fireteams of PDF troopers waiting to defend the planet from Orc invasion.  They have no heavy weapons or vehicles, just organic light support weapons and grenade launchers.  The Orcs have some decent, albeit short ranged firepower.  

So as stated, I'm shopping around for some skirmish rules to use with these troopers and of course painting up lots more Orcs to square off against the PDF.

On the gaming front, Ken was over yesterday and we played a re-made blast from the past, HEROQUEST.  This is a remake by Avalon Hill of a MB/Games Workshop classic from my childhood, something I've bought and owned twice in my adult life and sold off.  Imagine my surprise when i opened it on Christmas Day!  So we played the first quest on Sunday and it was alot of fun, even playing as Zargon, the GM/DM.

Ken's Barbarian squares off against yet ANOTHER Orc, while the wizard in the other room deals with a goblin running around.

"Drear Warriors" (formerly Chaos Champions in the original HQ game) mix it up with the dwarf after slaughtering the barbarian...

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Christmas Offensive: The Battle of Weiler, December 17th, 1944


28th Infantry Division, the so-called "Bloody Bucket" by the Germans

Ken was over yesterday to participate in a small slice of the action from the initial German assault during the Battle of the Bulge.  The action we played out specifically was the 26th Volksgrenadier Division's assault against Company I, 3rd Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division on December 17th, 1944 against the town of Weiler.

Weiler occupies the left shoulder of the German breakthrough, the extreme right flank of the 110th IR's area of operations in December, 1944

Originally I wanted to use Crossfire to play this battle (loosely based on the Hit the Dirt scenario "Germans in the Woods") but I wasn't crazy about the "iffy" victory conditions in the scenario (EG if X happens, the Americans have done OK") and I had some issues finding balance in the scenario I was playtesting.  With a single company-on-company, the Americans won all 4 playtest games, even with the attached armor I gave the Germans.  I gave the Germans another company but then this turned out to be too easy for the Germans.  Am I being too picky?  Maybe.  Anyways I went with Iron Cross, which to me plays very similarly to Crossfire, albeit a bit more structured than Crossfire (I am still determined to find a good balance for this scenario and I am not giving up on CF)

Ken behind the American lines

26th Volksgrenadier troops at the startline!

It took Ken and I maybe 2 x turns to get back into Iron Cross to where we were playing it correctly.  Once we were "seasoned" again, we both started to play much more dangerously.  We played the "breakthrough" scenario and Ken played the Ami's.  My job was to get 30% of my breakpoint value into Ken's third of the table.  Given that we were playing the long way down the table, this was not going to be the pushover I thought it would be.  I was playing Volksturm from the late war "elite forces" OOB.  These conscripts must roll a D6 each turn to see how many actions they dont take because they're conscripts and have to be literally pushed towards the objective!

I attempted to be "cagey" moving behind cover and line of sight from the American MGs and mortars, which could reach my squads anywhere on the table.  Ken sends out a patrol into the woods to his front to investigate the sound of enemy armor...

Contact!  The Marder backs up with a successful reaction, but the American GIs know if they don't deal with this threat, their backs will be against the wall in Weiler.  The bazooka fires one round, damaging the Marder III.  The next round (another successful activation) seals its fate.  The accompanying infantry are firing against the GIs but to no avail.  The time table is slipping away!

The Marder burns while its begleitung infantry take cover in a ruined farmhouse

Ken fires mortars and machine guns at the German start line and immediately puts hurt onto the advancing VGs.  I decide to use the abundance of cover on the left, a beautiful tree-lined road, to leap-frog squads and MG teams forward.  (BTW, this strategy in my Crossfire test games worked very well until the Germans reached Weiler.  Let's see what happens!)

The second German Marder, some of the only Armor to actually cross the Our on December 16th, tucks in behind a high hedge.  The HE fire will be useful if I can get him into a firing position.  There are bazooka armed infantry squads to the west seemingly everywhere!  Where the hell are our MGs and mortars?

One of the things I'll say about Iron Cross is the intense focus on resource management.  Like in Crossfire with managing your possession of the initiative, in IC, you have to manage your limited number of activation tokens.  Any action costs one, whether it's successful in activating or not.  My mortar tubes remained silent for most of the game while I spent the tokens on advancing my squads and keeping the Americans' heads down!

The VG's reach the relative safety of the high hedge next to the Marder.  The Ami's can be heard shouting in english to one another!
More VG squads leap frog up the left of the road from wood copse to wood copse under furious fire from the Americans.  For the time, no HMGs are firing at me as they're all concentrated on the US left flank.  THe road to Weiler, while not open, seems to be the best way to get there.

Furious firefight breaks out at the Cemetery outside Weiler as US squads pour on the fire at the Germans in the winter wheat and along the road attempting to over run the town.

US Squads continuing to reinforce.  The blue beads are activation tokens.  The bazooka markers are simply markers (I use these stands for Crossfire also).

The Americans guarding the field.  The dark round markers are morale markers IE hits from fire.

The German "Base of fire" elements trying to keep the pressure on the US forces while I slide more troops up along the road.

This squad took a number of hits and activated twice

There is high drama along the Road to Weiler as my squads advance and immediately come under fire by Ken's GIs guarding the town.  It's time to bring the armor up!  Ken is moving more squads over to the town now.  Unlike Crossfire, there is a turn limit to this game.  6 turns for breakthrough with the possibility of a 7th turn.  I'm starting to get nervous.  While the German HMG moves up and starts putting more hurt on the GIs in the Cemetery, I'm not sure if I'll be able to move enough forces from my start line over to the left flank in time.  Too much dawdling!  

Eventually 2 of the US squads would be knocked out, along with the AT Gun.  THe Germans move up and flank the AT gun and are behind the US start line!

That D6 to their front is the US third of the table.  The start line!  We're gonna make it!

German HMG pouring on the fire against the Cemetery

The US Platoon Leader (called a "Sub commander" in IC) is one of the last fighting stands in the cemetery!

My last-ditch effort is to bring up the Marder III as the US is hurting in the cemetery (but there are loads of reinforcements behind them coming up!).  It's turn 6.

Heavily reinforced US left flank - locked down with HMGs and infantry!

The Armor comes clanking down the road moving past the cemetery...

At this point you're wondering how this drama on the table played out?  Well I had 3 German squads, 1 HMG, and 1 tank on the US side of the line.  20 BP points.  I needed 30!  I also had a whopping 5 squads killed by US fire.  The US forces weren't doing too shabby with 2 squads KO'd, and an AT gun knocked out.  The breakthrough that the commander, 26th VG Division needed would not be at Weiler!


This was a great fight - much fun.  I probably should have read up on IC more before we sat down to play (my playtest games were mostly Crossfire games this past week) so it took us a few turns before we re-learned how to play.  Once the knowledge was seated in our brains, we were dangerous again!  

I think in hindsight I should have moved up the left from the start.  Ken weighted the majority of his firepower against the large open areas in front of Weiler, but not the roadway.  With the other Marder III and a few more squads, I could have won the game, and the elements that actually crossed the line would have had more support when they got there!

While it's not Crossfire, I do love a game of Iron Cross played against a human being.  The back and forth becomes intense and each activation becomes more and more important as the game moves on.  There is a real sense of resource management and planning and a host of decisions to make each turn.  You are NOT sitting around waiting for something to happen.  Everything you do is a gamble - sometimes they pay off big time and sometimes they don't.  You see how forcing morale markers onto the enemy (IE hits) pays off when he tries to activate and shoot.  His performance degrades in front of your eyes to the point where he'll need to burn more and more tokens on rallying.  There is an OODA loop element to this as you carry out your plan.  As I starting throwing Germans across teh goal line, my immediate thoughts were constantly revolving around my next actions and his next actions.  Much like in Crossfire (a real thinking man's game IMHO)  you have to have a plan, use the terrain to your advantage and show up at where you planned your decisive point to be with overwhelming firepower.  If that's not the hallmark of a good game, I dont know what is.  Mission Accomplished!

As stated before, I'm going to continue to play Crossfire and I feel like it's quickly becoming my go-to set of WWII rules and hits all the marks I need it to hit.  I love that your platoons have their organic chain of command and that the location of the command stands matter.  I love the use of company level heavy weapons and battalion attachments and that you can decide where best to employ them, and most of all I love that Crossfire makes you think like a Company Commander, and analyze the terrain, fireplan, and continuously re-evaluate your plan.  In fact, in one of my Weiler playtest games, I used actual military control graphics (phaselines, target reference points, fire support planning, axes of advance and support, and templated enemy positions - just like my days in the Army - to draw out the plan.  Everything went perfectly well until contact was made!!!  Didn't Murphy say something about no Crossfire game plan survives first contact with the enemy?). 

Okay that's enough glowing endorsements from me today :)  I hope everyone is having a great week and that you got everything you wanted from Santa!  Here's to another year down, and another Christmas Offensive in the books.  

Now off to go playtest more Napoleonic rules...

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

The Christmas Offensive: Official Teaser


Distinctive Unit Insignia of What Unit???

Every year I like to play a big(ish) game around Christmas.  I won't dare call it a "megagame" this year after last year's debacle of playing a Commands & Colors Tricorne game of Germantown for our winter mega game.  (in my defense there were hundreds of beautifully painted minis on the table and custom built terrain - I'll let you be the judge).  I've put on some truly epic MEGA GAMES for the yearly Christmas Offensive in years past, including an epic Arab Israeli Sinai tank battle, the 57th Tank Brigade Counter Attack at Ponyri Station, Aspern-Essling, and more.  Here is a link to some of our past epic battles fought around Christmas...

So back to my normal tradition of "The Christmas Offensive" where I play or host a game on or around Christmas Day.

One of my favorite WWII paintings

While I wont spoil the surprise, the history buffs among you will likely catch on quickly as to what, when, and where this battle will take place...

I am off work and busily building terrain for this desperate clash!  Now, if the distinctive unit insignia, or the patches on the arms of those GIs doens't give it away, hopefully this should:

Stay tuned!  More teasers and maybe even some shots of play-testing coming up soon.  Hopefully the players aren't reading!  So grab some bandoliers of ammo, rations for a few extra days, and your wool overcoat and blanket.  You're gonna need it, Soldier!

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Planning Considerations for BIG Tigers at Minsk Games?

 With the big "Hill 80" Crossfire game still set up on the table, I went down to the gaming bunker early this morning before the family was up to play around with an open (non-gridded) game of Norm's outstanding "Tigers at Minsk," albeit with a Company's worth of troops on the table!  So how did this hairbrained-scheme go down?  What changes, if any, did I use?  Press on to find out!

The battlefield.  German 1st platoon (off camera on the left), 2nd platoon (middle in the wheatfield) and 3rd platoon (right) moving up to assault the village and seize Hill 80.

2nd Platoon massing in front of the hedge to move forward under fire

There is an old saying that "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" and that certainly applies to today's game.  Norm's Tigers at Minsk are an excellent, free set of World War 2 rules that put the emphasis on decision making and command focus.  Norm's scenarios are smaller-ish battles and my aim was to expand the scope of his rules to incorporate a company's worth of troops on the table.  What changes did I want to try?

Company Morale vrs Stand-Based Morale Breakpoint.  

Tigers at Minsk has a roughly 50% morale breakpoint that, when reached, forces every unit to check their morale, and continue to check as more casualties are accrued.  A company would equal 9 infantry "squad" stands, and 2 heavy weapon "HMG" stands equating to 5 or 6 for a morale BP.  What if you made it by platoon?  The German company consisted of 3 line platoons, plus a heavy weapons platoon.  Total would be 4 platoons.  BP would be reached when 2 platoons were out of the fight (Still 6 total stands, but it allows platoon formations on the table).

Platoon Leaders

Norm's rules use a command stand to represent Command emphasis, and where you plop your leader hex down guarantees one or two in-command hexes (units in that hex don't have to check command and may take an action).  For bigger games, placing the company commander seemed cool (the entire platoon, 3 stands, could be in command) and this is probably more in the spirit of Norm's rules.  My thoughts were to treat each platoon independently.  That is, each platoon had a Platoon Leader stand which could be placed touching a squad in his platoon, therefore enabling it to be in command (the other 2 squads had to test for command).  I also had a cool "guaranteed advance" rule, where the Platoon Leader was not placed with a squad, but if invoking the guaranteed advance, all 3 squads could move forward.  None could have any pins or opportunity fire markers on them to do this, and all 3 squads have to move, not just 2 or 1.

Company Commander

 Acts like the traditional leader stand in TaM and guarantees any action for any squad he touches.  My thoughts again to keep in the spirit with Norm's rules, you could forego Platoon Leaders and simply use the Company Command stand as the leader, but I like independent platoons.

Moving and Shooting Ranges

I allowed infantry to move 8" (for brevity) and fire to be 16" for 2D6, and 1D6 beyond.

These were pretty much the only changes I wanted to mess with today.  How did we get on?

Soviets defending the house - black bead is Out of Command

Using a "guaranteed advance" with the platoon leader, 3rd platoon moves up!

Soviet white beads were opportunity fire markers.  They did not score any hits and 3rd Platoon makes it to the cornfield!

Soviet HMG goes out of ammo!  In the spirit of Norm's rules, I selected a base target unit to assign the first hit, and since they were close (within 1 basewidth) to a sister squad, I assigned a hit to it as well.

2nd Platoon - their position for virtually the entire battle!  Red beads are "pinned"

So far, so good although with more units to command and more command rolling constantly going on, it was choppier than "regular" TaM and not quite as smooth.

1st Platoon working their way up the left flank behind the woods.  They are about to cross a Linear Danger Area between the 2 x copses

While the 1st Squad makes it clear, the 2nd squad is pinned by Opportunity fire!

On the Soviet turn, the Soviets take out a squad from 2nd Platoon with good shooting.

I also did not play with a time clock or events today, simply because I wanted to try the expanded command rules out.
German squad knocked out
Meanwhile the firefight on the German right ends up killing 1 Soviet squad but a second remains, stubborn as ever and not giving up!

Kill on the German right.

On the left, the Germans capture the woods and can see Hill 80 but are nowhere near close to assaulting it.  The Soviets have reinforced their right flank with a reserve squad and are holding the Germans for now.

So far the battle is going well.  It plays like Tigers at Minsk, albeit with more leader stands on the table (so way more units in command).  Not bad.  the Guaranteed Advance rule wasn't too overpowering (and by now there are so many pinned or out of command, or opportunity fire markers that the Germans couldn't use it most turns).

The advance really stalled as the Germans pressed an assault on their right flank against the Soviets in the woods but were repulsed by a pinned, lone squad!  I called the game.  Had I massed the German platoons a bit more efficiently (like the Crossfire Hill 80 game) this may have turned out differently.  Still I wanted to try out these rather "different" but similar command mechanisms to Norm's rules.  

So how did these "rules" work out?  The changes were, perhaps, unnecessary.  Command emphasis is probably better served with a single leader stand (and it gives you more decision making to ponder).  Additionally, the morale rules were the exact same amount of stands regardless of what was used.

I would probably only have out of command on rolls of 6 but otherwise the game is fine as it is!While successful, I will likely be sticking to "regular" Tigers at Minsk but this was still a very fun exercise. 

Next up on the table?  A Blood Red Skies game with Ken today, and more Crossfire coming up!  I would also say my loyal readers deserve a Napoleonic update to the rebasing project!  Lots of good stuff coming up so stay tuned!