Friday, August 30, 2019

Words on the Danube Campaign

Lest anyone who drifts by these parts miss out, I finally wrapped up the first of what will likely prove to be four installments of a travelogue covering my recent trip to the battlefields of 1809.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Saturday Night Fights for August 17, 2019 -- A De-brief of Sorts

Fresh back from Bavaria/Austria, I dove back into the Saturday Night Fights with the Armchair Dragoons.  Originally planning to wrap up our Teugn-Hausen "Black Powder 2" game, an audible was called and Doug and I returned to Aspern-Essling to see if we could not finish up our "Blucher" game which, I believe, is now in its 10th hour or so.  Neither of us would apologize for that over-much as a good bit of the early going was taking up with rules-learning.

That last bit has got me thinking about trying to learn a few sets of rules well, rather than piling on set after set and never mastering any.  One thing is certain is that our "Blucher" game moved much more quickly now that we have most -- note I say most -- of the rules down.

First, as usual, here is the whole video:

And a few observations:

*We screwed up corps activation in two ways.  First, you can only activate units from within the same CORPS.  Sounds fairly obvious, but I managed to mess that up.  I do not think it changed the game over-much, particularly as we usually had more than enough MO points to go around.  Second, a unit may only be the subject of a corps activation when it is within three inched of an activated unit.  We used six inches for reasons that evade me at the moment.

*The French are in real trouble.  With both Aspern and Essling in Austrian hands, and an 11-5 morale disadvantage, I will have to claim one of them back.  The problem is I have little margin as the loss of only five more units would result in total morale collapse.

*Related to the above, and I confess as much in the latter going of the video, it dawned on me far too late that the way Ross set up this scenario places the French firmly on the defensive.  This is, honestly, their battle to lose, particularly if the Austrians are at all timid.  I have successfully managed to give away this advantage.

*This is a long scenario -- 37 turns on Day Two -- and that, more than anything, is what, at least now, has the French on the ropes.  Live and learn, I do suppose.

Not entirely sure what next Saturday brings.  We may have another go at finishing "Teugn-Hausen".  Plus I have got to start putting together a few more "Blucher" scenarios, notably Eggmuhl.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Well, That Was Fun...

It is an incredible privilege and opportunity to take a two-week vacation, but, my goodness, it can take a good deal out of you.  As I try to sort out the whirlwind and prepare to write a fair amount about what I think I have learned, a couple images from the lovely HO-scale diorama of the Battle of Aspern-Essling housed in the granary that played such a big part in that battle.

It bills itself as the largest in central Europe and who I am I to judge?  And the keeper of it is an all together capital fellow who really seems to love his job, even if he practices it only from 1000-1200 Sundays.

More soon.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

So How'd We Do? (Teugn-Hausen Revisited AAR)

It was a smaller house than it has been with only Doug (panzerde) and Vance (Barthheart) able to come 'round and have a new go at Teugn-Hausen using a slightly different configuration of troops and making a commitment to, you know, implement the rules correctly.

The video is here for those inclined:

For those with less time, shortened attention spans, or both:

The Good:

1.  The game really hauled freight.  This was certainly in part due to a better familiarity with the rules, but remembering that when a brigadier fails a command roll that he is done making command rolls made a significant difference as well.  As Doug pointed out, it also opens up interesting tactical choices for opponents when a brigadier fails at a particularly bad moment.

2.  The Austrian use of march column and a better understanding of the importance of that formation made the game much more competitive for the Austrians.  It was a bit painful to end the session at the end of three hours as the Austrian reinforcements were just about to come crashing over the Buchberg.

3.  While there were many troop maneuvers, wheels, formation changes, &c., in the end, it went fairly smoothly and looked very nice as a tableau.

4.  I am particularly proud that we seem to have implemented almost all of the rules we confronted correctly.  Almost.

The Bad:

1.  We were over-generous with the divisional commanders.  They must be within 12'' of the brigadier they intend to assist at the start of the turn and must ride with him or her during the turn or they cannot assist him or her.  A significant limitation, I think.

2.  Skirmishers and units in open order (more on this later) block LoS.  Who knew?  Certainly not I.

3.  In the middle-going, you will see Doug order an advance on the French left and receive a significant success on his command roll.  Technically -- and boy do I mean technically -- the rules would not have allowed him to charge because he did not say he was charging those fellows at the edge of the forest.  In the spirit of the game, however, I do not feel we sinned very much.

The Ugly (I am not being blamed for these):

1.  The rule about how many units can charge a single unit was changed between 1e and 2e.   In 1e, it is as we played it and as my friend Doug clearly would prefer it.  In 2e, however, it is as I initially described it, viz.: only one unit can charge to a face unless the target is large and the chargers are both small or tiny.  Cleaner, but Doug's point re: this limiting the French capacity to use columnar attack is well taken.

2.  The rules re: skirmishers in Black Powder 2 are a bit buggered at the moment in my judgment.  Straight 1e -- no supplements -- seems to read that all units may enter open order and skirmish meaning they get certain bonuses when targeting for fire and shooting; not the least of these is a +1 on the "to hit" roll.  As the supplements were released, some units were identified as "skirmish" meaning, I take it, that they receive the combat bonuses where others do not.  The problem with this designation, though, is what to make of the "Poor Skirmisher" designation given to Austrian troops in Clash of Eagles?  I presume it means they can enter open order, become harder to hit, and target from wherever they like, but do not receive the +1 to hit.

And then, in 2e, the "skirmisher" designation now appears regularly in army lists and the +1 for skirmishers firing as been taken away.  I have no particular objection, but this is consequential for those building points-based armies.

I do not quite know what to think, but my gut is:

1.  All infantry units may enter open order.
2.  Only units with the "skirmish" ability may take advantage of the special firing stuff.
3.  Only units with the "Mixed Order" may form Mixed Order -- this is explicit in the rules.
4.  The Austrian "Poor Skirmishers" special rule is now vestigial.

Despite all this, my love of Black Powder 2 has not diminished and I will be back at it.

See anything else we screwed up?  I would love to hear about it.  Honestly.

Oh, and here is a shot I had forgotten I took.  This was game state when we called it for the evening.

Friday, July 26, 2019

My Goodness, but I Have Come to Dislike (Some) House Rules

Sooner or later we all get to be "of an age" and wisdom, I think, demands that we take stock of visceral reactions to make sure they are not the product of some deep-seated prejudice, cherished ignorance, or wanting people to get the heck off your lawn.  After all, we are the subjects of our own, weird interior story and our biases are just too dangerous to be let loose without reflection.  Some of these wind up holding up reasonably well under scrutiny. Quinoa, for example, much like the Chicago Bears, can ruin a sunny day.  Others, well, that is the point of the present exercise.

There was a question posted recently to one of the Facebook pages covering Black Powder of which I am a member asking about the optional rule, found in Clash of Eagles, that makes the movement distance allowed an infantry unit in line shorter than that in column.  I knew about the rule, but, reading the query on-line, I was taken by how badly I responded to it.  It elicited a response something along the lines of "oh, for heaven sake, play the game".  At multiple levels, this is an irrational response, to wit:

*It is an optional rule and presented as such.

*I am at liberty to never use that rule.

*Upon analysis, the rule is a well-intentioned attempt to correct what the author perceived as a historical inaccuracy.

So, seriously, what the heck?

This led me to reflect on what I believe to be a fact:  Black Powder in both its editions is one of the most optional- and house-ruled games in the history of our hobby. A quick search under the terms "Black Powder House Rules" bears this out.  Part of this is certainly its popularity, viz., more players increases the likelihood of more house-rules.  The other bit, though, and I think this is the root of my grievance, is that people want Black Powder to be something that it is not.  Bear with me on this one.

I am not here talking about clarifying house rules relating to what a particular rule means.  Heaven knows I have posted a video asking for assistance in interpreting the sometimes opaque prose.  I am talking about rules intended to make Black Powder more [Insert Era Here].  In a measure, Warlord has contributed to this as it tried to give each nation it added in the supplements something "special".  This is Warhammerism at its worst, although, if it be confessed, my Napoleonic brethren love doing this themselves.  Surely, after all, the Marines of the Guard deserve some unique statistic?  I will here also only note in passing the mess I think they have made, though imprecise version control, of "Pas de Charge".  There have also been rules in each of the source books adding new formations, changing approaches to terrain, modifying the rules for forming square, &c.

This, in turn, has joined with the torrent of house rules from every corner of the globe to create a -- to overstate matters -- Gestalt in which there really does not seem to be any thing that is "officially" Black Powder 2. 

I find myself un-moored.  From the first time I began to understand the fun, friendly simple system at its heart, I really did embrace a game that was a welcome change from the pedantic nonsense that infests tabletop gaming.  When I asked Prof. Pollard which rules he had chosen to manage his recent Waterloo extravaganza, he told me Black Powder because it was the only system capable of managing a game of that size.  And its broad popularity made me think we had evolved a lingua franca for use in friendly games -- it confesses to being fairly useless for tournaments -- in a variety of settings; a game that Featherstone and others might have understood.  I thought that the reviewers at Little Wars (those narrow-cast) simply did not understand it for what it was and have defended it since from similar criticisms.

And yet...

I, you, all of us, are at liberty.  I will play with none of these rules -- all right, I do like the forest rules from Clash of Eagles -- and be quite happy doing so.  Those who play with 12 pages of house rules will, clearly, do likewise.  I trust we will all have fun.

Do you like house rules?  I would be particularly interested in hearing from those that do not.  Why do you not?  And do you react this badly to them?

The next game, by the way, will be live-streamed commencing at 1600-1700 (working on that) CDT tomorrow.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Damnation, "Black Powder 2", are You Being Serious Right Now?

That is how the young express frustration, is it not?

In any event, last night the lads from Armchair Dragoons got together for what we hoped would be the second part of our Battle of Teugn-Hausen using Black Powder 2.  We all like the rules and, despite a few goofs here and there, I thought I had been running things reasonably well.

Then, while looking up an entirely different matter, I happened upon a teensy paragraph near teh bottom of p. 29 to the effect that if a commander fails in an attempt to give an order, that commander may give no further orders that turn.  I understand that the rule is there.  I do not know what I was asking the authors and editors to do to prevent my missing it, but that is a rule of first consequence and, despite having logged several dozen hours now playing BP2, I just missed it.  Veterans who have not missed it are, of course, laughing at me (at worst) or nodding sagely (at best) when I say the proper implementation of that rule makes brigade orders a much bigger deal and makes initiative orders of much greater consequence.

I enrage myself sometimes.

Other notes:

*Commanders must issue orders (or attempt to) for the turn and then and only then may move (cf. p. 39 top left).  I am glad this rule is the way it is.  This was the rule I was looking for when I found the one that so flabbergasted me above.

 *We (I) have consistently missed the modifier (a negative) for a commander's strategy rating when an enemy unit is within 12'' of a unit the commander is trying to order.

*"Pas de Charge", had by many French troops, grants a +1 to French troops in column.  This is added to the +1 all units receive for being in attack column for a net +2!

*Cavalry cannot form attack column.  That's an infantry only thing!

*LoS is determined from the flag stand to the target.  We may have buggered this one up once or twice.

*While it is true that skirmishers sight from the model of their commander's choosing, if a proportion of the unit cannot see the target, the number of dice rolled is reduced by that proportion.   We definitely did this one incorrectly.

*We will have to keep a close watch on the diagram on p. 48.  While it is true that one can ignore skirmishers and fire at a more distant target, this is only the case if the more distant target is otherwise (pace the skirmishers) clear.

And this, which I take to be an editing omission, has me cross with the author:  The rules on retiring indicate (p. 80) that a "retire" move is "a normal move in every respect".  I wish it had clarified if this includes being affected by terrain.  Miniature games are not of one mind on that topic.  Worse, though, the rule does not include the little tidbit included in the table on the preceding page that if one move is insufficient to get a unit clear of friendly troops, it may make a second move and only then break.  Would have made matters a good deal better last night had this been notived.

If you make your way through the whole of last night's festivities, you will also hear a lot of discussion about the best way to handle movement through heavy trees.  Forests played a big part at Teugn-Hausen and I am not comfortable that the standard forest rules represent this well.  I think, therefore, that we will use those from Clash of Eagles entirely, viz.:

*Woods are "rough ground" meaning skirmishers move through them without penalty, formed infantry and cavalry pay 2:1, and artillery pays 3:1.

*Non-skirmish troops and troops not in march column may only receive one order per turn, no matter what the command roll.

*Brigade orders may only be issued to units in march column positioned with 3'' of each other.

*Shooting at a unit with 50% or more of its footprint in trees grants a -1 shooting modifier.

*Troops sheltering in the woods (50% or more of its footprint in) receive a +1 morale modifier.

*Non-skirmish troops fighting hand-to-hand in the woods receive a -1 to their to-hit rolls.

*For a unit to fire out of the woods, it must be within 1'' of the edge of the woods.

Again, this feels like a lot, but one only learns by playing.

...and the video itself:

So animated was I by the retiring question, I fashioned this video: