Thursday, 22 January 2015

The Smolensk War

For our second outing with the Pike and Shotte rules we moved east, for a scenario based on the Russian campaign to recover Smolensk.  We had a large Muscovite force attacked by a smaller Polish force, although the latter did have the edge in troop quality.  The rules do provide an army list for a 17th century Polish force, but do not have one for the Russians, so in true wargaming tradition, I created my own.

The two wings of the Russian force were each made up of 4 units of noble cavalry, which I rated as 'freshly raised' to reflect the variable quality of this force.  In retrospect adding 'militia' .  may have been a little too much of a handicap, especially as the flank commanders were rated average/poor.  The right flank also had a unit of Cossack skirmishers.  In reserve were the Dvor, the general's bodyguard.  The centre of the Russian position was held by the infantry and artillery,who had occupied a village and attendant enclosures as protection against the Polish cavalry.  The Soldastski regiments were a recent innovation by the Russians and so were also rated as 'freshly raised', as were a unit of urban streltsy.

The Russian centre
 The Poles were outnumbered nearly 2 to 1 in cavalry, but of course they had three units of hussars.  These famous troops enjoy three bonuses under the Pike and Shotte rules, they are elite, so test to remove disorder sooner, they are stubborn, so can re-roll one failed 'saving throw' and they get up to 3 extra dice in melee as heavy cavalry.  In addition, being lance armed, enemy saving throws are -1.  To try and reduce the 'super troops' effect I made all the hussar units 5 figures which meant that they were 'small' and consequently loss dice in melee and had their stamina reduced by one.  Supporting the hussars were three units of pancerni and one unit of Cossack skirmishers.  In the centre of the Polish position was a tabor and within it were two units of Haiduk infantry and a pike and musket unit of mercenaries.  For artillery, the Poles had one light gun.

The Polish cavalry advance
Steve rolled the dice and got the Poles; deciding that he needed to get forward as soon as possible and deny the Russians the chance to deploy there was only one order possible...Charge!  His left wing responded by their commander rolling 3 on two d6 and therefore having three actions.  A 27 inch move brought them into contact with my front unit of noble cavalry, who reacted well, rolling a 3 which meant that they acted as normal.  Unfortunately, when I rolled against their command rating to counter-charge, they failed and were therefore caught at the halt.  The ensuing melee did not go well and after suffering heavy casualties the Russians failed their break test and routed from the field.  The hussars carried out a sweeping advance and hit the second of my units.  This did not react as well as the first, probably due to seeing them flee the field and would only inflict casualties with a 6 on a d6.  Not surprisingly this melee also went the way of the Poles, but at least the battered Russian survivors managed to fall back rather than flee.  Further carnage on this flank was avoided when my Cossacks managed to evade the hussars' charge, but I had the feeling it was only a temporary stay of execution.
On the Polish right the commander did not roll quite so low, so the hussars only had two actions, preventing an immediate bloodbath.  In the centre the Polish infantry slowly began to move out of the tabor to begin its advance.

The carnage begins!
Now the Russian turn began and my first command roll, for my right wing, was a failure, so no units advanced, even the attempt to rally the battered unit of cavalry failed, so they remained shaken.  On my left I had more success, the first unit of noble cavalry charged the hussars, supported by the second unit.  My attempt to move the third and fourth units to support the flank of the first two failed, with dire consequences.  Not surprisingly the hussars counter-charged my cavalry and again won the melee.  They then went on to defeat the second unit and so by the end of my turn nearly half my cavalry was shaken or routed and the Poles were hardly scratched.
This set the precedent for subsequent rounds as Steve methodically crushed my cavalry wings, although I did have the satisfaction of destroying one unit of hussars.  An attempt to move round behind my infantry was defeated by the Dvor, but with only one unit and two flanks to watch, the writing was on the wall.

At last, some Russian success
Fortunately, it was now lunch time, so the dice were laid aside and as we ate our sandwiches we put the world to rights.  After lunch we reset the game, swopped sides and tried again.  This time we introduced a 'house rule' (no doubt the first of many), that, following melee and/or a sweeping advance to a second melee, a successful unit would become disordered.  At first it seemed as if nothing had changed as the hussars on the Polish right took on and defeated the Russian left single-handed.  Their pancerni supports resolutely refusing to move forward.  It was only the proximity of the Russian cavalry which enabled the hussars to charge under the initiative rule.  Indeed the Polish infantry advanced further than the pancerni on the Polish right.  By the end of the game they were exchanging volleys with the streltsy in the village.

On my left the hussars were initially successful, but took fairly heavy casualties, by the end of the game all the Polish cavalry were shaken and it would take at least four moves to rally them all.  Fortunately,all the remaining Russian cavalry on that wing were also shaken so hostilities died down.  In the centre the Polish infantry had plodded forward to musketry range and had engaged the streltsy and soldatski.

On reflection, the game worked reasonably well. I had thought that a 2 to 1 superiority in numbers for the Russians would provide balance, but I was proved wrong.  Perhaps rating the noble cavalry the same as pancerni would be better, or increasing the size of the noble cavalry units to give them more melee dice. Given the size of my table (6 by 4), increasing the number of cavalry figures (95 for the Russians) would reduce the opportunities for manoeuvre , which was the very nature of much of the fighting in the east.

The Polish infantry advance on the village
Our next game with these rules will need to test out the infantry battle, particularly push of pike.

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Lion Rampant test

Another game, another new set of rules.  Lion Rampant is a set of medieval rules published by Osprey. Steve thought that they looked  promising as a set for us to use with Lance and Longbow participation games and so he set up a simple scenario for us to try them out.  The rules are aimed at skirmish level actions and in the illustrations all the figures are individually based, though this is not essential.  Units are of 12 or 6 figures and formations are 'loose', armies are collections of 'mobs' of men, rather than serried ranks.  To move/shoot a unit needs to pass a die roll (usually between 5 and 8 on two d6; failure means that your turn ends.

In the first game we started slowly, but after c20 minutes we began to get the gist of the rules.  Mutual exchange of archery inflicted a few casualties, but the first real blood-letting occurred when my serfs were charged by Steve's yeomen.  The rules meant that we each rolled 12 dice (d6's), but whereas I needed a 6 to inflict a hit, Steve only required a 4.  Not only that, but the armour factor meant that each of Steve's hits inflicted a casualty, but I needed two to do the same.  The dice gave their decision, 4 serfs down, 1 yeoman. Not surprisingly the serfs failed their courage (ie morale) test .  If they had failed narrowly, they could have been 'battered' and given a chance to rally, but they scored below 0 and therefore fled the field.

At the beginning of the game we had rolled dice to find out any special characteristics of our commanders; mine was 'rash', meaning he automatically charged any enemy unit within 10 inches.  This meant that my unit of mounted men-at-arms ended up charging Steve's serfs.  Which would have been a good thing, except that the serfs were in broken ground and consequently my mounted troops were at a severe disadvantage. Things went further downhill when I suffered a casualty in the melee.  If your commander is in hand-to-hand combat you roll 2d6, a result of double one means he has been killed;no prizes for guessing what I rolled!

This set the pattern for the next 20 minutes as one by one my units were either cut down, or fled.  The last man standing was a man-at-arms who gallantly fought on until he too was killed.  (Just like the games I played as a schoolboy).

Having plenty of time left we set up a scenario from the Northern Crusades (the rules come with 'army' lists); Teutonic knights against pagan tribesmen.  Again, my leader was 'rash', well that was fairly accurate historically; but you wouldn't have known it from the way things played out.  I seemed to have specially doctored dice which couldn't achieve a total of more than 6 (with two dice!) and I needed 7 to move or shoot.  My men-at-arms sat there on their horses and watched as the bands of Pagan tribesmen advanced across the table. Only when the tribesmen got within 10 inches was I able to move and even then I got a slice of luck because Steve unluckily rolled very low dice which prevented his tribesmen attacking my cavalry, which would have reversed the attack and defence factors.  The resulting melees both went my way and when the crossbows saw off the third unit of tribesmen, victory was allocated to the Germans.

We got through two games in the evening, even though we were new to the rules.  They are simplistic, but then if you are thinking of using them at shows, they need to be easy to understand.  You roll plenty of dice and luck plays a big part.  They give a fun game, which is after all a big part of why we follow this hobby. A beginner could build up two armies very quickly (and cheaply) and therefore be gaming whilst the first flush of enthusiasm is still bright.  That being said I wouldn't want to play only games which used this type of rules  

Friday, 9 January 2015

Ripple Field mark 2

2015 gaming began with a re-run of Ripple Field, but using the "Pike and Shotte" rules.  This was our first outing with this particular set and if they prove successful they could be used for Italian Wars, Poles and Muscovites (plus Ottomans if Steve and I can base up the figures we have acquired in the last 12 months) and Grand Alliance.

This photo (apologies for the quality) gives an idea of the layout and the deployment of the Parliamentarian forces (those nearest the camera).  The horses in the bottom left corner belong to a dragoon regiment which is deployed in the wood covering the lane,  There are only a few narrow gaps in the hedges which line the lanes and this hampers the Royalist outflanking manoeuvres.

The dice decided that Steve would command the Royalists and so I awaited the onslaught.  Die rolls against command ratings decide on the speed of advance (or not) and so coordinating attacks can be tricky,as Steve discovered.  One feature of the rules which we soon discovered was that a hit by artillery at long range was an automatically disrupted the target, whereas at medium and short range hits can be achieved but do not affect the target as badly.

With a 12" move for the Royalist cavalry melees soon occurred. The Parliamentarian horse attempted caracole tactics with little effect but at least they held their own in the first clashes.

Waller's regiment advance
The cavalry melees tend to be short, decisive affairs; even if the result is a draw, poor morale can mean both sides fall back to rally.  Units which are shaken are likely to fare poorly if caught by a fresh enemy unit and this is what happened on my left flank.  Steve's supports charged forward, benefiting from a low die roll which gave them three actions.  My supports, unable to counter-charge, attempted to stand and fire and achieved nothing.  They suffered heavy casualties in the melee, failed the break test and routed from the field. Steve's unit followed up and hit my rallying unit.  This lost the melee and had to retire again; but disaster was averted when Steve's unit also failed it's test (due to heavy casualties) and became shaken.

In the lane on my right more Royalist cavalry were looking to outflank the ridge, but Haselrig's small unit of 'lobsters' was trotting forward to meet them.  The rules prevent columns from charging, but we decided that as combat in lanes did take place, a 'house rule' would allow charges in this particular circumstance.

The Royalist horse advance
  At first the 'lobsters' were pushed back, but their superior morale and stamina saved them.  Eventually the Royalists broke, but by then affairs in the centre had taken a turn for the worse.  The firelocks supporting the light artillery had re-deployed to meet the threat to their flank as the Parliamentary horse were driven from the ridge.  Their volley, as the Royalist horse closed, inflicted heavy casualties, but did not stop the cavalry.  However, against the odds the infantry managed to survive the first impact.  They were not so successful in the second round, losing heavily and routing.

The firelocks break
The Royalists swept forward and hit Waller's own regiment which had been rallying.  The Parliamentarians had enough time to turn to face the charge, but it did not save them and they also routed.

At this point a Royalist victory was declared.  Both of the Parliamentarian 'battalia' had suffered such heavy losses that they were unable to rally.

For a first run through it was quite a successful game.  We liked the variable moves and the benefits gained from supports in melee. Also, the melee system avoided the situation which can arise in '1644' when two small units are locked in melee and are unable to inflict casualties.  It will be interesting to see what happens in more open terrain with room on the flanks.