A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Hooptedoodle #280 - One for Sorrow

Smart chap, but unwelcome - pica pica
Neil, the ghillie here on the farm, retired in June, and has moved to live in the town, at Dunbar. The ghillie is the man who keeps the wildlife under control, and on this farm a proportion of his work was also to look after the large numbers of pheasants, which are introduced in yearly batches to ensure that there is plenty of shooting around Christmas time. (Personally I do not care for the big shooting parties, so we try to arrange to go out somewhere else for the day when one is organised.)

A lovely man, Neil, generous and helpful but surprisingly shy - I shall miss him. In recent years there hasn't really been so much to do on the farm, so he has also been working part time as a driver for the local bus company.

Well, he's gone, and we are becoming aware that things are changing as a result. We never really saw or heard much going on - it was all quiet and behind the scenes - but we now have sightings of foxes, stoats, rats, and a few other things which Neil, with his traps and his shotgun, used to take care of. Rats and stoats are not good news - if you think that a stoat would be a delightful creature to have as a neighbour on a farm then you have never seen the havoc they can inflict on a chicken coop. Some years ago Neil's wife lost her complete stock of Christmas turkeys to stoats, which tunnelled into a closed compound and killed the lot - didn't eat them, just killed them, apparently for recreation.

Though related to the weasel, an animal which is weasily recognisable, the
stoat is stoatally different, as you can see
One further intruder we have now is the chap right at the top of this post - pica pica - the Common Magpie. Regarded as one of the most intelligent creatures around, they are also very vigorous predators.

One has to admire any animal which is so handsome and so successful, but we now have daily visits from a number of them, we've seen 3 at the same time in our garden, and we know that if they become permanent residents in our woodland then they will have a dreadful effect on our beloved garden birds. These things eat eggs and baby birds like popcorn.

OK - it's Nature - that's what magpies do. One immediate outcome is that it seems unlikely that we will be able to make much use of our garden bird feeders this winter, and that is a huge loss to us if it comes about. Our feeders are all well above the ground, and the microsystem we have has worked well - perch feeders make a bit of a mess, and the ground feeders clean up after them. That may not work any more - the presence of seeds and nuts in the garden will certainly encourage both the rats and the magpies. Much pondering required.

The magpie (in common with other of his relatives in the crow family) features extensively in folklore and superstition, usually as a bringer of ill-fortune. It may be because the carrion birds ate the bodies of hanged criminals on the gibbet; there are a number of interesting theories on this. I had a friend who always said "good morning, Mr Magpie" when he saw one - he was brought up with the tradition that it was bad luck if you failed to do so - he didn't necessarily believe, you understand, but he was taking no chances...

One for sorrow,
Two for mirth.
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth.
Five for heaven,
Six for hell,
Seven for the devil, his own self

***** Late Edit *****

Also loosely connected with change and sorrow, but this item not down to Neil, I think. Past visitors to Chateau Foy may well recognise this place - this is the only Indian (Bengali) restaurant in our village, and we are regular, devoted customers. Sadly, the owner, Mohammad, has decided to sell up for family reasons, and they will be closing down tomorrow - so there's something else we are going to miss. If we want an Indian meal in future, we'll have to go to Dunbar or Aberlady, which is not nearly so handy. The premises are to be redeveloped as a bistro wine-bar - I'm sure it will be very nice, but there are already 5 similar businesses in the village - did we really need another?

Progress, you see. Next, it really wouldn't surprise me if someone opened yet another gift shop in the village; anything is possible with entrepreneurial people who can think outside the box.


Thursday, 12 October 2017

ECW - Rules Update

Further to previous - as from today, Version 2.68 of my CC_ECW rules is downloadable via this link. The link on the right hand top corner of the current screen should now also point to this latest version, and I believe all the documentation is consistent.

Revisions? Not so much, in the end - have gone back to Foot being able to move and still fire (a bit), have banned Stand of Pikes from being attempted in woods - in fact no pikes can fight in woods any more. Also another load of typos and dodgy wording smartened up.

If you can't get the links to work, I've probably screwed up the sharing rights - please shout. If you don't like the rules, that's perfectly OK - have a nice day.

My humble thanks to The Jolly Broom Man for his input and all his help.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

ECW - We Like Our Musketry Explicit

The gentlemen of the Sealed Knot being unpleasant at close quarters
This is going to be one of my ruminating sessions, I think, so if you don't fancy the prospect you have at least been forewarned. In response to my post yesterday, David sent a comment that touches on some of the key issues in the problem of how we try to represent warfare as a game we can play on the kitchen table. [When pressed, ruminate. That is the house rule here.]

So David is my guest writer for the morning. His comment included the following:

"...it is fascinating to think about how they actually went about the business of organised combat in the pike and shot era. Now I admit I have not downloaded your rules, so you may rightly ignore all I say. But one thing that always strikes me is how short a range they would be firing their muskets at (ignoring ill-disciplined premature popping-off by inexperienced troops); I get the feeling this would often be 100 yards or less. Which must have been terrifying, by the way. Now this makes me wonder, what is the 'range' of musketry in C&C, in hexes? And what distance does a hex represent? And how does that relate to movement distances?

Another thing that only now strikes me is, if taking up a firing position at 100 yards from the enemy and then using 'fire by introduction', it can't take long to close the range quite considerably; how much discipline did it take to maintain that measured fire and reloading, and how tempting was it to just give all that up and get stuck in to a melee?..."

I'd like to take a couple of detours before attempting to respond to this.

This doesn't look like rolling fire to me - it looks like a big Salvee
Firstly, since we are all shaped by our experiences, and since this includes the development of my own views on war gaming, I'd like to share with you a tale of a game I was once involved in. I would say this was about 1974. [I used to keep a huge file with notes and jottings and OOBs from all my war games - going way back - but alas I lost it during a house move 19 years ago, so approximate memory will have to serve now]. The main things are that this game certainly wasn't yesterday, and that it was from a period when we were all striving to make our miniature battles as realistic as possible. That seems like a very sad joke now, but I was as keen as anyone else.

The event was a very large bash at Quatre Bras - lots of borrowed troops on display - I can't remember how many, but there were a lot, and we used the WRG rules of the day. There were a lot of people involved, though, since the game lasted all day Saturday, all day Sunday and some of Monday evening, players were coming in to relieve each other, so there was never a time when everyone was present together, and some of the visits were brief and intended to show willing rather than make any major contribution. I recall that Phil Maugham, Alan Low, Dave Hoskins, Allan Gallacher (our host), John Ramsay, Dave Thomson, Keith Spragg and Forbes Hannah were all present at some point - a true marathon relay effort. I am less clear about the outcome - I think it was a sort of draw, though the Allies claimed they were leading at the end - you may recognise that kind of conclusion. Another, rather darker recollection is that only about 3 of the assembly are still alive, which just goes to show something or other (it probably shows that I was one of the younger participants!).

It took a long time afterwards to clear up the mess and sort out the paperwork, and two big messages feature most strongly in my memory. Firstly, none of us ever wanted to do anything like that again - in fact this was around the time that I first started looking seriously at what could be learned from board games, and trying to find ways to simplify my own miniatures games. Secondly, we were horrified (not to say incredulous) to learn that the total elapsed "battle time" amounted to around 35 minutes - that's all. Something like 22 hours had been spent "fighting" a battle which must have lasted a few hours historically, and the mathematical basis of the game accounted for only 35 minutes. So what else was going on at Quatre Bras? Were our rules incompetent? - well, possibly, though, like the players, the rules were well-intentioned. Did battles involve a lot of other stuff - waiting around, perhaps - which padded out this skeletonic 35 minutes? Is there something else at work here?

I've thought about this problem, off and on, ever since. There was something else at work. For one thing, there is something strangely elastic and subjective about the passage of time - Einstein said something to the effect that an hour spent conversing with a pretty girl was but a fleeting instant, but a minute spent sitting on a very hot stove was a long time indeed (stovists please don't bother complaining - get in touch with Einstein) - this is not something you can measure on a clock. I have read about this, but don't have much of a handle on it. More importantly, there are huge problems with our assumptions of realism in any kind of stochastic simulation.

I wrote a rather lengthy post on the concept of ludic fallacies on this blog - it seems it was 6 and a bit years ago. Goodness me. I was a windbag even in those days. If you wish to risk that old post then good for you - it's here - I haven't changed my mind since then, and I doubt if I could express it better now (more concisely, maybe...). The idea is that any kind of mathematical model of a real system is fundamentally flawed, unless the system is itself very simple and mathematically based. Thus, for example, we can analyse fully a game based on rolling dice - provided, of course, that the dice are "honest dice" and that the players don't do anything underhand (and these may be significant doubts, if there's a lot of money at stake!). Anything more complex and we very quickly find that the elements we can measure and understand and estimate (or think we can) are swamped by the things we do not understand, the things we have not thought of, and the interactions between these. [The original target of ridicule for the ludic fallacy was the world of finance, in which fund management and investment strategies are driven by mathematical models which are not only unreliable but dangerous if they are trusted beyond the bounds of validity (please supply your own examples...)]

War games are less scary in their implications than fund management, but an example I used 6-and-a-half years ago was the way rules all over the planet were suddenly "improved" after the publication of Maj. Gen. BP Hughes' famous Firepower, a semi-scientific study of the power and effectiveness of weapons. Hughes himself was very sensible and forthright about the limitations of both the data and reasoning in his fascinating book, but the guys who adopted it for rule writing almost all missed the point by some miles. Idealised 19th Century experiments to measure the power and hitting capability of (for example) canister fire are interesting as an assessment of the weapons themselves, but the official-looking analysis tables from Hughes have as much to do with the likely results of these weapons' use in real battle conditions by real soldiers - with real emotions and limited training - as the proverbial price of onions, so basing a game on them was more than a little naive. Sorry, chaps.

One of the misunderstood charts from Firepower
I can't be bothered checking for actual references, but a few of the earlier war games writers - notably Peter Young and Paddy Griffith, I think - made the point that game scales and exact measurements were all very well, but the most important thing was to have a game which works. If rifles are supposed to fire a bit further than muskets, let them fire a bit further in your game - exactly how much further is less important, within the limits of commonsense; in truth, no-one really knows exactly how much further it should be, anyway. Same with march distances and all that. If anyone tells you differently then he's bluffing, or he hasn't thought about it. Or both. The 1970s push for time-and-motion-study re-engineering of war games produced very little improvement in the observed realism of outcomes, and, as far as I am concerned, produced a colossal reduction in the enjoyment of the games themselves.

It will rattle some teacups, but I would contend that one of the attractions of the newfangled, non-Old-School, board game-style Commands & Colors game is that it is closer in spirit to the creed of Messrs Young and Griffith than much of the pseudo-science and detail that we have seen in the time in between.

I impose a ground scale on C&C to make sense of modelling battlefields, and especially for setting out fortresses, but some of the equivalences don't stand up to close scrutiny. If I assume 200 paces for a hex, then a unit in a hex 2 hexes away is somewhere between 200 and 600 paces distant. 400 seems a logical figure to use. 400 paces as an effective musket range is pretty optimistic in the Napoleonic Wars - the captain would not be pleased if his chaps started firing at such a range - and is certainly just plain silly in the ECW. And yet I've adopted a 2-hex musket range for the ECW game - why?

Well, to be honest, I'd be more comfortable if musketry were not handled explicitly in these games. I've already abstracted cavalry firing their pistols into the bit of the game that comes under the heading Melee Combat. Pistol fire was just one of the unpleasant things that cavalry did to each other when they were in reasonably close contact. It would make sense to do the same with musket fire - simply regard it as a close-range matter, in terms of the ground scale, and include it into Melee, in the same way I've already done for the Horse.

This would certainly not be very revolutionary. Long before C&C appeared, I used home-brewed Napoleonic rules which were very influenced by Doc Monaghan's Big Battalions, which originated with the Guernsey Wargames Club. This was most definitely a miniatures game, but it used a very neat melee system, which was very clearly board game-like in style, and there was no musketry. What? That's right - cannons fired at people, and there was some skirmisher activity ("harassing fire") which was carried out around the same time as the "Bombardment Phase", but volleyed musketry by close-order infantry was something that happened in a close combat situation, so it was covered by the board game-style melee rules.

It worked nicely - it took a bit of getting used to, and it would certainly alienate the chaps who don't like C&C because it denies you the opportunity to form lines or columns, or fiddle with skirmishers. I think that if the game scale is big enough, abstracting musketry is logical and reasonable.

So why have I persisted with a distinct rule for musket fire for the ECW, which is, to say the least, not well supported by our understanding of the facts? Why not take the obvious step of making artillery fire the only kind of Ranged Combat permitted? Hmmm.

First thing to say is that musketry is kind of fun - the game would feel poorer without it, and in this game it is not very effective anyway. Next, the same arguments could be applied to the Napoleonic game - which is a board game, let us remember - yet the very experienced and knowledgeable authors of that game decided to feature it as part of ranged combat.

That whiff of board game is quite an important aspect of this. In a traditional board war game, cardboard counters move next to each other on the board, and bad things happen. It isn't a series of individual musket volleys or charges, it's almost like some kind of force-field thing - the units interact in some manner, and one of them prevails, or is eliminated, or whatever - as the game scale increases, our view of the details starts to disappear. It is the sort of thing that turns off the Old School enthusiasts.

Thus I have left musketry in my ECW game at present, because it feels more like a miniatures war game if it is left in, but my feelings on the matter are pretty marginal. There are strong arguments to make it part of the Melee, and the game would be tidier (and probably more correct) without it, but it would feel less like a "proper" war game. Peter Young would have been horrified not to get a chance to fire his muskets, so that'll do for the time being.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

ECW - Rules Tweak Scaled Right Back

I've had a most interesting few days' correspondence with Peter B, Prof de Vries, Martin S and, most especially, the Jolly Broom Man. As a result of all this enlightenment (and, by Jove, these chaps know their stuff), I've decided not to make the ambitious changes to my ECW rules, as sketched out in my previous post.

It all comes back to the issue of how the regiments arranged their musket fire back in the 17th Century. I was concerned that if (to put it in layman's terms) everyone fired at once (BANG) then subsequently they would be conspicuously unloaded, and, since the idea that they might manage to reload while rushing about seemed unlikely, they would arrive unable to fire if they attacked someone without having stopped somewhere on the way. This kind of thinking owed a lot to my exposure to the Victory without Quarter rules, which make a feature of loading as a necessary activity.

Well, as everyone in the world knows very well - apart from me - it all comes down to the way they conducted the firing. Because the matchlock was a cumbersome thing to load, the approved method was to arrange the musketeers in a lot of ranks - 6 or 8 was OK - and then fire by rolling the ranks:

(1) Intraduction, by which the firing line advanced, required the rear (loaded) rank to move round in front of the rank which had just fired - the sergeant, with his partizan or his half-pike, would show the newly loaded chaps where to line up and fire. Thus the rate of advance would be up to the sergeant, and the firing line would move forward.

(2) Extraduction, by which the firing line fell back, required the front rank, after they had fired, to nip round the rear (the sergeant would show them where) and get on with reloading. In time they would once again become the front rank, and it would be their turn to fire once more. Thus the firing line would gradually be moving back.

I apologise for the kindergarten explanation - it is necessary for me to envisage things in simple terms. Anyway, this means that the firing would not go BANG, as discussed, it would go bang--bang--bang--etc, and it also means that the Foot would never all be unloaded at the same time, which means that they would be able to produce some amount of fire while on the move. If, like me, you imagine that advancing or retreating by means of the rolling intra/extraduction system would slow down the attack to a pitiful shuffle then I am assured that this is correct - this is why the rules reduce the movement rate for Foot when close to the enemy, but I am also informed by the JBM that this was not a critical-path issue, since the unit closing up and the pikemen sorting themselves out was just as big a problem prior to a clash. [The Broom Man, by the way, apart from a life of monastic research, also has personal experience of re-enactment; never disagree with a man who knows how to handle a pike - especially one who may have been at the Siege of Bristle.]

I sense a lot of unrest - people with their hands in the air, protesting, "...but, Miss, Miss, Miss...". Well you are quite right, there was also the process known as fire by salvee, which was introduced by Gustavus Adolphus for his Swedish army, and which did, indeed, have everybody firing at once and thus being unloaded immediately thereafter. I am assured that this was beyond the capabilities of just about everyone apart from the Swedes during this period - thus it is not relevant for the ECW, and Peter B reckons that it would be used even by the Swedes in the 30YW as a short-range device, such that it should be considered as part of melee combat in rules of this type.

Gustavus Adolphus
Thus, after this long ramble, I am merely going to switch my CC_ECW rules back to allowing Foot to move 1 hex and fire at reduced effect, which is where I started a few years ago, in a manner similar to what Commands & Colors does for Napoleonic warfare. Peter B made the interesting point that this kind of reduced fire while moving actually makes more sense in an ECW context than it does for Napleonic warfare, which is a suitable topic for debate in the pub, but gets me off the hook anyway.

I am somewhat sorry that I didn't get to play with the cotton-wool smoke markers, as discussed last time, but no matter. Simple is good.

One other change I shall introduce in the revised rules is that Stand of Pikes formation will not be permitted in woods - in fact units armed with pikes will not be allowed to fight in woods at all. That was a stupid oversight on my part - the JBM assures me that big boys with pikes in the woods are going to get into bother, and someone will get hurt, for sure, so we can't have that. The upgraded rules will be downloadable in a week or two, once I've rehashed the QRS chart (which is the trickiest bit of the editorial process).

My thanks to everyone who contributed. There is talk of an ECW battle in these parts sometime in the nearish future, so a quick review of the rules was - how do you say? - opportune - yes, that's it. 

Saturday, 7 October 2017

ECW - Possible Rule Tweak

My in-house ECW rules, which I call CC_ECW, are derived from the Commands & Colors: Napoleonics rules. They are currently sitting at Version 2.67 (dated 24th March 2017 - they are downloadable from a link on this blog, somewhere over on the top right), and I was quite pleased that - thanks to some welcome logic-checking and proofing kindly supplied by the Jolly Broom Man - I had at last got all the various bits (meaning the QRS and main booklet, really) consistent as well as up to date.

Having reached that situation, it's actually a bit of a disincentive to make further change, but I feel there is a change coming along.

Following some recent correspondence with Peter Brekelmans, whose 30YW rules (which are also downloadable here, from somewhere around the same place) are more sophisticated and more complete than my own effort, I came back to the rather mundane, though important, matter of whether ECW musketeers should be able to move and fire in the same turn. This may not sound like complex stuff, but it does make quite a difference to the game.

I know they had some pretty complicated ways of arranging for musketeers to advance or retreat while firing, either by working the loaded chaps forward or by working the chaps who had just fired to the rear, to reload, but this was not really when they were going somewhere - it was more like a gradual adjustment of their position. To keep the essential simplicity in the game, I originally allowed musketeers to fire at half effect if they had moved in the same turn. Intuitively, I didn't like this. It might be justifiable in a Napoleonic context, but not for the ponderous, nightmare ritual of reloading a matchlock.

So I changed my mind. Version 2.67 currently says of Foot that

"they may stand still and carry out Melee or Ranged Combat, may move 1 hex and carry out Melee Combat, or – provided the move does not bring them into contact with the enemy – they may move 2 hexes but may not carry out any Combat."

That seemed more historically pleasing - and the option to get a bit of a shift on when not close to the enemy is very useful for bringing up reserves and other strategic matters.

Only problem now is that attacking has become a pretty thankless proposition. Approaching enemy Foot who are in line means being subjected to heavy fire while being unable to reply. Why, one wonders, would anyone bother?

Now I'm sure that this is handled well and correctly by most of the established ECW rule sets you can think of. The tricky bit is doing something about it without damaging the intrinsic (tick tock) simplicity of the C&C mechanisms. During the period when I tried to educate myself to like Victory without Quarter, I got the hang of a rule whereby a unit which wasn't doing anything else could be assumed to reload - all by themselves - without a specific order to do so from the Earl of Essex (or whoever). In execution it was a little fiddly for my taste, but the idea was nice.

So I've been thinking about it, and I think I have come up with a minimum-effort adaptation to go in Version 2.68.

How about this?

When a unit of Foot fires or takes part in a melee, it is immediately handed a black counter (or a little puff of cotton-wool smoke would be rather cute) to indicate that it will have to reload before it can fire again. At the beginning of the owning General's next move, when the Orders are being handed out (activation from Command Cards - and I give the ordered units markers to keep track of where I'm up to) - once all the Orders have been allocated, any unit of Foot which has not been given an Order, and which is currently unloaded, may hand back their unloaded marker (or puff) - it is assumed that they will, all by themselves, as trained, reload, since they are not doing anything else this turn. If they are unable to reload (because - that's right - they are busy carrying out an Order to do something else) then they must stay unloaded, and they cannot fire until they have had a chance to do something about that.

It will, of course, be worded rather more concisely, but you get the general idea. My original idea was that this should only apply to units which fired, or carried out Ranged Combat, as they say in C&C. But a lot of melee action must obviously have involved firing muskets, or at least bashing the daylights out of them, so I felt it would be appropriate to assume that any kind of Combat would require a reload. Which then leads to another thought: should unloaded units be at a disadvantage if they are involved in a melee? Well, maybe they should. I might consider deducting a die in melee for an unloaded unit of Foot, or - more simply - just gloss over it and allow them to melee as normal.

Still thinking about that one. It also occurs to me that a unit which is already in a melee shouldn't be able to reload while standing next to the enemy, even if they haven't been given an Order to fight this turn - I can't see them doing a very good job of it.
OK - that's shaping up - I need to try it out, and I need to identify all the places where the rules need to be changed, so that Version 2.68 is as shiny as it's predecessor.
And then I thought - what about dragoons? And I said to myself, ignore them - they can already move and fire, and in any case they do not have much of an effect.