Monday, November 28, 2011

The Bluffsburg Campaign: Kriegsspiel Started

Today marks the start of the kreigspiel described in earlier posts here, and set in a fictional county in NW Mississippi in 1862. I have to be careful what I report here, because I don't wish to compromise the fog of war and time lags that the players are labouring under. As brigade and divisional commanders, operating miles from their subordinates and from the enemy, without radios, knowledge of movements and results of actions will take a while to percolate, and I don't want to spoil that experience for them.

What I can say is this:

The first game day is Wednesday, 25 June, 1862. The sun rose into a clear sky at 5:47am and the temperature close to noon is nearing 90F. There does not appear to be any sign of rain in the offing. It may be a hard day for marching troops.

Confederate sympathizers report Union troops leaving the town of Jefferson City with throaty cries of "On to Bluffsburg!", but their number and their immediate destination is unclear. General Moore, reviled by some as "The Shilo Shirker", appears determined to redeem his reputation.

Meanwhile, the Bluffsburg Mercury printed on its front page this stirring message from General Hatcher, the overall CSA commander:

"we need every spare hand that can assist us with the defense of our great state. This is not just the fight of the military but of every citizen. We must defend every acre from the depredations of the vandals that wish to sack our homes. Every eye must watch, every ear must listen and together we shall overcome the multitudes that are arrayed against us."

More as I can report it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Skirmish At Plasterville Mills: A Terrible Sharp Sword Test Drive

For the last few days my gaming table has represented a quiet and idyllic part of Virginia known as Plasterville Mills. The name Plasterville comes from the this sweet little HO model railroad kit, a hydrocal old stone mill from C.C. Crow that I bought years ago somewhere. A while back I found the nerve to put it together, which was a bit nerve wracking as the wall and roof sections were cast from single pieces of hydrocal, exquisitely detailed but rather delicate. A further fiddly step was cutting balsa pieces for the upper story just under the roof peak. A unique and lovely model just begging to be used as American Civil War scenery.

After laying out a rural American table with the appropriate mill stream , I wanted to try out the Too Fat Lardies ACW skirmish rules, Terrible Sharp Sword. I'd never played it before but was encouraged by all the AARs posted in the Lardy blogosphere. To create an element of surprise, borrowing on the Platoon Forward system, I gave each side four blinds, with one a dummy to be diced for randomly as they were spotted. Also, for each side I have given the three groups under blinds a variable number of men depending on a 2d6 role as the blinds came off and the troops went on the table. The Federals were rated as Average troops with Polished Drill and Poor Shots. The Confederates were Average troops and Average shots. Also, both sides have a Level 1 and Level 2 Big Man, whose locations are to be determined randomly.

The premise of the battle was that Plasterville Mill was stuffed full of tasty vittles which the rebel quartermaster wanted badly. A Union patrol had come across the rebs at the mill and was determined to drive them off. The game would end after the Blank Card came up ten times, and at the time whoever controlled the mill would be the winner.

Here is the table with the initial placement of Union and Confederate blinds. A fourth rebel blind was out of view to the left of the frame below, but it was quickly revealed as the rebel dummy blind. The Union plan was to drive up the road and take the hill in the centre, while on the far side of Plasterville Creek the fourth blind would try to get up to the stone bridge and come in from behind the defenders of the mill.

The first spotting rolls are successful. Eight rebs with a Level 2 Big Man, Lt. McComber, are located in the barnyard watching the road. Coming up the road toward them are 11 Yanks under their Lvl 2 BM, Lt. Sam Skeffington.

Lt. Skeffington, a contemplative sort, regards the rebs in the barnyard. "They look fixin' to be stayin', reckon we'll have to drive 'em off", he drawls. He is a Redoubt figure, painted as an artillery officer. Reckon I need to paint up some more single based leader figures if I want to play more TSS. Beside him are some ancient Minifigs, and his sergeant is a RAFM figure.

"Give 'em thunder, boys!" Lt. McComber has had his troops shift left to take advantage of that nice stone wall, and now they fire their first volley at the right oblique. Two Yanks drop, and the shock begins to add up on Skeffington's group. That barn is a Hovels miniature, which I am quite pleased with.

The second Yankee group emerged from the tree cover on the hill facing the Mill, and never got farther. They were too far away from Lt. Skeffington's range of influence to move, and could only trade fire with the defenders of the mill on the Sasparilla Card. Those are more Minifigs on the hill, by the way.

Unfortunately for the Yanks on the hill, they were facing twelve determined rebs under Sgt. Branston (Lvl 1 BM), also hiding behind a stone wall. This cover advantage halved the fire of the Union troops, and in the unequal duel that followed, the Yank casualties began to add up.

On the Union right, the outflanking plan was going slowly. The fourth Union blind, which turned out to be Sgt. Bill Haney (Lvl 1 BM) and 12 men, had missed several chances to move and time was running out. Finally the Feds got lucky and the fourth blind pushed into the field of .... hemp? doormat? As they emerged, they were automatically spotted by the last Reb blind, nine men who immediately opened fire. Their muskets dropped two of Haney's 12 men, but he pressed on.

As the Union's time for victory ebbed away, Lt. Skeffington urged his troops on the road to push on and clear the courtyard, hoping that Haney would come through on the other side of the stream. The odds were against him. A Random Event meant that his men were moving slowly in the infernal heat, their canteens empty. Worse, they were now down to 8 men and the shock was piling up. The Yanks stumbled forward after Skeffington, but not fast enough. Sgt. Branston, seeing that the bluebellies on the hill were no threat, shifted he men right to bring fire on the Yanks stumbling forward. Had the game continued, it's doubtful that Skeffington's men would have stood.

It all came down to Sgt. Haney. He led his men forward in a charge, but rolled an abysmal "3" on 2d6 and came up short. The rebs fired, but their musketry missed! Haney was set to move again, but never got the chance. Time was out, the final Sasparilla card came up, and both sides fired a final volley at the other.

The rebs firmly held Plasterville, and had lost only one man to the Union eight. Johnny Reb would eat well tonight.

In retrospect a great game and very clean and fairly simply rules. I need to read the Bonus Card section more carefully (no Bonus cards were used in this game). Also, I failed to realize until late in the game that Polished troops could skirmish, which may have given the Yanks an advantage. I need to try these rules again shortly, which, seeing as they'll be some small unit actions in the Bluffsburg campaign, will be soon I am sure.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Bluffsburg Campaign: Some Basic Rules

I am glad to report that the ACW campaign mooted here this last month is almost ready to launch. A small band of folks have volunteered to play Generals Hatcher, Moore, and their subordinates at the brigade level.

Here are some basic rules for the ACW campaign. This is a first draft. It is sure to be revised based on questions, feedback, glaring ommissions and inconsistencies, etc.

1) Turn Sequence

a) There are three turns to a day of game time. The first two turns represent the morning and afternoon of each day, and the third being nighttime. Typically movement and combat occur during day turns, with night turns being for rest and recuperation.

2) Movement and Actions

a) The smallest unit of maneuvre on the game map is the brigade. Units must be in the presence of their brigade commander or attached to a brigade commander to move from point to point on the game map.

b) A component of a brigade, such as a regiment or a battery, may be detached and left as garrison on a map point. However, it cannot move again until it is in the presence of its brigade commander or divisional commander.

c) All land movement on the game map is from point to point. It costs a turn (day or night) to move from point to point. Land movement is not allowed during night turns except between points that are controlled by a player. However, units that move by night must rest for the two day and one night turns of the following day, and are penalized if in combat the following day.

d) A brigade may choose one action for each turn from the following list:

Move from point to point (day or night turns - see 1c).

Remain stationary while scouting one adjacent point (day turns only)

Remain stationary while making light entrenchments (day turns only)

Remain stationary while upgrading light to medium entrenchments if an engineer company is attached (day turns only)

Remain stationary while upgrading medium to heavy entrenchments if an engineer company is attached (day turns only)

Embark onto or disembark from river transport

Destroy transport infrastructure (railroad, bridge, ferry)

Begin construction of a pontoon bridge on a minor river (Sunflower or Little Black) if in the presence of an engineer company (day turns only)

Complete construction of a pontoon bridge on a minor river (Sunflower or Little Black) if in the presence of an engineer company (day turns only)

Engage in combat (day turns only)

Recover from combat (day turn only)

Forage on the countryside (day turn only)

3) Combat

a) Combat occurs when a brigade encounters enemy forces. Depending on the scale of the battle, it will be fought on the referee's table using one of two sets of rules: They Couldn't Hit An Elephant for brigade level actions or Terrible Sharp Sword for small actions such as scouting. Players in combat will receive a referee's brief as to initial dispositions, terrain, etc and will have the opportunity to issue orders as the action proceeds.

b) The winning side will either gain possession of the point it is moving to, or regain possession of the point it is defending. If two opposing forces are advancing on one another from adjacent points, the result will either be a draw or one side will have to retreat from its starting point.

4) Command, Control and Fog of War

a) This game depends on the concepts of the fog of war and friction. To encourage that end, players will not be identified to one another, even if they are on the same "team". While it is possible that players may identify one another offline, they are encouraged to remain within the spirit of the game.

b) The divisional commander is responsible to issue orders to each of his brigadiers. All orders must be relayed through the referee to be deemed valid. If the divisional commander is at a different location than his brigadier, fresh orders may only be issued by courier and their delivery has a time delay depending on the distance the courier must travel. Couriers can travel by land two points per day turn and one turn per night. There is always a possibility, however remote, that couriers can be intercepted by the enemy.

c) Brigadiers may wish to issue sitreps to the divisional commander as to their location, dispositions, troops in contact, etc. The procedure for doing this is also by courier, as outlined in 4b.

d) Players will not know if adjacent points are occupied by enemy forces unless they scout those locations (see 2d). A scouting attempt may or may not generate useful information as to the identity and size of enemy forces in a given point. It is assumed that all forces will throw out pickets if stationary, or employ scouts and flankers if on the march. However, each battle poses the chance of one force or another achieving a degree of tactical surprise depending on its commander, the state of its troops, the activity it is engaged in, and other factors determined by the umpire.

5) River Movement

a) Only the Mississippi River is passable by river units under the command of the divisional commander.

b) The Mississippi River cannot be crossed by land units without river transport. A transport can carry one infantry or cavalry unit or one battery or one supply train. Land units can cross the two minor rivers by existing infrastructure or by constructed pontoon bridges.

c) Naval movement, including the movement of transported land units up and down the river, is conducted by the referee and will take a variable number of turns depending on distance, river conditions.

d) Naval combat will be conducted by the referee and the results reported to the players.

6) Sieges

a) Only the towns of Jefferson City and Bluffsburg can be besieged. More to follow on that.

7) Supply

a) Union brigades are considered in supply if a accompanied by a supply train. If unaccompanied by a supply train, each regiment or battery must test against the forage value of a point (the number shown on the map) to be considered in supply. The higher the value, the more likelihood of foraging.

b) Confederate units are always considered to be in supply on friendly territory, unless besieged.

8) Game Length
The game lasts for twenty game days. A Union strategic victory occurs when Bluffsburg falls. Confederate strategic victory occurs if Jefferson City falls. If both towns remain in original control, victory is determined by the referee based on casualties, control of minor towns, ability of a side to be in character and respect fog of war rules, and other whimsical criteria.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

New Unit Finished: Confederate Cannoneers

Here are some new defenders of the Confederacy. They will immediately be sent to join the defence of Bluffsburg in my planned ACW campaign. This 28mm unit of two 12 pound Napoleons and crew are figures from Sash and Sabre.

These are the first S&S figures I've bought and painted. All in all, I like them. They have some character, some nice expressions and some lovely facial hair.

I like the fellow with the trailspike, mopping his brow with his handkerchief.

Tried to get some more detail in the faces, including eyes, but my camera was not up to the challenge. Ironically, we have a better camera that frustrates me every time I try to take macro photography with it, so these photos will have to suffice for now.

A Shout Out for Grog News

I came across the website Grog News in my travels of late, and recommend it big time. Lots of good wargaming and consim theory, as well as discussion of contemporary military and security issues. It doesn't appear to be too heavily travelled, but it's a labour of love and deserves more traffic.

The Bluffsburg Campaign: Generals' Biographies

Further to my planned American Civil War campaign, here are the biographies of the Union and Confederate commanders.

It is late June, 1862.

General Silas B. Moore, commanding the Third Division, Army of the Tennessee

You are Silas Moore, an Illinois native and a professional soldier. You graduated
20th out of 80 at West Point in the late 1840s, an engineer by training. You served in the Mexican War on the staff of fellow engineer Robert E. Lee, but after the war your army career stalled and you resigned to survey railroads in the midwest. In 1861 you rejoined the army and commanded a division under Buell during the Shilo campaign. Unfortunately for you, a misunderstanding over transport prevented your division from arriving at Pittsburg Landing until after the battle. General Buell attempted to reprimand you for lack of courage and incompetence, and you appealed the matter with General Halleck. While a reprimand was averted, you feel that you are now under a cloud of suspicion.

As Union forces begin to move on the Confederate base at Corinth, you have been given a sideshow assignment, but also the chance to redeem yourself. Your division is to move on the county seat of Bluffsburg, which holds the key to the lower Mississippi River. You have been promised some support from Commander Porter's riverine fleet. Capturing Bluffsburg will outflank the Confederates in Corinth and allow further progress down the Mississippi. As you leave his office, Halleck warns you that if you fail in this endeavour, you will find yourself surveying northern California for the rest of the war.

Major General Theophilus C. Hatcher, commanding Hatcher's Division, Army of the Tennessee

You are Theophilus Hatcher, Mississippi native, the eldest son of a prominent cotton planter, and an amateur but experienced soldier. During the Mexican war you served with distinction as a captain of foot in Jefferson Davis' regiment of Missippi volunteers. After Mexico you continued to soldier as a colonel of state militia, and were active in Mississippi's succession movement. You commanded a brigade at Shilo, and led your troops throughout both days of fighting despite an arm wound from which you are still recovering. Despite constant pain and discomfort, you have refused to take convalescent leave, judging the threat to your native state to be too great.

After Shilo you were chosen by General Beauregard to protect NW Mississippi while he regroups the army at Corinth. You are expected to keep the region free of Yankee incursions, protect the vital port town of Bluffsburg, and, if practical, to recapture Jefferson City before it can become a base of operations for the Union. The more enemy forces you can tie up the better, as this will divert forces from the Oxford/Corinth region until the Confederacy can recover from Shilo. You are to maintain contact with Maj. Gen. McGraw's division in Oxford, east of the Mississippi, and you have been given a letter that allows you to request the assistance of Maj. Gen. Thaddeus Holmes, commander of the garrison at Bluffsburg and of naval forces on this section of the river. Your orders regret that Maj. Gen. Holmes' command is actually part of the Vicksburg military district and so not obliged to cooperate with you. However, it is expected that reason and the common cause of the Confederacy will allow you both to cooperate.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

ACW Campaign: The Bluffsburg Map

I've made some progress on my American Civil War campaign idea. Thanks to fellow Lardie Thomas Nisvik for putting me on to a program called Mapping Board, which allowed me to generate this electronic version of a map I sketched some years back and almost forgot about. Mapping Board is fairly easy to use, especially if you have some exposure to CAD software and understand the concept of layers. The map below is somewhat larger and more legible if you click on it.

To recap, this is a fictitious section of the Mississippi River in the northern part of the state of Mississippi. Movement on the map will be point to point, with the points being the dots in red representing towns. Red indicates a town begins the game in Confederate control, while the only blue town, Jefferson City, is the Union base of operations for the campaign.

Each town has a number in parentheses after its name. My current thinking is that number will represent both the town's victory point value and the supply value of the town. The supply value represents the number of regiments that a town can support. Regiments in excess of that value will need to be supplied from each side's resources (haven't quite figured out that point yet).

There is some transport infrastructure available, including the Southern and Central Railroad which was intended to connect Jefferson City and Bluffsburg but which ran out of funding at Eudora, bridges at Batesville and Eudora, and several ferries. These assets can be destroyed by the Confederate player if he wants to dedicate units and time to the task.

Union forces, both land and naval, will begin at Jefferson City, and have the objective of capturing Bluffsburg. Confederate forces can begin anywhere on the map other than Jefferson City. Union forces will have a limited transport capability by river but may find that there are confederate defences along the river that may impede river movement. There will also be some capacity for railway movement.

Since neither side will know the other's OOB, and will only know enemy dispositions after contact or through scouting (I expect cavalry will prove an invaluable asset in this game), it should be an interesting and tense game.

Next on the to do list: Write some rules for supply, river and rail movement, and post the biographies of the Confederate and Union commanders. And paint, of course.

All feedback is welcome and kindly encouraged.

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