Thursday, 28 January 2016

Shiloh First Day - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

Following on from our previous ACW game a few weeks ago, this week was the turn of the first day of the Battle of Shiloh. This promised to be a very different type of game, with a quite narrow battlefield combined with most of it being wooded, naturally limiting visibility and hampering movement. Once again Dave took on the role of the Confederates whilst I the Union.

As before I will not dwell on the details of the scenario as there is so much detail to be had via the internet. The map from the BBB Yahoo Group should suffice to give a good idea of the table layout and initial deployment of forces.

Table Set Up & Deployment
The table was layed out as close to the map as possible, given the limitations of my felt roads and rivers. The fields were the only open areas, with the rest of the table being wooded. The Union player has an option to deploy Prentiss' 6th Division further forward than their historical deployment. After some thought I chose the historical option as it fitted in with my plan of trying to form a defense in depth, with successive lines of troops to try and hold off the Confederates for as long as possible.

The Game
As this was a somewhat unusual scenario that required quite a bit of concentration due to the terrain and dispersed nature of the Union forces at the start, I did not have time to make any notes. Hopefully the pics will jog my memory so that I can give a good account of how the battle unfolded. So without further ado...

The forces deployed for battle. The Union troops are widely spread out, encamped in the various fields in and around Shiloh church (given a Tudorbethan makeover for this game;). The Confederate troops are massed on the left hand table edge on both roads, with re-inforcements ready to arrive.
The view from Pittsburg Landing towards Shiloh and the Confederate troops.
The Confederates troops move quickly along both roads, with Hardee's III Corps moving towards Shiloh, whilst Wither's 2nd Division closed with Prentiss' 6th Division.
As Sherman's 5th Division battles at Shiloh Church, Prentiss' 6th Division has a hard time of it against Wither's Division, that has Ruggles' 1st Division moving up in support.
The Union troops come off worse in the combat, with Prentiss' Division ceasing to exist and Shermans' Division pushed back Disrupted and Spent. The only hope is that the Confederate troops will be delayed looting the Union camps, thereby allowing the Union forces time to try and get a second line of defence organised.
The Union troops have started to form what resembles a second line of defence as the Confederates are enjoying bacon and beans for breakfast.
Shermans' troops have formed up behind a stream, whilst Hurlbutt's 4th Division has managed to get to the Sunken Road in front of the Hornet's Nest.
Stuart's 2nd Brigade bravely moves up to try and anchor the Union left flank by the Sunken Road, supported by some artillery.
Wither's and Ruggles' Divisions finally leave the Union camp and mass for the attack on the Union left flank, whilst the Confederate Right Flank is still stuck in and around Shiloh Church. The Confederate troops are struggling to find room to manouevre as the wooded terrain is significantly hampering their attempts.
The Confederates Right Wing and Centre start to attack.
Stuart's 2nd Brigade under severe pressure, but somehow manage to hold on in the face of overwhelming numbers.
The Union plan of Defence in Depth is taking shape and holding its own, for now.
The battle rages all across the front line.
Hardee's III Corps are struggling at Shiloh Church, whilst Hurlbutt and Stuart are giving as good as they get against the Confederate troops arrayed against them.
The Confederate Right Wing is beginning to advance, albeit more slowly than they would like.
The Confederate troops have managed to begin to turn the Union left flank, but Sweeney's 3rd Brigade has managed to form a strong defensive line to hopefully shore up the flank.
Pressure finally starts to tell, as both Union flanks are pushed inwards, with the centre still holding out on the Sunken road. Depsite losing Sherman's 5th Division, the Union forces are benefitting from interior lines, allowing them to move their forces more quickly than the Confederates to where they are needed.

At this point we simply ran out of time. Having played for nearly 3 hours and with another 3 odd Turns still left to play, we called it a day and a draw.
Post Game Thoughts
So this was certainly a very different, challenging and yet still very enjoyable game of BBB. One that certainly got the grey cells working and gave us plenty of things to talk about as the game unfolded. So as always a bit of a post game critique:

  • This particular battle showed the limitations of using my felt roads etc to recreate the battlefield on the wargames table. For this scenario the following approach is much more appropriate and relatively easy to achieve.
A painted table (or cloth, I'm not sure which) by one of the members of the Yahoo BBB Group. Very simple but very effective and better in game terms IMHO.
  • This is a challenging scenario for both players. The Confederate troops have better troops and more of them, but struggle to be able to deploy their troops when and where they want them due to the few roads and the wooded terrain. In contrast the Union troops are generally all pretty poor, widely dispersed and hard to get moving. However they benefit from Interior Lines which enables them to deploy their troops more easily and quickly to where they need to be.
  • A heavily wooded table took some getting used to. Not only does it limit the fields of fire, but it imposes quite severe movement restrictions on troops, especially artillery. This impacted the Confederates more early on, as they required a Full Move to allow them to deploy from Column of March into Line and move only 3" (half movement allowance for changing formation and 3" penalty for Woods).
  • The scenario works well, even though it is still only a draft version. We both realised how hard it must have been for both sides to have maintained any semblance of control in the real battle. 
  • In game terms Stuart's 2nd Brigade did a sterling job of holding up Wither's 2nd Division long enough to allow the rest of the Union troops to form a decent defensive line. If Wither's Division had made short thrift of Stuart's Brigade as it did of Prentiss', then it would have been a very different game.The Union artillery punched above its weight, adding greatly to Stuart's Brigades efforts as well as Silencing a lot of the Confederate artillery in and around Shiloh Church. 
  • Sadly time got the better of us as the game was nicely poised. Even though there were 3 - 4 Turns still to play, we felt that the Union forces could probably hold out long enough for night to fall and their re-inforcements to arrive. 
So next week we may play out day Two or may move onto another scenario entirely. Dave should be bringing along a colleague who is putting together 2mm forces for BBB, so it will be good to meet him and hopefully see his figures in the flesh as it were. I've tried 2mm before but it never really grabbed me. 6mm is as small as I'm likely to go for my games, with 10mm still my preferred option. However 6mm really does work for this game.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Dragon Rampant - First Impressions

Some of my first forays into wargaming in the dim and distant past (the early-mid 1970s) were via Thane Tostig, played on my friends floor and Dungeons and Dragons, played at school during lunchbreaks. I still have very fond memories of these games, where we played for fun, made loads of stuff up and used what ever miniatures we could get our hands on. My first figure was the Airfix Friar Tuck that I used as a Cleric in D&D, followed later on by various bits'n'bobs from Minifigs, Ral Partha and Valley of the Four Winds. There was a great shop in Cambridge called 'The Old Soldier' that was the place to go and many a happy time was spent there browsing the ranges on display, looking through their catalogues and seeing what our pocket money could buy.

Over the years my wargaming tastes have changed and fluctuated, but I have still kept hold of some of my most treasured miniatures from those times, in the hope that I would find a chance to use them at some point. Mordheim proved promising but not being able to use anything other than GW miniatures in tournaments led to them remaining in their tin in the attic, out of sight but not out of mind. Then when Dan Mersey announced that he was making a fantasy version of his excellent 'Lion Rampant' rules, called 'Dragon Rampant', my hope was that I would be able to finally get to use these miniatures.

Well I was not to be disappointed. The rules were everything I hoped they would be, with the emphasis on having fun and, to quote Dan; "Create a modern day throwback to the 1970s and 1980s fantasy gaming (in a positive way!). Finally I had found some rules that would allow me to have some fun fantasy games, using what ever miniatures I wanted to and to have the freedom to create my background with out the restrictions placed upon me by other commercial rulesets.

In terms of the rules, anyone who has played 'Lion Rampant' will immediately be at home with these rules. Dan has not had to re-invent the wheel, he has simply added on some nice 'Fantastical Rules' to give that fantasy feel, such as Clerics, Spellcasters, Undead etc. These can be added to the standard units to create the sort of unit you want. Very handily Dan has given a whole host of sample warbands as well as guidance for fielding things such as Giants, Dragons etc. This makes it very useful when first planning out your warbands.

There are 7 scenarios included in the book, each with a nice fantasy twist to them. But the existing scenarios in 'Lion Rampant' can be used as is for 'Dragon Rampant' and vice versa. The same will be true of the forthcoming 'The Pikemen's Lament' I'm sure.

Sadly, from my point of view, some players have already started to try to max out units and to bend the rules to gain the maximum advantage that they can. Where is the fun in that?  Fortunately most of my games will be solo and follow a narrative campaign, where the emphasis will bery much be on having fun!

So what do I have planned? Well my initial warbands are well under way and will consist of the following:

  • Forest Trolls. Led by a Shaman, the main units will be Forest Trolls, with some Ents and Goblin Scouts, dependent upon the scenario being played.
  • Goblins. A favourite of mine ever since reading the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. These will be led by a Great Goblin, with a real mix of Goblins, Shamans, Wolf Riders and Trolls. The odd Giant may get thrown into the mix as well.
In terms of background fluff, I've got plenty of ideas at present. Probably my favourite one is to set things in and around the Forest of Dean, with the Forest Trolls almost as the 'good guys' looking after the Forest. The Goblins are typically the 'bad guys', who may have mined too deeply and awoken something in the deep, that should have remained undisturbed (not original I know but I like it!). I plan to add in Saxon/Vikings for that 'Human' element and to allow me to field a hopefully different warband from the Forest Trolls and Goblins. When 'The Pikemen's Lament' is published, my English Civil War troops (think Soloman Kane) will find themselves battling the forces of Darkness, namely the Goblins. I may even throw in some Undead just for the fun of it!

Giants, Ogres & Dragons will make 'guest appearances', either as part of a scenario or with a warband as and when the narrative allows. This is simply an excuse to get my favourite models onto the table and roll some die with them after all of these years.

So there you have it. Pictures and details of the warbands will follow in due course, but at least I have finally found the rules I have been looking for for all these years. Happy Days!

Friday, 15 January 2016

First Bull Run - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

As planned Dave and I met up to give First Bull Run a try using the excellent Bloody Big Battles ruleset for our game. However the best layed plans of mice and men were somewhat undone but a manic few days at work, that left me little time to get the table set. A last minute rush saw me able to cobble something together, but not to the level I would have liked!

I've had a few games of Black Powder ACW before at my old club, but as was the way of things back then, it left me cold as the members invariably took too much cavalry, Berdan's Sharpshooters etc and the games ended in tears. You get the picture I'm sure. So I was looking forward to this game as Dave had shown me last year the Napoleonics can be fun.

Dave chose to be the Confederates, broadly giving him a defensive role early on, whilst I would have the initial advantage of numbers as the Union attacker. I won't go into much detail on forces etc as there is so much information out there. Full details the scenario can be found here.

Due to the hectic build up to the game, I was too tired to make any notes, so hopefully the captioned photos will suffice.

The view broadly South over the Bull Run, with Newmarket village in the top left hand corner. The Union 2nd Division can be seen in the bottom right hand corner in column of march, with the Confederate troops by Ball's Ford in the bottom left hand corner and near Newmarket village.
The Confederates get the better opening moves, as Bartow's Brigade moves to cover the crossing between Bald Hill and Henry House Hill. The Union 2nd Division in contrast don't seem that keen to get to grips with the Rebels.
Boths sides re-inforcements arrive, but still the Union troops are tardy to say the least.
Porter's Brigade comes off worse in the firefight with Evan's Brigade on Matthew's Hill, losing a base and thus becoming 'Spent' for the rest of the game.
The mass of Union troops slowly move along the road towards Newmarket village and the crossing held by the Confederate troops. Jackson's Brigade take up a strong defensive position at Stone Bridge, which will make it hard for the Union troops to try and force a crossing there and at Ball's and Lewis' Fords.
The Union troops in strung out in column of march.
Finally the Union troops manage to deploy into line and start the firefight with the Confederate troops defending the crossing between Henry House Hill and Bald Hill.
Things are starting to look promising for the Union troops...
The Union 1st Division finally arrives to contest the crossings defended by Cocke and Jackson. Elswhere the firefights continue.
The mass of Union troops that constitutes the 1st Division.
Both sides struggle to get the upper hand in the firefight as the Union troops find it hard to deploy into line to make the numbers count.
A mass of Confederate re-inforcements arrive to bolster the defences held by Cocke and Jackson.
The arrival of Bonham's Brigade is really going to make it hard for the Union troops to force a crossing at Ball's Ford.
As the Union troops attempt to force the crossing by sheer weight of number, Evan's Brigade gaemly charges into the Unions flank.
The beginning of the end as the Confederates push back the Union 1st Division and turn the flank of the Union 2nd Division.
With a Rebel Yell the Confederates pour across Bull Run river.
The Union troops, despite their best efforts, have been unable to force the crossing and have now had their flanks turned.

End of the Game
At this point it was obvious that the Confederates had won a convincing victory as it would be nigh on impossible for the Union troops to seize any of the objectives. So we shook hands and took stock of how things had panned out.

Post Game Thoughts
So another good game of BBB and one that was very different from previous ones that we have played. There were several reasons for this and some of them can be found below:

  • Having Raw and Fragile troops really does change things in a big way. It is harder to get them moving and once they become Spent, this really does become very hard indeed.
  • The Confederates benefited from having a General on the table as at times his presence helped to negate the above. 
  • Neither side was really able to get their firing going, with both of us rolling quite low for most of the game. When we did roll high, we seemed to end up Low on Ammo result. Better luck next time.
  • Having Smoothbore Muskets and a 3" range was a bit of a shock. Artillery certainly comes into its own at this point, if you can bring enough to bear on a target (and hit it of course!).
  • Having 'proper' bases with 6mm figures really did make a difference to the game. Not only did it look better, but manouevring the troops became more challenging. As an example, Bonham's 1st Brigade consists of 8 stands, which whilst gaving the Confederates a lot of firepower, makes them rather awkward to manouevre around the table, deploy etc.
  • Despite having to rush the set up, I was happy with how the felt roads worked. They don't move around and nicely conform to the contours of the hills etc. The same is true of the woods. I also have some blue felt for rivers and streams, but didn't have time to get these cut for the game.
  • My foam blocks under the table worked well to get the contours sorted. Basically I made them in 2", 4", 6" and 12" squares and simply gridded up the map, thus allowing me to transfer this grid onto the table. Whilst not perfect, it is quick and easy to do and the are re-usable for other scenarios. 
  • I certainly enjoyed my first ACW game and am looking forward to the next one.
  • You certainly need lots of trees for ACW games. Mine are 'in progress' but a mix trees, felt to delineate the area plus some scatter and lichen will help reduce the quantity required.
So there we have it. A bit of a break next week as Dave is not available, but the plan is to move forward a few years to a scenario with better troops, more Generals and longer weapon ranges.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Montebello 1859 - A Bloody Big Battles AAR

For our first game of the New Year, it was once again Bloody Big Battles, pretty much starting off where we had finished off before the Xmas break. As planned it would be the Montebello training scenario from the BBB Yahoo Group files. Dave would take the role of the Allies whilst I would be the Austrians.

Set Up
The table was set up pretty much as per the map shown below, but without the villages shown at the top. The Austrians would deploy first followed by the allies, who would take the first Turn.

The table based upon the map shown above.
Looking from Montebello towards Genestrello and the Allied troops.
The Sardinian cavalry followed by 84th Line of the 1st Brigade.

Turn 1
With the troops deployed as per the scenario restrictions, it was time to commence hostilities. It was imperative for Dave to be agressive to try and prevent the early arrival of the Austrian re-inforcements. To this end the Sardinian cavalry charged straight into the head of Schaffgottsch Brigade which were deployed in column of march, only to be defeated in close combat. However they had achieved their aim. The Austrians tried to move out of their bridgehead over the River Coppa, whilst the head of the Brigade attacked the French 84th Line, but to little effect.

The Austrian Brigades struggling to advance out of their bridgehead
Schaffgottsch's Brigade attacks the 84th Line, whilst Brigade Braum and their artillery follow on closely behind.

Turn 2
Beuret's 1st Brigade arrived, accompanied by General Foret and quickly advanced along the Voghera road towards Genestrello. Once again the French troops were agressive and managed to force Schaffgottsch's Brigade back. As Brigade Baum had failed to move whilst still in column, this caused all sorts of problems in and around the bridgehead. Due to this blockage, Gaal's Brigade had to deploy over the railway line to try and gain room to manouevre.

The French agressive action is bearing fruit as the Austrians are hemmed in around their bridgehead.
The 84th Line are holding up 3 Austrian Brigades!

Turn 3
The French are in full flow as General Blanchard arrives with his 2nd Brigade, but the terrain will hamper the movement. General Beuret and his 1st Brigade seizes control of Montebello whilst the Austrians are in disarray as a result of the 84th Line catching Braum's Brigade in column of march, forcing them back over the bridge. With things looking pretty bad for the Austrian's, Bils Brigade arrives and moves as quickly as it can towards the sound of gunfire.

Beuret's 1st Brigade siezes Montebello.
The Austrian's are struggling to make their numbers count, before Blanchard's 2nd Brigade arrives to negate the advantage.

Turn 4
With Montebello now in French hands, the 84th Line withdraw to form a better defensive position at the foot of the hills, their heroic attacks possibly having won the French the battle. As the 84th Line withdraws, the Austrians are simply unable to co-ordinate their movements to bring their numbers to bear to try and dislodge the French from Montebello.

The French in a very strong position.
The French troops await a possible Austrian assault, safe in the knowledge that they are in a strong position.

Turn 5
General Blanchard's 2nd Brigade advanced towards the final stream before Foliarna, thereby threatening the Austrian flank if Bil's Brigade advanced too close. In a desperate attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, the remants of Schaffgottsch's Brigade advanced towards the 84th Line, only to be broken as a result of a Double 1 on the movement table! This was the final straw and the Austrian's conceded the field of battle to the victorious French.

Post Game Thoughts
Well yet another very enjoyable game of BBB, despite such an overwhelming French win. Even thought it appeared very onesided, there were a couple of points during the game that could have turned it in the Austrians favour. So a few thoughts on the game and scenario:

  • Despite the Xmas break, we got straight back into the game with minimal reference to the rulebook, which speaks volumes IMHO. The only thing we missed was the reduction in firing for Disrupted troops. so not bad for the first game back.
  • The Allied/French player does need to be agressive straight from the off. If the Austrians get a chance to bring their numbers to bear early on, then it could be 'Good Night Vienna' for the Risorgimento.
  • The 84th Line were the stars of the show. After the Sardinian cavalry had sacrificed themselves to slow the Austrian advance, the 84th Line single handedly held up and defeated nearly 3 Austrian Brigades. Catching Braum's Brigade in column-of-march before they could deploy pretty much ended any hopes of an Austrian win.
  • I would like to play this scenario again, but using Bruce Weigle's deployment to see how differently the scenario would play out. Even using the BBB deployment, if the Allies fail to move on Turn 1, the game could be very, very different indeed. One for the future I think...
  • Not having any General to hand certainly slowed the Austrians down. Also having Passive and Fragile troops was a real eye opener. But then it really helps you to understand the battle and why the Austrians performed so poorly.

The next game is going to be 1st Bull Run from the American Civil War, but cut down slightly for our 4'x4' table which is perfect for an evenings gaming. Dave will be bringing his 6mm troops on 1"x1" bases, so we are both looking forward to seeing how these play, both from a gaming perspective but also a visual one.