Monday, 15 December 2014

Fredericksburg Counterfactual...

The hard pressed defence of Skinker's Neck ford is holding...
This Sunday at the Hall of Heroes Campbelltown, we had an absolutely hoofing game of Black Powder! Organised by Bryan and Philip, who also umpired, based around a 'what if' scenario, the resulting game was one of the most exciting and enjoyable wargames I've had for a long time! 
Looking SE along the Rappahanock at Fredericksburg
So what was so special about this game? Was it because I was on the winning team? Well, that would be telling! Was it because of the great company? Nothing unusual in that, I'm privileged to regularly play with great blokes, some of whom travel a long way in - Jim from Canberra and James from way back O' Bourke just for a start!

Rebel defences opposite Fredericksburg
No - it was that Sunday's games had all the ingredients of what makes a great game for me - a well thought out scenario, some real tactical planning to be done, the pressures of real time command and control when working with a large team in trying to out guess and out smart a set of hard playing opponents - and, rarest of all, some real time reconnaissance on which to base our plans. Of course it helped that the game outcome went right down to the wire until the very last throw of the dice!

Looking WNW from Skinkers Neck to Fredericksburg in the background. Gunboat in foreground, pontoon in midground.
Terry did us proud as usual with a great looking table - 26 x 6 foot!

Killing ground - Rebel redlegs have prepared a crossfire above the Fredericksburg ford....
This is the third year in a row we have played a Fredericksburg scenario. The first one was pretty dire - Marye's Heights, and a bit too 'battle of the Somme' ish for the Union players, butting our heads against larger forces in prepared defences! Last year we toyed around with a counterfactual, which I reckon was tweaked to perfection this year...

The second Union brigade crossing the Pontoon
So historically, we know that the Union commander Burnside hesitated and delayed so long in attempting to force a crossing over the Rappahannock that the Confederates had ample time to prepare a warm welcome from thoroughly prepared defences, leading to a blood bath on Marye's Heights....

Pushing up to the swamp above the pontoon - will it bog down the advance?
So our counter-factual was base on the 'what-if' that the Union commander instead decided to strike while the iron was hot, and before the Confederates had time to dig in and bring up all their reserves.

Our table represented the area within the Green rectangle.
Of course this equally meant that the Union only had sufficient bridging train for one pontoon bridge, as well as the option of using both fords, below Fredericksburg and at Skinker's Neck...To keep the game balanced, we also assumed that Jackson's hard marching Corps would arrive a few days earlier than he actually did...

Is there no end to the Dark Blue river crossing the Rappahanock?
Allow me to cut and paste from Philip's scenario to give you a flavour:
·         The Union Army only had one pontoon bridge, but there were some Union gun ships in the area near Burnside’s preferred crossing point at Skinner’s Neck (sic) and Sumner wanted to cross the river near the ford upstream of Fredericksburg.  Therefore, the Union army will cross the river at three locations: (1) Upstream of Fredericksburg via the ford; (2) Downstream of Fredericksburg at Skinner’s Neck (sic) via boats (Supported by Gunboats); and, (3) At a point in-between Fredericksburg and Skinner’s Neck (sic) by the single pontoon bridge.

Union infantry braves the killing ground...
  • The Confederate Army still does not know where the Union Army is planning to cross the Rappahannock River.  Therefore, it will be required to deploy first (Less Jackson’s Corps) before the Umpire places the objective markers and the Union Army identifies the pontoon crossing point (Note: The Union Army Balloon Corps was observing the movements of the Confederates so the Union side will be able to see the Confederate deployment before picking the crossing point).  The Confederates should be relatively spread out across the heights overlooking the river from Fredericksburg to Skinker’s Neck.
Establishing a firm bridgehead at the pontoon?
  • The Umpire will place the objective markers at the start of the game.  The Union side will secretly select two groups of two (with each pair representing a pathway through the Confederate lines) as their real objectives.  Potential objectives might include:  (1) Fredericksburg; (2) Marye’s Heights; (3) Exit point of Railroad on Confederate side of table near Prospect Hill; (4) High ground near Skinner’s Neck (sic); etc.   Ideally, there should be at least ~1 objective marker per brigade on the table at the start of the game (i.e. ~10 objective markers).
A feint, or the real thing?
  • The real objectives will not be obvious to the Confederate side until partway through the game.  At the start of turn “Y” (halfway point based on proposed number of turns or game time), the Umpire will remove all of the false objective markers from the table.  The Union players wins if they control either pair of the real objectives at the end of the game – They have forged a path through the Confederate lines.
Rebs force march across the field to seal off the Union Bridgehead...
1.     One Union player is allowed to return to the gaming area to view the Confederate deployment from the Union side of the table for a short period.  This represents observation by the Union Balloon observers.

2.     Before returning to the gaming area, the other Union players confer with the Balloon observer and advise the Umpire of the following decisions: (1) the position of the pontoon bridge crossing (This must be more than 4 feet from the ends of the table); (2) the two pairs of real objective markers (representing the planned paths through the Confederate lines); and, (3) the Grand Divisions allocated to each crossing point.  Whilst the Union players are conferring, the Confederate side sets up Jackson’s reserves on a side table (subject to availability of miniatures).

3.     Union players return to the gaming area and, if necessary, move their troops so each Grand Division is placed on the side table near their respective crossing point.  They then place the pontoon bridge, deploy their first brigades from the first wave (as below) and then have first turn.
The high tide mark of the first Union wave off the pontoon...
Not only did the Union players have some real command appreciations to conduct - halfway through the game the Rebels had to identify what they believed to be the primary and secondary Union main effort - and their reinforcements would only come on at these two points!

Log jam at Skinker's Neck!
As Craig, pictured above looking thoughtful, was the last Union player to arrive, he 'volunteered' to be the Balloon observer! He estimated that whilst Skinker's Neck and the heights above Fredericksburg were well defended with the bulk of the Confederate forces, their centre was relatively denuded. They were probably relying on a large area of low lying ground identified in the scenario as 'possible' swamp - it would be a 50/50 dice roll for the first troops to get there.

Throwing the guns in to hold the bridgehead.
With bitter memories of the previous two years games painfully struggling and flailing around below Marye's Heights, I persuaded my team mates that we should lay the pontoon bridge adjacent to the Skinker's Neck ford, and use these two mutually supporting bridgeheads to break through, as far as possible from Marye's Heights. Another key factor in our decision was that the high ground held by the Rebs was bisected by a couple of deep and wild ravines, which should thoroughly slow their lateral movement if and when they identified our main effort....

Halfway through the battle - soon the Rebel reserves will arrive to fill the empty field....
The one thing I had forgotten, though, was that last year the crossing at Skinker's Ford hadn't exactly been a carefree stroll either...

Here comes the first hard marchers of Jackson's Corps....
Over by Fredericksburg, because we didn't have time to redeploy Sumner's Corps, Vic would do the best he could to persuade the wily Rebs that his was the main effort - but given the killing ground that Craig had correctly identified, I wasn't holding my breath for poor Vic and his troops...Especially as he was facing the terrible duo of Jim and Cameron - the wisdom of a retired Australian Army regular officer and the enthusiasm of a schoolboy - a lethal combination! Anyway, I will leave the captions to tell the tale of the action:

But the second Union wave is closing on the objective...
Jackson's first division relieves the defence of Skinker's Neck
The Union is keeping the pressure on around Fredericksburg....

The Confederate centre is wavering...This lone Rebel brigade has kept the two halves of the Confederate army linked right until the very end - Richard played out of his socks!

The Union masses are stalemated at Skinker's Neck - again!
Longstreet's second division appears on the hill....
So did the Rebel team guess the Union intentions correctly? As near as dammit! Of their 3 reinforcement divisions, they allocated two to Skinker's Neck, which was one of our crossing points, albeit one that was going nowhere fast, and the remaining one to face Vic right over at Fredericksburg, probably more in tribute to his dogged determination to keep going that in any real fear of his breaking through. So Richard and Conrad were left to hold the Rebel centre with little in the way of reinforcements...

But the Confederate centre can't hold for much longer...
Which, despite the swamp indeed reducing all movement by half, was looking like a probable Union breakthrough - although at literally the last Confederate through of the dice, James led a daring cavalry raid which came within an ace of seizing the undefended Union pontoon bridge, thus rendering the now successful breakthrough void!

Union Breakthrough - On to Richmond!
But he failed to get the Command throw required! The Union Lines of Communication were safe once again and the advance on Richmond was on!

An outstanding game, played in great company, against a really challenging set of opponents, and a very, very close result! Wargaming at its best!

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Battle of Barnet 1471 - a DBA baptism!

I have long been aware of the wargaming terms, in the Ancients genre, of terms such as DBA, DBM, DBX, (and for all I know, DBC thru Z.) They all seemed to me to be characterised by internicine warfare between their authors and proponents, quite beyond the usual rivalry between WW2 and Napoleonics digs at other rulesets. I myself am rarely restrained in expressing my distaste for 'Vapid Fire', but I have never openly expressed a desire to wreak fire and storm upon the homes of those who like that ruleset, nor bring them before a court, and selling them and their families and descendents, down yea unto the seventh generation, into bondage, all of which, I vaguely discerned, was part and parcel of Ancients gaming. I just knew it was not for me!

However, persuaded by my HOTT mates at the Uni Club, I gave that a go, and found it Good. And a better, bigger, WOTR game was promised. Which, again by some arcane process of alphabetisation, apparently the most suitable set of HOTT for WOTR is DBA Big Battles. I suspected my leg was being pulled, but, Hey - it had 'Big'in the title, and I'm nothing if not a sucker for Big Battles! So below I bring you a report on this battle by its designer and umpire, Peter:

(And a damned fine pair of games they were too, by universal acclaim - which is rare at any wargaming club!)

The battle field of Barnet and the armies (Yorkist White / Lancastrians Red).
Battle of Barnet (using Big Battle DBA 3)

14 April 1471
North of Barnet, England
(aka Wollongong Uni)
Lancastrian and Yorkist victories
Commanders and leaders
38 DBA Elements
46 DBA Elements
This week we refought the Battle of Barnet using Big Battle DBA3.0 plus a few house rules to get the offset deployment and to allow for the effects of the mist.

In both games the armies were deployed offset and fairly close to each other to simulate the committed deployments and confusion that occurred due to the fog.
Game 1 – A decisive Lancastrian Victory.

The first game had the Yorkist advancing down the road in a column, which looked spectacular.  But it delayed the deployment of the longbow and blades of the Yorkist centre.  The Lancastrian’s deployed in a rough line across the table.

Both armies marched in to visibility and Long bow range.  The mist was slowly lifting

This photo shows the Lancastrian right flank and centre in the fore ground before they shot up Lord Hastings.


This photo shows the Yorkist right flank and centre advancing on the Duke of Exeter’s skilled longbow men, the men would do a lot of damage to Edwards command.

A summary of the battle

The Earl of Oxford’s (aka David) men shot down Lord Hastings men with massed long bow fire plus some Artillery fire from Warwick and soon Hasting’s (aka John) men were in retreat. 

At the same time the Duke of Exeter’s (aka Ralph) archers aided by Warwick’s archers (aka Alan) started punching holes in Edwards (aka Caesar) central command. 

The Duke of Gloucester (aka Geoff) advanced on Exeter’s exposed flank.  But before Gloucester could do much damage Edwards command was broken and in retreat.  This broke the Yorkist army, game over.

 Post-match analysis.

For most players this was their 1st games of DBA 3.0 so they did not realise how deadly bow on bow plus some long range artillery battles can be in DBA3.0 as compared to HoTT or DBA 2. Plus Edward’s column on the road could not deploy fast enough to get its deadly Pike and blade into combat.  The Yorkist soon learnt they would need a new approach if they were to win.   It was a very quick defeat so we started another game, same sides and generals.
Game 2 – A more historical result.

The Yorkist’s learnt from the 1st game, they even had most Knights dismount and deployed as blade. With only Richard of Gloucester’s men staying mounted, some men love a good horse.

This photo shows Richard (one day he will be King Richard III) of Gloucester (Yorkist) ready to advance on Exeter.

The battle lines are drawn this time the Yorkist deploy blade and pike to the front.

The battle develops along historical lines as before with Oxford advancing on Hastings and Gloucester advancing on Exeter.

This time Edward leads his Dismounted Knights, Billmen and Pike on Foot towards Warick and Exeter.

Exeter’s longbowmen fight valiantly but this time they are over whelmed by Edward’s and Gloucester’s heavy foot, whilst Gloucester applies pressure with his Knights.

Meanwhile Hasting’s leads his Dismounted Knights and Billmen in a stubborn defensive action slowing down Oxford.

The battle rages and Warwick slowly advanced (maybe too slowly) plus we found out that artillery is very fragile in DBA3 and they are quickly destroyed.


This photo shows Exeter and Hastings both under pressure, and with Edward advancing in the centre.

Then under pressure from Gloucester and Edward triggers Exeter’s command in make one last grand charge before it breaks, Exeter’s men have fought well but they were overwhelmed.

Meanwhile Hastings is still holding on bravely and Edward is advancing towards Warwick who is still mounted.

Warwick’s command is taking a lot of loses so Warwick decides to bravely charge Edward.

Warwick get surrounded by Edwards’s men and killed.  Then Lancastrian break and rout.
Post-game Analysis

This time the Yorkist’s dismounted most of their knight and deployed ready to fight massed longbow.  They were a lot tougher.

For most players these were their 1st games of Big Battle DBA 3.0 so we all learnt a lot and we played 2 games in less than 3 hours.

It was great to see how both games played out and how the players quickly adapted to DBA3.0.

We plan to play more Big Battle DBA refights and more War of the Roses.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Stern Chase! - A Trafalgar scenario using 'Trafalgar'!

On Thursday at the uni club we replayed a portion of the Battle of Trafalgar to mark the anniversary.

I think most wargamers are familiar with the overall outline of the Battle of Trafalgar 21st October 1805. Essentially Nelson's daring plan was to allow the Combined Franco-Spanish fleet to cross his 'T' in order to break their line and bring on a general action where he was confident that British training and gunnery would pay off. But for our game to commemorate the 209th anniversary of this iconic action, we would concentrate on just the tip of the 'Lee' column, led by Admiral Lord Nelson's deputy, Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood. Collingwood's flagship, HMS Royal Sovereign, had a brand new copper bottom, which allowed Collingwood to fulfil his ambition of being first to break the enemy line:

We used Trafalgar rules, which we find gives a good fast-play game, concentrating on the gunnery and DC aspects without going into too much detail on sailing, weather and other environmentals. However we did heavily modify the weather rules, as outlined in the game scenario, quoted below:


21st October 1805. Admiral Lord Nelson wants to bring on a general action with the combined Franco Spanish fleet, which is attempting to escape North to Cadiz.
He divides his fleet into 2 columns, the better to prevent any escape and to hasten a larger general action. However closing the Combined Fleets’ line whilst in column is a tense period for his ships, as effectively this allows the Combined Fleet and initial period of crossing his ‘T’, thus bringing their broadsides to bear with bow raking shots on his leading ships, which are unable to respond. He gambles that the heavy swell will affect the accuracy of their gunnery.  
Between us we're pretty well read on the Age of Sail - or is that 'Aged Sailors'?

This week’s game concentrates on the first hour or so of action as Admiral Collingwood leads his southerly ‘Lee’ column to break the enemy line about halfway down the Combined Fleet’s line of battle.  

The RN Lee column, with Royal Sovereign in the lead. All Alan's models, a fraction of his collection.
Eager to beat Nelson into action, he allows his flagship, the Royal Sovereign, to forge ahead of support. She has had her copper bottom recently scraped, so she will be first into enemy range by a considerable margin, alone in the danger zone…

The Combined Fleet starts the game Beating under Battle Sail, the British Fleet starts the game Running under Full Sail.


Clear weather, light Westerlies, Sea state 6-7 running East-West.

Deep water, 21 miles North by West of Cape Trafalgar, in the Straits of Gibraltar, South of Cadiz.

Wind. Light Westerly winds gives the British fleet the wind gauge, but it is only allowing the columns to close the Combined Fleet painfully slowly, maximising their time in broadside range of the enemy. All movement reduced by 2cm.

Sea state 6-7, with a deep swell running East-West. Resultant yawing to ships heading North or South (Combined Fleet initially) results in -1 modifier for gunnery.

Mission      The Combined Fleet to clear the area North making for Cadiz. British Fleet to close with and destroy the enemy.


Lead ships will start on table as space permits, junior ships will arrive on table at the start of successive moves, without dicing, in the order of sailing. Players will assume command of 2-3 ships, depending on numbers, spreading command along the line to allow for late arriving ships and players. The British team will have first move, and have the wind gauge. The Royal Sovereign will be positioned 100 cm due West of the tip of the Combined Fleet’s line, and the Bellisle will be positioned a further 40cms to its rear, representing the Royal Sovereign’s lead into action.

Scenario Specific rules:

Blaze table – On result of 1-5 reroll result, if same number take result, otherwise remove blaze counter.

The Wind Table – 1 – 5 = No Change in wind direction or strength. 6 = Wind changes strength, roll on Wind Strength table. (If already becalmed, add 4 to roll)

Wind Strength table – 1-2 = Becalmed (inertia moves only). 3-5 = Wind drops, reduce speed by 2cm  6 = Wind freshens, increase speed by 2cm
Command and Signal – Ship rosters for record keeping will be provided.

The ship models we used were from two sources, Alan's, shown in the photo above of RN ships waiting to move on table, were from Skytrex, purportedly of the 1200th scale, whereas my Spanish squadron were very slightly larger 1200th scale Langtons:

Neither of us bothers to rig our ships, as recommended in the rules, ostensibly because we feel such rigging would be out of scale, and, in my case, out of laziness!

Still, I think they pass the '3 foot rule' of looking ok at arm's length:

And so, having looked at the scenario and set the scene, to battle! Below, looking from the WSW, we see the first two ships of the RN column moving to intercept the Combined Fleet. The RN team was manned by Peter and Mark. HMS Royal Sovereign has drawn ahead from the next in line, HMS Belleisle...

Now looking from the East. The wind has maintained direction, but weakened even further, encouraging the Combined Fleet to put on full sail. Combined with the heavy swell, this means any long range gunnery will only hit on 6D6, so no critical hits can be scored...

The same view from due South. Notice the Combined Fleet's line, on the right of view, is pretty ragged. It was clear by this point that Alan, the Combined Fleet's commander, was going to concentrate on making a run for Cadiz, rather than fighting a delaying action - looks like we had a stern chase on our hands!

With the wind picking up again slightly, the Royal Navy survives the moment of greatest danger and breaks into the Combined Fleet's line - the Royal Sovereign has taken a battering, but is still afloat and fighting! However the bulk of the Combined Fleet are to the North of the breakthrough, so may make off safely if they have no qualms about leaving the rest of the fleet behind...

Now a seagull's eye view from the East. The bulk of the Combined Fleet looks to be making good their escape, although there are a couple of lame ducks. Speaking of lame ducks, the Royal Sovereign's last remaining mast 'goes by the board' and she begins to drift. Her guns are still manned and ready, but out of range...

Looking from the SSE, the stern chase is on! The Lee column can only concentrate on finishing off the lame ducks, the Bahama and Algeciras...

But as the Belleisle fails to dismast the Pluton with a lucky shot, and she sails off the table, relatively unscathed, the game is over - the bulk of the Combined fleet has escaped destruction!

Some of the lads aren't too happy with Trafalgar as a set of rules, I'm not sure why, so soon we will be playing a similar game, possibly even the same scenario, with 'Form Line of Battle' to see if those are deemed worthy. So maybe another tale of adventure on the high seas will follow soon... In the meantime, Alan has also posted an account of this game: