Saturday, 30 September 2017

ACW - rules design TFON

My hexed based ACW rules, Two Flags - One Nation are presently going through another round of tidying up and development.

Union commanders roused from their slumber
at their H.Q.
This post is just looking at some of the recent changes, which remain gentle rather than turning anything upside-down and is just something of a ramble from a design perspective.

Please use the 'read more' tab or the rest of this post.

Firstly I just want to thank Jonathan Freitag (fellow blogger) for the interest he has taken in these rules. His comments and playing have helped the rules become a tighter document.

One of the problems that I have created for myself is that as I edit the rules with new ideas and changes etc, I am trying to keep the wordage per page the same, so that anyone wishing to update their printed version of the rules, need only download the relevant changed page(s).

Over time, this has increasingly meant that existing paragraphs get cut down or re-worded to make way for new text and sometimes this leads to existing rules losing some of their meaning or nuance, creating more questions for the reader.

So on this pass-through of the rules, I have expanded the page count and given each section a little more room to breathe. This has allowed for some explanations to be fuller and leaves scope for design comments and examples. In effect, the September 2017 version of the rules should be clearer.

I was due a face-to-face game with Mike yesterday and so a frantic reformatting of the rules and a quick scenario write-up gave the perfect opportunity to put the rules through their paces and see what impact recent changes have made.

For scenario inspiration, I turned to my charming Black Powder rules by Warlord Games and took their Daybreak at Hangman's Creek scenario as the basis of the game.

Essentially Union forces are bivouacked partly on, but mostly off the board. Three Confederate brigades enter the board at dawn, intent on capturing the enemy encampment (left), the town (centre) and the factory (right). In their scenario, the Union have pickets in a forward position that can raise the alarm and cause the Union to mobilise for action. I used a different method, but not until after I had drawn the map and put pickets on the high ground - so ignore them.

The hexed battlefield - most forces start off the board
Instead, because Two Flags - One Nation uses a 'game clock', at the end of each turn, it made sense to have mobilisation based upon time. Each turn the Union rolled 1D6 to see whether pickets had spotted the enemy advance. The result had to be less than the most advanced hex-row that the Confederates occupied. The alarm was raised when the Confederates had advanced down into the 4th hex-row and we rolled a '2' for the alarm.

Once the alarm was raised, every Union unit then had to roll 5D6 and this was the number of minutes delay that each unit would then have to suffer before they would become available to the Union player.

Union commanders startled as the alarm
goes up
The Union commanders had rather a comfortable night in the town's hotel, that they had decided would make a suitable headquarters. They were shocked to wake to the sight of   Confederate regiments just 600 yards away.

The table from the Confederate position
Above - the game table, badly lit here, we could blame the camera ..... but it is meant to be dawn!

As a battle, the scenario caused us problems from the outset, but it was fun to play and it did expose the rules to another outing. For the most part, the open ground allowed the Confederates to move quickly and they were upon the first row of tents before the Union could respond. Additionally, units had to enter via the roads in march column and by time they shook out into line, they had already been roughly handled, with several getting the 'retreat for 1 hex and go disordered for 15 minutes' result, which pushed them back off the table ... ouch! 

The Confederate forces prior to set-up
In my rush to get the game organised, I had forgotten to prepare a Random Event chart and I only remembered part way through play.  I suggested to Mike that we use the generic one from the Mills Creek scenario in the rulebook. He agreed and he rolled the Random Event Dice ..... double 6, 'one randomly selected battery goes out of ammunition for 30 minutes'. I hadn't been able to get my artillery on to the table, so his well placed battery of guns had to take their lumps, I just love that sort of chaos thing.

Jonathan Freitag had asked me about Elite units.  The rules only use Raw, Seasoned and Veteran classes and three groups work well for Capability Testing because of the nature of the bell curve of 2D6. I was reluctant to add a 4th class (elite) as their advantage on that bell curve would have been too significant.

I looked at several ways of dealing with their inclusion, but all seemed to make them into supermen. In the end, I hit on the idea of treating them as veteran except each unit would have a bank of 3 x d6, which they could draw on during play. Basically, whenever any dice are rolled on their behalf (testing, firing etc), they could use one die from their bank of dice to do a re-roll of the die that had not favoured them. In play this seemed to work by giving them a slight edge, but not too much.

Their best use of the rule in our play occurred when an elite unit charged me and as part of their attack dice, rolled 1, 3, 3, 5 and 6, so two hits against me and one against themselves. They cancelled the '1' (which had put a hit on themselves) and instead rolled a die from their bank of dice, this was a 6, putting the hit on me, so in the end I took three hits, which made the charge quite devastating, I thought that worked quite well and brought a bit of tension.

The Confederates capture half the camp before
Union forces have chance to form-up. 
I have changed the rule for large regiments. Previously large regiments took 10 hits instead of 8 hits to be removed from play, however, I was unhappy that the advantages of being large happened at the end of a units long exposure to the rigours of combat. Instead, the rule has changed to large units being able to ignore their first hit. That seems so much more in keeping with the benefits of having plenty of men. Administratively it is easy to manage, I just add an extra base (a third base) to the unit and remove it in lieu of the first hit. 

Again the rule in practice worked well. One of my large units was vulnerable to well situated artillery fire. Mike fired, but the dice were poor, getting only one hit, my extra figure base absorbed that. The result gave a nice bit of narrative.

Another change (and I keep messing about with this) is how casualties are taken by units in cover. I have gone from needing 2 hits to cause one heavy casualty, to doing the same but retaining fractions (that creates admin, which I prefer to avoid) and now I have gone to small arms fire can inflict a maximum of 1 hit per fire, charging 2 hits per charge and it remains the case that cover does not reduce the effects of artillery. 

This is the change that I will probably monitor the most carefully as it may make defenders too strong, but at this moment in time, I think it probably brings the right amount of significance to good cover. Defenders will likely need some pre-assault fire and because of the chances of abandonment of ground that the post fire Capability Tests can bring, some interesting situations of driving units out of cover may result and it may also raise the importance of studying the battlefield to give greater thought to manoeuvre and unhinging defences.

Even small battlefields can be made interesting due to the way the system uses 'difficult terrain' which specifically works against movement, whilst fire and charging each have different relationships to what is actually deemed as cover. 

In our game last night, pre-game we decided that the fields were tall wheat and that they would count as difficult terrain, but not provide cover. I think we could have nuanced that a bit more by saying they did not provide cover against fire, but would provide cover against a charge.

I have added a 5th attribute to the Divisional Commander. Now he can increase the movement of a single unit by one hex, providing the last hex does not contain difficult terrain.

In most respects the core rules have not changed. Probably the most important thing has been worked on is the general text in an effort to reduce ambiguity and probably adding more examples will help here. I am conscious that there is some awkwardness to absorbing the rules, they don't have the slickness that I would have liked, but I hope that by having the rules set-out to match the sequence of play, that effect is reduced to some degree.

I was minded to change the way a unit supports a charging unit by having the supporting unit in the same hex as the lead unit, but  I think the likelihood would be that the benefits would be over-shadowed by players keeping most of their forces doubled up and some of the nuances that come from units being spread across a greater number of locations (hexes) would be lost.  Having supporting units operating from a different, allows such units to be distracted by their own problems in relation to the proximity of the enemy and this sort of thing brings benefit to narrative.

Anyway, not a massive update, more of a steady as she goes type of affair.  

September 2017 version of the rules (free download from DropBox - thank you DropBox). LINK.

COMMANDERS is my sister site to this blog, it is more snippet based and will carry some information about these rules that will not appear here. LINK


  1. Norm, your game table looks so nice and your illustrated map is terrific. What software are you using to draw the map? If I want a quick, functional, and rudimentary map, I use Mapboard.

    Interesting changes that I plan to put into play during my next game. I like that supporting units remain in their own hex.

  2. My rules have the same three classes of troops and a 'Crack' modifier which can be applied to any class (Crack raw troops would be untested in battle but heavily drilled and so on). Crack allows them to automatically pass a morale check before rolling for it. Doesn't need to be used on the first check (when you are more likely to pass anyway).

  3. Thanks all.

    Jonathan, for map building, I am using an iPad, so rely on the convoluted process of 3 apps. I have used 'Pages' to give me some blank hex templates so I don't have to build a hexfield each time, but the problem is that this produces a single layer with white filled in cells and black hex line, so anything I do with this goes on top of the hexes, rather than the hexfield itself, with transparent cells going on top of everything else as the final layer. Then I take that into 'ProCreate' which allows me to paint in layers on the map in a controllable way, so that I don't obliterate the hex lines below. That is then saved as a JPEG and taken into 'Phonto'. This allows me to add text and to do hard line shapes such as the buildings. Most of what I do is a little rushed, so there s some room to bring better quality to the maps with the same tools.

    Stu Rat - Is that bonus limited to a once per game test per Crack unit? If the unit were to fail its morale, what is a likely consequence of that, say for example when they have just taken musket fire that caused an effect such as casualties?

  4. Moral Results range from Routing away from the enemy to charging the nearest enemy when a unit is still in good shape. Veteran units are less likely to do both. When a unit is shot up, skedaddling off the battlefield becomes more of a possible response and units won't charge.

    At the moment, only one pass for each grade, thought about 3,2,1 but more playtest opportunities are needed. "Rules" is a collection of notes/procedures.

    Morale: Green roll 2d6, Experienced 1d6+1dAverage, Veteran 2dAverage
    -1 for each stand lost (units have 5 stands-no. of figs varies)
    -3 if charged flank or rear

    1 or less Skeddadle (removed from play)
    2 - 4 -- Rout move +d6 away from enemies
    5 -- Fall back 1/2 move & Rally one turn
    6 -- Hesitate (hold position next turn-can shoot)
    7 thru 9 -- follow orders
    10+ -- Attempt to Charge nearest enemy to front

    the idea is that Vets are reliable but less willing to charge, they've done their bit. While newbies don't know what they are getting into and so are more prone to extremes.

  5. Thanks, I like the idea of integrating Average Dice. They do not seem to be used enough these days. That is a nice range of outcomes.

  6. Good thoughts on the background to writing your own rules.

    I don't know your rules at all, but I think you are right to treat any unusual troops like Elite separately rather than try to build them into the usual mechanism. A few bonus dice is a good idea, but probably more limited for Morale (and maybe Melee/Close Combat) than Shooting for instance as previously suggested.

    Cover is a tricky thing. It can be so variable for visibility, cover from fire, defence etc. Good luck keeping it simple.

  7. Thanks Colin, interesting thought re elite firing.

  8. Looking good, Norm. It's always nice to reflect and fine-tune past projects.

  9. Thanks Dean, I have been admiring your 28's Crossbowmen. That scale calls like a siren.