Saturday, 19 January 2019

ACW - Action at Mill Creek

I have spent the week going over my ACW rules Two Flags - One Nation, that are intended for using figures on hexed terrain. The idea being just to a bit of a tidy up in readiness for our next face-to-face game.

As well as the usual tidying up of text to better express some points, I settled on a few minor rule tweaks, so it seemed a good idea to set up the Mill Creek introductory scenario from the rule book, which is useful as a benchmark scenario for testing rule changes.

The rest of this post discusses the (quite) minor changes and shows some highlights of the game.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

The rules are freely available from my DropBox account (thank you DropBox) via the Resource Section at the foot of this post and this most recent update is described in the opening paragraph of the rules as  ‘Edit January 2019’.

The following changes give the relevant page number so that those who have previously printed the rules can easily just replace the relevant pages.

Tests following casualties from artillery fire - Page 15. When units suffer casualties from enemy fire, they take a Capability Test, which if failed, forces the unit to retreat 1 hex and become disordered. A modifier of -1 has now been added to the Capability Test when the casualties result from artillery fire. This is to simply reflect that an attack from guns may have a greater mental and physical effect on a unit above that of ordinary musket fire.

Increase to the value of supports - Page 12. The system does not allow ganging up of units when attacking. Units attack one-on-one. However a regiment can claim support from another regiment that is to its immediate rear, if that second regiment is unengaged and part of the same brigade. The supporting regiment has always provided a +1 modifier to the attack. This has now changed to a +2 modifier. This better reflects the value of having support of another regiment and encourages / rewards brigades that deploy in depth when assaulting.

Disorder after Close Combat - Page 13. Following Close Combat, units from both sides are always marked disordered. This has now been extended to also include a regiment that supported the attack as a ‘support’.

Disorder - page 5. A clarification was needed because there was a conflict within the rules as two separate sections contradicted each other. It is the case that a Disordered unit can support another regiment’s attack and if Disordered, it will not invoke the Disorder Close Combat penalty on those occasions when the prime attacking regiment is in good order.

Other areas of the rules have simply had some minor improvement to text for the sake of clarity, but nothing that changes a rule principle etc. Players who have already printed off a copy of the rules who want to just update the rule changes outlined above can just print off the above pages and insert them into their rules, plus pages 31, 32 and 33, which are the amended Quick Reference Sheets.

The changes are relatively gentle and more akin to fine tuning than anything else.

‘Action at Mill Creek’ is the introductory scenario from the rulebook (the other scenario covers the initial moves against Willoughby Run at Gettysburg). Neither the forces or the battlefield are complicated or large. Confederate forces are 8 infantry regiments and 1 artillery battery and Union strengths are 7 infantry regiments and 1 artillery battery.

The Union are holding the high ground and a bridge over the crossable creek with two weak brigades. A third brigade is en-route to strengthen the position. A Confederate division of three brigades is attacking with the objectives of capturing both the bridge crossing and some of the high ground. Can they achieve this before that enemy reinforcing brigade arrives to spoil their day!

At the start of play, both sides roll for each regiment to see whether their muskets are smoothbore or rifled. Then each leader makes a roll to see whether they gain any particular attribute.

The Confederates rolled particularly well and so both sides ended up with just one unit each armed with smoothbore muskets. None of the leaders gained any notable characteristics.

The Union deployed first with one brigade on the high ground together with the 12 pounders of the 1st Ohio Battery and the other brigade defending the crossing and further along the creek below the bridge.

The Confederates came into view, advancing boldly in march column and were tightly packed on their left flank, with the right flank, in front of the high ground apparently not covered!

This made the Union player believe that Elzey intended to force the creek at and below the bridge and then sweep around to take the high ground from the side, rather than putting in a direct frontal assault against the hill, which being immediately behind the creek was a strong defensive position. Porters 1st Brigade on the Hill started to adjust his defences to cover the right flank of the hill.

Above, 7th Indiana, looking rather alone, defend the far side if the bridge.

In the opening moments of the game, that element of chaos struck as the Random Event Table produced a result of ‘Confused Orders’ and allowed the Confederate player to move one enemy unit in any direction. To Union cost, they saw their artillery limber up and retire onto the reverse side of the hill. This was a key element of their defence and one that could have put significant harm on the Confederate march columns. The guns would now have to waste precious time getting back into firing positions.

The first half of the game saw, Confederate 13th Virginia charge across the bridge, pushing Richardson’s 7th Indiana back, but they were then forced to retire back onto the bridge by heavy small arms fire and there they stayed, suffering much and hanging on grimly until they eventual broke under the pressure of casualties.

Holmes had taken his 3rd Brigade to demonstrate in front of the high ground forcing Porter to now redeploy back along the front / left side of the hill. Kershaw’s 1st Brigade on the Confederate left, crossed Mill Creek below the bridge, forcing the Union right to pull back towards the road to prevent being enveloped.

Confederate Courtney’s 12 pounder battery was neglected by both Kershaw and the Divisional Commander, Brigadier General Elzey, spending much of the battle limbered up, much to the relief of the Union, who were coming under pressure as they took casualties and the promised third brigade failed to show.

Above - The Confederates start to envelope. the Union right flank.

In the second part of the game, the first elements of Keyes’ Brigade started to arrive along the road, but the way ahead was block by retreating and fragile Union regiments. Further, as Confederate forces approached this road, Keyes ability to manoeuvre was further closed down and subject to grizzly close range fire.

Above, 14th Indiana from Porter's 1st Brigade are on high ground, looking down at the Confederate regiments in the creek that are preparing to charge. The red counter means Disorder and the yellow counter shows smoothbore weapons.

The final moments of the game - The Confederate held both ends of the bridge and so the crucial fight rested on Elzey’s men getting some control of the high ground. In a series of shoves and pushes, the Confederates would first get two regiments onto the hill and then one would be pushed back, this was repeated twice.

Union casualties were mounting quickly. 8th Ohio routed, followed by 7th Indiana and it was only the late arrival of Keyes’ 13th Illinois, who ran up the rear of the hill, ejecting 25th Virginia that saved the moment.

The scenario ended on turn 9 and combat had gone down to the last dice roll, which I took as a good sign of scenario balance. As well as controlling the bridge, the Confederates needed to have two regiments on the hill, failing to do that gives an automatic Union Victory ..... but I would be happy to call this a draw / stand-off, as the Union forces were not in good shape and more time may have seen a Confederate victory.

The system appears to be working well and to design intention, with units that become engaged becoming increasingly ‘worn’, while fresh reserves thrown into action can bring vigour to their sector. The scenario is small enough to be played at a small kitchen / dining table and we rattled through it in around two and a half hours.

There is quite a lot of dice rolling due to Capability Tests being central to the design, but as unit become worn, these can start to critically matter and bring nuances to the game. In the opening of the scenario, when the Union artillery was moved by the Random Event, in its turn the limbered up battery returned to the line, but then had to take a Capability Test to unlimber, which it failed and so those guns would take another turn to come into play and it is those sort of mini moments that collectively add up to make scenarios re-playable and bring interest to the game, so for better or worse (depending on your view of die rolling), the very common Capability Tests stay in!

The rules remain as a free download (for personal use only and all copyright retained by me, as I or another may choose to do something commercial with them in the future) at the below link. If you do find the rules useful, please consider making a donation to your favoured charity or drop some coins in one of those charity boxes that most retailers keep by the till - thanks.

Finally, a photo for Iain, 28mm in the process of charging across a similar bridge over a similar creek! :-)

Resource Section.

Commanders is my other bit of webspace that is a bit more snippet based than here and can be an indicator of what will appear here as a fuller article. LINK

The rules are available here, you may get a pop up window inviting you to sign up to DropBox, you can just click past that if you don’t want a DropBox account.



  1. Norm, these changes may be minor but they could have significant impacts on tactics. A couple of untested thoughts on your modifications:

    Tests following casualties from artillery fire:
    I find artillery quite deadly as it is. Given that terrain has no halving of casualties from artillery fire, artillery is a killer on the battlefield. Allowing an additional -1DRM to Capability Test in addition to any modifiers due to casualties may stop many an assault cold. If artillery fire presents more mental and physical anguish to
    the attacker, why not make the modifier apply to any fire from artillery rather than only if casualties are suffered? To make it even more simple, how about having fire from artillery (whether casualty sustained or not) cause a Capability Test? A test even with no discernible casualties may model this anguish upon the target well. My troops fail plenty of unmodified CTs!

    Disordering supports:
    This is something I wrestle with in other games too. Should supporting units be disordered and retreat the same as the primary or be immune from effects on the primary target. I don't have a good answer for that. Sometimes I prefer the former, sometimes the latter approach. One topic I do question is support only for the attacker. If the attacking unit can feed supporting troops into the fray with positive results, why could a defender not do the same?

    Nice looking game. My recent, and yet to be published game of Fox' Gap is now obsolete with these changes. These changes may have not made much difference, though.

    1. Thanks Jonathan for thoughts and especially for using the rules. In this game, I did not find the changes to make a big difference .... but it was a game without much cover, both sides guns spent a lot of time not firing and the attacking Confederates did not use support, but rather used line, increasing the incidents of one regiment firing and then the next regiment charging, so in many respects, the game did not test the game, especially to the point that would highlight your observations, so i will do more thinking on that.

      Supports for defenders is a consideration, I have concentrated on the issue of an attack in depth and looked for a way of adding rear support because ganging up is not allowed, something I think is important in hex based games, otherwise ganging up become the common game approach in hex based games.

      I will also give some thought to artillery. I would prefer to avoid yet another capability test, so would want to avoid a CT just for being fired upon and of course a failed test would then have to result in a harm being applied, which would just become another means of highlighting artillery effect / power.

      Plenty to ponder on, thanks.

  2. I must have a look at these rules as they seem to have some nice ideas contained therein. Also everytime I see your ACW games, I really feel like I should get two forces for this conflict. Too much choice, too little time;)

    1. Steve, we got an enjoyable game out of them last night, which is pretty much as much as we want. I would not want to put them forward necessarily as ‘good rules’, but are useful to make hexes and figures work and there are some ideas in there that I like and that a gamer might consider drawing into their own games.

  3. Interesting and generous of you to offer it for free,oh and thank you for the photo! Both the 28s and their smaller cousins look great!
    Best Iain

  4. Thanks Iain, I have this itch for doing a boardgame design, which would likely draw from these rules, hence that line I tread between sharing and keeping an eye on copyright and the restrictions that I know a commercial outft would persue.

    Glad you liked the picture, that project just needs to painting table time! I have some zouaves there, which is probably the nearest I will get to doing the gloriously coloured uniforms that grace your table!

  5. nice post Norm, i do like your ACW stuff. i soooooo wish i had a hex mat so i can try out your rules. however, i also really like the scenario and one day plan on playing it out on my tabletop.

    i hesitate to comment on rules i havent read thoroughly or played, but it does strike me that if players can attack in depth the defenders should be ablemto defed in depth as well. it's only fair. :)

  6. Thanks Stew, I am certainly not a student of the period, but the few works that I have looked at suggest attacks in lines, while one wargame orientated document says can attack as a line of regiments or in a series of lines of regiment, one behind the other 'and all shades between'.

    I have not come across anything that deals specifically with the defence stance, other than the use of reserves.

    In the game, reserves seem to work properly by bringing fresh units into battle and there is an interpenetration rule that allows adjacent units to be swapped, which allows fresh troops in the rear to be fed directly into the front line. So that seems covered.

    At the moment, I am taking all of that to show an attacker can concentrate force as part of an attack plan, while a defender must rely on reserves, which allows attack / defence to be modelled differently to each other and in keeping with what I have gleaned .... but of course that is only based on limited reading etc, so I am happy to keep an open mind on the matter.

    1. That does seem to cover it, as I also envision defense in depth to be more like really close reserves. 😀

    2. Interpenetration does not quite work as a means of supporting a defender under attack. To swap places, NEITHER unit may be adjacent to an enemy unit. A defender still seems unsupported to me with no ability to feed additional troops into a melee as can an attacker. How can fresh troops in the rear be fed directly into the front line unless the front line has been abandoned and the rear is now the front?

  7. Thanks Jonathan, that needs re-visiting, allowing adjacency for interpenetration would work for both attacker and defender in cycling in replacements before unit destruction. I note the rule does not presently say 'from the same brigade', which surprised me initially as that has tended to be my starting position. Some thought needs to happen there to see who can do what and when and whether Capability Testing is needed ... something I would rather avoid. I am assuming bigger games would need the possibility of a fresh brigade being able to relieve a tired brigade as well as internal brigade rotation of units.

    There will be an impact on the optional brigade cohesion rule, as brigades would come under less pressure mid game, though that is a fairly gentle rule, that was intended to push on those brigades that had been in action long enough to have accrued 3 or 4 hits and for fails to take them just over the tipping point of functionality.

    In most games that I have played, the order of battle has never really been big enough to go for individual brigades defending in depth in any meaningful way, so the issue has not really been visible to me.

  8. As I look at this a little more, the two mechanics open to me are to allow defending units to have a rear support or to allow interpenetration to rotate front units out. Of the two, changing interpenetration has the biggest impact on other changes in rules and putting sticking plasters (like extra Capability Tests) on to get it all working as a cohesive whole.

    Allowing defenders to use rear supprorts has less impact and is easier to knit back into the overall design, but it specifically boosts a single defence with combat modifiers. I want to think about this a little more and decide exactly what I am trying to achieve rather than getting drawn intio a change that I might not feel is necessary.

    because of the ‘no ganging up’ rule, attackers have a tough time of applying a ratio of force to a chosen point of attack and they only have two tools to help. One is fire on the target unit earlier in the turn sequence by either 1 infantry unit, 1 artiillery unit or both. The other is to use a a single rear supporting regiment. An attacker can of course use both tools in the same turn to increase effect.

    The defender will defend alone and may benefit from cover or defensive works. the defender also stands a good chance of getting first fire against an attacker on their way in. In the close combat the attacker not only inflicts hits, but can suffer ‘self hits’ on their dice rolls. That is the system as it stands, introducing a further ‘easy’ benefit to the defender that may essentailly cause difficulty for an attacker to carry an attack more often than not is something that bothers me.

    Rather than put a rule change in now that is not properly thought through, I am leaving the way it is and will try some actions purely with a focus on the charge / close combat part of the sequence of play, with a view to testing the balance between attack / defence, the holding of an objective and the application of fresh units by either side.

  9. Hi Norm,

    I just wanted to let you know that I can no longer access your "Commanders" website. I wonder if others are having the same problem?


    The error message I get is as follows;

    "Secure Connection Failed

    An error occurred during a connection to SSL received a record that exceeded the maximum permissible length. Error code: SSL_ERROR_RX_RECORD_TOO_LONG

    The page you are trying to view cannot be shown because the authenticity of the received data could not be verified.
    Please contact the website owners to inform them of this problem."

    1. I tried and all is working for me.

    2. I'm still having the same problem. I'm using firefox web browser.

    3. Thanks, I am getting it Chrome and Safari, I have not heard back from the company yet, which is a surprise as they are usually very prompt, so it may suggest they have their hands full. I will update them re the Firefox.

    4. Dave, I have had a reply from the web people and they can’t see anything they have done to cause this problem.

      they have asked three questions;

      1 - Does he use a proxy to access internet?
      2 - What is the web browser he uses?
      3 - Could he take a screenshot picture and send it to us?

      I don’t know what ‘1’ means, you might. I have told him that you use Firefox and that Firefox couldn’t see it even after chrome could. I wouldn’t worry about ‘3’.

      If any other Firefox users could check this out, that might be helpful.

      Here is a link to the Sci-Fi page, which your browser may not already have stored, it might be worth pasting that into your browser to see whether you can get past he opening site page. Cheers Norm.

    5. Dave, the web people have got back to me and said that theyhave installed Firefox and found the commanders site ok.

      He suggests this - quote;

      Thank you for your reply. I have installed Firefox and could successfully browsed all the pages of your website. If you get in touch with this reader, please also ask him to try with both https:// or http:// (without s) before "

      Worth a try/ cheers Norm

    6. Tried it just now with no changes on my end and it is working again.

    7. Good to know .... You are one of the few visitors that I think the Commanders page gets ... so can't lose you :-)

  10. Hi Dave, thanks for letting me know. I am aware that the company plan a big update this month, almost a second generation version of the software, so perhaps it is part of that and some things are falling over. I have e-mailed the company, so hopefull;y should get to the bottom of things promptly. Cheers.

  11. Do you envision support as mainly being a psychological boost to the attacking unit or are you thinking there is also a physical element by adding more men to the combat? Double line formations for brigades was fairly common and used in many battles. Sometimes it was due to which drill manual was being used by a particular side. The best case in point was at Chickamauga where the Union brigades nearly all deployed in double lines. Several authors have subscribed this to these forces using the Casey manual which showed brigade formations in double lines. The Confederates deployed their brigades in a long single line. They used the Hardee manual which showed a single line deployment. Each method had advantages and disadvantages.

    One of the disadvantages with using the double line when attacking was the second line tended to merge with the first and intermingle regiments. Experienced brigade commanders sometimes would break their regiments into two battalions and have one in front and the second in the support line. This way the same regiment occupied the same area if the merger occurred. Your disorder rule would reflect this either way.

  12. OK never having posted here I don't know how to identify myself. I have a name with no URL and for some reason my email is not enough. Suggestions?

    Tom Barkalow


  13. Hi Tom, thanks for the info, I see support as both a physical and the mental boost to the attacking formation in close combat, with the attacker choosing a point to deliver an attack that stands a chance of momentum being sufficient to break into the enemy line by concentration of force.

    I can identify three separate attack elements that influences the rules. Firstly if attacking in line of regiments, because units cannot gang up against a single target, one regiment in the line can fire on the target unit and then later in the charge phase, another regiment (that has not fired and is next to it) can put in the charge. this of course is mainly possible due to the mechanics of the hex grid, but it allows a line to support neigbouring line with. Secondly, a line supporting from the rear can show its support by adding to the attack value of the charging unit and supports by adding to the weight of attack and trying to get momentum and thirdly, as you point out, disorder following close combat in the system is automatic, rather than tested for, as it strikes me that a charge / close combat should inevitably leave those involved disordered.

    In the game, units are not allowed to charge on consecutive turns, further showing the re-organisation that needs to follow a charge to contact. Of course these are not all strictly 'charges' but rather mostly represents that fire / movement to closer contact that happens in the last 50 - 150 yards, when one side is likely to give way before physical contact occurs.

    I am not sure why your name does not post, but when I click on 'unknown' it suggests that you need to change your profile to allow details to be shown



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