Sunday, 12 April 2020

ACW - short smart action

Perry's Firepower rules on a small table.

Just 4 units per side on a symmetrical battlefield - it was my intention to do a Don Featherstone post next, but I am one painted unit shy away from being able to put that on ..... so I took his battlefield and had a small game using the Perry's Firepower rules instead.
Some newly painted reinforcements arrive
These are the figures from the Perry 28mm ACW Battle in a Box and I was rather shocked when looking over previous posts, that I have owned this kit set since November 2015 and despite one million promises to myself to get them all painted, the job is still not quite complete.

Anyway, that goal came one step closer this holiday weekend, with the Union cavalry unit painted and based and so here we are, a small game with the Perry rules.

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

In truth the full extent of this post was meant to be an intro battle from a Don Featherstone creation, using his starter rules and then running the same action repeatedly, comparing Firepower, Neil Thomas Introduction to Wargames and my own Two Flags-One Nation rules, which I am presently converting from being hex based to open table.

Anyway, that is for a near future post.

Each side has 2 infantry regiments, 1 artillery battery and 1 cavalry regiment, plus an officer, which enter play on the players respective edges.

The table basically has a stone wall in the middle and is flanked to either side by small woods.

In these rules, each turn, each unit can do one thing, move, fire, rally or charge. Obviously on turn 1, everything is moving to get onto the table. Movement rates are variable based around 1 or more D6.

The Confederate cavalry manage to get an excellent roll and are able to advance directly to the wall, which gives cover, so the defender of a wall gets to save against hits.

Cavalry can't dismount and immediately, that feels a bit of a limitation. They move fast, but are more brittle than infantry (eliminated on fewer hits) and have a lower attacking power both for fire and in melee.

They get off a long distance volley (well, long for carbines!) against advancing Union infantry, but miss.

The leading Union infantry regiment, heading for the wall, are with a leader, so they roll an extra die for movement and then discard 1 die that they don't want (usually the lowest), but they come up slightly short against the wall. This gives the cavalry another chance to fire, this time at close range, inflicting 5 casualties ... ouch!

The Union infantry press their attack with a charge against the wall, but their new casualties, combined with the 5 existing casualties take them off the table.

Above - Union cavalry have pushed up the right flank and as they emerge from behind a wood, the entire Confederate left flank is exposed ... it would be rude not to attack!

The slow moving Confederate artillery has managed to get itself hemmed in by friendlies, so that it does not have any clear lines of fire to the enemy, however, now behind the Confederate line, they see the cavalry threat and turn their guns to face them. 

The Union cavalry fall upon the flank of a Confederate infantry regiment. I'm not so sure about this - yes they suddenly find the Confederate flank in front of them, but charging feels a bit too napoleonic, even though it is probably right for the circumstances. Had the rules allowed me to dismount and enter the woods to secure that flank position, the cavalry would have done that on the nearside of the woods and not have pressed on around the flank, which might have tactically felt better - but these are simple rules (making them comparable of course to Neil Thomas and Don Feathersone), so I am probably asking too much and in the future, it would be an easy thing to house rule.

Anyway - the charge goes in. Cavalry get less dice than the infantry. The infantry (an administrative thing) turn and match up base to base with the charging unit. Both sides fight in the melee.

To each die rolled, the cavalry will add +1 because they are charging and also an extra +1 because their attack came from a blind spot (representing the flank attack). The infantry do not modify their dice.

The cavalry score 4 hits and the infantry 2, so the cavalry win. Whenever a unit suffer casualties to fire or loses a melee, they must take a morale test. The infantry do so, break and retreat. The retreat move is a random number of inches and they are lucky not to leave the table ..... just yet!

But the cavalry are now fully exposed to the Confederate artillery, who use canister and decimate the cavalry and they are removed from play, having reached their casualty limit.

The breaking infantry fail to rally and this time they do leave the table.

In the centre, the sluggish advance of 2nd Confederate infantry regiment eventually has them reach the wall and join the Confederate cavalrymen, who look a bit strange still mounted!
2nd regiment get to the wall, note the artillery
protecting the rear area from those Union cavalry rascals!
The Union are neither well placed or strong enough to force the position, so they retire from the table.

These rules are probably one level up from the Neil Thomas One Hour Wargaming rules, because units take casualty based morale, while probably not quite as encompassing as the Neil Thomas 'Wargaming An Introduction' which does have morale, but also allows cavalry to dismount, which they must do to fire and places some specific limitations on movement in some types of terrain - However only the Thomas One Hour Wargames ACW rules prevent cavalry charges.

They give a fast game and the casualty rate is high enough that units will generally only be able to fight for a couple of turns before they become a spent force, either due to failed morale and retreats or excess casualties that remove them from play.

There are some nice subtleties, such as officers within command range giving an extra die to movement or morale checks and then the player can discard the weaker die.

I like that each turn, units can choose one action, allowing some interaction between those units that fire and those that move.

Considering this was just 4 units per side, the game opened up nicely and gave a fun short game and an interesting narrative and I could see exactly the same scenario opening up in different ways, if only because of the randomised movement. 

The rules are very nicely presented in a full colour slim booklet and are sufficiently stable for the gamer to add in their own tweaks, to bring the game closer to their own imaginings of the period.

My understanding is that these rules are only available from the ACW Battle in a Box set. Since the rules have not been made available on the Perry website as a download, I have kept specific aspects of play values etc out of this article to protect the rules and the Perry copyright and not give them away by careless or unnecessary comment, so I respectfully ask that the information is not requested in the comment section.

EDIT - note, I didn't show much of the table or maps because I already have the fuller Featherstone blog post part written and did not want to steal it's thunder! This was just a spur of the moment post while I was tinkering with the rule sets.

Resource Section.
My COMMANDERS web space is updated more frequently than here and is more 'snippet' based. LINK


  1. Very good to see you fielding some long-in-the-tooth Federal cavalry. Four units per side seems quite small and ripe for the vagaries of the dice. As a small introductory games, it seems to fit the bill nicely.

  2. Hi Jonathan, 4 units falls out of a Don Featherstone teaching scenario that has some serious hand holding going on. In fact, it is the third scenario, the first is just infantry, then a gun is added and then some cavalry.

    It is interesting to read the old rule writers who come from an era when they really couldn't take it for granted that their audience had ever seen or been exposed to a wargame before and so some hand holding and undemanding scenarios very much had their place and can still be fun

    1. There is much we take for granted today. In Featherstone's time, it was all new. What Featherstone book are you using?

  3. Don Featherstones ‘Battles with model Soldiers’ (Thank you Iain).

    1. I will pull it off the shelf to see what you are doing.

    2. A pivotal point in my earlier days reading through those three scenarios... I refought the first scenario myself (can't believe that was 10 years ago) but despite promising never got on to games 2 and 3.. I shall remedy that...

    3. Steve, it can be strange looking at those chapters with modern eyes, but it does have some old school charm and it's significance on a generation of gamers does make a return compelling if only for nostalgia sake.

  4. Very nice, Norm, thanks for sharing!


    1. Thanks Jack, sometimes it's just nice to get a few units out on the table and make good use of a small time slot.

  5. It may gave taken longer than planned but you have done a nice job in these Union cavalry

    1. Thanks Keith, they do look nice, which has helped to push me to get the rest completed.

  6. I am working my way through my Battle in a Box too Norm, and ironically have just been reading the Firepower rules and like their simplicity.

  7. Hi Mark, the Battle in a Box set is a great idea and I am surprised the the Perry's haven't done similar for their plastic Wars of roses, which is a fairly complete set.

    The Firepower booklet is a nice bonus to the package, they pushed the boat out to make it look nice and that helps. I do like simple rules that are solid enough to allow house rules to be easily bolted on.

  8. Well I never knew the box contained a set of rules, so have learnt something today. They seem to be OK for an intro game and have lots of possibilities for house rules add ons, such as allowing the cavalry to dismount. This is the same with Neil Thomas' rules, which I am currently reading (his Ancient & Medieval set) as they too have many areas where you need to make add detail as required. I'm hoping to get a small game in today, all being well...

  9. Hi Steve, yes the rules are of the Thomas ilk, so very stable at a lower level that allows for mods to be made. I have re-bought back into two of the Thomas books, one being the Ancient and Medieval set, which is just a nice thing to own and of course to compare to what he was doing with 'One Hour Wargames'. Good gaming today.

  10. Nice work Norm, I looked at their rules when I originally got the set, but they languish still in the box as my own house rules have taken pride of place. I am now pondering how to upgrade the rules to my AWI project ? As far as Featherstone goes you might remember we played his platteville scenario a while ago but again using my rules and it worked very nicely, so when you have the box fully painted you can roll it out !

  11. Thanks Matt, it is mainly your ACW tables that keeps me plodding away with the paint brush. This scenario and rules seems a simplicity stretch, even for Don Featherstone, who you can't help feeling is itching to get more depth into the game, but instead perseveres with his tutorial discipline.

  12. Cavalry look great! Sounds like a good game at the less complicated end of rules ,nothing wrong with that and I both look forward to the Featherstone game and am even more glad it's seeing use( which it wouldn't have here!)
    Best Iain

  13. Thanks Iain, it is being enjoyed. The thing that struck me about this particular game and rules is that the size and simplicity got a game going on an evening when I might not otherwise have bothered to get a game going.

  14. A classic intro scenario! I'm looking forward to the other games.

    On the cavalry charge thing, I've just finished Shelby Foote's history of the ACW and while dismounted action was most common, mounted charges seem to have been much more common than my early wargaming sources (mostly British incidentally) led me to believe.

    Anyway, one of my earliest blogged battle reports (Apr 2010) was a series of 3 games of this scenario using different rules and a comparison over 5 or 6 blog posts (link) if you're interested.

  15. Ross, thanks so much for the comment and the link, that is exactly what I am looking to do with the scenario and some rulesets. I was particularly interested in the Black Powder games as I am familiar with the rules.

    I find the Featherstone rules themselves interesting to read from a mechanics point of view, but I am bothered that my playing may result in the same outcome as his his play with the commander v commander fight and then the last few survivors fighting amongst each other at the wall, a sort of last man standing game, but I shall give it a go never-the-less, as who knows what the dice will deliver :-)

    I am even more looking forward to this now - thank you.

  16. Thanks for the article.
    I've always been disappointed that the Perry's never offered up Firepower as a cheap (or free) pdf. I can't see it cannibalizing sales, no one's going to spend £100 for the rules and, "Oh yeah some figures were included as well."

    I look forward to your future rules comparison posts.

    Take care!


  17. Thanks Stu, Since the Perry’s sell a metal range of ACW, it would seem a natural thing, now 5 years on, to host the rules on their site for those who have the metals, or even for those who buy the plastics and have built up a collection from individual boxes rather than the Battle Box. This is what makes me wonder whether they still have plans for the rules / system that are yet to be realised.

    It might also be a similar gesture as say Warlord Games, who release a collectable special release figure with each Black Powder type supplement that they sell and no matter how much you like their product or have invested with them, you will only ever get the figure if you get that particular supplement from them. I have a rather Nice Ney figure on foot that came with the ‘A Clash of Eagles’ supplement and a lovely axe wielding warrior that came with the Shieldwall supplement.

    There may even be some contractual element, who knows? The question must have been put to them often enough for them to respond if it was within their interest / grant / business model.

    I worked it out once that the set I bought for £95 carried stuff that was worth around £160, though at that time, it was they that introduced plastics to te world and the tooling / production etc must have cost a bomb. My understanding is that it is much cheaper now,

    I’m quite looking forward to comparing some of these ‘simple’ sets.

  18. I sometimes SO wish I had picked up this box set. I did ACW in 18mm, but I could of started a 28mm collection... I was so tempted but resisted and I don’t think now you can’t get it. Oh well.
    Nice little scenario. Though with such a small unit count it’s bound to play out quickly. Plus, if I were to be picky, 4 units but 3 different types is just too varied. It’d be more acceptable to just us artillery and infantry. The cav seem just to be there so one gets practice with the cav rules. And if they can’t dismount then what good are they anyway?! 😀
    But I did enjoy the write up. But the rules themselves seem rather flat. I look forward to reading your thoughts on other rules and comparisons across the scenario. 😀

    1. Thanks Stew, I have started to write my Featherstone post, which expands some thoughts on unit types etc, but it will be the comparison of rules that set out to be 'simple' that will be most interesting to me.

  19. Hi Norm, another excellent small battle report and it certainly sounded a fun game very much in the great Featherstone tradition. The Battle in a Box set is still very good value for what you get, I was so nearly tempted myself some time back. I'm sure you have seen the old Airfix Guide ACW title? That became my ACW bible about 30 years ago, and my then regular opponent and I played many enjoyable games using those rules which are sadly out of fashion now. The photos in it still send a bit of a shiver doown my spine, so nostalgic.

  20. A dalliance with rules and books gone by hold an increasing interest to me, but only from a nostalgic perspective, not an older is better point of view, but there are of course still things to learn or relearn. Yes, some photographs do immediately connect with a moment in time.

    Some of this stuff I am looking at, with low unit density, could be a delightful nod at your lovely 40mm :-)

  21. Hi Norm. Those new cavalry are a treat! I’m surprised that there is no possibility for cavalry to dismount in the Perry rules. Would be interesting to find out if it was a deliberate omission or a possible oversight. Still, adding such rule should be pretty straightforward. Personally I like the dismounting mechanics in the Fire & Fury range which is very simple and neat.

  22. Hi mike, you do wonder what path of development the rules took. Their plastic boxed infantry and artillery used to have ‘similar’ rules pertaining to the contents of the box, but they never got as far as releasing cavalry rules with the cavalry (I recently bought 2 boxes of the initial infantry release and they still have the infantry rules in them). Clearly Firepower represents an updated version of those rules.

    It is interesting to see that the rally rules talk about being able to go into a formation of the players choice, yet it is the only reference in the entire rules that mentions formations, so at some point, there must have been formation options in the rules, so perhaps dismounting was played with and then not pursued, but if they had a dismount rule, they may have felt obligated to include dismounted figures in the Battle Box, they they would need to be metal!

    As you say, a house on dismounting would be an easy rule to insert and could be done sympathetically and in keeping with the style of the rules as already presented.

  23. A Most enjoyable battle write up. Excellent looking figures and terrain. A perfect way to test out a new period of rules. Most excellent!

    During this time of forced stay at home I my son has offered to play a miniature table top game or two. I think I will do a variation of this. Many thanks sir!

  24. Hi Mark, thanks, this would make for a good knock-around game, especially with equal forces and a symmetrical battlefield, the only advantage coming from who goes first ..... Your son should perhaps let you go first - to give you a sporting chance :-)



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