Saturday 26 May 2018

Two Flags - One Nation Version May 2018

These hex based rules have been back on the table recently with the ‘Battle for Ball’s Ford’ scenario (as blogged a few weeks ago) and this caused me to have a re-look as to how some things were working for the good or bad. 

I like the general thrust and intention of the rules, but they continued to feel a little awkward in places and an ultimate goal of more fully merging my ACW and Napoleonic sets had become somewhat mired.

Several small adjustments have been made, but five changes are actually fairly significant.

In brief they are; the Game Clock has gone, the Post Close Combat Results Table has gone, units do not make a post Close Combat Capability Test, The Retreat and Rout Phases have been combined  into one phase and when defenders being charged take their Capability Test and pass, they are presented with options other than just firing. This last point will have greater use in the Napoleonic set as it will be the mechanic for determining whether units make it into square etc.

Anyway, the changes have meant that the design notes have needed to be modified and they are presented in full here for a deeper explanation of the system.

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

Design Notes. (Edited for May 2018)

Two Flags - One Nation. The 2017 Edition of these rules were essentially an update to my old home brew ACW hex based rules, which were well over 10 years old. Much remained familiar, but they picked up some new mechanics from my more recent rule designs, in particular the napoleonic rules (Eagles at Quatre Bras), as I attempted to merge several aspects of the two sets together.  

I was always disappointed that due to the different heritage and scale of the two rulesets, I could not get a fuller combining of the systems and there was also a certain amount of ‘awkwardness’ with the rules making them feel a bit disjointed and harder to pick up.

As I do this 2018 edit, I have reworked some aspects of the rules, so that things are more intuitive and the various sub-systems hang together a little better. Importantly this work, together with me re-scaling the napoleonic set will allow a game engine that will more readily open itself to developing  AWI, Napoleonic and ACW sub-sets. 

The first scenario ever designed for the original system was McPherson Ridge, which has always given a good game and so here, once again, it makes an appearance, as it has proven to be a good bench mark in measuring the effects of new ideas and rule tweaks. A second scenario, the fictional 'Action at Mill Creek', has also been included, as a sort of starter scenario that also offers a useful generic Random Events Table that can be used in ‘design your own’ games.

Core design principles have been to favour fun over simulation, but with results and a flow of play reflecting the way that official accounts of battle often read, so that narrative is preserved. The complexity should sit at the lower end of the spectrum, using easily implemented abstraction based mechanics. The game aims to be solo friendly, playable in a single session and to deliver play into a compact space to meet the gaming and storage limitations that many gamers have at home.

To help reduce the learning curve to play, I have set the rules out in a way that follows the sequence of play. All of the game charts fit onto three sides of paper, so once the gamer gets into their stride, the game is fairly easily managed.

Formations - The basic fighting formation offered here for infantry and cavalry is line. This is a slightly generic term that accepts the regimental commander is also using assault column (certainly when attacking across bridges) and skirmish line as appropriate for the circumstances. March column and limbered artillery is also shown because in these formations, the units will get movement benefits but also be extremely vulnerable in combat. Square has been avoided, both as a general formation and as a response action to being charged, simply because the references to it in the ACW seem quite rare and if allowed, it may be used disproportionally. It is something that will be used as a specific formation in the Napoleonic sub-set of rules, as will the assault column. 

Capability - The use of 'unit capability' is central to the system. Units are initially rated on their training and experience (raw, seasoned, veteran) and this gives a basic capability rating for the unit. This rating is used for what are essentially morale type tests and also for doing certain activities in which training and leadership makes a difference, such as changing formation or Close Combat reaction testing and so it is a mechanism for managing unit performance more than simply determining morale alone. 

On the question of elite units, I did not want to include a fourth category because the 2D6 system for testing capability has a bell curve that would give a 4th category far more advantage that I wanted to show. After considering several ways of dealing with elites (most making them too powerful), I settled on a system that basically have them being the same as veteran, but each unit starts the game with 2 x d6 in their bank, so to speak. Whenever a die roll is made on behalf of the unit (firing, charging or Capability tests etc), the elite unit can choose to replace one of the die rolled with a re-roll using one of their die from their bank. This is subtle enough to give them an edge, but not turn them into super troops. 

During play, units will accrue Heavy Casualty markers, either directly though combat or other rigours of war. As casualty levels increase on a unit, this will directly feed in to their ability to pass Capability Tests and so a units performance steadily decreases due to the attrition of action and the importance of having fresh troops in reserve becomes emphasised. There is a tipping point at around four heavy casualties. Once units go beyond that, they can degrade rather rapidly, firstly losing offensive capability and then simply losing cohesion as a whole.

The disadvantage of using such a device is that this testing makes for additional die rolling and some may not like that aspect, however, as players get into the mid game and casualties accrue, the nuances of capability and the immediate situation (modifiers), the fatigue of combat and the staying power of units, come together to bring some nice narrative into the game, which can turn on a series of intense moments that feel important to both sides. I have looked at ways of taking some of the dice rolls out, but where I did this, a more generic and anticipated outcome resulted, but the 2018 edit brought some restructuring of the Close Combat procedures and this has slightly reduced the number of testing steps, while preserving design intent.

The 2018 edit has modified the test itself by only giving a bonus if two or more friends are adjacent to it, rather than just the original one unit. In practice, on a game board our size, units invariably were adjacent to one friend and so this bonus was always claimed. The new tighter application of that bonus will generate some variance in being able to apply that factor, flanks might need to be more thoughtfully supported and it puts an even greater emphasis of the brigade acting together in unison.

Movement - Limited movement allowances are useful when using a smaller playing space. It helps define a centre and wings without units dashing across to influence other parts of the battlefield that from a command perspective would not be within their immediate sphere of influence. 

Cavalry are not given the speed boost turn after turn that many game sets allow. I tend to view cavalry as being an arm that has short bursts of high energy movement, such as the charge or seeking to occupy an objective, but that this is separate from the 'normal' levels of movement that all 'legged' units are subject to in reality.

Units in march column and limbered artillery will get around the battlefield faster, but they are very vulnerable to attack and in most cases within our small battlefield, they will likely shake out into a combat formation at an early opportunity. Reinforcements will probably arrive in this formation.

Restrictions have also been placed upon how frequently units can charge as those things that have hearts and lungs need to take more breathers between moments of intense activity than wargamers might ordinarily allow. In the 2018 edit, units cannot charge on consecutive turns.

Passage of time - Owners of the 2017 edition will recall a ‘Game Clock’ that ran alongside the Sequence of Play. This has been abandoned as it put unnecessary clutter on the table in terms of game markers to manage time and didn’t really deliver what the rule intended as the maths used to deliver time too frequently defaulted to a 15 minutes period, so we may as well just treat the turn as being roughly 15 minutes and remove what was in effect an administrative burden.

Casualties and the rigours of war - The accumulation of Heavy Casualties makes Capability Tests harder to pass. During the Retreat Phase, those units that have accrued 5 or more Heavy Casualties must test to see whether they are forced to fall back 2 hexes and take an extra Heavy Casualty. Units that accrue 8 Heavy Casualties have become totally non-effective and are removed from play. By mid game, it certainly feels good to have a few fresh units to be able to call on. You might have a lot of units still in play, but not the confidence to use or expose them to risk. Units cannot get rid of their casualties, so attrition becomes increasingly significant through the game.

Once units have taken 8 Heavy Casualties, they are treated as broken and removed from play. The Retreat Phase starts to test units that have received 5 heavy casualties, as at this level it is assume that the punishment taken has been enough to degrade the unit to the point that the player will not automatically be able to use them as they please and certainly makes them dubious candidates to  put into attack. Units that fail the test, retreat 2 hexes and take an additional Heavy Casualty. In effect, this is the point at which the unit is starting to rout. This has come about by the 2018 edit merging the Retreat and Rout Phases and this has also allowed us to take a out the post Close Combat effect chart, which caused units to retreat / rout or become disordered depending by how much they failed their post Close Combat Capability Test by.  

This was the only place in the system that was generating routs and essentially because of the maths it wasn’t performing properly and routs were rare. With the sub-routine removed, the rules are a lot less awkward and the ‘thing of rout’ and retreats etc are now happening naturally within the system, with the accumulation of heavy casualties driving the various aspects of the game.

Command limitations - The command radius is there to encourage the player to keep the elements of a brigade together (as is the Capability Test bonus for adjacent friends) and allow them to support another regiment of the same brigade. A brigade's artillery is not bound by the command radius, allowing them to give fire support further away from the brigade and to be effective in fixed positions for longer. 

The loss of a Brigade Commander has an immediate effect on the capability of the formation by disordering them, hopefully balancing the effect of loss without being too punitive. I have taken the view that command structures offer an efficient transition of command to the next ranking officer relatively quickly. 

The optional rules allow for the generic brigade commanders to test before play to see whether they gain any personal attributes that will influence their performance. I have kept the odds of gaining such attributes low, but hope that when they do arise, they provide a believable character, though as I have said elsewhere, I once created a ‘lucky’ commander who got shot early in the game!

Divisional Commander - The player themselves for the most part has the role of Divisional Commander, so representing oneself and staff officers on the table is best done in an abstract way. Basically in a players own Command and Control Phase, they simply pick up the Divisional Leader base and attach it to a unit of their choice. There is a short list of activities that the leader can assist that unit with during the turn, for example allowing a regiment to support a charging regiment from another brigade or to turn a retreat into a controlled retreat so that the retreating unit does not suffer further casualty markers during the retreat. Once the Divisional Commander helps with an activity it is removed from the board until the next turn. Think of it as the commander giving particular focus to a single part of the battlefield that turn and using their personal energy or that of his staff officers to see that something gets done. 

This in part helps the player see themselves as being separate from what is going on at the tactical level. Quite a few of the sub-routines in the game loosen a players control of unit management and this is a deliberate effect. To be clear, the Divisional Commander is a notional game piece, so does not actually put units into command. 

Half hearted! - In places, the Capability Test is tempered a little so that it does not produce the more extreme results of simple fail or pass. So for example when attempting to charge, a failed test will not stop the charge, but the charge becomes a half hearted attack, reducing the number of attack dice. If a unit fails when testing to change formation (during the movement phase), it will still change formation, but will then not be able to move in the same phase. This sort of thing can affect a unit that shakes out of march column into line, but then can't move up until the next turn, or perhaps artillery that wants to limber / unlimber and move in the same turn, can’t. 

Fire and Charging - Fire will generally inflict casualties and may cause a unit to fall back and disorder. Charging into contact can bring about more significant harm to the enemy and importantly, take ground, but can also lead to casualties amongst the attacker. Both can lead to the removal of enemy units by advancing Heavy Casualty scores, but extra weight is given to units that 'get into' the enemy by charging and taking ground. Note that charging is simply representing the mix of very close fire, the ability to express determination to weaken enemy resolve and ultimately perhaps using the bayonet in that final  50 - 200 yard stretch to contact, with one side generally breaking away without necessarily getting into actual man-to-man fighting.  

Charging units can suffer casualties both on the way in, from defensive fire and then when they attack, any result of '1' on the attack dice will actually harm the attackers, as successfully taking ground does, as with all aspects of combat, sadly come at a price. The scenario should adequately reward the taking of ground and putting tight time limits on scenario length will bring aggressive manoeuvring into sharper focus.

Since a charging unit has to initially test to see whether they launch a full or half hearted attack and then may have to test again if they suffer one or more hits on the way in and then in the execution of  rolling attack dice, any result of ‘1’ inflicts a hit on the attacker, then charging is never a certain thing and once again the rules take certainty and control away from the player and that thing of push-backs, counter-attacks, breaking off attacks and repeated assaults all become a natural flow of play.

The rigours of charging also put a brake on a player using units that have been too badly shot up to attack in a sort of last act of desperation, when in reality the unit would have already lost its offensive capability, making the availability of reserves and fresh units important and also marking a point in time when a formation should be switching over to a defensive stance.

In the 2018 edit, the target of a charge still takes a Capability Test, but this allows it some response  options other than simply to fire. This will allow units to go into square, which helps bring the set into the napoleonic arena.

The 2018 edit also ensures that a melee is decisive in the turn that it is fought. At the conclusion of the charge, one of the sides will fall back and now this is based alone on the heavy casualties that a unit has suffered.

Ganging up - Hexes by their nature make it quite easy for more than one unit to gang up against a single unit and this is not generally a good reflection of how units deployed, particularly with regards to what is going on immediately around them. So, in the game, units generally attack one-on-one. A unit can only be attacked once per phase. The reality of out numbering the enemy locally is dealt with by allowing units to the rear of another unit to support a charge and also by having units being assaulted over different phases. For example in the Artillery Phase a unit could be fired on by artillery. In the following General Fire Phase it could then be fired upon by a regiment and then in the Charge Phase, another regiment could charge, with a supporting behind it if present. These multiple waves or phases of attack are preferable in my view than a single ganging up approach and the units mentioned can only do these things if they themselves are not engaged or otherwise penalised.

Terrain Chart - There isn't one! The effects of terrain on combat and movement is summarised under the Terms and References section. Essentially difficult terrain will hinder movement and the movement mechanic takes care of that, while the degree of cover is considered differently when fired upon than it is when being charged. Protection against small arms fire comes from more substantial cover, while a wider range of cover type can hinder a charge. The small arms fire process has the cover factor built into it, so that units in cover simply suffer a maximum of 1 hit when fired upon and two hits when close assaulted. This should help better represent defensive works and Hougoumont type defences for the napoleonic module. Further, artillery does not have any regard for cover. The way this works creates nuances within the battlefield, so that even the smallest battlefields can produce interest in terms of the impact of the terrain.

Optional Rules - There are just a few optional rules that hopefully may add interest. We have brigades testing cohesion each time they lose one of their regiments. Tiny, large and elite units having some adjustments and Leader Attributes bring a chance that a leader may be thought of in such terms as Inspirational, Exhausted, or even Lucky etc - though in a previous game, my lucky leader got shot in the opening moves!

The charge process gives the attackers extra bonus dice for some situations, such as attacking disordered units, but because any ‘1’ rolled on the attack dice hurts the attacker, there is an optional rule that needs the bonus dice to be a different colour, so that 1’s rolled on them can be readily ignored - though this does have an effect of smoothing out the chaos of attack. 

As I prefer the chaos and frustration that the attacker experiences when 1’s come up on the charge dice, I have kept the rule to negate them for bonus modifiers, in the optional section. It is helpful to see dice modifiers as part of the story-telling, here representing something akin to combat intensity, so the more dice you get to roll when charging, the higher the intensity of attack and with it the higher chance of casualties to both sides. Likewise, when an attacker loses 3 dice for making a half - hearted attack, there is less opportunity for hits (to either side) to result, so we are seeing a lowering of the combat intensity as the attackers start to stall or hesitate and lose momentum early in the assault.

Complexity - It has been the intention that when possible, the game should avoid complexity and keeping the total rules down to 18 pages reflects that, though some of the ways of doing things might mean that the gamer is frequently referencing the rulebook until things become a little more second nature. The rules have been set out so that they follow the sequence of play, so following page by page will help. 

When something is not covered, just try to do what you feel is most realistic, particularly from the view that troops are not supermen and that battlefield manoeuvres can be fraught when under the stress of action, often it will probably be more realistic to not let a unit do something than say it can just because it is not covered in the rules. 

I have already alluded to Napoleonic and AWI versions of these rules. These will largely use the same body of text, but be amended to be a period specific, so each will be a stand alone rule set, but with a game engine that will be common across most aspects of the rules. 

Thanks for downloading and having a look at these rules. If you use them and find them useful, please consider adding a comment to my blog and making a small donation into one of those charity collection boxes that many retail outlets keep by the till. 

This download is for personal use only and all copyright is reserved by Norman Smith.

Link to the May 2018 version of the rules