Saturday 7 August 2021

Converting TF-ON rules to non-hex

My ACW rules, Two Flags - One Nation have been around in hex format for some time. In this most recent version (2021), I have converted them over to an open table format while taking the opportunity to change a few things. In effect, the 2018 version and the 2021 version will be sister versions, one hexed and one not.

By moving away from the 4″ hex in this edition, now any scale of figure is easier to work with and the 2021 rules use two sets of measurements to embrace that. 

Thanks to bloggers Jonathan F and Steve W for supporting the rules on their blogs over the years and for the nudge to get this conversion closer to the finishing line.

I pretty much have the full text and charts that I think will see the 2021 version done. I just need a little more time with it before making it available, but in the meantime, here are the updated design notes, included with the rules, that bring us up to date.

It is wordy and without pictures, so those fortified enough to want to know more, please use the ‘read now’ tab for the rest of this post. 

Design Notes. (Edited for August 2021)

Two Flags - One Nation. The 2018 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.  

Entering 2021, the rules are again going through the cycle of a new edition, this time to produce a sister set that will allow the system to be played on an open table rather than hexed. I was using a 4 hex, so the basis and starting point of conversion was to translated 4 increments of movement and weapon range to the open table for the 12mm scale that I was using and 6″ for 28mm that I also collect.

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.

For example, introducing skirmishers immediately had an impact on the way Bufords dismounted cavalry behaved, which caused further tweaks, bringing the new skirmish rules to the point that I think better represent how the cavalry action should look and feel.

A second scenario, the fictional 'Action at Mill Creek', has also been carried over from the last edition, which works well 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 etc). An addition to this version is the inclusion of the skirmish line as a separate formation. March column and limbered artillery are 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 version of the rules, as will the assault column. 

Here the effect of square or at least the potential resistance of formed infantry and artillery to cavalry through firepower is reflected by the -3 modifier that cavalry suffer in close combat when charging a unit head on that has 4 or less Heavy Casualty markers, representing good defensive cohesion and confidence in the firepower that they can put down. 

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. The 2018 edit did bring some restructuring of the Close Combat procedures and this slightly reduced the number of testing steps, while preserving design intent.

One area that 2021 has seen a reduction in dice rolling is a change from units taking a Capability Test every time they entered difficult terrain to see whether they pick up a Disorder Marker. Now, Disorder is automatic and can become quite telling as a unit can now under the rule changes, accumulate multiple Disorder Markers. There are pros and cons to this, especially having regard for unit capability (training, experience etc), but overall the streamlining of the process and reduction in dice rolls seems worth it as some ACW battlefields have a lot of ‘difficult terrain’. The change also promotes the newly introduced skirmishing rules. 

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 some games 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, so 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 was 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 on a unit 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 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. This can see an attacker flip to a more defensive stance. Units cannot get rid of their Heavy Casualty markers, 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 assumed 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 and take an additional Heavy Casualty. In effect, this is the point at which the unit is starting to rout. This came about by merging the Retreat and Rout Phases (in the 2018 edit) and this has also allowed us to take 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.

Cumulative Disorder - This is a new rule for the 2021 edition. Before, a disordered unit that took another disorder result simply remained disordered. Now additional disorder markers can be accumulated by a unit. This does not effect the modifiers in the game, the unit will always simply be classed as disordered and suffer the same penalty regardless of the number of disorder markers accrued, rather, it means that in the Rally Phase, a very disordered unit will likely take longer to sort itself out i.e. to rally off all of its disorder.

In the first draft, a unit could only attempt to remove one disorder marker per Rally Phase, but this proved too restrictive, especially on battlefields that had a lot of difficult terrain, which was common. Now all Disorders are rolled for in the Rally Phase, which returns some unpredictability, as in the first draft, unit quite quickly would predictably become Disordered and stay so for several turns, which matters as Disorder has quite an impact on play.

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. The 2021 version now includes a brigade's artillery being bound by the command radius. They can still give fire support while being out of command range, so can find the best firing positions and to be effective in fixed positions for longer, but now, when out of command and moving, they must move towards the brigade commander, reinforcing their organisational ties with the brigade. 

The loss of a Brigade Commander has an immediate effect on the capability of the Brigade’s regiments by disordering them all, 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. 

In the 2021 version, a brigade that loses their commander will get a replacement quite quickly, but each regiment will now suffer 2 Disorder markers, rather than the 1 Disorder of the 2018 set. 

The optional rules allow for the 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 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 direct 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. The charge, that represents closer fighting can bring about more significant harm to the enemy and importantly, take ground, but can also lead to casualties to the attacker. Both types of attack can lead to the removal of enemy units by advancing Heavy Casualty levels, 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 150 - 50 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 deliver their 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 unit should be switching over to a defensive stance.

The target of a charge takes a Capability Test and passing this can allow it some response options other than simply to fire. This will be used in the future to allow units to go into square when the napoleonic sub-set is being worked on. In the 2021 version, it allows skirmishers (newly introduced and no longer a generic concept) to get back into line formation.

A Close Combat is decisive in the turn that it is fought. At the conclusion of the charge, one of the sides will fall back and this is based alone on the heavy casualties that a unit has suffered since the start of battle.

Ganging up - The system prevents multiple units ganging up against a single unit in a single attack and 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 (attack in depth) and also by having units being assaulted over different phases that highlight a method of fighting. 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 unit behind it if present. These multiple waves or phases of attack are preferable in my view than a single ganging up approach (common in hex games) and in any case, 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 the more substantial type of 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 Farm type defences for the napoleonic module. Further, artillery fire does not have any regard for cover. This works to create nuances within the battlefield, so that even the smallest battlefields can produce interest in terms of the impact of the terrain, even though generically handled as ‘difficult terrain’.

In the 2021 version, open high ground, which didn’t impact on combat, has been given a slight tweak, with charging units adding a +1 penalty on their charge Capability Test when attacking uphill. This slightly nudges outcomes to ‘half hearted attacks’, something I felt best represented the tiring / exhausting nature of fighting uphill, rather than using the blunt instrument of combat modifiers.

Scales and Measurements - The hex version of the game didn’t need inch / centimetre measurements and the size of the hex meant that generally the smaller scale of figure would be used. Going to an open table changed both of these things. The 2021 version uses inches for measurements and it presents these in the format of 12(8)″, where the first figure is for the 20 - 28mm sized figures and the bracketed figure for anything smaller and that smaller scale is generally a straight hex to inches conversion of 1 hex is 4″, with 28’s being 1 hex is 6”. 

Obviously the larger scale of figure is needing a larger space, but overall the system is still small space friendly. My 28mm units have frontages of 6″, though of course a player may want to go wider and may want the smaller scales to slightly grow at say 5″, none of which should really matter too much, it is after all the look of the thing that brings many of us to the table. I found that with my Kallistra  12mm, 2 x 40mm bases fit the hex nicely, but that on the open table I preferred 3 x 40mm bases.

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.

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 any 1’s rolled on them can be readily ignored by the attacker - 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 any of the charge dice, the above ‘negating rule’ has been left as optional. 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 for example, there is a lower intensity of combat and so less opportunity for hits (to either side).

Complexity - It has been the intention that when possible, the game should avoid complexity and keeping the core rules down to 17 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 through that sequence for a few turns will help embed the processes. 

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 reflect being 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. I would hope to make the main differences show up in the various game charts, including the sequence of play, so that the play aid card can drive the changes without the player (me!) getting confused between rule sets.

Skirmishers - other than the obvious change of moving away from hexes, the biggest change to the 2021 version has been the inclusion of the Skirmish Line as being a recognised formation. In the 2018 set, it was accepted that the local commander was using line, column or skirmish as appropriate, so there was a generic skirmisher presence.

Now units can make a formation change and physically go into skirmish formation. The headline attributes are; skirmishers only fire with 1D6 (and cavalry carbines 2D6) and no modifiers. They ignore difficult terrain penalties and don’t pick up a Disorder Marker for moving through difficult terrain. When fired upon, they cannot suffer more than 1 hit. In Close Combat they do not inflict casualties, but do suffer all the hits that are rolled against them. Charging units taking a Capability Test get a +2 for charging skirmishers … we want to reduce ‘half hearted’ charges against skirmishers here.

That is a fair old number of distinguishing differences. In trying to keep them true to role, I wanted to promote the idea of ‘screening’ and unhindered movement amongst difficult terrain and frustrating the enemy, but not bring in such fancy footwork that allows them to do sideways or rearward moves without penalty or to make them in any way resilient if fighting close up with a formed enemy. They are first and foremost screening and just using open order, while not picking up Disorder Markers in difficult terrain may be their greatest value.

If they pass their capability test when charged, one option they get is to form back up into line (giving up the chance of defensive fire), but if they caught on the hop, then they will get rough handling. Anyway only time will tell whether that is all rather too much goodness!  

Is there any reason why you or I should think of these as great rules, well no, not really. They originally existed because they were hex based and in that format there is little around for the gamer to choose from to use hexes with figures and so the hex rules are useful in their own right. In this new open format, they don’t in truth have anything that is particularly special or that sets them apart from the many, many sets that are already available. I still like what they do (obviously) and I wanted an alternative to the grid - so here we are!

Resource Section.

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