Sunday, January 30, 2011

Die Fighting - SYW

This past Saturday, seven of us met at Bob's house (Bob making 8) and played a six-player game of Die Fighting. This time, the period was the Seven Years War to test out the template for that period. Successful battle fun for all of us with a narrow victory for the Austrians. Yes, the battle involved Austrians vs. Prussians.

Let me get some business out of the way up front. I am friends with the rules author, we play together often with many others. He did not ask me to write this, I make no money from the sale of his game. I write this because I had fun playing the game and because I see value in sharing fun experiences and I see value in the rules. There is some neat stuff in there in my opinion. OK, on with the fun…

We did an interesting thing with this scenario - the Prussians used the turn sequence that allowed them to select the next action phase for their side, while the Austrians used the fixed sequence. So, due to the comparatively advanced tactical capabilities of the Prussians, they could select a card in each phase that reflects the tactical actions that would be done that phase. However, the Austrians, with a fixed sequence would roll a D6 at the beginning of each new turn and begin with that phase and move sequentially through the actions in each successive phase. To inform the reader, each "turn" consists of six "phases". Phases are "Infantry Action", "Reload, Rally, Restore" and the like - so that in a turn the full gamut of actions are available to a player. These actions are numbered 1 thru 6 and are followed in that order unless otherwise determined.

So, both sides always knew what was next for the Austrians, but the Prussians had options regarding the sequence of their phases and the Austrians never really knew what was coming. Yes, this meant that while the Austrians did "Cavalry Action" the Prussians could have been doing an entirely different action. This was great fun - and we thought - a good way to model the difference in command quality for the armies in the period. The Prussian commander - a player that never played this rule set before - remarked that while he had some control, he was never in complete control. In my opinion, that's what you want as a player.

Also, we had an odd occurrence - I don't know of the UK playtest group encountered this - one army had a remarkably higher pool of resource dice than the other did. Due to the type and number of units and the way dice sometimes fall the Austrians began the game with 364 resource dice while the Prussians had only 235. Now, one might say "geeze, no sense fighting this battle, the Prussians are doomed to lose" - and I would not blame them for thinking that. After all resource die are extremely important - once you're out, you're finished.

But, in Die Fighting that simply means that you must play carefully (no, not as cautiously as McClellan) - you can still lose the battle yet win the game! A side can minimize a loss (especially important in the context of a campaign or tournament) by conceding defeat - but they must still fight well (play the game well too). If you think historically and tactically, you husband your strength, look for local advantages, strike hard when the enemy makes a mistake make all of his gains as costly as possible (I think of Joe Johnston before Atlanta in 1864).

Now, when one side has such a large advantage I believe that they are strongly incentivized to attack. Strike hard, strike fast. This is, to me, how it is in history – if you have a clear advantage then play to it immediately, don’t squander it. McClellan had all the advantages at Antietam and squandered them. (yes, you can tell that love the American Civil War).

This is one very interesting aspect of history – the human factors involved. Humans make mistakes from time to time! If you had the all of the advantages that McClellan had that September you’d launch an overwhelming attack wouldn’t you? If you knew you had to be careful, like Johnston defending Atlanta, you’d fight like a sly fox wouldn’t you?

Well, both sides in Saturday’s wargame made huge mistakes! The Austrians defended and the Prussians attacked! After the battle, soaking in the lessons learned, we could not believe that is what happened! The humans blew it! Oh, but we still had a good time. Instead of a crushing Austrian assault and a cagey Prussian defense we strung out our lines and did exactly what we shouldn’t have. The result was a narrow Austrian victory.

In my mind, I think these factors contributed to the determining who the attacker was and who the defender was:
1.    As fate intervenes in real warfare, it did so on our tabletop. The Austrians had a naturally defensible position.
2.    The Austrians had an “inept” rated commander (commanding half of the available infantry). 
3.    Seeing little movement from the Austrians and bolstered by good commanders, the Prussians just came on and made a fight of it.

So, even though the Austrians had more dice to burn and more “boots on the ground” – we did not conceive of attacking! I guess we really were “historical” Austrian generals!  We outnumbered the Prussians in dice by 129 and 22 units to 17 units (each side had 5 cavalry units and 3 artillery units included).

In the end, the Austrians won the game but only by 53 “dice” after the final tally of the scoring. This is in spite of the fact that the Austrians had 223 dice remaining to 53 for the Prussians (a final advantage of 170). Given the advantage we had, it was a squandered opportunity – kind of like kicking a field goal from the opponent’s 10 yard-line. In a campaign, wins like that could lose the war!

So, for me, I take away the following lessons:
1.    Act in accordance to your resource advantage or disadvantage. If you need to be Joe Johnston then be smart and tactically good. If you need to be John Bell Hood, then by all means, advance! Be aware if you are acting like McClellan.
2.    Musketry can be a battle of attrition – unless typical advantages such as numbers or enfilade apply. I find this to feel correct historically. Sometimes, lines could stand there and shoot for some time at each other. This is the most common form of combat and will cause the most losses. Look for advantages.
3.    Melee earns you more immediate results than musketry but is not without risk. The loss or gain of resource dice resulting from melee is, to me, in line with the moral effects of this combat.
4.    If your period or army has tactical advantages, use them. In this game, the Prussians willfully dismissed a movement advantage they had and it cost them dice.

None of the above is earth shattering news to any of us – seems like wargaming common sense. Then again, the human factor presents itself causing our little histories to be written nearly as strangely as real history!

I hope you guys enjoy your own history making!

PS – Greg, your collection of miniatures for this period is simply outstanding! So well painted and mounted, just adds a great deal of pleasure to the experience!

Miscellaneous photos...

Bob, Beer, Dice. Need I say more?

Cavalry Standoff

Action heating up



Good guys!

Prussian High-water Mark

You come out. No, you come out.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Tony. Even though I had to leave the game early, I now have a sense of what happened.