Sunday, September 30, 2012

Two More Pulse of Battle Playtests

After a few previous playtest games, Brent had made some changes, additions, deletions and tweaks, so it was time to run through the rules again. So, last weekend, we gamed two more playtests of the PoB rules. Both fights involved the usual cast of characters and armies - Romans and Macendonians.

We hoped to be able to get in two games. Game one would be a straight "no terrain" battle so that we could test rules features without terrain being a factor. Obviously, terrain is a factor, so we wanted to do a second game with a little terrain. Matt and I had done two previous playtests with the Chinese using lots of terrain, we had no big issues, just some suggestions.

I have played in 4 battles now with Romans and Macedonians and 2 battles with Three Kingdoms Chinese. Considering that some 500 years separated those two periods, they were both handled well. In my opinion, the rules are coming along nicely. I have seen maturation of concepts while remaining faithful to core Piquet concepts. Fans of classic Piquet and Field of Battle will find familiar mechanisms but with several new twists here and there.

I personally think that the interactions of the different troop types and weapon interactions is looking really good. I do get the feeling that my decisions matter with regard to the right guys at the right place at the right time. Of course, what Piquet excels at is wonderfully interfering with my attempts to get the right guys at the right place at the right time!

The games did not drone on. Both games were completed promptly with a clear decision on victory and defeat! We did not use particularly large forces, so that is a contributing factor in keeping the games short. But we used large enough forces to have an enjoyable battle (about 15 units per side). We use larger armies when we play horse and musket games (25+ units per side) and those games do obviously take longer to conclude.

Here are the two battle reports, with pictures. The second battle report follows the pictures of the first, this is a long post, so scroll down...

Battle One - The Golf Course
Using zero terrain, we deployed the armies using Brent's experimental new system. This system has charm due to its simplicity and speed. If you are fighting a pick up battle and you need to deploy forces on the fly, this gets the troops on the table and into action pretty quickly. It is done with a standard deck of cards. Your hand is randomly drawn but weighted by the quality of your overall command - so, if your command quality is better than the opponent's then you probably have a more advantageous hand to play at deployment time. But, you never know, the Gods of War are fickle at times! Playing the cards determines deployment and change sequences - soon, the lead legions are ready to move out. Also, light types have some advantages in being able to be deployed further forward if desired.

We Romans, in this battle, planned to try to avoid contact with the Macedonian phalanx, focusing on the supporting wings of the enemy army. To that end, we deployed with a large gap between our center and our right. Our left was a completely inadequate force of light and medium horsemen of one of our allied countries. The enemy's left was a force of allied barbarians stiffened with one pike formation. Their right was a powerful force of horsemen. The Macedonian center was the phalanx with the elephants bracing the right extent of that line.

Not being Macedonian, I have no idea what their plan was. The Roman plan was to smash the barbarians on our right and flip into the flanks of the phalanx. On our left our only plan was to try to occupy the enemy horse with ours for as long as possible before being crushed under their weight. If the enemy horse got on the left flank of our center, all would be lost. Our center was to split in two! One part to advance on the elephants and cause the phalanx to either advance forward or hold position without getting pummeled by the phalanx. The other to shift right and pin the enemy phalanx for the flank blow.

That is pretty much how the battle went too. Our horsemen were expended but did not allow the enemy to fight our center - Greg felt a little like Custer with his assignment. The center split and the left portion was able to engage the elephants and to avoid contact with that extent of the enemy phalanx. The right portion of center faded further right and engaged to pin down that extent of the enemy phalanx. The Roman right was able to battle through the barbarians and get the heavy foot onto the flank of the phalanx.

The losses to the barbarians and to the phalanx drained the enemy morale points and the game ended in a Roman victory. It was fairly close though, we lost a bunch of points losing our mounted force and in the bloody fight with the barbarians! Good job to all!

Brent recorded on his blog that the battle was about 2 hours. Honestly, I cannot recall if that included deployment time or not. Nevertheless, impressive!

Battle Two - The Big Hill
For this battle, we re-rated the armies to mix it up and laid down a large hill on the table. There were a couple wooded areas on the flanks of the table also. Used the same deployment method as in game one.

I was again Roman in this game, so I cannot record the enemy plan. From the deployment of the enemy, we can deduce that the phalanx would advance to their right of the hill to grind up the Romans while the mounted troops would dominate the hill. That deployment, if it developed as we thought, would leave their left completely open. So, we deployed our horsemen, "stiffened" with one unit of light foot on our right to either swing 'round and raise havoc in the enemy rear or to divert the enemy horse a little to our right. Our footmen deployed en masse to face the enemy phalanx, elephants and horse.

As the battle developed, the Macedonian horse did indeed advance strongly and occupied the hilltop. To their right, the phalanx did not advance - even to use the hill to protect the flank, so their flank was indeed wide open. Now, that open flank was some 50 or 60 inches away from our horsemen - so, it was sorta safe...for now.

The Roman foot tasked with engaging the enemy horse marched up that hill bravely and soon was entangled with the horse and elephants. Those forces fought really toughly for many, many, many card draws - sharing in both success and failure. Terry and Greg really both fought their forces well here! This engagement did allow for the horse of our force to get moving on that flank move. Our light horse actually made it all the way to that exposed flank of the phalanx!

As the battle on the hill ground on, and the light horse was making its way throught the enemy rear, our left flank was slowly advancing towards the enemy phalanx, screening the movement with light footmen. The enemy phalanx stayed frozen in place.

Eventually, our light horse impacted the phalanx on its flank and begin to drive the footmen away! In the end we tied up a large body of enemy pikemen with a small body of horse, disrupting two-thirds of the enemy formation. However, the Macedonian horse got the upper hand on the hilltop and fractured the Roman force opposing it. Not only did this expose our left to being run down, it drained us of morale points - and the game soon ended in a Macedonian victory! Another well played game!

Brent recorded on his blog that the battle was about 1.5 hours. Again, I cannot recall if that included deployment time or not. But again, an impressive showing of time!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Forces of the Three Kingdoms

To play Three Kingdoms games, you need to be able to create army lists that reflect what we think we understand. So, based on readings of various sources, the below is the basis of our army lists for generating 3K forces.
The Forces of the Three Kingdoms
The Three Kingdoms (3K) period, generally considered to over the years 220 to 280, provides wargamers with a vast palette from which to color our tabletop games! It should be noted that the although the Han dynasty officially ended in 220, wargaming this period could begin around 189 when things really started going bad for the Han and the land became fractured with the fighting against Dong Zhuo, Cao Cao’s machinations and his battles to gain control in the northlands, and the battles fought trying save the Han dynasty. The famous Battle of the Red Cliffs was fought in 208.

During the3K period, the kingdoms not only fought each other but various tribesmen on their borders. From the generals and the soldiers to the intrigue of the internal and external politics to the guile employed by famous military strategists, the period is pretty wide open for creative gamers. This is true whether you enjoy the history of the period with or without the historical-romance flavor of the great novel.

With regard to relative national strengths, the Kingdom of Wei comes in first, having the largest population, with Wu ranking second and Shu third. However, the armies of each of the three kingdoms were likely very similar in construct. Although Wei appears to have had a larger standing army, all 3K forces seem to be a mixture of standing armies, paramilitary forces (warlords and feudal barons), conscripts/levies and various tribal and barbarian allies. Generally speaking, tribal alliances could be fleeting and often these soldiers were thought of as unruly and unreliable. This would, naturally, provide a great variance in the moral quality of the units within the armies – as it was in the later Han period.

Mounted troops of the standing armies and paramilitary organizations, that have had some training, can be thought of as being of higher quality soldiers given the expense of their training and equipment – but this need not always be the case. Many of the allied nomad and barbarian horsemen are fine riders and raiders, dangerous in battle, but not employed is the traditional battle cavalry of the 3K armies. The halberd with a sword-like tip is the most common cavalry weapon of the main forces – but many employ smaller crossbows or bows and were able to fight on foot as well. As in Han times, cavalry remained an important arm in 3K armies although it is thought that their use began to decline near the end of the period due to the loss of northwestern provinces. 

Chariots had passed out of general use in battle but still could be seen as the mount of important generals. But, we feel that it would not be completely out of context to field a chariot unit once in a great while, most likely with Wei’s forces.

On foot, the typical Han 5-rank deployment likely remained the norm. Unless armored, in Pulse of Battle terms most Chinese units will be rated as “medium foot”. The typical Chinese combat weapon was the halberd with a sword-like tip. Chinese armies did not typically deploy throwing spears other than some javelin-armed light foot, although allied auxiliaries may have employed some throwing spears. Crossbows and bows were most often used in mass “indirect” shooting, like artillery is used today. It is conceivable that a minimum of half of the units in our tabletop armies could be crossbow or bow armed – including the horsemen!

Individual units probably varied in uniform, color and armor. It is thought that the primary color of Wei was black, Wu green and Shu red. It is likely, especially in the conscript and levy units, that these colors would appear in the banners flown by the unit while the soldiers wore various clothing.

With around 60% of the Chinese population at the time, Wei is set up as the most powerful state of the three kingdoms. Given the proximity to the horse tribes of the north, Wei has an advantage over its enemies in acquiring horses and mounted allies, making them able to field powerful mounted forces.

On our tabletops, the forces of Wei could consist of up to half of the units in the army being mounted units. Typically this force would be a mixture of Chinese cavalry and allied light horsemen. The remaining units typically being a mixture of heavy and medium foot with few if any light foot troops. Naturally, smart generals tailor their forces to meet the expected conditions of the campaign, so we don't consider these suggested proportions a requirement!

It seems that the Kingdom of Wei had a large standing army; some sources say Cao Cao had 1,000,000 men under arms before his death in 220. Regardless of the actual number, the point is clear, the army of Wei could have a fairly large percentage of trained men in most forces - with the remainder filled out by conscripts and tribal allies.

Sometimes allied with Shu against Wei, Wu uses its many rivers to provide natural defensive positions and obstacles to enemy maneuver. A large portion of the kingdom is tropical and this terrain is often unsuitable for cavalry armies. As a result, Wu fields little cavalry, what cavalry it does present would likely be light Chinese cavalry.

Trained men certainly would be available, but we consider that the majority of Wu’s forces are conscript footmen (heavy, medium and light) with auxiliaries from the southern tribes. The terrain making it practical to employ a larger number of light foot than the other armies of the period. An alliance with the Kingdom of Annam (modern day Vietnam) can add both medium and light footmen as well as elephants to their armies. In addition, Wu has strong naval forces.

Sometimes allied with Wu against Wei, the western kingdom of Shu was noted as the land of many of the most famous personalities in China.

Shu appears to have been very successful in recruiting the western tribes to their cause. This provided both foot and mounted units for their armies. Shu can field good sized cavalry forces, perhaps up to one-third of a tabletop army could be mounted troops. These troops, like Wei’s, would be of Chinese cavalry and allied light horsemen.

As with Wu, although trained men certainly would be available, we consider that the majority of Shu’s forces would be conscripts, with the armies filled out by allied auxiliaries. Shu’s footmen would be a mixture of heavy, medium and light with the allies usually providing the majority of the light foot.

The Bottom Line
To us, it is this terrific mix of quality and troop types that gives us a lot of potential for wargames that can contain the opportunity for tabletop generalship. Not only do you have to worry about getting the right troops to the right place at the right time, but you must be aware that some portion of both armies on the field are somewhat less reliable than others. Disaster and opportunity dance freely together! 

This equals enjoyment and entertainment for us. Collecting and painting armies and learning about the history is fun. Using them on the tabletop and having fun in that realm closes the loop!

I'll make more posts about troop type distributions that we use and stuff like that. Hopefully, someone will be inspired to look into this colorful period!

Leave a comment if you have information or ideas to contribute to our efforts!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pulse of Battle - Three Kingdoms

Well, following on from the previous post, Matt and I played a Pulse of Battle game using the 28mm Chinese troops. We set up a nice looking little battlefield and divided the miniatures as evenly as we could.

I have only 16 units painted and based up at the time, so we each took eight units. Each of our armies was divided into 2 commands. Because the battle was small and we wanted it to last as long as it possibly could - we're play testing, so, we wanna play - we gave ourselves the maximum number of army morale points: 10 each.

We deployed the forces using a system Brent is working on possibly for PoB and quickly had troops on the table. So, I took some images (the works are just for show, we did not use them).

We just kept the same sequence decks from yesterday, I ended up with the Poor deck, again. We re-rated our leaders and both commanders ended up as D8 Leadership dice.Matt again represented Wei, and I, Wu.

We also decided to play using all of the rules notes for potential adjustments we discussed the night before in the previous game. This was good, because we refined a few notes, tossed some aside and added more notes. The important thing was experiencing stuff so that we could report data to Brent for his consumption and judgement.

Matt opened the festivities with some light horse coming around but overall was content to sit tight to see what I did. Well, with my right anchored on some woods I decided to launch an assault on Matt's right flank. His flank was also anchored in some woods, but behind those woods was an opening that I thought I could slip some light horse through.

So, I crashed as much as I could onto his line to hold them and swung my light horse around!

They made it around the woods and crashed into the rear of an enemy unit while it was also being hit in front! Destroyed that enemy unit but good! Hey, maybe I'd have my revenge on Matt today?!?!?

Well, Matt is a good soldier. He knows how to handle his troops. He was able to salvage a new line to prevent further havoc from my light horse. The troops on his new line were damaged and disordered, but they were there...we'll see what the sequence deck brings us!

 To counter my move, Matt saw an opportunity on my right to launch his light horse on a death ride into my army - first hitting a foot unit on the flank. This unit was rated as a D12 combat die and a D4 defense die - Matt figured he could cause some damage before the unit was destroyed.

Well, his light horse smashed through than unit and through the gap and into my bolt throwers, taking them out too! As my only reserve unit - a really tough unit of halbardiers - moved to counter them, they withdrew to safety. Once again, Matt schooled me on the use of light horse! I think he rode with Genghis Khan in a past life!

To seal the deal, Matt sent his medium horse forward to clean up the scraps. Meanwhile, encouraged by Matt's light horse, I sent my lights back in for more duty but they got swamped and had to pull out with losses.

At one point, I had Matt down to 1 morale point while I had about 6. Now, I was at 0 and he was back to 5. The battle ended soon thereafter on the appearance of the army morale card. I guess I was not going to get my revenge after all! Well played Matt! Good work!

After the action we had several good notes to send to Brent and the satisfaction of having gotten the 28mm Chinese on the table for the first time and had an awesome fight with them!

More Pulse of Battle - 15mm

On Saturday and Sunday, Matt was over and we played two play test battles of Pulse of Battle using the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China as our environment.

In the first game, we played with Matt's 15MM Chinese armies based for DBA. The PoB system worked absolutely fine around that basing style. We considered one DBA element a "unit" in PoB. We rated up the troops and had at it. Also, we used half-distances for the battle. So a 5" range was played as a 2.5" range, etc. That seemed to work well for us, easy too.

Matt, representing Wei, took an army of 18 units. My buddy John came over about this time and joined me in running a 14 unit army representing Shu.

We set up using the Field of Battle deployment system, the Fate and Command Decision tables and about the only thing that came out of that was that Wei had a huge deployment advantage in terms of being allowed a very forward deployment in one sector of the field.

Wei's army had a Skilled sequence deck and Shu had a Poor sequence deck - so the odds were stacking up rapidly against Shu. The commander of Wei had a D12 for Leadership while Shu had only a D8. Wei ended up with 23 morale points and Shu with 18.

So, as you can see from the deployment picture below, Wei was able to place a large force very close to the Shu lines. John and I, co-generals of Shu - John was the "General of the Left" and I was the "General of the Right" - decided to huddle up in the middle with the bulk of our forces but to deploy some crossbowmen in the woods to harry the flank of the most forward enemy units.

When the action started, the initiative die roll difference was nine! Nine! Ouch. The armies of Wei will have a lot of leeway on the first turn! Matt quickly tossed out a strong screen of horse archers and really was able to use them very effectively! He put a hurtin' on the horse in our defensive line - weakening them before the inevitable assault of his heavier horsemen (yes, we had to improvise with puff balls for shooting markers, sorry).

Our own missile troops were able to return some damage to the barbarian horsemen!

At that point, the battle quickly escalated. The heavy horse came in and we had many desperate situations developing, before we knew it we had lost 12 of our 18 morale points - to just 3 or 4 of Matt's being lost!

Shu's lines held and we drove off the horsemen assailing us. The heavy foot we had ended up being rated pretty high and were real monsters! Even the elephant of our Annam allies got some good action in!

Things slowed down a little as Matt's remaining forces got into position - they were not able to deploy so far forward and had to march to the fight. Wei's heavy foot crested a hill and their missile troops crept around our right using the woods for cover. On our left, the heavy horsemen of Wei's allies had been dealt with and would not return - but - the light horse was still there as a threat.

When Matt sallied forth a few unsupported units of foot, I took the opportunity to hit them.

Sadly, this little battle did not end up well for John and I. Let's just say that the enemy will be eating elephant flesh for a week. Yummy. That ended the fight as we had lost all of our morale points and failed the test roll on the Army Morale Card. Matt had lost 10 of his 23 points, but had 1 returned to him through our losses.

It was fun - a little weird to get used to playing with units that are "one element" due to the DBA basing - but we managed. We made lots of notes for Brent during the game and resolved to play another game in the morning - using the 28mm Chinese troops!