Monday, 19 October 2015

ACW, Black Powder, and a playtest

This past Saturday at the Hamilton Road Games Group, a group of us played an American Civil War game using the Black Powder rules. We'd used them before with 15mm figures and found them to work well. This time, however, we used 28mm figures and got quite a spectacle. Ralph was planning a large game for one of the big convention in the States and needed to play test it. That sort of thing was right up our alley at the Games Group. Martin, Andy, Kevin, Bear, and I all jumped in. Brian came and served as war correspondent for Harper's Weekly, that is, he kibbitzed.

Each player handled about a brigade. I had two Confederate infantry regiments and two Confederate cavalry regiments of 28 and 12 figures in the different types. (Photos are by Martin, Andy, and myself.)
From the left clockwise: Andy, Kevin, Bear, Ralph, and your humble blogger. Martin took the photo.

My brigade of Confederates, eager for the fight... almost.

After determining initiative, the Rebels moved first. I rolled my command roll and the entire brigade went to sleep! I failed the roll and couldn't move anything. Martin, who had skirmishers ("pickets") moved forward quickly to take a small woods, a house, and a church on our end of the battlefield. Ralph moved forward, but also realised that his infantry had masked his guns! In Black Powder, artillery can fire over intervening troops only if the firer or the target are on a higher elevation, howitzers and mortars being the exceptions. Bear hadn't arrived yet so his brigade sat idle, as did Kevin's Federals, just to make things fair.

Another view of my sleeping Rebs.
Ralph's pickets ran up to the fence line just opposite Andy's lines. They didn't stay long and, after firing a few shots, fell back after Andy's men charged over the rail fence. They fell back to the rail fence that had been their starting point.

Andy's brigade including a Zouave regiment rated as "Veteran", which translates to "Steady" in Black Powder-ese.

Ralph's Confederate pickets.

Here you see the confrontation. The outcome is obvious.

The corner of Martin's pickets, who had occupied the house in front of my troops.

As the pickets fell back, Ralph had his unit of VMI (Virginia Military Institute) cadets hop the fence to un-mask his guns.
However the pickets also masked the cannon and all the gun ended up shooting on the oblique.
When Bear arrived, he and Kevin began to manoeuvre a bit, but for some time, it didn't amount to much. Then they got into it and fur began to fly.

Bear's troops come forward toward the settlement and the small hill.
A more aerial view of that end of the battle.

On my end, I decided to continue to exchange fire with Martin's Federals... once I got my units to rouse. Just to "see how the monster works", I charged one of Martin's regiments, his Zouaves, with one of my cavalry units. Make no mistake, this was not a good idea. They never made contact and melted away from the closing fire. Actually I should say they took casualties and has to take a break test, which they failed. So they broke and left the field.

The cavalry attempt to charge home, to no avail.

A view of Martin's Zouave unit, part of Ralph's collection. (as were all the figures.)

A better view of the Zouave regiment... with Andy checking rules in the background.
The post action photo with the cavalry gone away.
Soon after this, we decided to check the status of the brigades. I had lost one regiment of cavalry and two of my infantry regiments was shaken (that, is they had taken at least as many casualties as their "stamina" characteristic.) So my brigade was broken and had to withdraw. The cavalry got off the field in one move and the infantry fell back, but not off the board.

The beginning of the withdrawal being contested by Union troops.

"Y'all fall back to heah, boys!"
The brigadier shows where the infantry would have fallen back to had I actually moved them.

The game was interesting because it allowed Ralph to fine tune his game for the convention. I also tried to see if cavalry could frontally assault infantry, and the answer was "no!" I was also able to use my brigadier to rally a unit that had taken casualties up to its stamina point; I'd never done that before and I don't know if anyone else in our group had either.
I found Ralph's system for marking casualties to be a good one and one that doesn't detract from the "look" of the game. He mounted a casualty figure on a base and make a sort of cradle/slot/case for a small die. When the unit took a casualty, you simply put out the casualty base with a "1" showing on the the die. When further casualties were taken, you simply turned the die to the appropriate number.

See? I like the idea but I'm not sure I have the patience and the finances to get, paint, and use a whole slew of casualty figs.

Another view of a casualty counter in the town battle.

One of Ralph's regiments with the casualty appended to the far flank.

Ralph's USA command stand which was worth a photo by itself.
The flag is for a Minnesota regiment, so I can guess the colonel's name.
Andy's crew at the rail fence.

A long view of the table at the end of the day.
Ralph's crew at HIS rail fence.

My two cavalry units in better days.
Yes, the Fenian in the bog was just there for fun... or as a sign of "things to come."

The infantry and the cavalry exchanged fire for a time.
Bear and Kevin's battle... 'way down the other end of the table!
Not a bad outing all told. Helped a friend play-test a scenario, tried a few new things, got to use someone else's figures. ("Why are you charging the infantry?" "It's not MY army!") Not bad at all.


  1. I protest sir, my battle with Bear did result in losing one of his units and halting his forward advance on the federals left flank. Bears brigade thus being occupied could not come to the aid of Ralph's brigade in the center. Allowing the federal time to break two of the rebel brigades for the win.

    1. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You got a problem? Talk to the chaplain. (However, I'm sure you're right. All part of the plan, correct?)

  2. Looked a great game John, some damn fine looking figures on show as well.

    1. Thanks, Ray! I have to agree whole-heartedly that the figs were a delight. It was all Ralph's collection, many of which were professionally done. I think Andy supplied the trees.

  3. Wow what a great looking game. Did you use any extra rules or just the basic black powder rules?

    1. I thought it looked fine, too, Mark. We used Black Powder "as written" with the pickets/skirmishers as "tiny" units and one "veteran/steady" infantry unit on each side. There were no house rules or variants at all. That's one reason I like Black Powder; it plays fine as is, and you could add a tweak or two without much problem. For example, in a previous game (in 15mm), we permitted the cavalry to dismount and lead their horses through a wooded area at a walk, mounting again on the other side. The rule book mentions this in passing in the description of the ACW game in it.