Monday, 4 January 2016

Black Powder and the ACW... or War between the States... or whatever.

I was raised calling the conflict "the American Civil War." I have been assailed by others who refer to it as "the War of Northern Aggression" or other such emotion-loaded titles. "The War between the States" appears more neutral... accept the war was between two "national" governments. It's all too much for me. We could just as easily call the English Civil War, "the War between the High and Low Churches with some Scottish interference" or the Spanish Civil War, "the War between Conservative-and-less-than-Conservative-crack-pot-Spanish-political-factions" or the WBCALTCCPSPF for short. (Remember what was said of the Spanish Republic: "When the Communist Party is the most conservative faction of your government, you're in real trouble.") No title ever really seems to capture the reality of the conflict, especially the dumb word jumble I created above.

All that not with-standing... The Hamilton Road Games Group met on Saturday and played an American Civil War game using Warlord Games' excellent Black Powder rules. Andy and Kevin led the Union side each with a brigade (4-5 regiments of infantry and a cannon, Kevin having a unit of skirmishers/"pickets") while Bear and I ran the Confederate troops, again with each of us fielding a brigade. We wanted to keep the game small and manageable.

The field of battle in its pristine shape.

The southern exposure of the same.

Andy's Union brigade advances toward the plantation house and plowed field.
The "plowed field" is actually burlap from the dollar store's scrapbooking supplies section.

My Rebel brigade has already taken casualties and the unit on the far right used to be in the front rank of the advance.
It had taken so much damage the second line unit - Wheat's Special Battalion aka the Louisiana Tigers - advanced through it to engage the Federal troops in the plantation house.

Andy and I advanced toward each other over the cotton or bean field. Bear and Kevin's brigade commanders both failed their command rolls and sat still... for two turns! Their frustration was tangible. (In Black Powder, Command is rolled every turn. A brigadier can order each unit individually or the brigade as a whole. If the player rolls over the general's command rating, the orders failed to get there. If the roll is equal to the rating or one less, one action may take place -either a move or a formation change. Two less than the rating, two actions. Three or more less, three actions.) While they stewed, Andy and I exchanged fire and he got the better of my brigade, with one regiment shaken and unable to move toward the enemy. This exchange of fire felt very real to me; I've read that in many battles the units blazed away at close range rather than coming to grips hand-to-hand. Oddly my cannon was given orders to move and received a "blunder" (on a double 6/"boxcars") and got a "charge" result requiring it to move three moves forward! How fortunate! Also how futile!

Before long my entire brigade was shaken and would have to withdraw. Bear's Texans and Kevin's troops had not get come to grips. 

My frustrated brigadier watches the 7th Georgia and Wheat's Special Battalion advance.

Kevin's troops await orders... and keep on waiting.
The 1st US Sharpshooters are on the distant right of the photo.

Bear's Texans with one Virginia regiment also await orders to advance.

FINALLY! Both sides moved up with Kevin taking the high ground.
Out of the photo on the right was a Confederate battery which did an amazing thing.
Finally both brigades moved to attack. (There was some discussion about the use of "initiative" to move. More will be said about that later.) Kevin took two regiments up the ridgeline and pushed two others into the gap between the hills with some forested area there as well. The green-clad 1st USSS moved into the woods to counter Bear's unit of pickets. (Andy and I were already out of the game, with my troops withdrawing and his in pursuit as it were. Under other circumstances, he might have turned to mouse-trap Bear's troops, but we decided not to do that.) The Texans and Kevin's New Yorkers begain to exchange fire. A freshly-recruited/recently-painted unit, the 57th New York charged Bear's cannon. Now usually cannon can hardly defend themselves from an infantry attack and go down swinging and firing canister. HOWEVER, the dice-angels saw to it that this cannon crew stood by their cannon, pistols, or clubbed rammers and were not swept away by the New Yorkers' assault. They stood their ground and were aided by a Texas regiment that entered the fray by attacking the Union regiment's rear. As it ended up, the New Yorkers fought the scuffle to a stand-still this time. No body ran off and the melee continued. The rest of Kevin's troops didn't do as well and began to withdraw because of the shaken status of majority of the units. So the Union right was successful and the Confederate right was successful. By rights, the battle should've turned on a central axis, but we'd all had enough. 

That's the battery! Right there! Umlimbering to give some Federal infantry a black eye.

The divisional general checking the map his aide is carrying.

Andy's Federals advance over the field.

Now Kevin and Bear come to grips.

Andy's view of my advance early in the game.

A close-up of the Butternuts.

I must say that, although I was not victorious, I enjoyed the game. Black Powder is quite playable. The command rules can be more than a little frustrating. As the game went on and units began to grow moss on the north side of their legs, we decided to permit the units to advance on "initiative" rather than waiting for specific orders. According to the rules, initiative can only be used when a unit is within 12" of an enemy unit and even then it is an option. This represents a regimental commander taking matters into his own hands and engaging the enemy or following a pre-arranged battle plan or responding to a signal. I believe the frustration of the moment and the units refusing to move (i.e. the general failing his command roll) let to us deciding to permit units to move on initiative where-ever they might be on the table. It did get the game rolling.

The more I thought about it, I think I prefer the original reading of the rule - initiative can only be used when within 12" of an enemy unit. This interpretation is a little muddy in the Black Powder rules, but is quite clear in the sister rules, Pike & Shotte and Hail Caesar as well as their grand-daddy, GW's Warmaster. In all of these, it is very clear that initiative moves are only possible when the unit in question is close to an enemy (12" or 6" depending on the set of rules.) I may lobby for this next time. On the other hand, certain units may perform one move despite a command failure, units like limbered artillery and troops in road column. They can always do one action, either a move or a formation change, no matter what garbage their brigadier rolled. Personally, I think I'd add units designated as skirmishers, "pickets", or whatever, especially if the unit has been given the status of "Marauders", who ignore distance from the brigade or division commander on receiving orders. It make sense to me that such independant formations would move anyway. So light hussars, jagers, Cossacks, or such detatched outfits would be able to move or change formation even if their parent brigade goes into a coma for a turn.

Just my opinion... not necessarily that of the management.

The plan next week is for SAGA. We'll see if the Irish do any better or if they will become Hiberno-Norse or Norse-Gaels or something like that.

For those who might be wondering (an assumption on my part), I usually prefer to paint my own flags for my units. I say "usually" because I use pre-printed ones. In the past, I've painted quite a few including the flag of the US state of Maryland for the War of 1812's 5th Maryland Militia from Baltimore. 

This is not my work, but you can see how wildly complex this flag can be.
I'm also a bit of an Austrio-phile and you all know what sort of flag they carry to hoist the Doppelalder.

Not the real thing, but an amazing simulation!
I suppose this is the final proof of my lack of sanity. If you need more proof, well, I also collect and paint the Swedish army of the Napoleonic Wars.

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