The Road Less Traveled

24 04 2011

Roads are critical to the Civil War Battlefield.  Battles almost always occurred on terrain with road access and many famous battles were fought because of their proximity to a crossroads.  Antietam, Gettysburg and our very own Champion hill are but to name a few.

Roads had a number of notable impacts on the Civil War Battlefield:

  • Troops in column moved at a greatly accelerated speed along a road.
  • Roads were the principle means of access to the battlefield.  Once a battle was begun, troops that would join the battle would do so via a road.
  • Roads are easily navigated and orders involving roads are very easily understood.  Troops could make excellent progress on a road in part because no prior knowledge of the terrain was required to make progress.
  • Troops moving along a road are unbelievably vulnerable.  Formations for Moving are radically different than the formations for fighting.  Strategies for deploying troops often vacillate between getting the battle quickly or getting to the battle ready to fight.  Initial deployments of troops often occur not so much to engage the enemy but to provide cover for fresh troops entering the battle via a road that would otherwise be unusable because of enemy fire.
  • Roads were strategic in and of themselves.  This is particularly true of Champion hill where the two roads immediately behind the hill led to solid river crossings and had to be taken for the North to advance on Vicksburg and had to held by the South to allow for troops to withdraw to the city.

In McPherson and revenge roads will dramatically impact movement of virtually all troop types.  Troops will have to be arranged to make the most of roads; Infantry and Cav in column and artillery limbered.

Roads will also impact command and control in McPherson and Revenge.  Standing orders for troops to continue down a road can always be assumed given how easy it is to continue marching.  So long as troops are to move their full movement along a road as a general’s initial order, a general will not have to make a skill roll activate troops for road marching.

Scenarios will be massively impacted by roads.  They will be crafted to make the most of roads such that engaging troops and reinforcements will enter the battle via a road and holding roads and crossroads will be critical to winning battles.

Making the Roads

There are a few successful strategies for putting a road on a miniatures table, namely:

  • Have the roads as separate pieces that lay on top of a table surface.  Road pieces can include different lengths and shapes including forks.  This approach can be very versatile but requires set up and may not look 100% right.
  • Build the roads directly onto the battle surface and make the battle surface polymorphic.  This is the same approach I used with my rivers.  This looks like a million bucks but is not very versatile.  The upside here is that it sets up like a breeze.
  • Build the road out of something on the day of gaming.  I have seen this done in two ways.  One, using sand poured onto the table to look like a really rough dirt road.  Another approach I saw one I thought worked pretty good was 1” wide masking tape applied to green felt.  These are not overly attractive but masking tape is cheap.

Because I made the decision to put rivers directly into a polymorphic table system it would be REALLY limiting to do the same thing with my roads even though this would look the best.  I will go with the first approach, this is, creating separate road pieces that sit on top of the gaming surface.

In my previous adventures as miniatures terrain creator I once had a road system I built out of hardwood.  It looked pretty good and fit rather tidily under my bed in a box. It was versatile and attractive. The problem with this system was that hardwood roads didn’t go up and down hills worth a darn.  I found myself steering roads around hills as every time I hit a hill I had to find just the right length piece of road.

Rather than go with something firm like wood I have decided to create roads out of something really flexible… caulk. 

As I will be painting and gluing things to caulk I make sure that I uses a “paintable” silicon caulk.  Most caulk is either white or clear but some other colors are available.  As I will have to cut the caulk and invariable the base color of the caulk will poke through, I use brown caulk


Caulk sticks to damn near everything until its dry.  I have a couple of old pieces of silpat that I use for making the roads.  Silpat is a silicon based cookie sheet liner and is cools stuff.  On a side note, silpat is literally the only thing that I have seen with the words “Made in France” on it.

I lay a nice thin bead of caulk on the silpat


I then smooth this into the shape of the road.  One of my roads is about 1.5” wide and 12” long.


I also make curves and forks.


Once these are dry, I peal them off, trim them if needed.


I then spray them with matte finish and cover them in fine ballast.


At this point the ballast is “sort” glued to the roads pieces.  If I mess with it overly at this point the ballast comes right off.


Spray painting the roads, generously, with brown paint will not only provide a base color for the road but will make sure the ballast stays in place.


Next I paint the roads burnt siena.  Rather than paint off a palette, I think the paint in a squeeze jar and pour it directly onto the road pieces.  This is a messy process and is why my table is a shade of brown.


Once all the road pieces are painted brown, I then highlight them by dry brushing mixtures of Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna and white.  This step takes FOR. EV. ER.


At this point these roads are still really flexible. Glue will stiffen them up a bit but they will still drape very nicely.


Next I lay 20mm wide bases along the road to mark the area I intend to leave the painted surface exposed.


…and paint glue on everything else.


With the glue still wet I put Woodland Scenics Grass flocking onto the road. 100_3254

I have a box for doing this but some how I managed not to get a picture of it. 

Once this layer dries I apply another layer of thinned white glue (using may magic glue bottle!) and apply more grass.


Once dry I then cut the edges off all the road pieces using a craft knife and a strait edge.


To make sure I have a variety of lengths I cut some of the curves and straight pieces an number of times laterally.


Here are some road pieces on my table…





Overcoming the Tyranny of Dice

17 04 2011

Someone once asked Napoleon what trait he most looked for in his generals.  His response says a lot about what war must have been like in the 19th  Century.  “Luck… Let my generals be lucky”

In games with random elements (such as dice) its very similar and I have only seen two strategies that work to mitigate this:

    1. Reduce the range of effects of a random event.  That is to say, make both the worst and best possible outcomes of a randomizer so near the same that no one really gets bent out of shape when the dice go cold.  Close Action does this pretty well.  In ten years I have never seen a game broken because someone was unlucky.  Quite the contrary… the game only breaks when someone is dumb.  Which is always.

  • Increase the number of dice rolls.  On a long enough timeline randomly generated numbers form beautiful and predictable curves.


I should take a moment and say that Jeff Hunt (the man, the legend) and I have spent quality time discussing this problem.  If you’ve ever seen Jeff roll dice when the chips were on the line, you would understand why dice tyranny was such a hot topic for him.  Besides being  a great advocate for reducing consequences for rolling dice (option #1 above) Jeff used to always point out how bizarre it was that there was no way to challenge the luck gods to a best two out of three.  If the fates have decreed that my battleship should be sunk on the rolling of a “one” on a six sided die, I should at least be given a second chance even if I should have to give up a couple of Victory Points or have to buy the next round of beers.  Fate should have to show up or shut up.

Introducing… Battle Karmatm

As we have previously discussed, Generals give orders.  Good generals are able to give lots of orders.  Once all the troops have been ordered what’s a good general to do?  Get some Battle Karma!

Battle Karma

Battle Karma represents some of the intangibles of a general.  On many occasions during the war, disaster was averted (or caused) because the seeming mere presence of one of the wars great men.  A cursory look at some of these events might lead you to believe that they where lucky or that they simple had superiors troops because nothing on the battlefield could explain what happened otherwise.  Perhaps nothing on the battlefield did explain it.  Perhaps the commanders and their subordinates had established trust and anticipated or discarded orders as the situation demanded.  Perhaps a general thinking ahead remarked to a lieutenant, “watch those trees… that’s where I would attack us from.”  Perhaps a general expecting failure went back to his tent and got drunk.  Shit happens.

A general may take one check per activation to get Battle Karma as one of its orders.  If successful, the general gets a token that my be redeemed later for a reroll.  A general may only check for  Battle Karma if he has less tokens than his Command Rating.  These tokens are kept near his stand on the table along with his influence dice

To be eligible for a reroll, the die roll in question must be made:

  • By the general himself
  • By a subordinate unit in the command structure of the general (a regiment of the Brigadier or Lt. General spending the Battle Karma)
  • By a unit in direct opposition to the General spending the Battle Karma.  These rolls should involve some interaction with units commanded by the general requesting the reroll.

This last bullet is really fuzzy and deliberately so.  Some actions are inherently interactive such as fire, reaction rolls and assault.  Others like finding improvised cover, rallying, and improving command efficiency are not.  Play testing will draw a better line here.

Why make fate repeat itself?

I imagine that a really common reaction to this rule will be “why take the odd results out of the game?”  I do not think that I am.  The net effect of the rule will not be the elimination of “the unlikely”.  In fact the opposite.  While bad generals will think twice about taking chances against the very capable, good generals won’t hesitate to take advantage of their less skilled opponents.  A one in 8 chance of success becomes a 50/50 with three Battle Karma tokens .  A good general may rely on an unlikely result.

Some other interesting dynamics will occur in game.  For instance, a general will not use his tokens to reroll a fail when there was only 1 in 20 chance that he would succeed.  On the other hand, if he should succeed then his opponent would undoubtedly challenge the roll.  The result will be to enforce that smooth curve that comes with lots of dice.  If a general does not like a bizarre result then he need only challenge it.  This will at a blow remove the “sunk battleship” result that drives the luck challenged to the point of despair. All you have to do is not run out of Karma.

Some generals will have spare Karma and will force rerolls on 50/50s just to burn through the opponents Karma.  It will become an interesting side game on its own.

There are a couple of historic-like results here but none more than the representation of generals “getting ready”.  In many games it is possible that a unit can not move but it is rarely explained and never feels satisfactory.  With Battle Karma, delay is explained as a general running around trying to make sure everything is just right.  There is a tangible benefit to sitting and doing nothing.


I used 20mm wide, 3mm thick round bases from Litko, along with a graphic a made myself to make the tokens using the same process I used for the Activation chits in my Bag o’ Destiny post.


Union Infantry 2.0

10 04 2011

When last we left our Union infantry they were still glued to their popsicle sticks.  A great place to have them if you are wanting to paint but not were we need them if we want to get them into the game.


First I need to pop these guys from their bases.  This goes pretty quick using my handy craft knife.


Here are the troops all loose.


Once they are all separated I begin gluing them with white glue to the bases I created earlier.  I have 47 bases worth of mini’s here.

When gluing I am particularly careful to keep the strips from touching the edges of the base or each other.


Command Stands get a front row of office/Flags/drummer bits and a regular infantry back row.  I have a dozen command stands and 35 regular infantry stands.  Here are all 47 stands glued.


Next, I use diluted white glue to attach fine ballast to the tops of the infantry bases.





By the way, if I were informed that a class of preschoolers were going to be given two hours of unmonitored access to my craft table and I could only move or hide one item, I would place the bottle I use to apply glue to minis in this step.  Everything else I own is easily replaceable.


I modified a squeeze bottle by reaming out the tip, placing a short piece of brass tubing in it and molding some modeling putty around it to keep it in place.  I made it originally to put glue in tight places but it’s useful for darn near everything.  I can lay a really fine bead of glue or squeeze glue into really tight places.  The hole is small enough that it doesn’t need a cap and it never clogs.  I have been using it now for 10 years.  It is… my precious..

Sorry… where was I ?  Oh yes.  Miniatures!  Next I paint the ballast dark brown


This step is a pain, as you can imagine.  I know how to squeeze brown paint IN BETWEEN the rows of miniatures.  How do I do it without getting paint onto the legs of the figures?  I don’t.  I make a mess and then clean it up later.  This is why I pre-painted the strip bottoms brown.


Next I dry brush the base a lighter shade of brown.  Again, trousers will be smudged… It’s OK.



Once the bases are painted brown, I touch up everywhere I may have smudged a leg or two.  Next I apply black paint the sides and fronts of the bases.


I then apply white to the beveled back of the base.


Next I apply “splotches” of static grass. (using my very favoritest glue applicator!)




Once I apply another coat of black and white paint to the sides of the bases I am done with the painting.


Next, Labels.  I take the regiment names from the order of battle I created last year and place put them in a Visio document, along with cut lines.  I them print them out onto matte photo paper.


I used to use overhead projector sheets which I stole from work BUT, in one of those depressing changes in office tech that make you feel suddenly very old, overhead projector’s and their transparent sheets utterly disappeared from the modern office landscape.  Bummer.  Photo paper though works like a champ though.

Next, I cut out labels using a straight edge and my handy craft knife.


One the labels are cut I attach them to my bases using silicon glue.


I use silicon glue because it comes off cleanly.  One day I may want to change the order of battle for my minis and I know I can get it all off if I had to.

Next… flags!

Flags are interesting.  About 8 years ago you could buy flags online or at conventions and they came on laser printed paper.  Time have changed.  Now you can go online to a place that has images free flags (such as Warflag) or sells low price PDFs (such as Wargame Vault) or you make them yourself.

Union troops carried a US flag into battle along their regimental flag.  This regimental flag was navy blue and hade a large golden eagle on it similar to the presidential seal.  These flags because really special as the names of battles in which the unit had fought would be handstitched onto the flag.


I have flags I bought from Baccus old school style (printed by Baccus) but I don’t care for regimental colors.  I used Baccus’s us colors and some regimental colors I found on line.


I cut out all the flags.


Then I apply white glue to the back of the US flag and place it on the flagpole.


While the flag is still wet, I bend the flag using a pair of tweezers to make it appear that it is flapping in the wind.

I repeat this process with the regimental flag.


Next I trim the wires, paint the exposed metal brown to match.  I also paint the edge of the flags gold.  It’s hard to tell from the photo but both flags have a gold trim that matches the paint.


Here are my completed 12 regiments.


One last tidbit.  One of the regiments I painted is “elite”.  Without explaining what this means in game play, it is important that this be identified on the table.  To do this I embedded a red map pin on the front right of on the unit’s command stand.  A green unit will have <wait for it> a green pin.   By an odd coincidence there was only one regiment in this batch with a non veteran status so I didn’t get pictures of how I built this.  I will get photo’s when I do my confederates.


Next week… Movement!

McPherson and Revenge is now listed on TTGN

5 04 2011

The good folks at Table Top Gaming News just listed me on thier Blogs page. This is pretty cool!

Please take a look at TTGN and see what others are working on.

Deluded people, Cave In.

3 04 2011

It is my pleasure to relate to you the sad and glorious tale of the USS Queen of the West, the USS Indianola and the greatest military hoax since Odysseus said “Hey… why don’t we build a giant horse out of wood… No one will see it coming.”   Go ahead, get yourself a beer.  I’ll wait right here.

391px-David_Dixon_PorterIn February of 1863, Admiral David Porter had an idea; He could destroy the last vestiges of confederate trans-Mississippi commerce through violence and piracy.  The Mississippi and Red rivers were in Confederate hands by the grace of its enormous remaining forts on the Mississippi (Vicksburg to the north and Port Hudson to the south near Baton Rouge).  Nothing afloat on these rivers could more than just bother the mighty union ironclad fleet.  Only a handful of forts remained on the river and these could be easily passed without fear so long as ships did not dally beneath their guns.  Porter knew that to rob the south of this vital transportation highway, one need not destroy the forts guarding its entries; one need only pass them with serious warships… once. 

In addition to having piracy on his mind, Admiral Porter had two more things; A landing on the west bank of the Mississippi south of Vicksburg and a spare ironclad.

USS Queen of the West

Grant had spread his army around Mississippi and Arkansas in order to find some way to break into Vicksburg’s rear.  One of these efforts resulted in a the establishment of Fort Sherman on the west bank of the Mississippi in Arkansas.  This is a particularly useful place to have a fort if you intend to operate a ship on this part of the river.  From here ships could be resupplied and repaired.  Captured troops and equipment could be unloaded.

Admiral Porter ordered the Queen of the West, along with it’s 19 year old captain, Charles Ellet jr, to run the guns of Vicksburg and then to capture, burn, harass, inhibit and frustrate confederate commerce.  On February 2nd 1863 the Queen of the West ran past the guns of Vicksburg where it received an even dozen hits.  The Ironclad then pulled up to Fort Sherman where it’s damage was repaired and was resupplied.


On February 4th the Queen of the West began its career as river privateer. Admiral Porter, clearly excited by the prospect of taking the war to new battlegrounds in the south, wired the secretary of the navy that the Queen of the West was under way with supplies of coal and ammunition.  To the end of this communication he added “This gives the ram nearly coal enough to last month, in which time she can commit great havoc, if no accidents happens to her.”  Ok… that’s not ominous at all.

For days the Queen of the West was bad news for confederate shipping.  Several VERY valuable ships including the Desoto and the Era No.5 where captured laden with food and supplies.  What the Union ironclad did not care to steal, it destroyed.  A great many ships, including one medium sized confederate ironclad were forced up the Red River and the Queen of the West gave pursuit.  On February 14th, At Fort DeRussy in Louisiana, The CSS William H. Webb, along with a small flotilla of scratch made warships (Mostly steam launches with a single field gun), made a stand.

Within moments of discovering Fort DeRussy, the Queen of the West suffered a tremendous set back. In the 10 days prior to the 14th, several soldiers, including the ships pilot, had been wounded either by sniper fire on the ship itself or as a part of landing parties sent ashore to burn or capture valuables.  Neither the Webb (and its Lilliputian counter parts) nor the Guns of Fort DeRussy should have provided the Queen of the West a proper challenge but the two combined made Captain Ellet uncomfortable.  He ordered the replacement pilot to turn the ship about and head back towards the Mississippi.  In response, the pilot plowed the Queen of the West bow first into the river bank directly under the guns of the fort. 

This left the young Captain with a dilemma.  Escape OR destroy the Queen of the West…. not both.  Unable to bring himself to destroy his ship, and therefore his wounded, he gave the order to abandon ship.  Men pushed cotton bails (which apparently float) into the water and road them downstream to the captured DeSoto and Era No. 5 which would give them a ride back to the sanctuary of Fort Sherman.  Or so they thought.

A few hours later the Desoto plowed into a sand bar where it had both rudders torn off and its paddle wheels destroyed.  The ship was piloted by none other than the same replacement pilot that had beached the Queen of the West.  Needless to say, he was arrested for being either a confederate sympathizer or the worse riverboat pilot in the history of the world.  Either way, he was going to jail and rightfully so. 

After another brief ride on a cotton bail, Captain Ellet and his crew now began their long, upstream, journey back to the safety of union guns.  The Confederates, thrilled at the prospect of capturing a Union crew began to give chase with their much faster fleet.  Oh dear.

USS Indianola

Delighted by the early reports of the Queen of the West’s success on the Mississippi, Admiral Porter decided that he had one more spare Ironclad.

On February 13th, the day before the Queen or the West changed teams, the USS Indianola ran the guns of Vicksburg and, having received no meaningful damage set out to join her sister ship with a great of coal lashed to her sides on barges.  Apparently running out of coal was Admiral Porter’s greatest concern and to this end he had begun moving large barges of coal past the fort of Vicksburg to resupply his pirate fleet.  Two of the barges were lashed to the sides of the USS Indianola providing it not only quite enough fuel but also a good bit of protection from Confederate rams.


Ramming is an old school attack method that briefly regained popularity during the Civil war.  Virtually all warships of the Civil War era had giant iron rams attached to their bows below the waterline.  With the armoring of ships and the shortage of the really big guns needed to punch through such armor (particularly in the south), it was felt that this weapon system provided an excellent secondary attack method.  Everyone was wrong of course.  Ramming sucked but rams were cheap so all the ships got one anyway.  Captains weren’t told how dumb ramming was but most of them had figured it out by the end of the war.

On February 16th the Indianola ran into the Era No. 5 running for its life with the Webb hot on its heals.  The Webb, again no match for a fully armed Union Ironclad, realized that it had no business fighting the Indianola and retired.  Captain Ellet and Captain Brown (the Indianola’s skipper) met and decided that it was unlikely that he Queen of the West could possibly be put back on the river soon and that the Indianola should patrol the mouth of the Red River while Era No. 5 return to Fort Sherman and ask, pretty please, for one more Ironclad to help with the recapture or destruction of the Queen of the West.

The Queen of the West was not NEARLY as damaged as Captain Ellet supposed.  Within 2 days she had been pulled from the bank and her damage repaired.  Within another 2 days she would be crewed and ready for action.  The newly rechristened CSS Queen of the West, along with the CSS Webb and two steam boats armed with field cannons and armored with cotton set out to sink or capture the Indianola commanded by Major Joseph L. Brent.

By a stroke of luck the Indianola had landed at a plantation where they had hoped to secure cotton bails for armoring the ships deck (and for future use as floatation devices presumably) when they were informed by slaves of the Queen of the West’s resurrection.  It was now the Indianola’s turn to run for its life.

When running for one’s life, it is essential that one does so quickly.  If something should slow you down, say, hypothetically, a pair of giant coal laden barges lashed to the sides of your boat, you should cut them loose.  You should forget about them.  They are not your problem.  Also, despite the regulation manual’s insistence that recoaling should be done in daylight, you should do this at a night when you are not moving, OR, better yet, not at all, because, as we have already established, keeping several months of coal on hand is not your problem when you are running for you life.

With the Indianola essentially walking fast, albeit for its life, the Confederate fleet had no difficulty running it down.  It could have overtaken it virtually point in its pursuit but it really wanted the Indianola to receive as much harm as possible from forts along the Mississippi.  In particular, their was a really nice fort at Port Hudson just south of Vicksburg that had a fighting chance to wound the Indianola.

On the 24th of February, the Indianola passed Fort Hudson in the late afternoon where it received a smattering of direct hits but no real harm.  That evening Major Brent and his Fleet attacked the Indianola under cover of night a scant 13 miles south of Fort Sherman.  The battle that resulted could be clearly heard by both the city of Vicksburg and its Union blockaders.

Unable to accurately fire its massive guns in the darkness, the Indianola only managed to score a single hit.  The Webb made several ramming attacks on the Indianola including a highly inadvisable head on ram that very nearly disabled the Webb and only managed to bring the Indianola to a halt.  (When ramming, mass counts.)  Slowed by this collision, the Indianola made an easy target for the ram on the of the Queen of the West and a battle ending blow was delivered.  Both ships were badly damaged by the collision but the Indianola had sprung a leak.  When your ship is made of solid iron, leaks are bad.  With the Indianola taking on gobs of water it was now time to end the battle on the best possible terms. 

Captain Brown steered his ship towards the Arkansas bank of the Mississippi where he would be able to send his crew ashore on the less hostile side for the river.  Once the crew had disembarked, the ship was set afire in the hopes that it would not fall into Confederate hands.  Remarkably, not only did boarding confederates put out the fires but they succeeded in moving the smoldering ship to the Mississippi bank of the river where it sank in shallow water.  By moving the ship the Confederates would have better access to tools and supplies they would need and would be able to work on the ship unharassed by union snipers on the Arkansas bank.

Admiral Porter’s big black lie

Just prior to the battle and beaching of the Indianola, Admiral Porter had a a very disturbing debriefing with young Captain Ellet.  (How awesome was that conversation!)The sounds of the battle just down river and the subsequent lack of returning Indianola led the Admiral to a very bleak place.  The next day it was confirmed that even though the confederate fleet was really beaten up, the confederates had captured the Indianola and were busy repairing her.

Only three week earlier he was conquering the Trans-Mississippi with spare boats.  Now, not only was completely out of ironclads, an attack downriver by anything less than a large fleet would be easily repelled, and subsequently disabled ships would be easily captured by a rapidly growing confederate fleet.  (Remember, when ships are disabled, they float downriver.)  Things were bad.

If only the north had one more Ironclad.  If available right now, a single undamaged ironclad could go down river, engage the wounded confederates and force them to either destroy the Indianola and run for their lives OR stay and fight which, of course, they couldn’t do because they weren’t dumb.  Hey… wait a second.

Within 24 hours Admiral port had constructed an ironclad, or at least what appeared to be an ironclad if you didn’t get within 3 or 4 hundred yards.  The faux warship was constructed on an old flat bottom barge along with several rafts to give it the proper length and girth.  It had a forward facing casemate and armored wheelhouse made of wood framing and canvas covered in pitch.  Several large caliber logs protruded though its various gun ports.  It’s smoke stack was made of stacked barrels which even had fires for producing real smoke.


Early in the morning the day after the Indianola’s capture, the fake ironclad “ran” the guns of Vicksburg.  Early the next morning, with the Queen of the West stationed up river to watch for the union ironclad that had run the guns in the night, a column of smoke appeared on the horizon.  The Queen of the West waited just long enough to confirm a third union ironclad was on its way in the distance. With this, the Confederate fleet withdrew and the desperate confederate salvage team had no choice but to destroy the Indianola.  With the guns spiked and the fire raging and on the verge of reaching the magazine, the Trojan warship floated into view.  Painted on its wheelhouse in giant letters were the words “Deluded People, Cave In”.