Scenes of Battle

17 07 2011

I have always been intrigued by how technology and history interact.  The civil war  brought about many changes to our culture and economy that might have occurred differently or not at all had it not been for that conflict. 

For instance, the DEMONSTRATED tactical superiority of the Iron Clad over every wooden vessel in the world hastened the demise of the wooden ship and all the industries and professions associated with it.  The sail powered fleets slide into obsolescence could have delayed for many decades without practical proof of its vulnerability to armored steam only powered ships.  With the emphasis now on coal powered fleets, those nations with foreign holdings had to choose to loose the colonies OR step up colonization to ensure a coaling infrastructure for their new fleets.  It was not enough to have India or Australia as colonial possessions.  One had to have a network of ports for fueling the ships required to defend trades routes.  Suddenly Africa and Southeast Asia were critical strategic assets.

Another example is the settlement of the American west. The removal of an opposition party in government created unprecedented decisiveness in body known for conflict and toothless compromises.  At a blow , the Louisiana purchase could at last be settled with the debate over slaves in the territories solved.  This space had been left surprisingly empty for 60 years simply because neither American political party wanted to hand its opposition votes in congress.  The course of the great intercontinental railroad was no longer contested and the seeds of American progress were at long last planted.

Finally, the naivety of what battle must have been like was thoroughly removed by one notable technical innovation.  Photography during the war changed how we saw conflict.  By the time of the Civil war photography was quite common but was used almost exclusively used to document how middle class citizens of the western world looked in their finest dress surrounded by their most valuable possessions.  The war created a tempting target for the 19th century photographer. 

Prior to the existence of photographic images of the war, battlefield imagery tended to be created to in order to convey a particular point of view or commemorate a particular event. 


John Trumbull’s painting of the Battle of Bunker hill tells much of the story of the battle in a single view including the fatal wounding of virtually every famous person engaged in the fight.  While there are many casualties on the ground but it is difficult to make out any wounds and almost no blood can be seen.

During the war, American photographers followed around the armies of both sides for the opportunity to photograph soldiers of the war and the battlefield itself.  When the first true images of battle made it back to the cities a twelve thousand year old taboo had been broken.  Civilians understood that battle was death. 


Newly drafted soldiers of both armies now had an inkling of what they were in for and families of soldiers saw the conflict and sacrifice in a very different and unromantic light.

Casualty markers

Battlefields of the civil war era would be marked by casualties.  The scenes of the bloodiest fighting would have the highest concentration of the fallen.  You could literally make out where men stood in their firing lines.  No battlefield was an exception to this rule.  The wounded might be taken from the field during or shortly after the fight but the dead would certainly have remained until well after the battle were over, perhaps days.

In McPherson and Revenge casualty markers will be used whenever a “hit” is scored against a unit.  Indeed for every stand, three casualty markers can be placed.  These markers will be placed near to the unit receiving damage and thus the history of battle will be left on the table.

I have quite a few Baccus 6mm casualty figures.  These, for infantry, are a single soldier lying on a 1/2’ square.  This format is very convenient for basing but presents a unique challenge to paint.  It is the only figure I use that comes pre-based.

Here are the Baccus figs:


They come in strips of 4 and require separation.  At this scale they really don’t look like much. 

After breaking them apart, I glue them to popsicle sticks and prime them.  (no picture Sad smile)

First, with the union, I paint coats blue and pants light blue.


Next… I paint rifles, boots, and hair brown.


Next is the tricky bit.  Rather than use my static flocking, I use blended turf.  Static flocking would be impossible to keep off the figures themselves.  Also… rather than use glue (and my fav glue applicator) I use green acrylic paint and a brush.


These things are tiny and grass is just not going to give me the coverage I need.  Green paint has pretty adhesive like qualities and has the advantage of NOT looking like crap when exposed. 

As an aside, I have known many a war gamer that applies sand/grass/whatever using acrylic paint as it never looks bad and can be applied with a paintbrush (by definition.)


Confederates are similar….


… guns, hats, hair, face, bags…


and grass…



Reacting to stuff

10 07 2011

One of my pet peeves with miniature games is that they mostly do a poor job of allowing troops to react to what’s going on on the battlefield.  I’ve had more than one game go wrongish because something really unrealistic, yet totally legal occurred.  One typical result is when a unit sits still and lets itself get shot to bits from the side and rear.  There are historical instances of this happening but they are usually the result of great resolve… not poor reaction skills.  This can be infuriating if you are sitting around waiting for it to be your turn so you can move you troops 1 inch and get out of the situation.  Another fav is when troops move their full range and then shoot first.  What’s up with that?  It seems like standing still and watching the other guy move into range ought to have at least a few advantages.  In the Civil War, when troops found them selves in a bad way they did something about it and usually before it was too late and they NEVER let the opportunity to punish the other side go to waste.

I am not the first person to be irked be the inability to react to an opponent in a realistic way and and as a result there are several popular rules options available to handle many of these types of problems:

Reaction fire:  If unit A moves into range of Unit B and B is able to shoot then B gets to shoot.  Welcome to the battle A!

Denying the flank:  When an infantry unit becomes flanked its owner is allowed to move the end stand closest to the enemy so that the end of the regiment is now no longer point exposed.

The line was the principle formation employed by soldiers during the war.  It featured troops densely packed two deep allowing for the maximum rate of fire.  The week point of this formation was not its rear (as you might expect) but its ends.  A line could be easily reversed but it would be very difficult to form a new line perpendicular to the old one.  Also… imagine the effect of a line be shot on flank by a cannonball.  It would be possible to lose several men to a single shot.  A common short term fix to this problem was to bend back the line so that a company or two of soldiers now faced their enemy.

While both these solutions reduce the number of “wrongish” situations, they don’t really address the fact that units could react very quickly.   Reactions might not be limited to just shooting or turning a few guys to face an opponent.  Another option would be to fall back a few hundred yards or to swap places with a reserve unit directly to the rear. A commander may also realize that he is in TOTALLY the wrong position and what he needs is to be as far away as possible.  And…. as always… the skill of the reacting unit should make a difference.  What we need is a system that allows units a broad array of actions, triggered by enemy behavior and influenced by the skill of the reacting unit.

A system that allows units a broad array of actions, triggered by enemy behavior and influenced by the skill of the reacting unit

In McPherson and Revenge units will be able to react whenever one of two things happen; A unit moves close enough to shoot you or a unit shoots you.

One exception.  Artillery.  The ranges are just too long so Artillery must move to within medium range to trigger a reaction.  I haven’t broached the subject of artillery yet so all this may be shocking.  Basically artillery are giant guns on wheels that shoot grapefruit size bullets that kill stuff real good.  More on this later.

When rolling for reaction, the reacting unit makes a skill roll to determine if it can react using the following modifiers:

  • Unit is spent +2
  • Trigger unit is shooting or will be shooting at long range +2
  • Trigger unit is shooting or will be shooting at medium range +1
  • Reacting unit is “Shaken” +1
  • Reacting unit is “Routed” +2
  • For each stand lost +1
  • Reacting unit is disordered +1
  • If Shot, –1 for each hit (WAKE UP!)

First thing you will note is that there are damned few positive modifiers to making a reaction role.   Basically getting killed makes you MORE likely to hurriedly react, everything else makes you want to stay where you are.  This sounds realistic to me.

Second thing is that as a unit is approached by the enemy it will get TWO opportunities to react.  Once before the damage is done and once after the paint has been mussed up a little.  (BTW… not sure I mentioned it but units can move and then shoot.  There is a little tiny gap in between move and fire where reaction can occur.)

Most battles by my game scale will occur at long range.  For infantry with riffles this will be 8”.  At this range a unit with no other modifiers will need a “6” on a skill check which is not too easy to make.  Reacting will be a crap shot most of the time.

Note: I am on the fence about this but I will go ahead and through it out there as a rule.  A unit this is “spent” (quick time moved or fired) will only be able to react to units at medium (arty short) range.  Spent units are meant to be really busy and would be less likely to react to a threat.  This limitation would only apply to non shooting reactions.

Note: Don’t forget… officer influence!

Cool… I “reacted”… now what?

Once we have established that a unit has reacted, it has a few options”:

  • Move 1/4 its movement.  This is just a wiggle to allow lines to bend to prevent flanking fire.  In most cases this will be a deny the flank like move.
  • Move 1/2 movement straight back…ish.  This is an ordered but hurried withdrawal with no formation change.  If a unit is behind the reacting unit then the unit will appear 2” behind that unit.  Alternately, the unit behind may also make a reaction roll to move into the displacing unit’s place.  The unit will suffer the same effects as a quick time move here (2 straggler hits minus roll for effect)
  • Withdraw full move disordered.  The unit runs for the hills!  The unit goes disordered and makes a full move to the rear (likely 8”),  The unit will suffer the same effects as a quick time move here (2 straggler hits minus roll for effect)
  • SHOOT EM’UP! – Take a shot at the unit assuming you meet the requirements for shooting (in arc, in range, not bullet proof… etc.  One day I may explain shooting.)

Note: routing units may only do a disordered withdraw!.

Note: I am thinking about “formation change” as an option for units.  Some disordered units may snap into line as a result of being shot at or threatened and others may prefer to go disordered rather than get shot in the ear.  Play testing is required.


Let’s Consider the following example.  The 56th Ohio is just out of long range of the 43rd Georgia.


The 56th Ohio moves!  It has a linear movement of 6” while in line and would could cross  two fences (at a cost of 1” each) giving it a possible movement of 4” total.


It moves 4” and triggers a reaction on behalf of the 43rd Georgia.

The 56th Ohio would be shooting at long range so the 43rd gets a +2 on its skill check.  It needs at least one “6”.


Oops… No “6”.  Dagnabit!  Let us assume that a benevolent (or stern) confederate officer uses some of his Karma in order to purchase a reroll.


Sweet!  Success!  The 43rd Georgia reacts and elects to shoot the 56th Ohio to smithereens!


The 43rd Georgia gets to “shoot” (whatever that means) and gets marked with a “spent” counter.

Another example:

The 56th Ohio moves into Medium range on the flank of the 43rd Virginia.


The 43rd will nee a “5” to react this time.  (base number “4” +1 for medium range.)

The 43rd still rolls a success and has the option of doing a quarter move…


… or running for their lives…


They also could move straight back but this buys them very little.

This reaction role could have been much tougher though if the the 4rd had been spent.  Instead of a “5”, they would have needed a “7” (4 + 1 (medium) +2 spent)


Remember… a “6” has a 50/50 of being a “7”  (see my skill checks post  if this is not immediately clear)

An “8” would be needed if the 43rd where also down a stand!


Crops and Fields

4 07 2011

Sometimes, to make a piece of terrain look the way you want it to, you have to really put in the time.  Fences and Trees are this way for me.  It takes me a good weekend in the garage to create about a 18 square inches of trees or 24” of fence.    Crops and fields on the other hand I literally can buy by the yard.  It’s embarrassing.

Because of fairly big ground scale of my game, I don’t need to see individual ears of corn on the battlefield.  Ideally crops would appear relatively flat, almost like carpet.  (Think of the way that farmland looks out of the window of an airplane.)  To give this effect I decided to use brown corduroy as a material for creating plowed fields.  This material is cheap, cuts into whatever shape I need and it does a shockingly good job of approximating tilled soil.


I need fields in patches shaped to be surrounded by my fences.  Four of my fences laid out in a square create a field that is just over 2 1/4  inches squared.  I happen to have 60mm square pieces lying around for just such an occasion so I use that as the basic template for cutting my fabric.  As long as I want square patches of  of crops I should stick with multiples of 60 mm for my cuts.  Later I will create some rhombus shapes with odd angles.


I could be done at this point.  I feel a little awkward  not doing  more so I added one of my patented extra steps of questionable value.  I border the fields with grass.  (For bonus points I use my handy dandy nifty neato one of kind glue applicator!)

I line the field with glue and coat it with grass flocking. (sorry for the pre-brushed off image>


This extra step makes the plowed surface appear lower than the surrounding grassy area and it helps with threads that get fraid from the cut fabric.

I am able make fields with planted crops as well by striping the cut fabric with close lines of glue and then adding grass flocking to that.


I also am able to create fields of wheat by using a different fabric.  <Wait for it…>  Teddy bear fur!

Somewhere in Kirkland Washington is a fabric store filled with helpful ladies that talk about the time that weird burly man shouted “yee haw” from the stuffed animal section.  Teddy bear fur is the bomb!  It comes in a variety of shades and plush.


Here are some action shots!



Crops have NO measurable effect on the play of McPherson and Revenge.  They neither inhibit movement nor do thy provide cover.  They are there merely to give the fences something to do.

Happy 4th!