Blowing stuff up Pt. II: Running away

28 08 2011

Getting shot at is unpleasant.  I have no first hand knowledge of this but I’ve seen Saving Private Ryan a bunch a times and it just seems like it sucks.  I seriously doubt that soldiers, even tough soldiers who have seen Saving Private Ryan, could do this overlong.  To model this we need some system to handle units getting fed up with being shot at and doing something about it.

I imagine that staying in position while being shot at requires tremendous discipline.  Discipline is a commodity that soldiers enter the battle field with a ready supply of.  When in this controlled state the unit can be described as being in “good shape”.  It mostly wants to do what it’s told.

As the battle wears on though this discipline is torn away by fatigue, disorganization and shock.  At a critical point in time a unit reaches a tipping point and functionality degrades.  Units become less likely to react, and follow orders.  In this state a unit can be described as “shaken”.

Shaken units that continue to suffer the effects of battle will eventually get fed up and leave, regardless of what their commander might wish.  These soldiers will run to a position of perceived safety to the rear of the fighting, preferably behind friendly troops, preferably in a barn.  In this state a unit is described as “routed”.

Units can, over the course of battle. improve their condition with time, distance and some proper coaxing but that is the subject of another blog.

Morale checks

After each fire command or reaction fire where a unit takes a hit that unit will need to make a skill check to see if its moral status degrades.  If multiple units are ordered to fire at a single unit in the same command then all fire is resolved before a morale check is made.  Morale checks are made with the following modifiers:

  • -1 shaken (negative morale is negative morale modifier.  FUN!)
  • -2 if routed (More FUN!)
  • -1 per stand lost
  • -1 if flanked (any of the shooting units can not be shot at)
  • +1 partial cover (fence or tress)
  • +2 full cover (building or works)
  • -1 if disordered

Note: all skill and rolls for effect are modified +/- a die based on the elite/green status of the acting unit.  I may sometimes forget to mention it but its always true.


If a unit is in good shape and fails a morale check, then it is now shaken.  Shaken units immediately take two straggler hits (yellow ring) minus one for successful die on a skill roll.  This roll (a straggler roll) is made modified by the same table above.

A unit that is shaken gets a shaken counter and has the following limitations

  • -1 on all skill checks
  • no more than a quarter movement may be spent moving towards the enemy.
  • No assaults
  • No supporting an assault
  • Not thinking about assaults


If a unit is shaken or routed and fails a morale check, then its now routed.  Routed units immediately:

  • Take two straggler hits and make a straggler check as above
  • Becomes disordered
  • Flee 150% of regular move towards “the rear” (typically 12”)

“The rear” is an abstract concept and not something you can make a rule for.  When fleeing both sides should discuss where the proverbial barn would be.  Fleeing troops would likely flee not only to a place of safety behind friendlies but also towards other fleeing troops.  Also… units are unlikely to move past cover so the 12” movement is a guideline, not strictly speaking a rule.

This entire process is known as “fleeing” and may come up again in other blogs.

A unit that is routed gets a routed counter and has the following limitations.

  • Routed units must remain disordered
  • The only order that may be given to a routed unit is a rally.
  • The only reaction that a routed unit can perform is a full movement to the rear.
  • – 2 on all skill checks
  • If enemy gets within 4” then the unit automatically flees again (new straggler roll!)

Example of Morale Checks

When last we left 22nd Kentucky they had taken two hits!

Post Fire

This is a bunch of getting shot.  To make a moral check the 22nd Kentucky must get at least one success on 4 dice (3 dice +1 for being elite)

The will need at least one ‘4’.  There are no modifiers on this roll…. should be easy.


Oops.  And I’m all out of Battle Karma too.  Bummer.

One more example… This time from the beginning! (Including shooting!)

The 22nd Kentucky decides to grab some cover to its rear and shoots ineffectively.  The Confederate unit then moves to conform and shoots again.


Less than 4” and more than 2”… That’s medium range.  The 22snd is behind a fence (partial cover).  To hit the confederates need “6”s (4 +1 for medium range and +1 for the fence).  The 22nd should be fine here.


Crap!  A 6!  Boo.  No Battle Karma left… dangit!  This is the third hit on the stand so its gone.  22nd Kentucky just got smaller.

This morale check is gonna be a good bit tougher.  4 dice (3 +1 for being elite) and the 22nd needs a 5 (4 +1 for being shaken +1 for being down 1 stand, –1 for being in partial cover).


Poop!  No “5s” or “6s”!  Is that a barn over there?!?!  RUN!


12” to the rear and now the 22nd is disordered.  Note: 2” of movement are spent crossing two fences to the 22nd’s rear so only 10” are moved.  (These rules and many others are covered in movement)

Let’s see if we take straggler hits.  The 22nd still get 4 dice but now then need “7”s! (4 + 2 for being routed, +1 for being down a stand)


Good news/Bad news.  We got one “7”.  We rolled two “6”s and got pretty excited but we could only turn one of the “6” into a “7”.  If this makes no sense then refer back to our rolling for effect blog.

Next time we will see if we can’t get these guys back in game!


Blowing stuff up

21 08 2011

Most games do a bad job simulating gradual effects.  It’s true.  For instance, troops do not blip from one spot to another 400 yards away without occupying any of the spaces in-between but in our game (and virtually every other one as well), they do.  We have to draw the line somewhere that balances the need for granularity and playability so we create rules that enforce that units in motion are measured once ever 15 minutes and we hope nothing goes really wrong.

Nowhere is this granularity vs. playability problem worse than the measuring the effects of fire.  In a fifteen minute time frame (one of our turns) a soldier might reasonably squeeze off 10 to 40 shots (based on how scared he was and what he is carrying) and, at what we are calling close and medium range, can reasonably expect to hit something. During the war about 150 bullets would be fired for each hit soldier.  Not a great rate but it adds up.  This means that 400 men could shoot between 25 and 100 soldiers a turn (again, 15 minutes).

At what point do we say “ok… that’s enough hits… let’s give you a measurable impact”?  Even worse… what IS a measurable impact? 

Stands are an obvious answer here.  As a unit takes damage it can remove a stand!  The problem is, a stand (which we established represents 90 guys) is too big a chunk to just break off whole.  We need something that I can reasonably say a regiment can kill one or more of in a turn.  We need sub stands.

To add granularity to fire, each stand can take 3 “hits”.  A hit is a 30 man casualty that ain’t coming back.  A stand marked with a “hit” will be fully functional BUT once a third hit is received the whole stand is gone and the unit marked with a stand loss counter. 

To mark hits I purchased groovy colored rubber O-Rings that I place on the injured stand.  Red is my “dead” colored casualty marker.  I also have yellow markers for stragglers (a rule I hinted at in my movement blog). This doesn’t look so much good as it just works and is an old school way to track casualties. 


Note: 3 is not a number I came up with. At this ground scale using more traditional 15mm miniatures, I would have gotten 3 figures to a stand and then used each figure to represent 30 men.  Each of the O-rings above would have fit over a figure and looked like the a soldier was schlepping a red inner tube at a water park.  If the thought of battle bothers you then you are free to think of the soldiers stripping down to their trunks and queuing up on a water flume


Units can shoot at anything that is in front of them and in range.  This deceptively simple and common sense statement statement implies TWO rule systems; Arcs of fire and weapon range.

Each stand (not regiment!) has an arc of fire that it can shoot that extends 45 degrees from either side of the stand.  (Note: I can’t make the last sentence not suck.  I tried.)  Here is a example of how arcs of fire are measured.

Fire Arcs

If a unit cannot fire all its stands at one target then it can split its fire with no penalty.

Range is based on the weapon system being used by the unit.  In the vast majority of cases the unit will be infantry, and the weapon system will be a muzzle loading rifled musket.  The ranges for this weapon are reflected in the table below.  Other weapons such as smoothbore muskets and carbines will be covered later.

Fire is done using the roll for effect mechanic with the following modifiers:

  • -1 Medium range (<4” for infantry rifles)
  • -2 Long range (<8” for infantry rifles)
  • -0 Short range (<2” for infantry rifles)
  • -2 if firing unit moved 3/4 movement (more below)
  • -1 if firing unit moved 1/2 movement (more below)
  • -1 Partial cover (woods, fences)
  • -2 Full cover (buildings, fortifications)
  • +1 Target is in dense formation (Column, Assault Column, Disordered)
  • -1 Target is in dispersed formation (Skirmish)
  • +1 Firing on flank (unit cannot shoot back because of Arc)
  • -2 Firer is “spent” (in the case of reaction fire)

There will be other modifiers as I introduce Artillery and Cavalry but to keep things simple I am limiting my examples here to be infantry only.

As you may recall, rolling for effect is done by rolling a die for each stand, looking for a modified “4” or better and counting each hit.  In this way it is possible to have multiple hits.  The number of dice is modified as follows

  • -1 die – Green unit
  • +1 die – Elite Unit

Note: if the unit splits its fire, then this bonus die only applies to one die roll (the attack with the larger number of dice)

Example of fire

In the example below, two regiments face one another at Medium range.


The confederate unitwill get 4 dice and will need “5’s” or better.


The confederates roll and get two hits!  This has a few impacts on the game.  One… The confederates are Spent.  Two… The union troops take two “ain’t coming back” hits!

Post Fire

We are not done here.  The next step would be to determine the morale impact of being shot.  One has to imagine that standing still while being methodically killed is pretty tricky. I will cover these rules next week(ish).

One final note (because I know Jerry will have this question)… Yes…  Assuming the Union unit is still here after checking morale (whatever that means) then it will get to make a reaction check to shoot back.

Grant busts a move

7 08 2011

GrantIn the spring of 1863, General Grant was painfully aware of a simple fact; Vicksburg was vulnerable to attack… so long as the attack was not launched from the north, west or south… where he could feasibly place his army.  For months Grant struggled to open a path around the guns of Vicksburg so that he could transport his army to a point that they could attack into the heart of Mississippi without having to endure a ride past the guns of Vicksburg.  With the capture of the Trans-Mississippi Grant had an interesting opportunity.  He could use the river south of Vicksburg now if not the stretch of river directly in front of Vicksburg.

Grant could have always moved his army past Vicksburg.  This was easy.  All he had to do was either march south through Mississippi to the east of the Mississippi delta or march south west of the Mississippi river in Louisiana.  The later of these two paths, and Grant’s ultimate choice, offered the greater likelihood of surprise given the loss of connection between Trans-Mississippi Confederates with their eastern brethren.

Grant's Route

The shortcomings of this route are legion however:

  1. That cute red line on that map above doesn’t actually coincide with the existence of a road. It does coincide with existence of many unbridged rivers and bayous.
  2. Grant’ path lay on the wrong side of the river.  The Mississippi is a mile wide here.  An army the size of Grant’s would require a MAJOR fleet to cross the river fast enough not to be mauled by a confederate army that could be gathered by rail, horse or road from all parts of the confederacy.
  3. That is a LONG road.  Supply for an army would have to move along that huge distance and would be WAY vulnerable interception by armed guerillas.  You could move an army across it but you couldn’t feed an army at the end of it.

Roads and bridges take time an men to build.  Grant had both.  For months his engineers had by combing the bayous of the western bank of the Mississippi river looking for shortcuts to perhaps shift his navy and in the process all weather paths had been created.  Eventually, with a path clear in his mind, a road was built that would provide excellent transport extending from Milliken’s bend north of Vicksburg to the wonderfully named town ‘Hard times” opposite of Bruinsburg in Mississippi.

There would be no substitute for Porter’s fleet in crossing the Mississippi however.  Every ship that COULD pass the guns of Vicksburg would have to do so.  On April 16th, Admiral Porter and 11 of the best ships of this River Navy creeped past the guns of Vicksburg… and paid for it.  His entire fleet was badly damaged in the crossing and one ship had been lit on fire and sunk.  On the 21st another 6 ships, this time army transports, made the run and again all paid a price and one ship paid a whole lotta price.

The damage to the fleet had been anticipated and supplies for their repair had been moved to New Carthage.  By the 29th the fleet had been repaired.  The real cost of this maneuver had not been ships or sailor’s but rather the commitment of Porter’s fleet to operations south of Vicksburg.  While ships can run downstream of Vicksburg with relative ease they could NEVER go back.  Farragut had attempted an upstream passing of Port Hudson in March and only two of his seven boats made the trip.  AND Port Hudson was no Vicksburg.  From now on all of Grant and Porter’s options lay south of Vicksburg.

The third of the Grant’s long road problems was the most difficult to solve; Supply.  Not enough food could ever be moved along this long road and it could NEVER be supplemented by rail or boat given the regions topography.  Grant’s solution to this problem ranks amongst the great strategic accomplishments of warfare.  Right up there with moving elephant’s across the alps or pitching soldiers out of airplanes.  Grant would solve the problem of supply by… <wait for it> … ignoring it.  He would raid the confederates pantry for all the food he would need… hopefully.

Foraging is an act of desperation for an army and has a number of limitations:

  1. Only moving armies can successfully forage as once an area is cleaned out of food then… well… its cleaned out of food.
  2. Forage works best while food is growing in the field.  Once it’s harvested it’s mobile and can be hidden.
  3. Foraging works best in areas with a low density of population and a high density of agriculture.  More food to steal, less people to defend it.
  4. The area to be foraged should have as little warning as possible to prevent goods from being moved.

Mississippi was one of the breadbaskets of the confederacy.  This portion of Mississippi in particular, with its access to both rail and river transport and no history of Union operations, was flush with supplies and short on troops. May would find the fields filled with edible food with no means to remove it.  Furthermore, Grants decision to invade without a line of supply caught everyone utterly by surprise on both sides of the war.  Armies as a rule do not go on the offensive with securing a line of supply… and certainly not Union armies.  Both Grant’s superiors and subordinates took Grant at his word that food would not be a problem.

The potential of offensive forage was a lesson that had been learned by Grant the previous year when he was forced to retreat back to Memphis when Forest’s and Van Dorn’s cavalry had destroyed his supply line in Tennessee and at Holly Springs.  The order to retreat and to forage for supply had returned an impossibly large amount of material.  Far from starving, his retreating army had eaten rather well.  Grant put this trivia nugget away.

On the 29th and 30th of April, Grant moved much of his army into the deep rear of his confederated adversary just south of Bayou Pierre.  Grant had somehow moved an army of 50,000 men through 100 miles of confederate controlled territory without the confederates noticing.  Partially this can be attributed to the limitations of his opponent’s imagination but Grant had also gone to a lot of trouble to give the confederates something else to think about.

Something else to think about

In April of 1863 the North’s long standing aversion to modern cavalry tactics ended.  Grant had not one but two raids planned to give the confederates something to think about other than “hey… where DID those gunboats go”.

If you are ever asked to lead a cavalry raid deep into enemy territory using mules instead of horses, you should turn this offer down.  Colonel Abel D. Streight did not come to this sensible conclusion and led a force of 1700 mule mounted cavalry on attack from Tuscumbia (in northern Alabama near Mississippi) to Cedar Bluff (In northern Alabama near Georgia).  On May 3rd, near Cedar Bluff, Streight and his command were captured by one Darth Vader Nathan Bedford Forest.

This was more useful to the union army than it might sound.  Forest had magical dark powers and could screw up virtually anything.  He read minds, was invulnerable to bullets and was generally a very scary man.  With Forest in eastern Alabama he could neither muck with Grant nor could he interfere with the second, more successful, Union cavalry raid led by Colonel Grierson.

546px-Benjamin_H_GriersonColonel Grierson’s raid is worthy of study.  He was loose in Mississippi for 17 days and destroyed, deceived and confused confederates continually.  His orders had been to go from Memphis into Mississippi and come back.  As his troops engaged confederates he would split his forces sending some back north but continuing further south with his main unit further into Mississippi.  Once on the far side of Jackson, he took the fateful decision to continue south until he ran into a Union position along the Mississippi river.  After having occupied 20 times his own force in a fruitless effort to find him, he finally arrived in Baton Rouge and joined General Banks forces on May 2nd.  The following month Lincoln had him promoted to a Brigadier General and  he was celebrated as one of the great heroes of the war

In an interesting side note… Grierson hated horses.  He had been kicked in the face by a horse as a child and was desperately afraid of them.  His appointment to the Cavalry branch had been made over his objections.

Meanwhile, back at Vicksburg, Sherman had not made the trip to Mississippi in the last weeks of April along with the rest of Grant’s army.  His corps still sat right in front of Vicksburg where it did its best to look like an Army.  On the 29th, it retraced to steps to the Chickasaw bluffs where it had been bloodily repulsed the previous December.  There his troops disembarked, reembarked, made funny noises and, in general, looked menacingly at the confused confederates.  This move did much to distract confederates and convince them that they should stay put and protect Vicksburg from a more direct assault.

Grierson’s raid destroyed communications, distracted resources and generally confused the confederates utterly for a fortnight. Sherman’s demonstration froze the defenders of Vicksburg and convinced them to defend their old positions in the same old way.  While dealing with Grierson’s cavalry and Sherman’s corps, confederates utterly lost Grant who crossed the Mississippi by the 1st of May.  Grant was now in Mississippi and Sherman set out to catch up to the rest of the army.