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.


Going from Point A to Point B

8 05 2011

The civil ware battlefield was a place awash with organized units quickly hurrying to and from strategic positions.  Soldiers were trained to not only cover ground but to do so without sacrificing coherence.  At the end of a march or advance across open terrain a job would need to be done.

Likewise, organization could be sacrificed for the purpose of getting soldiers to where they were needed.  It did no good to show up rested and ready to fight after the battle had been lost.  Soldiers would occasionally be driven quite hard to reach an objective as quickly as possible.  That not all soldiers arrived ready to fight was an acceptable risk if those that did could get a job done.  Stragglers where a fact of the civil war battlefield frequently taking considerable time to rejoin their units.

Troops had multiple formations that they employed in order to impact how they fought and how they moved.  Infantry troops for instance would assume a 2 row deep “line” in order to maximize fire.  This formation was not the fastest for movement but was used if it was thought that soldiers were likely to get an opportunity to fire their guns.  Conversely, soldiers could be placed in a thin line or a column which would be ideal for getting about.

Not all ground on the battle field was easy to move about on.  Battles could be fought in the open but just as often they would be fought in the woods or on hills.  In some cases battles where fought in simply dreadful terrain containing marshes and rivers. 

The Battle of Fredericksburg had a REMARKABLE side show as a unit of cavalry artillery lead by a 24 year old John Pelham took up a flanking position on the far side of a creek where he could not be attacked without first crossing a small swamp.  This annoyance held up the battle for well over an hour as regiment after regiment broke waste deep in muck trying to push the gray artillery back.  Pelham eventually was ordered to withdraw  as he was holding up the battle and looked likely to win it by himself.  This all happened in plain site of nearly 100 thousand union and confederate troops..

Finally, going somewhere was considerable easier if you knew where you needed to go.  Following a road for instance is incredibly efficient for no other reason  than roads where easy to follow and it was hard to get lost.  Additionally, officers who had an exact idea where soldiers where needed might provide additional motivation by traveling with soldiers and offering encouragement.

Movement rules for McPherson and Revenge will provide modeling for the following:

  • Different speeds for different formations
  • Formation changes
  • Hurried movement
  • Spent troops (unready for combat or reaction due to exhaustion)
  • Road Movement
  • Officer Bonus

There will be more movement rules hidden in other post later but these will likely deal with specific terrain types or formations and are more appropriate for discussions focused on these exceptions.


Movement can be as simple as taking the a value for a certain troops type/formation and moving that unit with the aid of a ruler.  Miniature gamers do this by second nature.  The trick is to intuitively know what this value is and to know when an exception should occur.  There are a couple of things that impact how far troops might move, first and and foremost of these is formation.

Formations come in two basic flavors; those that favored fighting (line and assault column) and those that favor movement (column, skirmish and disordered).  Rather than come up with a tediously precise movement range for each formation, I’ve decided to produce movement values for each of these basic categories.  Without stopping to explain what these formation looked like and how useful they are (that being the subject of other blogs) here is how I see infantry movement distances for infantry:

Line 6”
Skirmish 8”
Column 8”
Assault Column 6”
Disorder 8”

When moving infantry the base movement value is either 6” or 8”.  This will be pretty easy to remember and should keep the movement charts on the side table.

Next to consider is what the terrain is like and how that impacts these easily remembered numbers.


Rather than create rules for every conceivable type of terrain or creating a complex matrix of movement values for each formation type, I have decided to categorize terrain in a fashion similar to what I did with formations above and then applying modifiers.  Terrain is either “open”, “rough” or “utter crap”.

Open terrain is flat and dry.  Movement in open terrain is done at full speed.  in addition to grass and pasture plowed and planted fields will also be counted in this terrain category

Rough terrain is broken by rocks or trees and is pretty tough to move through.  Going uphill might also be considered rough terrain.  Units in rough terrain have their movement halved for the distance moved in rough terrain.  If a two inch patch of trees lay in the path of infantry for instance they will spend 4” of movement going through it.

“utter crap” is stuff you go around.  Its knee deep water, a stream, or a particularly heavy forest.  Movement is quartered in “utter crap”.  BTW…Utter crap is not my final title for this third, most worse terrain type but I am at a loss for a better name.  Every other game I have seen that employs good/bad/awful naming to terrain categories confuses me.  The words for mildly bad terrain and really bad terrain overlap to much (broken? rough? difficult? bad going?).  They all sound the same.  “Utter crap” communicates in a way that can be appreciated how tough it is to assault a position in waist deep water.

Roads are really convenient for moving on while in column.  To reflect this, Units that spend their entire movement on a road get a 1/4 movement bonus.  For instance, infantry columns get 10” movement on the road.


Infantry in line, in open terrain:


In this instance infantry can move 6” straight ahead.

Infantry in skirmish moving into a woods (rough):


In this case, infantry can move at half rate through the woods so the net movement in the example above is just over 4”.

Infantry in column across a creek (utter crap):


In this case the infantry column has to cross 1.5” of utter crap which translates into 6” or open movement.  With a total of 8” of available movement, that leave 2” of movement left for the other side of the creek.

Changing formations

Units can change formations as a part of movement.  This operation would have been more complicated than it sounds as most formation changes  involved communication between 400 or so men to do something unexpected.  Additionally, many formation changes involve the considerable displacement of troops.

A formation change could take the entire turn(15 minutes of real time) or only a few minutes.  Skill level would make a huge difference.  To model this and entire turn movement must be expended to change formation minus a quarter movement for each success of a roll for effect.  A minimum of a quarter movement is required for a formation change.  Remember, a roll for effect involves rolling a number of dice based on the skill of the unit in questions (green = 2 dice, Elite = 4 dice) and counting each die that equals a ‘4’ or more.

In the example below an elite unit in line changes to skirmish and moves forward


In this case the unit in question changes to skirmish formation (the faster formation) and then moves the maximum distance.  Maximum distance in this case though is an unknown.  If the unit makes 3 or 4 successful skill then it can move 6” (after losing a quarter movement to the formation change.  If there are 4 failures than the unit changes formation and is done.

Infantry Columns can convert into line and lines into columns with extra efficiency as the displacement of troops is relatively minor and this maneuver was practiced.  In this case a formation change only costs 3/4 movement  minus 1/4 movement for each success.


Units that are willing to sacrifice their reaction capabilities (an entire set of rules I am going to decline to explain at this time) can “push” to maximize their movement.  Before moving, a skill roll can be made to determine bonus movement.  For each success an additional 1/4 movement can be added to the total move.  Once this roll is made the unit need not use the bonus but the penalties will be applied.

Units that move quick time are marked with a “spent” counter which indicates that reaction rolls are conducted at “+2” and that reaction ranges are halved.  I’m not gonna tell you what this means but, trust me, it’s bad.

ALSO, Straggling may have occurred.  Once the unit is moved, two straggling hits are accessed to the unit minus one for each success on a skill check.  Straggling hits are similar to battle hits (another major game concept I will explain later) but are different in that they will be automatically recovered over time.

In the example below an infantry regiment in line quick time moves over open ground:


It’s maximum movement is 10.5’ (6” plus 3/4 of 6”).  This measurement is made and place holders are put on the table where the troops would end up if all three skill dice where to roll 4+.

Dice are rolled and only 1 success occurs.


This leaves the regiment half its normal move (3”) short of its target.

Now its time to see if there are stragglers.  Dice are rolled and again, there is only once success.


The regiment is now spent and has one straggler.  The straggler is marked with a yellow o-ring.

BTW… keep the image above in mind when reading the next section.

Standing orders

When ordering troops to move, it is not known if soldiers will be able to reach their maximum possible potential move.  It is pretty easy to imagine though that commanders would have given orders frequently that assumed optimistic speeds.  Officers also would not have thought of a 15 minute turn as a limit.

To model some of this, units when moved may have their maximum movement marked on the table using the markers I have shown in the example above.  These markers can be left on the table over the following turn and when the unit is next activated, they can finish the last turns orders much more easily than being given new orders.  Marked orders can be given to a unit with a “+2” on the officers activation roll and, if the order is the first order given then it is automatically successful.

Standing orders can always be ignored and new orders can be given.

If an officer fails his first attempt to give orders, then he may issue standing orders in order to improve the likelihood that troops will be able to move in subsequent turns.

This rule will likely not impact officers with 3 or more dice but, as officers get fewer and fewer dice for activating, this will allow them to keep some of their troops in the game.  Interestingly enough, this delayed order means that opponents will be able to see what a unit intends to do which is probably really fair given the time it takes to do it or the decrease in command competence.

Don’t’ forget officer influence

Just a reminder… Officers have influence dice that can gift a regiment under their command when making a roll.  These dice must be outnumbered 2 to one by the dice being rolled by the unit (that is they can never be more than a third of the dice being rolled.

These dice can dramatically improve the movement of a unit when used on either changing formations or pushing for extra movement.

Making markers

I created the move markers by painting 3mm litko bases.


One side I painted blue, the other gray.


To the blue side I added a light blue “X” (the military sybol for infantry) which I outlined in black.         


To the grey side I added brown.


and I painted the edges black.


The arrows for movement I created by cutting sheet form into strips and cutting pointed tips.


I captured quite a few images of movement that I did not use for the writing of this blog.  I intended to give a few more detailed examples of movement including a brigade movement but I seriously ran out of time and I think most of this came out pretty clear.