Wednesday, 9 January 2019

First play of Over Malvern Hill, new ACW rules by Stand to Games

Editors Note; 
As regular followers of JJ's Wargames will know, ACW is not really a theme that has really 'floated my boat', and I am surprised to see five previous posts on this period here on the blog, but it is, never the less,  a major period in historical wargaming and one that appeals to a lot of historical wargamers, including a few of my regular wargaming friends.

I and Steve M have reviewed and played Over the Hills (Napoleonic) and Rise and Fight Again (AWI) rules from Stand to Games which we have both enjoyed and had a lot of fun with, but were unlikely to take in a game of the new ACW set Over Malvern Hill, so I was pleased to get an AAR and review from Mr Steve of a game he played with the new set with Nick and Steve L.

Over to you Steve.

Battle of Reams Station 1864
A couple of us had taken part in the recent Kickstarter for the new set of ACW rules written by Stand To Games, these are the people who produced the popular Napoleonic set called Over The Hills,  and also a new AWI version, Rise and Fight Again, that had just come out in front of the ACW ones we were interested in.

Stand to Games

You can find out more about all the Stand to Games rules on the Over the Hills Facebook page

Having recently tried out the updated set of Brigade Fire and Fury v2 at the club we decided to re-run the same scenario out of BFF using Over Malvern Hill (OMH)

First of all I had better give a very brief explanation on how OMH functions. Just like its predecessors the main concept in the game is Fatigue Level (FL), this applies to Units, Brigades and Armies, so a unit may have anything from 6-14 fatigue points depending on its numbers, class or experience etc. You add all the unit scores in a Brigade together to give you that Brigade's score e.g. 24-40, you then add all the Brigade scores to make the Army Total, probably around a 100+. A unit’s current fatigue score is used for anything it does, so the higher it as then the better the results, units lose fatigue by extra marching, combat or more commonly by getting shot. So if you receive two fatigue hits from the enemies firing then your reduce all three fatigue scores accordingly, that’s unit, brigade and army. A unit’s fatigue score can be regained during the rallying phase but the other two cannot and only decrease with time.

I have to admit I had some problems with this initially in the other period games I had played, in BF&F when you take two stands off a unit then they are permanently reduced in effectiveness however in OMH you can do three fatigue hits in one go, seriously weakening a unit only to see it return a couple of turns later back up to full strength again.

I now see Fatigue as a combined expression of a unit’s current willingness to fight mixed in with its cohesiveness plus small bits of its experience and its strength added in. Whilst it is possible to ‘destroy’ or break up weaker units, the big 11-13 FL strong ones are unlikely to go as they are easier to rally back, however the ever ticking clock of Brigade and Army fatigue is what will eventually destroy you.

In the rules there are two ways to determine victory, once a Brigade loses over 50% of its starting FL score then it is broken and must retreat, the same applies to Army FL, once over 50% of your starting FL is reached then you have lost the game; or alternatively you could use the second method were over 50% of units are destroyed, routing or wavering in a Brigade/Army etc. decide which method you will use at the start. More on this below.

So onto the scenario, fortunately it was not too difficult to transfer across the units from BF&F to OMH , if you look in the front of the new BFF rules there is a chart that gives Brigade effectiveness so if I take Rugg’s regiment which is Green and 6/-/5 I see that it comes under the Dispirited column. Looking at OMH‘s Union 1864 army lists I would make them Trained (next one down is Militia, which didn’t sound right) giving a FL starting score of 8 points, size wise they are 6 stands strong which is the OMH standard so no alterations there, and using another chart in the front section I
classed them as 'Hesitant' so minus 2 points giving a starting Fatigue Level of 6. With everyone worked out I had the following Fatigue totals:

Union Army Fatigue 106
Miles Brigade 28
Gibbons 25
Gregg’s cavalry 27
Corps artillery 26

Confederate Army 128
Wilcox 33
Heth 35
Hampton 39
Corps artillery 21

The table was set up as per the scenario and with all the extra rules in play as per the previous game along with the 12 turns limit.

Wilcox’s brigade bravely advanced on the Union emplacements, with all those that could, in Open Line to ease movement through any woods and to reduce firing casualties (Open Line is only available to those units with a starting FL of 8+). The two Union guns were inflicting steady casualties with the occasional maximum result of 3 Fatigue Hits. It wasn’t long before they came into range of the infantry rifles and ‘casualties’ were now mounting rapidly. Connors unit had already had to halt to reorganise and McGowan came in for particular unpleasantness in fact they were fortunate to survive not being completely destroyed and they fled to the rear. By Turn 3 the brigade had already reached 51% of its FL and therefore under the rules would have now be classed as broken and forced to fall back out of the fight.

We therefore stopped the game for a chat, a cup of tea and a homemade chocolate Krispie.

The decision was taken to amend the victory conditions, we took the Army FL level of 106 /128 and halved them to 53/64, these would count down as normal and the first to reach zero had lost (this is roughly the same anyway). Also we changed it, that the Brigades would keep fighting until they also reached zero, but would then be removed from the table completely. This isn’t that radical when you look at the figures, true you could keep rallying your units back over time but the Brigade and Army morale cannot be regained so losing the equivalent of two Brigades in this game would still break your army and Brigades themselves would eventually be taken off as well. On further reflection, as I write this, I think the changes are not quite right, so a tiny bit more adjustment for next time, maybe adjust to something between 60-70% perhaps instead, Not sure, we need more games.

With the changes made we continued the game, Nick, who was in charge of the Union forces had redeployed his units to form three successive defensive lines behind the entrenchments, which made it a very tough nut to crack, however the Confederate artillery was now on the table and you began to see a slight disadvantage to this defence due to the rule regarding bounce through, whilst in the whole it was not overly destructive the continual 'nibbling away' effect to Fatigue Levels was something
to pay attention to.

Wilcox’s depleted Brigade managed to charge the Union position but was easily repulsed, however Heth’s reinforcements managed where they had failed and took advantage of Broady’s very timely rout caused by the sustained artillery bombardment, and crossed the ramparts. As mentioned above, lines of fresh Union troops waited for them and they soon fell back across the other side again due to the “Driven Back by Fire “rule (taking 3FL in one phase is an automatic fall back with a possible second move due to a morale test.)

Not fancying their chances and with their dismounted cavalry brigade on the right flank also making little progress or seeing much potential of there being any at all, the Confederates conceded on turn 8.

To tidy up this game first, final scores were ;
Remaining Union Army Fatigue 29
Miles Brigade 12
Gibbons 17
Gregg’s cavalry 25

Remaining Confederate Army Fatigue 17
Wilcox 14
Heth 21
Hampton 25

Everyone’s guns were still around as well but I didn’t note their FL.

So what did we think.
As a scenario when we played it with F&F we felt the game went better and gave us the result we expected( a narrow confederate win) however it is playable using OMH and the same result could be achieved although this would be more likely by breaking the Union armies morale rather than pushing them completely out of the position. In both cases this would be similar to what happened historically.

The rules work OK, obviously there are some clarifications required that we couldn’t decide ourselves but this is normal with a new set. We felt that firepower is very strong however this was amplified by the emplacements giving bonuses and we plan to see what happens in more open terrain. Skirmishers could have been used but looking at the rules I don’t think it would have helped our attacking confederates that much (it’s only a -1, classed as obscured).

We will obviously play a few more games and see if we still need to amend how the Victory/Break conditions are calculated, perhaps in a more open terrain game they would work as written but we feel that a minor adjustment is maybe needed to prevent Brigades being taken off after just a few turns of firing.

As I said at the start, you need to adjust to this concept of Fatigue Levels and not taking stands away, it isn’t that easy initially and I still feel hard done by when you get a good shoot in and nothing is removed only to see them almost back up to full level again as a result of some good rallying. A really badly hit unit such as McGowan’s in our game who went from 11 down to 1 will take quite a few turns to get ready to rejoin (you have between 1 and 3 D10’s depending on Leader quality
each turn, needing to score less than or equal to the current FL, some bonus’ may apply, each pass increases by 1 the current FL).

In the end I suppose what you are trying to do is to break whole Brigades over a period of time and not just remove a few stands each turn which is a slightly different concept than BFF and is perhaps more realistic.

And finally where does this fit into our top 10?

Hmm, tricky as we have only played one game so far and we don’t actually have 10 sets of rules, I would say BF&F still first, then Over Malvern Hill and then Pickets Charge. (We love everything about Pickets Charge until you get to the shooting and melee stages).

Once I have my hands on the Napoleonic QRS I want to see if I can combine the two rule sets into something usable for my 20mm Sikh Wars.

Over The Sutlej River anyone?

Thanks to Steve for being the host and for Nick for not letting the host win.

15mm Figures are a mix of AB and Blue Moon
Streams are Timecast
Trees mainly Woodland scenics
Cloth from Tiny Wargames

If you want to see what happened in real life then:

This has been a Mr Steve production.

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