Archive for May, 2009



May 27, 2009

OK, that’s a loyalist cry, but what the heck!

I’ve jumped back into That Samurai Game development. I’ve got too many changes to report on all, but here’s a list:

Gambits now have their own cards. I’ve included one for your viewing pleasure. It’s actually a photo taken during a recent solo playtest. You’ll notice the three little mon at the bottom of the card. They link to time shifts in the game. Get 3 Oda timeshifts (in this case) and you are eligible to conduct this Gambit. A typical Gambit cardYou can also see a hint of an Action card next to it. These are much simpler now, with only an Order and a Strategem on them.

I’ve also simplified the resolution mechanics for orders. Now, for all orders bar those in combat, cards are played to beat a target number that is generally a fixed value with some modifiers for circumstances. Because this is all deterministic, you know when you play a move order how far your unit will move (unless someone disrupts you with a strategem they hold) or when you play a recover order how much cohesion you’ll regain. Combat is a little different. Fire combat (shooting things with arrows, guns or cannon) and melee use the opposed roll system I’ve spoken about before, with one significant change: players draw their combat ‘roll’ from the draw deck (a bit like in Combat Commander). This randomness flies in the face of what I was trying to achieve, but at this stage it seems the only way to manage combat without having fists full of cards. Still, it isn’t quite pure randomness, but you’ll have to see the next iteration of the rules to understand what I mean. I’m very happy with it.

The unit blocks themselves have also been simplified and the mechanisms for managing units in the game made more coherent. Each block has the unit type, unit quality and, in some instances, an indication of whether the unit is Aggressive or Timid. Leaders are separate blocks (small ones that sit nicely on the unit blocks) with their own quality value. You can use the leader’s quality rating as a substitute for the unit with which he’s stacked. The values are mostly hidden in the pictures here, but they were taken from a playtest where counters were recording outcomes. A stack represents the complete unit. A stack of two blocks has the quality of the block on top and a momentum of 2 (for the two blocks in the stack). Think of momentum as roughly the number of men times the velocity they can muster; momentum times quality is then the basic combat value of the unit.

P1000146Other elements that have been added or modified include:

1. Units must now be motivated to act. This reflects the degree of autonomy prevalent in the period. Clans acted semi-independently of one another, making coordinaion and command and control a challenge. The need to motivate units mimicks all those messengers flitting around the battlefield.

2. Units always have one of two dispositions: omote (open) or kage (shadow). Omote units are more willing to move and attack; Kage units are more patient, ready to defend and to recover. The disposition doesn’t prevent a unit from performing any order, but it leans the outcomes in a certain direction (and without lots of fiddly work being done by the players). Think of Takeda Katsuyori at Nagashino. He was aggressive, determined to take the initiative, to fight. Nobunaga waited patiently, relying on clever defence. This disposition rule allows the player to reflect the emphasis for his forces without hamstringing himself.

3. The game phases (opening, middle, end) are now linked into the amount of combat that has occurred. Every time an opposed roll is called for, a time shift may occur. Each action card has a little symbol on the bottom of it. If they match in the opposed roll, a timeshift occurs. The symbols are the mon for the Tokugawa, Hideyoshi, the Oda, the Takeda and the Imperial family. And they match the mon on the bottom of the Gambit cards. If, for example, three timeshifts occur because the Oda mon was paired three times in opposed rolls, any Gambit with 3 Oda symbols is eligible to use. The number of time shifts determines what phase the game is in, and each phase changes the nature of the Gambits that are available to play. So, towards the end of the game, you strategic manoeuvring to envelope the enemy comes into effect (think of Kawanakajima).

4. I’ve introduced the concept of Shock Melee. Actually, I have to thank Richard Berg for the idea. When two moving units come into contact, the first thing they do is undergo Shock Melee. No one takes hits, but the result of the impact can cause a loss of cohesion. If it’s big enough, the smaller unit can stumble and break.

5. Finally, and perhaps most obviously, I’ve gone back to a hex system. This means it’s a board game, but there is no reason why it can’t be played with miniatures. Personally, the blocks and the cards–wait till you see the cards–provide a beautiful aesthetic that more than makes up for a lack of miniatures. And, to be frank, I like the clarity of a board. No measuring, no arguing.

So, I hope that is enough to pique your interest. The new draft of the rules are being worked as I type, but they aren’t available yet. And my ambitions: a VASSAL module that you can play on. Now, to find someone who knows something about VASSAL. I’m trying to convince my partners (Andrew and Greg) to play test soon–I have the 4th battle of Kawanakajima ready to go, and my plan is for Uesugi Kenshin to scrub the floor with the Takeda. I’ll put a report up on that when it happens. Otherwise, Kampai!



Kurassiers, Arkebusiers, Trotters, and Gallopers

May 19, 2009

ImperialMountedArquebussier1640Line cavalry at the start of the Thirty Years War could be divided simply into the kurassiers – clothed in three quarter armour and armed with long wheel lock pistols, and arkebusiers – clothed in lighter armour and armed with a shortened matchlock, effectively a carbine. Both of these types used the caracole as their main tactical doctrine. The kurassiers were the heavies, and the arkebusiers were medium cavalry.

Depending on the views of the organising commander, kurassiers and arkebusiers  could be mixed together in the same regiment, or could be separated into distinct regiments. In mixed regiments the arkebusiers would have been brought to the fore because of their longer range, but would have migrated to the back of the formation when it came to contact, leaving this role to the heavy kurassiers.

In White Mountain, a mixed kurassier and arkebusier regiment uses stats as if it were a pure kurassier regiment. Pure arkebusier regiments have slightly different stats.

Mixed cavalry regiment 4 /1

Kurassier 4 /1

Arkebusier 3 /2

By the middle of the war, Gustavus Adolphus and others were experimenting with the direct cavalry charge, discarding the caracole. Gradually the caracole was phased out in favour of the shock tactics. Opinions differed as to whether the trot (either slow or fast) up to the target and then discharging pistols before contact, or a charge at the gallop and neglecting the pistol until contact was made was better.

The Imperials preferred the trot, the Swedes the gallop.

Both had advantages and disadvantages. The trot arguably compressed the caracole and the exploitation charge into one continuous committed movement. But the shock effect was lessened because of the controlled pace. The gallop had great morale shock effect and over time became the default tactic for cavalry in Europe for a good 200 years. However it also tended to shatter the attacking unit. Considerable time and effort was required to pull them back into any order for them to take any further part in the battle. But the aim was for the charge to be decisive.

Ironically this was rediscovering old tactics, not inventing new ones. The mounted charge was the main tactic of the medieval knights. The pike armed infantryman evolved to keep the long lance armed horsemen away. As firepower improved, increased emphasis was put into this arm and the number of pikemen in a regiment gradually decreased. The average length of the pike itself reduced as well. In this climate the cavalry began to reclaim the opportunity to charge home.

To represent trotters and gallopers in White Mountain use the following rules:

Trotters 5/0 (the 5 melee dice are for the first round of melee only. This represents the discharge of pistols at point blank range before contact).

Gallopers 4/0 (gallopers automatically inflict 1 disruption token on their target when they make contact, in addition to anything they inflict through roll for attack. However, gallopers automatically receive an additional disruption token when they attack due to the disorganising effects of their charge. Therefore gallopers receive 2 disruptions whenever they are the attacker).


White Mountain – Battle report – Beernsdorft 1622

May 4, 2009

This is a record of the play test of the current version of the White Mountain rules for block, hex and card games modeling the Thirty Years War. Simon played the Catholics and Imperials, and I played the Protestants.

This was scenario set in the Palatinate or German war phase. The Imperials and Catholics are still using the traditional Spanish tercio, and the German Protestants are using shallow battalions based on the Dutch model. Historically the Protestants got the worst of it in these encounters. This has raised questions in my mind as to why alternatives were sought to the tercio, but this is a digression.

p10205561We used the Bohemian Revolt army generator to get the starting forces and terrain layout (battle-of-beerndorft) to get the forces. Simon was superior in cavalry, but I had a distinct advantage in artillery – much good as it did me in the end. This gave the following terrain layout on a standard 13×10 hex board (this one from the Epic set of BattleLore).And here is a representation of the forces overlaid.

We tried to use all the rules available to us so far, and I think we only missed one late in the game when a regiment failed to retreat after losing combat. But I believe this is all that was missed. Virtually all of the tactics that were available to the unit types were used, including caracole, and so I think this was a fair test of the system.

beernsdorft0011The battle opened with Simon pushing his right wing straight up the Beernsdorft stream. Despite harassment from my artillery both the Martinez and Salazar kurassiers closed on the hill held by a detached shot regiment and ejected them. A strong counter attack regained the hill, supported by the Schmid kurassiers, but it was not enough. The arrival of the Imperial Schmitt tercio and the Hahn regiment of kurassiers sealed the fate of the protestant left. Battered and forced back the shot regiment collapsed and fled the field, closely followed by the Weber infantry regiment. Schmid’s kurassiers put up a stout defense, but even with the exhaustion and collapse of the imperial Salazar kurassiers Simon’s troops looked ready to roll up the protestant flank.

p1020559This action was a brutal seesaw affair with commanders lost on both sides and the gradual build up of disruption on the participating regiments. At times Simon was weighing the risks of continuing the assault and continuing to build up disruption or retreat to reform and lose this initiative. This was exactly the decision we were trying to model. In the end several (protestant – grinding teeth) regiments collapsed because they had too many disruption tokens (that is: they routed).

After realigning what was left on my protestant left flank I decided to shift the focus to the centre where I had artillery superiority. This caused some discomfort to the Imperial Soto and Mendez tercios, but only seemed to spur Simon into action. The Imperial army launched a general advance in the centre and covered the 700 metres in an alarmingly short period of time. My 24 great guns belched at the advancing papists but did little to deter them.

Conceiving a master stroke, I swept my Protestant right wing forward to envelop the exposed advancing tercios. Kaiser, Hoffman and Schwarz kurassiers caracoled against Mendez tercio, achieved the hoped for disruption and closed for the slaughter – only to be bounced at great cost. The tercios continued their inexorable march while the badly cut up Protestant horse retired.


Guns face up have been abandoned by their crews and are now silent and ready for capture.

And at that moment as I saw that virtually all my horse had gone and almost every cannon had been silenced. I conceded victory even though I still had several fresh infantry regiments. In real life I would be detailing a couple of regiments to stall the advancing Imperials and Catholics while I tried to save the rest of the Protestant army for another day.

Key test findings:

Accumulating Disruption modeling morale and cohesion. The goal was to simulate that armies of this time disintegrated from the back – that is: a regiment was more likely to be destroyed through the men fleeing rather than being slaughtered. A further goal was to simulate this without complex ‘morale’ rules requiring extra calculations and dice rolls. Finally, this mechanism was designed to allow you to manage the problem, effectively giving you choices. This seems to have been fulfilled. In attack, Simon had a choice whether to risk continuing in the push and possibly fall apart, or halt and reform and lose initiative.

Total game time was somewhere around an hour and a half. Simulated time was in the vicinity of 3 hours, allowing for a move representing roughly 20 minutes.

Overall, the basic rules capture the appropriate flavour. Another test with this base set of rules is needed, then I want to add in the extra unique flavour events such as exploding powder, misunderstood retreats, secret movement and so on.


White Mountain army generator

May 3, 2009

I have created an excel spreadsheet that randomly generates armies for the Bohemian phase of the Thirty Years war consistent with the forces described in the White Mountain rules.

Unfortunately, WordPress does not allow me to publish .xls files here. If you want a copy, drop me an email at and I’ll send it to you.

The spreadsheet allows you to set the proportion of each type of regiment that could be present in a typical Catholic/Imperial or Protestant army. It then generates a 20 regiments a side, divided into left, centre and right zones plus a reserve. This is about the right number of units to populate a typical 13 x 10 hex board.  It also tells you how many blocks are each regiment and, using the underlying calculations, then tells you the real manpower so you can get a feel for the actual battle scale. The spreadsheet gives force sizes typically between 10,000 and 20,000 men.

Simon and I recently tested this and other parts of the game. This write up will follow, along with cut images of the army generator output.