In my last post, I talked about how I thought the firing mechanic in The Sword and the Flame did a nice job of representing volley fire — that felt like volley fire. I want to talk about volley fire form a different perspective in this post.
I was reading one of the Wally Simon game design books that are being published by On Military Matters. In one of the articles, Wally talks about a mechanic he envisioned in which reaction to volley fire is incorporated. His thoughts dovetail with discussions in Brent Noseworthy’s books on the Seven Years War and Napoleonic Wars. In Anatomy of Victory, Noseworthy discusses how difficult it is to get troops moving again once they begin a firefight. There is an inertia created when lines begin to fire. This may be due to the noise and smoke, the fear of the bayonet, etc. But he makes the claim that when a charging unit fails to close and instead begins to fire that it is very difficult to get them to move again. I actually incorporated this idea into Wellington Rules as an optional rule but left it out of Fate of Battle as being just a bit too detailed for those rules.
Back to Wally’s mechanic. His thought was that when a unit fired, the target should immediately make a reaction test, which ranged from “remain under control” through “return fire” to “retreat.” So a unit that is the target of the charge might discharge a volley. The charging unit would immediately make a reaction test. The most likely result would be stop and return fire. Then the defending unit would make a reaction test, most likely returning fire. Then the formerly charging unit, and so on. The idea is that these units would begin blazing away at each other until one or the other broke or a commander on one side or the other was able to get his unit to close with the enemy. It’s an interesting mechanic that has some appeal to it — particularly in an IGO-UGO activation scheme in which all the chargers are declared and everyone moves before fire is resolved.
In another article Wally talks about not counting casualties so much as disruption. Of course, removing figures form the table does not always represent real casualties but some notion of disruption, stragglers, etc. In Santa Anna Rules and Wellington Rules, I borrowed a mechanic I first saw almost 30 years ago in Ron Prillaman’s penny rules. In those rules stragglers are represented explicitly. Some hits remove stragglers and some remove casualties. Stragglers can be recovered through rally-like actions by the unit’s leaders. Casualties can never be recovered. With this mechanic I was able to eliminate the need for morale checks. When a unit had more stragglers than effectives, the unit routed.
So the idea is percolating in my head that combining these mechanics might make a really nice way to represent black powder era linear warfare in a novel and intuitive way. Unit A fires, and unit B picks up some number of stragglers and casualties. Unit B makes an immediate reaction test based on stragglers, casualties, remaining effectives, table situation, etc. The response is often quite out of the leaders’ hands as the two lines of soldiers blaze away. This goes back and forth until one side breaks or charges.
Right now, I am busy trying to promote Combat Patrol and and working on additional optional rules that I’ll make available as .pdf downloads, so these ideas are on the back burner. One never knows when they’ll leap to the forefront and find themselves in a draft set of rules.