After an evening fiddling with Heroscape terrain hexes on my two portable gaming boards, I finally had a suitably cluttered landscape for an interesting solo skirmish game using my recently rebased vintage Airfix OO/HO American Civil War figures.
These veteran Airfix figures had been stored away and not seen any action since the late 1980s!
Landscape and scene setting
First of all, using hexes to cover the two wooden box lid portable game boards, I built a straight ridge (one hex wide and two hexes high) across the centre half of each board topped with grey Heroscape hex tiles to suggest a ballasted railway line.
A strip of blue felt between the two box lids suggested a ravine with fast flowing Hicksville River, too wide and deep for troops to cross except on the railway bridge. This river was effectively one hex wide but deep and steep edged.
This river crossing instantly created a defendable feature that bottlenecked any troop movement from either side.
The straight track from my “Train in a Tin” set (Apples and Pears or Fred Aldous Ltd) was laid along this grey ridge.
A very quick railway plank bridge had to be made. This was constructed with coffee stirrers, superglue and fast colouring with dark brown felt tip pens and black Sharpie pen edging. Not quite an atmospheric American covered wooden railroad bridge but functional enough.
A simple platform was made in the same way for the small backwoods forest halt of the good old AT & PR Railroad to match the tiny wooden railway hut that has featured in several games.
Other ridge features were set up along the box edges to create a pine ridge with some stony high ground and cleared forest with some impassable forest hexes with vintage Merit pine railway layout trees.
These Merit trees were the type that you see in Donald Featherstone’s photos in his 1962 book War Games; I bought some last year secondhand ‘For the Christmas Decorations Box’ – cunning. Indeed the rules used are my hex version of Donald Featherstone’s Rules for Close Wars appendix to his War Games, blended with some of his Horse and Musket era rules for the American Civil War in the same book.
Simple rules a dice thrown at each turn beginning to see who moves first, then who moves second fires first. Basically Move (Melee?) / Move (Melee?) / Fire / Fire. Casualty savings throws (d6 roll a six) to survive were used for casulaties hit by enemy firing only, not for Melee casualties.
Melee was done using the clever Kaptain Kobold dice reduction of my Duelling game, taken from Donald Featherstone’s excellent simple chapter ‘Wargaming in Bed’ in his Solo Wargaming. Each figure in melee is given two life or combat points (using counters or tokens), and the attackers declared as whichever side moves into Melee. Using one d6 dice, two opposing figures battle it out.
1-2 Attacker Hit (lose 1 point)
3 Both Hit, each lose 1 point
4 Neither Hit
5-6 Defender Hit (lose 1 point).
Firing range was four hexes for a rifle or musket, two hexes for a pistol.
Movement range for infantry is two hexes at a time, whilst climbing a hex high hill takes a whole move. Heights of two hexes or more are impassable without any form of adjoining slope with one hex at a time step up.
This deliberately narrows the movement options and crossing points.
Vintage Airfix ACW figures recently individually rebased as on my recent blogpost https://manoftinblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/16/confused-by-zouaves-some-airfix-acw-paint-conversions/
Playing 1:1 skirmish level, 1 figure equals 1 man.
The year is late 1861, early enough in the American Civil War for the colourful Zouave uniforms to still be in confusing use and not have quite fallen apart.
The scene is way out into the back woods, mountains and pine forests of America.
The usual timetabled AT & PR railroad train is believed to be carrying Union troops and supplies through the Pine Ridge mountains over the steep and fastflowing impassable ravine cut through the mountain by the Upper Hicksville River.
Before the train reaches the stone edged tunnel through one of the Pine Ridge Mountains many steep and forested rocky ridges, it has to slow to cross the simple railroad bridge over the river ravine and also to pick up any passengers, mails or freight that might be waiting at the tiny wooden AT & PR halt.
Coerced or cooperating with Confederate forces, the AT & PR railroad official (seen wearing the bowler hat) has not warned the train crew that the track on the halt side of the river is blocked by several large tree trunks.
Have these logs ‘fallen’ or been placed there to stop or derail the train?
If they had wanted to, of course, the Confederate forces could have blown up the track, the bridge or the tunnel. This would inconvenience them as much as the enemy. Disrupting rather than destroying the railway line or capturing the train and any enemy troops or supplies it carries is a far more attractive proposition.
Stopping the train and destroying its union troops is the first Confederate priority.
For the Union forces, clearing the track and keeping the railroad going as a supply route to their forces throughout these hostile mountains and forests is the main Union priority.
Being captured for either side is not an attractive proposition, judging by reports of the disease-ridden prisoner of war camps run by each side.
Initial dispositions on each side are about 25 troops each with the option of reinforcements later (3d6 rolled to see which turn these arrive).
A small section of Confederate Zoauves and other Confederate infantry (overall about 25 men) lie in wait on either side of the bridge, focussed and ready, aimed at the Union side of the bridge as the train slows down. A proper ambush has been laid.
On the left side of the track are grey coated Zouaves with red hats carrying a “first National Flag” of the Confederacy, a section of McClellan’s Zouaves from Charlestown, South Carolina.
As the Union troops detrain to investigate and move the blockage, the Confederate troops are ready to open fire. A d6 dice roll ( Detrain 1-3 on left side, 4-6 on right side) was thrown for each section of Union troops to work out where they would detrain. Detraining both on the right, the train provides some shelter from the Confederate bullets on the left. First casualties occur on either side from rifle and musket fire along the river bank.
The Union Zouaves with red caps, blue jackets and red trousers with white spats or puttees are a section of Union 14th New York Volunteers (later the 84th New York Infantry Regiment) known as the “Brooklyn Chasseurs”. They are accompanied by a section of more normally clad Union Infantry. Again, overall about 25 Union troops.
Turn 5 – the train steams carefully away, unable to continue and heads back to pick up more Union reinforcements (3d6 rolled for the when return turn) and how many (3d6 for number of reinforcements).
Union troops can fan out across the few crossing points where the hexes alongside the train line are shallow enough to allow access on or off and across the track. This is all part of building a cluttered terrain that dictates or restricts movement and the shape of a solo game.
A bird’s eye view was taken (from an observation balloon no doubt) at a break in the game when the game boards were lifted off the table for a while (Folks gotta eat!)
The quickest way for Union troops to clear the track was to rush the bridge, despite the risk that they were advancing right into the killing zone formed of overlapping Confederate fire.
A game rule that a man could not climb any height higher than one hex at a time taking one whole move to do so meant that the railroad embankment formed quite a barrier to movement across each board.
Turn 5 – As Confederate and Union troops spread out and exchange fire along the river bank, the Confederate Infantry Officer is killed. Advice is rolled for morale on loss of officer aD6 roll 1 to 3 steady, 4 to 6 retreat in disorder. Troops affected roll again each move until they are steady and able to fire or move as desired.
Off His Own Hook
As in most of these Close Wars small skirmish games, troops shoot at each other or charge ‘hell for leather’ towards each other or their objective, fairly regardless of personal safety and often without much input from officers. Loss of officers does not bring my games to a halt. This creates a good, fast and gutsy game.
Reading the Osprey Combat book Union Infantryman versus Confederate Infantryman Eastern Theater 1861-1865 by Ron Field, this does not seem too unrealistic:
“…the Infantryman usually found himself fighting independently or to use the contemporary term “off his own hook” when engaged in close combat with the enemy. Only then did the true qualities of courage, mixed with a string survival instinct , blend with drill and training in order to define the infantryman of the Civil War from 1861 to 1865 (Field, page 5) …
“However as the Civil War unfolded, attacking forces were not necessarily mown down before they arrived in near proximity of an enemy armed with rifled weapons, but – due to the effect of black powder smoke, which obscured visibility – often managed to get within close range , where they exchanged fire until ammunition was expended. … Despite advances in tactics and technology, and rigid textbook training, the infantryman in close combat inevitably fought independently and “off his own hook” throughout the Civil War as the din of battle and loss of leadership took its toll. Thus, survival and success were dependent on personal courage, and on the drill and training received in preparation for battle.” (Field, Page 8)
” Off His Own Hook” – this is very much the case in my skirmish games.
By Turn 7 or 8 it was fairly clear with the steady losses that the game would soon be over so I decided to add reinforcements. 3d6 were rolled to see when Union reinforcements would return by train (Turn 12) and how many (15 troops). To be fair, Confederates were given the chance of reinforcement through the safety of the empty railway tunnel – so with 3d6 rolls, 10 more brown-coated Confederate Louisiana Tiger Zouave reinforcements will arrive in Turn 10.
Turn 9 – Melee on the bridge and amongst the track blocking logs. A Melee of Union officer versus Confederate officer, Bugler versus Bugler, infantryman versus infantryman – saw all three Union Infantry troops lost. Disaster!
The lone Union Infantry standard bearer from this unit is left alone on the Confederate side of the bridge and has to race back (Turn Ten) to his own side to avoid capture of himself and national flag. One of the Confederate Zouaves fires a shot and sets off after him …
I found that too many colour or command party troops means that this reduces the fighting numbers of infantrymen, so I deemed a quick new game rule that officers and standard bearers carry sword and pistol, whilst buglers carry a rifle (just like the Herald 54mm ACW Bugler) for firing and melee purposes.
Train crew variously carry rifles and pistols in hostile territory.
When in doubt, playing solo, dice options were written down such as in the Turn Ten picture. Here the small command group of Union Zouaves had the d6 dice option 1 to 2, stay put in / move into safe firing position, which they did, 3-4 retreat or 5-6 move forward into melee / rush bridge again.
Equally a random dice or card option to ‘do nothing’ or to ‘retreat in disorder’ could have been added.
Turn 10 – Ten Louisiana Tiger Zouaves appear through the tunnel, making the few outnumbered Union survivors doubtful of whether they will survive the onslaught. Only five scattered Union Zouaves survive including their officer, standards bearer and bugler, alongside one lucky Union infantry standard bearer.
Luckily a d6 dice roll (1,2 or 5 no train sound heard or 3,4 or 6 returning train hoot heard) means that the survivors hear a distant hoot and hold on, awaiting the train for rescue or reinforcements.
Alternatively if no sound was heard, a dice could be thrown to see if they stay put or retreat. They stay put, whilst the surviving Union standard bearer is sent back down the track to brief the reinforcements on the train about the situation at the bridge and river crossing.
Turn 12 – When the train finally arrives, the train crew and Union reinforcements come under Confederate rifle fire. Throw d6 for undercover train crew in cab – 1-5 no damage to train crew, 6 train crew hit, throw casualty savings throw of 5 or 6 to survive. Luckily no train crew casualties but already one Union reinforcement is brought down as he detrains.
The train departs again in Turn 13, before it can be captured and giving space to Union troops to move across the bridge again.
By Turn 19, only two Union standards bearers are left after several disastrous melee sessions for the Union and some well aimed fire from the Confederate troops on the other side of the river.
The timely return of the train forces a few of the Confederate Louisiana Tiger Zoauves back across the bridge, whilst pistol and rifle fire from the train crew supports the retreat of the two Union standard bearers. In melee, one of the Union standard bearers is killed.
Turn 21 – Leaving his usual flag safely on the train, the lucky Union standard bearer (from Turn 10) leaps down to retrieve the fallen Union standard, before the Confederates capture this.
The last shots of Turn 22 ring out as the fallen standard is carried back to the train, which steams backwards in retreat.
This last heroic act earns the lucky Union standard bearer my medal of honour for bravery (inscribed underneath his card base for future reference).
PR (short for Battle of Pine Ridge) is inscribed on the base of each of the surviving Confederate and Union troops.
An enjoyable game, with a Buchanesque ending, a game which could have a sequel if wished in future. Will the train with reinforcements return to unblock the crossing?
Playing 1:1 skirmish level, 1 figure equals 1 man, I was pleased to get a few of these vintage Airfix troops into action, albeit at Sergeant led Section level (15 – 30 men) or Corporal led Squad level (8-16 men) rather than Regiment or its ten companies of 64 to 101 men, or Platoon level (30 to 50 men). So I had a few more buglers, officers and standard bearers than strictly necessary for atmosphere or the look of the thing. Squads were apparently, according to Ron Field, divided further into 2 or 4 man skirmish groups known as ” comrades in battle”.
Who was that brave standard bearer? If I had had more preparation time, instead of making bridges, I would have ascribed individual names to the colour / command party figures and to the standard Union and Confederate regiments involved.
Now off to watch Buster Keaton jousting logs off the track from the cow catcher of a speeding Civil War train in his silent 1926 masterpiece The General … blazing covered bridges, cannons, troops and all. Marvellous clip at https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aaWhqGVXILQ
Posted by Mark, Man of TIN blog, 25 July 2017