First Game of Over Malvern Hill

You will remember that I backed the Kickstarter for Over Malvern Hill, the new ACW rules from Stand to Games. The rules arrived and I liked what I saw, so I roped Sigur in for a test game. Unfortunately, he had to cancel, so I decided to run a solo game. This was probably a good idea for a first game, as I had to look a lot of stuff up…

I used the Battle of Big Bethel as a scenario. It’s a good scenario for solo gaming, as the Confederates have a rather static defense position. However, it’s a bit difficult to balance, as the Union had a huge advantage in numbers and should, by all accounts, have won – which they didn’t due to the difficult terrain and severe command problems. So, while the Union player has a lot more forces, it should still be quite difficult for him or her to win the game.

To spice it up a bit, I introduced a deck of friction cards (I got the initial idea from John Drewienkiewicz’ Wargaming in History Vol. 10: The Shenandoah Valley 1862, a most splendid book full of great ideas). At the start of each turn, a card is drawn from a deck. There are several blank cards in the deck, but there are also random event cards (for this scenario, one for the Confederates and three for the Union) and a ‘coffee’ card. When a random event card is drawn, the players whose random event it is rolls on a table and applies the result. The coffee cards signifies a lull in the action. Units in close range to each other withdraw a bit (unless, of course, they hold a scenario-specific objective), commanders may rally their troops etc.

My table set up followed the maps in Battle of Big Bethel: Crucial Clash in Early Civil War Virginia, a very good overview of the battle as well as the political background, which is in fact more interesting than the rather small affair.

setup

Like in history, my (i.e. the Union) forces arrived piecemeal and my main commander – who unfortunately was with the first column – was rather underwhelming, to put it mildly. I advanced my first two regiments, trying to keep them out of the fire from the main Confederate battery while still threatening the forward redoubt.

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One of the regiments was sent on a flank march, which meant however that the other regiment was out of command and could only stand there. Fortunately, my main force arrived soon after.

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My artillery had managed to silence the small Confederate cannon deployed in the forward redoubt, but neglected to drive it away for good – something that would haunt me later. Still, spirits were high and the regiments charged forward in field column. 

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Which, as I quickly learned, was not a good idea, especially against artillery. The attack got stuck, while, on my right flank, the regiment attacking across the creek was also driven back.

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I withdrew what was left of my attack column and waited for my last column to arrive.

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I deployed those two regiments on my left flank with the intent to at least take the forward redoubt. A first frontal attack got stuck – fortifications are really hard to storm (as it should be). Fortunately, the coffee card came up, which allowed me to sort out my troops and redeploy them for a final push.

Alas, bad dice rolling contributed to an utter defeat in close combat, destroying my attacking regiment.

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There was nothing left to do – the game was over. At least I had achieved a historical result!

I really enjoyed the game. At first, I had to look up a lot – it seems I didn’t read the rules as carefully as I had thought. I also changed the QRS after the first turn: Initially, I wanted to use half distances, as is advised in the rule book for 15mm. I quickly found that this looked daft on my table, as the relation between ground scale, figure scale and terrain scale felt wrong. So I used distances reduced by 1/3, which looked good and worked fine.

After the first couple of turns, the game started to flow very nicely. I still kept forgetting things and later discovered that I missed a couple of minor details. However, the game was fun and felt historical plausible. It also produced a great narrative (helped by the friction deck). Over Malvern Hill for me feels like the right balance between period-specific details and playability. I’ll certainly keep playing – hopefully, I can get Sigur to have a game some other time!

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On the Painting Table

CRISIS really gave me a motivational boost – I’ve been quite busy painting since coming back from Antwerp. One big bunch I could finish was the ACW artillery. I’m still working on bringing my ACW forces up to regimental level, so I needed a couple of guns.

This is what I have so far. The crews are mostly from Peter Pig, while the guns are from QRF/Freikorp15. I’ve ordered some more, so in the end I’ll have at least six guns for each side as well as a couple of limbers.

I’ve also touched up the river I bought from Products for Wargamers. I still have to put grass and lichen on the banks. I also knocked up a small bridge and a modular ford to go with the river.

Finally, the painting tray:

tray

In the back, you can see Union ‘enthusiastic soldiers’ from Old Glory – those are the ones I got at CRISIS. In the front rows we have Confederate soldiers at ease from Essex. Additionally, there are two ‘out of ammunition’ markers from Peter Pig.

Scratch Building Wagons in 15mm

Wagons are cool: They can be used as scenario objectives, but they also look nice as pieces of scenery. Unfortunately, wagons are also among the most expensive models a wargamer can own (at least, for those of us who play periods before the 20th century).

So I decided to scratch build my own. I found some examples of scratch-built wagons in 28mm on the internet, but I couldn’t find any in 15mm. Fortunately, 15mm is a very forgiving scale and you can get away with a lot, which is a good thing for a sloppy person like me.

I didn’t use a lot of materials: For the chassis, I used balsa wood, match sticks and polystyrene. The wheels come from Langely Models, who offer a good selection of sizes. Several miniatures producers offer spare horses, e.g. Alternative Armies or QRF/Freikorp15. Drivers are a bit more difficult to find and I’m not really happy with what I got, but it will work.

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The first thing I made was a simple hay wagon. The hay was made out of dried tea leaves, which were covered with several layers of thinned down PVA glue.

I then proceeded to build carriages for the artillery train. First up was a mobile field forge. I’ve modeled it in the working position:

The second model is a battery wagon:

Last, I made an ambulance wagon. This is modeled after the two-wheeled Coolidge ambulance wagon. The Perrys offer such a wagon in 28mm, which has been masterfully painted by my mate Sigur, from whom I got the idea to make my own. The roof was made out of green stuff.

Making wagons is fun and the results are, while not perfect, good enough for me. The next thing I want to make is a pontoon train – I have an idea for a scenario dealing with the river crossing at Fredericksburg…

Relief Force – Sharp Practice AAR

Last week-end, Sigur and I had another game of Sharp Practice. I had devised a short and simple scenario: A Union held fort was attacked by a Confederate force, but a relief column was on its way.

Sigur decided to command the attackers and got a couple of infantry, a unit of cavalry and a small mountain howitzer. I had three rather weak units in the fort. To make things more interesting, I drew card for the composition of the relief force, which gave me three units of regular infantry and one unit of cavalry armed with breech-loading carbines – quite a potent combination.

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The set up. Sigur’s cavalry moves along the road towards the bridge.
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… and there goes the cavalry! Having been shot to pieces by the Union soldiers in the fort, it flees to never be seen again. Sigur’s skirmishers adopt a more methodical approach.
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With the cavalry heading towards the rear, it’s up to the poor bloody infantry.
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Hurrah! At the earliest possible moment, the Union cavalry arrives.
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The Confederates haven taken position in the rough ground and a musketry duels starts.
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The Union infantry rushes towards the fort. In the foreground, you can see the already dismounted Union troopers.
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The dismounted Union cavalry tries to work around the Confederate flank and rear to take out the mountain howitzer, which is shelling the fort with some effect. One group of Confederate infantry have taken position in the wheat field to check the bluecoats’ advance. The shooting at the fort continues.
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While the well-drilled Union infantry has formed line, the dismounted cavalry has been repulsed by the Confederates in the wheat field.
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The Union line advances, trying to hit the Confederates in the flank.
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The Union line is in a bad position now – it’s either forward with the bayonet or being caught in a cross-fire.
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Forward it is, then! One group runs towards the howitzer…
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… while the other two charge the Confederate line. Alas! Both attacks get stuck and do not reach their intended targets.
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The Confederates counter-charge and break the Union line! The Union skirmishers have taken position to screen the line from the shooting coming from the wheat field.
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The Union attack breaks down. The group charging the howitzer was pelted with canister and took to its heels, while the rest are falling back or routing, being shot at by everything the Confederates have.

Well, that was that. With my Force Morale at 2 and Sigur’s at 7, I conceded defeat. My relief force was routing and the garrison in the fort would probably surrender.

This was a fun and interesting game. Sigur was very unlucky at the beginning, as the turns were short, he couldn’t deploy much, and then my relief force turned up at the earliest possible moment. He squandered away his cavalry, but so did I. Detaching a group from his line and positioning it in the wheat field was a prudent move. For a moment it looked very dangerous for the Confederates, but I don’t think it was actually that close a game. I took a huge risk by moving my infantry that far forward and by trying to charge his units. Playing aggressively can have a psychological effect on the other player which can make a situation look more dangerous than it really is – believe me, I’ve been on the receiving end of aggressive moves many times!