#Wargame Mechanics – The ‘Morale’ of the game in The Battle of Rhode Island (@gmtgames, 2020)

A3E5A5FB-AC7F-4CE2-8E02-C49CB346DE4EVOLUME IX IN THE BATTLES OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION SERIES FROM GMT GAMES covers The Battle of Rhode Island (August 29, 1778). Historically, the battle was one of a British pursuit that ended up stalemated against good prepared American positions. In my play of The Battle of Rhode Island (GMT Games, 2020) it played out a bit differently. The key difference was Morale.

Will to Fight and Opportunity

In GMT’s Battles of the American Revolution Series (BoAR) morale is one of the most important factors modeled in the system. Army Morale ranges from High Morale to Fatigued to Wavering to Demoralized. Individual units are given a Unit Morale factor that has both combat and Rally effects. Most importantly, combat results can affect the Army Morale level:

  • Captured units are +1/-1 to the Army Morale (AM) level
  • Artillery vs Artillery duels can cause AM losses
  • Every time a unit suffers a level of Disruption there is a -1 AM loss
  • When there is a “1” step combat loss there is a +1/-1 AM change
  • A “2” step combat result is +1/-2 AM shift
  • When a unit rallies from a Disrupted or Shattered result there is a +1 AM shift
  • ‘Spiking the guns’ losses -1 AM
  • Breaking a ‘Pin’ or leaving a battle is -1 AM
  • The death or capture of a Leader also shifts AM; the more important the Leader the greater the impact.

To show the dramatic impact of morale, in GMT’s Battles of the American Revolution game series one way a player can win and immediately end the game is by reducing their opponents Army Morale to 0 for a Substantial Victory.

A ‘new to me’ aspect of The Battle of Rhode Island is the addition of Opportunity Cards to the game. These cards serve as a sort of combination random event and special ability generator. The Americans started out with Partisan Guide giving one unit extra movement on one turn. They also held a card to influence the Initiative Check. The British started with Inspired Leadership which is a positive modifier when the Hessian light infantry unit von der Malsburg is leading a Close Assault. They also held Oppressive Heat which can be played after Turn 5 and gives a -2 modifier to American Rally attempts.

Sullivan’s Sorry Day

There sat Sullivan, in Butt’s Hill Fort. Just waiting for the British to arrive. And he waited, and waited, and waited….

In the “Rhode Island” scenario, the British start out at Army Morale 14 and the Americans are at 13. As the British enter the map (south end of Aquidneck Island) they face an American rear guard (Livingston’s and Laurens’ Advanced Guards) while the bulk of the American army is in garrison near Butt’s Hill Fort (British objective) and Durfee’s Hill (the Artillery Redoubt). Historically, the British pushed back the American rear guard but by the American army as they sallied forth from their garrison near the Fort.

In my Battle of Rhode Island the British and Hessians started out as they historically did with the British marching up the east road and the Hessians the west. Along the west road, Laurens’ and Talbot, both Continental Regulars, skirmished with the Hessian von der Malsburg light infantry and got very lucky; at one point stopping the Hessian advance near Union Street just below Middletown. A major factor in the ability of Laurens’ to hold is the fact the unit is a Demi-Leader which means it has access to more options when it comes to using a Tactics Card in battle. Usually in Close Combat, units can select from Skirmish, Attack en Echelon, Stand Fast, or Withdraw. If a Leader is present (or the unit is a Demi-Leader) then additional options of Frontal Assault, Commit Reserve, Turn Flank, and Refuse Flank are available. The interaction of attacker vs. defender tactics is a die roll modifier on the Combat Results Table. This simple ability, coupled with the Zones of Control rules, made the Hessian advance slow along the west road.

Coming up the east road the British Regulars ran head long into the Continental Regulars led by Colonel Livingston. The single American artillery battery here, ‘Jackson Bty A’ not once, not twice, but three times drove back the British regiments. [This was very incredible shooting as in the game it required a roll of 7 or more at range 1 and 9 or more at range 2 or 3 – on a D10 to hit – and 0 is ‘zero’ not 10!] 

Coming out of Turn 6 (Noon) the Americans gained 2x VP for holding two objective hexes against the very slow British advance. Although the American light infantry of Talbot was captured (-1 AM), all else was going well as the British advance seemingly bogged down.

Then it all came apart.

On Turn 7 (1PM) Laurens’ was caught in a deadly skirmish and was eliminated (-2 AM) by von der Malsburg using Inspired Leadership. Several other units took Disrupted results (-3 AM) dropping the Americans into Fatigued status (Army Morale 7) which lost them an Initiative Bonus and added a -1 Morale Factor to each combat.

Turn 8 (2PM) became a disaster as the various units under Livingston to the east proved unable to Rally (thanks in great part to the Oppressive Heat played by the British) and therefore in turn were unable to battle effectively given their Disrupted status. Livingston’s Picket Guard was decimated by the 43rd Foot, suffering a dramatic ‘2’ combat result that not only eliminated the unit in one stroke but also dropped Army Morale -2 (Army Morale = 5). This also led to the draw of an Opportunity Card for the British – The Great Storm which reminded the Americans that a quick French naval victory was not coming and dropped their Army Morale another point (-1 AM). Following the loss of the Picket Guard, the remaining units of Livingston’s force (Colonel Livingston, Jackson’s Detachment of infantry and ‘Jackson Bty A’ of artillery) were cut off and surrounded, Disrupted, and eventually captured (-3 AM).

American morale was now Wavering at 1. Too late, American general Sullivan started pushing forces out of their garrison near Butt’s Hill Fort. As it was, the last unit of Livingston’s Advance Guard, Wigglesworth, was subjected a Close Assault combat suffering a Disruption (-1 AM). This reduced the American Army Morale to 0.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. Less than a 400 yards in front of us the last of the Advance Guard, Colonel Wigglesworth’s regiment, was pushed back by the green-clad Germans. Few men were standing, most were bloody, and their ranks looked very thin. We all looked at each other, each man knowing that all that now stood between us and the enemy was a an earthen redoubt…or nothing from where I was standing. One by one, men started falling back. Soon, it was a headlong rush up the island. As we passed Butt’s Hill Fort we saw General Sullivan riding his horse about, waving his sword and trying to stop the rush of humanity.

Me? I didn’t stop ’til Newport.

In game terms the battle immediately ended. Narratively, it is easy to imagine the American forces under Sullivan watching in horror as Laurens’ and Livingston’s forces sell themselves dearly in the rear guard. Perhaps too dearly; they really needed to fall back in good order and let the British come to the main force dug into a fort and redoubt with plenty of artillery. Although their strength and position is strong, watching the fate of their comrades has sapped them of the will to fight. Instead they turn and flee leaving the British in command of the battlefield.

The Army Morale rules in BoAR remind us that in this era of warfare the last army left standing on the battlefield was ofter determined not by how many casualties they suffered, but by their morale. This battle reminded me that a good general of this era not only fought the enemy, but also fought to keep up the will of their army. Morale in the BoAR series is very fleeting; once you start losing it it becomes very hard to get back. Further, fate can intervene (in the form of Opportunity Cards) making another mark of a good commander (or wargamer) their ability to adapt to embrace opportunity and overcome adversity.

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Post Script – or – Use the Hand You’re Dealt

Although it was sitting right net to me the whole time, I forgot to use Pastor Joel Toppen’s “Solitaire Tactics Methods for playing The Battles of the American Revolution Series Games” found in C3i Magazine Nr. 33. I really meant to use his Method 1 – Combat Tactic Selection Tables which is a simple ‘pseudo-AI’ approach to determining which Tactic Card is used for Close Combat. When playing solo, it’s refreshing to have a system that presents a logical, yet to-a-degree unpredictable, assistant for this key decision point.


Feature image – ‘Desperate Valor’ by David R. Wagner shows the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, the Continental Army’s only all African-American and Indian regiment, at the Battle of Rhode Island 

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