#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.


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 

UPDATED July #Wargame #Boardgame Forecast – HOT to NOT!

In late June I made a bold forecast that as any as nine (9) of 27 games I had on preorder or Kickstarter could deliver by the end of July.

Not so fast.

It looks like the boardgame/wargame publishing industry is coming back, but at a bit of a slower pace. Let’s look at my forecast and then discuss the reality.

  1. One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020)Kickstarter Boardgame. An update from mid-May stated that shipping in July was expected. I have not seen an update since. Academy Games does not have the best track record for keeping to timelines but that negative is more than compensated by the top-quality game that usually ends up being delivered. UPDATE from July 8 – “August 11, 2020 Arrival Date: Jacksonville, FL, USA. Note, that shipping to Florida takes 10 days longer than to our normal shipping destination in Cleveland. To Cleveland, the product is shipped to Seattle, WA and then transported by rail to Cleveland. Whereas to Florida, the ship needs to steam to Panama, cross through the Panama Canal, and them make its way up to Florida. USA and Canadian pledges will be shipped from Quartermaster Logistics, which is based in Orlando, FL.”
  2. Wing Leader: Origins 1936-1942 (GMT Games, 2020)P500 Preorder Wargame. This one is a lock as I already have my UPS tracking number with delivery scheduled for 1 July. UPDATE: DELIVERED July 3.
  3. Philadelphia 1777 (Worthington Games, 2020)Kickstarter Wargame. A late June update reported the game is arriving at the freight-forwarder and Worthington expects to take possession early in July and start shipping immediately. UPDATE: Delivered July 17.
  4. The Shores of Tripoli (Fort Circle Games, 2020)Kickstarter Waro. Coronavirus delays have pushed this one back from April, but it looks like July is seriously in play. UPDATE from July 21 – “My post-pandemic expectation was that our print run would be ready to ship from China in early July. Because of a bottleneck at one of the factories (our manufacturer, Panda, uses three different factories for our game – one for the dice, one for the wood pieces and one for the printing and final assembly), the games will not be ready to ship from China until mid-August. The slow boat from China takes five to six weeks, so I am looking at alternatives – mainly, having enough copies airmailed to our distribution points (we are using Quartermaster Logistics and their overseas partners) so we can ship to all of our backers before the end of August. If it is not cost-prohibitive, that is the plan. But if it is cost-prohibitive, then we are looking at delivery in late September. Ugh, I do not even want to contemplate that. As I know more, I will keep all of you updated.”
  5. Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020)Kickstarter Card Game. Late June update reported game is out of production and on way to publisher for fulfillment. DELIVERED July 25.
  6. Undaunted: North Africa (Osprey Games, 2020)Preorder Waro. All looks to be on track for an early July release. UPDATE: Bought through a 3rd Party seller who expects it to their location “late-July.”
  7. Heights of Courage: The Battle for the Golan Heights, October 1973 (MMP, 2013)Sale Wargame. Bought as part of an amazing MMP sale in June. Having never ordered before from MMP I don’t know how fast they usually fulfill orders and realize coronavirus restrictions may be slowing them down. I had hoped to have these games in hand before July but it looks like they will not arrive until after the new month starts. DELIVERED JUNE 30.
  8. Panzer Battles: 11th Panzer on the Chir River (MMP, 2016)Sale Wargame. Like Heights of Courage above, this is another Standard Combat Series game. I have little experience with MMP so these two games will serve as my introduction to SCS. DELIVERED JUNE 30.
  9. Operation Mercury: The Invasion of Crete (MMP, 2017)Sale Wargame. On sale for an incredible $40 versus the usual $172. Will be my first foray into the MMP Grand Tactical Series (GTS) of games. DELIVERED JUNE 30.

It appears to me that shipping, not actual production of games, is a new long pole in the tent. Not surprising given the lack of air transportation worldwide. I know that many games are not airshipped, but the maritime shipping, rail, and truck industries are picking up other cargoes that air shipping used to handle leading in turn to a general slow down of those transportation modes. If you look close even Amazon Prime is sometimes backordered.

How about the look ahead to August? Here are what games may be in play (pun fully intended).

First, my Preorder & Kickstarter GeekList sits at 23 games. Of the three carry-overs from July (One Small Step, Shores of Tripoli, and Undaunted: North Africa) there is a good chance that all but Shores of Tripoli will deliver in August. Of the remaining 20 games:

  1. French & Indian War 1757-1759 (Worthington Publishing): Kickstarter Wargame. From a July 29 Update – “The ship carrying both CRUSADER KINGDOMS and FRENCH & INDIAN WAR will hit the port in New York Auugust 13.  We should expect for us to receive the games within 2 weeks of that barring a customs snag.  Thats means it is possible we may be shipping the last week of August, and if not then the first week of September!!!”
  2. Flying Colors 3rd Edition Update Kit (GMT Games): P500. Per July 23 Newsletter – “Charging August 5. Shipping roughly mid-August.”
  3. The Battle of Rhode Island (GMT Games): P500. Scheduled delivery 31 JULY.
  4. Fort (Leder Games): Publisher-direct Preorder. Scheduled for August release.

Of note, these are the three games I added this month:

  1. Buffalo Wings 2nd Edition (Against the Odds): Kickstarter Wargame. As the economy tanked I backed out of Wings of the Motherland from Clash of Arms. Mistake. Need to get that one too.
  2. Fort (Leder Games): Publisher-direct Preorder. After reading Dan Thurot’s review on Space-Biff this became a must-buy.
  3. Wing Leader Supremacy 2nd Edition Upgrade Kit (GMT Games): P500. I am a sucker for the Wing Leader Series. I have barely gotten Wing Leader: Origins to the table and Wing Leader: Legends is not quite to 500 orders. But. Must. Buy.

Looking ahead to the end of the year, it is possible that as many as eight or nine of the games on my current Preorder & Kickstarter GeekList could deliver. Like I said before, that would not only be good for me, but more importantly good for the gaming industry.

Feature image “United fleet grounded in Washington Dulles” James Dingell Photography