#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 

CSR #Wargame Challenge Saturday – Azhanti High Lightning (GDW,1980) & Car Wars (Steve Jackson Games, 1981+)

It was a bit cold and windy outside this weekend so it was a good chance to work off another few games of my 2019 Charles S Roberts Wargame Challenge.

Courtesy BGG.com

Up first was Azhanti High Lightning (GDW, 1980). I played using the VASSAL module since my copy is all electronic on the Far Future Enterprises Classic Traveller CD. AHL is a very “typical” GDW wargame of the 1980’s – heavy on rules and procedures. While billing itself as a game of close quarters combat aboard large spaceships (as compared to Snapshot (GDW, 1979) for small ships) I couldn’t help but think AHL is a fair model of indoor skirmish combat. There are rules here for doors and corners (no, not The Expanse Doors & Corners although….) as well as consoles and elevators and the like.  I mean, the deck plans for the AHL-class of ships are building style since the ship is a tail-sitter (again, ala The Expanse). A part of me wants to rename this Die Hard – The Boardgame.

The Expanse Doors & Corners (courtesy IMDB.com)

A very good rule I had forgotten about was Morale. I should not be surprised since Frank Chadwick was involved in this game and his designs always seem to emphasize the importance of Morale.

Here are the two most important sections as I see it:

C. Procedure: Roll two dice. If the number rolled is equal to or less than the character’s modified morale value, the character passes the check. If it is greater than the character’s modified morale value the character fails the check. All positive leadership bonuses are added to the checking character’s morale value (not the dice roll), and all negative bonuses are subtracted from the checking character’s morale value.

A character with a leadership bonus (referred to as a leader) uses the bonus to modify the morale values of all friendly subordinates (all who check morale after that leader) within the leader’s line of sight, but only if the leader did check morale that step. A leader may not apply his or her bonus to his or her own morale checks.

If the leader passes all morale checks, that leader’s bonus is added to all subsequent morale checks of friendly subordinates; if the leader fails a morale check then that leader’s bonus is subtracted from all other morale checks of friendly subordinates. The effects of several leaders in the same area checking morale are cumulative.

For example, lntruder officer 3 (bonus of +2) and lntruder NCO 2 (bonus of +3) are leading an assault party across an area swept by covering fire. Officer 3 fails his or her morale check and thus NCO 2 checks morale with 2 subtracted from his or her morale rating. Assuming NCO 2 passes the check, all of the other members of the assault party check morale with a positive modifier of 1 (+3 from NCO 2 and -2 from 02 for a net modifier of +1).

The penalty for failing a morale check is harsh:

D. Effects of Failed Morale: Failure of an exposure to covering fire check causes the character to avoid exposing him or herself; any other movement (or allowable combat action) is permitted as long as the character does not enter a danger space of a covering fire. Failure of a moving adjacent check will cause the character to stop moving before coming adjacent. The character will stop with at least 3 APs left (if possible), and if 3 APs are left will execute a snap shot at the character to whom he or she was intending to move adjacent. Failure of a casualty or unexpected fire morale check will cause the character to panic and flee. Regardless of what was chosen for the character in the decision phase, the character must, in the action phase(s) immediately following the failed check, run away from the location of the enemy characters until he or she reaches a position of complete cover (referred to as cowering). The character will then remain there until he or she successfully makes a morale check. This morale check is made at the start of each decision phase. Any friendly leader who moves to the square containing the cowering character may apply his or her leadership bonus to that character’s morale value. In this case, it is not necessary for the leader to pass a morale check before applying the bonus to the cowering character. Note that any leader may carry out this function for any friendly cowering character. This is the only time that the leadership bonus of a lower-ranking character may be used to assist a higher-ranking character in making a morale check.

1st Edition (SJ Games)

The second CSR game of the weekend was Car Wars. I have the original pocket box first edition from 1981 but for this game I pulled out my Fourth Edition, Third Printing from 2015.

I was surprised that the rule book for 4th Edition clocks in at 64 digest-size pages! In reality, the “game” itself is not that long as the rules for movement and combat are covered in 37 pages (18 pages if full-size) and the balance is mostly Characters (psuedo-RPG?) and Vehicle Design. I chose to concentrate on the simple game and created a three-way Amateur Night scenario featuring a stock Killer Kart ($3,848), a Stinger Option III ($3,989) and a Stinger Option IV w/spikedropper ($4,293). The game was fun but it does take work to use the Movement Chart with its five phases. I do not have the latest Sixth Edition but I wonder if Steve Jackson Games has leveraged any of the new approaches to graphical play aids like Jim Krohn did for Talon (GMT Games, 2016). Both Talon and Car Wars use “impulse” movement but the new graphical play aid in Talon makes the flow of the turn go much quicker.

With these two games I have now worked played off six of 20 games in my CSR Challenge. In my other 2019 Challenges I still have to play 13 of 15 in my Golden Geek Challenge and 14 of 16 in my Origins Challenge. All that while playing new games too. Ah, the challenges of being a gamer….

Feature image – Azhanti High Lightning VASSAL module

The Lesson from Morale – or – Elite can be Defeat in @gmtgames #Panzer

Often times, wargamers get caught up in the material of war. Comparisons of which tank or airplane or ship is better dominate the hobby. Wargames that are more simulationist reinforce this condition. The impact of war on the human condition is overlooked or even outright ignored. In the RockyMountainNavy weekly game night, the impact of morale was brought front and center and forced all of us to think about it deeply. To my surprise, the lesson came from the Panzer series from GMT Games; a game that I consider detail-oriented and a good game for comparing tanks. When the game was finished, the lessons learned had little to do with which tank was better and everything to do with the role of morale in combat.

The Youngest RMN Boy is getting into the machines of war. After diving deep into the aircraft of World War II and battleships of World War I he has turned his attention to armored vehicles of World War II. Last week, I introduced Panzer from GMT Games to the boys. This week he hounded me for a bigger, better battle.

Courtesy Opsrey

Youngest RMN Boy recently purchased a copy of Osprey Publishing’s M26/M46 Pershing Tank 1943-53 at a used book store. He read with fascination the accounts of battle between Pershings and German tanks at the end of World War II. After playing Panzer he wanted to see for himself how the match-up could of gone. I created a home brew scenario where a German Elite platoon of 4x Tiger II tanks, supported by a Jadgtiger tank destroyer, had a meeting engagement with a US Veteran platoon of 5x M26 Pershing supported by a platoon of 3x M36 Jackson tank destroyers with a single ‘Easy 8’ Sherman. Although the Germans were outnumbered almost 2:1, their better morale and training actually gave them a slight edge in scenario points.

In order to expedite the game, I once again played as umpire. Youngest RMN took the Germans while Middle RMN led the Americans. Both boys are still learning tactics, so I was not surprised they both split their forces on set up. Once the shooting started, something very incredible happened.

In Panzer, the experience/morale level of the unit impacts several game mechanics. On Initiative Rolls, units that are Elite gain a +40 while Veterans gain only +20. The level also determines Command Range – the distance units can be apart and still share a common order – with Elite having a 2-hex range and Veteran only 1-hex. In AP Fire, the superior training of Elite units gains a greater positive shift in combat (translating to better chance of hit) as compared to Veteran units. Taken together, Youngest RMN Boys’s Elite Panzers were not only superior in firepower and protection, but with their better training should have gained the initiative (control of the battle) more often. The American tanks had the advantage of numbers and mobility (both in terms of raw speed as well as turret slew rates).

Tiger IIs in France (courtesy tanks-encyclopedia.com)

The battle actually devolved into two separate skirmishes. In the north, two Tiger II faced  off against the 5x Pershings. In the south, two Tiger II and the Jagdtiger took on the 3x M36 and Easy 8.

First blood was drawn in the north where the Tiger II’s firing at ranges between 1600-2000m “brewed up” two M26’s. Even using better ammunition, the M26s were impotent against the German armor protection.

Another game mechanic in Panzer where morale/experience is represented is Bail Out. When tanks are hit, even with a non-penetrating/non-damaging shot, the crew must roll for Bail Out. In the case of a non-prentrating/no-damage AP hit, the crew will Bail Out on a percentile die roll of 10 or less. Elite units gain a +5 modifier, literally meaning there is only a 5% chance of an Elite unit bailing out.

At the end of the scenario, four M26 Pershings were knocked out along with two M36’s. The Jagdtiger and a single Tiger II were immobilized by Track Damage. But the most astounding result was that in three of the the five German tanks the crew bailed out from non-penetrating/non-damaging hits. Statistically speaking, this was an astounding outcome.

CoH (courtesy BGG)

Youngest RMN Boy was greatly disappointed. He was even a bit angry at his brother. The Youngest RMN Boy plays other wargames where morale is important, like Command And Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution (Compass Games, 2017) with Routing units or Academy Games’s Birth of America-series with the Flee combat result. Even his favorite World War II tactical combat game, Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (Academy Games)  has morale in there, though it is more “baked into ratings” than visible in a die roll like Panzer. I think what made him angry was that unlike Militia units in the American Revolution or early-war demoralized Soviet units where he expected the morale failure, he never could imagine that his Elite Panzers could be the same and simply run away.

That is perhaps the greatest lesson of Panzer; the greatest tank with the best guns and armor does not always translate into battlefield success.

I fear that in this age of push-button warfare and video games that the human factor in combat is ignored or forgotten. This is also why I play games, and wargames, with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. I want them to know that war is not machine versus machine but human. I did not expect GMT Games and their wargame Panzer to be this vehicle of learning, but I am very happy that it is.

Featured image courtesy @RBMStudios on Twitter.