Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Independence Day and Muskets and Mohawks

 Here is the revisit of our Muskets and Mohawks game I promised, sort of a "colonial nod" to July Fourth given the timing of the post.

Muskets and Mohawks (from Two Hour Wargames) represents small-unit skirmishes in the French and Indian War with 10-man units (artillery are 5-man), each with a Leader. Basic types of troops are Regulars, Militia, Irregulars, including Indians, Civilians, Gunners and Cavlary. Regulars can also be further identified as Grenadiers, Guards or Lights. Units are in 1 of 3 formations: Formed Line, Mob or Unformed (skirmish). "Higher" formations are possible: 2 units make a Platoon and get an extra Leader, 2 Platoons make a Company, etc. Irregulars form "War Parties." The names are general enough to be whatever scale you want.

The heart of the system is Rep and Reactions. Each unit and Leader is assigned a "Rep" between 2 (raw civilians) and 6 (warriors of great reknown). During the game units test against their Rep using 2d6 (with some modifiers that add or subtract d6) when certain events occur or when certain actions are desired. You pass a d6 by rolling equal to or lower than the Rep. These are called Reaction Tests:

Received Fire
Received Casualty
Leader Lost 
Rally or Form Line
Charge Into Melee
Take Trophies
Fast Move
Controlled Volley*

When several Tests are required to be taken (for example if a unit Receives Fire that causes a Casualty, which turns out to be the Leader) you roll once and apply the result to all the tests, taking the worst result. Potential results of the tests are, generally, from best to worst: Carry On (pass 2d6), Retire (pass 1d6) and Run Away (pass 0d6). The presence of Leaders, units in support, type of Unit and Formation all provide nuance and are all listed on the Reaction Test charts, so is not a test of the players' memories, too!

One side activates their units or leaders, moving from right to left across the field, after which the other side does the same, so the activity swirls around the table in a "clock-wise fashion." As each unit activates, it can take ONE action, which include moving and changing formation, charging, firing and reloading. Each unit takes its action, and all units take any reaction tests caused by the action before moving on to the activation of the next unit.

All foot movement is 8"; terrain modifies formations used rather than rate. Fast Movement is possible when 24" or more from known enemy. Formations limit or enable movement dependent on terrain. Units can go Prone, too.

Musket range is 18"; rifle range is 24". There are two types of Fire: Fire At Will and Volley. Firing at Will uses the number of d6 of the unit's Rep, with some modifiers (like +2d6 for firing at Formed units) and one casualty is caused by each "1" rolled. Another roll determines if a Leader was a casualty. When units begin Firing they must continue to Fire At Will until one side Retires or Runs Away, after which they must spend an Activation Reloading before they can move again. Volleys can only be fired if a unit is in Formed Line and Reloaded. 1d6 is rolled for each figure in the unit (plus some modifiers) so a full unit starts with 10d6! 

Melee is bloody, and requires a Charge Test, which both sides take and elegantly represents both the attacker's elan in the charge and the defender's will to stand.

There are rules for terrain, reinforcements, campaigns, scenarios, hidden movement and a novel AI to play solo against. This is a solid set of rules. . . but once again I prove that reading is not enough. . . you have to play them to really understand them!

So, to understand the rules, Aaron and I set up a simple meeting engagement game, with a section of open terrain to maneuver the Regulars, and some woods for the Irregulars. 

Aaron took the French and Indians, which left me the British and Colonials. We each had 6 units and decided to start whatever troops we wanted to on the long edges, and to bring in any remaining units when desired as reinforcements.

The colonial Rangers (Irregulars, Rep 4, Leader Rep 5) face the French Marines (Irregulars, Rep 4, Leader Rep 5) in the woods (visibility and musket range reduced to 12") while the British and French Regulars march toward each other in the open, the French in Mob formation and the British in Formed Line.

The British Regulars advance to the creek and fire the first volleys - one completely ineffectual and one that causes several casualties. Regulars are stoically tough, and the French pass their Reaction Tests and Carry On, shaking out into Line in their next Activation and then an Activation later, returning Volley fire (we're using cotton balls to represent "smoke" and that a unit needs to "Reload").

The French bring on a unit of Coureur (Irregulars, Rep 5, Leader Rep 5, Rifles) in the woods, and the British respond with a unit of Militia (Militia, Rep 3, Leader Rep 4) - no match for the Coureur in the woods but the British have no more uncommitted Irregulars! The Rangers and Marines are now locked in a firefight, like the Regulars, until one or the other is forced to retire.

But nobody Retired or Ran Away! Both sides blazed away at each other, taking casualties and losing Leaders. The Coureur began sniping away at the British Regulars, so the British brought up a second unit of Militia in support. The French responded with a Unit of Indians (Irregulars, Rep 4, Leader Rep 5) in the woods, who despite talking some fire from the Militia, successfully charged them and piled into Melee. The fight was bloody on both sides, but the Militia was killed to the last man, right before the Marines' last soldiers died to Ranger musket fire.

Both sides called forth their last reinforcements; the French their last unit of Indians and the British a unit of Regular Grenadiers (Regulars, Rep 5, Leader Rep 5). I was loathe to use the Grenadiers in the woods, but I had no other counter to the Indians.

The Rangers Reloaded and fell on the rear of the Indians that had killed the MiIitia, and died to the last man, one ferocious warrior responsible for at least 4 Rangers on his own!

One unit of French Regulars was wiped out, and when the other was forced to Retire, the British Regulars Reloaded and crossed the creek under fire from the Coureur (also under fire themselves from the Militia) and the remaining French Regulars.

The Grenadiers finished off the remnant of the victorious Indian unit, which triggered the entrance of the last Indian unit. When the last French Regular unit was eliminated, what was left of the British Regulars and Militia advanced on the still dangerous Coureur, though they would eventually be whittled down to nothing. That left French victory down to the fresh unit of Indians tearing through the woods toward the bloodied Grenadiers!

That left the Leader of the Grenadiers with a critical decision: hold fire and take the Charge of the fresh Indians with loaded muskets (removing a negative modifier for Receiving a Charge Unloaded) or Firing first and creating an opportunity for the Indians to fail a Reaction Test. Melee would be bloody. . . so the Grenadiers Fired. . . and caused a single casualty. The Indians failed their Reaction Test - rolling two "6's" - and being Irregulars, Ran Away! 
The British breathe a huge sigh of relief. . . and marvel at their luck. . . 

So after a serious play-through, what did we think of the rules? We liked the overall feel and play: simple, elegant and intuitive, once you understand the Reaction Tests. I particularly like the Firing rules - firing by Rep and tracking fire as a unit with casualties caused on a single die result instead of separate rolls for hits, wounds and saves. One thing bothered us. . . too many units died to the last man. We expected the Reaction Tests - in effect, the morale system - to have a more dramatic impact.

Did we do something wrong? Of course we missed some small rules, modifiers and such, the way you always do at first, but did we do something majorly wrong?

Yup. I took a deep dive into the rules. . . and discovered we were doing two important things wrong.

First, when taking multiple Reaction tests, we should have rolled the dice ONCE, and used the same roll for all the tests, taking the worst result instead of rolling each test separately. Second, and even more importantly, on the Reaction Test chart, when passing 1d6 and having to roll again with one die, that test is taken against the LEADER Rep, not the UNIT Rep, and if the Unit doesn't have its Leader it automatically passes 0d6. These are big differences and should make the units behave a little more dramatically. We plan to play again this month and see!

I'll end with a teaser for Recruits in Lee's Summit, MO next month, where we'll be supporting The Baron and Fistful of Lead with our big toys : )

* Controlled Volley is a "house rule" I wrote when I couldn't find a way to do something I am pretty sure should be allowed. It got the official nod here.