Saturday, December 8, 2018

Bayonets & Tomahawks: Game One

I recently played through the first play-test game of Bayonets & Tomahawks by GMT Games. The designer suggested I (and the other play-testers) play the introductory scenario to learn the game before getting into more serious play-testing. The introductory scenario is a one-year representation of King George's War of 1746, with an aggressive France attempting to re-take the fortress of Louisbourg, "stolen" by British Provincial forces the year before, and then conquer Nova Scotia for New France. The British just have to hold on and avoid the French Victory Point conditions to win. Because it is only one year, reinforcements arrive once, in the spring, and you have to do all your campaigning through to winter with what you have. But also because the game only lasts one year, you can go "balls-out" without worrying about your position relative to the coming year (and if you're France hope to keep Louisbourg in the pending Treaty negotiation).

Here is an overview of game play from the GMT website: 

Depending on the scenario, Bayonets & Tomahawks can last one or more in-game years. Each year contains nine Action rounds as well as three administrative Logistics rounds (for reinforcements and winter quarters). Victory points, accumulated by capturing and raiding enemy spaces, determine victory.

Units come in three shapes: triangle (light units), square (regulars), and circle (artillery and other). Unit shapes have an important impact on game play.

During an Action round, each player plays a card of his faction, uses its Action points to perform actions and executes its historical event. The French do so with an Indian card also. There is no hand management: each player has a reserve card and may choose to play it instead of the card he draws for the round. Each Action point on a card activates one stack of units, allowing it to perform one action. Possible actions are Movement, Raid, Marshall Troops, Sail, Construction, or Sortie. The cards also include some double Action points that allow a stack to act twice in a row, resulting in sudden strikes.

In battle, each unit rolls a die once. Rerolls may occur via commanders, Highland units, and card events. After all rolls, the attacker wins if he is at a higher position on the battle track than the defender. Bayonets & Tomahawks' custom dice include Flag faces, Hit faces, and a B & T face that gives chrome to some unit types. A unit scores a hit when it rolls a hit face that matches its shape (triangle, square, or circle) and an enemy unit of the same shape is involved in the battle.

During the final game years, War in Europe chits simulate the possibility of peace coming sooner in Europe, thus interrupting the war in North America. To that effect, each player draws one of his War in Europe chits each time he wins a battle or siege. In case of marginal victory at game end, these chits determine who is the winner.
  • 1755 Vaudreuil's Petite Guerre (one year)
  • 1757 Loudoun's Gamble (one year)
  • 1758 Amherst's Juggernaut (two years)
  • 1755-1759 French & Indian War campaign (five years)
Bonus Scenarios
1746 King George's War (one year)
1755-1759 French & Indian War campaign with historical reinforcements

A reminder of scale: 

The action in this first game consisted of raiding and small battles between French light troops and British Provincial Brigades in the interior, with the main fighting between the French and British Regulars happening around Louisbourg.

Fleets are also provided for, and in this 1746 scenario they were instrumental in moving the assaulting French Brigades and Artillery to Louisbourg, as well as the British and Provincial forces that would defend it.

The asymmetrical nature of the conflict is well represented; three key factors loom large. First is the mix of units. The French have a lot more light troops, AND most of the Indian nations. Indians are fickle, though. . . if you use them for raiding, they "go home" for the year with booty and captives after a successful raid. The British have more of everything useful for a conventional conflict: Brigades (Metropolitan and Provincial), Artillery and Fleets.

Second, the campaign year breaks down into functional segments, due to the design of the Action Rounds. The game year is divided into 9 Action Rounds. The first three are "Buildup" rounds, the following six are for "Campaigning."

Fleets arrive in the Spring, after Round 2, bearing reinforcements of Metropolitan Brigades and Artillery. After Round 3, the "Colonists Enlist," providing Provincial Brigades for the coming 6 rounds of the Campaign season. The French and Indians can do a lot of raiding along the frontier with good cards and coordination during the Buildup rounds, before the Provincials arrive and the fort-building begins. The British need the Campaign rounds to "catch up." After Round 9, everyone "goes home" or hunkers down in "Winter Quarters" for the North American winter.

Third, take a look at the entire map. 

The wide white lines between the Key Spaces are "Highways." They are the only avenues of travel, besides fleet transport, that the Brigades can use. The light troops and Indians can use these Highways, as well as all of the dotted line "Paths" that connect the interior Spaces. The Brigades have to turn those Paths into "Roads" - by building instead of fighting - to be able to use them. It is easy to see why building that road to the Ohio Forks was so important historically, and why the main thrusts of the British effort used the Albany to Oswego and the Lake Champlain corridors.

So how did my game play out? French victory - just barely - in the final round. Louisbourg fell, along with Northfield in New England (surprise!) to squeak out the barest of wins. Louisbourg was assaulted 4 times, literally costing the French their entire force of Brigades, Artillery and Fleet. They would not have been able to withstand the inevitable British assault on re-captured Louisbourg had there been one more round before winter.  

I like the game - will it work for miniature campaigning? I assumed that to get the full flavor of the campaign, I would need to game at two scales, maybe with different rules, one for raids and one for battles. In one year's game time in Bayonets & Tomahawks, I played 11 raids (8 successful) and 8 battles. Raids always consist of one light unit against a Cultivated Space, and could be played out as a man-to-man skirmish, or scaled up to battle scale, but it occurs to me that raiding, because of the number of them, could be relegated to the single die rolls currently in the game and the focus for miniatures could be the battles.

The smallest battle of the game featured 1 British Provincial Brigade (3 units of 10 men per my collection) and 1 Ranger light unit (1 unit of 10 men) vs 2 French light units (1 unit of 10 men each). 40 soldiers vs. 20. That would be a smallish game in our current rules, Muskets & Mohawks, but still playable.

The largest battle was fought outside of the the fort at Louisbourg:

1 Fleet (not sure how to represent that in miniature yet)
2 Artillery (2 cannons with 5-man crews)
2 Metropolitan Brigades (2 x 3 units of 10 men) 
3 Marine light units (3 units of 10 men)
2 Indian units (2 units of 10 men)
Total 13 units of 120 men

1-point Fort (blockhouse and stockade perhaps)
1 Fleet (not sure how to represent that in miniature yet)
1 Artillery (1 cannon with 5-man crew)
1 Metropolitan Brigades (3 units of 10 men) 
4 Provincial Brigades (4 x 3 units of 10 men)
Total 16 units of 155 men 

I could just about stage this game with the figures I have based and it would be adequately handled by Muskets & Mohawks. Larger battles would happen in the larger, later campaigns. I would need to base up more troops : )

Still considering Sharp Practice 2 for fighting the miniature battles. . . might make the smaller battles more interesting but not sure it can handle the larger.

Will do some more play-testing now and see how large the battles get!

See ya! 


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

I'm back again. . . and playtesting

Didn't realize I was gone again, did ya? Well, I had that second partial knee replacement surgery 3 weeks ago. I have two straight legs again, but it will take a few months of physical therapy and some hard work to have them working at peak efficiency again. Sigh. . .

For a little distraction that doesn't require much heavy lifting, I am helping to playtest a game that covers - you guessed it - the French and Indian War. Bayonets & Tomahawks is a GMT P500 game, and I've been watching its development since it was first added to the list. Go here to check it out; discussions with the developer (yes, I got involved) and a good look at playtest components. GMT is also the home of some of the Commands and Colors series of games: Ancients, Napoleonic and soon, Samurai Battles.

A little bit about Bayonets & Tomahawks from the GMT site:

I think this game will make a great campaign vehicle for generating our F&IW battles. It's focus on the operational aspects of the conflict as opposed to the political (not ignored!) should lead to meaningful battles as well as lots of opportunities for raiding and low level skirmishes.

Unit scale meshes perfectly with my troop collection: Brigades at about 3 times the size of light units and war parties. My regulars are organized in 3 10-man units with light troops as single 10-man units. Best of all, the units are simple representations of manpower, whose unit strengths and weaknesses are utilized by the game's battle system rather than abstract strength points with pros and cons already factored in. This should make it simple to transfer the battles to the tabletop, to be fought with miniatures, with one's miniature rules of choice accounting for potential unit performance.

An incredible amount of research has gone into this game - obvious if you check out the InsideGMT articles on the GMT site. The map really shines; it's based on contemporary renderings as opposed to "period" place-names superimposed onto a "google-earth" map. I am a fan of this approach. It really transports you back to the 18th Century wilds of North America. At least, if you're open to said transport ; )

Here's a shot of the print and play components all ready for . . . play. 

More later as I actually get in some games. See ya!

Monday, September 3, 2018

The Relief Force

This is the view of the clearing the lead units of French Regulars breathed in as they left the south edge of the woods. Nine units of French Regulars and Marines were just a few miles from the fort they'd been sent to relieve - a fort under siege by an army of British Regulars, Provincial Militia and their Native allies.

The French were traveling with their own Native allies, who had been sent scouting ahead in the woods to the north. . . it didn't go unnoticed that they hadn't been heard from in hours. . .

The fort was due north up the road, and flanking the road was a timber breastwork manned by Redcoats. . . the British meant to defend the road so as to cut off any relieving force.

The French came on in three columns; three units of regulars on the road, another three units of Regulars and Marine Irregulars to their right and to the far right two units of Marine Irregulars and one of Coureurs De Bois. The Irregulars on the far right noted some flashes of red at the edge of the woods directly in front of them and so peeled off to the right to gain the cover of the woods again.

Boom! Fire erupted from the suspect edge of the woods as the French Irregulars ran for cover.

A unit of British Light Infantry hidden just inside the edge of the woods began to pour fire into the French Irregulars.

The other two columns of French Regulars began to arrange into attack columns for their hastily planned assault on the British breastwork. Suddenly, from what seemed like out of nowhere, two British Regular units rose up out of the tall grass in front of the advancing French Regulars and ripped two volleys into the French left.

The initial British volleys cut the lead French unit nearly in half, but they stood fast and a firefight broke out between the two lines.

On the French right flank, the Irregulars made it to the woods, and not encountering any opposition, determined to flank the British Light Infantry.

On the French left, a unit of Regulars was ordered to charge the British Grenadiers responsible for the flanking fire on their comrades. The Grenadiers met bayonets with bayonets and the French unit died to a man, while losing only one of their own!

In the center, the French established a firing line and began to trade fire with the breastwork.

In the woods on the French right, the British Light Infantry fell back to protect their flank and opened fire on the French Irregulars, who were in hot pursuit. 

On the French left, the Grenadiers re-entered the firefight with a volley.

 In the woods, the French overwhelm the British Light Infantry, but not without casualties.

In the center, casualties are mounting on both sides.

With the British Light Infantry gone, the French Irregulars push on toward the rear of the breastwork.


Suddenly, the Coureurs spot Natives in the forest behind them. . . but are they friend or foe? 

In the center, the mounting casualties take their toll. Another French Regular unit breaks, quickly followed by its British counterpart.

 The last survivor in the breastwork is captured by the French Marines.

 The French take command of the breastwork. . .

 . . . and discover the Natives are foes when they open fire!

The firing lines in the center get a brief respite, and use the time to regroup and gather stragglers. The reconstituted British Grenadiers open fire again while the French maneuver to return fire. 

Eventually the Grenadiers are whittled down to nothing by the French firing line. In the woods the French Irregulars overcome the last Native resistance, and finally claim the battlefield.

If you follow this blog, you should feel a bit of déjà vu. The scenario is a straight-up recreation of the 1759 battle of La Belle Famille, a scenario I ran as a meeting engagement at the Warlord Open Day a couple years ago in Oklahoma City. This time we played it as the ambush it was, with the French fielding twice as many units as the British.

In game terms, the French needed to clear the British forces from the field without losing more than half their forces to declare a strategic victory - remember they needed to survive the engagement with enough troops to relieve the siege. They lost three of their nine starting units, and assorted casualties to most of the rest of the units, but their total remaining forces still numbered above half.

So how did the game play out? We used our go-to rules Muskets and Mohawks from Two Hour Wargames and I set up the scenario as a co-op operation for the three French players, Bruce, Aaron and Steve, while I played the British as a pre-programmed fighting withdrawal. The French had no idea how many British troops they'd be facing, or where, or that the ambush would happen how and where it did, or what would happen with their Native "allies" (in the actual battle the Natives got together and decided not to participate for either side - in this game the allegiance of the late-appearing unit was decided by die-roll).

Aaron recognized the battle about half-way through, but that was after all the surprises had been sprung.

We apologize for the unfinished bases on one unit. . . oh well.

I tried some post-work on the photos of the troops in the woods. I wanted to try to represent the difference in lighting and atmosphere between the "sun-drenched" clearing and the gloominess of the deep woods. Does it work?

By the way, I have to miss Recruits this year (another new knee), so try to have fun without me!

See ya.