Wargaming Benburb: What Went Wrong

It is rather hard to dispute that this particular game was the wargame equivalent of  1.f3 e5 2.g4 Qh4#!

The historic battle was fairly evenly matched and won by Owen Roe’s timing of his all out attack. Arguably Monro’s army was tired and hungry from their rapid advance (and the Irish harassment along the way) but by all accounts they were in good spirits and confident of victory. Some of Monro’s cavalry performed badly (with the Irish cavalry perhaps over preforming), but when all was said and done the Irish swept the field.

I used two historic pre-battle actions to affect the available forces in the Benburb wargame, Ballaghkillgevill and the Battle of the Nephews. The first ended up damaging two of the Protestant foot regiments but the latter made a much more significant force change at Benburb. A capable regiment of horse was added to the Protestant order of battle and subtracted from the Irish.

The Irish were already weaker in horse and this adjustment now caused them to be dangerously overmatched. While this might be considered the proximate cause of the disaster, I did little to mitigate it.

Part of the problem was structural, built into my scenario design. Baroque allows for a maximum of four commands per side. I often use the term wing and divide them into the classical left, right, center, and reserve (although this particular division is not required by the rules).  A command is comprised of one or more units that activate at the same time (although moving one-by-one, each completing all its actions before the next unit begins). The command also has a command piece with a rating that can change and which simulates the command/control features in the game.

In setting up the scenario I was rather overzealous in allowing no options in how the units were assigned to the various commands, the only flexibility being the actual deployment within each wing. While a good deal is known about the units available, how they were organized and deployed is largely conjectural. I think now the scenario should allow a much more open deployment and, given the situation with the horse, the following organization and deployment would have been more reasonable:

The right and left (O’Reily and Maquire) would each have one foot and one horse regiment. Their overriding tasks would be to secure the Irish flanks at the Wet Hollow (my original plan, but my resources were not properly allocated AND I got carried away by thinking I could score quick points by taking an objective which (retrospectively) could not be held).

Phelim O’Neill would take the center crossing of the Wet Hollow and secure it. Basically cannon fodder but preserving the three best foot regiments (Owen Roe’s center) long enough to allow them to engage the enemy using their melee advantage.

Would this have worked? Who knows, but I may have to play it out sometime.

Some quick notes on Baroque as a solo rules set:

1) The random activation of the commands makes each activation a mini-game. As a solo player you are trying to maximize the activity of the active command and not knowing the activation order definitely puts you in the here-and-now. You try to operate to the general plan for each side but some moves that look promising to achieving that plan (or thwarting the enemy’s) end up being disastrous. The fun is in seeing new opportunities (and threats) unfold.

2) Moving each unit to the completion of its activation (which may include multiple moves and actions, with the possibility of multiple choice points) is ideal for solo play from a game management standpoint. Each new unit that is activated within the active command is usually presented with a whole new set of decisions to be made – it is never rote or boring.

3) The reaction system provides the possibility of several interrupts (from the inactive side) during each unit’s active phase. Reactions can change, on the fly, how you operate each of your units. In a multiplayer game I would think this would make the opponent an active participant rather than a passive (and often bored) observer. For the solo player it is like being involved in highly interactive story telling. Reactions are part of most rules sets, but Baroque has implemented them simply and thoughtfully.

4) The pursuit system is excellent and makes cavalry, in particular, a very effective force. Once a melee’ is lost and a unit is routed, the winner may (must in a couple cases) pursue and bring about a new melee’. This can possibly occur multiple times until the enemy is destroyed or chased off the table.

5) The cohesion test (CT) system works extremely well and for me is at the heart of the game in solo play. It is the last imponderable, the one that can throw you the greatest curves. It has been criticized as insufficiently fine-tuned (it is a 1d6 roll) occasionally/often giving “unfair” or “unrealistic” results. If you simply take the CT out of context (your opponent’s militia foot  just took out your elite imperial cuirassiers) it may indeed look unfair but context is everything. The story of how that militia and that cuirassier unit came to blows is interesting and complex and that story has a significant effect on that simple 1d6 roll.

I diagrammed the game flow as a learning tool for myself (and I concentrated only on the major points). This flowchart shows the position of the CT within the game. I understand that some highly competitive players would like wargames to operate more like chess than poker but I tend the opposite way. In poker, as in real life, you can sometimes draw to an inside straight and win! But each to his/her own.