The Auldearn Problem

The header illustration is by the late Angus McBride, prehaps my favorite British Civil Wars illustrator, showing Alasdair MacColla’s fierce defense of the Village of Auldearn in 1645.

I reported on the play-through of the Scum of the Earth rules in the last post and I have since gone on to evaluate Pikeman’s Lament and Donnybrook as well (although without full play-throughs). Each provides interesting takes on how to handle mid to late 17th c. wargaming at the skirmish level. Each also provides a concise set of tools for driving narrative and connecting that narrative together in campaigns. These various rules are particularly ideal for those who really enjoy creating small fictional encounters in a larger historic setting and then threading those encounters together to create a delightful and imaginative story. In many ways storytelling is the very best part of wargaming.

In the end they are probably best played with larger figures individually mounted just for the looks and sheer flexibility. It was actually tempting to allow the bug to bite and plunge into them hook, line and sinker.  In fact I went so far as to drag out some of my old, individually based 25mm’s:

PL-28-1

An unformed unit of Maryland Proprietorship Militia appears on the left. A close ordered pike block of Virginia Colonial militia is on the right.

PL-28-2

Musketeers in various configurations. From left to right, a line of villagers with light fowling pieces, a forlorn hope and a unit of drilled shot

After removing a few dozen more from their old stands and placing them on individual bases, I became aware that I was once again suffering from SMC – Severe Mission Creep!

Let’s restate the first principle: I switched to 10mm because I don’t have the play space for 25/28mm! At least not if I want to reproduce small historic battles AND have some semblance of maneuver space.

Pikeman’s Lament is built on units of six and twelve figures. While Scum Of the Earth worked well with one of my six figure stands equalling one game figure, twelve stands proved to be to be a little much.  It occurred to me, however, that I could count each figure on the stand as one figure:

PL-Commonwealth

The Providence militia at the Severn using a Pikeman’s Lament configuration

Instead of figure removal, I could just use die counters. This actually worked fairly well. The same method can be applied to Donnybrook although the units use a more complex set of figure multiples and would need the starting figure count adjusted by the die counter. Of course just because a thing can be done doesn’t mean it should.

Working through the basic mechanics of Scum of the Earth, Pikeman’s Lament, Donnybrook and my old standby, Flashing Steel, gave me a great deal to think about. Most rules provide one or more clever twists in game mechanics that are worth taking apart to see how and why they work. All the rules mentioned provided grist for that particular mill (and at some point I’ll post about those ideas)

My original purpose in looking at skirmish rules was to arrive at a way to deal with both small (butnonethe less important) historic skirmishes AND close-in fighting in built up areas (fortified or not). The easiest way (employed in rules at the battalion level and above) is to handle them in abstract ways. I want something, however, that can be reduced to a more granular level (company and below). Being able to do so would add more tactical interest to a game.

This now brings us to what might be called the Auldearn Problem. Often there are battles that need to be played in two different scales – simultaneously. Auldearn is one such. At various times in the battle much of the fighting was on a very confined front and often in and among buildings and other enclosures. While the Covenanter army had near tactical surprise, their chosen line of attack conspired with the terrain to prevent them bringing their full force to bear. The Royalists were seriously outmanned at the point of attack, however, and forced to improvise while gathering their widely dispersed forces. The battle later took on features of a larger set piece affair played generally on the same ground.

What I’m thinking of doing is to allow a unit to break into its component stands and fight an enemy unit on a stand by stand basis. Essentially the figures (which could even be armed differently) on a single stand would function as individuals. In this way a series of skirmishes could be embedded in the course of a larger battle. The wargames I have already done for Justice Mills and Fyvie would certainly have benefited from such a two tiered rules structure.

The ability to move between the two tiers seamlessly is the tricky part. I am not yet sure how to do it but the experiments with the various skirmish rules have given me some ideas but I’m going to need to do some rebasing (yet again!)