Getting ready to play test Combat Patrol™: Napoleonic Wars
A number of people have agreed to develop supplements for Combat Patrol™. Supplements in active development are Napoleonic Wars, The Falklands, several British colonial periods, and modern Afghanistan and Iraq. Several of the supplements have elements comment to each other. For instance, several of these periods require rules for close formations and cavalry. To help ensure that these supplements are consistent with each other and the intent of the base rules, I hosted a play test day in my gaming room. We had initially hoped to get in three games, but ended up only running two.
Laying out the forces for the Napoleonic game
Everyone converged on the “war room” at 0900, but we spent the better part of two hours just talking about Duncan’s Napoleonic supplement, how to deal with closed order troops, cavalry, charging, etc. It was a good session and set the stage for a successful play test.
Zeb and Chris place their troops into their initial deployments
I have found that a play test event like this needs to be a small group of the right folks who are okay with changing the rules on the fly, can offer suggestions that remain in keeping with the tone and intent of the base rules, understand the desire for simplicity and consistency, etc. In this case I only invited those folks who were interested in writing a Combat Patrol™ supplement. To me it was important that I got everyone on the same sheet of music.
Our intent with this supplement — and all of them really — is to change as little as possible from the base WWII rules. There needs to be a compelling reason to make a change or addition for period feel. Otherwise, we want to make sure that supplements are as consistent with the base rules and with each other as possible.
Our intent was to test as many aspects of Duncan’s supplement as possible. One of the reasons to select a play test group carefully, is that you also need folks who won’t get too wrapped around the axel about trying to win the game or scenario anachronisms. In the case of the photo (above), we used Mexican lancers as part of the British force, because those are the only lancers Duncan had in 28mm, and we wanted to test the lancer modifiers to the basic melee rules.
My “British” cavalry advances toward the French
In order to test a wide swath of the rules, we had lancers, regular infantry, Rifles, hussars, etc. The scenario involved a small British detachment defending the house at the top of the picture with the rest of the British riding to their rescue as the French try to seize it.
A confused affair in the woods
In advance of Chris’ farmhouse defenders, Chris had deployed a section of infantry in open order in the woods to slow down Zeb’s French. Zeb advanced slowly through the woods in formed lines, while Chris spread out in open order. Eventually Chris was driven from the woods. One of his soldiers was left behind accidentally as most of the section fled the woods and ran toward the farm yard. Once the “rear guard” was out of command radius, be became “pinned,” and Chris couldn’t extract him, but the figure, who we dubbed “Crazy Jenkins” held of several of Zeb’s attacks for several turns, slowing the French advance.
Chris’ section defends the farm yard while my cavalry advances to the rescue.
As a major focus of this play test session was to test the cavalry rules, Zeb and I conspired to create a cavalry battle in the center of the table. Unfortunately as my lancers advanced and deployed, Zeb activated first and charged my lancers with his hussars. As luck would have it, he was able to gain impetus and I was caught stationary. The results were ugly for me.
Duncan’s intent was for these melees to become confused fur balls that would take a turn to two to resolve. Our thinking is that much of the confusion of a melee is generally abstracted away at higher levels of abstraction, but we want this to be explicit in Combat Patrol™: Napoleonic Wars. You can see elements to three cavalry units in this picture: Zeb’s French hussars are in the center and left, my lancers are in the center, and my hussars are toward the bottom.
As the cavalry melee continues, Greg’s infantry advances
Slowly my numerical advantage over Zeb begin to tell, and he collected a lot of morale markers (the pile of green chips). His cavalry scattered, and I moved to reorganize my cavalry and work around the exposed flank of the French infantry.
I attacked this French infantry unit on the flank and rear, but the French passed their Reaction check and were allowed to face their second rank to the rear. The results were ugly for my cavalry. While we still need to tinker with the modifiers to melee a bit, in general, the new rules for close order vs. open order, cavalry in melee, and cavalry vs. infantry seem to work well. We are still thinking about the advantages and disadvantages of being in close order.
Chris got most of his forces from the woods back to the farm yard, but Zeb was hot on his heels, and my cavalry was in no condition to assist Chris.
Duncan has come up with a mechanic that I like for cavalry. There is no charge bonus, per se. Cavalry must spend the last four inches of its move going straight ahead in order to receive an impetus bonus in the melee. Remember: this is a skirmish game, not a tactical game. In my “charge” around flank of Duncan’s infantry, I did not have impetus, which hurt me in the subsequent melee. I think it worked pretty well.
I had smashed my cavalry against Zeb’s cavalry and Duncan’s infantry, and Duncan and Zeb still had two untouched sections of infantry. Chris was is sad shape in the farm yard with Zeb’s battered by still good infantry closing on him. At this point, we had accomplished our play test goals and had a clear winner, so we called the game and set up our second play test.
The second game was a play test of Greg’s Falklands supplement. After we cleaned up I realized that I didn’t take any pictures. Greg has ordered a platoon each of British and Argentinians for the Falklands, but for this play test we used his UNIT troopers from his Dr. Who games for British and my WWII US for Argentinians. The terrain was mostly barren and rocky. We used Top Malo as the play test scenario. As the Falklands war is much more like WWII than the Napoleonic Wars are, there were fewer optional rules to test. We tested the new weapons for the Falklands, and we tested rules for night fighting. According to Greg’s research the Argentinians had better night vision than the British, but the British employed them better. Greg’s rules seemed to reflect this well. By this time, Zeb had had to leave, so we had the four member of our club with the most notoriously cold dice facing each other in the dark. In the real battle the British set the Top Malo house afire with M72 LAWs, but Chris and I got “out of ammunition” results with most of our sections when we tried to use our LAWs, meaning that we ran out of them. With the Argentinians having better night vision, and our LAWs depleted, we had no choice but to advance to close range across largely open ground. The results were predictable. Greg and Duncan soundly defeated us; although, Chris made excellent use of his M203 grenade launchers to soften them up. Sorry I don’t have any pictures to show, but with all the surrogates for figures and terrain, it wouldn’t have looked very Falklands-like to purists.
It was a successful day. I think we’ll have the Napoleonic supplement ready to share with a slightly wider group of play testers in a few weeks. Greg and I need to think a little more about night fighting, but the basic concept we employed seemed to be okay. I hope to schedule another play test day to focus on Iraq and Afghanistan and perhaps another Falklands or Napoleonic test. We had hoped to have The Falklands done before Salute, but the real world has gotten in the way.
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