Saturday, 15 September 2018

Great Northern War playtest for Pikeman's Lament

Last night at Bonsor, Kevin and I hosted our first playtest of Pikeman's Lament for the Great Northern War.  We ended up having three commanders on each side:  Kevin, Jim and Colin for the Swedes, while Doug and other Jim (Jim F) joined my Russian force.  We didn't worry too much about balancing points, but we had more or less similarly sized forces.  I forgot to bring my camera, so photos in this post are generously provided by Doug. Many thanks to Doug as well for the last minute contribution of a second field gun for the Russkis!

Russians had 10 units (including allies!):  three units of line infantry (raw shot, two from my collection and one from Kevin's), one unit of grenadiers (veteran shot), two field guns (one Russian and one allied Saxon gun provided by Doug), three units of dragoons and one dismounted dragoons (deployed as commanded shot).

Swedes had similar numbers.  There were three units of what Kevin termed his "Ga Pa" infantry (mix of pike and shot, for which he developed some special rules), one unit of grenadiers (veteran shot), two field guns, three units of horse (gallopers) and one dragoons.

We decided to set down lots of terrain, including a small village, two or three woods, some fields and quite a lot of field works. Both sides had fences, while the Russians had four redoubts (based on old CDs).

Here is a view from the middle of the Russian line mid-battle, with Swedish infantry and grenadiers advancing against the dug-in Russians.

Here are a couple of Russian gunners showing off their kartuz hats (modified from floppy hats by me).

Russians preparing for the onslaught of the Swedes. The orange cube is a marker to show that the infantry have not yet used their first salvo special rule.  In future games, we will have more aesthetically pleasing markers (like barrels of gunpowder or piles of shot).

All the players were familiar with various versions of the Dan Mersey XXX Rampant rules (Lion Rampant, Dragon Rampant, The Men who would be Kings) but this was the first outing with Pikeman's Lament.  We had read the rules in advance, and came to the table with house rules that we were ready to implement.

Kevin wanted to develop a troop type to better represent the aggressive nature of Swedish infantry, and so developed his "Gå På" profile. This profile is also intended to present a blended shot and pike force, that benefits from the pike in close combat but can still  

Name:  Gå På Foot (Blended Pike & Shot) (12 figures) 
Attack:  7+ to activate
Move    5+ to activate
Shoot:  7+ to activate
Morale: 4+
Stamina: 2

Attack Value:  4+ (roll 12x1D6; 6x1D6 at half strength) 
Defence Value:  4+ 
Shoot Value:  5+ (roll 8x1D6; 4x1D6 at half strength) Musket Range 18”; range over 12+” minus 1 from 1D6s 
Maximum movement:  8” (6” when in Close Order) 

Special Rules
Close Order
 ATTACK and MOVE 6+ to activate
 Attacks +1 (Hits with 3-6)
 Defends +1 (Hits with 3-6)
 Wins ties vs. non-Close Order
 Must be 6 figs min. to form
First Salvo Gets +1 for first attack value, defend value or shoot value roll

As for me, I'm not content with the way dragoons are presented in the rules.  As written, the PL dragoons are likely a good representation of irregular skirmishing cavalry like cossacks.  However, for dragoons, who were more or less infantry who'd been put on lower quality horses than those provided to 'proper' horse regiments, the idea of them skirmishing and evading on the fastest horses in the game just feels wrong.  So instead I pretty much copied the mounted crossbowmen variant of sergeants from Lion Rampant.  The profile I used was this:

Name:  Dragoons (GNW or WSS) (6 figures) 
Attack:  5+ to activate
Move    5+ to activate
Shoot:  7+ to activate
Morale: 4+
Stamina: 3

Attack Value:  5+ (roll 12x1D6; 6x1D6 at half strength) 
Defence Value:  5
Shoot Value:  5+ (range 12")
Maximum movement:  10"

Special Rules:  none

I didn't take notes so I won't be able to write a proper report on the action.  We divided each of the armies into three commands, so that each player was responsible for a number of units.  We modified the "failed activation ends the turn" rule so that it applied to each command individually.  This meant that each player got at least one chance to activate troops, and thus for each army there were at least three chances to activate each turn.

With the division of commands, there was a mix of action happening across the table in every turn.  

Here is a shot of the right of the Russian line, showing Repnin's Grenadiers and Kevin's regiment of Russian line, with a couple of units of dragoons in reserve.  This was my command.  Facing me, I had only a single unit of Colin's Swedish dragoons sitting in a wood to my front (left of the Swedish line).  Foolishly, I decided that I would advance my infantry, push the dragoons out of the wood and then roll up the Swedish line.  Unfortunately for me, things didn't go according to plan.

I managed to get both my infantry advancing in line across the field, but with some good shooting, Colin knocked down two grenadiers.  My morale test, which ought to have been an easy pass, failed dismally (I rolled snake eyes) and Repnin's grenadiers were removed from the table before they even had a chance to shoot even once!  Colin subsequently managed to shoot up the other infantry unit and one of the dragoon units before I gave up on my attack.

In the centre, Doug had a relatively easy time of things for the first part of the battle.  He just stayed behind his defensive works and let the artillery crews blast away at the enemy opposite them.

On the Russian left, Jim F had a great deal of fun playing cat and mouse with Swedish Jim's impetuous horse (gallopers).  We joked that the Swedish horse didn't really need to have 'wild charge' tests since that's what Jim would have done with them anyway.  Russian Jim started off with dismounted dragoons hidden away in a small wood (these were fielded as 'commanded shot' in Pikeman's Lament terms).  He made good use of his evade and skirmish rules to harass but avoid contact with the Swedish Horse.  Meanwhile the Swedish Horse chased him into the woods, where they were out fought by the lowly dismounted dragoons!  Meanwhile, the rest of the Swedish horse chased the rest of the Russian dragoons as best they could, but they also were shot up and then badly mauled (again in the woods) by dragoons that they would easily have dominated in open ground. The last of the Swedish Horse impetuously charged the Saxon field gun in a redoubt, and were also sent running, this time by gunners fighting with ram rods and buckets.  It was a valuable lesson that Horse has no business chasing anyone into forests or fortifications.

The battle was very bloody.  By the end of the action, most of the units still on the table were severely depleted for both armies.  One of the Swedish infantry units managed to enter the Russian defensive lines, but there weren't any more units in the army left to support it.  However the Russians left facing it were quite depleted and probably wouldn't have been able to force it out.  So most likely it was a Swedish marginal (or Pyrrhic!) victory.  All players enjoyed the game, though, even our suicidal Swedish cavalry commander!

Some thoughts that we shared after the game:

Brigade Orders:  We want to add a rule allowing a senior officer to brigade units together so that they can all be activated (or not) at once.  Kevin's advance with his infantry was dogged by one unit advancing while the follow-on units failed their tests.  The basic rule will be that a group of units will be limited by the worst unit in the group (i.e., whichever unit has the hardest test to make).  Brigade orders can only be made for units that are not in close combat.

More granularity for raw or veteran troops:  We generally felt that the differences between normal, raw and veteran units was not really what we wanted to see.  Raw shot had a higher target number for shooting, and veterans a lower target, and that was it.  We want to play around with the activation rolls.  Raw Russian infantry are going to be great once plunked down behind fieldworks, but will be harder to activate to get them to move anywhere (i.e., give them a higher Move number to roll against), while Swedish Gå På Foot should have a relatively low number to test for an attack, to reflect their historical enthusiasm for getting in close with the enemy. We're going to have more detailed discussion about all the profiles, and as it progresses I'll be tracking the decisions here on this blog.

Generally we enjoyed the game, it ended up being a very close contest.  Doug will no doubt say that the ridiculously high number of very bad rolls was due to having two 'unblooded' armies on the table at once!  But I feel that this is a game we can modify to bring it closer to what we want.  Kevin and I will carry on the discussion about whether we give PL another try, or if we look at testing out other rulesets.  Some of the games we've contemplated include Black Powder (not feeling much love for BP, though), Thomas Årnfelt's Gå På rules, and Beneath the Lily Banners (neither of us have a copy of BLB).

Meanwhile, I'm going to increase the size of my Russian army!

Sunday Update!  Doug has sent me a few more photos to add to the post.  Thanks!

Russian dragoons move up (including horse holders!)

Near the end of the battle, one unit of Swedish Gå På Foot has pushed into the Russian lines, supported by the sole survivor of the Horse regiments.

Russian gunners in action.  These turned out to be an effective unit, as they got off quite a few telling shots in the early part of the game.

Another view of the Russian lines early in the game.

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