Monday, February 18, 2019

RFF Scenario: Secure the Flank! Also bonus content on scenario design

I had a somewhat longer delay in posting than I anticipated; because you know...Life. 

One of the aspects of wargaming that I really enjoy is scenario design, which can be something of a dark art, done in secret caves, out of sight from the rest of the world.  Which is a shame. 
So to shine some light on the subject, and hopefully provide an interesting and amusing blog post in the process, I present to you my dear reader, this scenario along with my thoughts about scenario creation.

Read on below if you's a lot of words.  I fell asleep twice while writing it. 

Part One: Secure the Flank!  A Regimental Fire and Fury Scenario   

Recently I hosted a game of Regimental Fire and Fury for some ACW fun.  While playing a published historical scenario is always fun, I want to do something a little different and flex some creative muscles (so manly!) so I came up with a scenario and tried it out on the unsuspecting victims I mean players. 

What I told the Players (some lies)

The situation: In the year of 18 hundred and sixty mumble mumble something something (around the time of Gettysburg).  The advance portions of the respective armies have stumbled into each other sometime earlier this morning.  The forces under the players control are being rushed forward to the flank of the fighting in order to secure it, and if possible, to take it in order to have an advantage later.  What results is a meeting engagement as both the Union and the CSA march onto the board looking to achieve their goals.  So kinda like the first day of Gettysburg.

Each side was broken up into 3 player commands, with one player also serving as the leader with overall command (the Union Corps or CSA Divisional leader).  I told them that the sides were NOT equal and that commands were assigned by how much I liked the person playing.  Which was a bold faced lie because I let them pick. 

-side note: ACW army structures:
Especially by the mid point of the ACW and on the Eastern theater, a Union Corps was roughly the same size as a CSA division in terms of actual men.  There are several reasons for this.  One was because the Union had a larger population of officers to pull from, so had more officers of appropriate rank that had to be given appropriate commands while the CSA started to struggle to have enough officers to fill basic requirements.  Another reason is that the Union tended to fight it's units to death and not give them replacements; choosing instead to disband a unit when it became so small and ineffectual and just raising other units whole; this resulted in several Union brigades being very small as loses were chipped away and several units being green even late in the war.  The CSA on the other hand tended to feed in replacements to it's regiments so they kept their numbers up better.   The result: a Union made up of 2 divisions would have 6-8 brigades and a CSA division would have around 3-5 brigades but the around the same numbers of actual fighting men.
Fascinating right?!!

Players were allowed to see the table (not like I could hide it), and told that after they picked their commands they needed to decide the marching orders of where the forces would enter the table.  The Players could discuss this amongst themselves but The Overall commander on each side had the final word.

The Forces involved:

The Union have a Corps with 2 divisions, each division with 2 brigades (a total of 4 brigades) making a total force of 15 regiments  and 4 batteries of artillery.

The CSA have a division with 3 Brigades, with a total of 13 regiments and 3 batteries of artillery.

To generate the forces I used some random tables that you can find in Brigade Fire and  Fury (2ed) and also some old random tables that you can download from the Fire and Fury support page that you can see HERE.
Using that as a skeleton, I then tweeked the army lists to reflect my own biases and preconceived notions.  Basically I wanted the Union to have more of everything but with variable quality: troops mostly average with some green units, a few vet, and fewer elite regiments.  The CSA conversely have less of everything but mostly vet, some elite regiments, and a few average. 
In other words:  I wanted the Union to have a slight advantage in numbers and munitions and the CSA a slight advantage in experience and morale.  It's the classic ACW set up.
And I kinda lied again, because while I told the players the sides were not equal in actuality I strove to make the sides relatively equal in the scenario. 

Isn't wargaming a weird hobby?  Where you invite friends over and then lie to them? 

OOBs for the RFF People (whomever they are)

For anyone who cares enough or knows RFF, here are the OOBs.  Just skip this part otherwise...I usually just quickly peruse OOBs on other blog unless I am familiar with the rules or the genre.
Every regiment is armed with rifled muskets, it's just easier that way, trust me.

XI Corps Leader Able
I DIV Leader Able
I Bde/I Div Leader Able
Regiment 1: 12/9/6 trained
Regiment 2: 12/9/6 trained
Regiment 3: 8/6/4 Vet
Regiment 4: 9/6/4 Vet
Regiment 5: 8/6/4 Vet
II Bde/I Div Leader Gallant
Regiment 1: 13/10/7 Trained
Regiment 2: 15/12/8 Green w/ Brave Colonel
Regiment 3: 10/6/5 Vet
Regiment 4: 12/9/6 Trained
II DIV Leader Gallant
I Bde/II Div Leader Poor
Regiment 1: 9/7/5 Vet
Regiment 2: 9/7/4 Vet
Regiment 3: 6/4/2 Crack
II Bde/II Div Leader Able
Regiment 1: 10/7/4 Crack
Regiment 2: 10/8/5 Vet
Regiment 3: 6/4/2 vet

Batteries to be assigned to players at either Divisional or Brigade levels
Vet LR x2 bases
Vet LR x3 bases
Trained LR x 3 bases
Vet LR x3 - off table battery (see set up)

I DIV Leader Able
I Bde/I Div Leader Gallant
Regiment 1: 11/9/6 Vet w/ brave Colonel
Regiment 2: 11/9/6 Vet
Regiment 3: 12/9/6 Trained
Regiment 4: 9/7/5 Vet
Regiment 5: 8/6/4 Vet
II Bde/I Div Leader Able
Regiment 1: 9/6/4 Crack with Brave Colonel
Regiment 2: 9/7/5 Crack
Regiment 3: 9/6/4 Vet
Regiment 4: 10/8/5 Trained
III Bde/I Div Leader Gallant
Regiment 1: 8/6/4 Crack
Regiment 2: 8/5/3 Vet
Regiment 3: 9/7/5 Vet
Regiment 4: 11/9/6 Vet

Batteries to be assigned at either divisional or brigade levels:
Vet HS x 2 bases
Vet LS x3 bases
Vet LR x 2 bases - off table battery

Set Up (and more lies):

This is how I set up the table.  If you try this scenario sometime you of course have to use whatever terrain you have available.  I like to tell myself that my ACW terrain collection has gotten robust enough over the years to be able to do a lot.  Things that I wanted to be sure to include was some sort of LOS blocking terrain on the eastern edge (I'll explain more why later on) and a large hill on the western side as nothing says 'anchor your flank here' like a large hill.  there is also a hill on the north and south edges for batteries to perch on and fire from off the table.  in game terms the hills are actually 12" more to the rear (so players just add 12" to the range). 

Sometimes it's fun to have your tables look like real places.  One resource I used to create this table are the books of maps by Brad Butkovich.  He has some books that are just maps of famous battlefields and the surrounding areas.  It's just fun to look and imagine how different a battle could of been if the fighting had happened a mile in another direction.  

OR just throw down the terrain in any pattern that looks cool to you. 

As the map shows, across the Northern and Southern edges there are 3 entrance points that basically converge on the center and corner of the tables.  At each point there was a card that dictated on what turn a force that was using that road could march onto the table and any other special conditions.  I told the players that each army is basically coming from the east, so they could expect that forces sent to the road entrances on the eastern edges would arrive faster than the middle, and with the western entrances the last to arrive.  This was to represent troops that had to march farther behind the scenes to arrive on the flank.  I also told them that the road conditions were unknown, so none of what I just said was necessarily true (but it was, I just like messing with people's minds).   Armies had to be sent down the road by Brigades (as in a brigade could not send 2 regiments down one road and 2 regiments down another) and that a brigade would normally enter on 3 regiments at a time. 

-- that last bit was just something I added to force players with large brigades to deploy with some reserves as a normal ACW commander would do.  If one had 5 regiments the standard deployment would be 3-4 upfront with 1-2 in reserve...So this forces players with large brigades to act a little more historically...

Players were told that the whole army could go down one road if it wanted to (though no one chose that, which is too bad because I thought that would of been pretty cool and daring).  Players were told that since no one likes to wait 6 turns for their troops to arrive and start playing that the turn delay was not a high number. 
Players were told to figure out their commands; who had which brigades and which batteries, and then write down which roads which brigades would take.  Players were not told that there would be a roll off for which side got to go first, and that the side handed in their orders first got a +2 modifier on the d10.

Man this post is starting to feel like it goes on forever, and it's been awhile since we had a picture to break up the walls of text...

After all that, Players were allowed to see what was on the deployment card.  Then a player had one of the best ideas, that the info on the cards could NOT be shared because one general would not know exactly when another would arrive.  GOOD IDEA!  said I, let's roll with that. 

but in the spirit of full disclosure: here is what the cards said...
starting with the CSA:

Eastern Corner road: Deploy 1 entire brigade before turn 1 within 12" of the corner.  Each Subsequent Brigade enters on turn One, 3 regiments at a time.

Middle road: Enter on turn One, 3 regiments at a time.

Western Corner road: Enter on turn two, 3 regiments at a time.

The USA cards read:

Eastern corner road: Deploy 1 entire brigade before turn 1 within 12" of the corner.  Each subsequent Brigade enters on turn One, 3 regiments at a time.

Middle road: Enter on turn Two, 3 regiments at a time.

Western corner road: Good road!  Enter on turn Three, 1 entire Brigade at the double quick (extra movement)

A summary of deployment schedules can be seen here

Obvious afterward but the players didn't know going in, the deployments are not mirror images but favor the CSA getting on the board first.  I did this for 2 reasons; 1) I wanted the outnumbered CSA to have chance to set up before being slammed into by more numerous Union.  As it was possible that depending on the marching orders a lone CSA brigade could be faced off against an entire USA division. and 2) It's just MORE INTERESTING to have an imbalance.

That's basically the scenario. 
Inevitably there are small tweeks I would make for next time, but I'll save those for another time because that was a lot already.  And I still have more to say about scenario design in general.

Part Two of the Post: More to Say About Scenario Design in General

As I said awhile ago, I like making scenarios.  SO Perhaps on a more interesting topic here are some of my half baked ideas on scenario design for tabletop wargames. I'm not saying I'm an expert, have you seen my published book of wargaming scenarios that everyone on TMP raves about as masterful?  No you haven't because it doesn't exist. 

Know What You Want

I think the first step of any scenario design is to know what kind of battle you want to play, besides a fun one for all the players with lots of carnage and drama.  Here I will make a sweeping statement.  There are really only two types of battles that we play on our table tops: Attacker versus a Defender and Meeting Engagements.  That's it; everything is just variation on those two.  Live with it.  I see some of you are nodding your heads in agreement. 
Neither is better or worse than the other, but each has specific requirements in order for it to work.  So when you design a scenario, you need to know which one you are doing.  Scenarios have trouble working well / being fun when it doesn't meet the requirements or tries to do both. 

Meeting engagements require the sides to be relatively equal (in some way).  In the scenario above I balanced the forces in the usual way of using Quality of troops versus Numbers.  I also gave the CSA a small boost by getting to the table first (however it was possible that the Union would still win the initiative and have the first turn).    Meeting Engagements also require that both sides have objectives to conquer the tabletop.  It's not enough to only have objectives like to destroy the enemy; because players then tend to only advance so far and take pot shots at each other.  Ever play in a game where both sides just kinda advanced 20" and then stopped?  But when you make the ownership of the battlefield the objective, you encourage players to actually attack and defend the ground.  In the above scenario the objective was clearly stated that the winner is the side that holds more tablespace at the end of the game; this resulted in both sides preparing attacks and defenses all across the table and made the game more interesting.  This usually means you also need to have some interesting terrain, but more on that later.

Attacker versus Defender (from now on call Attacking scenarios) require that the sides be UNEQUAL, with the advantage to the attacker.  I'm NOT talking about the traditional wisdom that states the attackers advantage is then countered by the defenders position / barricades or some such so that overall the sides are balanced.  NO! I'm telling you that the attacker needs an advantage over the defender even after you take the defensive position into account.  Why? several reasons:
Defense is always easier than attacking, and most rule sets will convey more bonuses to the defender than you realize.  Defense requires less decision making.
The attacker needs some leeway to mess up or bad luck.  If the sides are basically even, then if the first die rolls go against the attacker then the whole game will stall as the attacker won't have enough umphf to push through.  An Attacking force needs to be able to take more casualties than the defender and still have a chance of success.  Conversely, for the game to be interesting for the defender they need to feel like they are barely holding on.

The trick is to not seek a balance, but just enough advantage for the attacking force to take the objective but not steamroll the defender.  I guess that is balance in another way..

Points? We don't need no stinking Points!

Point systems are great for pick up games and tournaments and that's about it.  Otherwise I think points are kinda misleading as a tool for scenario design basically because all point system are flawed and really only produce 'balance' in a very restricted range of games; mainly pickup type games with minimal terrain.  What you really need in order to effectively gage the strengths of two combatants is experience with the game rules.  This takes time to get, but you have to start somewhere so go ahead and ignore points and just play around.  It's all subjective anyway.  A good scenario for a game system results because you have to appreciate how all the elements of maneuver, terrain, and combat all come together. 

Give 'em Something to Fight Over - Terrain

Maybe not so much for ancients and medieval games, where armies tended to fight on empty plains, but for anything else I think terrain is key to produce an interesting scenario.  In Meeting engagements it usually helps to have some things on the middle axis of the table to draw the players into combat like a magnet.  A fence line, a hill, a forest, something.  you don't have to necessarily state "fight over this hill" but you can rest assured that if you place a hill on the table in reach of both sides, they will fight over it.  Which is fun, as you sit back and twist your mustache because you knew that would happen.  Terrain also helps in deployment.  In the scenario above, I wanted some LOS blocking terrain on the eastern side, so that the two forces could deploy onto the table independent of each other.  In Attacking scenarios there needs to be something worth attacking and defending.  It's very common in the ACW that battle lines formed along natural linear terrain like a ridge, the edge of some woods, a line of fence.  I guess the main point I'm trying to make is that terrain will shape the way that a scenario is played, and that's a good thing. 

I think this Post is going on forever.

I know right?!  I feel like that too. 
I hope that was interesting reading for someone.  If you ever try the scenario out, please let me know.

I think now I'll spend some time painting miniatures versus typing out blog posts. 

Till next time.


  1. A very useful size of scenario. I agree that the attacker needs some extra strength, but mainly because that is what atteckers did, they applied force at given points and secondly, a defender put under pressure gets an emmotional ‘lock-in’ to the game.

    Generally it is a lucky day if a scenario works fine on the first outing, but the tweaks that fall out of game one, should make for some rather fine play. I really like your table and will come back to this post.

    1. Thanks Norm. We’re in agreement that the defense needs to feel the pressure and attacking forces need a little more strength bc it just makes historical sense. There was a reason after all that attackers wanted a 3:1 ratio.
      After playing a scenario I’m always after ways to speed things up so folks are able to get more turns in and more likely to lead to a resolution of the battle. The tweets for next time mainly concern that. πŸ˜€

  2. Excellent stuff, Stew! As one of the "RFF people" I appreciate your OOB in terms of RFF. As for points systems they work as a default when one knows no better but historical refights (which prefer) require no such artificial mechanism. I look forward to your battle.!

    1. Thanks Jon! The battle was already fought (see previous post) and this is just what I did. πŸ˜€
      I also mainly prefer historical refights. The one advantage of fictional scenarios that I can think of is that terrain is easier bc I’m not trying to recreate specific battlefield features but can just do whatever looks good. πŸ˜€

  3. Interesting post, I've just played my first game of the year (pretty speedy for me!) Anyway ECW game from a warlord games scenario book,battle of Ormskirk and what, having read your post,it was lacking was objectives and wasn't entirely clear about who was the attacker,there was a camp but we weren't sure if that was an objective,we had fun but ended up calling it,it was partly a getting to know pike and shot again game,but I'd been left vaguely dissatisfied and now I know why! So thanks a lot!
    Best Iain

    1. Glad it was helpful Iain and that it made good reading. I’m not an expert on scenario design by any means (except in my own head) but I agree that a lack of clear objectives will slow a scenario down. πŸ˜€

  4. I reckon blogging must be like seismic activity: inverse proportion between frequency and size of the event (lots of smaller ones or fewer bigger ones). Welcome back. Lots to take in here, but I'm easily distracted sometimes with peripheral stuff. 1) Love the map graphics: what did you use to make those? 2) On my blog, no matter what I do, the font seems to default tiny letters. I noticed in this post that the font is more like what I'd like to have on mine. Could you share what your settings are for font choice and size?


    1. All this deliciousness and your asking about fonts??! Maybe not to delicious after all..πŸ˜€
      The maps are made in PowerPoint and I have a guide how to by Jay and his blog. I just use the normal font I think but the bold headings are ‘minor headings’ if that makes sense. When I have some leisure time I’ll write you an email with links and fonts and stuff instead of here. πŸ˜€

  5. Scenarios are tricky beasts, and it seems like you have the hang of them, and this one in particular.

    Although it seems like there ought to be a few farm houses clustered around those road junctions, which then make for natural objectives... those officers need to sleep under cover!

    1. Well now, I like to think that I could see a church by daylight. Which is a strange way of saying ‘I think I know what I’m doing’ that my mother was fond of saying. πŸ˜€

      I could use more 15mm ACW buildings actually.

  6. Great post Stew! Really like the idea of not sharing the info on the cards, definitely stealing that lol!

    1. Thanks Ivor. And it wasn’t even my idea, but like all good wargaming ideas it was made to be stolen. πŸ˜€