Friday, 16 March 2012

The Battle of Astrakhan (Part 4) - 54mm wargame with toy soldiers

Continuing the battle played by email with 54mm toy soldiers using the "Big Wars" rules devised by Stuart Asquith and Jack Alexander.

This was the first time we three, players and umpire, had used these rules so this was very much a learning experience for us as well as a bit of fun.

The Russian cavalry move to the top of the hill to meet the attack of the Turkish horse, the Montenegrin infantry and Rifles move up in support

Checked momentarily by the appearance of enemy lancers lining the crest of the hill ahead of them the Turkish light horse are unaware of the Cuirassiers emerging from behind the hill to attack them in the flank..........

......... but as the Cuirassiers round the hill they move within range of the Turkish guns and pay a terrible price.

Meanwhile the transfer of forces from the Russian left to the centre continues

The Russian infantry begins to reform in the centre

The Russian Command group in the left foreground are lead forward by the Emigre General Hagen von Tronek (in blue) and the Tsar's cousin, Grand Duke Michael (in black).  It was considered politically unacceptable for a mercenary officer to have command of the defence so the Grand Duke is nominally in command while his subordinate von Tronek is actually the effective Commander.  When victory is announced the Grand Duke will be rewarded by his cousin and hailed by a grateful nation. However should things go wrong von Tronek will take responsibility, his adjutant will hand him a loaded pistol and he will be invited to "do the right thing - pour encourager les autres".

The infantry of both sides halt on opposite hills to watch the outcome of the cavalry melee taking place in the valley below them.

The Cuirassiers, ranks thinned by the pounding from enemy guns, find themselves outnumbered two to one but give good account of themselves.  Elsewhere on the field the Turkish cavalry find they are no match for the Lancers .........

....... they break and are pursued back through their own lines.

The Turkish infantry takes up a strong position occupying the line of hills and halts.

As the Cossacks begin to cross the river they stray into the sights of the ever vigilant Turkish gunners........

.......... who open up a sustained fire on them.

The Cossacks suffer heavy casualties but they deflect the attention of the enemy gunners from the vulnerable infantry formations concentrated around the bridge.

The Russian artillery replied, keeping up a steady but ineffective counter battery fire at long range, it soon became clear this was pointless and they ceased fire to conserve ammunition.   

The Russians reform in the centre and the threat of their overwhelming local concentration becomes apparent.

Umpires Note
To explain the mechanics of the game: at the start of a move the players would give me their orders for each unit - move, fire etc.  I would physically move the units on the table then send each player 3 or 4 photos of their new dispositions, then  would send them a second email with 3 or 4 photos of what they could see of the other players positions from table top level.  To maintain fairness they would both receive the same number of pictures each move.  I would then dice for any firing, then for any melee and send them a couple of pics showing the outcome of the combat.

Initially I gave them details of the number of casualties on both sides but then it occurred to me that in the real world a commander wouldn't get that level of information, he wouldn't get continuous detailed updates of unit effectiveness while the battle was going on he would mostly judge by what he could see, so I started t give them general descriptions of what the commander would be aware of such as "devastating volley tears holes in your lines" and then leave them to make out what they could from the pics.

As both sides move simultaneously the melee modifiers, in the action above, for cavalry charging cancelled each other out but the +1 for the lancers proved devastating, as you might expect it to. 

The artillery are required to dice for a hit then dice for effect every shot, this made the counter battery fire at long range quite ineffective (a throw of 2 sixes), on reflection I decided this was a good thing.  In Little Wars, Wells warns against allowing the game to be dominated by the guns and degenerating into a duel between artillery (I find this often happens when I play LW). The double D6 throw prevents this, after all it's supposed to be a Colonial scenario not the Great War Western Front.  The guns did their best work when enemy formations blundered into range.  The best way to handle them would be to gallop up close to an enemy formation fire a salvo then limber up and ride hell for leather back to the safety of friendly forces!

Our original target had been to play one move each day, the game finally ran to thirteen moves and the pics above are now at move six.  After allowing for various issues it actually took us about four weeks to play and I think it perhaps began to sag a little in the middle but soon picked up when the main combat commenced.  I think this number of moves might be fine if you are playing live across the table in one sitting but it's too long for play by mail with long intervals in between moves.  I think this is perhaps down to infantry moving only 6 inches, when I play Little Wars on the same table infantry move 12 inches and a game is usually done in 6 or 7 moves which is probably more manageable for mail games.  On the other hand the shorter move makes things a bit more interesting when the two sides get to grips so I might consider infantry moving 12 inches for say the first three moves then reverting to 6 inches.

Would this system work with smaller sized figures? I don't see why not, but the larger scale probably makes it easier to follow unit movements bearing in mind that a major element in the game is uncertainty, lack of information and even misinformation.  In my case the question is accademic because I only have 54mm toy soldiers.


  1. Really delightful! A very fine game and a pleasure to share in it.

  2. A most enjoyable series! Some great picture and interesting developments. Thanks for including my old lads in the fun!


  3. FLW, you're very welcome, I must make an effort to do more of this.

  4. Ross, glad you have enjoyed it, your conversions have added a lot of spice to the proceedings and I hope they will inspire others to risk flesh, blood and finertip under the knife, brush and miliput in the cause of creativity.