Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Repurposing A Project

My recent missive on chit-and-board wargames caused me to look back on a forlorn, abandoned project and find new life in a different form. In the blog post I looked at current efforts in this “traditional” wargames sector and noted several factors I’d find appealing in new games, particularly more streamlined rules with fewer (and larger) pieces. I posted the article, then sat back and wondered, how could I create a traditional wargame that would satisfy my own criteria? In my mind I ran through the various historical periods that engage my interest, recalling particular battles with which I have some degree of familiarity or a good stock of research material in my personal library. I put the idea aside for a day or two, and then an idea dawned; I could repurpose an unpublished article on miniature wargaming the Battle of Ridgefield (April 27, 1777) into a chit-and-board wargame.

A few years ago I volunteered to help produce a regional wargaming club’s newsletter. It had languished for a while after having a good run with informative articles, news about club activities, and a listing of local resources for gaming. I thought I’d bring my years of publishing experience, both editorial and layout, and try giving the newsletter new life. The club representative told me they’d received another offer for a volunteer editor, so they asked us to work together. My grandiose vision for resurrecting the periodical and infusing it with engaging material and new life fell afoul of the co-editor syndrome (a good author friend once told me that co-authoring was twice as much work for half the pay...and in this case, my half of the “pay” was nothing in exchange for lots of work and some friction with my co-editor about what made a good wargaming newsletter). Although I was pleased with the final product, my experience was less than rewarding, so I just walked away. The club hasn’t published a newsletter since.

One of the articles I intended to contribute covered the Battle of Ridgefield during the American War of Independence, a subject dear to me since I grew up in that small, Connecticut town, was steeped in its history, and had seen a 200th anniversary reenactment of the skirmish as a kid. I relied on a very well-researched history of the event – Farmers Against the Crown by Keith Marshall Jones III – and drafted a summary history of the event, with a focus on the forces engaged, the terrain, deployment, and how miniature wargamers might stage the skirmish. I submitted it to the co-editor for comments, some of which helped focus my writing; however, I allowed my general dissatisfaction with the direction the newsletter was taking to temper my enthusiasm, and I shelved the article for a “future issue” which, of course, never materialized.

After writing the Hobby Games Recce post about traditional wargames I dug out the old article, read it, and started thinking how I might convert my research into a chit-and-board wargame. I already had some key information on hand: the units involved (partial regiments), the terrain features in play, and certain key factors, particularly the presence of Patriot Brigadier General Benedict Arnold. It’s not a very challenging scenario; the Patriots set up a barricade and a line of troops behind ledges and stone walls to block the British passage through town (returning from burning the Continental Army supply depot in nearby Danbury), and the British assaulted the barricade from the front and flanks, driving the primarily militia forces into disordered retreat.

Despite its one-sided nature, the battle still appealed to me as, at the very least, a personal exercise in designing a traditional wargame I’d play. After reviewing my article draft and original notes on unit composition and strength, I turned to several wargaming sources for guidance and inspiration in making preliminary development decisions for the game. As always, James F. Dunnagin’s The Complete Wargames Handbook: How to Play, Design & Find Them provided some inspiration, particularly when comparing his criteria and resolution for his “Combat Results Table” (CRT) for his sample Drive on Metz wargame. I also examined the CRT in the Avalon Hill game 1776, considering it’s the correct period, though a more strategic simulation rather than a tactical presentation of a small engagement. Dunnagin’s CRT compared the difference between the attacker and defender strength totals, while 1776 used a ratio comparison; I realized, for simplicity’s sake, I preferred the former for its easier, clearer math. The actual results from the former source also made more sense to me, with the defender retreating one or two hexes as the result of a successful attack instead of complete unit elimination by strength point. In the actual Battle of Ridgefield units weren’t eliminated as much as they were forced to retreat.

The map and counter sizes provided some interesting challenges in balancing my personal ideals with playability. I printed out two different hex grids (with different orientations) at the three-quarter inch and full inch sizes. The one-inch hex map would fit all the required terrain features but didn’t give either side much room to maneuver (or retreat), especially if I ruled that units leaving the map were out of the game. The larger hex map would also necessitate unit stacking, which meant the already more powerful British regiments could team up in ranged and close combat and really slam into the Patriots. I compromised and chose a three-quarter-inch hex map with similarly sized pieces; this allowed greater freedom of movement for units and hence more options for player choices, all while avoiding the need to stack units.

Battle map originally rendered for the
newsletter article showing units
and their probably positions during the skirmish.
In doing all this I’m making key rules decisions. Each unit can move two hexes in clear terrain, or one hex into rough terrain (orchard, swamp) or over hex borders with obstacles like the barricade, walls, or ledges. Since the units involved consist of roughly half-strength regiments, I’m giving them average attack values of 4 for the British and 3 for the Patriots, with a few units boosted by +1 for their “elite” status (the contingent of the 5th Connecticut Regiment, a line unit with the Continental Army, and two notable British units, the 4th Foot, King’s Own Regiment of Foot and the 23rd Foot, Royal Welsh Fusiliers). I’m including a chit for General Arnold, who grants a +1 bonus to the attack value of the unit in his hex (and hence the only case I’ll allow for pieces to stack). I’ve already chosen to use Dunnagin’s CRT based on the difference between unit attack values rather than ratios of those numbers, with the loser retreating one hex (excepting the aggressor in ranged attacks). I expect – and playtesting will illustrate this – that it’s only a matter of time before the Patriots retreat, so the victory condition amounts to how long it takes the British to force the Patriots from the field.

So my work’s cut out for me: draft some rules, design some chits, and create the map before sending everything to playtesting. With all the other projects on my desk right now this adds a pleasant diversion to cleanse my palate when progress on other materials runs out of inspiration; but it also allows me to engage my interest in chit-and-board wargames more actively than simply surveying and commenting on them from the safety of a blog post.


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