Monday, October 19, 2009

Action at the Dirschau

Mike and I spent a few nights playing the Dirschau scenario from Gustav Adolf the Great: With God and Victorious Arms, GMT's most recent entry in the Musket and Pike Battle System (MPBS).

We'd played this together a while back. First to play Marston Moor from This Accursed Civil War (the battle the contains the unit Mike's old re-enactment group was modeled after) and after that we played a scenario from Under the Lily Banners, but I honestly can't remember which one. After that particular outing, Mike pretty much had sworn off wargames for a while. Not that he didn't like the game, but it just didn't hold his interest. And, given the time involved was something he didn't want to do.

Lots of things have changed since then. Obviously.

So, Mike wanted to give the series another try. As I have enjoyed the game in the past, I was certainly up for playing again. The idea was to start with the first scenario in the box and play through them all.

It took us a while to get back into the swing. We hadn't played a detailed, pre-WWII, tactical game in quite a while. I took the Poles, and Mike had the Swedes. Historically, this is a delaying action by the Poles trying to slow the Swedish crossing of two rivers towards the Polish camp northwest of a dry hill. The interesting thing about this is the Swedes have two wings starting behind fortifications. This leads you to believe the Poles are on the offensive, and the first night's play followed that impression.

It took us parts of three nights to play the game (probably a total of about eight hours or so). The flow of the battle can definitely be tied to each night's playing. There were certainly rules missed.

On the first night, I attacked with the Poles as I had a pretty strong cavalry advantage early. Mike was keeping his two wings behind the entrenchments, so it was my left wing against his right. That night's battles certainly went my way. On my right (the bottom of the map as pictured in the link above), I advanced through the dunes in column to pressure and screen the wing head of them.

On the second night, Mike stormed over the entrenchments trying to catch my center before it could join the battle (it comes up from the corner of the map over the rivers). Things didn't really go my way that night, but I was starting to form a line in the middle and had managed to get my center to connect the left and right.

On the third night, it fell apart. While I was probably too aggressive given the victory conditions and the tactical situation, what's the fun in hanging back, right? After all, what's the worst that could happen? Well, I found out. I ended up with a number of combats in the center (and on the center-side of my right wing) that were all pretty much around even odds. Rolling average dice would effectively give me what I was looking for: attrition on both sides and his advance checked. So, what do I roll? 0, 0, 1, 0. Now for those who don't know, the game uses a d10 where 0 = 0. And 0 or less on the CRT = attacker eliminated. Oh, and these combats generally included two of my units attacking at a time.

So, at this point, my center basically disappeared. And, while we didn't count up the final point total, it was pretty clear Mike had prevailed.

What are my thoughts on the system after returning to it for the first time in a few years?

Essentially, Very Good with caveats.

Units function along three primary axes. Their current orders, morale state, and formation state. Formation degrades through fighting or traversing certain terrain types, but can be restored with Reform actions. Morale degrades as a result of negative combat results and can be restored with Rally actions. There's three values to both of those states: Normal, Shaken, and Broken. So a unit could be Formation Shaken and Morale Normal, for example.

Finally, there's orders. Each wing can have one of four orders: Charge, Make Ready, Receive Charge, and Rally. Certain troop actions may be denied to units under certain orders. Units under Charge orders can't Rally, for example, and units NOT under charge orders may not move adjacent to enemy.

The catch, however, is that it takes a die roll to change orders for a wing. And some transitions are a LOT harder than others. There's no guarantee you'll be able to get your wing to charge when you need it to. Or stop charging after it's blown through the enemy's first line and has reserves staring it in the face.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: This is not a game for control freaks.

In addition to the above, wings are activated in sequence depending on their orders (roughly in the sequence I listed them above) and may get a 2nd or 3rd activation if you can pass your continuation rolls. (and the less aggressive your orders, the harder it is to pass continuation) So, you might be able to get your reserve wing into action in time. Or not. They might stop charging after they blow away the advance guard. Or not.

This, of course, reflects the state of warfare in the 17th century. You gave your orders, watched things develop, and tried to change them if necessary. Controlling individual units after they engaged the enemy was difficult at best. (It's VERY possible for cavalry units to pursue defeated enemy off the map and be out of the game.) It's probably the best game out there for giving you the feel of how 17th century battles flowed, but there is some sense of “taking what you're given” here as opposed to controlling the action. Some people will find this entertaining, some won't.

If you can deal with the lack of control, I recommend the series. If you can't handle the idea of being unable to fully control your units' behavior, you should probably stay away. As always, interest in the subject matter may trump - I love this particular period so I'm predisposed toward the game. But I certainly understand if it's not your cup of tea.

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