Sunday, October 18, 2009


The original plan had called for us to tackle MMP/The Gamers' OCS Korea (BGG entry). However, after a couple of detours here I realized that I no longer had the available table space, having used it to play OCS Hube's Pocket with my other regular ConSim gaming opponent, Chuck. Sheesh, what a maroon.

Reckoning on that taking until the end of the year (at pretty much one evening per week, one turn per evening), we needed something else to tackle before Korea was a possibility. I suggested something from the GMT Musket & Pike series, and Eric picked Gustav Adolf: With God and Victorious Arms (BGG entry). I even went so far as to suggest that we do the whole box, all the scenarios. An ambitious undertaking, indeed.

Eric and I had played a few of the M&P scenarios before, mostly from This Accursed Civil War (BGG entry), and one from Under the Lily Banners (BGG entry). At the time I wasn't too enthused about ULB, but really enjoyed TACW, mostly because of my long involvement with the Sealed Knot, an English Civil War re-enactment group. This was also around the time that I was losing interest in ConSims in general, so any lack of interest in M&P could have just been general rather than that series in particular.

Anyway, off we started with the first scenario in the box, Dirschau, with me being Gustav, and Eric the Poles. This features the Swedes on the defense initially, but with the right wing in charge mode. The Poles only have one of their wings (their left) across the river, and are under pressure until their center arrives and crosses over. Meanwhile their right wing is advancing slowly through the dunes, hoping to make contact before the end of the game.

The first session (this was played over three evening sessions) saw my right wing (mixed infantry and cavalry) charge and be intercepted to great success by Eric's left wing (cavalry). A series of weak rolls on my part and decent rolling on Eric's part saw him up on the VPs at that point, as most of my cavalry had been killed or routed off the board. The only saving grace was that my infantry had managed to catch up and were able to hold the line, as their strong musketry would be pretty lethal on the comparatively weaker cavalry facing them.

Up to that point I had left my other two wings waiting behind the fortifications (although they were barely justified in being called that, only offering a +1 modifier to close combat), mostly from being unsure on how best to approach this, so taking a 'wait and see' attitude. In retrospect I think this was a mistake, and I should have advanced my center wing (under Gustav himself) sooner. We ended the session with Eric in the lead in terms of VPs (for killed units), his center wing (mixed infantry/cavalry) starting to cross the river and enter the fray. At this point Eric really just needed to move over to the defensive, and I would have to come get him in the hope of bringing the score back into balance.

The second session saw me advance Gustav's wing, as there seemed little point in just standing around for the loss. Our two centers met in the, umm, center, and although I think I got the better of the initial charges, I was mostly in poor formation and coming up against his infantry. Over on my right, our two wings mostly just glowered at each other, being too weak and broken to do much more, and I wanted my infantry to protect Gustav's flank.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the map, Eric's right flank kept plodding, plodding, plodding. With lots of dunes that meant limited movement he was making slow progress. My wing just stood there, waiting.

By the end of the second session, I think we were about in parity in terms of VPs, as the dice had mostly gone my way over the course of the evening. However, things weren't looking too good for me. My center was mostly cavalry in shaken formation, although my light infantry was catching up. Eric's center was all heavy infantry, and was threatening. If I let Eric's center come to contact it could get ugly pretty quickly.

And so to the third session, for the last two turns. As expected, Eric pushed in the center, and I was able to mostly retire my cavalry. However, he was able to force a few close combats, and that's where, indeed, it did get ugly, but not in the manner expected.

You've heard us talk in the past of the DSDF, the so-called Deansian Statistical Distortion Field, as named by another gaming friend. This is where you get a series of random events that are so far off the end of the bell curve it makes a total mockery of any serious attempt to play anything resembling a balanced game. Normally it happens to me, but on the odd occasion I'm able to inflict it on my opponent. And so it was here. Regular readers will be totally unsurprised to hear that in three close combats Eric rolled consecutive '0's for two attacker eliminated results and an attacker morale broken. Fully four infantry units hit the dead pile, plus a leader, and 2 more routed for mucho VPs. And that put paid to any threat in the middle, as his whole wing literally disappeared.

As a footnote, right at the very end Eric's right wing finally made contact with my left, to no great effect. Fighting over the dunes and the entrenchments was too much to ask of the weak cavalry, and they mostly fared poorly, adding insult to injury. We didn't total it all up, but it was very clearly a decisive win for Gustav.

It was a very unsatisfying end to what was, up until that point, a very close game, and was very much in the balance. Man, I really hate the DSDF.

Okay, so what about M&P in general? Let's start by saying that I think this is the most accurate simulation of the maneuvers and tactics of the period available today. The pacing and challenges in getting your units to do what you want just feels right. Your nice clean line quickly starts to degenerate as you move forward, and units lose formation crossing terrain, and then totally disintegrates as you come to contact. Designer Ben Hull should be rightly proud of his achievement.

There are only two areas that I have a quibble with. First, I think there should be some sort of morale check required when a unit adjacent suffers a 'Morale Broken' result. Whilst brigades were independent, having your flank unit break and run has got to have some effect. Second, I think cavalry interception is a little too powerful, allowing them to charge, gaining the bonus for momentum, where the other side does not. (Then again, I'm wondering if we played that wrong, as I think both sides could claim momentum?)

(Now, in reviewing the rules again, I see that we did miss one thing - Formation Shaken units have half movement.)

Of course, as there is so much to take account of, due to the low level nature of the game, there are a lot of moving parts, and status counters, to go with it. It's not uncommon to find units with two or three status markers on top, reflecting formation, morale, pistol shots, interception, salvo, and the like. (Some markers are doubled up, but then it becomes an exercise of finding the right combo in the box.) And, of course, all the rules to go with this. Whilst the rule set has stabilized, and are fairly clean, there's a lot of detail to remember, and the first session went quite slowly due to a lot of rule checking and figuring out. However, by the second (and especially the third) session we were mostly into the swing of it, and we were focusing on game play rather than rules checking.

As may be expected of the period and the level, control is limited, which means there are die rolls for everything, and consequently leaves a lot of room for random wackiness. Die rolls for changing orders, interception, firing, combat, continuation, all lends to what feels to be a very random outcome. At one point I commented that I felt I had more control when playing Combat Commander, the big difference being that CC takes but a couple of hours, where our M&P was three whole sessions. And that's where I think that M&P fails for me. If it lasted for an evening, then the amount of potential wackiness would be acceptable, but three sessions is pushing it into less acceptable territory.

In reflection on our game, I'm beginning to think that we were too keen to get involved in close combat. I was initially thinking that the close combat results were too wide, where all possible results from attacker eliminated to defender eliminated are available within the die roll range with no modifiers. Perhaps those AE and DE results should only achieved when there are modifiers available. However, on further contemplation I think that the aim is to encourage you not to go into close combat without some factors in your favor (and there certainly are lots of options, from strength, to arms, formation and morale) and that if you choose close combat with no modifiers you really are casting the dice of fate. Certainly, if Eric had chosen to concentrate on musketry rather than pressing the close combat he wouldn't have lost all those infantry units.

And this, really, is part of the issue with where we are in gaming today. There are so many good games out there that we can't/don't spend the time on any one game to fully explore the best way to play it. Our original intent was to play all the scenarios in the GA box, but after 3 sessions (and partly the way it turned out), we abandoned that idea. However, after thinking about it more while writing this, I'm interested in trying M&P again, altering my tactics to see if that works better. Man, too many games, too little time.

So, given that we weren't doing more M&P at that point (this game was completed a couple of weeks ago - yes, we're a little behind on posts), and that my Hube's Pocket looked like it might be over at the next session (but that's another story entirely, one that I'm still figuring out what/where/how/whether to post) we needed a game to fill one evening and Eric proposed the new Columbia Games release Richard III: Wars of the Roses (BGG entry). Good choice, one that I was very interested in playing. Look for it next time.

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