Monday, 1 February 2010

Meandering with Morschauser

I was finally able to play test Bob Cordery’s 19th century adaptation of Joe Morschauser’s grid based figure game from the early 1960’s. The full story as to how these rules have evolved from the original can be found on Bob’s blog and it is well worth a read for this and many other items of interest. In a nutshell, Morschausers’s system made use of small units of figures on a square grid with all ranges and distances etc measured in squares. Pictures of his system in action can be found in Donald Featherstone’s book – Advanced Wargames and very nice it looks as well. Bob has been tweaking these rules for some time and the resultant version is available from his blog.

For reasons of my own (more of which later) I was very keen to explore this system and have been following Bob’s progress with great interest. After having constructed a grid using a piece of green felt marked out in 3” squares and measuring 11 squares by 11 I was able to think about a game. Initially I wanted to test the modern version of the rules (covering WW2) using Memoir 44 terrain tiles and figures etc until my long term friend and gaming acquaintance Chris Hardman kindly offered to bring his 28mm WW1 early war French and German collection to try out the 19th century version of the rules. With SWMBO making a very rare excursion out with her friends on Saturday night it proved to be far too good an opportunity to miss and so the plans were made for an evening of old school gaming.

I already had in mind how the game should go when Chris arrived – it was a play test after all – and so we were able to very quickly set up the playing area using a fairly sterile set up and the terrain tiles from Memoir 44. The terrain was set out with each side having a small hill and a wood fairly close to their deployment area diagonally opposite each other i.e. each wood faced a hill on the opposite side. Plum in the centre of the cloth was a small village. Each side consisted of the same number of units – 6 x 4 figures infantry, 2 x 3 figure cavalry, 1 x 3 figure HMG and 1 x 3 figure Field Gun. The Germans set up with all their infantry deployed in the centre facing the village with the cavalry on either flank and the artillery on the right and the HMG on the left of the central mass of foot soldiers. The French set up was broadly similar except for one critical difference – the artillery was deployed in the centre with the infantry on either flank of it. This meant that the Germans had a numerical advantage in the centre.

I do not propose to give a blow by blow account of the action – simply because aside from recording the casualties I did not make anything like detailed notes – rather I will describe the action in general terms and the points arising from it.

The Germans initially threw all their infantry at the village in the centre and parked their HMG in a wood on the left and their artillery up the hill on the right both with the cavalry tucked behind in support. There was a furious exchange of fire in the centre which saw the French infantry driven off as the Germans stormed into the village. Unfortunately, in an excess of zeal (no doubt as a result of their success thus far) a couple of units pushed on beyond the village and were met with a withering cross fire from either flank and the famed French ‘Soixante-Quinze’ deployed in the centre. The leading two German units were still around, but only just, being down to a single figure apiece. Meanwhile, the remaining French infantry began to work their way cautiously around either flank of the village, trading long range pot shots as they did. The French left flank cavalry appeared in the distance and the impetuous Uhlans tasked with protecting the German artillery suddenly forgot their duty and charged the enemy horse to their front. The resultant melee was short but desperate with all the German troopers cut down to a man, doubtless arriving at the enemy position on blown horses and in some disorder. The French horse on the opposite flank then took advantage of some dead ground and lurked menacingly near the German HMG position. With the German artillery now exposed on the hill the French were able to send both infantry and cavalry to force a conclusion with the stubborn gunners. A rump of an infantry unit was sent to bolster the flank from the village but its arrival in the face of massed French rifle fire and marauding horsemen merely delayed the inevitable. The sole survivor was cut down and the artillery attempted to withdraw from the hill but the order was given far too late and so they too met the fate of the cavalry and infantry supporting them. Fortunately for the Germans, the leading French infantry unit was not entirely unscathed in its struggle with the German artillery and it too succumbed to a spirited fire from the village in the centre. The French right flank cavalry meanwhile tried to sneak up on the HMG team deployed in the wood but was tackled with rifle fire again from the village. The German HMG then proceeded to shoot up its French opposite number as it came down from the hill opposite its position. The remnants of the German infantry that had impetuously charged ahead of the village then tackled the French artillery and succeeded in driving off all the gunners before being rendered hors de combat by the French right flank infantry.

After this frenzy of activity (and after the dust had settled) the Germans were clinging on to the village by their fingernails and the French infantry were moving up to force the position. The last of the French cavalry, despite being in disarray after having despatched the German artillery, was charged by the German Uhlan squadron previously supporting the HMG. Despite being outnumbered the French gave a good account of themselves and when the brief fight was over all that was left was a single German trooper.

At this point we decided to call it a day as the remaining Germans would attempt to withdraw whilst covered by the HMG, the French being too knocked about to do anything other than to occupy the village and to recover from their exertions. It was tremendous fun and the rules only threw up a small number of anomalies – all of which Bob has commented on – and so I will use the old wargaming standby of adding some house rules to the core system. Using 28mm figures on a 3” square was a little on the snug side but would be ideal for 15 or 20mm. I would prefer to have a rectangular playing area as well – perhaps 17 by 11 squares. Certainly the core system is sound enough to cope with some judicious tinkering which is always the hallmark of a good set of rules in my opinion.

Once again I should like to thank Chris for braving the elements and bringing his superb collection of figures (soon to be joined by the Belgians) along as well as his usual insightful observations and comments. I should also like to thank thank Bob Cordery (once again!) for all his work in breathing life into this system.

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