Sunday 20 May 2012

Putting the Battle in Memoir of Battle

The past few days have seen a flurry of emails between Bob Cordery and myself concerning some 'tweaks' to his superb 19th century rules inspired by Battle Cry, Memoir 44 and the work of Jo Morschauser called 'Memoir of Battle'. I have used these rules for a number of games now and so they now form the basis for all my 19th century adventures in conjunction with my Hexon terrain and the block armies. The rule mechanisms are smooth to play with and the entire set is contained in no more than two sides of A4. They are frankly a superb way to fight a battle and capture that all important period feel very nicely indeed. All of my land based games this year have been fought using these rules with only a couple of tweaks from myself - primarily to do with the fact I have been using blocks and roster sheets etc. There is one key area though that could use a little revision and so I have been haranguing Bob with various ideas around this. As usual my first efforts were very much an exercise in over engineering until Bob came up with some simpler ideas (with the same end result!) which I then proceeded to change again! The area in question is the consideration of unit size and quality.

Using the rules as they are provision is made for elite units to gain an extra strength point (making a typical infantry unit of 4 bases/blocks 5 strong) whilst poor units lose one. This represents the disparity in quality from the point of view of unit endurance rather neatly as you would expect an elite unit to stick around for longer than a militia formation with all things being equal. What this approach fails to address though is the question of unit size. For example, a unit that has been in the field for some time; fought a few actions and sustained significant losses and so is urgently in need of reinforcements may well be classed as veterans compared to a newly raised unit of untrained conscripts. In this instance then should the veteran unit (I am treating elite troops in the same vein as veterans as a reflection of their rigorous training etc in the case of the former and their combat experience for the latter) be physically larger (5 strength points) as opposed to the raw/militia units (3 strength points)? It is my belief that size and quality are two separate issues and so if one is attempting to model a specific campaign (as I am currently doing with 1815) then these factors need to be considered in a transparent fashion.

Similarly, at the present time there is no real difference in combat terms between a crack unit of guardsmen and a conscript unit of Marie-Louises. A further complication with this is that there is no facility for the reduction in unit effectiveness as losses mount up.

Size Matters

My idea around this is fairly elastic in that the numbers involved can be scaled up and down as required by the scenario or battle being represented. As it stands at the present the starting base unit size for infantry, cavalry and artillery is 4, 3 and 2 bases/blocks respectively. Supposing you decide that your average battalion strength for the army you are modelling is, say 600 men. Well, if this is represented by a 4 base/block unit then it can be seen that 1 such base/block is roughly 150 men. Armed with this it is easy to scale up or down an actual unit size by simply adding or subtracting a base/block for each 150 men in the actual formation. The same procedure can be applied to cavalry and for guns I would normally use a base of say, 4 pieces per strength point. From a game perspective I would not recommend going more than two bases/blocks larger than the norm simply to keep the units manageable. In theory a larger unit should be capable of inflicting more damage than a smaller unit, all things being equal. With this in mind I am experimenting with allowing units that are larger than normal (larger than the 4, 3 and 2 for infantry, cavalry and artillery respectively) a +1 hit bonus to any scoring combat roll whilst those that are smaller (which is a strength of 1 or 2 for infantry and 1 for everything else) will suffer a -1 to any scoring combat roll. As an example then a unit starting at strength 5 will get a +1 bonus, when it falls to 4 and 3 the damage will be as per normal and when it falls to 1 or 2 then it will go down to a -1 hit.

Quality and Quantity

From a pure combat perspective this is very easy to factor in. My thoughts at the present are to use a +1 hit bonus to any scoring combat roll for troops rated as elite/veteran and a -1 for troops rated as militia/raw. Using this approach will mean that a larger guards unit (e.g. any of the British guards formations at Waterloo averaging around 1,000 men) will gain a +1 for its size when undamaged and a +1 for being rated as elite troops. The qualitative bonus stays throughout whilst the numerical bonus will diminish over time as casualties mount up.

Combat Behaviour

The rules as they stand make no allowance for how troops react to adverse results. By this I mean that units merely follow the dice results regardless of of the calibre of the unit or even how it is actually fighting. It is my belief that elite/veteran units will behave differently under duress than militia/raw troops. In order to reflect this I am proposing that elite/veteran units are allowed to ignore the first 'flag' rolled against them from an attack. Thereafter they may either retreat a hex or take a strength point loss for each additional flag rolled. Militia/raw troops must take a strength point loss as well as the retreat for each flag rolled against them - which will have the effect of making them both brittle and in need of some careful handling and positioning. This leads me to the question of cover. Whilst non artillery units drop a dice when engaging units in woods and towns (fieldworks and fortifications are handled separately) I am not convinced that this goes far enough. I think that troops in such a feature would be more difficult to order about with the same degree of effectiveness as in the open and so I am proposing that all troops deployed in such terrain ignore the first flag rolled against them and that any subsequent flags from the same attack can be taken as either a retreat or as a strength loss. Finally, I am also proposing that troops deployed in open order (infantry or cavalry) can ignore the first flag result and can treat any subsequent flags as either retreats or strength point losses. All of this could make for some confusing combinations and so I need to establish some orders of precedence to make order out of chaos! Essentially all troops making use of terrain  observe the combat effects of the terrain instead of any other effects that may be applicable. This will have the effect of making troops in terrain largely equal in terms of how combat affects them - more or less.


Apologies for the rather long winded explanation of what is in effect a series of simple ideas! To summarise my thinking I am proposing the following:
  • Elite/veteran troops ignore the first flag scored against them and can treat other flags as either a retreat  result or a strength point loss.
  • Elite/veteran troops add a +1 bonus to any hits scored by them in combat.
  • Militia/raw troops take a hit as well as a retreat result for any applicable flag result.
  • Militia/raw troops take a -1 from any hits scored by them in combat
  • Troops deployed in open order (infantry and cavalry) effectively treat combat results the same way as elite/veteran troops in that they ignore the first flag scored against them and can treat other flags as either a retreat  result or a strength point loss.   
  • All troops in cover (woods or BUA) ignore the first flag and can treat other flags as either a retreat or a strength loss. 
  • Units that are larger than the norm for their type (the norm being 3 or 4 for infantry, 3 for cavalry and 2 bases/blocks for artillery) gain a +1 hit bonus to any hits scored by them for as long as they are larger in size.
  • Units that are smaller than the norm for their type (the norm being 3 or 4 for infantry, 3 for cavalry and 2 bases/blocks for artillery) take a -1 from any hits scored by them for as long as they are smaller in size. This means that units sized at 1 or 2 bases/blocks for infantry and a single block for cavalry and artillery will take a -1 from any hits scored.
Some of the points contained above are at variance with what I had been discussing with Bob over the course of last week and so represent further thinking on my part. For a much fuller explanation of the rules and how they work I strongly recommend checking out Bob's blog -


for many useful insights to how these rules came about and evolved over time.

For my own part adopting this approach will enable me to model actual historical units far more closely than previously as well giving some variation as to how units function on the battlefield. They may not be all things to all men but are certainly something to consider and they will be tested soon.


Kaptain Kobold said...

My first thought is that you've boosted elite troops and cover too much, and downgraded militia too far. There's not a lot of granularity in the MoB system, and a couple of adjustments could, I reckon, have quite an effect.

Still, I'd be interested in seeing how it plays out.

David Crook said...

Hi Kaptain,

In the words of Doris Day - 'Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps!' I don't know how these will work out - either they will or they won't or even that they will but only up to a point.

I think you may be right about the militia though as it does appear to be a little on the fierce side but testing this may decide otherwise.

The cover aspect is very much how I see the effect - it is harder to hit troops in cover (hence the -1 dice) but the effects will be variable as command will be disrupted and it would be difficult to gauge the effect of losses. So giving the player the choice of how a flag is interpreted feels right because usually it is not easy to get troops out of cover once they are in it - in my opinion that is!

I will post the results of the test I plan running in due course just to see how it looks.

How did you see the strength/quality assessment idea?

All the best,


Sean said...

Interesting, I see what Kaptain K is saying. I too await the results of play testing.

David Crook said...

Hi Sean,

I hope to tackle this sooner rather than later and rest assured - the results will appear on the blog in due course.

All the best,