Sunday, January 16, 2011

Figuratively speaking...

The armies that fought at the Schellenberg had some interesting differences.

The Anglo-Dutch (and most of their german allies, supplying a sizable part of the total force) tended to deploy their infantry battalions in three ranks. The battalion's line was divided into platoons, and they alternated firing and reloading to provide a continuous rolling sort of fire.
One rather interesting effect of this was that the battalion commander, standing in front of the center of his unit, had to remember to get out of the way when it was time for the platoons deployed behind him to discharge their weapons- and to move back to his normal post before the platoons on either side started again.

The French and Bavarians used the more traditional system of deploying in a four-rank line, evolved form the ten- to six-deep rank battalions of the Thirty Years' War. The most common method appears to be each rank firing as one group while the ones in front would kneel down -but in those days of decentralised training regimes, platoon firing was also known and practiced. The Imperial Army also deployed in four ranks, and here also rank fire appears to have been the norm.

So we have two different army practices. The two important questions in connection with our game are: how do these differences affect game ratings, and will we reflect them in visually representing the units?

I'll start by taking a position a bit off-center. It seems (based on the research efforts of people more seriously engaged in study of the period) that there was little difference in the effect of "platoon fire" and "rank fire" under battlefield conditions. Excercises and experiments carried out at the time tend to suggest platoon fire is more destructive: apparently a steady stream of bullets killing or wounding a few men at the time without respite produces a higher casualty total than a few large, devastating volleys delivered at longish intervals. However on the battlefield it seems that in general, after the first couple of volleys order broke down and each soldier fired as fast as he could reload- at the time, not a very rapid process. So, the first decision (woohoo!) is that there is no difference between rank-firing and platoon-firing infantry in our game.

The second issue is frontage. A four hundred man battalion deployed in three ranks is wider than the same battalion deployed in four ranks. An army of three-rank battalions is wider than an army of four-rank battalions. It will have an advantage in combat, as it can envelop its opponent, and it will take up more space and maneuvering room. In Volley and Bayonet, each stand/element of troops is the same size, so how will this difference be reflected?
Well, thank you for that question, it's quite interesting and totally unexpected (and in rehearsal you delivered it differently!). The rules provide a nice way out of that problem, since each stand in VnB does not represent a fixed number of troops (expressed in strength points, with 1 SP per 200 men). Having the Anglo-Dutch on stands ranging from 2-3 SPs and the French, Bavarians and Imperials on stands of 4-5 SPs effectively "crams" the deeper army on fewer stands- since the players will be army rather than battalion commanders, that's a fair enough abstraction. That's the second decision.

So that's the whole "different doctrines affecting the game ratings" bit done, how about the visual aspect? After all, that's the main reason those of us in the hobby like it so much: the games and figures look interesting, and fun, and cool, and -if done right- sometimes even beautiful.
Here...we're in trouble. The standard base size in VnB is 3"x1,5", or 8cm wide by 4cm deep (rounded up to avoid going nuts over fractions). There's just no way four ranks of 1:72 scale figures can get on a 4cm deep base. None. At. All. See? Trouble.
The next best thing, seems to be to shave the rear rank off, and have the Anglo-Dutch in two ranks of figures and everyone else on three, to at least retain that "my army is thinner than yours" feel (the editor welcomes jokes on the "Your army is so thin, ...." theme). That's a crucial issue, because the three of us working on the game are really keen to make something visually appealing. So I sat down briefly with some nice Zvezda infantry and a, base, and arranged them to see what this might look like. The appearance is marred by the figures being unpainted, parts of the sprue still being on them (handles for painting, m'lud), my crap photo skills and other assorted ills. I tried to be clever and have half the figures on the two-rank base firing and the other half loading or standing, to give a visual cue of platoon firing. We'll see what the other two participants think. Apart from "Aris, your photo skills suck" that is.

Two ranks:
Three ranks: 

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