Friday, December 26, 2014

Battle of Santo Miguel with Die Fighting 2: AAR and Review

See my earlier post for the set up of this battle, set circa 1810 in the Peninsula.

Barry lost no time pushing the British command forwards. He chose to use 2 red resource dice per move, burning up dice at a good rate, but he had better commanders overall, and turned 2 Infantry Action Cards during the first turn. The Napoleonic Template allows a "Mass Column" formation - essentially 3 or more contiguous units in Attack column. The advantage of this formation is that although each unit still rolls individually, only the Best roll is used, and the entire formation moves (up to) that distance. The formation also gets to roll a green Free die, making the maximum possible move distance 18". 

Somewhat cramped for space, the Brunswick command stationed behind chose to advance only with their Jagers in Skirmish Order. Skirmishers in DF2 also get a free Green die when moving, and re-roll their lowest die; if they are also Light Infantry or Elites (as is usually the case) they get a second, green Free Die for movement. 

View of the British advance from the rear. Musketry range is generous in DF2, with short range at 4", long at 8" and extreme at 12". Both the deployment and the objective markers placed on the chapel of Santo Miguel and the far road exit (French line of communications) made this line of attack (and defending against it) pretty much a necessity.

On the Allied left, the Headstrong Portuguese commander also advanced. Being Headstrong, his units  HAD to always roll two red resource dice for movement, plus an additional Green Free die for having a Headstrong commander, AND they had to move the FULL distance rolled! With so many dice in play, they easily closed to short range of the defending Germans. The crack, elite Baden Jagers in skirmish order thorough;y annoyed the Portuguese, whose own skirmishers (cazadores) were Poor.  Skirmishers get an extra green free die when firing, and also an extra green free die when fired at, AND cause Disorder more readily than the volleys from formed unit. We made a mistake at first as well, bu having these uber-menschs reload on both the Special Actions card AND the critical "Four-R" card (Rally, Remove, Restore, Retreat). This seemed wrong, and we ultimately discovered our error, but not before the Terrors for Baden had thrown back 2 Portuguese units in Disorder. The close range cannister fire of their (poor) supporting battery accounted for another Portuguese infantry unit thrown back. the final unit, though, was able to charge home on the guns, inflicting a marginal defeat on the artillery men (the total of their red, free green, and yellow Command dice was 6 or less higher than the opposition.  In this situation, the defender has the option to pay the difference in  score from his red dice  AGAIN (he already paid it once for the combat loss itself) and stand in good order, or withdraw a D6 roll in inches (also in good order). Artillery that are over run in melee award a 3 x D6 roll worth of Red resource dice to the enemy command doing so. Ouch! I opted to pay the red dice and stand in good order. In retrospect, having plenty of supporting units nearby, taking the withdrawal (also in good order) would probably have been the wiser call. However, in this case, my German commander was also Headstrong, and such characters MUST buy down marginal losses in melee and stand - so I really didn't have that choice in this case after all!

I ended turn 1 without having turned the critical "4-R card". There are 8 cards in the standard DF2 deck -  two each Infantry Action and Cavalry Action, 1 Artillery Action, One Special Actions, 1 Officer Actions, and 1 "Four R" card. The "Four-R" card is critical because it is the time when you get to replenish each command (and the C-in-C's" pool of red Resource dice. When this card appears, any unused yellow command dice are lost, but the officer's allotment of Yellow dice is returned to full (note that wounded officers lose a yellow die for each wound they suffer). Those restored yellow dice are rolled and each command adds the score worth of red Resource dice to its pool.  All "smoke" markers are removed from units that have fired (exception : skirmishers and cavalry), enabling to fire again. Disordered and or Routed units may rally, and those that do not do so retreat.  DF2 has a special rule for this allowing you to forgo the last card of the turn IF you have not turned the 4-R card earlier in the turn. In this case things are the same as if you had turned the Four R card, except that each officer rolls their full complement of yellow Leadership dice (3 to 5), but only rolls of 3 or more are restored - effectively a 33% reduction in Leadership dice for the next turn. It is these reduced dice that are then rolled and the score in red Resource dice added to the command';s pool. However, NO units may be rallied on the Modified procedure - all units with Black dice retreat the roll of those dice (never more than 2, any unit that would acquire three black dice is eliminated instead), plus 6'". Disordered units stay Disordered. Thus my having to use this alternate procedure at the end of turn 1 placed me at a disadvantage at several levels at the end of Turn 1. 

On Turn 2, Barry used an Infantry Action card to attack the French Division defending the plateau, along with the pesky Badener Jagers, and to resolve the continued melee with my Wurttemburg battery. My defensive fire succeeded in repelling one of the British units and pinning his Light Infantry in place, but the other 2 British units closed! 

Die Fighting 2 handles terrain modifiers in a rather elegant way. Terrain ranges from Class 0 (normal open terrain) to Class 6 (impassable). Class 1 represents minor impedances that may not show on the battlefield such as muddy fields, ditches, and the like. Class 2 represents light woods and gentle slopes, Class 3 is dense woods, stone buildings, steep hills, and so on. For movement in difficult terrain, the unit stops on contact. When nit next attempts to move in the difficult terrain any dice rolling the Class of the terrain or less are eliminated -0 thus if you move at a unit in a Class 3 Forrest, any dice rolling a 1, 2, or 3 are ignored! The same thing applies if you are shooting at or engaged in melee with a unity in difficult terrain - all of your rolls that score the class of the terrain or less are dropped. Simple, elegant, and very effective!

Barry's attack proved to be all too effective - The Jagers and artillery were both soundly defeated  (fighting skirmishers in melee gives the formed unit an extra green die in melee), the artillery catastrophically (oops - this should have awarded Barry's Portuguese command a much needed 3D6 roll worth of Red dice!). Barry had more yellow dice to allocate to his troops, due to both having better commanders and my having had to use the modified 4R card rule the previous turn. The unit attacking the plateau opted not to engage in melee after all once the modifiers were tallied!

A view of the Anglo Allied rear area. They have quite a few units that have been repulsed in the initial advance, but there are plenty more at hand. This is a good time to make an observation about long range artillery fire. This is seldom effective, and thus seems a waste of the red resource dice needed to fire ... except that the target MUST roll at least 1 red resource dice itself, and often two if you roll two - thus the effect is much like softening up the target command over time by depleting their stock of Red dice. Of course, you need to decide judiciously where it is worth it to expend your own dice in this fashion, but it certainly can put added pressure on a command that is already in precarious shape. Much the same is true of trading volleys between two units in similar formations. Of course, if the target belongs to a command has NO red dice remaining, they become very vulnerable to the demoralizing effect of being under fire!

Sir Barry is a bit of a beau sabre, and in his first turn, it was his two Cavalry action cards that were discarded, so his cavalry pretty much twiddled their collective thumbs that turn. This turn he had two Cavalry Action cards in quick succession. This lead to a daring attempt by the Portuguese Dragoons to charge the advancing Westphalian infantry (Militia rated). Despite generously allocating yellow dice to the charge, they fell short in Disorder, and many saddles were emptied by the Westphalian muskets firing at close range!  Note the black die - a unit suffering a loss of 7 - 12 dice in melee or fire combat gets a black die, the roll which is subtracted from all of its future dice scores. 

The French use an Infantry Action card to infiltrate their skirmishers onto to the flank of the British attack, shielded by the impassable Muro river. Chivalrously, I declined to fire at his now exposed flank at this time. Clearly must have been thinking I was fighting in the previous century, LOL!

Overview of the German sector of my line. The defeated Jagers and Artillery are notable, but Barry's Portuguese infantrty is isolated. I could have ganged up on it pretty badly, except.... that I was out of Red dice for this Command. With no Red dice for the command, I am in serious trouble. First I am at risk of losing the battle as of the end of the turn. Second, if I am required to lose any more, my entire German command will be thrown into Disorder. Finally, I cannot move forward or shoot with any unit in the command, even with my loaded units. Ouch!

A view of the French defensive line around Sarto Miguel. I had had the opportunity to transfer some of the 25 red dice in the C-in-C's dice pool earlier this turn when I turned the 4R card this turn, but forgot that was the card used for Red dice for transfers as opposed to the  Command Card (which pretty much just allows the Command stands to move). Barry and I (especially me) forgot to use the C-in-C's yellow dice for much o f anything. That could have bolstered my German units in their melees, although his low rating with only 3 dice not only limited the number of dice he had, but also the odds of  making a successful transfer. Also doing so puts the C-in-C at risk. To transfer Red dice or add yellow dice to a unit's roll, you roll dice equal to the commanders rating - the total must be less than or equal to the distance from the Command stand to the unit (or subordinate), or the transfer fails and the dice are lost. 

We reached the end of the turn, and this time it was Barry who has failed to turn the "Four R" card and thus had to use the alternate procedure as cited above. At the end of Turn 2, the Red dice totals stood as follows:

C-in-C: 42
British Division: 17 (only 5 before the modified Four R card rule was applied)
Portuguese Division: 11 (only 1 before the modified 4 R rule was applied, BUT they should have gotten a bonus 3D6 worth of red dice for causing a catastrophic defeat)
Brunswick Division: 53

C-in-C: 25
French Division: 37
Rhinebund Division: 0
Westphalian Division: 54

In Fie Fighting 2, the game ends and Victory is determined in one of three ways:

1) Ignominious rout: If two or more sub-command buckets of an army are empty at any time on the same turn, the game ends immediately with their defeated army rolling a die for each unit
in the depleted commands -– 1 or 2 and the unit is considered lost to pursuit.

2) Decisive defeat: If any sub-command bucket remains empty when the turn has ended (the modified 4R may not be used to escape this circumstance), the game ends immediately and the defeated army rolls for each unit in the disorganized command. Any 1 rolled indicates the unit is considered lost to pursuit.

• Note: If BOTH armies are simultaneously suffering the above
situations the game continues without any restrictions until only
one army is so affected, or one concedes.

3) Narrow defeat: If an Army that has placed a Concede card in the deck (done at the re-shuffle at the end of each turn) and turns over that card on a phase, and all commands have red resource dice, then this is a concession with an orderly retreat. The battle ends. No losses after its appearance.

Scenario conditions of victory may of course supersede these. 

As my German Division ended the turn at zero Red dice, the French thus suffered a Decisive Defeat. Of course, this could have been averted had I transferred any dice to this Division before the start of the game, or on my Four-R card in turn 2, or if I had fired into the flank of the British with an effect of 5 or more (thus reducing them to zero Red dice as well). 

It can easily be seen  how smoothly this process would translate into a larger campaign!

The scenario (which is in fact the San Michelle 1809 - Eugene vs Erzherzog Johann, scenario from my own Blunders on the Danube scenario book, adapted and modified for DF2, and with the French in the position of the Austrians, and the British in the role that the French took) was perhaps somewhat dense in units for DF2. It also left 1 command on each side largely out of the action. For a first game, and with only one player on each side, that was perhaps not such a bad thing!

Rules Review/Commentary:

    Rating the units and commanders and generating the starting Resource Dice was relatively quick and easy. I would suggest writing the rating rolls and the Poor/Crack distinctions on the roster sheet provided (as a PDF). Assigning ratings to the units is best done with a broad brush - hence the the "Militia" status assigned to the Brunswickers and Westphalians, and the Guard status given to the Fusiliers. 

    The changes from the original Die Fighting have improved and simplified the game considerably, while increasing the tension level. The game was fun to play, and played quite quickly, even with being new to the rules and each of us handling three commands. Had we grasped the importance of distributing the C-in-C's die pool in a timely fashion, the game would certainly have gone at least three turns, and almost certainly no more than five turns. The interplay of the rules is quite subtle at times, but no less effective for that. The rules as they stand now are quite elegant. The Napoleonic template seemed to have appropriate modifiers to encourage period tactics and troop usage. There was one omission on the template related to Square formation in melee, which has already been corrected by e-mailing a new, corrected template to purchasers. 

    As one might expect from a Bob Jones design, there are a lot more choices for the player to make than in most wargames rules, and those choices will usually be the main determinants of defeat or victory. Doing nothing is often both a viable and wise move - a command that does little for a few turns and then uses its stock of accumulated red dice to move to the attack could be difficult to stop if the target command has already been "softened up". Similarly, a command with poor leaders and sub par troops had best stand on the defensive if at all possible! 

    It is  not necessary to purchase 100's of red dice to use with the rules. Poker chips, playing cards, floral glass "stones" or similar can be used to track the red "resource dice" instead (we used hash marks on the roster sheet for this game). On the other hand, there is something to be said for the tactile and auditory effect of discarding actual dice, and it makes it less likely that you'll forget to expend them as you roll them!

    The video presentation conveys the rules effectively, and is very professionally done. It runs about an hour.  If anything, I could have done with rather more video examples of play on the CD! The low cost of the rules and of shipping, especially overseas is another plus of the CD format. I kept my laptop alongside the table and did refer to the PDF "slideshow" quite a bit for this first game. The organization of the slideshow made it fairly easy to find the right slide (page), although an index would have been useful (I have to download Quicktime to my touchscreen  Laptop, which might improve the ease of finding a given slide (page) of the rules on the laptop - using the scroll wheel works great on my Desktop!)The need for that should decrease exponentially with further play. I definitely plan to develop my own QRS for some of the common rules issues that arise, and it will occupy the reverse side of the period Template in use. 

    Bob has plans to produce a premium set of phase deck cards, which will be welcome, as the ones printed out from the pdf provided are functional but nothing more. He also has a really interesting plan to produce "decks" of historical commanders for some of the eras covered by the templates, so that one would draw a card from the deck and that would be your officer for the game. Some days you draw a Davout or a Lannes, and others you draw... an Oudinot!  Even then, such personalities might have unique features associated with them - Oudinot, I'd allow to re-roll any result indicating his death to convert it to "just a(nother) flesh wound", and Ney might be worth only three Yellow dice, but they might count double when influencing hand to hand combat or rallying troops! The possibilities are almost endless. 

    While the rules can easily be used for historical scenarios, I think they are stronger for hypothetical engagements, "Imagi-nations"and "pick up" type games.  The creative use of the Objective markers is probably one of the best ways to handle historical scenarios, and they play a significant role in shaping fictitious actions as well. The development of the planned Campaign rules, "Die Marching", is eagerly awaited in that regard. The defined victory conditions and relatively short playing time would seem to make the rules very convention friendly!

Bottom Line:  I like the rules... enough that I have decided to run a game with them at HAVOC this spring and Historicon this summer!



  1. Looks like a fun game. Nice to see so much 'red' on your table. ;-)

    1. I think you would enjoy them, Joe.
      You're right, usually when there is Red on my table, it means the Danes have come out to play! :-)

  2. Nice review of another great set of rules by Bob.

    1. Thanks, Garry. I look forward to your exploration of the rules.

      BTW,. for some reason no matter what I do, your blog doesn't update on my blogroll, either as viewed here or in my feed. I've tried adding it manually, following and un-following - nothing works. This happens once in a while with my blog in other people's feeds, but is usually corrects within a day or two - this has persisted for over a year.

  3. This rule set does look interesting. A couple of things I would have done different is make the rules and video a downloadable pdf. I do not even have a CD player on my computer, a little bit of antiquated thinking I believe. People are much more likely to buy if they get it immediately.( ie I would have already purchased them to have a look) I am happy to hear that some chrome may be added, the special cards make it much more attractive.

    I still have not found my Napoleonic Holy Grail, this does sound like an interesting ruleset. I am also waiting for the TFL new Napoleonic set based on the CoC command mechaism.

    I will stay tuned.


    1. I think Bob would have to address some of those points. Perhaps at some point he might make a downloadable pdf avaialable. Not having a computer with a CD drive is a bit neolithic for 2014, John! :-) It will play on any DVD movie player as well. The pdf is also viewable on I pads and other e-readers.

      I would still say that Field of Battle remains my choice for Historical actions, but I am liking the potential of DF so far for more informal and imaginary campaign actions.

      Bob and I have been talking about his "Commanders Deck" concept, fleshing it out further and exploring some more examples. I think that is going to be really fun!

    2. I am not too sure about neolithic Peter. I think you are pretty unfamiliar with Mac's. No Mac's have had CD/DVD drives for a few years now. They never put them in Mac Air's and stopped putting them in basic Mac Desktops and Macbooks a couple of years ago. So without buying an accessory DVD player I can not even put the pdf's on my iPad. Can not load up a PDF from a TV DVD player, so that is of no value to me.

      I can not think of any main line ruleset that is sold on CD's, they are all downloadable from the internet or still sold in books. The clever rulesets are of course put in tablet format, so they are searchable as well as having embedded links.

      I think this could be a very interesting ruleset, but I am not the one being neolithic here, we have 1 desktop, 5 portables and 2 tablets in our house, only one of them is older then 2 years, and in not one could I utilize the electronic Die Fighting package!

    3. Hi John,

      Sorry if I came off in any way offensive, I was aiming more for tongue in cheek. Considering that Bob is a big fan and user of Apple products, this surprises me, but I personally am not a fan of Apple computers - although my wife and daughter both have Apple laptops which I use when I have to. My three computers are all Windows based, as are all of the ones in my office, and every last one has a CD/DVD drive.

      As you know, Bob likes to be innovative in many ways, including format, so I can guarantee he personally isn't concerned at all that he is doing things in a way that is different from everyone else! Quite the opposite. Having said that, I think the video format is a nice touch, but hardly essential. The pdf slideshow plus the pdf "Period Templates" are what really comprise the rules.

    4. It's one of the differences with Mac's and PC's. Almost all PC's, excluding tablets, still have DVD drives. Apple's business model pushes users to purchase software from their App store, or other online vendors. I suspect that most PC software is downloaded as well; the DVD drive is no more than a legacy device.
      I support both Macs and PC's; they are all just computers to me...

      These rules look very interesting. Would my V&B basing exclude me from trying these rules?

    5. The only issue I can see is that you would need at least 2 bases per "unit" to show formations - Line, Column, Square, Skirmish, March Column. Otherwise they should be fine., Mike.

  4. Regarding my choice of using DVDs. This was actually quite deliberate. It is true that a number of content providers, including Apple, are trying to eliiminate the DVD in lieu of streaming or downloadable content. They are doing this for reasons of content control as well as lowering their costs for distribution.

    It has met with some interesting resistance from a LOT of small production houses specifically those catering to DIY, hobby craft, fitness, etc. where the DVD distribution system for them is low-cost efficient and established. It is also true that many business departments at companies still find some security in disc based records.

    Also not consulted is the consumer for whom the DVD is an accepted, easy to use, and physically tangible way to view content. Playing a disc is a known procedure. From all studies I have seen, the household without a computer with a DVD optical drive is very much a minority.

    There are also issues of controlling content in relative small marketplaces where the DVD is still pretty viable.

    In short, its the big guys vs the little guys, and it is interesting that movies, Netflix, and a great deal of "hobby related" content is still distributed via DVD. Apple BTW still sells DVD players as a $75 add on to any computer, just as they sell additional external hard drives.

    I felt the ability to send a tangible, packaged, product to an individual customer, in a durable form that was familiar to even the most non-tech user was an advantage in the wargaming community. This was exacerbated by the video demands of both the "How To" movie and the QT slide show, and the size of those files, even when compressed. So far the general reaction has been positive. The delivery format also makes DFII stand apart from the literal sea of PDF products, that are generally just print and not much more than a book. It's being playable on your DVD player addresses the utility of the format. Most people still use, and are quite familiar with that technology, again, even the most technically backward. In a pinch a user could view the video and then get the printable files printed by a local digital printer, or a friend for very little cost.

    The topper is, that as the war over DVDs is waged, I will always have the option to convert the format to a streamed or downloadable product if the DVD does become endangered. So far, to quote Mark Twain, the news of its death is vastly exaggerated! At the very least it is comfortably located on a bridge between the established and known technology and wherever it may go in the future.

    Well, that's my theory, and every producer must make choices on his creations. Pragmatically, the sales of DFII are outstripping any of my past efforts by a good margin, which indicates, to me, that my choices have not, in any way, seriously limited sales.

    Bob Jones

    1. Thanks, Bob. The Slideshow and Period template files from the CD are also easily downloaded to a Flash drive using a freind's CD-ROM equipped compouter, and from there to your own CD-ROM less computer(s). A nuisance for sure but really not *that* hard. My copy of DF2 resides on all three of my computers (A new Win 8.1 touchscreen laptop, my Win 8.1 primary desktop, and my old Win XP desktop, which I keep because my otherwise perfectly good 14 year old printer-scanner-copier absolutely will NOT interface with Win 8.1, and there are also a number of old computer games that just run better on XP as well, not to mention the many files still on the machine. It isn't connected to the internet, so security isn't much of a concern re: MS non support of XP.

  5. Nice review. Thanks for posting this, I enjoyed reading.