Sunday, 10 January 2016

"It's getting a bit Chile" - opening thoughts

I have committed to running a game at CoW this year with the Pacific War figures. The working title is "It's getting a bit Chile", which sort of hints at the territorial expansion that came about because of the War and also how cold it gets up on the Altiplano.

So, having committed to the session I need to get some rules worked out. I have been thinking about this for a while, - there's been one semi-abortive adaptation of Neil Thomas' 19th Century rules transposed on to squares - but despite having a few ideas nothing has coalesced yet. With some rule sets I wake up in the morning with the system mostly worked out and it's just a case of writing it down. So far this has not happened for the 10 Cents War, so I'm going to have to do it the hard way.

This morning I went out to Shedquarters and started to put some bits and pieces out to see how it looked, and if the various ideas I had would mesh together.

First up squares v tape measures. I think I'm going squares, - it'll help with formations and keep the movement quick and easy. My light brown cloth has one side with 6" squares marked on it, so that'll do for starters. They're normal squares for the moment. I've pondered using offset squares, which give a hex-type effect without the ugliness of the actual hexes, but I'll need another cloth for that, so orthogonal squares it is for now.

Hills & mountains are important, so how do I get those on the squared board? Previously I've cut up lots of blocks of wood (see the Sumerian games) but I'm running out of cheap wood and it doesn't give the look I'm after. I'd really like to use my existing hills and I think I can through the use of sticky black dots to mark the corners of the squares the hills are obscuring, thus:

As long as no one moves the hills during the game, I think that works. The dots are easily peeled off afterwards and aren't expensive. I need to think about exactly how I position the hills so front and rear facing slopes are clear, as are crests and any plateau areas on the top. Who is up and who is down is important in the battles in this war.

Troops formations are the next items to consider. Both sides had learnt from the Franco-Prussian War (modelling their uniforms on the European styles) and adopted more lessons from there than the American Civil War. They also seem to be carrying a torch for the Napoleonic period too, which is tough when everyone is armed with modern breech loading rifles. Where this gets us, for infantry, is four or five basic formations. These are the march column, the firing line with one or two companies in skirmish order out front, the attack column with a screen of skirmishers, and what was known as the "guerilla inglesa", or all troops in open order, based on British Army regulations. Some troops also formed square. On the table these look like the following pictures. Note that using squares means that the layout is driven by aesthetics, and the exact position of the figures isn't crucial.

So this is a firing line. Three companies in a line, with one out front. You can just see three of the corner dots, marking the edge of the squares. Questions - Is that the full capacity for the square? And what ground scale is that? The unit represents about 600 men.

This one is the March Column, which is easier to do as it has no skirmishers. Again, need to consider how many units in a square - which could be different to line units - and in the case of these, the effects of roads on movement.

Next we have the Attack Column. Two companies up, and two in column. This probably over represents the numbers of troops in the skirmish screen, but it looked a bit silly with just one company out.

Finally in the photo section (I forgot to shoot a square) we have skirmish order, or guerilla inglesa. I'm not sure whether this is a one square or two square formation. This is the two square option.

The armies were in a process of transition at this time, and there's a degree of change in what certain terms mean. In the standard Chilean approach before guerilla inglesa the gaps in the skirmish line were four paces. That's not a lot.

There's a really good article in this month's Nugget, No.286, by John Salt on the difference spacing makes to fire effectiveness. Perhaps I need two types of skirmish order.

Once I have formations worked out, I need to think about command and control. That segues neatly, as some commanders didn't like certain formations even though the troops could perform them. Thus only certain brigades might attack in open order, and even then this might be countermanded by the army commander.

Talking of which, I have finished some generals. There are none in the Outpost Pacific War range, so I'm using the French ones from their Franco Prussian war range. This one is supposed to be the Bolivian President Diaz.

With all these ideas in mind I put some toys out on the table.

I haven't given the same amount of thought to artillery and cavalry. It is less important with cavalry, I think, and I haven't decided what one gun represents yet. Probably a battery. I also have to think about stacking limits for squares too.

For example I think it is fairly obvious that Gatling Guns are deployed within an infantry square:

So, if a battery can be deployed in a square, what about more infantry? Or cavalry.

Hmm. Thoughts for another day. Or perhaps a long train journey to Manchester. Oh goody. Got one of those next week.


  1. Hi Trebian. Just a couple of thoughts based on what you've written. If the different commanders had their own ideas about what formations should be adopted, have you thought about taking this out of the players hands? You could have a commander that favours skirmish tactics but as a result can't really press home, and another that favours column and wants to close regardless of causalties. You could then give the players a brief description of the generals of the generals - progressive, inflexible etc and they could decide on deployment to deal with how they will take the hills. The defending side could be umpire driven.
    As for what can deploy in a square, what would the frontage of a unit in guerilla inglesa be? Make that a single square and try to work out battery frontages vs the various frontages of the infantry and cavalry formations. Or just make it one unit per square, which is much easier in designing mechanics and instructing players on what they can do in the game.
    It looks like a great project. Have you bought the Osprey MAA yet?

    1. I did think about giving players cards for each general that said what formations they could use. Units out of command might be more flexible tactically, but couldn't co-ordinate with other units. What you suggest fits in with this idea. Useful.

      At the moment this needs to be an opposed game, not one with an umpire running one side

      For deployment I need to go back to British drill manuals as you suggest and work backwards for frontages...hang on. That info might be in Science v Pluck. Or my Field Service Pocket book. Good thought.

      Haven't got the Osprey. Didn't realise it was out yet.

    2. It's available at Book Depository (free postage worldwide makes that my go-to for new books). It will take a while to get to this side of the world, but I figured you may have picked one up already.

    3. Publication date is officially 20th Jan, according to Amazon

  2. I'm a little confused about their thinking behind the guerrillas inglesa formation, as I'm not aware of that ever being British formation in any period (but happy to be enlightened). The 1877 "evolutions of Infantry" was pretty clear about having a "fighting line" (¼ bn), supports (¼ bn, which reinforces the fighting line when its advance slows) and main body (½ bn which develops the attack, preferably by the flanks or covers a retreat) - pretty much like the attack column formation really. The whole battalion formation would have a frontage of about 400 paces in attack. I assume that relates to a full battalion strength of 800 rifles (which also informs your ground scale a bit).


    1. What I'm looking for, I think, is the information on troops in open order. Of course,at this time most of what we have in practice for the British is colonial warfare, so not a direct comparison.

    2. For what it is worth, the 1877 Evolutions states that "Extended order is applicable to formation for attack and for skirmishing". The difference is how the two formations are used. It also mentions the 4-pace gap between files, which were two-deep; the rear-rank men coming up on the left of their front-rank men to fire when advancing.

      In attack the idea is to bring the entire battalion up to the fighting line with as little loss as possible before launching the attack.

      Skirmishing was "... ordered to cover the front or flanks of a larger body ... not formed for attack, or to feel for the enemy when advancing through an enclosed or wooded country" (outlined per my first comment). It was specifically intended to not form part of the fighting line, although it could be useful for making diversionary attacks.

      The biggest specific difference I can find between Skirmishing and a battalion "extended" for an attack was the depth of the formation, with a skirmish formation being much deeper. The gap between the fighting line/skirmishers and supports lengthens from 150 yards to 300 yards, and supports to main body from 300 yards to 500 yards. However it is still clearly a three-body formation.

      The exact composition of each of the lines "will be determined by the nature of the ground and the extent to be covered" which is beautifully vague, but I would be surprised if more than half of a battalion could be in the skirmish line due to the difficulty of supporting either end of it by supports or main body.

      I imagine that colonial practise did indeed vary. I seem to recall that Caldwell mentions that strict adherence to manuals regarding size of reserves and distance between lines may not be needed against foes who cannot develop firepower in the way of a European foe, with the implication that the manuals were indeed written with European warfare in mind.

      But how it might have been interpreted elsewhere and used in practise is a different ballgame altogether.

    3. Wow! Thanks for all the thought you've put into that. Much food for thought for me to ponder over next weekend.

      The comment on the depth of the unit in skirmish order is very helpful. That is probably the answer, - to have the unit deployed in scattered fashion across one square. The use of battalion / regimental supports is an important feature of late 19th century European formations, so that fits together quite neatly.

      I was intrigued with the idea that the Chileans adopted British Army practice as they were mainly an army for fighting colonial enemies. By the late 1870s I*'d say the last time they fought an army trained and armed in the same fashion would have been the Indian Mutiny.

      Based on what you've written above I think I end up with a square width of about 300 yards.

      My only thought now is that a battalion in march column takes up about 600 yards, and so would need to spread over two squares to the rear. Of course, if I make a square 500 yards, then I can justify two units in it, both able to fight to the front. Hmm.

    4. I think you're right about "trained" opposition, although they'd had observers (officially and otherwise) at wars of any size since then; Wolseley trailed around with southern armies for part of the ACW; Brackenbury was an official observer during the FPW. So the manuals generally reflected up-to-date thinking.

      However I agree that it's a bit of a mystery why Chile would see Britain as the country to imitate; France or Prussia/Germany would seem far more logical choices. I can only think of two possibilities. One is that Chile saw brush wars as being the likeliest use of its army. One wiki article (so it must be true!) describes its very small pre-war army "whose main experience was to patroll the frontier with the "araucanos", the Indians who held back the Spanish since the 1500s" so the brush war argument may hold water. The second is that there were deeper connections at the personal level. Admiral Lynch served briefly with the Royal Navy (wiki again ...), and maybe some army officers did likewise. Or maybe the earlier Irish immigrants (the O'Higgins family being the most famous) still somehow had a perverse connection culturally and linguistically to the "old country"? I can't really see it, but stranger things have happened.

      I don't know enough (or anything, actually) about the War of the Pacific, but is seems an eminently gamble "small war", and I am following this part of your blog with great interest.

    5. For a "small war" it's actually quite a fair size. The army sizes go from 10,000 a side upwards It is very significant for that part of the world. The Wikipedia stuff on the War is actually quite good (the background arguments between Peruvian and Chilean contributors show they still really do care).

      What I find astonishing in terms of imitation is the willingness to copy the French of the FPW. After all they lost. The Peruvians did follow the Prussians a bit, up to the point of adopting the picklehaube for pre-war units. Captured uniforms were then used by the Chileans, but not significantly enough to justify kitting the army out on that way.

      No one's army was in a fir state to fight a modern war. Chile & Peru were concerned with keeping minorities down and the Bolivian army's function was to keep the President in power or overthrow him.

  3. Whatever its source I wouldn't be inclined to spread the guerrilla inglesa formation over two boxes unless it is heavily penalised. Command and control would be problematic, and the troops would have no obvious supports, so morale might also be poor.

    1. Depends on the ground scale and what they are doing. I think you're probably right that a unit in open order that gets into a firefight might be more difficult to move forward.

      Although at least some of them will still be alive, unlike an attack column.

  4. Interesting Article- fascinating how you are working it all out- I like it. Figures are great too. KEV.

    1. Thanks. Working this out in public seems to have got me some useful information as well.

  5. One problem with 'one unit per square' is that it forbids tactical concentration and depth - it is a real problem with some of Richard Brooks games (and, I belatedly realised, with my squared adaptation of Neil Thomas).

    To keep things simple how about allowing two units per square for the close order type formations (line, column etc) but only one unit in 'guerilla inglesa' as they are much, much more spread out than the equivalent of the French skirmish columns of the post FPW period.

    Naturally fire hits everything in the square, so those denser formations are already penalised, but they give the control and mass so beloved of late nineteenth century generals.

    1. I get the issue with one unit per square and tactical depth and concentration. It certainly blight's Richard's rules from time to time with the card activation.

      I dealt with this in Hurried Hydaspes et al by allowing units supported by a unit in a square behind to get a bonus.

      If you look at the comments above I'm tempted by two units per square, and "everything gets hit" was a feature of Taiping Era.

      Thanks. Helpful comments all round.