Monday, May 20, 2019

Retreat from Concord: Rebels and Patriots AAR

We did our second playtest of the Retreat from Concord game (using Rebels and Patriots rules) we're hosting at our Enfilade! convention next weekend. I made an ordeal of getting my contribution of figures to the game done in time. The militia was completed several weeks ago, but the British took a bit more doing with a lot of swings and roundabouts—of which I will post later.

We did our first playtest on April 6. At that point, we only had Kevin Smyth's British figures, which is just over half the total. It was a resounding defeat for Fat George's bloodybacks. Without enough light infantry to screen the column, the men marching on the roads were shot to bits.

This game I was able to supply the needed light infantry, plus another two Grenadier units.

The OOB for the scenario is based on the Smith-Pitcairn column, which was all grenadiers and light infantry. We scaled the game to make every company of British troops equal to six figures. The column had 11 companies of grenadiers and 10 companies of light infantry. We organized the 66 grenadiers into 12-figure units with one large unit of 18. The 60 lights we wanted to keep as small units to provide more flexibility and firepower.

Marching into the maelstrom
For the Americans, we had to do something that provides a mostly equal unit count, but ensure that the units aren't so good as to overwhelm the British by firepower. In the first playtest, we made all the American militia good shooters, which was massive overkill. In this game we allowed only one unit in each command to be good shooters. That may still be too much, IMO, but it gives the Americans a chance to do some real harm early on.

We have two British players, each taking half the light infantry and part of the grenadiers on the road. The Americans are four commands, each with four skirmisher units, one of which are minutemen with good shooters ability.

British (81 points)

Left command (44 points)
2 x Shock Infantry
1 x Shock Infantry (large unit)
5 x Light Infantry (small unit)

Right command (37 points)
2 x Shock Infantry
5 x Light Infantry (small unit)

American (48 points)

Command 1 (6 points + 6 points)
3 x Skirmishers, green
1 x Skirmishers, green, good shooters

Command 2 (6 points + 6 points)
3 x Skirmishers, green
1 x Skirmishers, green, good shooters

Command 3 (6 points + 6 points)
3 x Skirmishers, green
1 x Skirmishers, green, good shooters

Command 4 (6 points + 6 points)
3 x Skirmishers, green
1 x Skirmishers, green, good shooters

We used standard unit profiles, but we made some scenario rules to keep British units in the fight and allow recycling of American militia.

British rally
To reflect superior discipline and leadership, When British troops perform a successful rally action, they roll a D6 and can recover lost figures as follows: 1=no recovery, 2-4=recover 1 figure, 5-6=recover 2 figures. Units that rally don't have to be in disorder, i.e., a unit may rally just to recover lost figures. However, a units can never recover up to full strength, which particularly affects the light infantry who are small units.

Additionally, British units never rout or get eliminated by firing or fighting.  When the rules call for that result, the unit is reduced to one figure and placed behind the nearest friendly unit where it may work on eventually rallying back to fighting strength.

American recycling
There was very little leadership over the American militia. Men just came from their fields and farms in small groups and took pot-shots at redcoats. The Americans start with only two units per command on the table. The other two units per command come on if they pass an action test.

American militia units that are wiped out can recycle once in the game, which effectively gives them 32 units—just not all at once. Units recycling back on the table come in at one of two spots marked before the game. American players can also choose to simply disperse a unit that is down to 1 or 2 figures remaining and thus allow generating a new fresh unit.

At no point can any militia command have more than 4 units on the table.

The British troops are much superior pointwise to the Americans, although we didn't go by points. A large force of skirmishers can do a lot of damage. One of the things I've noted in playing Rebels and Patriots is that a 12-figure unit is at a disadvantage against two 6-figure units. It's a matter of dice. The 6-figure units are throwing 12 dice each shot (assuming they're not skirmishing or disordered) for a total of 24. The 12-figure unit is also throwing 12 dice and can only target one unit at a time.

Another factor in balance was that the skirmishers take 3 hits to remove a figure from firing; the King's vaunted grenadiers take only two. Stuck in the open as they must be for the scenario, they wither quickly under the milita's firing. Giving one of the starting militia units in each command the good shooters characteristic made a difference. Hitting on 4+ can be devastating, especially when your targets are grenadiers in the open.

As long as the fight is between militia lining the roads and grenadiers marching on it, the grenadiers are dead meat. The key is to get the light infantry in action against the militia and clear the roadside. In this case, it's basically 50 points of British vs. 48 American. The 31 points of grenadiers are good for the occasional return fire or chasing militia away from a wall, but don't otherwise have much opportunity to get at the militia. They're basically targets.

The game

Bill Stewart and I were the British. I commanded on the left and Bill on the right. Kevin, Dave Schueler, and Eric Donaldson were the Americans. Dave ran two commands opposite me; Kevin and Eric were mostly opposite Bill.

The British grenadiers were deployed on the road in column. The light infantry was divided 5 units to each flank of the column. The scenario rules allow the lights to roam freely, but the grenadiers are restricted to staying between the stone walls that line the road. They can shoot or charge a wall behind which cheeky American farmers are skulking, but mostly their job is to keep moving down the road.

Starting deployments
The American militia can deploy anywhere beyond the head of the British. In this game, there were several units deployed along the stone wall just ahead of the column.

Bill deployed his light infantry well forward with 3 up and 2 behind. I, unwisely, deployed my light infantry higgeldy-piggedly. It took me a few turns to get any kind of effective force going against the militia, which only gave the militia more chances to shoot at my grenadiers.

Opening moves
I started by marching my freshly-painted (you could still smell the dullcote) 18-figure grenadier unit 6" up the road where it could be targeted by multiple militia units. In response, the sides of the road erupted in musket fire, which took a dire toll on my wee men.

And then there were eight.
My 18-figure pride of the British army was reduced in no time to 8 confused and disordered troops wishing they were in Thames up to their neck rather than walking a country road in Massachusetts on a nice April day.

Bill immediately clashed with Kevin's forward troops and they maintained a lively skirmish. Bill got the upper hand eventually, although he took a lot of loss doing so. Even with the British rally rule, there was a goodly number of figures in Bill's dead pile.

Bill's battle against Kevin
The grenadier column pretty much got stuck not far from where it started—and went a bit retrograde at times. To keep marching forward was suicide. My options were to rally and try to recover some of my lost figures or to take offensive actions against my tormentors. At one point I charged the stone wall with my second grenadier unit (not quite as freshly painted as the other, but only by a day or so). That momentarily cleared the wall as the militia evaded away (taking a shot as they did). I also, fired a volley or two from the grenadiers, with just OK results. Skirmishers are hard to kill; harder when you roll as poorly as I did.

The lead units in trouble
The game started with just 3 grenadier units on the road, the other two following on after the column got moving. At that point I was rolling for all the grenadiers and failing to get the rear units to come on board. When they eventually did, there was a gap in the column. However, as the fighting at the road angle heated up, the column was effectively stopped. The rear units—now under Bill's command, with better activation rolls—started coming up and getting bunched together with my lead units that had stopped to fight or lick their wounds, mosty to lick their wounds.

My light infantry got stuck in with Dave's militia early on, but just in piecemeal, due to my scatterdash deployment. I discovered early on that shooting at the militia was a bit of a waste. They're hard to kill and they can pretty much ignore you and shoot at grenadiers for more bang for the buck. At this point, I noticed that all my light infantry figures has silver colored thingies at the end of their muskets. Because they're light infantry and not skirmishers, they actually have a pretty good fighting ability, despite being small units. Accordingly, I charged right in as soon as I was close enough.

Getting stuck in with Dave's militia
On the British right, it was the militia that kept charging the light infantry—not from careful consideration, but from rolling double-ones and getting the result that forces you to charge.  Those charges were either disatstrous or merely ineffectual. Most of my charges actually did something; at the very least, they would force the militia to evade and quit their ground.

The terrain, however, did a lot to dictate what I could do. The tavern was right in the middle of my line at the start and there were walls, fences, trees, and bushes all over. On many occasions all I could do was shoot, although I mostly skirmished. Skirmishing was less effective than shooting, but it allowed me to move into better positions to charge from, while still having a potential sting.

Forcing the militia captain back
Dave's minuteman unit, with the mounted militia captain attached, was a constant thorn. I whittled the unit away, but it took many turns to get him. He always managed to evade my charges and had a pretty nasty sting with its 4+ firing until he fell below half strength and was permanently disordered.

Much of the fighting on the flanks involved fence lines that provided a defense bonus and impeded movement. The militia, being skirmishers, were untroubled by difficult terrain, but fences would stop them—as it would stop the light infantry as well. I battled to the first fence line and then on to the next. Taking each fence line was met by another lined with militia.

On to the next fence line
We had to keep the column moving, but every time I advanced down the road beyond the light infantry screen, the head of the column would get shot to bits by multiple units of militia. This caused a lot of bunching up as Bill's rear grenadiers caught up to and passed the leading units. Rather than move, the grenadiers often had no better option than to fire back, with less effect than the fire coming their way.

Grenadier traffic jam
On a few occasions, the intense fire reduced lead grenadier units to just a fraction of their original strength or completely eliminated them, thus invoking the British rally rule that sent them back with 1 figure remaining to spend several turns rallying up beyond half strength.

Whittling down the head of the column
On my flank, I finally got the chance to turn in towards the road and start attacking the militia lining the road. In one particularly fortunate action, I charged a militia unit that failed to evade, and then wiped it out in fighting. The resulting morale checks for the other militia units within 12" resulted in several failures.

Into the backs of 'em
With another unit charging in next turn, I managed to clear a stretch of road that might let us advance the grenadiers a bit farther. Although there seemed to be no end of militia forming up just ahead.

A bit of clear space for now
After a couple hours of play we called it. The grenadier column still had about 6 turns of marching—unimpeded by American bullets—to get off the table. I'm not sure what the loss state of the Americans was. They can only recycle a unit once, so they may have soon been down to fewer than 4 units per command on the table. For the convention, we'll play till the game period ends and determine victory then.

Thoughts and reflections

I thought he game played very well. It's a tough scenario to get a balanced game from. When we first started thinking about it, my fear was that a lot of militia would just overwhelm the British.

The British rally rule worked out how I imagined it would. Historically, the British were hurt very badly, but not wiped out. Had the Smith-Pitcairn column not run into Percy's relief column at Lexington, they may well have started surrendering. Even after the column combined with Percy's force, they had a hard fight ahead before getting back to Boston. The rally rule ensures that no British units are completely lost, which would end the game quickly, but that they have to spend time recovering after being 'eliminated' or to avoid being eliminated.

The Militia recycling rule did a good job representing the historical aspect of groups of militia showing up, taking some shots, and then going away. The Americans have effectively 32 units of militia to employ at some point, but they can never have more than 16 on the table at one time. The militia also starts slowly with just 8 units at start.

We thought about making the grenadiers just act as automatons who march inexorably to their deaths down the road. But that's silly. Without allowing the grenadiers to fight back to some degree by returning fire or charging a wall to chase off their tormentors, the game would be badly imbalanced against the British. Without using the grenadiers to do more than just march, the balance would be 16 militia against 10 light infantry.

The grenadiers, however, are the militia's main target. It's essential that they stop the column and steadily attritt it. For the British, the trick is screening the grenadiers from militia muskets and keeping the roadsides clear.

Figures and terrain
Kevin and I painted all the minis in the game. I did 24 British light infantry, 30 grenadiers, and 36 militia. Kevin did all the rest. Also, Kevin bought Phil Bardsley's AWI figures at the estate sale we had for him last week. He'll remount the militia figures to 3-2-1 basing and get two of Phil's units in the game posthumously.

The buildings are Kevin's, the rest is from the collection of terrain bits that I've finally managed to build up after nearly 30 years. I'm particularly happy that I managed to get so much fencing and stone walls. The walls are made by Armorcast. The fences are Pegasus, with my flocking on the bases.


  1. What a great looking game. I might pinch this and set in in 1690's Ireland.

    1. I did that pretty much with the Ford of the Biscuits game I did last year using Pikeman's Lament.

  2. Great looking terrain! The rules seem to have worked out well. I'm looking forward to your next post.