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.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Baby Ree

This has been a hard post to work on. It rambles more than my usual posts because the memories and feelings flooded in without cadence or order and I didn't have the energy to sort them all out.

My sweet, fussy bobtail Rhiannon died in my arms in the early hours of April 17. For 13 years she was my sweet Baby Ree. My first sight of her in the morning was the highlight of every day. All I have now is an urn on the mantel and a million vivid memories of what I've lost.

I adopted her three weeks after I adopted Grendel in 2006. I thought he needed a companion and she charmed me at the shelter with her sweet disposition, head-butting, and her wee, waggly tail. There was a bit of a rough patch between her and Grendel at first, but eventually the two connected and were amicable and even friendly (for a while).

Christmas truce, 2006
When I adopted Maebh in 2007, the relationship between Grendel and Rhiannon faded to the same proportion that Maebh and Grendel bonded. Ree was the odd cat out, even after she grudgingly came to accept Maebh as a new housemate. Tension could get high, but I often found all three bundled together on the bed, on a couch, by the big window in the sun, or beside a fire. I have many fewer pictures of those moments than I wish, but the memories of seeing them all together are still a delight to my soul.

She was fussy and bossy, although it took her a little while to fit into her bossy pants. At first, if she wanted my attention, I would feel a gentle tapping of a paw on my knee as I worked at my computer. I'd look down to see her soulful, pea-green eyes looking imploringly up at me. That look would make me drop everything to go sit where she could snuggle with me. We'd sit together until she'd had her Dave fix and got up to potter about and eventually sit in the sun, or by the fire, or near a heat vent. She was an insatiable heat-pig.

Snuggling up to my warm laptop
Loving the warm fire
After a few years, if she wanted anything from me she'd just come up behind and yowl accusingly at me. Her face then was less imploring and more an indignant expression of "I'm not gonna pet myself." That didn't make time spent with her less sweet. To the contrary, her insistent affection endeared her to me all the more. And because she was the odd cat out, I felt all the more eager to give her my affection in return.

Working herself into hyperfuss
She always loved to be with me. In the early hours of the morning when the cats were in the preliminary stages of waking the human, she'd often come up to snuggle near my head. I'd lie on my right side with my right arm extended out. Rhiannon would lie along the length of my arm with her head in my cupped hand and her back pressed up against my arm. Her stubby tail would waggle constantly, tickling my upper arm. All the while, she'd purr and purr. If I were capable, I'd have purred myself. The last time she did that, was just a week or so before she died.

My favorite coworker
One has to be very particular with cats. You can really only interact with them on their terms. It's not for nothing that we have expressions like "herding cats" to represent the essence of impossibility. Like working with wood, when you deal with cats, you have to work with the grain, not against it. To violate that rule isn't to court trouble (well, sometimes); rather, it robs you of the natural beauty that the grain reveals when you respect it.

My beautiful girl
Rhiannon's grain was beautiful, with a few knots. She didn't like to be picked up. Not at all. I could easily sling Grendel (and now Bogart) over my shoulder without any resistance. Rhiannon would curl into a ball to make it very hard to hold her. That never really changed, although as she aged and it became harder for her to get up on things, she seemed to welcome being carried upstairs or onto the couch or bed.

She stomped. Sir Aurthur Sullivan wrote a lyric about pirates moving with cat-like tread as the epitome of stealth. Rhiannon could walk stealthily when she wanted, but many times when she wanted to make her presence—and her annoyance—known, she'd stomp as she walked. Her stomping was most distinct when she walked on pergo or linoleum, but she could even stomp on the pile carpet. Maybe it was intentional, or maybe it was an occasional effect of her being a bit on the plump side and having short legs. Whatever it was, I always had to smile when I heard her whump! whump! whump! into a room.

Hogging the orange toy thingy
Since Grendel died in 2016 I've been more apprehensive of the potential loss of another cat. I'd always had that in the back of my mind since I adopted them, but going through those terrible weeks in the late summer of 2016 let me know just how devastating the loss of one of my furry companions can be.

I noticed Rhiannon aging over the years. She was once the champion jumper of the house and regularly made a death-defying leap across the chasm of the stairwell so she could sit in the sun on the deep sill of the upper window. And it was her sill. She was the first to sit there, but soon after Grendel started sitting there too. One day, a few weeks after I adopted her, she was snuggled next to me on the settee in my den. From that spot, we could see in the glass of a framed map at the top of the stairs the reflection Grendel camped out on the sill. Rhiannon got down off the settee, stomped out to the hallway, leaped up on the banister and then across to the sill. Once there she proceeded to swat Grendel on the head several times. After that, she leaped back over and returned to her place next to me, leaving a bewildered Grendel staring around wondering what just happened. As the years went by, She no longer had the strength to jump and the sill became empty except for the cobwebs.

Feeding time was a unique situation with three cats. Grendel approached comestibles with the appalling devastation of a swarm of locusts. I couldn't leave food out for the cats to graze on or he would eat it all, to no one's benefit. Instead, I fed them in three spots in the kitchen and sat by monitoring their manners. Rhiannon's spot was on top of the island in the kitchen. It stands about 3 1/2 feet tall and she would float up to the top like a pixie and gobble her food. After several years, she needed to do a 2-hop onto a chair and then up. Eventually, I'd have to place her up there because even the 2-hop was a hop too far. Only after Grendel died did I feed her and Maebh together on the floor and let them graze.

It became more difficult for her to get on the bed. I'd awake at night or early morning to hear frantic scrambling to climb onto the bed, which would culminate with Rhiannon's face—wide-eyed and desperate—appearing at the bedside as she dragged her way up and on top. I bought little stairs for the bed and the couch in the living room. The right arm of my leather recliner is covered in punctures and scratches from years of her coming onto the chair with be by that rout.

She loved my stinky shoes
She'd been losing weight over several months. She was always a bit chubby and her weight loss really just brought her back to normal for a cat with her small frame. But having been chubby all those years, the weight loss was concerning, even though it's natural for older cats. She also showed a lot more signs of slowing down and being unstable on her four feet.

I took her in for a vet appointment with the hope that they could recommend supplements that could help her as she aged. I had every expectation that she'd live to be 20 or more. I started to think she'd outlive us all, being too fussy to die. The vet's examination revealed a large mass in her abdomen. Her kidneys and liver were just so-so. Her heart and lungs were good. Her teeth, amazingly were good. Every visit to the vet, they'd say she had a bit of tartar and gingivitis that needed watching. Grendel and Maebh both had to have teeth pulled, but Rhiannon's teeth stayed the same her whole life. But the mass in her abdomen was serious.

They took her out to do blood work and when they brought her back, she'd collapsed. She remained there for the day on I.V. They wanted to send her over to an emergency hospital for overnight monitoring, but the panic within me was afraid that if she went, I'd never see her again. By the afternoon, she'd recovered sufficiently that I could take her home. Fearing that her death may be near, I was resolved that she'd die at home, not at the vet's with tubes stuck in her.

The vet prescribed prednisolone, which I had compounded to a liquid for oral injection, and an appetite stimulant. A friend of mine also provided material and instructions for syringe-feeding her when she wouldn't eat.

For the next week, she nibbled a bit or I'd try to force some food into her. She drank a lot of water, but she'd plop her chin in the fountain and get all wet down the front and on her paws. She was clearly getting weaker, but I hoped that the prednisolone and stimulant would kick in and she'd get back to a stability that could be maintained for a foreseeable future, even though the fear still gripped me tighter that she was dying. She was 18. I could hope for more, but couldn't really expect it.

By late afternoon on April 16th I knew she couldn't last. I'd wanted to call in a vet who could put her to sleep at home the way I had done with Grendel. However, her situation seemed dire and I didn't think I could arrange it soon enough. I made an appointment to bring her into my vet for the next afternoon.

The day before she died
That night, I put her up on the bed with me, but she crawled off and flopped down to the floor and then crawled slightly under the bed. I slept fitfully dreading the next day. Just before 4:00 am, I awoke to hear her groaning. I went to her on the floor—she'd crawled during the night to the other side of the bed—and knew that she was at the end. I picked her up and brought her downstairs where I sat on the couch with her in my arms. Her head was on my left shoulder with the rest of her lying across my chest, over my heart. Her breathing was labored and she gasped several times. I petted her and soothed her and told her how much I loved her. As her breathing became less labored, I finally told her that she could go now. A moment later, she breathed her last and lay silently in my arms.

I sat with her like that for another 20 minutes or so, just petting her over and over. She had such soft, plush fur. Maebh was nearby looking perplexed. I could have stayed that way all morning, I think, but I wrapped her in a towel and put her in her carrier—she always hated being put in the carrier—and prepared to bring her into the vet for cremation first thing in the morning.

I got her ashes back just over a week later. Her urn is smaller than Grendel's, which is fitting. She was my little girl, my wee one. I called her Ree the Wee, Her Weeness, etc. From her thumb-sized tail, to her small nose and tiny paws, she was the picture of petiteness.

Two urns now
It's as hard for me to say goodbye now as it was to let her go that Wednesday morning as she lay dying in my arms. I thought I'd shed all my tears, but they're coming now as I write this.

Goodbye, baby girl. My heart aches to think that I can't hold you anymore. You were my sweet baby, the delight of my life. I always told people that I had no favorites, but it was you. Just seeing you always brightened my day. Whenever I'd been away, I never felt that I was home until you stomped up to greet me. You've left a hole in my heart that nothing can ever fill.