John and I had a very interesting game of Pub Battles –Brandywine last week. We played it Kriegspiel style with formal written orders. What??! How can you have a 2 player Kriegspiel game? With our Umpire-less format and mixed commands. It actually worked really well.
We randomly rolled to see who commanded which side. John got the British (Howe) I got the Colonials (Washington)
We used the early start optional rules. John wrote initial orders to both wings before we setup. I wrote orders for how to setup the Colonials.
Next, we pulled for Commands at random. We each got 1 command on each side.
So John was:
Howe (British Commander)
Knyphausen (British Wing)
Sullivan (Colonial Wing)
Washington (Colonial Commander and Wing)
Cornwallis (British Wing)
Confused yet? So I execute the orders for Cornwallis and control those troops, while John runs Knyphausen’s Wing. I control Washington and John runs Sullivan’s troops. So we are both on the same sides playing against each other? Yes. This is actually pretty easy if you are used to playing solitaire. Who wins? It doesn’t matter. It’s not a competitive game. We play for the experience. To hang out together and learn a little something about command. It’s all about fun. We each play each command to the best of our abilities given the situation at hand.
It was a lot tougher setting up the Colonial defense. You can’t just setup anywhere. You have to write instructions. The instructions need to be simple and clear. I didn’t have time to personally place every piece perfectly. The result? Trouble. John covered Jones’ ford with Sullivan. I covered Chadd’s and Brinton’s Fords and held back a big reserve. Everything else was pretty much left wide open. Not good but it is about all we had time to plan and write orders for.
I entered at Parkerville with Cornwallis’ wing. These were my orders from Howe:
“Crosse the river on the N West major road as a concentrate group + disperse troops on Brimington Lill + the forest on the other side of the toad. Take out any enemmys in the way. Hold the hill + forest to maintain road.”
This was a quickly scribbled hand written note. Some of the words and letters I couldn’t even make out or had to guess at. Welcome to Kriegspiel! 🙂
(To be fair, I’m sure poor John had just as much trouble trying to figure out what my orders meant. My hand writing is even worse!)
I’m assuming that Brimington Lill is supposed to mean Brimingham Hill. If I didn’t want to attack, could I have used this a valid excuse to delay my orders? 😉
I have no idea what the forest is. There are clumps of unnamed forests all over the map!! Other side of what road? (I’m assuming it’s not a toad) Then I’m supposed to sit on the hill and some unknown forest while I do road maintenance? Fill pot holes? What does “disperse” mean? Am I supposed to attack and disperse the enemy or am I supposed to disperse my troops and advance along a broad front?
So what do I do? It does seem clear that I’m supposed to attack up the main road to the left and take Brimingham Hill. I’ll go with that until I get further clarification.
Wistar’s Ford is wide open. I could shoot my dragoon’s across the Brandywine on the first move and follow up with an awesome flanking attack. There are no Colonials at all NW of Jones’ Ford. The problem is, I can’t. It’s not in my orders.
I feel a little vulnerable to my right. Lots of Colonials across Brinton’s and Chadd’s Fords. They could attack and flank me if they wanted to. My orders say nothing about protecting my right. For all I know, Knyphausen might be coming in there later. I wasn’t told what he was doing. I can’t really move in force to my right. That’s not in the orders. I do think it prudent to send at least 1 Brigade over there to the right to screen and delay any enemy advance. I can’t get into much trouble over that.
So compared to a regular ‘god like’ game, there are a lot more ‘mistakes’ here. Lots of vulnerabilities that could hurt us. Lots of missed opportunities that can’t be exploited. Why? Orders. It is easy to see how a sharp commander with a quickly responding command system could exploit these weaknesses and do a lot of damage.
Normally this is played as a quick and simple 2 player game. Even with 2 players, you can have a very ‘kriegspiel’ type experience. Not much added complexity. How much time did it add to the game? About 15 minutes before the game to decide who is doing what and write initial orders. After that we used a 1 minute timer to write orders at the beginning of each turn. We used the early start option, giving us 7 turns. We didn’t write anything for the last few turns. Everything was already done by then. Nothing left to do but fight it out. So about 20-30min all together. Not bad.
One other quick comment about the written orders: What did we write them on? I had some old defective parchment paper scrap. We cut that up and used it for orders. I used my black and gold fountain pen. John wanted to use it too. It is a simple thing and kind of silly. It doesn’t really matter what you use but it was also kind of cool. It makes you feel immersed in the period. We felt like real officers in the period writing orders to the troops!
I could see taking this a step further: using real feather pens with ink bottles! Yes, a little over the top but it would be fun. It would slow us down. Be harder to read. Will the ink run? What if it rained and it got wet during delivery?
One more random observation about written orders: time. We used a 1 minute sand timer to write orders. That is pretty quick. A good amount of time to write 1 set of short orders if you are quick AND you already know what you want to write. That is the tough part. Theoretically, you have time to think about what needs to happen next throughout the whole turn. So when it comes time to write orders, you should be ready to go. The problem is you are very distracted doing everything during the turn.
We wanted to take about 5-10 min time out to just stop and think about the game and our orders first. We decided to not allow this and instead hold ourselves to this strict time. I’m sure real commanders were constantly distracted and interrupted during a battle. When did they get time to think alone clearly? Something needs to be done now and time is of the essence. Isn’t this another important command skill to practice?
So how did the actual battle go?
On the Colonial side, I could see that Sullivan was about to get creamed. He only had 3 Brigades. No reserve and his right was completely exposed. What did I do as Washington? Nothing. What?! Yep. I think that was the best thing for me to do. I sat there and patiently watched Sullivan getting crushed by Cornwallis’ best: Grenadiers and the King’s Guards. I didn’t dare move. Why? I still didn’t know where Knyphausen was! What if this was just a ruse and Knyphausen came in on the other end of the field? On my left? I still had to guard the New State road.
John (Sullivan) was requesting help and needed it badly but I didn’t respond. So now he is mad. He thinks I’m trying to make the British lose but I reminded him there is no winner. The only thing that saved him was that he was rolling really good as Sullivan. I rolled really bad as Cornwallis so the assault stalled.
After 2 whole turns of this, finally Knyphausen arrives but we still don’t know where yet. I (Washington) got picked to move first. I roll to delay the move and am successful. Knyphausen get’s pulled next. The Brits roll to delay but miss. Knyphausen has to come in. He comes in on the right! Right on top of poor Sullivan. Cornwallis pounds away and Washington moves last. I don’t have to write any orders to myself. Thank God, or that would delay my response another turn. Washington is in command of his own wing. I put just about everybody in road column and rush over to help what is left of Sullivan.
Next turn. Knyphausen was held up by the awful terrain: woods, hills, stream crossings. He made it up to Osburn’s Hill. Still, the door is wide open. If he can move first, we are toast. He can get pretty much the whole Street Road from Darlington’s Corner to Jones’ Ford, including Birmingham Hill. Who get’s pulled to move next? Washington!
John rolls for Knyphausen to jump ahead. He is successful! Now I roll for Washington to jump ahead of Knyphausen. I’m successful! John rolls yet again for Howe to jump ahead of Washington. Fails.
This turns out to be a disaster for the Brits. This basically gives Washington 2 turns in a row. One more move puts all his troops into the good terrain blocking the British advance. Now the battle is going to be a slug fest.
Sullivan’s Wing took a beating but fought well. They became ineffective from the losses. He only had 1 block left. I didn’t want John to feel bad so I detached 3 brigades to him so he had something to do. A bad move for the game because there is a delay while those pieces switch commands, but you don’t want your buddy just sitting there with only 1 piece to move for the game unable to attack right? Do you think things like that happen in real war?
It really disrupted our defense. It was a confused mess. I had pieces on the right. John had some of his newly attached pieces in the middle with his original piece. I had some in reserve in the middle with more piece holding our left. John controlled my pieces that I detached to him but they still moved when my command chit was pulled. So he had more brigades but couldn’t coordinate their moves with his old brigade well. This hampered our defense a bit as we gradually fell back.
At nightfall, the Brits were able to reorganize for 1 final assault on Brimingham Hill. The Royal Artillery was finally able to bombard. It was a spectacular barrage. Stirling’s New Jersey was shattered and ran leaving Knox’s Artillery exposed! Lord Grey charged up the hill and would have overrun them but that wily Washington was able to pull off yet another delayed move. –This allowed Knox’s artillery to move last and therefore escape. He also rushed up Nash’s Brigade to defend. They were spent but again rolled hot and were able to barely hold the hill.
I think we ended with 6 total dead Brit blocks vs 3 Colonial. Which gave Washington a Major Victory.
Our lesson learned: The timing of the move sequence for the first 2 turns the flank attack hits is critical. Howe and Knyphausen could have rolled a few times to counter this but didn’t realize how big of an impact it would have.