Fast forward to the early 21st C and I found myself playing hexed bases miniature games with my friend Ron, occasionally ones designed for it but usually just a conversion of our usual conventional rules to fit his geohex clad table, then a Hexed Hotz Matt and finally Hexon. For most of this past decade all of our games have been hex based. I was slow to convert my own table but by 2010 I was sometimes using a Hexed Hotz Matt (thanks Ron) for solo games at home and was experimenting more and more with cardtable sized games.
This was the setting into which Bob Cordery introduced his Portable Wargame. I had been following Bob's blog before I began to blog myself but something about the Portable Wargame caught me at an opportune moment when I was ripe for a small yet interesting miniature wargame played on a gridded playing field. As a long time rules tinkerer and writer I have gone on to work on my own style of gridded games, both large and small, but I have continued to follow and draw inspiration from the development of the Portable Wargame and occasionally bombard Bob with questions and comments even while I go my own way. When Bob announced the publication of The Portable Wargame I was not only excited for him but excited to get a copy.
Even before I received my copy, I had decided that the buzz and the known qualities of the game justified my registering to give gamers who attend Huzzah! in Maine a chance to walk up and try their hand at it. This may help explain my eagerness to actually try the published version and see what I had gotten myself into! So, this post will give a quick report on my first game, the second will review the book, the third will hopefully be a more thorough game report and the last will be a go at the sudden death option.
My initial instinct had been to break out my 1/72nd RCW troops but the 1/72 Boers got to me first. I haven't gotten around to painting up the remaining Esci British yet (give me a break, they've only been waiting 35 years...) but there were enough guardsmen to fill the gaps. I decided to go with all average troops and an even number of units since I had no idea of the relative balance between the mobility of the Boers and the resilience of the British infantry or the hitting power of the MG and artillery.
I decided that the game would be a simple meeting engagement with both sides trying to seize a small town. The initial idea was that a Boer Commando during the guerrilla phase of the 2nd war was out to capture some much needed supplies while the British were out to deny them. Then I realised that the Red coats indicated the 1st Boer War so I took away the Boer's artillery and decided to just to get on with the game without worrying about why the Boers wanted the town.
The Boers had 8 cavalry units plus a commander, the British had a field gun, an MG (looks like a Maxim but doubtless a Gatling), a cavalry unit and 5 infantry units and a commander. Each side had to deploy on the centre 4 squares of the 1st and 2nd rows of their side of the board. The rules were the basic Colonial rules without any of the options that are presented.
|The second turn. At first the Boer plan seemed to be working but the British infantry proved quite stubborn while the building walls seemed to be made of cardboard rather than something more bulletproof. (Maybe I should have left the roofs on?)|
I was also unable to find answers to some of my questions about details, such as whether or not artillery on a hill could fire over friends. Luckily these sorts of things are generally no more than a slight check to seasoned gamers so while I have been periodically firing off questions to Bob who always answers quite promptly, the game did not have to stop for such minor details. Since I had deployed the only artillery on a hill I decided to allow overhead fire, not that it mattered when the gun crew was busy trying to break the record for rolling 1's and 2's.
|Several unusable photos later, the sun has set and when the Boer leader goes down the remaining Commandos decided that the game wasn't worth the candle. (In other words the Boer Army was exhausted and the British held the objective.)|
For example, all units have the same chance to inflict a "hit" in combat in a given situation regardless of whether the unit is composed of angry villagers armed with rocks or veteran regular infantry with magazine rifles. However, since some units can absorb more hits than others and some units are more likely to be able to choose to withdraw rather than taking a hit, a tussle between those villagers and the veteran infantry is unlikely to end with a victory by the villagers especially if the infantry choose options that allow them to make the most of their ability to shoot from a safe distance.
Even with this simple test game, it was obvious that although the British tended to have luckier die rolls, the real problem was that the Boers initially made a battle plan that played into the enemy's hand. The cover bonus was insufficient to offset the ability of the British to concentrate fire on the smaller Boer units and drive them back or destroy them. Without a numerical advantage the Boers needed to be more clever than they were on the day and make a plan that either used their mobility to achieve local superiority or else drew the enemy into a trap. Which is pretty much how the real wars worked out.
That's enough for one post. Part 2 will look at the book itself and briefly comment on the rules and options that are presented. After that will come some (hopefully) more thorough playtest reports including one game using the "Sudden Death" option.