Friday 5 October 2018

Battle of Jacobs Church - Fire and Frustration

Last Sunday Posties Rejects got together for an American Civil War game using the Fire and Fury rules system. Its been a while since these rules have seen action in the shed-o-war and for me its been nearly two years. However the rules are relatively straight forward to use and we all slipped easily into the game. We started the game remembering how frustrating these rules can be and by the end of the game - after profuse swearing and sympathetic laughter from both sides - I think we all agreed this may be the last time we play these rules (see Rays Batrep for another perspective on the game)

The Setup
Postie arranged our forces on opposite sides of the table as a meeting engagement. The two commanding officers (myself and Mark) were allowed 10 minutes to deploy our forces as we wished. However with the number of models in play this barely gave us time to change formation of our units, let alone shift divisions around to some grand strategy. Indeed Mark still had over a divisions worth of troops in their startup positions when the 10 minutes ended. I used some of my 10 minutes to shift two divisions around and was down to the last couple of brigades when the bell went and deployment was declared over.

The battle is a simple meeting engagement and pits a veteran Confederate army against numerically superior but greener Union troops.

Order of Battle
Union Forces c/o McClellan (Mark, Richard and Surjit)
1st Corp - Hooker - *
   1st Division - Doubleday
      1st Battalion - 1st Indiana
      2nd Battalion - 3rd Indiana *
      3rd Battalion - 4th Indiana
      4th Battalion - 2nd Indiana
      Gun Batteries x3
   2nd Division - Ricketts
      1st Battalion - 4th New York
      2nd Battalion - 3rd New York
      3rd Battalion - 2nd New York
      Gun Batteries x2
5th Corp - Porter
   1st Division - Morrell
      1st Battalion - 3rd Michigan *
      2nd Battalion - 1st Michigan
      3rd Battalion - 2nd Michigan
      Gun Batteries x2
   2nd Division - Sykes
      1st Battalion - 2nd Maine
      2nd Battalion - 3rd Maine *
      3rd Battalion - 4th Maine
      Gun Batteries x2
12th Corps- Mansfield
   1st Division - Williams
      1st Battalion - 3rd Pennsylvania *
      2nd Battalion - 4th Pennsylvania
      3rd Battalion - 2nd Pennsylvania
      4th Battalion - 1st Pennsylvania
      Gun Batteries x3
   2nd Division - Greene *
      1st Battalion - 2nd Ohio
      2nd Battalion - 1st Ohio
      3rd Battalion - 3rd Ohio
      Gun Batteries x2
   Cavalry Division - Pleasanton
      1st Battalion - Indiana
      2nd Battalion - New York
      Horse Artillery Batteries x1

Confederate Forces c/o Jackson (Lee and Ray)
2nd Corp - Jackson *
   1st Division - J.R.Jones
      1st Battalion - 1st South Carolina *
      2nd Battalion - 5th South Carolina
      Gun Batteries x2
   2nd Division - Lawton
      1st Battalion - 2nd Alabama *
      2nd Battalion - 6th Alabama *
      3rd Battalion - 1st Alabama
      4th Battalion - 4th Alabama
      Gun Batteries x3
   3rd Division - D.H.Hill *
      1st Battalion - 1st Tennessee
      2nd Battalion - 2nd Tennessee
      3rd Battalion - 5th Tennessee *
      4th Battalion - 3rd Tennessee
      5th Battalion - 4th Tennessee
      Gun Batteries x3
   4th Division - A.P.Hill *
      1st Battalion - 1st Virginia
      2nd Battalion - 2nd Virginia *
      3rd Battalion - 4th Virginia
      4th Battalion - 3rd Virginia *
      5th Battalion - 5th Virginia
      Gun Batteries x3
   5th Division - Hood *
      1st Battalion - 1st Texas *
      2nd Battalion - 2nd Texas *
      Gun Batteries x2
   Cavalry Division - J.E.B.Stuart *
      1st Battalion - Virginia *
      2nd Battalion - Texas
      3rd Battalion - North Carolina
      Horse Artillery Batteries x1

I swapped the 5th and 3rd Divisions around in an attempt to group as much weight together, but all I managed to do was move a weak spot down the line towards our centre. I had hoped to fill some of that gap with some of the 2nd Division (Alabama) troops but successive low activation rolls limited the action I could take with the desired units (more on that later). 

View down the table during the opening Confederate move. 

Hood's 5th Division Texans advance (nearest camera) and Ray moves forward D.H.Hill's 3rd Division, Tennessee and the Virginians under A.P.Hill. 

Mark and Surjit advance towards the Confederate thrust. Mark is moving Sykes Maine Division while Surjit is moving his Cavalry (dismounted) under Pleasanton. 

The Confederate left flank (my troops). My Alabamans (2nd Division under Lawton) hold their position for now. I'm at a numerical disadvantage here so I want my gun batteries to soften up the Union troops. In particular I target everything against the end of the Union line, and the New York troops under Ricketts. I'm in a position her to flank the Union troops if I can see off the New Yorkers...however my first couple of turns of firing couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, let alone their target. 

In the centre my Texans have advanced on the left and begun to take casualties from much more accurate Union artillery fire. Ray has moved his Virginians and Tennessee infantry forward and the first rifle volleys begin to take a toll on both sides. 

On the right flank of the battlefield, across the river, Ray has moved his dismounted cavalry forward and begun exchanging rifle fire with Union troops from Indiana and New York. 

Looking down the table. From left to right is Ray, Postie, Richard, Mark and Surjit. We are only one turn into the game and we are already starting to curse the dice gods!

Neither side has made contact yet but both have exchanged rifle and artillery fire. The Confederates are loosing more men though because we are attacking more aggressively and suffering in the Defensive fire phase as a result.  

Contact at last. Rays Virginians an Tennessee boys charge into the Union troops from Pennsylvania and Ohio. 

More troops pile into a massive melee that covers a third of the battlefield. Both sides are mauled but neither land a knockout blow. Our frustration with the rules is starting to show as we try to pile as much support into a melee as possible, but int the end it comes down to a single dice. Roll poorly (or even just average) and all that effort and bloodshed is for nought. 

View from the Union side of the table. The lines have separated, reformed and prepare for another round of charge and counter charge. 

The 1st Tennessee charge in once again. They win their first Melee and get a breakthrough charge at another Union Brigade, only to be stopped and repulsed. 

Meanwhile, over on the quiet side of the battlefield.... I'm still waiting opposite the Union troops. My Artillery has thus far hit absolutely nothing. The only good thing I can say is that Richards troops are being held in position by the threat of my troops opposite them. But that frankly is clutching at straws and he has already started to edge units to his left. If I don't get any result from the artillery soon I'm going to have to send the infantry in. I need to strop Richard from shifting his units towards the centre. 

Another view down the line.In the foreground my Texans have been forced back. I have two weak and battered units covering a big area and unless I put pressure on the advancing Union troops (Maine troops under Sykes) they could threaten Rays Virginians attacking around the farmhouse. 

The Virginians clash with Morrells Michigan troops in the fields surrounding the Farmhouse. 

Hand to hand fighting is taking place along the whole length of the centre. Casualties are mounting on both sides but so far it is the Confederates who have suffered the most. Given they started the battle outnumbered, this isn't a good position to be in. Neither side seems able to land a decisive blow. 
The battle in the ploughed field ebbs and flows. The Virginians have soaked a lot of their blood into the soil here and aren't giving ground easily. 

Ray my be laughing but the Confederate situation is becoming critical. We have taken double the casualties of our opponents, brigades are disordered and a couple of key Brigades are now so badly mauled they are spent. 

Another Confederate charge against the blue line of the Pennsylvanians and Ohioans. 

Back in the Ploughed field the Virginians are fighting hard but they can't break the Union line.

Despite hours and several rounds of combat the front lines are pretty much in the same place they were from early on in the game. Little ground has been taken at a great cost in lives. 

The Tennessee boys (3rd Division) are looking very weak now, with every unit significantly reduced in numbers. 

Over on my side of the table I finally get into melee on the extreme left and as expected my South Carolina troops don't fare well. I failed to damage their target (the New Yorkers) with any artillery fire and the resultant combat see's my only chance to turn the enemy's flank repulsed. I should have attacked much earlier in the game and now its probably too late to make any significant contribution to the battle.  

In the centre my Texans have been mauled and have fallen back. They are still in the field but are next to useless now as an effective force. In a last insult from the dice I had earlier moved one of my Alabama Brigades into the Orchard at the bottom of this picture. I was ready to charge the advancing Indianan units but rolled so poorly for activation they wouldn't move at all! 
My advance with the South Carolinan and Alabama troops has stalled almost as soon as it began. All I have in return are casualties our side can ill afford. 

Our centre (well my bit of it) has effectively collapsed and Ray is unable to break the Union line opposing him. We could play this game out another couple of turns but the result in no longer in doubt. The confederates have lost the battle (and the will to fight on). 

I think its fair to say that everyone enjoyed the game (we love this period) but not the way the rules worked. We have experienced this frustration before with this rule set, but this particular game really highlighted the 'weakness'of these rules for a group like ours. There is a lot of work for the umpire to do calculating modifiers and the outcomes of firing and melee. This slowed down play as we were often waiting for Postie to check outcomes, especially with things like unit activation's so we couldn't even get on with movement without his constant intervention. 

For the players I think the main thing with these rules is frustration at not being able to achieve results with our troops. Essentially I think it comes down to the d10 based system for all dice rolls which seems to produce an 'all or nothing' result, with the 'all' being virtually unattainable! Achieving a significant outcome in Melee for instance relies more on the dice roll than on what forces are committed to a given fight. So one side could pile in loads of regiments against a much smaller opponent but still lose massively if the opposing dice rolls are opposite ends of the spectrum. And achieving that elusive 10-1 dice roll is just pure luck, no generalship involved. As Ray said (and I agree), a player with the skill of a Mushroom could win this game if he's lucky with the dice. 

We have requested that our glorious leader Postie closet himself away and write some suitable rules for this period, as he has with nearly every other period we play. It would be fun to replay this same scenario with the same forces but a different rule set as a comparison with Fire and Fury. 


  1. I feel your pain. One of my favorite periods. I played F&F for years, but they are showing their age as a ruleset compared to a lot of better ones out there. For large groups we've switched to Black Powder with the ACW adjustments. Other sets as well. Fire & Fury will always have a place on my bookshelf, but I doubt we'll ever play it again.

    1. I think he's using the original version of the rules. Maybe it's worth looking at the new edition, but I'm open to anything that produces a good game.

  2. I always find it interesting that you guys have so much frustration with this rule set. I have been playing them since they were first published and they are absolutely my to ruleset for ACW. I don’t understand why you funnel everything through an umpire though. Everything is on the charts, you really just need a moderator to resolve rule questions. If you don’t like these I would suggest Pickett’s Charge from Two Fat Lardies.

    1. We have an umpire because we're lazy. We have had some good games with these rules in the past. We enjoyed this game just didn't feel we got the sort of decisive results we expected for our effort. Maybe it's just us, we like our rules simple and melee bloody!

  3. Great battle report and minis - there really isn't a period of history that Postie doesn't have mini's for, is there?

    A little surprised at the angst directed towards F&F - these are one of two "goto" rules that I use for the ACW. The other is Longstreet which is a bit more "gamey" but a whole lot of fun. I probably should preface my comments with a disclaimer that I was a play tester for F&F so you can blame me for the bad experience!

    The use of D10's for melee combat does introduce a lot of variability where one can be attacking with a large set of modifiers - lets say net +7 and still loose if the defender rolls a 10 and you role a 1. It's somewhat historical as there are lots of examples of out numbered defenders throwing back a large attack (little round top etc). One thing you might consider is replacing the D10 with a D6 for melee combat as that would take roughly 40% of the variability of of the mix.

    Still there is no perfect rule set and your opinions are borne out of playing on the table top so have merit - unlike a lot of the "opinions" on TMP that really don't have any basis.

    F&F does encourage attacking in depth so if the first assault is repulsed by the dice gods there is a second one ready to follow up and see if those dice gods are really as fickle as reported

    I would encourage to reach out to the author of the rules via the fire and fury website - I think he'd value your opinions and point out how you might improve the experience.

    1. We've been using fire and fury for years, so it is sad to drop them, but maybe it's time we tried something new. At the very least the feedback here should give postie some ideas.

  4. Beautiful looking table and excellent game photos, Lee. Too bad about the frustrating defeat but war is unpredictable. The original F&F (and RF&F and BF&F) have been ACW staples at our game tables for decades. The opposed D10 can be extremely frustrating when the swings are big. I have often thought a switch to an opposed D6 would improve this facet of the game so that the tail does not wag the dog. With enough BMUs on the table as in your game, the law of averages ought to kick in to help rebalance the game. When it doesn't, we get an entertaining account of a great defeat.

    1. We still had a good game, despite the outcome. It just felt like we were battling the rules as much as our opponent.

  5. I love the ACW period like yourselves but I am really surprised you havent bought and played Dave Brown's Pickett's Charge.We played a decent sized ACW game yesterday in 28mm after a few months lay off from the period and it was a wonderful experience.Okay its regimental but I would be amazed if you didnt find the rules fun, playable and surprisingly historical. Give them a try. Great looking game by the way.

    1. I'll mention the rules to Postie. He's a wargaming megalomaniac so probably already has the book somewhere in his vast collection.

  6. Ray told me to say his post was better!

    1. Yeh, he can keep telling himself that if it makes him feel better. :)

  7. Lovely report and table. I do love the ACW as it shows on my blog. I haven’t played BFF but have the newer Version 2 rules of BFf, but I mainly play the regimental version. I think the newer version might fix some of your frustration but might not. There are lots of good ACW rules out there so no need to play a game you don’t like. Lots have been said above about the F$F mechanics so I won’t expound again, but only add that a lot of players probably charge too much thinking that melee is key but I’m of the opinion that fire power is king of the ACW battlefield. When I host convention games with RFF I tell players only to charge when they need their troops standing where the opponent is standing; otherwise it’s probably better to shoot. If you have lots of positive modifiers for shooting odds are you will hurt the enemy. But anyways nice game and glad you all still had a good time, which is the main thing of course. 😀

    1. I think I have a copy of the newer version somewhere. I'll have to give it another look. Our problem as a group (if you can call it a problem) is we switch periods and scales constantly - partly because Postie has such a massive collection of figures. So we never become 'expert' with any particular set of rules. Last time I played F&F was nearly two years ago so there is always a bit of a learning curve whenever we start a new game.

  8. Well what can I say??? Great report on what was for nearly all proposes a great game.
    Posties already working on a set, so expect another ACW game soon, you never know we might want to play FnF again after all?!?!?!?!?!

    1. I'd like more ACW games, but next time a win would be nice!

  9. Played these rules for years - they are originally derived with permission derived from our "On to Richmond" rule set by Paul Koch published in The Courier many years ago (I am too lazy to look it up). We have played both Brigade and Regimental versions for years with as many as 8 players per side and by everybody doing thier own calculations and his opponent doing the checking (if he feels it necessary). Umpire is around only to adjudicate the scenario or a little understood rule or two) Longest game wit 8 players (15mm) was 5 hours 15minutes.

  10. For ACW, I have always played Johnny Reb III and more recently Across A Deadly Field, both by the genius John Hill, he of Squad Leader fame. Johnny Reb III is regimental, Across A Deadly Field is for fighting larger battles.

    1. I've never played Johnny Deb before but I've heard good reviews. One for the team to consider.

    2. ...or even 'Johnny Reb' !


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