Sunday, May 17, 2009

Clash for a Continent session report

This will be an experiment. I'm going to discuss the scenario and my planned strategy ahead of the game, save it in draft form and then discuss how things actually unfolded later and post it.

The scenario will be the Battle of Lake George, 8 September 1755 from the game Clash for a Continent. This was part of a full day of gaming with Mark K.

The map from the scenario:

The basic situation is that the British have sent out a force (in the middle of the map in red) from their fortified camp (at left) that is about to be ambushed by larger force of French and Indians (in black on three sides of the British force).

The first thing to do is check the victory conditions.:

British: 6 Victory Pointss (VP) or avoid French victory for 25 turns

French: 7 VPs in 25 turns or less

Victory points are mostly scored by eliminating units, including generals, at 1 VP each. The French can also earn VPs for capturing the VP markers inside the British camp. These VPs basically exist to keep the British from simply abandoning their camp and making a sortie to rescue the ambushed force. Unless the British strip the camp of defenders these VPs are out of reach for the French. The burden of attack is on the French, if time runs out without a resolution the British win.

Terrain analysis

The left side of the map is dominated by the British fortified line, which both reduces the effect of enemy fire while providing a morale bonus to the defenders. There's a two-hex wide cleared zone in front of the trench line meaning the defenders will have a clear line of fire on any attackers. The line is anchored on one end by an impassable swamp and the other end by the board edge.

Most of the rest of the map is covered with light woods, in which hexes of woods and clear terrain are inter-spaced. There's a clearing in the middle of the map where the British force is marching. The woods provide some benefit to defenders, reducing the effect of fire and providing a morale benefit, but they block fire and slow non-Indian movement.

Order of Battle:

Both armies are the same size, with 13 combat units and two leaders.

The British are mostly American militia with a couple of allied Indian units and a single unit of cannons in the fort. Half of the militia, the Indians and the leader Williams make up the ambushed force. The historical notes say that Mohawk chief Hendrick observed of the detached force that if the men "were to be killed, they were too many; if they are to fight, they are too few."

This is reflected in the game by the fact that the entire force is worth 8 VPs for the French if they wipe it out, more than enough for them to win without attacking the British fort. But the force is also outnumbered nearly 2-1 by the ambushing French force.

The other half of the militia, the cannon and leader Johnson are behind the fortified line.

The French are likewise divided into two parts, each under a leader. The larger part, assumed to be under leader Dieskau, comprised of two regular French infantry, three militia and two Indians lies in wait North of the British detachment. The other portion, under De Saint-Pierre, comprising one regular, two militia and three Indians is to the South.

Although both sides are equal in numbers, the French regulars give them an edge in overall strength of 32 to 26, and 32 to 14 at the ambush site.


For the French and Indians the strategy has already been set and its really a matter of execution. A classic three-sided ambush as been set up and the French side has overwhelming force. The only thing standing in their way is that the game system makes it hard to bring all that force to bear at once. The best possible command roll will allow less than half the French army to move or fire at any given time. Still, the British command situation is just as bad.My French plan will be to use the mobility of the Indians to finish encircling the British force and block any breakout while the French regulars move in for the kill. Priority for commands will be Indians, regulars next and militia last. The militia units will be used to support the Indians and regulars as necessary. The goal is to wipe out the British detachment and get the 7 VPs before they can escape to the fort.

The British situation is challenging. The obvious course of action is to simply hightail it for the British forts. There's a good chance half of them will escape, although it means forgoing any chance of causing much damage to the French because any actions spent shooting will not be spent running. This could result in an almost pristine French army being able to attack the fortified line, with a good chance of breaking through, given the fragility of militia units.

The doctrinal US Army solution to being ambushed is to attack the ambush and I think that is what I will try to do. I will attack the southern, weaker half of the French ambush force with my militia and leader while the Indians cover the rear. The idea is for the British detachment to make its way into the woods along the south side of the clearing and then use the woods to provide cover during the retreat to the portion of the fort between the cannon and the swamp. If 3 or 4 of the units from the detachment make it back then that will be a success, so long as they kill 2-3 VPs worth of French units. With prior losses, the French task of breaking into the forts without losing 6 VPs is much harder.

The battles:

I ended up playing the British side first, and it ended up being even more of a disaster than I thought it might be. The very first couple of Indian attacks wiped out a pair of militia units, fatally compromising my plan to have some guys cover the rear while the rest tried to fight their way through the ambush. There was no rear and Mark's French simply kept running and gunning down the fleeing militiamen. The only survivors ended up being the Leader Williams and the British-allied Indians, who had been unmolested.

Things looked pretty grim, with an untouched French force slowly gathering just outside of range, the British having already lost 5 VPs worth of units. Mark didn't bother bringing up any of the French militia, who were largely spectators throughout the battle. His Indians were mostly near the scene anyway after their pursuit, so he spent the next few turns bringing up the French regulars. When the final assault came it was led by the two French leaders, each at the head of one unit of regulars, while a pair of Indian warbands joined in on the French right. (Top map edge in the map above)

The French regulars who attacked the portion of the fort with the cannon suffered heavy losses, but were still standing when the end came, having done their job of occupying the guns while the main assault went in on the French right. There the sole French casualty was the leader, who fell while gloriously leading his men over the parapet. The militiamen were no more stalwart on the walls then they had been in the woods and the last two VPs soon came the French way.

The final score was 7-1 in Mark's favor with the game ending around Turn 15. A decisive victory.

My original plan with the British never really got started and I ended up switching to the high-tailing option, but that worked as badly as I thought it would. I wondered if the British might be better off standing and fighting, but Mark's experience in our next game makes me doubt that would work either.

When we switched sides I decided I would do my best to execute my pre-game French strategy and the French once again caught an early burst of good fortune as one of the first Indian attacks not only eliminated the British militia unit closest to the fort but also eliminated British leader Williams! This move and a couple of others effectively slammed the door on any British flight and the British column was swarmed by French militiamen and Indians. I think the regulars only got off one volley, although it was an effective one, destroying a British militia.

As the militia melted away the British-allied Indians desperately sought an escape. One band slipped by the French militia after taking a hit, but the other band of Indians was trapped. While the French-allied Indians would not shoot at their fellow Indians, they also would not let them pass. Flushed like quail from the bush, the British-allied Indians dodged a few volleys from French militia units until their luck finally ran out.

The sole witnesses to make it back to the fort was a half-strength warband of Indians. The final score was 7-0, with the game over around turn 7 or 8.

Given the disproportionate results in both battles I'd have to conclude that the British side has a tough time in this scenario. While it's true that the French in both episodes benefited from early good fortune, the results were so lopsided it's hard to credit luck alone for the outcomes. I proved the British can't run. Mark proved they can't stay and fight, either. The only French unit loss in either battles was a leader, which is a function of luck.

Militia in the Wars for America system is extremely fragile. It's not uncommon to roll a few pairs of sixes when rolling trios of dice, so the militia units are prone to disappear with little notice. While theoretically the French Indians and militia were just as vulnerable, it is a theoretical vulnerability if they aren't shot at. Neither Mark nor I found many opportunities to shoot as the trapped British always seemed to need to try moving to escape the trap.Wars for America is a fun system, so I think we enjoyed playing, but I do think that this one is almost a gimme for the French side as far as competitive play goes.