Sunday, February 21, 2010

Units of Hold the Line

Hold the Line, along with its French and Indian War expansion and the very similar predecessor Clash for a Continent uses a relatively small number of disparate unit types to recreate a large number of battles in North America during the 1758 to 1781 period. It will be interesting what adjustments the system will see as it moves into the more complex Napoleonic era later this year.

Warfare in North America in the latter half of the eighteenth century was very much a foot soldier's fight due to the challenges of the wilderness and its distance from European bases of supply. In Hold the Line and its sister games a lot of the interest provided by the battles is in the interaction between the orders of battle and the terrain. This makes the more flexible command system it uses seem more appropriate to its setting than the more formal left-center-right breakdown used in Borg's game system would be. That seems better suited to the more formal nature of European warfare.

Still, it's the units that decide the action, so here they are. In each case the order is, from left, British, American and, when present, French:

Regular Line Infantry -- These are the ubiquitous, core element of the game, appearing on at least one side in every single scenario. Most of the time the infantry has a morale point (MP) strength of 4, but occasionally understrength units appear with an MP of 3. The forte of these units is staying power. Except in rare cases, they cannot be destroyed by a single volley and most of the time will have to be whittled down by repeated attacks. At full strength they will probably succeed in making a Close Combat morale check. Likewise they will probably hold their position when facing a Close Combat attack.

Elite Infantry -- Only the British and Americans have these units. They're pretty common in British armies, appearing 21 times in the 33 scenarios of Hold the Line, HTL French and Indian War expansion and Clash for a Continent. The Americans get elite infantry in just four scenarios. In most cases the "Elite" infantry doesn't represent formal elite units such as Grenadiers (although they can represent them sometimes) but merely regular line units that distinguished themselves in the particular fight. Elite infantry shares all the characteristics of Regular Line Infantry with some additional benefits. One of the more important benefits is that they get a +1 bonus on all morale check rolls, which means that they are very likely to stick around for Close Combat. Their most useful characteristic is that they get a saving roll whenever they might lose their last step and half the time they don't. While certainly not something to build a battle plan around, their refusal to die can be very annoying to your opponent and a source of good cheer to you. The advanced/optional rules give them an additional benefit -- at full strength they roll 4 dice when attacking. The British counter appears to depict fusiliers.

Light Infantry -- Their forte is movement -- moving twice as fast as line troops, while having equal firepower. They have slightly less staying power than most line troops with a maximum strength of 3, but their biggest foible is simply numbers. While they show up fairly often (there are just 12 scenarios where they don't appear on at least one side), it's never in large numbers. The most any side will ever have is two in its order of battle, making them just supporting units.

Militia Infantry -- They have no forte, aside from existence. They show up a lot, there are only 13 scenarios where they don't appear. Unlike the Light Infantry, there's often a lot of Militia Infantry. On the positive side, they fire as effectively as the regulars, but with just 2 MP they are always just one bad roll away from sudden disappearance. It's rarely worth spending action points to rally them so the best thing to do with a damaged militia unit is pull it out of the line, if you can. There are no French militia in the countermix, they use the Tory militia

Indians -- While sharing the vulnerability to fire and bad morale of Militia Infantry, Indians have some special abilities which go a long way towards making them useful units. For one thing, they can move and fire or, perhaps more importantly, fire and then move, making them good at harassing enemy troops while being tough to come to grips with. Combined with the fact that they do NOT have to stop when passing through woods hexes and they become quite dangerous. There are a a half dozen scenarios that involve a large number of Indians such as the Battle on Snowshoes, Bloody Bridge, Fort Dusquesne, Lake George, Oriskany and Bushy Run, but the other four times they show up only one or two appear, making them bit players. There are only two battles, Lake George and Oriskany, where Indians appear on both sides in a scenario. Interestingly, the Indian "flag" on the counter is the flag of the Iroquois Confederation. The different colors are used to tell the units apart on the few occasions where Indians were on both sides.

Rangers -- Definitely the best units in the game, they have the mobility of the Indians and the firepower and benefits of being Elite troops. Their only drawbacks are their MP of 2 and the fact they are exceedingly rare, appearing in just the five scenarios of the French and Indian War expansion. And except for the Battle for Snowshoes, where they represent the entire force, they have just one or two units present, making them another supporting unit. They only fight on the British side, although they are colonials. Oddly, the Ranger counter is double-length, even though they're only a 2 MP unit. They are the only such unit in the system. All other 2MP units are square, while all the other double-length counters have maximum MPs of 3 or 4.

Dragoons -- Unlike European warfare of the era, fighting in North America rarely involved more than a handful of mounted troops. Often the dragoon unit in a HTL scenario represents as few as 20 or so troopers, which would be a negligible number on a European battlefield. Their very rarity could give them an impact far outside of their numbers in North American fighting, as many troops (militia, Indians) had no training at all in anti-cavalry techniques and even the line troops could be caught by surprise. The Dragoon units are speedy, moving up to three hexes, and have the ability to move and attack, although less effectively than infantry. They cannot Close Combat, which seems a little odd, frankly. They also have a maximum strength of 2, which means they won't take much punishment. They don't appear very often, in just 14 scenarios. In just two cases (Brandywine and Cowpens) are there enough dragoon units on both sides that anything like a cavalry battle might occur. In nearly every other case there's just one of two dragoon units present, often only on one side. There are no French dragoons in the counter mix. The British Dragoon shown is from Tarleton's Legion.

Artillery -- If North America wasn't good cavalry country, it was even worse for gunners. If using the optional/advanced rules, artillery units are nearly useless against troops in woods, and in any case they will find the terrain in many scenarios working against their forte -- range. Artillery units have the longest range of units in the game, although it's not much of an edge -- just 3 hexes compared to the 2 hexes of infantry units. The artillery fires a little more effectively than infantry, but doesn't have the option of Close Combat. With a strength of just 2, the guns are subject to quick silencing by good rolls. They do appear often, however. There are just 6 scenarios with no guns at all, and in most of the other scenarios there are 2-3 gun units on at least one side.

Leaders -- Personal leadership plays a big role in the game, so leaders appear in all scenarios, generally two per side. Leaders provide many direct benefits -- the ability to rally units to replace losses, morale benefits for attack and defense, increased movement and, if using the advanced/optional rules, more dice in close combat. Their drawback is that they can be killed while providing these benefits, giving the enemy a VP. The game mechanic for this (potential hits on a die roll of 1, followed up by another die roll of 1) basically give the attacker an extra bite at the apple when it comes to scoring VPs in an attack, so players need to carefully consider the risks and benefits of leading from the front. Hold the Line introduced leaders with additional combat value and hit values. All the leaders in Clash for a Continent were, in effect 1/1 leaders, which means they added 1 die in combat or +1 to morale and dies when taking a single hit. In HTL and the French and Indian War expansion there are 2/1, 1/2 and even 2/2 leaders. A 2/1 leader adds an important combat benefit, a +2 is a big deal in this game system, but at high risk because a single hit will take the leader out of the game for a VP. Examples of 2/1 leaders are guys like Wolfe, Levis, Murray, Rahl, Kyphausen, Arnold, Campbell, Ferguson and Marion -- inspirational who sometimes took a bullet. Slightly less common are 1/2 leaders. These men, who include Dumas, Fraser, Howe, Greene, Williams, Clinton and Shelby, can be risked at the front a little more freely because they'll get a chance to pull out if they get hit once. The 2/2 leaders are, of course, definitely worth putting in charge of your main effort, providing robust and powerful leadership. The leaders getting this honor include some of the most legendary figures of the wars such as Rogers, Wolfe, Pontiac, Washington, Cornwallis, Rawdon and Mawhood. Leaders move 3 hexes and have combat value of their own, but enhance friendly units.

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