Saturday, May 3, 2014

Trenton Session report for Hold the Line

Wargamers want fair contests. There's little sense of triumph in willing a foregone conclusion and it's disheartening to feel that no matter how well you play, you may lose.

Yet it's undeniable that a "fair' fight implies a failure of generalship and there's no correlation betwene the fairness of a battle and its significance.

The Battle of Trenton in the Americana Revolution is undoubtedly one of the most significant battles of the whole war. Washington's bold stroke may very well have saved the Patriot cause. And it's widely held that Washington wasn't especially skilled as a tactical commander. He lost more battles than he won. But he won big at Trenton with his ragged rebels despite facing professional troops because he made sure it wasn't a fair fight.
Set Up

This creates some problems for wargame designers, though. Trenton was too significant a fight to not be depicted. But it's hard to make it a fair fight, as a recent session of Hold the Line with my friend Mark Kolenski demonstarted.

Hold the Line is a fun, but very simple game system. In my opinion it manages to succeed quite well as a simulation despite its abstract nature, but there is no arguing that it is a detailed or exhaustive simulation. It tends towards the "game" end of the game vs. simulation continuum.

One might think that simplicity might make a balanced fight more likely. The HOTL Trenton scenario has very little in the way of spacial rules. The situation is rather baldly depicted by the set up. The Americans are in two concentrated bodies, with one group on the flank of the British (actually Hessains) who are widely scattered amidst some buildings.

Mark and I played a match with both games going very similarly. An early volley wiped out the one Hessian artillery piece and then the Americans pressed forward. Mark favored the larger body that started on the ridge led by Washington. I tended to favor actions with the slightly smaller flanking force led by Greene.

But in the end it didn't matter. Both times the Americans won with a VP score of 6-1. It's probable that the historical Hessians didn't even manage 1 VP, but the game outcome was so one-sided that one can doubt that there is much the Hessian player can do except hope for extraordinary dice.

It might be possible to adjust the game victory points so that the British can win with, say, 3 VP, but this doesn't seem very true to the history and runs the danger of making the game just too driven by chance. The Hessian would probably play aggressively hoping to score on lucky shots.

I'm glad Trenton is in the box, but I'm not sure I'll ever play it again.

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