Monday, 2 July 2007

Introduction to my AWI games and rules

The AWI has a great appeal as a wargaming subject, it has a large number of well-documented battles, but virtually all of them would be considered small by European standards therefore you don't need a large number of figures to recreate them. Part of the interest is the great variety of different troop types available. Close order infantry covers British line (still with its superior rate of fire), German mercenaries (generally solid and dependable), American line and militia (both rebel and loyalist). Light Infantry types include the usual light companies, but also the legendary American riflemen (reality didn't usual match up) German rifle armed Jaegers, the Indians fighting for either side and even a unit armed with the Ferguson breech loading rifle. Only light cavalry was always used and it was very limited in numbers due to the shortage of horses. If you need to add more variety then there is also the French and Spanish involvement in the War.

I first became interested in the AWI during the build up to the bi-centennial celebrations in 1976 when the Bath Wargames Club refought Burgoyne's Saratoga campaign. It was organised as a club project with the members taking the roles of the various participants. Each club member had to paint about 50 Airfix figures each. Based on the historical unit strengths the American units had 12 figures each and British/German units had 24 figures each. We used a modified version of the WRG Napoleonic Rules (remember the ones with flinch points). Given various shortfalls by other members I ended up painting British, Brunswick and American units for the campaign. I continued adding units to my army after leaving Bath and slowly modifying the rules further. Major problems existed with how the rules coped with the large differences in unit sizes between the British and American units, and the actual table space taken up by 24 figure units (this was before 15mm became popular). The former caused problems in formulating equitable morale tests and the latter tended to give a very stained and clumsy game.

The spur for change came from playing an ACW game organised by Charlie Wissencraft at the 1982 conference of Wargamers (COW) which caused me to revise all my thoughts on the period, particularly the ground scales and unit representation. By modern standards there was nothing unusual, but at the time it was revolutionary, the major changes were:

  1. Instead of dealing in losses in actual men or figures units had up to 5 strength points.
  2. A simple representation was used for the formations. For the AWI I used either two bases side by side for line and one behind the other for column.
  3. I used common sized units and only varied the strength points to reflect their differing strengths. Large British units were represented by two separate units which was reflected in some of the period battlefield maps.
  4. An alternate move system was employed.
  5. I halved the frontage of the units by basing the figures in two ranks instead of one.
  6. The addition of a second charge option allowed the limited cavalry available to exploit their successes.

The effects were immediately apparent, the games became more fluid which is obvious when you consider that where four (24 figure) units in line had virtually spanned my table from flank to flank it now needed sixteen with all the resulting problems caused by slight variations in morale. The alternate move system didn't slow the game down as I had feared

The only problem that remained was the perennial one of keeping records of losses, although with only 5 strength points it was relatively simple, but the armies continued to grow. This problem caused my mate Steve Ayers, who had just bought an Amiga, to create a computer version of the rules. Besides the benefits in record keeping it also allowed us run games with relatively novice players who needed little more than the move distances and firing ranges in order to play. When I moved to Chester in 88 this left Steve and me with a problem, I was forced to re-program the rules to run on an IBM-PC, and Steve had to create two armies which he created in 15mm.

My own armies (as you would expect) consist entirely of plastic figures. The bulk of my infantry is provided by the basic Airfix British grenadiers and American infantry packs with German grenadiers created by reshaping the British grenadiers bearskin. The cavalry are either a conversion of the mounted grenadier officer with either the bearskin carved down to a light dragoon helmet or the head replaced by that from a cuirassier or alternatively Napoleonic RHA officers. The light infantry are French Napoleonics with the shako carved down to a light infantry cap. The artillery crews are heavily converted American infantry with arms from French artillery men. If I was starting now I would obviously use the new Revell figures for both the AWI and the SYW. My original American riflemen were conversions of ACW confederates, but I have since replaced them with Revell Americans in hunting shirts.

For uniform details the best sources I have found are "the American army in the revolution" and the British army ditto both by Alan Kemp published by Almark and now out of print. The next best is the Blandford Uniforms of the AWI. The new Osprey book of the French Army in the AWI now provides the best details for the French. I also have a copy of Lefferts which lists all the deserter descriptions from contemporary newspapers on which have been used by most sources for their American uniform details. However if you read Lefferts it rapidly becomes obvious that there was very little consistency of uniform in the American units. For orders of battle, etc. the best sources are the "War of Independence in the South" and ditto in the North by Greg Novak. My own bible is Boatners "Encyclopaedia of the American Revolution"

Enjoy your gaming


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