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Subject: Trenton -- Histroical, but not very fair rss

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Seth Owen
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Norwich
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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 between 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 demonstrated.

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 Hessian) 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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Matt Jolly
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Seth,

I think you are right, which underlines to me one of the biggest differences between wargames and real life. In real life, most well informed generals would not attack if the sides were balanced and they had a choice; too much chance of losing.

So "balanced" battles (it seems to me) tended to occur when one or both sides had limited or poor intelligence on the other (or the corollary, over confidence in their own ability), or when they had to fight or lose a war.

What do you think?

Matt

 
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Etien
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Just finished playing Trenton with the result being 6 - 0 in favor of the Americans. On turn 1 the Americans took out the lone and exposed British artillery. Then they proceeded to wear down the British positions in the towns with their artillery only two hexes away on the ridges until the British position simply disintegrated or were forced back. Not one close assault nor one hex distance firing was necessary to gain their 6 kills in order to secure a victory. All hits were from two hexes away. Raul was killed early attempting to rally his troops.

Amended. Setup and Victory Conditions: these can be play-tested to find the right balance.

Game ends at the conclusion of Turn 18 (this is the only scenario without a game turn limit.)

American ridge line is pushed back one hex to force American artillery off of ridge and out of woods and into exposed positions if they want to get hits on the British in the towns.

American must capture and hold VP town hex plus eliminate 7 British units.
British must exit at least 2 non-leader units across the bridge hex and eliminate 5 American units.

Draw results if neither side meet victory conditions.
 
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David Groves
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I must be a very bad general because I played this game twice as a solo and both times the British side won with a score of 6-5 each game. I found each game a very tense finish.

I will admit that I was just play testing on the quick without giving too much consideration to the American advance and the Americans did have some unlucky dice in game one. The Brits also took out a leader in game two which clinched it.

I will agree that the Brit artillery is very vulnerable and should be positioned in one of the towns stacked with infantry to give it a starting chance because without it covering the retreat the Brits are done for. However, in both of the games played the arty took one hit in turn 1 and then moved into cover of a nearby town hex. The infantry unit on the left flank is also in a very poor position facing a large American force in the open. However, in both games this unit managed to fight a successful retreat and cross over the bridge down to one man before being lost as a VP. A bit of luck perhaps. The rest of the Brit army needs to keep on the move towards the bridge. There they can match the American force on the American right flank as they try to cross the bridge. However, the stacked arty is a must to hold the VP town for as long as possible and to hold back the American centre/left advance.

I haven't played all of the scenarios in this game but so far I love it. I started with Worthington games Napoleon's war and have spent some considerable time re-writing the broken rules to balance up the scenarios. Since buying Hold the Line and Frederick's war I have built many of their rules into Naps War successfully and Naps war has now become a very good play. For me, then, Worthington seem to have done a good job with Hold the line.

happy gaming
Dave
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Barry Kendall
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So far we've also experienced a string of victories for Washington, pretty lopsided, but Trenton is still a fascinating battle and a pivotal moment not only in the history of the war but, I believe, of Western historical development as a whole--one of those very small events in numbers and duration whose echoes traveled far.

Here's one thing: I've found this a superb introductory scenario for new gamers, not only to the HtL system but to wargaming generally.

Give such a player Gen. Washington's Army and a bit of advice, and they'll have a blast--and come back for more.

I like having a teaching resource that's almost guaranteed to give the new player a positive experience, especially when it's something from history that the player can relate to.

Just one thing, folks, stay far, far away from Tucker's book on Trenton, quite possibly the worst-written and most poorly-edited historical work I have ever slogged through in my entire life.

It's so bad that reading it all the way through could be considered an advanced form of penance for sins.
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Mayor Jim
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Barry Kendall wrote:
So far we've also experienced a string of victories for Washington, pretty lopsided, but Trenton is still a fascinating battle and a pivotal moment not only in the history of the war but, I believe, of Western historical development as a whole--one of those very small events in numbers and duration whose echoes traveled far.

Here's one thing: I've found this a superb introductory scenario for new gamers, not only to the HtL system but to wargaming generally.

Give such a player Gen. Washington's Army and a bit of advice, and they'll have a blast--and come back for more.

I like having a teaching resource that's almost guaranteed to give the new player a positive experience, especially when it's something from history that the player can relate to.

Just one thing, folks, stay far, far away from Tucker's book on Trenton, quite possibly the worst-written and most poorly-edited historical work I have ever slogged through in my entire life.

It's so bad that reading it all the way through could be considered an advanced form of penance for sins.
Thanks for the advice ...it's a great story of American ingenuity and pluck, other sources will make a better read.
 
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michaël lagarde
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Re: Trenton -- Historical, but not very fair
Trenton : 6-2. American victory....But Washington is dead and the other american commander also. The british commander is alive, beyond the bridge.
A Pyrrhus victory isn't it ?
 
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Andrew S. Fischer
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If Washington dies in any scenario, the Brits should win automatically.
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