Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Powder: ACW

We played Black Powder using the Battle Cry game (hexboard terrain and plastic figures) and it seemed to go well. As much as it would have been nice to have seen a 4' x 8' table with about 200-250 figures per side, this was not a bad way to get our heads around the game mechanics.

I'm not sure yet what level of command is right for Black Powder in an ACW game, but the rather generic order of battle (general and 'brigade' commanders) gives them some versatility. We tried a scenario and set up straight from the Battle Cry rules: The Battle of Kernstown. This essentially gave the CSA three generals (Jackson as CIC plus two large brigades) and the Union two generals (no CIC and two large brigades). We will handle things differently when we base a game on historical accounts instead of just taking the pieces and deployment from Battle Cry, but it did what we really wanted to do - give us a better feeling for Black Powder.

We thought we should start out each army's infantry regiments in march column, which might have been a bit much considering their proximity. We learned that forcing troops to begin a scenario in march column can be really ugly - it only takes a failed command roll or two to leave them as sitting ducks even for long range fire. This is a very useful thing to keep in mind for certain ambush scenarios.

We used the Black Powder ACW sample scenario stats for our troops - ie. Rifled Muskets for infantry, Skirmish Order for dismounted cavalry, etc. One thing I think that might be worth adding to ACW scenarios for line infantry muskets is the use of First Volley (ie. the first volley is the best and later volleys tend to be less drilled affairs). Black Powder tends to assign that rule to earlier armies, but not ACW. Granted, my research into the period is limited compared to serious students of the period, but this is one of the things that leaps out of historical accounts I've read, lectures I've heard, and discussions I've had.

Another thing worth revisiting is how Black Powder handles woods and the ability of line infantry to traverse it. I think the sample scenario allows line infantry to temporarily assume skirmish order while in woods but resume regular formation upon exiting - I really need to double check that. We used that in our game, but there might be better ways of working this out. Maybe this should come from the terrain side of things - ie. the woods provide cover, slow movement, and block LOS, but they aren't thick enough to force skirmish order (with its inherent combat bonuses and penalties).  Regardless, the game is made for tweaking and I'm sure we'll come up with something that feels historically 'right' that can be played with minimum fuss.


  1. Paul - I think you are right on the first volley. It stands to reason that the first firing will have the cleanest barrels with men ready to fire, therefore presumably the most accurate volley. After that, the barrels become quickly fouled and the air is full of smoke, bullets, and the sounds of battle adding to the stress of the soldiers, thereby reducing their effectiveness. Neil

  2. Thank you, Neil. I have to say here that you are one of the influences in my thoughts in the matter!

    There's some other aspects of Black Powder that might need some tweaking to get the proper feel for ACW - and that sounds like a good follow-up post.