A Tangled Mass is a game
of toy soldiers in the old style, set more or less in the middle part of the
18th century. Our miniature forces are
colorful and, we hope, glossy. Although
the latter, like so much else, is up to the discretion of the players. But it is the modeling, brushwork, and unit organization of hobby greats like Gilder, Mason, and Robinson that provide our visual touchstone and continue to inform "the look of the thing" even now.
Tabletop armies in A Tangled Mass can be historic, semi-historic, or whimsically fictitious, but the more flags and mounted officers, the better. Formations, while bearing some resemblance to their historic precedents, are generic: column, line, or extended order for lighter types. Squares, while possible, are less common than during all of that later Napoleonic madness with its guillotines and Spanish ulcers. And we'll simply choose not to mention patent leather dancing pumps, or that unseemly bedroom farce in Brussels.
Returning to the point at hand, the conduct and results of cannon fire, musketry, skirmishing, and close combat are stylized and abstract in our game. We do our best to avoid getting bogged down in the many details of formation, maneuver, or pedantic debates about specific weapon capabilities. We accept that it is well nigh impossible to represent the numerous minutia of soldiering in 1740s-1760s that we envision as we comb yet again through favorite titles by the likes of David Chandler, Christopher Duffy, John Keegan, Paddy Griffith, Phillip Haythornthwaite, Brent Nosworthy, and Rory Muir.
Rather, the results of combat and troops’ will to fight in our game are determined by rolls of the venerable six-sided dice. Lady Luck is fickle, surprise ever-present, results are accepted, and we move forward in the spirit of the game. Above all, the simple joy of maneuvering blocks of toy soldiers around the table is a given, related smiles quick, and laughter infectious.
That said, A Tangled Mass, we hope, introduces and reflects some of the same delay, confusion, unforeseen circumstances, and resulting frustration that were a feature of actual horse and musket warfare through occasional turns of luck. In common with other periods in the days before telegraphs, radio, satellite navigation, and iPhones, the transmission of handwritten messages by horseback is an important feature of these rules. Likewise, imaginary clouds of powder smoke, surprise events, and occasionally egotistical hotheaded officers with scores to settle (think Lord Lucan and Lord Cardigan in a later age here), not to mention engaging with the enemy, could easily lead to the most carefully laid plans going awry.
While many commanders of the period in question were skilled tacticians and administrators, others, it seems, managed to win a combat, action, or battle through no fault of their own. Certainly Coup d’oeil or Fingerspitzengefühl had a role to play in the success of generals during our era. But luck too could and did influence events on the Field of Mars.
Thanks to the somewhat capricious nature of Dame Fortune, D6 to her close friends, it is
our intent and hope that A Tangled Mass
provides at least a taste of the confusion and frustration that results when the enemy, our units, and even subordinate officers behave in ways that do not align with
expectations. Once units receive and attempt to carry out their instructions, games may take on an air of unraveling inevitability as we scramble to adapt our initial orders to contact with the enemy, changing situations, and limitations of unit commanders. As fortunes ebb and flow, and our units blunder about the table, we inquire of the ceiling, in our best Rod Steiger-as-Napoleon dramatic stage whisper, "Why is that battalion or squadron doing that now?"
In A Tangled Mass, clever generals
-- sometimes frustratingly young -- exhibit considerable daring do, tactical acumen, and mental agility. These dangerously cunning players demonstrate an ability to
regroup and adjust their 20, 25, or 30mm forces -- though smaller, larger, demi-ronde, flats, and even paper figures also will suffice -- according to changing situations and fortune. Not only are the best tabletop generals effective planners, they roll high. The Young Master certainly seems to manage it. Rather too consistently for my liking. If, like me, you gradually realize that appreciable tactical aptitude is not your particular forte, take solace in the reading, painting, and collecting sides of the wargaming hobby whenever your poker-faced offspring, grandchildren, or younger relatives achieve the victory conditions of a Tabletop Teaser in fewer than ten turns.
We hope you enjoy both the pleasure and
challenge of commanding your own brightly painted troops using the procedures laid out in A Tangled Mass nonetheless. The mechanisms, if we might use the term, are neither revolutionary, evolutionary, nor innovative but recall a simpler time and approach, drawing on the ideas of Asquith, Bath, Featherstone, Gilder, and the Grants plus Young and Lawford of course. With just a dash of Olley, smidgen of Hezzlewood, and a pinch of Morschauser plus a small helping of Whitehouse and Foley for good measure. Our aim has been to develop a set of easy, comfortable rules that can be committed to memory after just a few games. One brain cell required. Two at most.
Players are actively encouraged to use what they have and to expand upon, change. or amend anything presented here, as the late, great Donald Featherstone advised. In order to get the sort of game they want. Finally, if or when a point arises that is not covered by the guidelines presented as part of A Tangled Mass, we suggest that players discuss the situation concisely, determine what specifically must be decided, roll a die 'Yes' or 'No,' accept the result, and resume play. Or, as the late Bruce Quarrie suggested less charitably in his Napoleon's Campaigns in Miniature, go back to playing Ludo. Seriously. ;-)
-- Stokes and Young Master Paul von Stollen
The latest version of the rules will follow shortly. We invite you to send in your after action reports on the back on a postcard. But please avoid writing too small. We have, as Duncan Macfarlane long ago wrote, "a magnifying glass, but shan't use it."
I have a feeling that I am going to be sucked down a particularly large and ruinously expensive rabbit hole with this. All I can say is - BRING IT ON!!!
All the best,