Keith Flint’s new napoleonic rules arrived today, a 118 page hard backed volume published by Partizan Press.
This post is just an initial day one impression, so don’t hang your hat on anything here, as such things need several plays to draw out nuances and get a better sense of what the rules are about, but that aside here some initial thoughts;
Please use the ‘read more’ tag for the rest of this post
For those who don't know, Keith Flint has also authored the very successful 'Honours of War' rules by Osprey Publishing, giving him a track record of producing solid and clean rules, plus good author follow up support.
I suppose the first thing one might wonder is what makes these different from other napoleonic rules and why should they grab my interest. From the outset, Keith highlights that his intention is to bring a simpler game to the hobby, while still retaining a good feel. The stress on simplicity is reinforced throughout the book, especially in the 10 pages of designer notes, where the rational behind many of the mechanisms are explained.
You can see the ethos of ‘simplified’ in several aspects of the rules. For example, unit sizes, or more importantly, the unit footprint, is standardised, so the French battalion will visually look similar to the Austrian battalion. I actually like this sort of thing and it is the type of mechanic rationalising that you see in the likes of Neil Thomas sets, that allows the gamer to get to closer to the bare essentials of the fight - this is splendidly exampled in one of the provided scenarios … remind me to mention it later!
Though for SotE, I think the term 'simplification' is a perhaps too stronger label to attach to these rules, as simple can suggest generic, rather, these rules have a good deal of rich content and plenty of meat, it is just that they are focused on playability and putting the emphasis on where it needs to be.
|The wonderful cover is by Chris Collingwood|
Moving beyond the gorgeous cover, the rules are clearly set out, in two columns, clear sized print and are well illustrated.
In the introduction, Keith explains that “I have set out to develop a set of rules a bit simpler that most of the established sets”.
Basics and Pre-Game covers terminology and suggested basing and formations, though re-basing is not something he advocates or sees as necessesary (Phew!). It is here that he introduces Average Dice (2,3,3,4,4,5) for some random movements associated with retreats. I want to say that again …. Average Dice, hooray, fantastic to see these most useful of ‘old friends’ being used here. We learn about attaching generals, taking Ability Rolls and pre-game bombardments.
By page 16 we get the Sequence of play, outlined in more detail later in this post in an example of play.
The rules then proceed in an order that follows the sequence of play, which makes picking up the rules and having a dabble, a much easier prospect as you simply follow the page order, which in turn reinforces the rules in your mind, effectively becoming repeat readings.
We get Initiative, followed by Movement. The player with Initiative chooses which side will move first. Movement includes the initial charge process.
There is a chance to conduct opportunity fire against units that pass fleetingly in front of another unit.
In the Firing Phase, fire is simultaneous, but you can only fire once during the turn, so units that fired in the charge process, will not be allowed to fire again here.
For units that survived any fire in the charge process, we now get the Close Combat Phase, with each individual combat being chosen in the order preferred by the player with initiative.
I really like the concept of Charge / Close Combat because Keith has deliberately chosen not to call it Melee as he does not feel that historically there was an emphasis on hand-to-hand combat. He says “Close Combat represents a variable mix of hand-to-hand fighting, very close range musketry and the morale effects of close proximity with the enemy”.
The basics of the Morale Section is that regular units will be classed as weakened on 4+ hits and Rout on 7+ hits. Routing has a detrimental effect on nearby units. The whole principle of ‘weakening’ nicely reflects the rigours of combat and the tipping point at which a unit becomes less useful or viable.
The final phase is about generalship and rallying. Under controlled circumstances, a unit may be able to rally off some hits, but never all of them.
Finally there is a short section on winning and losing the game.
An extended example of infantry play (2 pages), cavalry play (3 pages) and multiple close combats (2 pages) follow.
The game is centred around a number of brigades that can form a divisional action, but a couple of pages are given over to Corps level and above games and likewise, the game can be switched down to a smaller game. The three scenarios provided reflect this escalation of size of action.
The 10 pages of design notes sit between all of this and a section called Wars and Campaigns. These are not army lists as such, but rather, they go through the major phases of ‘the wars’, highlight the significant battles of the period and then talk about army building and organisational traits.
So for example in the 1792 - 95 period, the Austrian army has a section that describes the force as being Old Regime and that it does not get an Army Initiative modifier. A randomised table for rating the general is given and here we get Inept or Capable, but this army does not have an ‘inspiring’ category. It then goes on to describe the nature of the Infantry, Grenz, Jaeger, Cavalry and Artillery.
You get similar for Prussian, British and French armies for this time slot. My own interest will sit with the ‘Grand Armée Under Pressure 1809 - 1812 section.
|A typical page, mix of two column text and nice pictures|
Finally, you come to the section that I turned to first - Scenarios. Just like in Goldilocks, we get baby bear, mummy bear and daddy bear! So first, we must talk about scales.
Keith’s opening gambit is that the book is set around using 25mm - 28mm figures on a 6’ x 4’ or above. Though he nods at the bigger table, his book and ethos are about wargaming in the home setting, so he is happy for his units of 16 figures to fight on the dining table, though sees gamers using a range of unit size from 16 to 32 figures per unit, with perhaps 24 being a good look.
All measurements are given in inches, but for 15mm-20mm he suggests reducing by a third (an easy sum to do) and for 6mm-10mm to convert inches to centimetres. His website has downloadable quick play sheets that show those adjustments.
His design notes tell us that turns approximate to ten minutes, 25mm-28mm has a ground scale of 6” to 100 yards, 15mm-20mm is 4” to 100 yards and 6mm-10mm use 6cm to 100 yards.
Going back to the scenarios.
Scenario 1 ‘A divided enemy’ is small and considered a good introductory game. Blue army, divided by a river has 4 cavalry units, 3 infantry units, a foot battery and a horse battery for 9 units on a 6’ x 4’ table. Red army have 3 line infantry, 3 light infantry, two cavalry, a foot battery and a horse battery for 10 units.
It looks an interesting table with a stream, road, bridge, 2 woods, 1 hill and 1 village and has something of the old ‘teaser’ about it, but I can see this size engagement being delightful in and of itself and usable with various forces.
Scenario 2 ‘Control the River’ is a mid sized game, also on a 6 x 4, with Blue having 17 units and Red having 16 units. There are two fords and two bridges, with hills woods and built up areas, so a step up in depth, intrigue and complexity … not of the system, just of options. Importantly (to me), in the notes it says the 6 x 4 will still work if units have a frontage of 6” or less. This will probably be the sweet spot size for me, once my armies grow!
Scenario 3 ‘Borodino (Á la Asquith). This is the big scenario and I just love its concept (plus I played it as a boardgame at the start of the year, so the terrain and forces are familiar to me). The map still shows a 6 x 4 gridded plan, but Red has 25 units and Blue has 29 units and Keith describes this as fine on a 6 x 4 for 6mm-10mm, a little tight for 15mm-20mm, but needing an 8’ x 6’ for 25mm-28mm.
The clever thing about this scenario is that the inspiration for the game comes from the late Stuart Asquith’ book, ‘Guide to Solo Wargaming’, where Borodino is discussed, but the battlefield is distilled down to a defensive belt with the 6 main features of the battlefield; Borodino, The Great Redoubt, Semenovska, The Flétches, The Woods and Utitza, with each of those key objectives contained within a 1 foot by 1 foot terrain area (16” x 16” if a bigger table is used) on the table, focusing the entire battle on these features.
For those who can recall it, Stuart Asquith was the editor for the excellent Practical Wargamer magazine and in his latter years, Keith would spend time at his home, wargaming with him. For me, that influence and friendship likely reflects kindred spirits and I think it is this that I see reflected in these rules and it comes to the surface in the mechanics, the aim of simplification and in the use of terms like bath-tubbing, Average Dice, Red and Blue forces etc, which do have an older school connotation.
Of interest is that in the Bibliography, Keith mentions the importance of the Bruce Quarrie ‘Napoleon’s Campaigns in Miniature’ book, yet he balances this with view that though a classic of its time, it is not where he wants his wargaming today to be and I think all of that feeds in to this rulebook having a good mix of influence from several decades of wargaming, feeling both modern yet familiar.
Anyway, like I said at the beginning, until I have played this out properly, I am not suggesting that my initial enthusiasm should of itself be an endorsement of whether the reader will or will not enjoy these.
However, to offer a bit more insight, I ran an exercise of a fresh French battalion assaulting an Austrian battalion on higher ground, just to give a feel of the play and the sequencing of the game. This is exactly the same situation as I used a couple of posts ago when comparing four ACW rule sets.
As a reminder, the units are fresh, regular, no special attributes, no skirmishers and no leader present. Further, the French are obliged to conduct at least 1 turn of fire before assaulting.
Initiative - Roll, the French win and can decide to move first or second.
Movement - the French move first and advance to musket range, so that they can spend that obligatory turn to fire before assaulting. The non-initiative player can then move, but obviously the Austrians do not want to. Movement includes the initial charge process.
Fire - all fire is simultaneous. The French get 4D6. Their score is modified by -1 because they moved more than half their allowance. They do not get any hits. The Austrians fire and inflict 1 hit.
Close Combat Phase - the units are not in contact, so we ignore this phase this time.
Generalship and Rally Phase - Generals attached to units can attempt to rally off hits, as can units that are further away from the enemy than they are here in our example. In any case a unit cannot rally away their initial 2 hits, so the French are stuck with their 1 hit.
Turn 2. The French win the initiative and choose to move first.
They charge. They are allowed to shoot on the way in and they inflict 1 hit. The Austrians can fire (like a defensive fire against chargers, but that uses their fire allowance for the turn) and they inflict 2 more hits.
The French are now on 3 hits. They are a regular unit, so if they reach 4 hits they will become weakened and will rout if reaching 7+ hits. If they had become weakened from fire here in this charge, they would halt, retire a random distance and take an additional casualty. That’s it for now with the assault.
Fire Phase - not applicable here, we only have 2 units in play and they have already fired this turn and in any case are engaged.
Close Combat Phase. - Time to sort out that charge. It is a simultaneous action. Line infantry roll 4D6. The French would normally get a +1 bonus for charging, but that is negated by running up the hill, even though it is only gentle. Both sides inflict 2 hits and these are added to existing hits and then compared, so the Austrians have a total of 3 hits, but the French have 5 and so the winner of the Close Combat are the Austrians (had it been a draw, another round of fighting would have immediately been conducted).
As losers, the French fall back a random distance and take an additional hit. The winner now occupies the vacated ground and must roll for pursuit (note a weakened unit never rolls for pursuit).
Infantry in line get a -1 modifier to the pursuit roll (helps discourage pursuit). The result will either be, don’t pursue, must pursue or can choose to pursue.
The Austrians roll and get a choice of whether to pursue or not. They decide to stay put and hold this key objective. It would though be tempting to pursue as the French are so close to their routing level and routing units can cause other friendly nearby units to take hits.
I found that just as engaging as the previous ACW tests of the same situation, so despite the tag 'simpler', it doesn't feel like it loses anything in practice or result. Of course, to take a position like this, there would be more support on the table and a more nuanced and complicated set of arrangements, but as a focused exercise, it does its job.
There are plenty of small incidental rules that just add lovely touches to the game. For example, when setting up a non-historical scenario and rolling for leader quality, for 'New Regime' armies, you roll for leader quality and then allocate those leaders to the brigades of choice, so putting your best leaders where they will be most effective. But with Old Regime armies, you allocate leaders to their brigades and then roll for quality, bringing an edge of uncertainty into the game.
Other little variables that crop up around leader quality are that brigades commanded by Inept leaders roll before movement with a chance that units will suffer out of command movement penalties, while similar is done for the brigades that have 'Inspiring' leaders, only they get a chance to double move. These are the sort of simple mechanics that I think will help the game with good effect for little rules overhead.
Anyway, that’s it. It was only meant to be a brief overview. My first impressions are positive. I feel that I can connect with the type of game that Keith is trying to deliver and the whole team have done a good job in putting this together in this format. I love the idea of 10 - 20 units per side on a family table in a nice scale - it transports me back to what I used to feel that wargaming was about. More of this in other periods would be most welcome.
I have forces in 28mm and 15mm on the lead / plastic mountain, with pretty much nothing to hand painted, but these rules will likely have me at least basing some of my (unpainted) stash to at least get a feel of a small action and perhaps taking things from there.
My sister webspace ‘COMMANDERS’ is more snippet based than here and will carry some further Shadows of the Eagles content. LINK