Sunday, 15 May 2011

Loving Lasalle

On the 23rd April I was at Maelstrom Games in Mansfield for my first Lasalle tournament. I was a bit apprehensive about the tournament. My experiences of Lasalle had been mixed and I had yet to be convinced by the rules. I viewed the tournament as a chance to meet more players, test the rules against a wider variety of armies, and most importantly, a deadline to get my French Army finished.

Thankfully is was a bank holiday the day before the tournament so I was able to paint the last two regiments of Dragoons and the artillery crew (30 figures in a day, a personal best) as well as finish some of the bases. My army was a standard French Empire period infantry division with a Dragoon reserve.

Maelstrom is a cracking venue for this kind of event. It was my first visit and the size of the place came as a surprise. The photo shows just one hall, there is another slightly smaller one at the end of this one on the left. Downstairs is a bar and also the shop.

The tournament took the form of three matches, I am not sure how the draw was worked out, but each match was allocated to a table with preset terrain. We then followed the standard conventions in the rules to decided attacker/defender and choice of sides. The games had to be completed in around two hours or they counted as a draw. This resulted in a lot of draws but provided an emphasis to attack. There was some debate over whether two rounds with more time to complete the games would be better but my view is that it was nice to play three different armies against three different people.

I am not going to go through each battle in detail, merely pick out some interesting lesson about the rules and tactics.

My main problem with Lasalle has been getting into it. The problem has been the army lists just aren't very good, they aren't historic and aren't balanced. Sam Mustafa states that this in the book but it does mean that players tend to pick the same armies has they have particular strengths.

For example, if you play as Russians, and you plan to defend, your core choice for a standard infantry division gives you 6 line battalions, a light battery and a position battery, whether with either a Grenadier or Guard division you get 6 grenadier/guard battalions and two position batteries. You get the same number of infantry but they're better, and you get the same number of guns but they're better. No brainer!

There were 8 players in the tournament: three had Russian Grenadier armies, two Austrian Avant-Garde,  one Bavarian, one Saxon, and my French. The balance of section clearly shows what players believe are the best armies.

This is an easy fix, you accept the limitations of the army lists when it comes to tournaments and pick up games, and work out orders of battles for historic scenarios.

My first game was against JP's Avant-Garde Austrians (in my view the best army in the book). The advantage the Austrians have is that nearly all their units are large units which are disproportionately hard in the rules. I have previously written about the problem that the odds are against a small unit, even with better skirmish, stoping an advancing large unit. But in this game we came across another distortion with large units which could lead to unhistoric play.

The Austrians had been attacking hard and had the French on the back foot. The Dragoons had arrived and were starting to halt the attack. Having driven away the Austrian cavalry they turned their attention to the Austrian infantry. One regiment charged a Austrian battalion in attack column. The normal reaction for infantry charged by cavalry is to form square, however we realised the following.

The Dragoon regiment has four bases and in the combat will get two dice per base minus any disruptions. The Dragoons had taken one disruption defeating the Austrian cavalry and therefore they combat dice before any Austrian reaction would be 7 dice. The Austrians have the choice of forming square or firing on the Dragoons to cause further disruptions. Normally forming square is the best option as cavalry half their dice against infantry in square, whereas another infantry formation halves its dice against cavalry.

So, without forming square a fresh large infantry unit is on 6 dice against cavalry. The Austrians fire on with three dice as the cavalry comes in needing two 4+'s to cause another disruption. This puts the cavalry on six dice also and as the infantry are the defenders it means they have the slight advantage of winning the combat. While it is true they would have a much better chance if they formed square they it is still in their favour if they don't. The advantage they have is that they don't have to come out of square and can therefore continue into the French infantry in the Austrian turn. The cavalry, having taken a disruption from the fire, and another from losing the combat are on three disruptions and are therefore prevented from going back into the Austrians next turn.

While the problem with large unit is a major concern for the rules, the tournament did hightlight a number of subtleties in the rules I had not previously noticed. Mainly, that a better skirmish ratings do make a difference, and that the variation in commanders ratings does give the French an advantage.

Until recently, all the games of Lasalle I have played or seen had involved British vs French, who generally have the same skirmish ability, or against Austrians whose large units more than make up for their poorer skirmish rating. Playing the French against Russians and Bavarians began to show how the better skirmish rating comes into affect. The extra dice for shooting means that you can inflict additional disruptions before the charge, especially if you get out in line. This evened up the combats against Russian Grenadiers and gave an advantage against the Bavarians.

The pick-up games for Lasalle have a system for randomly generating the sub-commanders abilities. Armies which had better commanders have a better chance of rolling good command ratings. These can mean that there is a better chance of your reserve arriving sooner, your units reacting the way you want, and possibly a combat advantage. 

The French are most likely to get the best commanders and it made a difference in two of the games I played. Particularly against the Bavarians, the Dragoon commander had a +1 vigour and therefore not only did the Dragoons arrive earlier than normal, but I was able to react to his cavalry charge by forming lines with the Dragoons giving them an advantage in the combat.

These minor variations between the nations add a lot of flavour to the game and encourage me to look at what some of the other variations would mean. In particular the Spanish, who have a lot of amateur and shaky troops.

Following the tournament I am now sold on Lasalle. While there are rules that I think should change - mainly large units should count as 5 bases instead of 6 - I am not a fan of house rules as they make playing a wide range of opponents more difficult. For individual scenarios I would make changes. No rule set is perfect and I think for overall playability and completing a game in a reasonable amount of time Lasalle is a winner.