Saturday, 11 August 2012

Lasalle House Rules

Recently we have been discussing divisional level Napoleonic rulesets at the Newcastle club so I offered to run a few players through a game of Lasalle. In the pre-game discussion in the week before I raised a couple issues I have had with Lasalle. Andy and Paddy kindly agreed to allow me to introduce a few house rules to overcome these areas and I thought it would be useful to summarise them here.

Before I start I will point out that I have not studied Napoleonic warfare in as much detail as other periods so I have mainly looked at this from a general understanding of warfare in the period and the game mechanics.

1) Reducing the power of large units

This is point I've whinged about before. Large units are too powerful in the game. There are points system out there which try to adjust the balance of forces to reflect this, with all other things being equal a large unit would cost 50% more than a small unit.

Large units have three advantages in the rules:
  1. As combat is dice are determined by the number of bases in the unit they get an extra four dice over small units.
  2. The number of bases also determines the number of dice for musketry given a potential two extra dice for a large unit in line.
  3. The number of disruptions a unit can take before it is prevented from charging or becomes broken is equal to the number of bases meaning large units can take an extra two disruptions.
My beef is with the first of these three points and I would leave the others as the stand. After all, the extra men in the large unit must be represented in some fashion. 

There are two situations involving large units that I have seen come up regularly in games of Lasalle that I do not believe happened as regularly in Napoleonic warfare. Firstly, large infantry units not forming square against small cavalry units, and secondly, large cavalry units being able to break small infantry unit squares too frequently. I know that on average in the game mechanics the odds are against these tactics, but is only takes a few other modifiers to come into play, or slightly lucky/unlucky dice rolls for these to occur on a reasonable frequency.

The house rule to amend this is simply, large unit only count five bases for combat purposes. This allows them to retain an advantage for mass but reduces its impact.

2) Cavalry in woods and irregular terrain

It is more beneficial for cavalry to charge infantry in rough terrain in Lasalle than in the open. This is because infantry cannot form square in rough terrain so while cavalry will reduce their attack dice by two for bad terrain, they will not halve the dice for attacking a square (assuming the infantry form one in the open).

This is a commonly cited oversight in the rules and fixed with the addition of cavalry halves dice when attacking infantry in bad terrain (this is in addition to the existing loss of two dice).

3) Irregular formations

It has always annoyed me that infantry with SK2 could chose to either deploy formed or as irregulars and that the chosen formation remains fixed for the game. I do not understand why a battalion would not move up to rough terrain, deploy in skirmish formation to pass through the terrain, and then reform on the far side if it desired.

To address this infantry units of SK2 or more are able to change from formed to irregular or vice-versa during the game. In order to change formation the unit must pass a discipline test and cannot move during the activity phase. If the unit fails the test it does nothing this activity phase. If successful, the unit becomes irregular in its current formation. A unit in square cannot attempt to become irregular.

That's it. Three simple minor modifications that seem to bring a bit more balance, and some additional options to the game.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Maurice - A new wargaming experience

Despite my continual efforts to maintain focus on a small number of manageable projects, over the past few months I have be drawn into a new (old) world of 18th Century wargaming. My seducer is the 315 year-old bastard of August the Strong, King of Poland, the Marshal of France, Maurice de Saxe.

I am a long-term fan of Sam Mustafa's rule systems. While some are definitely better than others, Sam always delivers fun games with interesting game mechanics, and Maurice has the potential to be the best yet.

Beyond the AWI I have little knowledge of 18th warfare, or of wargaming the period making Maurice a slight adventure into the unknown for me history wise. What makes Maurice new from a gaming experience is the use of "Action Cards", what I would normally term strategy cards, for both a command and control (C&C) system and random events.

When I first heard that cards would be used for the game I was skeptical. I have played a number of wargames that use basic cards for C&C, and the best board games I have played use strategy cards, but I worried that the idea of using the latter to govern a wargame would take too much away from the players and there is always the risk of the uber card.

Seeing the cards in action immediately alleviated all concerns. Cards are used in Maurice for multiple purposes: issuing orders; modifying combat (both musketry and melee); moving the general; and, for random events. In addition to the Action Cards, there are different types of cards for setting up games including National Advantages, Notables, and Terrain generation.

Before the game, assuming its not a scenario, players select their army using the specified points system. The points system works in a way that artillery and elite troops get progressively more expensive the more you have, encouraging players to maintain more balanced armies. A basic game has both players selecting a 100 point army, about a dozen units depending on troop quality and they can then choose national advantages give their army a specialism by making it better at artillery, musketry, combat, etc. The system restricts the amount of points that can be allocated to National Advantages to prevent an army be good at everything.

Each player starts with a hand of cards, normally 8 for the attacker and 5 for the defender. Turns alternate between attacker and defender. Each players turn consists of a musketry phase, followed by the option to issue an order or to play an event card. Finally, the player has the option to move their general. The more things a player wishes to do the more cards they need to play.

For example, I begin my turn with musketry and play a card to gain an advantage. I then play a card to order a force to charge the enemy. In the ensuing combat I play another card to gain an advantage, and finally I play a card to move my general closer to the force I plan to give an order to next turn. I have therefore expended 4 cards in the turn and could expend more to influence my opponents turn.

Players draw from 0 to 3 cards a turn depending on the order they chose to issue but if in any order phase they have no cards, or insufficient cards to issue orders they must pass.

The building and using of a players hand creates natural pauses in the play as the action speeds up and slows down as well as creating an element of chance outside the players control. Players are only able to issue one order to one force in their turn requiring a player to continuously decide what their current priority is. It is very easy to get sucked into one part of the battlefield and exhaust all of your efforts there. This can leave that force isolated and you without any cards to influence proceedings.

As always with a Sam Mustafa game there are rules to create unknowns for a general to deal with. For example, the game length is set by running the Action Card deck a maximum of three times, i.e. it gets reshuffled twice, but the timing of the second reshuffle is determined by when the reshuffle card is drawn and is therefore unknown to the players. The game length also varies by how quickly, and for what, players use their cards. This all means that when planning your strategy you cannot rely on having a set number of turns or a set timeframe to initiate it.

Army morale also varies. It is set initially by the number of units in the army and then decreases by between 0 and 3 determined by a dice roll as each unit is lost.

I'll stop now before this becomes a never-ending description of all the game mechanics. The mechanics for movement, shooting and combat are all seem good so far. The rulebook also contains a campaign system to link battles around Wars of Succession which looks fun but I have yet to try.

There are only two slight negatives so far. The first is that while the rulebook contains three historic scenarios, it does not provide a guide to creating your own scenarios like the one in Grande Armee. Nor does it contain suggestions on historic army lists. Being new to the period this would be a useful aid and thankfully there are already some guides on the Honour forum.

The card system also limits how the rules will work for multi players. This is discussed in the rulebook and some suggestions offered but none of them sound convincing.

To date I have played three and they have all been excellent. Some players have raised concerns that the card system, and nature of the period, will lead to repetitive games but having played a number of board games based on strategy cards this was not been too big a problem for them.

At present I am completely sold and took the opportunity to pick up some 10mm Seven Years War French from Pendraken at Triples as my first army.