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. 

Monday, 19 December 2011


It was the final meeting of the Tyneside club on Saturday, and as is now tradition we put on a big participation game for as many club members as wanted to play. This year we went for a refight of Waterloo in 6mm using Grande Armee.

Michael and Dave supplied the French, with Dave being Napoleon and Michael Ney. Stu provided the Prussians but graciously allowed Paddy to be Blucher. And as I supplied the Anglo-Dutch army I had the distinction of playing Wellington. In total twelve players took part in the game making it a good collective festive bash.

I won't go through the history of the battle as there are plenty of sources out there who will do the battle a much greater service than I ever could so will instead reflect on the game itself.

Let's start with the most important thing, the game was a cracking good laugh - helped no doubt by the generous amounts of port being consumed. Thankfully the Prussians arrived early so there were plenty of commands for everyone to get involved and thanks to some superb dice throwing by Kieran as Picton the British line withheld the first French assaults to make a good game of it.

In short, the early arrival of the Prussians meant the French moved the Cavalry Corps across to meet this threat reducing the pressure on the British line which although buckling under the force of the Old Guard managed to hold with the commitment of the British reserves.

When fighting it next time I'd shrink the table slightly. We used the map from the scenario in the Grande Armee rulebook which works to 12" squares but forgot to adjust it for the small 6cm bases we use. The result was that the British had to spread out further to cover the same distance and both La Haye Sainte and Hougoumount were to far from the line. It also meant the Prussians had further to march when entering the field to reach the battle.

This game has re-enthused me for Grande Armee. It really showed what the system can do, allowing full Corps to be engaged, withdrawn, rallied, and reengaged within the time available. Sadly I got too caught up in the battle to remember to take photos as it progressed but thankfully Andy was one of the twelve and better photos can be found on his blog.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Imperial Ambitions

I have three weeks over Christmas and plan to spend a lot of the time painted a 28mm Early Imperial Roman Army for the Impetus Tournament circuit next year - that is when I can escape family commitments. For inspiration I have just finished reading Anthony Everitt's biography of Augustus and I'm moving onto Frank McLynn's bio of Marcus Aurelius.

I decided on the army following a few games of Hail Caesar (HC). I didn't want to replicate the Marian Roman army I have in 15mm in another scale, and the rules for line relief in Republican Roman armies in Impetus put me off that option. Thankfully these rules have been improved in Extra Impetus 4 but I have already invested in Imperial Recruits.

You will have noticed that I plan to use the army in two different rule sets. While Impetus will remain my primary ancient ruleset I have enjoyed the alternative of HC and hope to find time for both. The problem this brings is basing. HC, and other rulesets, require some individual basing of figures where Impetus relies on unit bases. I have therefore went with basing units for HC and creating unit stands to place them on for Impetus.

The army composition is still to be finalised. I am split between taking more infantry or more cavalry. There is a requirement to have at least four units of Legionaries/Auxiliaries and I also want at least two units of medium cavalry and one light. The decision is between an additional two units of Legionaries/Auxiliaries or an additional two cavalry units.

In the long run I plan to paint up enough figures to deploy either army but I need to make a decision for preparing the army for the York tournament on 5th February. At present I think I will stick with the tradition of the Roman army at the time being an infantry army and go with the extra Legionaries/Auxiliaries.

For the Legionaries/Auxiliaries I am splitting the units 50:50 between heavy (FP) Legionaries and light (FL) Auxiliaries. This split gives the option of deploying in two battle lines and allowing as FP and FL can interpenetrate.

All of the figures are Warlord Games. I have found their plastics a lot easier to assemble than Wargames Factory but their metal miniatures tend to need a lot of tidying up. The models to look great with the main frustration being that the Legionnaires are clearly smaller than the Auxiliaries.

So far I have painted one unit of Legionaries and one of Auxiliaries. For the Legionaries I am basing six figures on a 6cm x 4cm base. Two bases together will form on Impetus unit and three a unit for HC. Having three bases for HC will allow the unit to change between column, line and wedge formations easily. The Auxiliaries are based individually with seven  being magnetised to a 12cm x 6cm base for Impetus. The single basing allows them to be deployed either formed or in various degrees of skirmish for HC.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Getting Back on Track

It's been months since my last post. Other aspects of life came to dominate including relocating back to Newcastle and completing the final project of an economics course. Thankfully my wargaming did not come to a standstill but I have lost the focus I had at the beginning of the year. 

I plan to do some more in-depth posts over the coming weeks but thought a nice short one would get me back into the swing of it.

Possible new projects
Over the past few months I have seen/played a number of new rulesets for different periods some may become projects for the new year. In summary:
  • Force-on-Force - played a Vietnam game after watching several others. Though not my period I do like the mission approach to the game and may get myself some forces. Forces are small and easy to paint but you do need a lot of terrain which could be expensive as I'm no modeller.
  • Le Feu Sacre - the lads in Newcastle have starting using this for 15mm Corps sized Napoleonic games. It looks interesting but need to read the rules and play a few games before I seriously consider rebasing by figures again.
  • Might and Reason - lads in Sheffield have put together a few 10mm Seven Years War armies for another Sam Mustafa ruleset. I originally turned this down with having too much else on but it looked good and I have game booked in for two weeks time. Looks like this will be a popular period in the next years following the release of Argument of Kings and upcoming release of Maurice.
Immediate Projects
I have three weeks off at Christmas and plan to complete a 300 point 28mm Imperial Roman Impetus Army for the tournament circuit next year. We are focussing on the ancient period following the release of Extra Impetus 4 last month and the luck I had with my Normans at the beginning of the year ran out at Derby where they were beaten in all three games. They will have their final outing for the year at Smoggycon next weekend.

I also need to do some bits and pieces on my 15mm Napoleonics for a large game of Lasalle between Christmas and New Year.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Washington's Wars

Last night I played my first game of Washington's Wars by GMT Games. I spotted this a few months ago and decided to pick up a copy to potentially use for AWI campaigns once (if?) I get my army painted up. Fi kindly indulged me by agreeing to play the Americans.
The game mechanics are based closely on those of Hannibal which is an excellent game and seemed to be used in a number of GMT games. The Board takes the form of a point-to-point map covering the original 13 colonies and Canada. Each turn corresponds to a campaign year during which each player is dealt 7 strategy cards which they play to either control their armies, influence the political situation, or initiate historic events. The skill of the game is to strike the right balance at the right time between military and political concerns.
We managed to change the course of history with the British holding onto America by 1882. The British launched a southern campaign straight away gaining a strong base of support in the South that they never lost. And, despite some successful campaign in Canada by Washington, including the capture of Montreal, the Americas were never able to chase the British out of the North East and eventually the British moved in to secure the central states.

It was an enjoyable game for our first run through. The main thing I wanted to discover was how the rules taken from one period, the Punic Wars, would feel in another and found they worked well. There are a number of changes to the rules that give players different challenges to deal with. These cover elements the placement of political counters to the system for reenforcements. The biggest change however is battle resolution which is through an adjusted dice throw rather than the card system in Hannibal.
While for Wargames I like a different set of rule mechanics for each period I am more willing to consider the same mechanics at a strategic level. While battlefield tactics have changed between periods through changes in weapons, population, theatres and cultures, strategically the challenges remain the same. You need to get armies in the field, maintain them, and use them and other means to influence the political situation to bring victory.

I found that the changes to the rules give the game a different feel and represent the historic challenges each side faced based on my current understanding of the war. However, it does feel heavy stacked in favour of the British player as they have a good advantage in combat (as they did historically) but this makes it difficult for the Americans to bring the French into the war as they need nine victories baring other events.

I look forward to taking on the challenge of being the Americans the next time we play the game.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Hail Caesar

Over the past month at the Sheffield club we have been play testing with Hail Caesar. While not unhappy with Impetus I have started to find it limited when trying to refight scenarios and the flexible nature of Hail Caesar appealed to me. I did plan to write a series of postings reflecting on the different game elements but I’m really busy at the moment and know I won’t get round to it.

We have fought three battle. Two medieval including a refight of Tewkesbury and one ancient, which was a refight of the Battle of Bibracte. I forgot to take photos of the first two but scattered throughout are photos of Bibracte.

Hail Caesar is an ancient version of Black Powder. The one game of Black Powder I played put was enough to put me off it so I didn’t have high expectation for Hail Caesar.

I didn’t like the command/movement system in Black Powder. The idea of having to tell my opponent my orders before I know whether they have been carried out didn’t sit well. If the orders fail then they know my intentions and can react to them. While the same command system is in operation on Hail Caesar, I don't have as big an issue with it as the orders are generally a direction of travel for the troops as formations are more set in ancient battles. In the horse and musket period the formation of the troops determines their firepower and I didn’t like telling my opponent where I planned to line up.

The movement system is interlinked with the command system and is the most flexible of any set of rules I have played. Basically you say where you want your troops to go and then throw against their commanders rating and depending on how low you throw they will either not move or move up to three times. There is no measuring for wheels or about faces you simple reposition the troops. This makes the movement very dynamic but does leave it open to exploitation.

Rick Priestley declares up front that this is a set of rules that he plays with like-minded individuals based on their interpretation of history. The rules are able to be loose because they all know each other and tend to play with an umpire so disagreements are easy to resolve. This makes the rules impractical for tournaments and I fear for most wargamers who vary opponents regularly, without a shared understanding (right or wrong) of how ancient battles were actually fought, there will be disagreement.

The combat system is alright. There are a lot of dice and a range of factors to build in. Basically each side throws to work out the number of hits, then each side makes saving throws, the side that inflicts the most hits wins. A friend of mine once made the only favourable argument I have found convincing for WAB: "it tries to represent the different weapons and fighting styles of the different troops." This is also true of Hail Caesar. In comparison to rules like Impetus where as many of the units fighting characteristics are forced into a single value, its VBU, Hail Caesar allows are much greater diversity. This is something I like in principle but where Impetus represents different factors by the number of dice thrown, Hail Caesar modifies the score needed to hit. This gives the modifiers a greater impact on the outcome which, while the historical accuracy can be debated, players moving from one set of rules to another may find difficult to swallow.

The flexibility of Hail Caesar does make it easier to write and play historical refights. Playing scenarios normally requires some deviation from the written rules and the principle of adaptation runs throughout Hail Caesar. However, the first army list book is due out next month and I fear that once that is released it will restrict appetite for historical refights as players will be able to see which side has a points advantage.

Overall, I prefer the command and movement system to Impetus, I am on the fence about the combat system but lean slightly in favour of Impetus. I like the flexible nature of the rules but feel that this will be lost once the army lists are released.