Monday, October 24, 2016

Table Top Teasers - CS Grant wargame scenarios

Steve the Wargamer has put together a great list of the Table Top Teasers that have become available online.  These are wargame scenarios written by Charles Grant in order to stir up some interest in a type of scenario or period, and hopefully to get the reader thinking more about a particular wargaming topic, or excited to try out the scenario.  Here is an example.

From Steve's website...

Over a period of years in the late 70's and early 80's, Charles Grant published a series of articles in "Battle", and then "Military Modelling" called the 'Table Top Teasers'.

As time has passed I've picked up various copies, been given some, but have basically collected a number of them together - they're an invaluable source of scenario idea's, so on this page I thought I'd share them with the world.

The page is intended then as a resource for what I think were a brilliant set of articles, and an endless source of good game ideas - I've played these games over and over again... the page is also meant as a VERY respectful "nod of the head" in the direction of one of the "greats" in the wargaming world, namely Charles Grant, and a now legendary series of articles... my thanks to Charles for giving permission for me to continue hosting these articles.
 These are definitely worth checking out, and would be worth the time for any table top wargamer, regardless of what rules or scale he/she plays, to check these out.  Great stuff.

These are different from the wargaming scenarios books that CS Grant has published over the years, some of which have provided great games and scenarios for various club (ODMS, Roundtable Wargaming Club) games and convention games I've been involved in.  I am sure they will, again, in the future.

Great scenario book - the book has scenarios keyed to appropriate periods of history, hence the title. Very accessible, great maps, and great games ranging from regular set piece battles, down to interesting skirmish and adventure games.

Another great scenario book - this was the first professional scenario book for miniature wargames that I ever owned. I loaned it away years ago, and it never found its way home again. I am always on the lookout for another copy. (email me if you have one...)

Invaluable for the solo wargamer. Lots of great info about generating orders of battle for three broad periods (ancient/medieval; horse and musket; mechanized warfare). Information about generating characteristics for "fictional" opposed generals, and great ways to set up a battlefield with fog of war, even if playing solo.

A good review of the Table Top Teasers, and some of the other scenario books of Mr. Grant (including those above, and his multiple volumes of Wargaming in History) can be found at Wargaming Info.


Saturday, October 22, 2016

Chainmail - review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).

Bring me my broadsword and clear understanding.
Bring me my cross of gold as a talisman.
Bless with a hard heart those who surround me.
Bless the women and children who firm our hands.

                  - Jethro Tull, "Broadsword"

So, following on Broadsword as the first dedicated Medieval rules reviewed as part of this series, I would like to return to a ruleset that was hugely influential in my wargaming history, at least once I started playing at wargaming shops and clubs.  That ruleset is Chainmail: Rules for Medieval Miniatures, by Gary Gygax & Jeff Perren.

The set I have, and the one I played way back in the early 80s, was the third edition (mine is a printing from the late 70s).  Earlier editions were from Guidon Games, before TSR acquired the title.  These are (like Cavaliers and Roundheads) based on the wargaming philosophy of Jeff Perren, and have some Gygax additions/edits in them.  The book itself actually contains several rulesets, but the main body (and the main version I played) is the big battle set for Medieval set piece battles, between opposing armies.

A word about the quote I have above, from Jethro Tull.  It might seem as if that quote would go better with the review I wrote for Broadsword, rather than the one I did there from the Byzantine princess (one of my favorite scholarly heroines from history).  But, it is included here because at the time I was being introduced to Chainmail, and playing it a lot, I was also deepening my interest in (and fomenting a lifelong admiration for) art rock, including (among the rest) Jethro Tull.  And Broadsword and the Beast, was one of my favorite albums of 1982.  Besides, I don't know of a song called Chainmail.

Chainmail, as I was introduced to it, and would come to play it, was played by guys who had large armies (or parts of armies, several players combining their forces) of 25mm figures, numbering sometimes in the many hundreds.  These were largely Minifigs, Hinchliffe, Heritage, Garrison, Grenadier, Essex and others (older manufacturers, although some of them - notably Minifigs and Essex- are still around), in what today would be called true, or old school, 25mm.  Of course in 1983, they weren't old school at all.  The painting styles were very different then, almost all figures were painted in a block style, with little or no shading or washing.  Often figures were gloss coated, or even painted by model enamels (Testers, Humbrol, etc.).  Armies were frequently mounted on stands of balsa wood that would be painted green (no flocking).  A great example of the painting style of the day can be seen where the author of the Broadswords and Beasts blog (a coincidence?) has recreated the style for some Infantry, and for some Knights.

The crew I played Chainmail with did not play any of the WRG rule sets, although in the early 80s, the idea of a standard element width was far away, and even the WRG rule sets would only have a frontage-per-figure measurement.  I'll have to go back to check my 6th edition book of WRG ancients rules to see if there was a standard element width recommended, but 5th edition does not have an element width.  One of the complaints about Chainmail, as leveled against Cavaliers and Roundheads also, was the lack of a standard basing width for the troops.  I think that Perren & Gygax were used to playing in wargames clubs that had an understood standard.  As such, the armies I was playing with and against would have roughly 3/4 of an inch per infantry man (today, 15-20mm would be usual, so you get 3 or 4 figures on a 60mm wide stand).  About an inch per cavalry was also the norm.  Of course, once we migrated (some of us) to the Warhammer rules (which we used for historical troops), or other sets, they had base sizes, so re-basing happened.

The Rules
First of all, Chainmail is (as mentioned above), really four sets of rules.  There are the main body of the rules, which cover mass combat between armies.  These also include some information about sieges, weather, and some basic national characteristics (short of actual army lists).  They cover the basics of the tabletop wargame, movement, shooting, melee, and morale, as well as giving a turn sequence (actually, two, as described below).  But, there are three other rulesets.

First, there is a set of rules for playing Man-to-Man games, such as breeches into castles, raids, or simply small skirmish games.  Here the action is on the individual man, morale is only checked for the whole army once it reaches 33% casualties, and the action is conducive to the wide variety of scenarios and free action that many skirmish games promote.

Second, there is a set of rules for holding medieval tournaments, complete with jousting rules.  These are a game unto themselves, and I have played in a Joust at a wargames convention, using these rules.  Fun, if that is your thing.

Third, there is a set of Fantasy rules, that can be used to extend the basic battlefield rules in the direction that was happening in the 1970s, of doing medieval wargaming with a fantasy element (think of the battles of the Lord of the Rings).  To me the Fantasy Supplement makes Chainmail a different game, albeit one that would be clearly recognizable as the predecessor of Dungeons and Dragons. Rules are included for a variety of different fantasy troop types, monsters, spells, and some magic equipment like enchanted swords.

Finally, there is a set of rules (mostly a chart with some information) for extending the Man-to-Man rules in the same direction of fantasy, as the Fantasy Supplement does for the tabletop battle.

Now as mentioned, I am reviewing the 3rd edition, which came out in 1975, after Dungeons and Dragons had been produced, but it is widely reported that the origins of D&D were based on the idea of a chainmail campaign where one player had done a raid, using the man-to-man rules, into an enemy castle (actually the dungeon) to rescue some prisoners.  So, I am not sure how much of the man-to-man Fantasy portions existed in the earlier (Guidon Game) version, or if it was added later.

As mentioned above, there are two turn sequences given for the game.  One is for alternating moves (which requires no order writing), and one for simultaneous moves (which requires order writing, and would definitely benefit from having a referee).

Movement and missile ranges are given in inches, which can be extrapolated to real life, with the scale of 1" to 10 yards, given in the rules' introduction.  Movement is pretty straight forward, with reductions for terrain (based on troop type).  Half value for 20mm (or, presumably, 15mm) troops.

Some basic rules are suggested for setting up the terrain for the battle.  Changing formation and facing is described as taking up a portion of a whole turn's movement (or two turns, in the case of infantry forming a square from a line formation - in medieval terms, this would be a schiltron or hedgehog).

Simple rules are given for Fatigue, although admittedly, our group rarely used them.  They describe how much action a unit can perform before getting fatigued, which generally lowers the unit's effectiveness.  As can be seen from the description, the author carves out an exception for Swiss and Landsknechts.  This is done in multiple places throughout the rules, and while admittedly the Swiss (and the Landsknechts, also) were superior troops to many of their contemporaries, a more modern ruleset would adopt this by creating a classification system, rather than calling out exceptions by name.

The rules for shooting are simple.  They are based on the armor of the enemy target - either no armor, half armored, or fully armored.  Selecting from the appropriate table representing the target armor, a die is rolled, and the number of dead enemy figures results.  This is as a function of how many figures are firing, and the tables for Unarmored and Half Armored targets cover up to 10 shooters at a time (more shooters are to be divided up into equal numbers, so 36 archers would be 3 rolls as 10 shooters, and 1 roll as 6 shooters), and the table for Fully Armored targets covers up to 20 shooters at a time.  Troops can fire from two ranks deep, so two ranks of archers, or one rank if the front is spearmen or swordsmen, and the second is archers.  And so on, with the difference that being on the front slope of a hill allows other ranks to fire overhead the friendly troops in front of them.

This is very much a die per group of figures system similar to the WRG 1685-1845 rules.  They also have some similarity to Larry Brom's first edition of The Sword and the Flame.  The difference being, that in Chainmail, for a set group of figures, the dice determines how many casualties that figure does, in The Sword and the Flame 1st edition, the dice determines a divisor to determine how many casualties result from a set number of firing figures.

More elaborate rules are given for gunpowder weapons, including the Arquibusiers (as spelled in the book), Cannon, and special consideration for Bombards.

Melee combat rules cover how many dice are rolled, per figure, based on the enemy figure type.  Then a simple table gives what the kill range for each dice rolled, is.  So, by the following the table, a group of 9x norman knights (heavy horse) attacking 12x saxons (heavy infantry), would roll 27 dice (3 dice per man), and would score a kill on 4,5,6.  The heavy infantry, attacking back (simultaneously) would roll only 3 dice (1 die per four men), and would score a hit on a 6 only.  The numbers in this example are extreme (27 dice vs. 3 dice), but the rules are exhibiting the realities, and perceptions, of medieval warfare.  In most cases, when fighting man to man, it might be 1 dice per 2 or 3 figures.  All troops can only fight in 1 rank deep, unlike shooting.

There are special considerations for flank attacks and other situations, as well as a way to calculate post-morale melee.  This involves a calculation based on the point value of the troops involved.  Multiple the troops you have surviving, by their point value (ranging from 3 for peasants, to 9 for heavy horse and Swiss pikemen).  This number is modified in two cases, to it, the side inflicting more casualties, adds to their total the difference in number of casualties (times a dice toss).  The side that survives with a larger number of troops adds to their total the difference in number of troops (times a dice toss).  Then the overall totals of each side are compared.  The results usually are one side or the other as the "loser" and must move back a certain amount, rout, or surrender (with optional rules for prisoners).  The calculation sounds complicated, but after doing a few times, it becomes second nature.  And it really rewards the strength of different unit types (knights are hard hitting, but usually small units, and foot formations are usually large units, so both get benefits).

Morale is straight forward, and is based on checking once a unit reaches a casualty threshold.  The unit tests morale at that point (say, 33.3% for heavy foot), by rolling 2d6 against a target number.  If it fails, it is removed from battle.  If it passes, it is good, until it reaches that threshold again (so for our Heavy Foot, it tests initially after losing a third of the unit, and again considers morale a second third of the unit).  The second time it reaches the threshold, it automatically fails morale (no dice toss) and is removed.  Note, that some units have a threshold of 50%, so only test once, and if they pass, they are good until they are destroyed completely (such as knights, and Swiss pikemen).

That is it for the rules.  There are optional rules, and rules for weather and national characteristics.  There are rules for sieges, but that completes the rules for the big battles.

I love these rules.  A lot. They are fast, friendly, and deadly.  Meaning, easy to play, and lots of figures die.  I have a lot of fond memories of games, mostly of the Western Army vs Western Army, but we also had players with Mongol armies, and other weirdness.  Like the unlikely game between Western Knights and the Samurai army.  The fun ensued when one player, playing the Japanese, had "ninjas" in his army - the referee ruled them as light infantry on defense, but heavy infantry on offense, but they could start the game hidden in any terrain feature that the player wanted, as long as the referee was told.  They started hidden in a small forest in the middle of the board, and at one time a unit of knights passed too close to the forest, and the ninjas emerged and attacked the knights in the rear.  Mayhem was had, lots of howling, and laughing for years.

Chainmail has a lot in common with Cavaliers and Roundheads, but have some important distinctions.  The other rulesets in the book are impressive, as well, but I only ever played the Man-to-Man rules (which I also like), but only rarely did we use the Fantasy Supplement (and then, usually for fantasy troop types and monsters, rarely did we ever use Magic, except during one large refight for the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, which had both Gandalf and the Lord of the Nazgul as able to sling spells).

The man-to-man rules are worthy, and would be a good game to play these days.  I won't review them here, but when I write a review of Knights and Magick, I will do some comparison.

So, Chainmail. Writing this review has re-ignited a flame in me to set out armies of knights and archers, men-at-arms and pikemen, and start rolling dice.  It sure would be good to have some armies of 800-1000 figures, of medieval troops.  Maybe that is a good project to start.  In the meantime, I might give it a try in 15mm.  Not sure it would be the same, though.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Broadsword: Wargame Rules for Medieval Battles - review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).

"They assembled from all sides, one after another, with arms and horses and all the panoply of war . . ."
                                        - Anna Komnene

Other than The Universal Soldier, none of the rulesets I have reviewed so far have covered the medieval period, yet since my earliest days as a wargamer it has proven one of my favorite periods.  One of the earliest sets of rules I played was a simple set of one page medieval skirmish rules in the back of the Hinchliffe Guide to Wargaming (the second edition one, with the picture of the Zulu war figures on the front cover).  I will write a review of those later, but after that set of rules I migrated to some other sets (Knights and Magick by Arnold Hendrick; Wizards and Heroes from Heritage Games; Chainmail by Perren and Gygax; and the second edition of Warhammer, although played without magic).  Many of these are on the planning pile for reviews in this series.

A set of rules that I played in the 80s a few times, but that I really liked (and the design left an impact on me) wsa a set from FGU, called Broadsword.  It was written by George Schneider, and published in 1977.  It was based on the set of rules that had come out earlier from FGU, called "Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age" (RAHA) that presented a set of rules for wargaming in Robert E. Howard's Conan setting.  This is interesting, as a throwback to the Tony Bath early wargaming days, where he hosted battles of the Hyborean Age as the setting for his ancient and medieval army mashups.

The FGU rules for RAHA covered most ancient army types that are typical in the world of Conan, but that also covers a lot of medieval figures.  When Schneider took the rules as his inspiration, he left out the purely ancient troop types (mostly chariots and elephants) and focused more on typical medieval European armies, and troop behaviors.

The set is based on a 1:20 figure scale, and recommends that missile and skirmish units be 12-18 figures each, and that shock units of infantry or cavalry be 18-36 figures each.  Large manly units!  Larger units of peasants are also mentioned.

The turn sequence is based on simultaneous moves, and flows like this:
  1. Write all orders for the turn.
  2. Move for phase 1, declaring charges first.
  3. Resolve missile fire, if desired.
  4. Move for phase 2, declaring charges first.
  5. Resolve remaining missile fire.
  6. Resolve melees.
  7. Execute breakthroughs, pursuits, and retreats.
  8. Resolve pursuit and breakthrough melees.
  9. Carry out resultant mandatory retreats.
The two phase movement system is interesting... each unit can do two of the following functions during a turn, but each function can itself be used only once per phase (so you could Change Formation, and Move, but you could not Move twice).  Written orders specify which:
  1. Change Formation
  2. Change Facing
  3. Move or Charge 
Allowable orders are not mentioned, except to note that orders must specify which function is in which phase, if a charge is phase 1 or 2, and if the unit has "charge if charged" orders.  Ahh, the joys of games where you have to write orders.

Actual movement rates are in inches.  Which is a nice simplification.  The ranges are quite generous, and they work for 25mm figures (which is how we played it).  With 15mm figures, the author recommends halving it.

But the two phases of movement, and two different actions, is an interesting system. When we played it, the folks I played it with would use a graphical system to do orders.  Each unit would be listed on a piece of paper, and then there would be ruled lines and between each, and two columns for each turn (one for each phase).  In a column, you could write FORM, FACE, or a box (representing the unit) with an arrow showing which way to move, or a C or CIC for charge, and charge-if-charged.  Simple enough, and then interpretation was done on honor system (I don't think we ever played with a referee).

Shooting and Fighting both are based on a number of factors per figure (based on the fighting type, and modifiers, for a base factor - and then modified by a plus die and a minus die to randomize it).  Once you had your factor figured out, you multiply it by the number of figures fighting, to see how many casualties you did.  The system was simple, with 20 men per figure, for each full 20 casualties you did, an enemy figure would die.  So, for instance, if you have 18 knights that can fight, and they end up having a total factor value of 7 points each, on the turn they charge, by multiplying 7 x 18, you get a total of 126.  That means that 6 enemy troops would die, with 6 factors left over.

The basic rules as written state, that if the leftover factors are 10 or less, then no additional figures die, but if 11 or more, then an additional figure dies.  These days, if I played, I would allow a d20 roll against the remaining casualties, to see if the extra figure dies (something I picked up from my friend Ron when we used to play the George Gush Renaissance rules way back when).

In general, I would refer to this combat system as the "factors per figure" system, and other than a table of the base factor per figure, it is mostly done through multiplication, and the random factor comes in (as it is in Broadsword) in a dice roll modifying the base factor, or in a dice roll to determine extra kills, or both as recommended above.

I personally used this system in several sets I wrote in the 80s, "Patriot's Blood" for the Revolutionary War, and "KriegsHerren" for renaissance.  It is also used in a set of Medieval rules that I ended up playing a big, called Knight Hack.  It is used in other rulesets, as well.  In reality, it could be converted to a "factors and table" system, if you simply multiplied out the factors by a number of figures ahead of time, and printed it on a lookup table, but basic multiplication never bugged me.

The rules finish up with basic (generic) army lists for European Feudal, Saracen/Moslem, and Mongol armies.  As well as 11 historical scenarios.  A word about those scenarios - they are mostly for large armies, at least for 25mm armies.  Now, back in the 70s and early 80s, I recall playing with folks who had huge (1000+) figure armies in 25mm for medievals or renaissance.  At the time, I was just a poor student, and the only army I had that was that large was my old Orc and Goblin army that I used for Warhammer 2nd Edition.  What a beauty.  But in high school, I never could have dreamt of an army of 300 or 400 25mm knights.  So, I think we shrunk down the unit sizes to play some of the battles.  We would play with unit sizes of maybe 24 infantry, and maybe 12 cavalry.

The first time I played one of the historical battles, full size, was maybe around 1985 or so, playing (from the book) the Battle of Lincoln (one of the smaller scenarios in the book).  That was fun.

The king divided his army into three forces, and the opposing side did the same. The Bretons and Flemings, under the command William of Ypres and Alan of Dinan, were in the front rank of the royal army. Facing them was the fierce mob of Welshmen, led by the two brothers Maredudd and Cadwaladr. The king himself dismounted with a number of others, and fought stalwartly on foot for his life and the preservation of his kingdom. In the opposing army Earl Ranulf dismounted with his troops and reinforced a brave contingent of foot-soldiers from Chester to give battle. And Robert, earl of Gloucester, who was the greatest in the army, commanded the [men of the Bessin] and other disinherited men to strike the first blow in the battle to recover the inheritances they claimed. 
                          - The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis

I got to play the Rebel army, loyal to Queen Matilda.  At the time, I was using 25mm figures I had recently gotten, by Essex, from the (now sadly gone) Wargames, run by Johnson Hood - their ads can be seen in many an old ruleset and wargaming magazine.  I still have some of those figures.

The war was over the Barons wanting a king, rather than a queen (even though Matilda was daughter of Henry I, it is complicated, and considered by some historians as the first English civil war, also lumped together with the general 12th and13th century Baron's Wars in England, but that may be a stretch).  Although the guy playing the side of King Stephen's army used a borrowed army of medieval Germans, complete with Teutonic Knights and Sword Brothers, it was still a great game.

I did a lot of research on the fight between Stephen and Maude for that game, and became quite a fan of old Maude (Queen Matilda, daughter of Henry I).  Later on, my wife and I would have a cat named for her.

Broadsword is a good ruleset, and a pretty solid example of the "factors per figure" combat mechanism. The split movement system is pretty neat, especially since you have to do a different function for each phase.  It might be worth trying out again, but these days it would pretty much be in 15mm.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Cavaliers and Roundheads - review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).
Keep your faith in God, but keep your powder dry.
  - Oliver Cromwell

Cavaliers and Roundheads is a set of rules for English Civil War wargames, published by TSR games.  It was written by Jeff Perren, but with the help of Gary Gygax.  The set I am most familiar with, and have played, and will be reviewing is the second edition, published in 1975.

First, a bit of personal reflection...

This is a great set of rules, that can serve for large wargames (or small, although the combat system's rate of attrition moves pretty fast for a small game), of the sort played at conventions and at wargames clubs.  Many years ago, I used to be lucky enough to play these rules at the wargaming shop where I played and worked, through my undergraduate college years - Campaign Headquarters.  Armies were of the "hundereds of figures per side" variety, sometimes reaching thousands.  Played on a great 6x12 table, with lots of great terrain (although some was clearly medieval - which could be forgiven in the case of stone churches and castles, less so in the case of thatched cottages).  These rules were definitely written with that sort of game in mind, and to be played in glorious 25mm (or 30mm, as the rules point out) - as a good friend of mine refers to - the "one true scale".

I have a sizable collection of 25mm ECW figures myself, although (sadly) they are not painted.  Not-so-sadly, they are mostly of the Wargames Foundry variety (I bought them when Pendragon used to be the dealer here in the United States, and I loved swirling through their drawers of figures, looking for just the right castings).  That is a painting project I have been putting off for years, although relishing it in my mind.  Weird.

What I do have, that I could use these rules for, is a decent sized collection of 15mm figures.  They would work fine, I think, and perhaps a solo game (or even a club game) is in the schedule for the near future.  As I mentioned in the review of Forlorn Hope, ECW has been, and remains, one of my personal favorite wargaming periods.  I can't explain it, but I've always been drawn to the history, the uniforms, and the fighting tactics.  Over the many years I have been a wargamer, it has only been eclipsed, I think, by maybe Medieval, and/or Ancients as a personal favorite period.

NOT from the rulebook, yet how could I resist?

Scale and Turn Sequence

As mentioned the game is played, probably most commonly, and written for 25mm-30mm figures.  It can handle a smaller scale (say, 15-20mm).  Each figure represents 20 men, and the ground scale is not given.  All ranges and movement values are given in inches, for the two scales (listed, 20mm and 30mm).

At the 30mm scale, Pikemen can move 6", and Musketeers 9".  Cavalry can move 12".  There are, of course, other units, those are just given for a feel for the movement speeds.

Long range, at 30mm, for a Musket is 24", and for a Heavy Field Gun, 36".  Pistols may fire a maximum of 6"

There are two possible turn sequences given.  First, there is the possibility for orders, and simultaneous move.  This appears to be pretty freeform, with both sides making a note of all movement, for each unit, and then it is interpreted, executed, and followed up by first Fire combat and then Melee comat.

The second option for moving requires no orders (other than general orders of what turn reinforcements are to arrive, etc).  It is executed this way:

  1. Side "A" moves all infantry units.
  2. Side "B" moves all units.
  3. Side "A" moves all cavalry and artillery.
  4. Simultaneous fire, with all cannon fire first, then everything else.
  5. Surviving troops will then Melee, where applicable.
Once this is complete, then it is repeated, with the two different sides alternating who is side "A".


As mentioned, there is a simple movement chart with moves given for all unit types in inches, depending on what scale (20mm or 30mm) the game is being played in.  There is no charge move for infantry, but Cavalry and Lobsters can charge move (which is a double move) provided they (1) haven't done a charge move in the previous two turns, OR (2) have not moved at all on the previous turn.  Dragoons (and of course, Artillery) join Infantry in not being able to charge.

Some interesting limitations on movement exist, as well.  While musketeers can freely move and change formation and facing on a single turn, Pikemen can only EITHER move, or change their facing on the same turn.  Also, firing units are limited in their actions, and the game requires reloading.  While cavalry with pistols who perform a caracole, will automatically reload their pistols, Musketeers must do this an action.  A musket armed unit can do two actions per turn - the three allowed are Move, Load, Shoot.  So if the unit moves, it can only either Shoot (if already loaded), or Load (if previously having shot).  If the unit stands in place, it can both Shoot and Load.  Light field guns can also do two actions per turn, but heavy field guns can only do one action per turn.  Other limits also apply, and there are straight forward terrain rules.


Musket fire is very straightforward and simple.  Roll 1d6 per firing figure (two ranks can fire), and based on range then hits are scored on results of 4,5,6 for Short, 5,6 for Medium, and 6 for Long.  This is against formed foot (which means Pikemen).  Against cavalry, muskets and artillery all hits are halved.

Artillery is more interesting.  Based on the type a gun, a number of dice are rolled.  A light gun rolls 4 dice, and a heavy gun rolls 3 dice.  Examine the individual dice scores.  At Long Range, the lowest scoring die is the number of hits delivered.  At Medium Range, the next lowest die is the result, and at Short Range, the third lowest die is the result.  I have always liked this system.

There are rules for the carricole maneuver for cavalry with pistols (assume two pistols per figure, if the unit is close enough, and willing to perform the retrograde away, then the front two ranks of cavalry can each fire two pistols at the target unit...).  And there are rules for Hand Grenades.


Melee is handled by consulting a simple table which gives you how many Ranks are fighting based on the figure type (Pikemen, 2 ranks; Cavalry, 1 rank; etc.).  Also, depending on the target you are rolling against, it gives you a number of dice per figure (ranging from 2 dice per man, down to 1 die per six men), and also the score that will kill figures.    A number of special cases and limitations round out this area of the rules.

This is definitely a system that is related to the "dice per element" sort of combat adjudication mentioned already for both The Universal Soldier and also the WRG Wargames Rules 1685-1845. In this case, it is definitely a "dice per figure" variation, as with The Universal Soldier.  One of the possible criticisms of the rules are that there is no standardized basing (same criticism of Chainmail, although in both cases, I think that the rules were written as club rules first, and in the club they were played, most armies already existed, or there was an unspoken standard basing going on).


The morale rules are also, like the rest of the set, quite simple.  Roll 2d6, and score a 6 or higher to pass morale.  There are, of course, modifiers.  If a failure is rolled, then the unit retires.  Here you dice for movement (2d6 for 20mm, and 3d6 for 30mm), and also a dice for direction (straight back, or veer off 45 degrees to either side).  Rules exist for regaining control, and also for rolling to keep Cavalry from pursuit.


There are rules for several optional areas like desertion, elite units, etc.  There is a nice, short section detailing typical units, some army sizes from famous battles, and a simple painting guide that would certainly get a newcomer going in the right (approximate) direction.

Opinion and Comments

These are simple, simple rules.  Perhaps that is why I enjoyed them (there is hardly anything here for a large group of gamers to argue about, and everyone can eventually make a great move or volley of fire).  They don't have the period specific detail of Forlorn Hope or other rules that I also enjoy for the period, but are straightforward enough for a complete neophyte in the time period to enjoy, as well as an old hand, if he doesn't turn his nose up at too much lack of details.  Keep in mind, that I feel these are written for large games (and that is how I most enjoyed them), and the detail is right on the money for that large sort of game.

As mentioned, my 25mm ECW figures remain unpainted.  And yet . . . I do have a 15mm collection that is usable, and growing (meaning: more figures in the works, and on the painting schedule).  The basing dilemma could be solved here, since I use a basing standard that is not too far off something WRG-ish - meaning, that my pike and heavy infantry (billmen from the trained bands, for instance) are mounted on 40mm wide bases, with four figures per base.  My shot are mounted on 40mm wide bases, with three figures per base.   My horse are mounted either 2 or 3 figures per base (lighter horse, such as dragoons, are 2 per base; heavier horse like lobsters or chargers are mounted 3 per base), also on 40mm wide bases.

Given my existing collection and basing, I would feel quite fine doing a game using those figures, and these rules.  Casualty markers would be fine here, probably nylon upholstery rings (my usual poison for 15mm casualty marking).  It could be a fine game.  Certainly one to compare to some of the other ECW rules I play, including Forlorn Hope, The Universal Soldier, and the upcoming (to be reviewed) 1644.

Of course hosting a game with 300 or 400 25mm figures per side, with all the regular cast of ODMS club members playing, would be a fine thing as well.  But wigs, feathery hats, and Spaniels would have to be provided, for the players to really feel like they were in the Recent Unpleasantness.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Random Battlefield setup

My recent review of Dominance included a nod to the random table layouts that the author includes in the rules set, as a pretty neat resource for gamers.  I remember back when I played some Dominance, I had two renaissance armies (one infantry based - Swiss, and one cavalry based - French), and my friend and I who played the rules would randomly select one of the table diagrams in the book, and then dice for initiative in setup, and for side of table.  We would do our best to lay out the terrain based on what pieces we had (pretty easy), and off the whole shooting match went.

This got me to thinking, and looking around at different systems on blogs and in articles on random battlefield set up.

Over at Warfare in Miniature, there is a system that the author (James M) devised that is basically a PDF with six pages in it.  First you dice for a page in the document (1-6).  Then you toss two percentage dice, to generate a number from 1-100.  Consulting the page you rolled up, you will find a grid, with 8x9 squares on it, and with the numbers 1-97 on spaces in the grid.  If you roll 1-97, then the space you rolled is the upper box of your wargames table.

The orientation of the number, is the direction of "north" on your newly generated terrain area.  Green areas are forest, brown areas are hills. Red lines are roads, blue lines are rivers.  Green boxes are built up areas/fields.  Simple.

Each space on the grid represents 2'x2' on the gaming table, so you will have a grid of 3 spaces (or 6 feet), by 2 spaces (or 4 feet) to lay out your table in.  So for each of the six pages there are roughly 97 tables, that is a total of 585 tables, or something mathy like that.  But, the remaining three chances (98,99,100) for each page are also accounted for - they are tables that have homogeneous terrain over the whole surface.

Seriously, this is cool, try it out.  The article is Here.  The document is Here.

Another system that exists (and there are a number) that uses cards for the battlefields is the most excellent Battle Finder system from The Perfect Captain. As always, the rulesets from The Captain are free, although donations to charity are recommended by the authors.

Battle Finder is a complete campaign system, presented in a generic sense, although The Captain has developed some specialized adaptations for several medieval and renaissance games.  In short, you construct a campaign map (or scenarios in a linear or narrative campaign) using some easy to print out small cards, each of which has a nice 4x6 tabletop pictured on it.  Here are a few examples.

The Battle Finder system allows these cards, individually, to be mounted on a map that replicates a hex grid (each space connects to six surrounding spaces).  An individual card, printed and cut out, looks like this:

A most excellent system, and the campaign rules are terrific.

Dominance - review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).

Dominance is a set of Renaissance period (1494-1529) wargames rules written by Ian Wilson, copyright 1986, and published by Raider Games in 1986, and a second printing in 1988.  They are available, still, through Partizan Press.  I could not find too much contemporary information about Raider Games, except to say that at one time, in addition to Dominance, Raider also produced "Napoleonic Rules for a Large Scale Wargame with Small Scale Miniatures" by Peter Dennis and Cliff Knight, as well as "American Civil War" by the same authors.  They also produced a set of dark ages rules ("Oshere's Helm" by P.J. Duckworth) that I have never seen myself (I have seen the other two sets mentioned previously).

In addition to Dominance, Ian Wilson has also more recently (2009 or so) published a number of rules and articles in Wargames Illustrated, and released a second set of Renaissance rules, dealing with Eastern Europe (1558-1699), called "Husaria" in 2003, printed by Caliver Books for The Pike & Shot Society.

Dominance is a nice set of rules, based on the idea of Combat Factors, which then turn into (with random dice factors added in, and also tactical modifiers for situation) a number of Casualties inflicted on an enemy unit, determined by consulting a Casualty Table (I refer to this system as the Factors and Table method, although that seems pretty obvious).  This is how both Shot and Melee combat work.  This is very similar to a broad family of wargames, going back to (at least) earliest versions of the WRG Ancients wargames, but really (as in the case of the earlier reviewed AWI ruleset, Valley Forge) tracing back to the casualty tables that were in the earliest Kriegspiel wargames from the 19th century.

For rules covering the Renaissance period, at a minimum, the George Gush rules (1976 - review of these coming soon) published by WRG use a similar system.  Both Gush and Wilson rely on a figure scale of 20 men per casting, and left over casualties are kept track of on paper.  A great modification of the rules (discussed more later, in the review on the Gush rules) is to use a d20 and each turn, after all whole figure casualties are removed, a d20 is rolled and compared to left over casualties.  If it is less than the number, then an additional figure is removed, but nothing is kept track of on paper from turn to turn.

It will be interesting to see an analysis of the casualty chart here, with the one in the Gush rules, or the older WRG Ancients rules (a future review is also planned for these), but those will be presented in the later articles.

Note that this system - the Factors and Table system - is very different from the systems presented by Donald Featherstone's War Games (1962), which are all of the "roll 1 d6 per figure, and a casualty results on 5,6" variety.  That is not a bad method, and countless permutations and improvements of it exist, including the previously reviewed WRG Wargames Rules 1685-1845, and also a version is in The Universal Soldier.  The Factors and Table system, however, is much less prone to the winds of luck, or fortune, or kismet - or whatever it is that wargamers are calling it these days, when you roll a handful of dice, and 80% of them come up with 6s.  Also, the adjudication of combat is much quicker, or at least it is once the players or umpire have mastered the Factors tables, and understand what the tactical pluses and minuses are for most common situations.  It still has some randomness, introducing the stochastic variable of a chance die roll, so all Fortuna is not missing from the process.

One nice thing about the Factor and Table system as it is implemented here, is that the factors are based on Weapon System vs Troop Type.  Often it is troop type vs troop type (as in Might of Arms, War Cry and many other rulesets, to make their appearance here in reviews), with a modifier for weapons.  In this case, it seems to make sense to have the weapons themselves included.  Also, as the Author points out in notes at the end of the volume, many typical mixed weapon formations are accounted for, when they are nearly universal (like the practice of including zweihanders or polearms within the front ranks of a pike formation), are then accounted for in the combat factors of the dominant weapon system (in this case, Pike), so mixed units don't have to be accounted for in the rules - always a messy situation.

Movement and Ranges are given in Inches, which is very nice.  The rules state a ground scale of 10 yards to the inch for 20-30mm figures, and 20 yards to the inch for 9-15mm (40 yards for 5/6mm).  However, having everything in inches in the combat and movement tables is a great blessing.  Given how much scale creep our 15mm figures have had since 1987, I think it is fair to say that they could be used with the 20-30mm ground scale, without too much cognitive dissonance.

Otherwise the rules are pretty straight forward.  They are predicated on umpired play (they were written by Ian for a wargames campaign, which he umpired), and hence use rules writing, some rules for command and control (how to change orders, the effect of leaders on combat), and use simultaneous movement.  Given all that, the turn sequence is pretty straight forward - move, shoot, fight, morale.

As mentioned, these compare very well to the George Gush Renaissance rules from WRG (originally).  Where Dominance really shines is that in narrowing the focus of the rules (Western Europe, chiefly the Southern or Italian Renaissance, in the years 1494-1529), a particular style of combat, troop types, and battlefield behavior are focused on.  This gives a tighter and more constrained set of rules than Gush presents (more on that in the later review), but it also means that the rules are shorter, to the point, and read and play easily.

Given the tight focus of the rules, the army lists supplied in the book are fantastic, and really cover the breadth of the Italian Renaissance, as well as the early Wars of Religion.  The list of armies included is:
Early EnglishLate English
FlorentineEarly French
Late FrenchHoly Roman Empire
Spanish Holy Roman EmpireIrish
Italian Independent City StateMilanese
NeapolitanBorgia Papal
Early SpanishLate Spanish
Swiss ConfederationVenetian

These are great, and are presented as a invariable core of troops, with a series of optional add on units, etc that have a points cost.  So an army would be at a minimum the core troops described as the Basic Force, but based on the value of the army (whether in a one time game, or due to some campaign factors), could have additional units, described as Reinforcements.

The army lists in the volume that accompanies Gush is an incredible source of information and data about the armies of the time period, and the breadth of armies and options are much greater than presented here in Dominance, but again, I view that as a detriment.  The specific flavor of each army is preserved by the Basic Force.

Finally, one more thing that the rules, as a wargaming guide, give to a gamer or referee of a campaign is a great set of 20 maps, each of a 4x6 wargames table, with a variety of typical terrain features.  This could be keyed to locations on a campaign map, or could simply be used with a d20 to determine a random battlefield (or reproduced on cards, and use in some sort of filing system for the campaign).  A very useful appendix in the rule book.

All in all, I like Dominance, and have enjoyed playing it in the past.  For a modern gamer, the Factor and Table system, although in use in a lot of games, does not seem to be where modern rulesets are going.  More frequently, these days, there is the opposed die roll method, or the dice-per-figure system, but the older method is faster, and gives the schooled player (who has played the rules a few times) a good eye for how many casualties to account for in a situation.  This means that the player can make more educated decisions - always a good thing.  So they are a trade off - not as exciting and fast (and of course - the modern aversion to simultaneous movement), but great coverage of a specific period, and a "scientific" method for doing casualties.  A good ruleset, and a good benchmark against which to compare other, perhaps more popular, rulesets using similar mechanics.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Forlorn Hope - review

I had rather have a plain russet-coated Captain that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a Gentleman and is nothing else.
- Oliver Cromwell, 1643

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).

Cover for earlier edition, frontpiece for the 1991 edition

Forlorn Hope is a set of rules for English Civil Wargames, first published in 1987, that I have been quite fond of over the years, having played many times in 15mm with a variety of friends, especially in the old ODMS club, when it played at Campaign Headquarters, Gamer's Guild, and World's Best Comics.

I currently own a copy of the 1991 printing of the rules, although there are newer editions.  My own set still handles quite well, and has not loosened up at all over the years.  It is a set, according to the design notes of Messrs. Berry and Wilkins, that was designed primarily for tabletop play, and based on tabletop experience, rather than a strict translation of space and time (as in a simulation).  I think it succeeds well.

The units have five possible factors describing them:
  • Arm - Infantry, Cavalry, Dragoons, Artillery
  • Class - Veteran, Trained, Elite
  • Tactics - (Cavalry Only) Trotters (close and shoot), Gallopers (charge home)
  • Order - Normal Order, or Open Order
  • Ratio - (Infantry Only) The ratio of shot to pike, given in the terms of 2:1, etc.
In addition, Artillery comes in different varieties (Ultra Light, Light, Medium), and troops can be in a number of different formations (but can change formation during the game).  Line, Column, Fire Stand (similar to the later Square formation), Cavalry Line, Cavalry Column, and March Column.

With these factors, a great variety of different troops from the English Civil War period can be described.

Units are under orders at any time during the game.  There are chances, based on a dice roll, to change orders (and it depends on what order you are in, and what you are changing to, that determines this - followed by a D6 roll to see success.

The available orders are:
  • Advance to Fire Combat
  • Advance to H-t-H Combat
  • Hold
  • Retreat
  • Screen

The game has the following five steps in a turn sequence:
  1. Declaration and Reaction (new orders, leaders leave units, declare charges, etc)
  2. Movement (move, routers first, then charges, then other units)
  3. Fire Combat and Reaction
  4. Hand to Hand Combat (first casualties determined, then reaction tests)
  5. Reaction and Rallying (situational morale tests, rally from rout or pursuit)
Scale: Movement and Ranges are all given in Inches.  No ground scale is given (see the note on design above).  Figure scale is 1:33, so that a unit of 400 men would be 12 figures.

Determining Combat Factors

There is a single combat table, used for Shot or Melee, which is based on determining a Factor, and then cross indexing it with the number of figures involved.  Those are divided up into groups of 1,2,3,4,5, or 10 - and then a dice is rolled for each group.  The procedure is to go for as few (large) groups as possible, and then the dice roll gives you the number of casualties (based on a casualty table).  So, as an example, if you have 24 figures in an Infantry unit in melee combat.  You would look up its combat factor (which would be based on several things, but chiefly it's shot to pike ratio).  Once you had the factor, you would find that row on the casualty table, and then use the 10 column (rolling on it twice) and the 4 column (rolling on it once) to determine the number of casualties.  In that way, you rolled for 10+10+4, or 24 figures.  Casualties are in whole figures, no record keeping.

A very satisfying set of rules that plays well, although it does have somewhat of an 80s feel to it, especially in the area of Reaction Tests, which are (if I recall) many, and with a half page of factors to consider for plus or minus to the target number.  Once you play a game or two, however, it becomes pretty quick to work through.

Prognosis: I love these rules.  However, I found that it was difficult to convey what is going on to somebody who is not a fan of either ECW or Thirty Years War military history.  The different types of cavalry tactics, and the possibility of infantry units being of different ratios of pike to shot (note: you never change how many figures you have of either type, you just use what you have, but the ratio is all important for figuring out combat factors).  For those who get it, and like it, however - this is a great set of rules for the pike and shot period.  There is a Yahoo group that offers up some rules variants, including a lot of Thirty Years War information.

Two army lists

The rules are also quite complete, for tabletop battles.  Not too much in the way of campaign information, but a wide variety of different armies, and rules on how to select your figures based on the army you choose.  This involves random dicing for things like Ratio and Class.  Again, very satisfying.

One of my favorite periods, and one of my favorite rulesets.  Considering they are almost 30 years old, that is a good thing.