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.


Ed M said...

Arnold that's a name to conjure with. I look forward to seeing your coverage of his rules. We played his "Sword and Spear" rules extensively (using them for a variety of Lord of the Rings games: no magic, but Orcs, Dwarves, Trolls, Elves...and men, of course). At that time, we were high school students, so having enough figures to play an actual battle, especially given that the rules of the day were all 1:20, was a reach (as you have noted). However, we scraped together just enough figures to play Hendrick's "Ancient Warfare" (using the fantasy supplement).

Charles Turnitsa said...

Ed - Thanks!

I think I still have a copy of Sword and Spear poking around somewhere. I remember (vaguely) playing those...

I don't know that I ever tried Ancient Warfare. But I will be posting a Knights & Magick review very soon....


Charles Turnitsa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shaun Travers said...

Hello Chuck,

I am not Sgt Steiner - he is half a world away from me; not sure how that happened!


Charles Turnitsa said...

I'll fix that!

Charles Turnitsa said...

Shaun Travers wrote: "Always wanted to play this one, but as I get older I become less and less enthusiastic about playing rules with orders and "factors per figure". Every year it look less likely..." (but the comment got scrubbed)

Shaun - Yeah, I mostly avoid simultaneous move and order writing like the plague these days, but the two movement functions per turn thing was interesting. The Factors per Figure thing is pretty much a death knell for a ruleset these days, people (for some reason) don't like doing math during combat. Opposed dice rolls (as in DBA, or more recently, L'Art de la Guerre), or buckets of dice (to hit, to kill, to save) are more the order of the day for modern rule sets.