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.

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