Thursday, October 27, 2016

Tercio - 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).
               There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of others.
                                                         - Niccolo Machiavelli 

Personal Reflection
One of the great things about my war gaming life in the 1980s (and the 1990s, to a certain extent) was that I was exposed to a lot of different gaming groups, and different gaming styles.  For a while, around the years 1984-85 I was involved with two different groups of wargamers/friends that were very much interested in the Renaissance, as a war gaming period.  One group was a very varied set of gamers who played lots of different periods.  Another group largely played the rules written by one of the members of that group.  A third group would tend to focus (for a short, but intense time) on a certain period or set of rules.  Most of them/us were also medieval and ancients players, and while there were very large 25mm armies floating around the community I played in, most of those armies were not Renaissance armies, so it was up to us to construct 15mm armies when it became the period we focused on.  But we needed rules.

Eventually, we would settle on particular subsets of periods, and particular subsets of rules.  But for a short while, we fooled around with Peter Harris' rules, Tercio.  We had access to both 4th edition (which this review mostly focuses on) and also the recently published 5th edition.  I don't know why, but it seems to me that we mostly played with copies of 4th edition laying around, although we always were checking things out in 5th edition.  I recall some arguments about the 4th edition book being more concise (which it sort of is), and also more straightforward (which it also is).

To be fair, we looked at a lot of rules, and the only ones we refused to play were the Newbury "Fast Play rules for Medieval and Renaissance Warfare (1300-1500)".  Oh boy.

Rules Intro
Tercio is a set of rules for Renaissance miniatures games (the cover mentions the period 1500-1700) written by Peter Harris, and releases (initially) in 1976.  Sadly, I do not know the history of the first three editions.  It was (in its 4th edition) written for 25mm figures (which we ignored, and used 15mm figures, but so be it), and the ground scale was 1 inch to 10 meters.  The rulebook begins with loads of information on how to classify your troops (of which, there are a lot of data points required for each unit), also points values, base sizes, and  set of guidelines for setting up random battlefields.

One of the hallmarks of many 70s rulesets (and one I have mostly moved on from, as have most other wargamers I know from the period) is writing rules.  Tercio, as a tournament rule set, had specific rules for orders, how they can be changed, and when they had to (or were allowed to) be changed.  In short, you had to write basic battlefield orders at the beginning of the game (i.e. - "pike/shot unit will advance to the crossroads, and then deploy and act defensively").  Then, once the game started, you should basically keep those orders in mind as you perform tactical moves, shooting, etc during the game.  Rules existed for sending signals, changing standing orders, etc.  During the game, however, the only turn-to-turn orders that were required by the rules were Charges, and if any pre-arranged orders (based on signals) were written at the start of the game.

In practice, our group used Charge declaration markers - chits that had Charge written on them, mixed in to a handful of other chits that had nothing written on them.  Each turn, we would place one facedown chit behind each unit, using a Charge chit for units to charge, and a blank chit everywhere else.  It was much quicker than writing, and was immediately apparent once you turned over the chits.

Turn Order
The turn order for the game (called the "Move Procedure" - a phrase that has stuck with me) was pretty typical for a simultaneous move game, and is really not all that different from the turn sequence in Dominance.  The difference, for Tercio, is in the specificity of when things happen.  And, that there are two pre-contact charge morale tests.  First, before moving chargers, any charging unit that has already taken a certain amount of casualties must test morale.  Second, after any moves, reaction moves, and firing due to charges and routs, there is a second morale test for all units that charged, and are about to contact.  Also those units being charged.  Once all this testing is done, then there is final shooting, other than vs chargers, and it all ends with melee resolution, and final (post-melee) morale tests.

A simplified description could be:
  1. Chargers charge
  2. Morale test for Contact
  3. Shoot
  4. Fight
  5. Morale tests from fighting

Movement rates are given in millimeters (I like inches, in spite of being a scientist and working in the metric system all the time) and maneuvers are given in terms of how much time (quarter move, half, full, etc) it takes a unit (based on training) to perform.

Firing rules are pretty straight forward.  This is a "factors and table" system, as per Dominance, and not the last such system I played for the Renaissance period.  The system is pretty deterministic, and works by figuring out the basic factors for weapon vs. armor; a short list of modifiers; and a d6 roll, to generate a modifier of -2 to +2.  A casualty table is consulted, and deaths of men are noted (every 20 deaths results in a figure removal).  Rules for ammunition, different firing types (volley, etc), and artillery are included.

Melee rules are similar (same dice toss for factor modifier of -2 to +2), with the basic factor being based on cavalry or infantry, and weapon type - vs. armor of the opposing unit.  Once casualties are generated for both sides, it is important to determine the combat results.  This is done with a very nice, and convenient chart, that matrices the casualties inflicted by the losing side (the side which inflicted the least number of casualties vs. the number of casualties that the winning side inflicted).  Once the column specifying the correct ratio is determined, then there is a Letter result that is based on the nature of the matchup (infantry vs infantry, cavalry vs cavalry, or cavalry vs infantry).  These letters determine the basic resolution of the combat round.  An example result is:
"E" - If infantry win, cavalry will rout.  If cavalry wins, the infantry will rout and the cavalry will pursue for two moves.

 Having  a system to determine the winner of the melee, and the results, is very nice, and is quite separate from morale tests (although the chart also generates the reason for making those tests, as well).  Note that Chainmail does something similar, but is based on comparing a total based on the number of figures remaining, plus factors for most casualties inflicted, and larger remaining unit.  Those are compared (as described in the Chainmail rulebook, and commented on in the review), and then melee results are calculated.  The Tercio system has much more interesting results, because of the way it is done, but it requires consulting two different charts following each melee combat.  That is in addition to the factor look up table, the list of modifiers, and the casualty table for each side, just to generate the number of casualties inflicted.  At least with the Chainmail system, if you know the points values of your troops, the whole mechanic can be done in your head, or on the back of a note card with a pencil, in about 20 seconds.

Finally, there are rules for executing morale tests, rallying, routs, pursuits, and other aspects.  A simple weather system is also included.  That pretty much concludes the 4th edition rules.

One thing, before I write my opinion of playing Tercio.  The description of troops has a lot of data included in it.  There is a factor for training level (T1, T2, T3), there is a factor for Morale (M1, M2...) there is a tactical group (ST - Skirmish, FT- Firepower, MT - Melee), there is an Organizational identifier (Regular, Feudal, Mercenaries), finally there is formation type (Close, Open, Normal).  These factors all come into play in the different rules subsystems in the game.  This may, or may not, be better than the typical WRG Ancients system where a unit is has one factor representing training and morale (A,B,C, etc).

In addition to the above factors, Tercio also lists army type (Light, Medium, Heavy, Extra Heavy, Super Heavy), and weapons carried.  These factors are onerous enough to keep track of when you are writing up your own army, but if you use the published lists, it is important to make sure you are keeping track of the different unit types, because of subtle differences.

It still bears my name on the outside.

Which brings me to a quick note about 5th Edition.  As mentioned, we played 4th edition.  There is not a lot of difference, except that for everything in 4th edition, there is MORE in 5th edition.  More rules, more troop types (allowing more army types and troop types to be represented), more factors, more optional and subsystems.  And, 5th edition also include an army list book as part of the publication.

4th edition, which is just the rules, comes in at just over 40 pages.  5th edition is two books in one (rulebook and army list book), and the rules themselves are something like 53 pages long.  Admittedly, there is some really nice artwork (very similar, and by the same artist that did the work for the Shock of Impact rule book, published around the same time, for ancient warfare).  But there is another 50 pages of army lists, divided up by period.  This is very nice, and has some interesting features (like, each army has predefined core units, and then some extra units that can be purchased using points).  The organization of sub units and interesting organization representing some of the Renaissance infantry formations (main body of pike, with sub bodies of halberdiers, shot, etc) is done very nicely by these rules, and they cover a lot of territory in terms of the wars and armies of the period.
Two army lists - Imperial 16th Century and Milanese, same period

My thoughts - Tercio is a neat set of rules.  I think it has not aged well, but most of the subsystems are pretty good, and other than a very deterministic combat system, and a factors and table combat system, it is not bad.  However, I recall from playing it that while it was a very serious attempt at simulating warfare, we had no feel that we were playing Renaissance armies fighting each other.  There is just too much abstract detail, and it does not have any glossing over of the fact, to make if feel like the period.   It is possible that the habit of many late 70s and early 80s rulesets to try to become more "serious" by piling on more data had the same effect.

For instance, while playing you would be talking about your M1/T1 troops, instead of talking about your "Fanatic Professionals".  The former gets a little stale.  And the order writing/charge declaration system (along with simultaneous movement - which ALWAYS generates arguments) is a thing of the past.  We tried to keep it smooth and streamlined by using order chits for charge, but that was done better in Johnny Reb, and that is a different ball of wax.  The method my friend Ron and I used (maybe from the Pike and Shot society?) of using a d20 to determine the odd casualty each turn, instead of maintaining a casualty roster, was pretty good and could have been applied here.  But, it all felt stale, and sort of dry. 

The data contained in the army lists from the 5th edition book, included as a bonus, is nice, as is the terrain and weather system (which can easily be stolen for other rules/periods).  Again, with different gaming groups, my experience was different.  With one group, we would play Hackbutt and Pike (by Ben King), in another group we would play The Universal Soldier for Renaissance, and finally with another group we would play George Gush's rules.  Finally, I settled on two sub periods, the Italian Wars, for which even Might of Arms was a good solution, and ECW for which I found some specialty rules (Forlorn Hope, 1644, Cavaliers & Roundheads).

So, Tercio was interesting, but it didn't last.  I think that it would have even a smaller chance of surviving today.  I included it in this series of reviews for the nostalgia and respect I have for Harris' rules, but also to serve as a comparison to Dominance (which I liked, but didn't play nearly often enough), and George Gush's rules (which I have yet to review, but it is coming).  It is emblematic of TTG rulesets of the period, being very thorough, and very much dominated by charts, factors, and different subsystems and classification systems from other rule sets.

But at least it isn't the Newbury Fastplay Rules.


Hendrid said...

Totally agree with everything said here on Tercio. Our gaming group went through same process of nothing but Tercio but it quickly felt stale with predictable melee results and didn't give the fell of the period. We tried the rules again fairly recently for nostalgia reasons but they were a bit of a trial now adays.

I do have a penchant for old school rules and these (and others in the stable) do have a place in the wargaiming history books. Nice review.

Charles Turnitsa said...

Hendrid thanks for your kind comments. Stale is definitely something I remember about the rules. Renaissance warfare already has a bit of a reputation with some gamers as being a rock-scissors-paper period (pike beats Cav; Cav beats shot; shot beats pike). Having good, fun rules can fix that.

If I can ask, if you still play this period, what rules do you use?

Ed M said...

I think I used to own the 5th edition of these--picked up in my penchant for old rules, but never used or played. I think it went away in one of the purges. The scans of the charts certainly evoke memories (not only of this set, but of the era).

Excellent point about the lack of period feel. These (and other) rules of the time translated all of the very detailed attention to the period into factors, tables, and charts that, ironically, wound up given all of them the same feel, regardless of era.