Saturday, October 8, 2016

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.

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