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 (and perhaps, more generally, the entire Renaissance period) 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.


Cincinnatus said...

Nice review! Following you now.

Ed M said...

As someone who started gaming "back in the day" and who remembers these rules, and who has also dumped--and then re-acquired--many of them over the years, I find these reviews very interesting (a shared mania).

Charles Turnitsa said...

Thanks Cincinnatus, I appreciate the vote of appreciation.

Charles Turnitsa said...

Thanks Ed - I got exposed to both Chainmail and Cavaliers and Roundheads back in the early 1980s. So not quite a player from the 1970s, but still a while back. I loved them then (we used to play such large games... back when it was common for a wargamer in my circle to collect an army of 800-1000 figures).

The itch is really starting to bite, I think I have to play a game of these again, soon.

Hal Thinglum said...

Very interesting, Chuck. I picked up a set of these rules sometime ago. Have never played but enjoy looking through them. I am currently picking up painted (and some unpainted) 25mm Minifig ECW and awaiting the first of the purchases within the next few days. Very excited. Always love the Old School figures! Keep up the great work. Kindest regards - Hal