Sunday, April 16, 2017

Medieval Periods - Middle Dark Ages (6th and 7th centuries)

Following on my first article about wargaming in the various sub periods of the Medieval Age, I would like to address what I am here referring to as the middle Dark Ages.  For me, this is roughly the 6th and 7th centuries, so definitely in a Post (Western) Roman setting, but one where the rise of new entities and the rise of Byzantium provide rich war gaming possibilities. As with the first article, I remain focused on Europe.
As far as I know, there is no common reference to this period, at least as a period distinct from either the earlier dark ages, or the later dark ages.  If anything, the earlier dark ages, and this period (I am thinking of approximately the 6th and 7th centuries) are part of what is usually referred to as Late Antiquity, although that really stretches back further than I wanted to (Late Antiquity is usually 300-700 AD).

But here I am talking about the 6th and 7th centuries.  In the early period (5th century, into the Age of Arthur.  To me that is the interesting activity going on in that period (from a European perspective) for wargaming.  In this period, there are really three things going on that provide for good wargaming.  As I see them these are:
beginning of the 6th), I covered the
  1. Consolidation of the Barbarian/Germanic Kingdoms
  2. Muslim Conquest (starting in the 7th century, but lasting into the 8th)
  3. Byzantium Ascendency, starting with Justinian in the 6th century 
As with the other Medieval periods, although infantry is still a very common component of armies of this period, the strength of cavalry is one of the hallmarks of many Medieval military systems (at least for me). That was the reason why I thought of the Romano-British as an example of a very early Medieval army (even though, it is extremely Roman, and infantry heavy, in flavor).

So, from a wargaming perspective (although just the history of this period, leaving aside gaming for an instant, is itself completely fascinating) here is what I see for the three periods.  I think I might list things like miniatures rules, board games, and army lists for each in separate posts.

Barbarian Kingdoms
These are large groups of (mostly) Germanic people's, or confederacies of people's, that were occupying lands in or on the border of the (former) Western Roman territories. They either had been invited to settle and become feoderates by the Romans, or else migrated in on their own, or (as in the case of Theoderic) would be contracted to come in by the Eastern Emperors. Because there are lots of clashes, both with remnants of the Western empire, and with other barbarian kingdoms, there is a lot of wargaming potential here.  Some of the people's I am thinking of (although there are many, many others):
  • Ostrogoths - the Eastern Goths, mostly in and around Italy
  • Visigoths - the Western (or Bright) Goths, mostly in and around the Iberian lands, filling the space previously occupied by Vandals and Suevi
  • Franks - Extremely successful on both sides of the Danube, and against other tribes/confederacies, this period includes the Merovingians.
  • Saxons - As in the earlier period, this may also include related peoples such as the Jutes and Angles, both in Britain (which is now becoming, finally, Angle-land, or England) and back in Europe.  On the British Isles, the series of struggling Kingdoms form the Heptarchy, although rarely is it exactly seven kingdoms.
  • And non-Germanics from the East - Alans, Avars, Huns, etc. 
There are a lot of miniature wargaming possibilities here, but also some board gaming titles as well.  Right away, I am reminded of Barbarian, Kingdom and Empire, as well as Catan: Struggle for Rome (a great game, but maybe not a wargame?).  Possibly Rise and Fall  but possibly not (and it is very similar to the already mentioned BKE).  A game I used to play quite a bit is the area control game, Attila.

Muslim Conquest
Starting in the early part of the seventh century, the armies of the Prophet and his successors provide a history that is ripe with opportunities for Wargamers who want to recreate the battles of this period.  This is divided up into an early expansion period, starting with the battle of Bedr, in 624 (two years after the flight of the Prophet to Medina) and ending in 661 when Muawiya Uthman had the Prophet's son in law (Ali) killed in the civil war for succession.  Muawiya then formed the first Caliphate.  

The armies of Islam, with roots in a popular religious undertaking, necessarily had a lot of simple (but effective) foot elements, but also (and increasingly as time went on) both a professional infantry core and large amounts of mounted troops developed.  The Arab cavalry favored the Lance, although there are some Persian elements that use the bow.  This is, tactically, a very interesting army.

It clashed, of course, with many of the other armies described in this article, so a Wargamer seeking to develop a collection for this period, would have a lot of scenario possibilities if he were to include the elements that make up this army. A very useful collection of essential troops, that would serve for representing this army over many centuries, would be a decent sized collection of Arab spear, Arab archers, and Lance armed Arab horse. As the conquest settles into an imperial mode in the later part of this period (starting with the establishment of the caliphate) other troops can be added in, representing absorbed people's. This includes horse archers among other things, and even extends to elephants.

One of the more interesting enemies of the Arab Conquest, of course, is the Sassanid Persians.  This fantastic army will be described in a later article on the Arab Conquest.

Board wargames about this period are rare, and I am only aware of a few. There was a Canadian Papercut games.  More recently, there was, in Freng from Griffon Games, a good looking design called Au Nom d'ALLAH that covers the expansion period from 632-732 AD.  Finally, and this is the one most accessible I think (from the preview material), is the title Apocalypse in the East  from Against the Odds magazine, to be published in 2017. It is about the ten year struggle between the first Caliphate and the Byzantines. Victory Point Games is working up an excellent solitaire, called The First Jihad which should be published soon.
Simulations game back in the early 1980s called Jihad, but I don't think it has a following any longer. More recently, three titles come to mind. There was a game in 2007 called Caliphate, that was never quite finished, but is available as a free print and play download from 

As the surviving successor to Rome, the empire in the east begins this period with an army very much in the tradition of the old Legion system of the Western army.  However, starting under Justinian, and coming full circle under Maurice, the army transforms into something different - the Byzantine army, which is very much more reliant on cavalry.  This will last throughout the period covered by this article, but will eventually give way to the feudal Thematic system (still cavalry dominant, but structured and supplied very differently).

A nice overview and description of the army under Maurice (the Maurikian Byzantine Army) is provided on this DBA page - it talks about DBA army elements for this army, but also gives a nice short history about the various components.  Some very interesting fighting by the Byzantines, in this period, takes place in the Balkan peninsula, as well as else where, and against some of the other armies described in this article.  Other enemies for the Byzantines exist as well.

Options for boardgame Wargamers might include a number of titles, such as Justinian from GMT or Byzantium from Martin Wallace. There are some other traditional wargames that touch on Byzantine warfare, but I'll mention them in a later article, as they cover later Byzantine history.  In addition to board wargames, there are even a number of other strategy games in this theme, that may or may not warrant the name "wargame".  Some examples might be Justinian from Mayfair (a Byzantine politics game) or Constantinopolis (Trade in Byzantium in the 7th century).

That is is for this topic, but I think I will develop some information about army lists, and tactics, and possible scenarios/campaigns for each of these separately.  Each of these three focus areas has lots of great personalities, will have strong links to the previous and the succeeding historical periods (and armies), and present loads of interesting wargaming possibilities.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

A Rebellion in the Colonies

My recent cataloging efforts revealed to me that it would be nice to know a little about what I have in each collection, in terms of numbers and composition.  And since my 15mm AWI collection is strewn across my work area, in a variety of trays and boxes, due to the recent rebasing operation, I thought it would be a nice place to start.  So here are the totals (below).  


All infantry are based on 40mm wide bases, with three figures per frontage. 
Cavalry are on 30mm wide bases, with two figures each.  
Artillery are on 40mm square stands, with 4 crew each (fewer crew for my two grasshopper gun models).  
Generals are on 40mm squares with three mounted officers.
Brigadiers are on 30mm squares with two mounted officers each.
Division Officers are on 25mm squares with one mounted officer.

American (Rebellion) Forces
Infantry 1092 figures
Cavalry 34 figures
Guns 12 guns and crew
Officers 38 officer figures

French Battalions
Infantry 132 figures

Natives (Indians) 
Infantry 78 figures

British Forces
Infantry 627 figures
Cavalry 30 figures
Guns 8 guns and crew
Officers 27 officer figures

Infantry 249 figures

These, of course, are all divided into units, with unit command figures, including officers, colors, and musicians.  

Americans include Continental Army, Colonial Militia, and Minutemen.
British include regulars and Tories (Loyalists).

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Taking Stock - 15mm Collections pt. 5 - Napoleonic

My first Napoleonic figures, from many years ago, were TTG 15mm Prussians, which were quickly rounded out by innumerable Minifigs.  Alas those figures are long gone, the product of a good many army trades, swaps, re-trades, failed repatriation, exile, and political captivity. But these days I have a fairly decent sized accumulation of Napoleonic figures.  If ever there was a collection in need of a good figure by figure survey, this is it. I have grown this period by leaps and bounds over the years, and have not done a good inventory of it all together.

I will add in comments after a good visual inspection, but for now, this is basically a good high level inventory.

Napoleonic Figures
Peninsular War British
Later Prussian

I don't think I'd like to add to this collection, much, as I don't ever see myself modeling a Turkish or Austrian force.  But maybe I might fill in some gaps, especially in the French order of battle.

This series includes
Part 5 - Napoleonics (this article)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Taking Stock - 15mm Collections pt. 4 - Eighteenth Century

With the recent completion of my AWI collection, that brings my current stable of 18th century sets to exactly two - as below. I at one time had some Seven Years War figures, and recently parted with a large collection of painted Marlburian figures, but these days it is only the two below.

Eighteenth Century
French and Indian War
Size: Not too large, maybe 250-300 figures, total. But this is for a skirmish game.
Condition: Painted and individually based.
Notes:  These were acquired from someone who organized them for The Sword and the Flame, so twenty man units. There are regulars for both sides, as well as some irregular infantry (coureur de bois, and rangers) as well as some Indian units

American War for Independence 
Size:  Nice collection, probably around two thousand figures or so. Almost all factions represented, except some odd Spanish (really only present in some far southern engagements). But the main actors are here - British, Tories, Continentals, States Militia, Patriots/Minutemen, Hessians, French, Indians.  Infantry, cavalry, guns, officers.
Condition:  All painted, recently undergone mass rebasing (two month project). Bases in many cases not flocked.
Notes:  Played with these under Black Powder at a Thanksgiving Day game in 2015, have only done some small solo Neil Thomas scaled stuff since then.  Eager to play Konigskrieg, British Grenadier, or more Black Powder.

Some details on the AWI collection can be found here.
What else would I like to do for this period in 15mm?  The Jacobite Rising of 1745?   French Revolution (1789-1799)?  Vendee Revolt (1793-1796)?  Not sure.

This series includes
Part 4 - 18th Century (this article)

Taking Stock - 15mm Collections pt. 3 - Renaissance

This is part three of my 15mm cataloging effort. This time, my Renaissance armies, to cover the late 15th through the mid 17th centuries.

Renaissance 15th - 17th centuries
Italian City States
Size: Enough to do two large armies.
Condition: Painted, based and recently played.
Notes: I can cover any two of the Italian states from the wars of the 1490s through the mid sixteenth century. This includes the armies needed to run a campaign based on the old Avalon Hill game Machiavelli.

Imperialist or French
Size: Plenty for an HRE or French Catholic army.
Condition: Painted, based, ready for subjugating small Italian republics and Heugenots.
Notes: I could use some more lighter cavalry and a few more artillery pieces, but a very nice large army as it is. Lots of Landsknechts. Enough options to cover either an Imperial or a French army.

Size: Lots of pike and halberd. Big enough to take on any of the other 15th or 16th century armies. A few Knights, some shot units.
Condition: Painted, based. Looking for employers.
Notes: Brutally effective in most rules, but not a lot of diversity in the army.

Size: Big army. Might be a match for two other armies, certainly big enough for a large multiplayer game.
Condition: painted, based, ready to play, mostly. Some stands need flocking, some cavalry needs rebasing.
Notes: Ready for Italy or the Low Countries. Could use some more lighter troops.

Dutch or Huegenots
Size: Big enough to fight a scaled back Spanish or French army. Ritters, gendarmes, pike, shot, and could borrow landsknechts.
Condition: Painted and ready to earn either religious liberty or a sack full of guilders.
Notes: A nice 80 Years War campaign is beckoning.  This set could cover either army, either Dutch Protestants or French Protestants.

Size: These are 16th and 17th century Poles. Not a large set, but several units of lovely winged hussars, cossacks and haiduk infantry.  With German mercenaries, could fight an Imperialist (16th century) or Swedish (17th century) army.
Condition: Painted, needs rebasing.
Notes: This set makes me want to consider Muscovites. An early campaign against Gustavus Adolphus might be fun, also.

English Civil War
Size: Two armies, with some generic, and some specific troops present. Moderate size, as is, but with either more painting, or judicious borrowing from the TYW set, could put on a large battle.
Condition: Most is painted and based. See TYW section for those troops. Artillery needs work, and some infantry needs painting, but plenty playable as is.
Notes: one of my favorite periods, some of my troops go back to the 1980s.

Thirty Years War
Size: very large collection with several battalia each for all the main participants (Imperial, Swedes, Bohemians, Bavarians, Saxons, French, Dutch, Spaniards) plus cavalry, guns, commanders, etc.
Condition: All painted nicely.  Ready to play as is, but would like to do a complete rebasing to MDFstands.
Notes: Again, this begs a multiplayer campaign.

Size: Two large armies. All elements including monks, foreigners, etc.
Condition: All painted. Rebasing is desired, but could be played.
Notes: Many different factions and clans are represented, could easily become a campaign.

Joseon Korean
Size: Large army, intended as a foe for the Japanese.
Condition: Painted, needs organization and basing.
Notes: I would like to build some turtle ships...

Ming Chinese
Size: Large army. Collection may also include separate Mongol horde, but needs to be sorted.
Condition: Unsorted, unpainted. 
Notes: if I ever pursue this project, I may get the Mings professionally painted.

This series includes
Part 3 - Renaissance (this article)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Taking Stock - 15mm Collections pt. 2 - Medievals

This list covers my medieval armies, and a number of early medieval, or dark ages armies.

Size: Large collection, enough for two large armies, with some borrowed figures maybe from the Vikings. I have options and leaders to do early Pagan Saxons, and later Christian Anglo-Saxons.
Condition: painted and ready to play. My only regret is my Saxon fyrd are mounted 3 to a stand.
Notes: A nice large collection. Makes me wish I had later Imperial Romans (or Byzantines, or Post-Roman British), to use these guys as fifth and sixth century threats against the remainders of the Empire.  Still, plenty of foes in my collection.

Size: I have two distinct medieval Irish collections. One is a medium/large early Dark Ages focus, even including hound handlers and some chariots for those who believed the Irish still used them for leaders.  The other is later, but a smaller collection, and could be a foe for Normans in Ireland.
Condition: Painted, based, ready to play.
Notes: Personally, I like the Chariots. Also, stands with Druids, and some with Christian priests. 

Size: Again, two sets. Dark ages Welsh in a sizable collection (enough for a large army), and later Welsh as 13th/14th century foes for England.
Condition: Painted and ready to play. The later army, if it goes for a longbow heavy variant, has to borrow archers from my Hundred Years War English, but plenty to go around.
Notes: Two nice foes for my other English based armies. I'd like to add some flavorful command stands with Dragon banners.

Size: plenty of figures and options for a large army. 
Condition: Painted, based, very playable.
Notes: Cavalry have the distinctive Norman shield, as do some infantry. Plenty of other infantry to use in a Frankish option.

Size: A vast collection of sea wolves. Easily enough for two large armies.
Condition: Painted, based, bloodied in battle.
Notes: Lots of options here, included mounted Viking infantry. I have some unpainted Long Ships, but I wish I had more.

Size: A large collection,me ought for a big army, although cavalry has to be borrowed from other Early Medieval forces (such as the Norman army).
Condition: Painted, based, and ready o play. I'd like to get and paint some actual continental cavalry from the 8th century. 
Notes: This makes a nice replacement for the Normans, to have a more balanced army against other early medieval infantry armies.  Can fight a Moslem army judicially selected from the units of my Crusades collection.

Size: Two large armies with many options, one is Christian and one is Moslem. Can definitely cover first and third crusades, as well as other battles of the same period.
Condition:  Painted (beautifully) and based, ready to go. 
Notes: My largest regret here is that I don't have more Moslem figures, and that I don't have more theater specific terrain.

Baron's Wars
Size: Enough units to do two moderate/large armies.
Condition: All painted, all based. Ready to go.
Notes: These are "generic" medieval figures for battles in the 12th and 13th century. Some overlap with HYW collection. Could use some more lighter troops.

Size: A moderate sized army, if the keils are all halberd armed. Could be quite large if pike blocks are borrowed from my Renaissance Swiss.
Condition:  All painted and ready to play. Some infantry could stand to be rebased.
Notes: A solid foe for other medieval armies here, or could represent mercenary units.

Hundred Years War
Size: Two very large armies, one French and one English. 
Condition: All painted, 90% based properly, ready for St Crispin's Day.
Notes: There are some elements I would like to add, especially like lighter cavalry (sergeants, hobilars, jinetes) and maybe some more foot such as peasants/villeins and crossbow.  I probably have too many knights if such a thing is feasible.

Size: A moderate sized collection of specifically Scottish units (schiltrons mostly, and some Scottish knights) but could be padded with other figures.  Easily could field a large army.
Condition:  All painted, about half need rebasing.
Notes: The long spear units look good, but need some organizing. Otherwise, another nice group to provide mercenaries/allies for other armies, or could be padded to stand on its own.

Size: Moderate size, but could easily be padded out with other similar Dark Ages figures.
Condition: All painted, all based, ready to take on a variety of enemies.
Notes: Another in my assortment of dark age armies, these are a precursor to the above Scottish army, from a few hundred years earlier. Not a lot to distinguish it from say the early Welsh or Irish - spearman, light horse, heavier infantry, slingers and archers.

This series includes
Part 2 - Medievals  (this article)
Part 5 - Napoleonics
 (this article)

Friday, April 7, 2017

Taking Stock - 15mm Collections pt. 1 - Ancients

I have several articles and themes in progress these days here at Gaming with Chuck - more reviews of older rule sets, more on dark age wargaming, finishing up Lord of the Manor, converting LotM to Lion Rampant, etc. However, I have decided that starting this summer, I want to start (or, return to) hosting war games.  I have been out of the practice of doing that since moving away from ODMS back in 2012.  However,  that is about to change. There has been talk of a revised ODMS, even if it means games at members' houses, and maybe not on a weekly schedule.  So, as I always like putting on a war game for my friends, I thought I would take stock of what armies I have these days, and what shape they are in.

Starting with my 15mm ancients collections.

Size: Plenty of figures and options for at least two large armies (Might of Arms sized, for example).
Condition: All painted, all playable. I'd like to standardize the basing (MDF, balsa, matte board, etc)
Notes: Covers all armies from Phillip II to the end of the successor states.

Size: Plenty of figures for a large army.
Condition: All painted. Needs basing and reorganization.
Notes: Designed to fight the Macedonians, could be used for later Eastern foes of Romans, etc, maybe with some extra units.

Romans - Republic through Middle Imperial
Size: This is really at least two different periods/armies but each has at least enough for two armies. Lots of Romans.
Condition: All painted, mostly playable. Some rebasing might help in some instances, especially to standardize bases.
Notes: These have seen lots of action over the years, still good, especially with occasional reinforcements added in.

Barbarians - Galatians, Gauls, Britons, Germans, etc
Size: Easily enough for two large armies. Could do a double army matchup against Romans or Macedonians.
Condition: Germans need more painting.  Some basing and organization, and touch up of some shield designs on older shields wouldn't hurt.
Notes: With some additional units could expand to Illyrians and others. Some of my oldest figures. Split between dense infantry (4 figure bases) and loose density (3 figure bases) as well as equipment difference is chief split of Germans.  Need more specific German units to be painted.

Carthaginians - Early and Late
Size: Enough for a large army, either way.  Some allied figures, i.e. Spanish, could be the basis for their own army.
Condition: Painted.  Need organization and basing.
Notes: Could be a really nice multiplayer matchup v. Romans, as intended.

New Kingdom Egyptians
Size: Older WRG 1200 point army. A moderate sized Men At Arms army.
Condition: Unpainted. Asgard figures from Viking Forge.
Notes: I always wanted to do Biblical period, but never got this project off the ground.

Size: Mostly smaller DBA sized dabbling a in a variety of armies not covered above.
Condition: Most painted and playable. Some unpainted. Everything in between.
Notes: bits and bobs collected over the years, plus the leftovers from equipping multiple DBA tournaments.

This series includes
Part 1 - Ancients (this article)

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Space Gaming - 2d vs 3d maps

A discussion group on Facebook that talks about Traveller related items has been talking about 3d mapping vs 2d mapping.  I am a big fan of Classic Traveller (1977) and its derivative games.  Those include MegaTraveller, T4, T20, T5 and Mongoose Traveller.  One of the things about them, however, is that going back to the original, they render star maps in a 2d fashion, typically on a hex grid.  Let me say, that I am a big fan of the 2d representation, because it is not true (form a Physics sense) but it does represent a presentation of game/setting information in an intuitive and extremely useful format. What could be better?

On a Traveller map, the first thing you will notice is hexagons, some with "world systems" marked in it.  Each hexagon represents a parsec (roughly 3.26 light years), and any parsec that has a solar system in it that is potentially of interest, has a marker on it showing such.  This is a nice reality on the space involved, for each hexagon might be home to several solar systems (if a denser region of the galaxy, this might be a higher number), or it might be void.  But regardless, only "interesting" systems are marked.  That means, systems that either might have a civilization/colony on them, or might represent the possibility for such.

Regina Subsector - from the Traveller Wiki

But the maps are in 2 dimensions.  Originally they were in simple black and white, and these days it is common to find them in color, with the various regions and system colors indicating some details.  But the maps are still on a 2d hex grid.  So on the example above, the planetary system Forboldn is 1 hexagon away from Knorbes, which means an approximate 1 parsec difference between them.  This is great for the game, because the interstellar capabilities of the ships are measured in the ability to 'jump' between points of normal space, that are limited in (because of the technology involved) distances of roughly 1 parsec.  So a jump-1 ship could travel from 1 hexagon to another (a vast distance) in the space of a week - but that makes this rendering of the starmap very useful for game navigation.

But what about a 3d version of space - you know since space is basically a 3 dimensional construct, and all that...  Well, there have been some game maps that have done a good job on this.  I would like to talk about three, briefly, but in the light of a tabletop gaming constraint.  That constraint is that the map should be able to be printed out and passed around at the table, as an artifact to be consulted during game play.  A very nice 3d map on a computer that can be rotated, zoomed in and out of, is fabulous, but of more limited use during tabletop gaming.  In computer gaming, however- but that is a different story.  On to the examples I have.

Space Opera
In the game Space Opera, the materials that were released by Fantasy Games Unlimited (the publisher of the game) were often placed on planets in their published Sectors.  These were regions of space, published as game setting modules, that featured a number of planetary systems in a cube of space.  The examples below are from The Mercantile League (which, if I recall, is Star Sector Atlas #2).

The maps were published in their 8.5x11 Star Sector Atlas books, and the scale (which required the use of a ruler on the page to determine distances) was typically 1mm to 1 light year.  So you get out your ruler, determine that two worlds are 36mm apart from each other on the page, and you say "They are 36 light years apart".   Without having to use X and Y coordinates, and without having to do the Pythagorean Theorem calculation -- square root of ((x1 - x2)^2 + (y1 - y2)^2).

But, the 3d portion comes in with the fact that each world had a positive or negative measure (in light years, or LY) above or below the plane of the map.  So, taking the difference of these two gives you a second measure, the difference in the Z coordinate between the two points.  So now, with the X/Y measure in hand (the distance on the page), and the Z measure (calculated from +/- height differences) you can get the absolute 3d difference by again applying pythagoras as above.

The game publications gave you, in each Star Sector Atlas, a basic travel distance table that listed the distances (and some game economic factors) for the pairings of the more interesting/important worlds within the sector, so the distances were already calculated.
Finally, the last thing that was provided, in terms of a mapping assistant, for the FGU Space Opera Star Sector Atlas products, was the map showing the common space lanes (i.e. - the ones described in the "Fares and Cargo Rates" table).  This was simply the sector map with star lanes drawn on it.

Pros/Cons of the FGU method - these are easy enough to understand, and having the Z coordinate on the map makes for an easy transition to 3d.  As always, with a 2d depiction of 3d space, the map can be illusionary in some instances, where there is a sharp Z difference between two points that are otherwise (X/Y) close on the map.  These maps are nice because there is no real grid (they would come, later, with an Index, matricing a number vs. a letter axis, to make finding planets a little easier), but the obverse of that coin is that you need a ruler graduated in millimeters (or would have to convert inches, each to 25.4 mm), in order to find distances that are not on the quick look up table.

The SPI effort to enter the roleplaying game market was with the game Universe.  Universe had three very nice things going for it.

  1. The character generation sequence had a great way to compare physical stats for characters from different geophysical planetary backgrounds (i.e. - difference in physical parameters based on the planetary environment you were born/raised in). 
  2. The starship construction/combat rules were very nice (describing a setting with generally common ship hulls, perhaps as in the Niven Ringworld universe, but with different modular components), as you might expect from an experience board game publisher that had devised printed several sets of starship combat rules by the time the RPG arrived.  In this case it is the DeltaVee game.
  3. The 3d space map of the area roughly in a sphere of about +/- 25 light years around Earth.

This article is interested in discussing the space map.  It worked, in concept, very similar to the map from FGU but with some important differences.  It incorporated iconography and color (as do the more modern Traveller maps) to indicate something about the stellar systems mapped.  In the case of Universe the colors correspond to the stellar sequence.  Different from the FGU Space Opera maps, it used a graph/grid to show the location of the worlds, so you did not need to use a ruler to find the difference of planets. But it did mean you had to apply Pythagoras.  One of the nicest things about the Universe map is the fact that it included the X,Y and Z coordinates for each system.  Also, Earth/Sol is at (0,0,0) so measure to other worlds from Earth is pretty easy to do.

Finally, the third method of showing a 3d space on a 2d map is from the old Metagaming science fiction empire building game, Godsfire.  This game represented three dimensional space on a hex map.  The measurements for space were abstracted (slightly) and objects pressed on to a hex map, to make counting and measuring movement and disances between star systems to be quite easy (just count the hexes).  The Z component was brought in by making sure that each hexagon only represented the space at the plane of the map.

Within the hexagon, there was a series of 11 spaces, 5 representing levels below the map, 1 representing the planar level of the map, and five representing levels above the map.  As this was a map for a multiplayer wargame, moving objects on the map was necessary, and could be accommodated by moving the object (ship, fleet, etc) by moving it "up" or "down" within a single hex, or from hex to hex (arriving at the same level in the new hex, as the level that you departed the old hex from.

Pros/Cons - It is abstracted (as mentioned), and not as precise as the other methods, but it is certainly quick to navigate and move pieces around in.  Very simple and straightforward for campaigning and wargaming.
As you can see from the image, each "hexagon" is actually represented as a square, but using offset rows, means each is spatially related to the six around it (essentially a hexagon).  And the spiral showing the levels (from +5 down to -5) within the hex.  Very convenient.

This map was used by a group I played in years ago, as the campaign map for a Leviathan wargaming campaign.  It was an elegant way to do three dimensions, and it was very interesting to see players get surprised by a fleet that appeared similar, only to realize that it was at +4, and they were -3, adding (effectively) 7 more spaces of difference between the two fleets.

So, there.  Three different methods of doing 3d mapping, on a 2d space, with different pros and cons for each.

If interested in this topic, I can (not strongly enough) recommend Winchell Chung's page on 3-D Starmaps over at his Project Rho website.  Winch is a wargamer and artist and generally interested in the intersection between science and sci-fi and gaming, and his web pages are chock full of the most excellent information.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Chainmail Variant Rule - Post-Melee Results

Chainmail has many ways in which to recommend itself as a fast play set of big battle Medieval rules.  One of the more troubling areas, however, is in post-melee morale.

To a modern eye, this is a set of mathematical calculations that will slow down the flow of the game.  It is actually all just simple math (addition and multiplication, for the most part), but it does seem to be out of favor with modern war game design philosophy.

To that end, I offer the following system (but first, present the current system, for comparison).

The Post-Melee Morale system, as is
On page 15 of the rule book, there is a procedure for calculating Post-Melee Morale.  It involves three factors, added together:
  1. A factor for the side that took fewer casualties in the melee.  This is the difference between the two casualty counts, times a d6 roll.  Only the side that took fewer casualties gets this factor.
  2. A factor based on the current size of the unit, as number of total figures times their Morale Rating.  Both sides get this factor.
  3. A factor based on who has more figures surviving after the melee.  This difference between the two totals of surviving figures, and is multiplied by a d6 roll.  Only the side with more figures gets this factor.
Add up the factors.  Each side will have at least one of these (number 2), but only one side or the other will benefit from the others (numbers 1 and 3).

Compare the two totals, and then consult the difference on this table:

0-19 differencemelee continues
20-39 differencelower total side moves back 1/2 move, but in good order
40-59 differencelower total side moves back 1 move, but in good order
60-79 differencelower side retreats 1 move
80-99 differencelower side routs 1 1/2 move
100+ differencelower side surrenders, and victorious side may continue a charge if possible, leaving behind 1 guard per 5 prisoners

Factor number 2 above, is the current total value of each unit - meaning the total number of remaining figures, multiplied by the Morale Rating of the figures.  In a mixed unit, each figure is multiplied by it's own Morale Rating, and then the subunits are added together.  Here are the Morale Ratings:

Light Foot and Levies4
Heavy Foot5
Elite Heavy Foot6
Light Horse6
Armored Foot, Janissary7
Medium Horse, Landsknechte8
Heavy Horse, Swiss Pikemen9

The New Post-Melee Morale System, Proposed
First, the concept - This method involves taking a morale test.  Both sides calculate what their target number would be, and the lower total tests first (2d6, trying to roll the target number or less).  If the first test fails, then depending on the nature of the fail, it will consult the Post-Melee Morale Test Results table below.  If the first test passes, then the second unit will make a test against it's target number.  If the second unit fails, then it will also suffer the results from the table below.  If it passes, then both units are still engaged in combat, and the melee continues next turn.

Method -
Each side determines their target number.  This is based on the Morale Rating from the above table.  To that number, add/subtract the following:
+1, if larger than the enemy
+1, if took fewer casualties than the enemy
-2, if 1/4 of the original unit is dead
-4, if 1/3 of the original unit is dead
-6, if 1/2 of the original unit is dead, or more

Each side will calculate this target number.
The side with the lower target number tests first.
If the first testing unit fails, then it consults the results table below.
If the first testing unit passes, then the other side will test.
If the second unit has to test, and it fails, consult the results table below.
If the second unit has to test, and it passes, then that means both sides have passed, and the melee continues.

In practice, this amounts to a quick comparison of target numbers, and the lower number tests.  If it fails, that is the end.  If it passes, then the other side tests.  That's all.

If the two target numbers are tied - both sides roll.  Either side that fails will suffers the results.  If (extremely rarely) both sides try to surrender, then both sides rout instead.

Post-Melee Morale Test Results
Miss -1back 1/2 move, good order
Miss -2back 1 move, good order
Miss -3retreat 1 move
Miss -4rout 1 1/2 move
Miss -5 or moresurrender

Miss -1, etc, means the 2d6 dice roll missed the target number by 1 (i.e. target=7, and 8 is rolled on the dice).

Here is the whole process reduced to a flow chart, and with the Morale Rating, and Test Results charts included (click to make bigger/more readable).

Multiple Units
In order to apply this method to multiple units, calculate the Target Number for all units involved on all sides.
  1. Starting with the lowest value unit, begin testing.  Apply results to each unit, as it tests.
  2. If any units have the same Target Number, always test them simultaneously.  
  3. Apply the "Took Less Casualties" modifier to each unit on the side that took fewer overall.  
  4. Apply the "Larger than the Enemy" modifier to the side that has more total figures (counting all units involved), to each unit on that side.  
  5. Apply the modifiers for unit loss to each unit individually.
  6. Stop testing when only units from one side or the other remain in contact.
  7. If a unit is to Surrender, but the final results have a friendly unit still in contact, then that unit Routs instead.
Example - A heavy foot unit (12 figures), and a medium horse unit (9 figures) hit a large armored foot unit (24 figures).  In the melee, the heavy foot unit loses 4 figures.  The medium horse unit loses 2 figures.  The armored foot unit loses 5 figures.  Start by calculating Target Numbers:
  • Heavy Foot - base value of 5
  • Medium Horse - base value of 8
  • Armored Foot - base value of 7
After the Melee, the Armored Foot unit is larger (19 remaining, vs a total of 15 remaining on the other side).  The Armored Foot also took fewer casualties than the other side (5 figures killed, vs 6 figures killed).  So the Armored Foot unit gains a +1 for Fewer Casualties, and a +1 for larger than the enemy.  The Heavy Foot have lost 1/3 of their figures, so take a -4.  That makes the Heavy Foot unit have a target of 1, the Medium Horse unit still has a target of 8, and the Armored Foot unit has a target of 9.  
Rolling, in order, for the Heavy Foot (roll of a 6, which means that they will surrender to the Armored Foot).  The Medium Horse is next, and must test (even though the Heavy Foot failed) because there are still units in contact from both sides.  The Medium Horse rolls a 7, and remains in contact.  The Armored Foot rolls a 6, and also remains in contact.  The melee will continue next turn between the Medium Horse (with 7 figures remaining) and the Armored Foot (with 19 figures remaining).
Because the Heavy Foot still had a friendly unit in contact after all tests, rather than surrender, they rout instead.

In practice, trying this out with just nominal units fighting it out using pencil and paper, this works fine.  It rewards the better quality unit (very medieval), but also modifies that by the realities of the melee.

This method seems to work, it only has to be put into practice in a few solo games.  If anyone reading this tries it out, please let me know your results.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Dice Spreads, Probability Curves, and Rules Writing

In advance of an upcoming article I am planning to write, where I review the Knights and Magick rules (by Arnold Hendrick, and published by Heritage back in 1980), I wanted to address a rather interesting dice mechanism that are employed in the rules.

That is the 1-15 dice roll.  This is accomplished by rolling two dice, and adding them together.  The first dice is a rather common d6, and the second dice is the typical d10, but numbered from 0-9 (the 0 face on the die is valued at zero, and not at ten).  Adding the two results together yields a number from 1 to 15.

Now, the asymmetry of the roll always bothered me.  How could you possible hope to have game feng shui when you are rolling two different dice, and adding them together?  It was preposterous!  Sort of like the damage rolls from early Runequest and Call of Cthulhu and other games, where you might have 1d8 for the weapon, plus 1d4 for your strength, and maybe +1 for a good quality blade - so your damage looked like 1d8 + 1d4 + 1.  Weird, but okay for roleplaying games.  Wargames were supposed to be above all that sort of thing.  Better.  More pure.

But here we were, with Mr. Hendrick's rules using a D6 and a D10 added together.

Let's look at the results.  To compare it, a brief examination of the (much more common) 2d6 bell curve.  Here we see a smooth progression from one result (for a Two), up to six results for a Seven.  And then back down again to one result for a Twelve.  There are a total of 36 possible dice pairings, so the frequency is a number of times out of 36.  This is pretty standard stuff, that is part of any study of probability, but also should be pretty intuitive to just about any long time gamer, and/or game designer.


But now lets take a look at the rather interesting D15 result.  Here we have 60 possible results, rather than 36.  There are more possible results (1-15, rather than 2-12).  Plotting the possible results we see:


Okay, so what do we see from this?  First, the numbers of all the middle results, from 6-10, have the same frequency - 6, our of 60 results, or a 10% chance of getting any of those numbers.

How does this behave in the game?  Well, we end up with many more middling values (half the possible results are from 6-10).  Plus, in a game that deals in + and - factors added to the dice, for a variety of different causes, this will tend to balance out and level the impact of the dice modifiers.  What I mean by that, is that in a 2d6 dice roll, a single +1 or -1 can have a very high percentage impact on the dice chance, especially if your base number is off the middle.  In this case, the middle (or stable region) is spread out, so that dice modifiers are more predictable in their impact (a minor change with a +1 or -1).  This also means that having additional plus or minus factors won't be an overwhelming impact, as it is in a 2d6 curve.

Once I pulled out the results, and looked at them, the asymmetry doesn't bother me AS MUCH, but it is still there.  I think I would prefer a 3d6 roll, or 5d4 roll, to balance out that middle and level it - but that is a different story.

Now, with the recently reviewed Hackbutt & Pike rules (written by Ben King, in the Tac-50 rules series), we see that the casualty table is driven by a dice difference.  Again, looking at the 2d6 probability table, but selecting results based on the difference between the two numbers (agreeing that doubles results have to be rerolled), we have the following:

Die DifferenceFrequency

Of course, the total frequency of pairs with a difference only adds up to 30 out of 36, again because we tossed out the possible results where doubles are rolled on the dice (6 chances out of 36).

This is a very flat progression.  It is also interesting that on the Tac-50 tables, the least valued result is always a difference of 5, followed (in order) by 1,2,3,4.  A very interesting use of an interesting probability spread.

One more thing - I have a plan to (very soon) write a review of the original Sword and the Flame rules.  In those rules, as in many others before and since, combat is resolved between two miniatures by rolling a dice on each side, and the high scorer wins the fight.  With no modifiers, and with Tie results not counting, there are 15/36 chances for each side to win, if using six sided dice.
  • Side A wins - 15/36
  • Side B wins - 15/36
  • Neither Side (tie) - 6/36
But what happens when we change this by just a little bit?  Say, as in The Sword and the Flame, one side or the other gains a +1.  In this case, what if Side A gains a plus 1?  Very different results.
  • Side A wins - 21/36
  • Side B wins - 10/36
  • Neither Side (tie) - 5/36
Looking at the results it shifts, from even chances, to a Two-One chance of winning - from just granting a +1 on the dice.

With a +2 on the dice, it is even more extreme.  In fact, looking that the following table, we see it is 5-1 in favor of the side with a +2 on the dice.
  • Side A wins  - 26/36
  • Side B wins - 6/36
  • Neither Side (tie) - 4/36
Now, lets stretch this even further, and take a look at what happens, with no bonuses, but with one side winning Ties...  Again, lets assume that Side A has the advantage, and with no dice modifiers, will win ties.
  • Side A wins - 21/36
  • Side B wins - 15/36
  • Neither Side (tie) - No Ties
From these results, the odds change slightly, from even chances, to 4-3 chances for the side with the advantage.  Not as extreme as a +1, but then again, conceptually, saying that one side or the other wins ties is like saying they got a +1/2.

What we see is that in the case of an opposed dice roll (found in games going back to Featherstone and Grant, of course, but still present in modern sets) getting a +1 or even the benefit of winning ties is a very large bonus.

This idea of opposed dice rolls is common in many rulesets.  But in some others, there is the possibility of a player rolling several dice (typically more dice, for higher skilled combatants, for instance), and then selecting the highest dice, before comparing it to the opposition.  In this case, for instance, there is a much greater chance for a soldier who rolls 3d6 and selects the highest, to have a great number than his opponent, who is only rolling 2d6 to select the highest.  The component of a good number is still present, as a singleton dice can always come up as a 6, and the highest opposition roll could be any value less.  But what is the probability?

Lets construct a table, where we record the odds (and percentage chance) of getting a number, between 1 and 6, if it is the highest (or tied for the highest) out of a pool of dice.  To keep this simple, and illustrative, I am going to do it for three pools of dice - a single D6, 2d6, and 3d6.  Notice the shift in probability...

1d6 Prob.2d6 Prob.3d6 Prob.
11/6 (17%)1/36 (3%)1/216 (.5%)
21/6 (17%)3/36 (8%)7/216 (3%)
31/6 (17%)5/36 (14%)19/216 (9%)
41/6 (17%)7/36 (19%)37/216 (17%)
51/6 (17%)9/36 (25%)61/216 (28%)
61/6 (17%)11/36 (31%)91/216 (42%)

Again, there is a dramatic shift in probability, just by changing the dice rolling mechanism slightly.  By rolling 2d6, and selecting the highest number, your chance of having a 2 is halved, and your chance of having only a 1 is dropped to approximately 3% chance.

So the chances of rolling a higher number, when you can pick from a pool, are better.  That is intuitive, but looking at the table for 3d6, we see over a 40% chance that your number will be a 6.   And if you need AT LEAST a 5 (which means that the results for a 5 or a 6 will satisfy) your chance increases to 60% (42+28), and so on.

At this point, I will abandon the exercise.  It might be nice, to compare the chances of a player rolling a pool of 2d6 to beat a player rolling a pool of 3d6, but I think I would rather return to writing reviews.  And maybe lunch.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Hackbutt & Pike - 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).

This review is of Hackbutt & Pike, the Tac-50 series rules for Renaissance wargaming.  These were printed in 1977, but copies are still available through Cotton Jim Flags (write and ask - I think they are $5, which is a great price for a rulebook these days, and they still read well).

The period of the renaissance has remained (through most of my adult life) one of my favorite periods of history for both study, and for wargaming.  As you can tell, if you have been following this series of reviews from the beginning, I have dabbled with or played a number of different rulesets for the period.

And I am at least planning to do the Protz ECW rules, and the Gush Renaissance rules in the series.

Chesapeake Military Society - a Reminiscence
Along side all those other Renaissance rules, why am I reviewing Hackbutt & Pike?  Simply for two reasons.  First, they are rules that I played in the 80s and 90s (which fits the criteria of this series of articles).  Second, they are part of a series of rule sets that helped to define my earliest exposure to a wargaming club.

In the early 1980s, while in High School, and shortly after I began driving, I discovered (through an advertisement at a local bookstore in a mall - remember mall book stores?) that there was a local wargaming club that met in Hampton, Virginia at the local National Guard Armory.  That club was the Chesapeake Military Society (CMS).  Prior to my exposure to the club they previously met at one of the old batteries at Fort Monroe.  By the time I encountered them, they were meeting once a month at the Armory.  Now, the National Guard Armory, in Hampton, consisted of a large muster area for the Guard meetings, plus a large building that included a basketball sized gymnasium. This is where the gaming club met.  As a testament to the gross popularity of tabletop gaming at the time, they would fill up the place.  There would be all sorts of miniatures games going on, and when I first went, there were also some role playing games.  There was a terrific WW2 naval battle (using Seapower III I think), with 1:1200 ships, on the floor of the gymnasium (the old school - with long surveyor's tapes run out to lengths of 20+ feet between ships for salvos, etc).  And there was a large Napoleonic game, in lovely 25mm, being played on a large table.

This Napoleonics game being played (and refereed) by the core members of the club, although there were many other games going on.  The rules for the game were Valeur et Discipline, written by the luminary behind the club - Mr. Ben King.  Ben had several other rules that the club used, and in this particular series (which is called Tac-50 - as they are all based on a 1:50 scale) there are four sets proper - Mitre, Mustache & Musket for Seven Years War (and mid 18th century), Valeur et Discipline for Napoleonics, Kepi & Pickelhaub for mid 19th century, and Hackbutt & Pike for Renaissance.  Another set, for Vauban era siege warfare and early 18th century field battles exists called Fusil & Fortress, but it is on another scale of detail from the rest of the series, and covers so much more than the rest.  I plan to review several (or perhaps all) of these in this series.

Shortly after this time, the peninsula location of Campaign Headquarters (the original was in Norfolk, Virginia) would open, and CMS would change to have their monthly meetings at the store.  It was at these meetings that I became familiar with the Tac-50 rules.  Usually, but not always, refereed by Ben, the rules are very clear, and are also quite "bloody" - leading to a high casualty rate, for quick play games.
Hackbutt & Pike is not the set of Tac-50 rules that I played the most often (that is probably Valeur et Discipline), but it is the set that I refereed several times, and the set I played most often outside of the CMS club meeting settings.  And it is one of my favorite periods, as mentioned earlier.  The ruleset does not lay down a specific time period (probably for the best), but could easily stretch back to the 14th century (as the introduction to the history section begins there), which includes the later Medieval period, and could run up to the middle of the 17th century - the Monmouth Rebellion or War of the Grand Alliance might be possible, but would be a stretch.

Battle of Rocroi, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau
The rules come in a nice 8.5x11 booklet, running to 44 pages in length.  They are divided up into eight sections:
  1. Game Structure
  2. Terrain & Weather
  3. History, Tactics & Organization
  4. Movement
  5. Melee
  6. Firepower
  7. Casualties
  8. Control, Reaction & Morale
They follow up with a nice bibliography.  This ruleset's bibliography first introduced me to Charles Oman's Art of War in the Sixteenth Century, so for that alone I am forever indebted.

The Game Structure is basically an overview of scale (1 model soldier represents 50 men), and how to base figures for the game.  Time scale is given, also - turns are 25-30 minutes, and ground is 1" to 25 yards.  This is followed by some basic game concepts - you should write general orders for your army, and also fire priority for all your missile troops.  There should be a command figure representing your general on the tabletop, and each turn, both armies should write tactical orders detailing things like charges, changes in move, etc.  If a player wishes to change the overall battle orders for a unit, they must be carried from the general to the unit by a courier figure (the general has two such figures at the start of the game), which may be captured or killed in the process.

Swiss Mercenaries crossing the Alps, by Luzerner Schilling

One word right up front.  I have remarked in this series of reviews over and over again how I don't care for simultaneous move rules (which Tac-50 sets all are), and how I dislike writing orders.  However . . . every rule has it's exception.  Some of the Tac-50 games I played were extremely enjoyable, and with a knowledgeable and active referee it can work.  Arguments can still arise, but if the referee is respected by all the players, it works out well.  Forward.

The next section covers terrain and weather this has several sections in it.
  • Roads - how to depict them, and what they mean for movement
  • Ground condition - roll 3d6; 3-7 bad ground; 8-18 good ground.  Optional of course.
  • Weather - what it is, and how it changes.
  • Forests - dense and light
  • Hills - 10 yard contours, and how they affect movement and visibility
  • Obstacles, Barriers, and Field Works - how to pass them, how to lay them, and war wagons (Hussites?)
  • Rivers and Streams - how to depict them, how to ford them
  • Bridges and Boats
  • Houses
This is followed up by a nice, but sadly too concise, section (running about 6 pages) on the history, tactics, and composition of some major armies of the Renaissance period. Following this, which includes some nice diagrams showing some of the major battalia formations of the period (such as the Spanish Tercio, or the Swiss Keil), we then move on to section 4, which begins the meat of the rules.

Turn Order and Movement
Section 4 is called Movement, and begins with a short overview of the turn structure.  The turn is intended to be simultaneously executed, with both sides moving, and then fighting and shooting all taking place simultaneously.  This works well if you have an organized and knowledgeable referee guiding things.

The turn sequence, as presented here, is this:
  1. (Implied) - Write Orders
  2. Skirmishers may fire weapons
  3. Movement of Troops
  4. Fire of weapons by Formed Troops (and artillery)
  5. Hand to Hand Combat 
As mentioned, skirmishers may fire before all moves.  Or, they may do a split move and fire.  If, while doing this, they come into range of enemy troops, they may still be fired on by those troops in the proper turn sequence.

Other actions other than regular moves are covered, as a function of how many they can perform in a turn (or how many turns they will take).  This includes such things as infantry moving backwards, crossing obstacles, entering a building, passage of lines, or forming a wagon lager.

The movement chart gives moves for formed units and skirmishers.  For cavalry it also lists Caracole movement (moving up, discharging pistols, and return).

Artillery and Wagons are given movement rates for draught animals (being pulled along), or being manhandled.

Hand-to-Hand Fighting

The next section of the rules covers hand-to-hand fighting, or melee combat.  Although this period, in history, and as described in the history section of the rulebook, is a period when disciplined soldiery began to replace the heavy knight on the battlefield.  However, the heavy knight is still a superior weapon, even if it cannot win battles on its own any longer.  And, much of the replacement of the knight is in the form of pikemen and other polearm supplied troops (although this would give way, and evolve into, the bayonet).

While there is currently a debate about the use of the pike (see my earlier article Push of Pike), in wargaming the possibility exists that they may be exercised effectively - so rules have to exist.  And with these two arms of the renaissance battlefield (the horse, and the pike) being focused on hand-to-hand fighting, it is fitting that this is a major focus of the rules.

A side note - although above I make that case that hand-to-hand fighting is a major feature of renaissance warfare, and thus the Hackbutt & Pike rules, it is true that close combat is a major feature (a battle winning feature) of all the Tac-50 rules.  This is appropriate, because it is what wargamers seek to engage in.  And whether the encounter reflects the actual casualties that occur from bayonets and pikes piercing the enemy soldiery, or if those casualties reflect a fleeing soldiery that lost their nerve in the face of such weapons, it matters little - it is a part of combat in these periods, and something wargamers regularly rely on to win battles.

In these rules, the key to Hand-to-Hand fighting is the point value of the soldiers involved.  Light Infantry figures are worth 1 point each, up to Heavy Cavalry (Knights) are worth 4 points each.  The basic procedure is to total up the number of points you have fighting, more on how that is calculated is described below, then find that row on the casualty table, roll some dice, and you get a number of points inflicted (by consulting the proper column on the table).  Divide this number of points by the point value of the target unit, and you get the number of figures killed.
The Casualty Table

How many figures will fight?  This is found by consulting a table called the Melee Matrix.  There, you will cross reference two different letters - each reflecting the weapon system of one of the two units involved (attacker on the left, defender across the top), and the result will give which column to roll on, on the casualty table, and will also tell you how many ranks of figures get to fight.  From there, take a look at the point of contact - all figures on the front rank in contact, and all those to their flanks within 2" (about 1 multi figure stand) on either side of the contact, will get to fight.  Plus a similar number of additional ranks, if additional ranks get to fight.
Melee Matrix, and Point Values of Figures

Difference of Dice is printed boldly across the top of the Casualty Table.  This is how the exact number of points is determined.  The players will roll 2d6, and determine the difference between them.  So if a play rolls a 6 and a 3, the difference is 3.  Doesn't matter which dice is first or second, it is only the difference that matters.  Doubles must be re-rolled.  In this way, a weighted series of results is determined (take a look at a simple 6x6 matrix, with the odds of each difference counted up to see what I am talking about), and a curve is introduced into the casualty table, while still preserving only 5 columns of numbers.

Which column on the Casualty Table to use?

The basic system is similar to a few other rule sets (point values goes back to Charles Grant, I believe), but of those reviewed in this blog, it is very similar to Forlorn Hope, the biggest difference being that the results in Hackbutt & Pike are in points, rather than in whole figures.

As mentioned, one of the lacking elements of the (otherwise excellent) quick reference sheet provided with the game (the book comes with two copies), is the table of letters defining a unit's fighting style.  Here is the table (note that there are two entries for 'E'):
A - Dry Pikes
B - Supported Pikes (with swordsmen, dopplesoldners, polearms, etc)
C - Short Hafted Pole Arms (halberd, glaives, etc)
D - Targeteers - Sword and Targe (or Buckler) armed
E - Disciplined Soldiers with Misc Weapons (sword, axe, spear, etc)
E - All troops that are in Open Order (this is usually missile armed troops)
F - Infantry in Skirmish Formation
G - Dismounted Warriors - trained, but undisciplined, such as foot knights or most Turkish infantry
H - Cavalry in Close Order
I - Cavalry in Skirmish Order (horse archers, etc)
Example: A unit of 18 'dry' Medium Infantry Pikemen (3 stands across, in two ranks, 1.5 points each) are facing a unit of 24 Sword & Buckler Light Infantry men (4 stands across, in two ranks, 1 point each).  Consulting the weapon system table in the book (frustatingly, this is the one table that is not on the quick reference sheet, but the letter of each unit could be recorded on an order of battle sheet), we find that 'dry' Pikemen (so called because they are not supported by zweihanders, polearms, or other supporting infantry) are the letter 'A'.  Also consulting, we find out that the Sword & Buckler men are the letter 'D'.   Comparing this, we find that an A unit vs a D unit (on the Melee Matrix) rolls on Column I, and uses 1 rank of troops.  Similarly, the D unit vs the A unit rolls on Column III, and uses 1 rank of troops.  Both units will use their whole front rank (9 figures for the Pikemen, and 12 figures for the Swordsmen).  Checking for the pikes first, we find 9 figures times 1.5 points is 13.5, or rounded up, 14 points on the casualty table.  The dice are rolled, a 4 and a 2, or difference of 2 in column I.  This means '2' points have been inflicted, which means 2 whole Swordsmen have been killed.  Returning the favor, 12 swordsmen, at 1 point each, is the 12 roll on the table.  Consulting column III, with a dice difference of 3 (a 4 and 1 were rolled), we see that 9 points were inflicted, which means (at 1.5 points each) 6 pikemen were killed.
Not mentioned in the above example, which serves to illustrate the use of the melee matrix and the casualty table, but there is a list of possible dice modifiers.  Compared to many rulesets this list is blessedly short, as can be seen here.

 Now for the exciting part.  Combat is fought in (potentially) up to 6 rounds.  First, assuming that both units pass morale tests, they enter combat, and fight three rounds.  Then some mid-combat tests are further performed, and if both pass, they fight another three rounds.  The second three rounds assume that there is now a general melee and discipline is flown out the window, so all the niceties of the melee matrix is ignored, and all combat is only in column I.  What can stop this slaughter?  Well, if a unit has taken results that meet their Maximum Allowed Loss (M.A.L.), then it can trigger an end to the hostilities, or if the morale tests dictate so (see morale below).  Usually, three rounds are fought, and that is decisive.  Those three rounds are fought in rapid succession, not over three turns, by the way.  So when a unit hits another, there are (possibly) three or six casualty rolls for each side.  It is bloody, but is is also dramatic, as you see how one unit starts to fail and eventually is swamped.  Stubborn units get to go all in for six rounds of fighting - massive carnage!

The close combat section ends with rules on how to fight encounters between leaders (say, with a personal duel).  Also, once a combat is over and one side or the other retires, it is important to determine if either side captured a standard.  This can have an impact on morale tests, and provides for great bragging rights. It is based on a reaction test (see below).

Ranged Combat

The whole series of Tac-50 rules, if taken chronologically (and including the 18th century set Fusil & Fortress), is a series of wargaming rules charting the evolution of firepower from the late medieval period (the eponymous hackbutt of the set being reviewed here), up through the height of the age of rifles (the end of the 19th century, as portrayed in Kepi & Pickelhaub).

This period we see not only the muscle powered weapons of antiquity and the medieval period (spears, slings, bows, etc.) but also the introduction of gunpowder weapons.  This includes the hackbutt (or arquebus), the musket, the pistol and of course gunpowder based artillery.

A weapons table details the range of the firepower based weapons, and also which column to use on the casualty table.  It also includes such useful information as to what the effect is if the target is wearing no armor (the default case is that the target figures are wearing some armor), and also what happens if they are fully (plate) armored.  There is also a detail about which factor row to consult when firing artillery.

Not every weapon can fire every turn, and the loading table details how much of a turn's worth of movement must be sacrificed to reload the weapon.  In practice, we found that marking a unit with gunpowder blasts (i.e. - cotton balls) is effective to show they are unloaded.

As was clear from the die modifier table, most of the modifiers in the game for combat have an affect on missile fire.

Unlike close combat, there is only one round of missile fire per turn.

This section of the rules details (as described above) how to use the casualty table, and how to get a dice difference. It also points out that the vagaries of the point system mean that sometimes a unit can never inflict enough points to kill a single enemy figure.  In those cases, it suggests that the total number of attacking factors/figures be multiplied by 2 or even 3 to get a reasonable result - but this must be done equally for both sides in a melee or firefight.

Since the rules (especially the close combat rules) are so very bloody, there is also a section here that allows you to detail, after a combat, exactly how many of those "casualty" figures are actually casualties, and how many return to your ranks, ready to march again immediately.  In this way, even though tabletop battles are quite bloody, forces remain relatively intact for the purpose of playing campaigns.

Reactions and Morale
Units are rated, according to their training and dedication, as one of five different classes.
Class I - Untrained, Undisciplined -  peasants, feudal levy, untrained burghers
Class II - Semi-Trained - town militia
Class III - Trained - fighting for a cause, such as Royal body guards, noble's retinue
Class IV - Trained - mercenaries or national troops
Class V - Arrogant - Swiss, Knights, Fanatics

Using this class, a unit will have to occasionally make a reaction test (reasons are listed below), and will result in one of four reaction results - 0, A, B, or C.
0 - Leadership has lost control, Unit takes matter into their own hands, Advance at nearest enemy
A - Unit will continue to follow orders
B - Unit will retire from the battle, but in good order, and will defend itself
C - Unit has given up hope and will throw down weapons and flee

The reasons for making tests are as follows:
  • When enemy first comes into view.
  • Prior to melee (on contact)
  • After each three rounds of melee
  • After leader of army is killed or captured
  • After M.A.L. (Maximum Allowed Loss) is reached
  • After all unit leaders are killed (rules detail if one of three leader figures are killed in combat)
A unit rolls 2d6, and applies modifiers (such as based on MAL, or situational modifiers) and then consults a chart based on their class. This gives one of the four results (0,A,B,C).

The reaction section also details such events as asking for quarter, units that are NOT granted quarter can roll for desperation (determine bonuses to morale for fighting on); looting; the chance of capturing a standard based on morale results from melee combat; and others.

I like the Tac-50 sets of rules, but they are somewhat dated these days.  One of the things I will still decry, in spite of having numerous successful (and memorable) games with these rules, is the simultaneous nature of the turn sequence.

They are fast - the method for rolling multiple close combat rounds in a single turn will see to that.  But these are (approximately) 30 minute turns, so each combat round represents 5 minutes (more or less) of hard fighting.  That isn't exactly so, because the turn can also include movement, but it does represent a possibly large amount of fighting.  Still, the casualties generated are extreme and obscene - but they work very well.  The game is very playable, and very fast.  I have played in games with hundreds of stands of figures on each side, to a complete result within 3 hours or so of playtime.

These work great, in my opinion, for the Italian Wars, and other wars of religion.  As well as the later medieval battles (These would be great for Hundred Years War as well as Wars of the Roses games).  They are intended to cover English Civil War and Thirty Years War, and do so pretty well, but the rules for mixed battalions of pike and shot are not included.  Each body is its own "unit" for the purpose of the game.  Equally, there is not a chance (that I recall) to evade, so a shot unit cannot, for instance, run for cover under the pikes.  Most of the other Renaissance rules I have reviewed in this series of articles do such representation with either maneuver, combat, or morale rules (or a combination of all three).

Cavalry is dealt with exceptionally well here, and the simple rules for pistols, caracoling, and so forth give the different tactical systems of the time good coverage.

These may be something of a challenge for me, in a future article and perhaps some solo gaming, to come up with a You-Go-I-Go variant of the game.  Perhaps allowing for reaction moves?  Not sure, but it could work.  The rules are too good to keep that bugaboo of simultaneous turns in the way of playing them.