Thursday, January 19, 2017

War Cry - a 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 will be of War Cry, from Judgest Guild.  But first, a short description of why I am reviewing this ruleset, and why it means so much to me.

The rules, in shrinkwrap - old copies are still around

Why War Cry? - A reminiscence
My first exposure to miniature wargaming was through the purchase in the spring of 1980 of the Hinchliffe Guide to Wargaming (of which there is a complete scan available on the most excellent  Vintage Wargaming blog).  I had the version produced by Heritage in the US, with the color cover showing a wonderfully painted vignette of British redcoats fighting hand-to-hand with some inspired looking Zulu warriors.  The booklet had an overview of the miniature wargaming hobby (which I instantly fell in love with), and offered tips on building terrain, painting miniatures, setting up a table, and offered two sets of rules.  One was a set of rules for Napoleonic battles, and the other was a one page set of Medieval skirmish rules by John Sharples (also available at Vintage Wargaming).  I immediately began collecting Airfix figures from their Battle of Waterloo set, and wanted to try the Napoleonic rules.

But, alas, I had no opponent.  My brothers, and some friends, however, were keen to try medieval skirmish, so off we went.  The idea of bigger armies and bigger battles, however, appealed to me.  I found a few packs of 15mm Minifigs models from their Rome and the Barbarians line.  I purchased some and painted them, but they sat with my other early collection of random wargaming figures.

Fast forward a few years, to when I started hanging out in the Campaign Headquarters hobby shop in my first year of college (it was 1984).  I joined in with a group of guys who were going to play a large game of 15mm ancients.  The armies were fantastic - mostly they were the Minifigs figures I loved but never played with.  I still have extremely fond memories and feeling for those lines of figures, and that style of army building.  Almost every figure in a unit was identical.  Occasionally, there might be extra command figures (like for the Romans pictured above).  Regular units were all painted identically, but irregular units (barbarians, skirmishers, etc) had different color cloaks and shields, etc. It was all glorious and beautiful.  We set up a very dense pair of battle lines on a 12' long table, and began playing.

The armies were something-something-Late-Roman vs. something-something-Gothic.  It was sort of a blur, because the guys setting up the game all brought their figures, and we made up (sort of) armies for the occasion.  The rules used were War Cry.  This was the second edition of the rules, published in 1981 (I own both versions, although my 2nd edition copy is in much better shape).  This version of the rules had all the charts of the game printed on two "Giant Wall Charts" (as described on the cover of the rules).  They were 22"x34" posters, with all the charts of the game reproduced in large print.  We had several sets of them proudly tacked to the walls of the wargaming room, where everyone could see them during the game.  I was hooked, and thus began a lifelong love for 15mm ancients wargaming.  For that reason, I felt that my series on out-of-print miniature rules would not be complete without a review of War Cry.

War Cry - the rules
War Cry is a set of rules for fighting tabletop battles for armies of the ancient period, up through the medieval period.  Just about anything from the earliest armies of the ancient near east, up through just before the Renaissance is covered.  These were written by Dave Petrowsky (with credit also given to Jim Allen), and published by Judges Guild.  Like most Judges Guild products, which 90% of were roleplaying adventures and supplements, these were printed on inexpensive paper, just a grade or two above newsprint.  The first edition (published 1978, and called "War Cry and Battle Lust") was printed in mostly black and white, with some red ink embellishments.  The second edition had a color cover and a few color pictures in the interior.

Picture from Boardgame Geek
As mentioned, the charts were printed on poster sized paper, and are double sided.  The rules come with two such posters, so you can mount them on the wall during a game.  The rules themselves are pretty much complete, covering turn sequence, moving, shooting, fighting, morale, and some optional rules including topics such as ships, bombardment of fortifications, and so on.

Table of Contents
  1. Game Scale 
  2. Sequence of Play 
  3. Orders 
  4. Movement 
  5. Terrain 
  6. Reaction Moves 
  7. Evading Troops 
  8. Missile Fire 
  9. Arcs of Fire 
  10. Artillery 
  11. Melee Combat 
  12. Chariots 
  13. Cavalry Melee Rules and Chariot Melee Rules 
  14. Elephant Rules 
  15. Point Values 
  16. Regular and Irregular Troops 
  17. Fortifications 
  18. Melee Weapons 
  19. Disarray 
  20. Overlapping 
  21. Morale 
  22. Morale Charts 
  23. Percentage Loss Table 
  24. Organizing Your Army 
  25. Army Morale Chart 
  26. Battering with Artillery 
  27. Assault on Fortifications 
  28. Optional Rules 
  29. Questions and Answers
The game is suitable for 15mm and 25mm figures, and gives basing for both (it uses standard WRG basing sizes).  The standard troop types from WRG are also mentioned, and mostly relied on in the rules.  In fact, it has been remarked that War Cry is a cleaned and simplified version of pre-5th edition WRG (maybe an amalgam of 3rd or 4th, but with some different systems in the rules).

Turn Sequence and Orders
The sequence of play is as follows:
Phase I: Order writing (more on this later)
Phase II: Movement - two subphases, first are charge declarations (which might trigger certain orders or reactions), and then all movement (both sides, simultaneous, based on orders).  Reaction moves also happen here.
Phase III: Missile fire - some occurs during phase II, but most happens now
Phase IV: Melee (anyone in base-to-base contact with the enemy will fight)
Phase V: Morale Check phase

Order Writing - readers of this series of reviews will know that I am not a fan of rulesets that require the players to write orders.  However . . . here it seemed to work.  The game is pretty straight forward, so orders are mostly of the "unit X will move 8" oblique to the left" or "unit Y will charge the enemy archers".  I recall playing these rules using simple order markers (like the sort used in Johnny Reb), showing basic move orders (straight, left, right, re-order), or charge.  A simple unit roster with room for each turn could be used, such as the one pictured in the old Hinchliffe guide...

Hinchliffe idea for an Order Chart, from Vintage Wargaming
Moves, Reactions, Evades
Movement distances are given on the chart, based on troop type and given in inches for each troop type, for Normal moves, Charge moves, and March Column moves.  These range from 8" for most formed infantry (Armored Infantry move 6"), up to as much as 16" for Light Cavalry.  There is also a chart for how terrain affects movement.  Terrain types listed include:
  • Ford
  • River
  • Woods
  • Gentle Slope
  • Steep Slope
  • Abrupt Slope
Each of these will list a multiplier for that terrain type, vs a unit type.  For instance, Heavy and Armored Infantry are 4x in the woods (meaning that each inch crossed in the woods, takes 4" off the movement for that unit, for that turn).  The costs for doing formation changes, or turns of 45 degrees, are also given.  The game supports basically a line formation, and a column formation.  Change formation is done with the unit standing in place, and rotating about the center.  Wheeling is done by measuring the outer edge of the wheeling unit.  When a unit is performing a charge, it is at a higher movement value - and the difference between regular move (example: Heavy Infantry 8") and a charge move (Heavy Infantry 12") is the amount of the charge move that must be in a straight line (so the last 4" of a charge move by Heavy Infantry must be in a straight line, although the unit may have turned or wheeled before that point).

Reaction moves are a possibility, so that a unit that finds itself being charged, might alter it's ordered movement for the turn, in order to respond to the charging enemy.  The unit must follow it's movement orders for part of the turn (1/4 of the move for regular units, and 1/2 of the move for irregular units) before it can react (such as stand, or turn in place, etc).

Light Infantry and Light Cavalry can attempt to evade charging units.  Deep units may not evade at all, and others must pay the penalty for a Front-to-Rear evolution, then move away from the charger.  Pretty straight forward, especially when you check the chart and find that Light Infantry pay no cost to do a front-to-rear change, and Light Cavalry only pay a 3" penalty (from a regular 16" move).  So lights can move pretty far away from a charger.  Evaders can also dice (there is a basic chance based on training, and weapon) to see if they can fire before evading.  Firing by an evading unit is at a penalty.

Missile Fire
Shooting by units is pretty generous.  Stationary units can fire two ranks deep.  Most moving units can fire one rank deep, but some can fire 1 and a half ranks (the whole first rank, and half the figures from the second rank).  If missile troops are charged, and the chargers move over half their move to reach them, then they missile troops can fire, and also engage in melee.  Orders are not required to fire.  Mounted troops can split move and fire (move, shoot, and move again).  Very nice for mounted archer types like mongols...

There is a simple fire priority.  If more than one unit is in your firing arc, and range, you must fire (first choice) at a unit that can reach you for melee next turn.  Next choice would be an enemy missile unit (some restrictions here).  If there is a choice, or no priority targets, the shooter can choose whichever target they like.   Rules for how many missile hits a chariot can take are given.

The fire procedure is simple - calculate the number of figures that can fire (this is the number of "factors" on the firing chart).  Add or subtract situational modifiers to the number of figures (these are called "factor modifiers").  The modifiers to the number of figures is somewhat small (it is usually only -1 or -2 figures, from the total allowed to fire).  Here is a list:
Mounted Unit -1
Long Range -2
Foot Firing Unit Moved -2
Short Range +2

Now, against this, a single dice is rolled, and it has a number of dice modifiers.  Compare the two on the firing chart, and the number of enemy figures killed is given.  Dice modifiers are cumulative, and range from a +2 to a -4 depending on the modifier.  Here is a list:
Cataphracts or Plate Armor  -4
Other Metal Armor  -2
Other Armor  -1
Oversized Shield  -1
Unshielded  +1
Formation 3 or more Ranks Deep  +2
Non-Barded Cavalry or Camelry  +1
Defender in Light Cover  -2
Defender in Dense Cover  -4 
Fire at Moving Target   -1

So, the resulting dice roll can be modified by these factors, quite a bit.  Usually, there is a modifier for armor, less frequently there are cover modifiers, or a moving target modifier.   Cross matrix the number of figures ("factors") vs. the modified dice roll, and you get a number of dead enemy figures.

Ranges vary by weapon, from a maximum range of 4" for a heavy pilum, out to 26" for longbows, 30" for heavy crossbows,  and even 48" for ballistae.

Missile fire rules are completed with a section describing how various ancient and medieval artillery works in the rules.  Ballista type weapons, and catapult type weapons are covered.  The former are a simple point and shoot weapon, much like missile fire from a unit.  The latter are handled by the firer announcing a firing range, then dicing for over/under and shot drift.

Melee Combat
The rules for melee combat are, at their heart, very similar to missile combat.  You count up the eligible number of figures that can fight ("factors"), and then roll 1d6.  To that you add or subtract a number of modifiers, and then matrix the modified dice result with the factors number, to derive a number of enemy figures that are killed.

The basic dice modifiers come from a chart that cross-indexes all the troop types of the game, and the result is the first modifier for the dice roll (so for instance, Heavy Infantry fighting against a Medium Chariot is a -1).  The situational modifiers include the following:
Med, Hvy, A Inf Charging +1
Med Cav Charging +2
Hvy Cav Charging +3
E Hvy, S Hvy Cav Charging +4
Elephant Charging +5
Berserkers Charging (1st round) +2
Upslope from Opponent +1
Opponent has light cover -2
Opponent has Dense cover -4
Opponent in March Column +2
Against Opponent's Flank +5
Against Opponent's Rear +7
Opponent Shieldless +1
2H Chopping Weapon v. M H and A infantry +3
2H Chopping Weapon v. Cav, Camels, Chariots, Elephants +3
2H Chopping Weapon v. all others +2
Heavy Javelin or Pilum used in 1st Round +1
Lance, used in 1st round +1

Rules exist for Chariots (they can swerve or crash, when you attempt to charge home with them), Elephants (the can go berserk, and only die after taking a number of "casualties").  There are descriptions of how many ranks of troops can fight, based on weapons: for instance, pikes have the whole first rank, and half each of ranks 2 and 3.  Finally, there are rules determining things like Unit Disarray, Overlapping an enemy unit, and break-off moves.

The Morale system of War Cry is interesting, and I admit to liking it.  Each unit of troops has a starting morale value that is an indicator of it's training, physical courage, determination to fight, etc.  This ranges between 5 (extremely poor quality troops) and  13 (fanatic berserkers).  That number, or less, is rolled against with 2d6 for a morale check.  There are a few modifiers (not many) but one that is always in effect, is that you always get -1 to your morale value for every 10% of casualties that you take.  Considering you don't start taking tests until you are 30% down, you will start your first number as 3 less than your starting value.  So a good quality Roman Praetorian Guard unit is a MV of 11.  When it takes 30% casualties, and has to test morale, it is trying to roll 8 or less.

If you roll less than your modified MV, then you pass your morale test.  But if you roll more, then you use your unmodified dice roll to consult a chart and see what the effects are.  The effects chart is structured so that if you roll high, the results aren't too bad, but if you roll low, then they are terrible.  This works well with the overall morale test mechanism, since you only blow your test with a low number, if you have a modified (down) MV.

Calculating the 10% of casualties on a unit with 18, 24, or 36 figures can be a pain on the fly, so the rules suggest that you make an army roster, listing each unit, their base MV, along with how many figures they will be once they lost 30%, 50% and maybe 60 or 70%.  With that number, list their modified MV for the new level, so that it is a simple matter of looking up how many figures are remaining in a unit, then you get access to their current MV.

Example Morale Roster
Unit (Original Size/MV)30%50%60%
SizeMV SizeMV SizeMV
Greek Heavy Infantry 50/8 355 253 202
Creten Archers 20/7 144 102 81
Thracian Light Cav 10/6 73 51 40

So, looking at the above chart, we see a unit of Creten Archers, that starts the game with 20 figures.  When it gets down to 14 figures, it has taken 30% casualties and it's morale value drops to a 4-.  So if it has to take a morale test (ignoring, for now, any other modifiers), it has to roll 2d6, and score a 4 or less.  If it does not, then it looks at the morale results table to see what happens.

Setting up the chart takes some time, before the game, but it makes the game roll very nicely.

The rules include a points system, which also covers a Weapons Category system (a figure gets a hand weapon for free, and a weapon from one other category, all others are paid for).  There are guidelines for which historical armies were regular, irregular, or either. There are some short rules for including ships and boats, and how they behave (although, to me, the page with the boat rules looks like it came from another Judges Guild set of rules - "Sea Steeds and Wave Riders").  Finally, there is a section of optional rules.  These include pursuits of fleeing units; cohort relief (to emulate the Roman manipular system); Chivalry Honor for knights; caltrops; Normal Cavalry (those Norman horses bite, you know); Poison weapons; the effect of Camels and Elephants on cavalry (smell); Levy troops; the Elephant Graveyard (they respect other dead elephants); and finally Shield Wall and Testudo formations.

Thoughts on War Cry
War Cry is a nice adaptation of the basic WRG factors and table type system, but without using 20 casualties per figure - all casualty results are given in whole figures, which is nice and runs smoothly.

I have some problems with playing it.  As I remember, these where some complaints back in the day, but we ignored them in order to have a simple set of rules that gave good results.

Complaint 1: order writing. This could be remedied by having a variant turn sequence.
Complaint 2: combat and morale modifiers don't seem to be very well thought out. Just a thought.
Complaint 3: there is little reflection of morale grade differences in actual combat, only in the results of combat.  That is pedantic, but it does have an effect.

Otherwise it is a nice set of rules.  I have great memories of playing, with some of my best friends from college and my early wargaming years.  Sadly some of them have passed away since then (and my attendant melancholy which might add to my fondness of those games, I admit).  But it is a good adaption of the WRG system, and plays quickly.  It gives pretty good results, and some of the "chrome" rules (chariots, elephants) make it a lot of fun to play.

The rules in the game are clearly meant for 25mm figures, and the ground scale is given absent a figure scale (1 inch equals 10 yeards).  But the basing chart gives base sizes for 15mm and 25mm.  As I mentioned, way back in the 80s, we played these (out of the box, so to speak) with 15mm figures, with no modification to the ranges.  I think that still works, but a 15mm cavalry unit moving over 20 inches in a turn is a bit much for a small table.  Good thing my is 6'x10'.

We used it for some basic fantasy type wargaming as well (I recall a game of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, where the Oliphants made it up siege ramps to the top of the outer walls of Minas Tirith, then 1 of the beasts went berserk and ran down the whole length of the wall).  Since it was sold by Judges Guild, a company known for their support of fantasy roleplaying games, I am sure that many other groups did the same thing.

These days, I don't know how I would rank these rules against some of my other older favorites for the period (such as Might of Arms, Chainmail, Universal Soldier or others).  I think I might try a game of it soon, with a modified turn sequence that would support Solitaire play.


Shaun Travers said...

I had never heard of these rules so thanks for the thorough review. They do sound like a good WRG alternative.

Charles Turnitsa said...

Hi Shaun - they are pretty good, but nowhere near as detailed as even the early WRG sets. However, they play fast, and are easy to understand. Used copies are available at a lot of the used game re-sellers, for reasonable prices.