Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Wargamer's Guide to the English Civil War - 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).

I have mentioned my love for renaissance gaming in general, and the English Civil War period in particular, several times during this series of reviews.  This time, I would like to review a set of miniature rules that I came to in the mid 1980s, although they were first published in 1974 (a second edition came out in 1977, and that is the edition that I own).  These rules are the 'Wargamer's Guide to the English Civil War' by Bill Protz.  These are still available for sale on Bill's website, along with some of his other excellent rules.

Curiously enough, the first edition of Bill Protz' ECW wargaming masterpiece (i.e. - the volume I am reviewing here) came out in 1974.  It was published by the Myers and Zimmermann wargaming house of Z&M Publishing (Myers and Zimmermann were the lads behind the Angriff rules, and they went on to form a publishing house for wargaming rules - mostly from their neck of the woods up in Milwaukee).

The interesting thing about the publishing year, is that it is one year after the first appearance of Cavaliers and Roundheads, by Gygax and Perren (published by TSR).  From Bill's website, he got interested in the English Civil War, as a wargaming topic, because of Cavaliers and Roundheads (C&R), and also the availability of the Hinchliffe ECW figures.  I seem to recall that TSR needed cash for their new publishing idea, the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set, and that they rushed out C&R for publication in order to raise cash.  The English Civil War must have been a popular period at this time, to not only inspire two great rulesets coming out within a year of each other, but also to convince Mssrs. Kuntz and Gygax at TSR that they could raise capital from selling an ECW rule book.  But they did.  And, furthermore, the Protz book (WGECW) is still highly regarded, and as mentioned above, still for sale.

The English Civil War continues to be a very interesting topic for wargamers, as it not only features in generic, broadbased rules sets such as DBR and Field of Glory Renaissance, but also continues to inspire specific rulesets in popular series' such as Warhammer English Civil War (sadly, now out of print, like the rest of the Warhammer historical series), and Pike and Shotte from Warlord Games (which covers the broader Renaissance, but which has an ECW specific period book - 'To Kill a King' -  due for release the month that this article is being written).  Of course, it has been, and continues a period of interest for me, as well.  On to the rules . . .

WGECW is presented as a 5x8 booklet, 76 pages long.  The book is divided up, generally, into three sections: (1) is an introduction, which gives a very brief overview of the English Civil War, and also reasons for wargaming in this period, (2) is the section containing the rules themselves, and (3) is a series of appendices that introduce information about army composition, painting and uniform information, rules for fighting sieges, and other bits of extra information.  It is this third section that lifts this book from being just a tactical rulebook, to being a wargamer's guide.  C&R did this, somewhat, but not to the extent that Bill Protz has done here.

Initial Concepts
One thing to establish up front, is that the miniatures within the units don't really matter.  Well, that is to say, they matter because it is a miniatures game, and they matter because they bring the splendor and pageantry to the wargame, but they don't matter in the sense of combat being based on particular figures in contact, or even specifically how many figures there are in a unit.  What does matter, is the units CR or Combat Rating.  Now this is typically computed initially from the number of miniatures in a unit (and the point value of those miniatures), but it will change up and down with circumstance, and in fact, the initial CR of a unit might be increased by 25% if the unit is elite.  The unit's CR is what matters, in WGECW.  Combat effectiveness is based on the CR, and losses are subtracted from the CR (although the author suggests that miniatures be removed from a unit, in proportion to CR losses that the unit undergoes).
 The CR is calculated from points values of the miniatures in a formation.  This includes extra points for figures such as officers, flag bearers, and sergeants.  For a mixed formation, such as an ECW formation with a body of Pikemen, and perhaps two flanking bodies of Musketeers, each of those divisions would have its own CR calculated and recorded on a unit roster.

Scale and Unit Types
Game scale is given at 1 inch to 15 yards for the ground, 1 figure to 20 men for the troops.  Basic types of figures are foot, horse, and artillery.

Foot troops can be Open Ordered (such as skirmishing forlorn hope), Ordered (typical musket and pike formation), Double Ordered (half the depth of Ordered formations), or Close Ordered (tightly packed infantry, in order to defend against enemy cavalry).  Finally, there is the possibility of a Ring formation (like a hedgehog, or square formation).

Horse troops can be either Ordered (such as typical charging cavalry), or Open Ordered (such as dragoons or other cavalry, spread out in order to screen), or Caracole (designed to allow pistol fire and recall against an enemy unit).

The rules give basing sizes for troops, which generally doesn't change for the different ordering listed above, EXCEPT for Close Ordered Infantry.  In that case, the player is to remove half the stands of the unit from the table, but to record and remember what their CR is - they have just gotten denser.

Foot unit stands represent three ranks of troops, and Ordered and Close Ordered units are 6 ranks deep, so they should be two miniature ranks (or stands) deep.  Double Ordered infantry are only 3 ranks deep, so are only one stand deep (called Double Ordered, because by halving the depth, they double the length of the formation line).  Horse units and artillery have their methods of representing Ordering on the tabletop.  Open Ordered units, it should be pointed out, have the stands dispersed by a short gap between them - typical skirmishing formation representation.

Turn Sequence
The game turn is divided up into a sequence of events.  Since this is a game that practices simultaneous movement, it features order writing.  Regular readers of this blog will know my affection for simultaneous movement and order writing (similar to my affection for root canal).  When we played these rules, so many years ago, we would write general battlefield orders at the beginning of the game, and our specific turn orders were only changes to those, as well as announcing charges etc.  It helps to have a referee.

The sequenced events of the turn, however, are these:
  1. Both sides write down orders for their units.
  2. Both sides read out their orders, alternating who goes first every other turn.
  3. Moves are performed simultaneously according to orders.
  4. Skirmish Fire is assessed, and casualties immediately calculated and removed.
  5. Artillery Fire is assessed, and casualties immediately calculated and removed.
  6. Other Small Arms Fire is assessed, and casualties immediately calculated and removed.
  7. Melee is adjudicated and resolved.
  8. Turn is complete.

Morale tests can be triggered in any of the firing or melee events.

Movement is quite straight forward, and is based on some simple charts showing inches, based on the type of movement (and troop type) performing it.  There are some simple reductions and additions based on different circumstances (road movement, move and fire, direction change, etc).  There are some specifics to be followed if a unit of musketeers is going to be firing by introduction (that is, as the ranks fire, and are replaced from the rear, that they slowly move forward), or extroduction (the same, only the unit as a whole slowly moves backward, as firers run to the rear of their file).

Movement for cavalry is slightly more involved, although the chart is every bit as simple.  For mounted troops, the player must determine if the horses are trotting, cantering or galloping.   Rules are given about accelerating through these different states.  A horse, cannot, for instance, go from a simple stand-still to galloping in one move.  It must start at trotting, then the next turn can proceed to cantering, and finally to galloping.  As with foot troops, there are some simple additions or reductions based on circumstance and operations.

Finally, there is a similar table, with similar rules for artillery pieces of different sizes, and different situations.

Small Arms Fire
Once the type of fire (regular, introduction/extroduction, pistol caracole, etc) is determined, then the number of figures, and their CR, can be assessed.  The following procedure is used to determine the number of casualties (expressed in CR reduction to the target unit) is finalized.
  1. Determine CR
  2. Determine Range
  3. Toss 1 die
  4. Check Die Adjustment Chart for mods
  5. Cross reference die results with range, to get an Effectiveness Letter
  6. Cross reference the effect letter, and the CR firing on the Small Arms Casualty Chart, to get the casualty integer.
  7. Modify the casualty integer by modifiers on the final casualty adjustment chart.
  8. Take the final modified casualty integer, and multiply it by the point value of the target troops, and deduct the result from the target unit's CR
One final consideration, is that armored units (foot and horse) have a reduced calculus of how much total CR damage is inflicted.

Artillery Fire
The procedures for doing Artillery Fire, are somewhat different from small arms fire.
  • First,  determine your target, and then based on range there is a chance for the artillery shot to go awry.  If at short range, it is a definite hit, but at medium and long range there is a chance to miss.
  • Second, determine the ranks penetrated (light guns penetrate 2 ranks, medium guns penetrate 3, and heavy guns will penetrate 4).  
  • Third, for each rank penetrated, there is a one point casualty integer, and these are all summed up (so for 3 ranks penetrated, there is a total casualty integer of 3).  This is reduced by terrain (such as firing up- or down-hill).  
  • Finally, multiply the casualty integer times the CR of the troops hit, and reduce this from the target unit.  This total amount is reduced by half in a number of situations.
  • The final CR total is subtracted from the target unit's CR.
There are similar procedures for other types of shot (the above, is for regular round shot, that does damage by bouncing through multiple ranks of soldiers, and killing them).  Shot types include exploding shell and langridge (case, or hail) shot.

Not surprising, the CR system is core to how melee engagements are adjudicated in these rules.  Each side calculates their current CR (lots of modifiers, such as Horse vs. non-Horse gets multiplied by 125%).  Then, the winner of the melee is determined.  This is done by each side rolling 2d6, and multiplying the result by their unit's CR.  The high score wins the melee combat.  Now, casualties are inflicted as a percentage of the original CR (not the product of the CR multiplied by dice).  The losing side will deduct (from their base CR score) an amount equal to 25% of the winner's CR.  The winning side will deduct 10% of the loser's CR.  The loser then takes, and applies, a morale test.  There are rules for fleeing, pursuits, and how officers affect things.  That is it - it is easy to play out melee combat, and although the impact of multiplying your CR by a 2d6 roll at first blush seems like there can be a lot of variability, the actual casualties (CR deduction) and morale results are more important.

Example combat - Lets say a Royalist Pike and Shot unit, with 12 pikemen (including 2pt command figures), and 12 musketeers will have a total CR of 36.  It is facing a Parliamentarian unit with 8 pikemen and 16 musketeers, or a total CR of 32.  The Royalist player rolls a 7 on the dice, and a total of (7x36) or 252.  The Parliamentarian player rolls a 9 on the dice, and a total of (9x32) or 288.  The Parliamentarian unit wins.  The Royalist unit subtracts (.25 x 32) 8 points from it's CR.  The Parliamentary unit subtracts (.10 x 36) 4 points from it's CR.  The Royalist unit, as the losing unit, will have to test morale

The rulebook is about half full of appendices. The first few of these go over how units should be organized on the wargames table, and a short guide to painting and flags, as well as advice to the 15mm player (a new scale, for the most part, in the early 1970s).

But then the appendices get more interesting.  There is a subset of rules for doing siege games.  These cover the specifics of affecting fortifications and buildings, as well as rules for grenadoes and other siege equipment.  A series of six different classes of storming/sieging are described, as scenarios and what is to be done in each (as well as victory conditions, and how to represent that sort of siege on the tabletop).

There is a set of notes regarding the organization of armies and the proportion of units, etc, in the years of the First Civil War (1642-1646).  And finally, there are some blank and sample unit rosters (showing a clean way to record unit CR and orders/status).  Lastly, the book ends with a nice glossary of ECW military terms.

I owned this book before I owned either Forlorn Hope or 1644 (both of which I played more than these rules).  In fact, the only renaissance/ECW rules I owned before these were the George Gush rules from WRG (and, eventually, Universal Soldier).  I only played these a few times, but I returned to the book for information about the period, and units, artillery types, etc many times over while in my early years of ECW playing.  This was one of those rulebooks that back then (in the 1980s) was in many of the wargaming shops I visited, and also on the rack at vendor booths at wargaming conventions. I saw it a lot, but unfortunately the people I played with did not use it.

One of the things I found disconcerting (more below, as I discuss this effect in regards to shooting) is the fact that the unit is kept track of by its CR, and casualties and effects are based on total CR engaged, and not individual stands or figures.  I understand the reason for this, with mixed units of pike and shot, but it seemed to introduce as many difficulties as it solved, see my comments below about shooting (both musketry and artillery).

The basic scale and representation of the game (in terms of figures per unit, movement and shooting ranges, and also turn/time sequence) works very well.  But for some reason, these rules never quite were the thing in the group I played with. I include it here, because of the impact the book had, and Bill Protz's excellent writing about wargames, not so much because I played it so often (I played almost all the other ECW rules mentioned in this review series - Forlorn Hope, Cavaliers and Roundheads, Universal Soldier, Hackbutt and Pike, and the forthcoming Gush rules and 1644 - more than I played the Wargamer's Guide to the English Civil War).  Eventually, I would get other resources on wargaming units and uniforms and army lists, etc (Forlorn Hope was excellent in that regard, but also great books from Caliver), but early on - this is the book that made me fall in love with wargaming the period.  Even if the rules in this book did not.

Pros/Cons for Musketry and Artillery
Okay, this seems (to me) to be a bit overly complicated, mostly because of the basic structure of WGECW.  The casualty integer is a number of enemy figures killed.  But the final step, of converting it back to points and then deducting it from the CR, is because of the requirement to discuss everything about a unit in terms of CR, rather than in terms of figures. 

I give the author (Bill Protz) the benefit of the doubt, because there are benefits of doing a unit as a whole, even when it is comprised of disparate parts (like pike, officers, halberdiers, and shot all in a large battalia, for instance).  That is always hard to do, and rules for the period (even the latest modern rules) always struggle hard in how to do hybrid units.  The CR system is an elegant way to do it, it just didn't appeal to the people I was playing with.