Saturday, November 26, 2011

15mm Spanish Troops Finished

A while back I had purchased off of eBay a bag of Battle Honors 15mm Spanish infantry advancing. Being one of the older bags, it gave me 100 line figures. From the same seller I also obtained a bag of Spanish Catalonian Light Infantry. Both bags didn't have command, so that had to be purchased from my typical source, AB Miniatures. In these lines, the figures are almost interchangeable.

Here is my Swiss unit. I decided to go with a Swiss unit because they were reliable, in relatively adequate numbers and could be expected in an early war game and were different. The dark blue coat almost makes them appear early war French with the bicornes.

Here is the Regiment Irlanda. Another foreign unit that made its appearance in a few accounts and in adequate numbers to justify painting up. The sky blue coats contrast well with the generic white uniforms of the royal army. I also like the semi ragged look with some having shoes and gaiter, some just trousers and without shoes. The parade-like appearance in some Osprey books fails to convey that equipment, no matter how well supplied, broke down on campaign.

And finally, the Catlonian Light Infantry. Here the single pose is a bit disappointing, but the color I believe makes up for it. The well dressed officer would be complete with a cigarette in hand, but alas, he must have run low on tobacco. Another unique unit to the army that is a good asset.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review: Grande Armee Rules

Grande Armee rules are one of the most unique rule sets in existence for the Napoleonic wars. The Napoleonic wars generate much enthusiasm because of uniforms, tactics, the personalities and epic battles of masses of infantry, waves of cavalry and batteries of artillery all fighting for supremacy.

Did I miss anything? So why is it most gamers end up playing games where at best, they may command a full division of troops? Lack of time to paint or money to buy painted figures? Lack of space perhaps to play or interest in such epic battles? Well when we look at the masses jumping on the 28mm plastic ranges now available, that doesn't appear to be the issue at all. Can't really even get into the personalities commanding a brigade or division, can you?

It must be the painting then. In this case, they who play such levels of command must like unique uniforms of specific units so this is why so few figures make it to the table. Well again, not so much it appears. Take a gander at most sites and you see generic line units (yeah, you might number them but did you paint the facings correctly? How about the flag?). So what is it?

I'm at a loss to understand it because I'm the type who has no problem using units of over 30 figures to represent a unit. You'll find the majority of my armies have specific units painted, correctly. I have many generals that are specific personalities. So am I different?

The short answer is yes. Grande Armee is a game for those who enjoy grand tactics and who aren't Stalinists demanding absolute control over every function a battalion can make. That scares a lot of players off that they can't form square, column or break into full skirmish. Grande Armee has all of this, you just don't see it.

That is what being in command of an army is all about. Even as a divisional level commander, you're not going to have time or the need to write orders for every colonel in your division to form this or that with their battalions. Grande Armee puts you in command as an army commander, with all the ability to screw up or have a subordinate general or marshal screw up in your place.

Grande Armee rules have been in a published form since 2003, when Sam Mustafa introduced them to the public. My first game was around 2006 with them playing the battle of Bussaco. It was a real struggle to be able to delegate enough command points to keep my corps commanders in line to do what I wanted. Ironically enough, what won me the game was Marshal Ney's bolt from a timed attack into an all out assault which routed the British off the northern end of the hills and opened their flank and exposing their entire line. I lost control and my subcommander, Marshal Ney had won the day!

Grande Armee is supposed to be played with 3"x3" trays with your brigade arranged however you can fit them on board. The mega stand then represents about 900 square yards where battalions and waves of cavalry are lined up, in columns etc. As a brigade, they may have multiple mixed formations and so the footprint is the zone of control for that brigade, space between units etc. Your brigade commanders that you do not see or give orders to are assumed to know what formations are appropriate. You give commands to divisional generals or marshals, depending on your army structure.

That is the big thing about Grande Armee that causes most to frown with disgust at how they cannot micromanage every man.

Turns do not have a specific time equation and have pulses (mini turns in the turn segment). When rolling for initiative for pulses after the first one, if the colored die rolls a number equal to or less then the number of just-completed pulse, then the turn ends whether you want it to or not. Each turn you roll to see how many command chits (I prefer the term points, but whatever) you have to distribute to your division or corps commanders. Your roll combined with your army general's command rating are used to determine how many chits/points you may receive and use. At the end of every turn, any unused points are lost.

You must use the chits wisely to determine who really needs to move, who needs to rally and needs extra chits to affect the dice roll. Again, another level of higher command that you can try to influence an action but you cannot guarantee to do it because it is ultimately out of your hands. So you must manage your limited resources (chits) and do what's most important. If you don't have enough chits, then your commanders act on their own rating ability and or distance from the enemy.

In short; if they are aggressive they will move forward towards the enemy. If cautious, they may fall back. If they are more level-headed, they may just hang tight. All fairly understandable stuff here.

Morale and casualties are essentially one in the same. Every unit has a specific number of hit points, typically between 5-7. This number is not arbitrary, it is based off of a formula. For example, a trained infantry unit is worth 1pt per every 500 men. In a brigade of 3500 men, this would mean 7pts as its strength. If it were a veteran unit, 1pt per every 400 men. The morale or training level and strength determine how long a unit can stay in battle. That strength number is also the number of attack dice the unit has. Easy to keep track of. When a unit loses strength, it cannot attack as hard as it once did. A simple roster is kept and the number is crossed out and a new number put in its place. When it reaches "0", it has routed, but may rally and can roll to see if it comes back with any number of reduced strength points. You can generate lost strength back into the unit up to one point less than what it started or rallied with. It never comes back to full strength.

So the morale, strength and damage are all rolled into one number. 6 sided dice are used to carry out attacks and you may receive saves depending on cover or type of attack. Cavalry work the same way but may avoid combat if they want. Shooting only exists as a skirmish attack or is considered part of the overall melee assault. May seem like an overall simplification, but one set of dice used to control multiple things saves time and in the end and doesn't really give you any different results. Rather than roll for shooting with some dice, then melee, and someone taking a morale test, you get it together. If your enemy is a distance away, all you get are skirmish attacks, which can still inflict damage.

These methods of play seem foreign and somehow wrong to the control freak who wants to waste more time rolling more dice to do the same thing in the end. They can't comprehend that you do not lose stands in combat, have to keep a roster and your opponent will never know your exact unit strength (which is a good thing). They dislike the idea that your artillery isn't as effective in the mud, which these rules cover. Cavalry evading a charge or being used to prevent enemy skirmishers from being able to carry out attacks within 6" (because the skirmishers would just be ridden down and so hide behind or in the parent brigade) seems to confuse them with it's accuracy and simplicity.

One more thing, this review would not be complete without mentioning movement. This part will really scare the control freaks - you know the minimal amount of distance you can move but will have to guess the maximum distance you can move. All units have a base movement, for infantry it is 6". You roll a 6 sided die and add that to your brigade movement rate. If you rolled a 4 and added that to your 6" move, you would have 10" maximum this pulse. You don't have to move but 2" if you wanted, but you have to use some planning and forethought in your moves. Once you're within 6" of the enemy, your units may only move backwards or forwards.

If your commander over this brigade, like Marshal Ney controlling the 3rd corps at Bussaco, is aggressive and you don't have enough chits to control him, you'll roll a die against his control number (I believe a 3). If you roll equal to or less, you can refrain from just attacking and do what you want. If you fail, he rushes forward whether you want him to or not. You might be the mighty Marshal Massena of the Army of Portugal but you're commanding officers who don't always get your orders right, especially when the enemy is right in their face. It's called friction.

Say what you want, but it is very much realistic in being a simulation of an army commander, unlike Age of Eagles, which uses brigades but retains all the micromanagement (thus making the game drag on). Don't like 3" movement stands? Neither do I. Mine are now being mounted on 1.5"x1" stands, with 6 stands per brigade. That forms a 3"x3" square, my front two stands are skirmishers (again, very realistic) but it leaves me the option to still play Black Powder with smaller, multiple stands and it is perfectly based for Sam Mustafa's Lasalle. It ranks as the best I've played to date.

You can purchase Grande Armee through Scale Creep Miniatures.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Black Powder

I decided to review Black Powder from having actually played it for a period of time, not just a home skirmish or just from reading as most do. This approach is necessary to find other glitches not found from flipping through some pages and setting up a few units.

First let me say, it is not a Games Workshop creation, but its creators clearly are Games Workshop fans. The contributing authors and owners of the eye candy are names known in the Games Workshop world (the Perrys and Rick Priestly to name a few) but have decided to undertake the historical world. Was it their irritation at new rules, supplements and constantly changing figures? Well that's what turned me off and why I stuck to historicals exclusively.

Whatever their motivation exactly, they took a more unusual approach by melding Warmaster with horse and musket rules. I won't bore you with the generic facts about how many pages or that it has more pictures than a convention often has ever posted. What I'll do is give you what it does and doesn't do from a wargamer's perspective.

This is very much a command and control game. The book puts all rules into a casual gentlemanly approach where brigade commanders have a command rating that must be rolled equal to or under in most cases in order to be able move. For example, a decent command has a rating of an 8. The player will roll two 6-sided dice and roll equal to or less to carry out the orders. A roll of an 8 is one move granted, a 7 is two and a 6 would be three. No more than three is possible and you've had to roll three under to receive so many moves. The tricky part is you will not know if you will receive all the actions you wanted.

You must also announce what your unit or units will do before rolling. So let us say you wish to "Advance within 3" of your opponent and fire a volley into his line". If you need two moves to make it there, you might roll well enoguh to have gotten a third move and would be able to make contact... if you had only known! The maneuvering of a unit is quite liberal and if you want to advance 12", turn 90 degrees, you can do so. If you want to literally move around a unit and fire into their rear, well yeah, you can do that too.

Want to move into a forest with your guard grenadiers to squash those pesky guerrillas running away? Sorry, you cannot fire within the woods. Why? No rule giving you permission or a range restriction within woods due to no line of sight listed here. Can you elect to agree on a range? Sure, it is encouraged within the book on rule disagreements or amendments. My opinion here is that the authors were too inebriated to settle on a range limitation and just chose to leave it to players.

How about melee in the woods? Sure, you may march them into the woods and give your opponent a hard whack! Is all of this so far historically accurate? Maybe not, but it is a game. That is stressed heavily in the rules that you are pushing lead soldiers around the table and not to take yourself or the game too seriously. This is the expressed reason for why certain specifics are not covered. I'm not convinced that approach works outside of a dedicated group of consistent gamers. Having played at multiple Rogue Trader Tournaments for Warhammer, even published rules with plenty of published clarifications have problems being adhered to by players who wish to bend rules.

Speaking of seriousness, you do not want to roll above your command level or else you will do nothing except stand still and fire. If you have limbered artillery or troops in march column, they may make one free move. If you're within 6" of the enemy, the units may move into contact or move towards the enemy if you will, for free. If you roll a 12, then the side blunders and no commands at all are given for your side and the turn ends. They call this a Blunder and it is a little on the side of being a Games Workshop trait. The abrupt incompetence of your general ends your turn and so the mechanic's intent is for you to focus on important matters.

Here I see a problem where a game mechanic compensating for limited time and resources actually then takes away from reality. I vehemently disapprove of rule sets that create areas of inactivity. How do you explain periods of time where bodies of men suddenly stop moving or carrying out some other action in face of the enemy? This sort of mechanic is not realistic and better suited for children's games of pure chance. Orders for advancing and retreating, reloading etc are not given every 20 minutes from a general. Orders and objectives are given and lower level commanders carry them out. Unfortunately, it is common in many rule sets that attempt to create friction by limiting commands given in a turn. The commanding general must also play the role of lower level officers.

In this way, Shako covers one of the most realistic and historical approaches by orders given to a formation and are carried out turn after turn. Firing and the formation of the units are left to lower level commanders and do not need endless orders. Lower level officers are delegated authority and carry out the order the best way possible. They are not considered toddlers who need constant reminding and supervision.

Commands that are similar such as All infantry will advance to engage the enemy in melee can be given as one order and one dice roll. Individual units can be given separate orders with the higher risk of failure. There is no real order in which you can fire and move, so if you wanted to advance to a flank, fire and then give a separate order to another unit to engage from the front, you may try and do so. A general can also be used to help recover hits taken on a unit. Each unit has so much stamina that we would think of as hit points. When they are maxed out or above, their morale begins to waiver. A commander can end his turn by attaching himself to a unit and trying to recover a point by rolling under the command number. This is helpful.

Cavalry do have counter charges and the chargers do receive a slight bonus in the game. Much like Games Workshop games, 6-sided dice determine the outcome. Units have stats eerily similar to Warhammer, Warhammer 40k etc. with various traits and the corresponding number that translates into effectiveness. This mechanic is simple to understand and permits units to easily fight one another.

One of the greatest features is that you can customize units by making them elite, regular, militia, raw and unpredictable etc. You have specializations for sharpshooters getting the ability to reroll one failed shooting die per fire phase. You also have Stubborn rules for applying to units from too easily breaking. A Reliable unit is not much by itself, but if all units within the brigade are reliable the command value of the officer is increased by +1 and so giving commands for movement are easier.

Brigades can be any number of units in reality, but picking commands of five battalions is a good choice because if one must take a brigade morale test at 50% losses then losing three units instead of two in a four battalion brigade is preferable.

The rules are written to cover troop types from anything in the horse and musket era. This is a great selling point because someone playing ACW and Napoleonics might be attracted to only having to purchase and commit to memory one set of rules instead of two. You will need a rule book for the first several games as it has quirks, but is meant for playability and flexibility. Historical accuracy is noticeable if incidental. It is a rule book in desperate need of revision by a mature and experienced editor. Preferably, a non-alcoholic would be good for a change.

After my first few games, I genuinely hated it. Why would so many people keep showing up to play this? The rules frustrated all of us with their indecisiveness and illogical layout; yet it somehow worked and we always had fun. When we announced we're going to play it, people showed even if to watch. Guys who made excuses in the past not to come suddenly felt motivated to show up and even blow dust off of men who may not have seen battle in 10 years time. Since basing isn't an issue because the number of figures determines whether it is a tiny, small, regular or large sized unit, then any unit size can be brought out. It is a game that appears to unite people and I don't understand why. Is it because it claims to gentlemanly or that it covers so much important gaming periods?

Have you ever wanted to play battle of the Coa and field an actual picket in Ney's path? Well, now you can. You think French troops in 1805 were superior than in 1812? You can design that into the stats. Want rockets? How about Afghan tribesmen armed with old rusty muskets? It is all possible if you're willing to relax a little and accept, it's only a game.

Not convinced? Well you can download it from many file sharing sites for free and test it. Think that is unethical? Well you buy clothes and try them on at home then realize they don't fit and return them. Was it unethical to return it? Think of it along those lines. If you like it, then buy the book like I did. If you don't like it, then nothing was lost.

Review: The Terrain Guy Game Mat

A while back I decided to abandon the hex battleground I had used and move to something more mobile. The obvious alternative was a game mat, but the majority of them are bland and appear to look more like golf courses with their ultra smooth texture. I happened to come across a web site

After browsing the mats, I came across the green-brown mat and it appeared to be what I was looking for. So I decided to give it a try and ordered some extra flock to redo some existing hills I have. The colouring is quite nice and looks more natural than the bright and pretty golf courses used by Monday Knight Productions, who made my green mat.

The colouring matches my previous terrain for the most part and meets my goal of having something transportable. The mat itself is not made from felt, but a canvas type of backing that is thin and easily rolled up. The mat also came with a PVC tube to allow the mat to retain its shape and to assist with keeping a consistent roll-up shape.

I reflocked some hills and managed to come very close to mimic the mat's colouring.

The time from payment to receiving the mat was close to three weeks. Since these items are more of a custom piece than a prepackaged store item, I suppose this is to be expected. Over all I am happy with the results would recommend the mat to others who are interested in escaping the generic golf course look. This mat is 6x4 and I may end up purchasing a second one in case I decide to expand out the table.

Some may have wondered why I disappeared? I was around, just doing a variety of things like painting and rebasing figures for the rules I'll be using in the future: Black Powder for tactical level games with a group and Grande Armee for games that will be grand tactical in nature. I'll be posting a review of these rules within the next two weeks and why I'm adopting them and rebasing figures to fit within these rule sets. Stay tuned.