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.

1 comment:

  1. I have been experimenting with the "Fast Play" version available free on the web.

    The system is great!