Monday, May 14, 2012
Shako 2: Review Findings
Since I was asked to write a review of Shako 2, here it is. With this review, I don't intend to copy and paste sections of rules or recite statistics in order to support my opinion and observations. Please remember these are my opinions and observations and everyone is entitled to them, right or wrong.
Now with that warning out of the way, let me just say this set of rules is a bit peculiar in some ways. The first phase is the artillery phase. Although perhaps not unprecedented, it is an odd way to begin a turn. With artillery, there are ranges and in this set of rules, bounce through casualties to consider for multiple battalions. The author seems either unaware or unconcerned with ground conditions (like muddy, hard, soft etc) and terrain features. Wellington's hiding behind a ridge in this game is only really possible if it were a mountain. It is difficult to overlook such a fault as blatant as this in a Napoleonic rule set. Hard to ignore perhaps, but this is minor on my list.
The next phase is movement. Now you start off the game with a prewritten order such as defend or attack and try to indicate it on the map. Your troops continue this until you attempt to change the order by using one of your ADC's to reach the commanding general for that brigade. Each general rolls a 6-sided die to determine in what order the sequence of movement will occur. Nothing too unusual here and does seem to allow ebb and flow to occur. It does break the predictability up and is a nice feature.
The first half of my problem with these rules is the author's fascination with DBA. Battalions are not able to oblique? Can only wheel 45 degrees once per 20-30 minutes (which is what each turn is supposed to represent)? Really? Is this the Napoleonic wars or the Seven Years War? If you're French, you do get to move and then change formation or change formation and then move, as opposed to everyone else only being able to change formation and then move. You may not change formation and charge - why? Who knows; perhaps 30 minutes isn't enough time. Again, the author loses track of the time consideration for each turn and so the rules miss a major conflict in period doctrine and flat out reality. As much as I am not particularly in love with Black Powder, at least if you have the movement, you can do anything. Given the time for a turn, that does not quite match up with reality. Arty Confliffe missed the boat here and it is very frustrating to deal with, as you have little way to respond to close up, aggressive movement by the enemy.
The third phase is for skirmisher attacks. Represented by even fewer figures than the already emaciated unit size used in the game, their attacks can be brutal. Considering you typically need a 5 or 6 to knock these guys out, they tend to stick around and be annoying. Finally, something historical! They do have glass jaws and so one kill gets rid of them. They can inflict staggers (disorder) on units, which does impact their shooting and melee benefits. They also have a longer engagement range for musketry of 6" instead of the 4" for formed battalions. Cavalry can overrun them if you're neglectful or wreckless in your handling of them. All in all, a good thing.
The second part of this phase is regular musketry fire. Since all firing is simultaneous, it matters not who goes first. The second 50% of my problem with the rules stem from this phase. Firing is limited to straight ahead, no deviation. If one of your own battalions happens to be within the straight ahead, your battalion commanders are deemed too stupid to tell the men to aim their fire at the enemy and so you may not shoot. The lack of arc in fire is reminiscent of DBA type of rules. Since when is the DBA model of thinking considered either revolutionary or an advancement in gaming?
There are casualties in this game depending on unit size. This game tends to have generic battalion sizes, however they can be tweaked by adding an extra kill or stand if you wish. Kills are recorded on the unit with markers but all stands remain until the unit is removed from play.
I would not do this review justice if I didn't insert some personal experiences I've had with this shooting dilemma. I need to add that although you shoot straight, you are also never able to or required to split your fire amongst multiple targets. Let us say some Dutch battalion at Quatre Bras is formed into a line and is being charged by three French columns. The defender may roll one dice and if a roll happens to be equal to or higher than the morale of the attacking units, typically a 4 for line infantry, possibly a 5 for better formations, then the enemy is thrown back and staggered. The French would not close in and the defender could then counter charge the staggered units if so desired. If the defender rolled an unmodified 6, then he would have staggered all the battalions and caused two kills to be distributed as equally as possible. This was my first experience with Shako 2.
In a later game while playing Austrians in some historical scenario around 1800, I used two Austrian battalions to destroy and or maul about a half a dozen French battalions with great ease. I was defending two town sections and with a 50% chance to simply repulse the attack, I did just that over and over again. I tended to roll 5's and 6's causing kills; but my point is that such an easy ability to repulse attackers offsets the meager -1 the defender gets in the melee if they roll a failed volley (basically, they don't even cause a stagger and miss). Such was the frustration by one of my opponents (this was his first game playing with these rules) that he hasn't played since. I was nearly as livid after Quatre Bras when almost none of my attacks could close because either Dutch or British could roll well enough to likely repulse the attack. I suppose they expect you to stagger the defender first before attacking, but since attacking battalions may not shoot, then you're stuck with musketry duels or praying your opponent rolls poorly.
Why don't defenders have to divide their shots or receive negative modifiers for having to shoot multiple targets? Why are all targets hit with the same result? Am I alone in thinking this is really too powerful?
Phase five is about changing orders, rallying, brigade break point tests and such. Although in one way I do admire the orders idea, you must wait till there is an enemy formation within 12" if you say, wanted to change your defend order and move into a better position or go on the offensive. Again, this demonstrates linear thinking that doesn't correspond well with the period it is supposed to be representing. Brigades have so many losses to take break tests. At 33%, they take a test to see if they become demoralized, which will impact future tests for the 50% and greater break tests. At least this allows formations to crumble and the army to slowly go away instead of dying to the man like Age of Eagles.
Over the last year or so, I've played this set of rules enough to say that I'd give them about a 5 out of 10. The shooting needs to be corrected in multiple ways and fluidity must be added to movement in order to bring it out of the 18th century and into the 19th century of Napoleonic warfare. I will say the rules are quick to pick up but are equally quick to annoy with their overly restrictive functions, as mentioned above. If DBN is to your liking, then you'll enjoy similar linear, two dimensional thinking and scarcity in figures being required to play. I would still suggest to anyone to go ahead and play it, but recall this review and see if my observations and experiences are not true. If you're going to play, play as the aggressor and see the rules from their worst. It is playable, but it is not one of those sets of rules you find stocked on shelves in stores - for good reason.
If you love the rules, then I say great. I only can tolerate them as a means to play with my large collection from time to time. A real pity I was unable to find many great things to say about it. What's your experiences with Shako 2?