Saturday, 15 October 2016

Pike And Shotte - First battle AAR and post battle conclusions about the rules

Peter and Graham, like myself, had not played Pike and Shotte rules before Wednesday and only I have read them. So I decided the best way to proceed was to give Peter and Graham a side and let them go at it. 

I thought that if I tried to explain everything before we started it would both confuse the issue and take far too much time; it proved to be a good idea. Within ten minutes of the boys turning up, we were playing.

The Landsknechts and Swiss slowly advanced towards the stream. The cannons banged and arquebus fire rattled in all directions. A cavalry skirmish between missile cavalry developed beyond the village whilst on the French right a cavalry battle began to develop.

The cavalry battle got underway in earnest. It went, in true cavalry style, backwards and forwards with charge and counter charge. The French were coming off the worse for it.....
....and, seeing his flank begin to buckle, Peter launched the Swiss against the Imperial centre. They made short work of the Landsknecht shot which had ventured too close and began to get across the stream whilst the Landsknechts began to slowly withdraw.
The cavalry skirmish on the other flank wasn't going anywhere. 

Graham was content to shoot at Peter's forlorn hope of Stradiots and Peter would not commit his Gendarmes which chose to hang about in the rear.
After several combats, the French cavalry on the right collapsed - Battalia broken.

The Imperials were one nil up.

The Swiss crossed the stream in short order then, next move, ordered a charge. 

They made the distance in a single three move bound. It came to push of pike and the ferocious charge gave the Swiss a distinct edge. The Swiss got the better of round one. One landsknecht pike square was broken but, with some amazing defencive saving rolls, most of the Landsknechts remained in the field and unshaken.

Next move, in true Graham fashion, Graham was Graham. 

He deflected just about every hit the Swiss managed to land with morale saves, then threw three 'five hits out of six' rolls in a row and Peter failed to save many at all. The Swiss Battalia was broken.

The game was over. The Imperials won at a canter.

Only on the left were the French in any fit shape but with two out of three Battalia broken the army was broken. 

The game ended. Our first game had been fought to a definite conclusion in about three hours.

So that is a quick summary of what happened in the game. 

The game ended at 11 pm so we didn't have chance for a group 'rules autopsy'. Consequently, this opinion of Pike and Shotte rules is largely just my own. 

When playing a set of rules for the first time a stumble or two must be expected, especially when it's only the 'bear of little brain' that has read the rules. 

However, I thought the rules were quite intuitive and consequently the game rumbled along, with the odd hiccup, at a good lick. I think that after two or three games, when the nuances have been picked up and ironed out, games using P&S will move along very quickly indeed - even using large armies. 

So far, so good.

The ordering system is quite straight forward, though we forgot the -1 modifier for being close to the enemy until half way through the game, the rally order was used to rally first casualty once or twice early on, and we ignored the blunder rule completely (because 'I' don't like it). Moving on initiative when close to the enemy was quickly pounced upon as a good thing. 

I did notice something that I had been forewarned of; I had been told that first order failure by the same commander on successive turns could spoil a game. As it was, in this game, failure was opposed by failure so the effect was not pronounced but, I can see situations where it might become (speaking as the unbiased umpire / scenario designer) a very irritating spoiler. I understand there are various house rules in use around the country to iron this out - I even have an idea of my own (but, that's for much later down the line).

Everyone loved the easy way in which units could be moved about the table within the confines of the orders given. It is a very refreshing aspect of the rules. One point of friction, between umpire and players, was the discrepancy between the quick play sheet and the rules regarding the effect of terrain - because players, having looked, thought one thing, only to be flatly told by me that it wasn't so: "We will use the rule book definition, I don't care what it says there" (I was a bit tetchy about it). 

I'm not sure how easy the 45 degree arcs ('quarters' in P&S), especially when it comes to charges, especially at proximity distances, are to understand: I got it; Peter got it; Graham didn't. 

The combat rules were easy to pick up and most of the factors were quickly remembered enabling speedy resolution of both shooting and melee combat. 

Although some combats had very unexpected results (down to Graham's fluky dice rolling abilities) the basic odds in dice and factors all looked to be about right, and the effects of combat all seemed very reasonable. 

I particularly liked how the larger 'combats' worked. This is because I would hold that in the Italian Wars pike squares were not made up of small units - they usually operated as a single mass. At one point we had four Landsknecht units in a single frontal combat with three Swiss units. They all fought separately but the results were combined to give a winner of the round overall - it was, in effect, one big square vs another big square. It didn't quite work like that when working out what happened to the losing units, because units took 'break tests' separately but, as a compromise, I can live with it. 

The rules on victory and defeat (breaking battalia and armies) are concise and definitely bring about an end to the game very quickly. For one off, line them up battles I can see the point of them as written: they end a game in a reasonable time.

However, in the longer term, I think these rules might need tweaking, perhaps by making the 50% breaking point more about unit value than number of units. I could see a player getting pretty miffed if, after losing four small units of militia rabble, his battalia's remaining three units of elite gendarmes (that cost ten times as much) count as broken; and no, I don't believe the gendarmes should shepherd the militia to stay in the fight, because that's just silly!

One thing I would advise anyone to do when setting out with these rules is to get yourself lots of counters. These could be as simple as coins, or as complex as casualty clocks, but you'll need plenty of three types. 
  1. Casualty counters: We used small stones based on coins for casualties (these are two pence pieces, with one stone per casualty).
  2. Disorder counters: We used small tufts based on coins to note disorder (these are brush bristle based on one pence pieces).
  3. Shaken counters: We used broken wagon wheels based on coins to note shaken (these are mainly wheels from some discarded oversized MDF wagons, mentioned in a recent post, based on two pence pieces).
If your bases are square then life, using P&S, will be simple. Otherwise, a tool for measuring 45 degree angles will prove to be very useful. We used the one shown quite a bit in our game (it is made from three ice lolly sticks and piano wire). 

Obviously, a measuring device of some type is essential and a tape measure is the usual solution. However, some time ago, we started using a couple of 12" long measuring sticks (fortunately graduated in 3" segments) for gaming. It's funny but, they have proved to be a real hit because they are much easier to use than a tape measure for some reason. 'Old School' got something right then (LOL).

BTW, none of the counters, sticks or the angle wangler were made for P&S games, which I suppose shows their universal usefulness.

So, marks out of 10 for Pike & Shotte. I'm going to give P&S a very solid 8. I'm definitely up for another game using them: I've already set it up for next week. These rules hold a lot of promise. 

Having looked at the rules since playing, I don't think we actually played anything wrong. There were some minor things we missed and only playing and reading will bring more of these things out into the open. After next week's game I'll lend out P&S to Peter and Graham for them to read (they don't have any renaissance stuff so they will not be buying a copy anytime soon). Three heads are better than one.

NEXT POST: A bigger test for P&S.


Norm said...

Thanks very much for such a thoughtful and detailed review - now following. Norm.


Welcome aboard.


Gonsalvo said...

Most people seem to like Pike and Shot. I bought a copy a couple of years back but have yet to read it.

Oli said...

Great post James, I love seeing your Italian wars collection in action. I may even pick up a copy of pike & shot myself after reading this.

Colin Ashton said...

Sounds like you all got the hang of them really well. They're certainly great for a big evening game as you've found out. They're my set of choice for such games. Looking forward to your next game.

Epictetus said...

I concur with all this, especially the bit about me not understanding the proximity movement rules; I still don't.

My main concern was the fact that I won based entirely on lucky dice rolls. I hope that isn't how it always goes.

Gary Bourne said...

Thanks for the AAR. The rules seem to be a hit. I agree about the multiple command failures but this gives a very realistic element (think of the French infantry at Pavia) for games which are not 'competitive'. I would be interested to see your ideas of a house rule. As to the issue of elite units being broken when their attached units are broken, the rules allow for certain units only to count for this with teh skirmish element ignored.

Clive w said...

Also tempted to pick up a copy of the rules after reading your play test,lovely collection of figures


Stop throwing so many sixes and it might not go that way. The trouble is, you so rarely do, Graham.


Unfortunately, there are, under P&S, very few skirmish type units in the Italian Wars. I can see the rational for this as troops were not 'skirmishing' in the modern sense of the word.

However, I think P&S is a set of rules robust and flexible enough for some simple house amendments.

Steve J. said...

A nice review of the rules. Black Powder has often been 'sold' as a toolkit of rules that you can tweak and pick-and-choose as you desire for a certain period. I would say that P&S are in a similar vein being of the same stable. I've found that a few quick games with relatively few units a side are great for getting to grips with these rules. As a result we've been able to get in 2-3 games in an evening which really helps with learning the rules. As always a post-game read throws up some areas that you may have missed, or become clearer etc.

Christopher(aka Axebreaker) said...

I'll echo Steve and say the Warlord rule sets are designed for house rules as they hold up very well to changes and tweaks. Wonderful looking game as always.


D Morris said...

I think you are missing a lot of fun if you don't go for the "Blunder" rule. We have played a few games of P+S and blunders by both sides have added greatly to the enjoyment. We also like the " fail an order roll and things grind to a halt". We played a game based on First Middlewich (ECW); one of the Royalist commanders failed 4 command rolls on the trot, which actually reflected the fact that the real commander was a bit useless. His side still won though!!!
The only thing I don't like is the ability of a second line unit to charge an enemy through a front rank unit of its own side, but that apart I think they are a good set of rules, giving a fast moving and enjoyable game in an evening.

Jason said...

With the support test rules we have found that once you get up to speed, there is no need to even use the broken battalia rules, one army crumbles and a result is obvious.

Jason said...

I second the comment about using the blunder rules. They add a real flavour for that crazy moment that most battles had.