Saturday, 3 September 2022

Wednesday night madness. Last week's was cheap and cheerful; this week, a big SoN game

 

So last week's game was a two player versus one (Graham H. and I versus Peter J.) To the Strongest, Crusades, affair. 

Never, in the field of lead men conflict, have so many chits been turned in anger to so little effect: Peter J, playing the Franks, only failed to make four saves all night in what might rate as the most one sided game of TtS that I've ever played. We were hammered, crushed, and sent packing on all fronts. C'est la vie.  
So this week, with the return of Mark D. to the fold, I thought I'd go back to trying Soldiers of Napoleon. I really like this rule set and I have high hopes for it. 

I've set up a lopsided points game where the French (with more points) will attempt to crack the Anglo Portuguese position on a long ridge. The British players each have three commands, the French each have four (including a reserve). Who controls which sector/side will, as usual, be determined randomly by drawing cards - I don't actually draw a card, I just get the last one, for fairness.

The British position, holding the reverse slope of aforesaid ridge, will be an interesting test of the skirmish rule (terrain not blocking line of sight). 

Also, given this is basically an attack versus defence game, it will be interesting to see how defence favours card play - if at all.

The forces are quite large, with each SoN brigade actually representing a bath-tubbed division (as described in the previous post). The morale values are quite substantial - the British have 52, the French have 56 but many more units.

British on the reverse slopes.

Note the variable 'stand strength' dice cell trays. Disruption will be shown with white dice. All of my units are the same size but have variable strength. I don't do stand removal. All ranges, etc. are measured middle to nearest. This works surprisingly well and is much less fussy, for big games, than in the rules proper.
A lightly held centre. The Light Division, rifle units forward.
One of the French commands in columns with skirmishers and a leger unit in extended line giving cover. 

All about to get their feet wet, by the looks of it.


Finally three shots of my QRS which have the troop types on the reverse. 

Sorry about the order they appear in. Don't know why that happened. 

You should be able to enlarge to read and spot the movement rules differences / differences in troop classification (for the Peninsular) / and a couple of optional rules. 

Also note that my troop classification gives the 'bead colour code' of the unit. This saves any requirement for roster sheets and relieves a lot of strain on the memory - everything is plain to see at all times.

Note, there is a misprint here (corrected by hand since this shot was taken), Harass range is 20" not 24".



Tuesday, 23 August 2022

HISTORICAL ORDERS OF BATTLE FOR THE PENINSULAR

 

Firstly, it must be remembered that, unless I’m missing something, Soldiers of Napoleon (SoN) does not really use historical divisional organisation for army composition: If it did most infantry brigades would comprise three battalions without artillery but, they don’t. Most compose 4-6 units with attached artillery. What we are most likely looking at when we talk about SoN brigades are really bath-tubbed infantry divisions - or, at least, that's how I'm looking at it.

Looking at historical divisional organisations, I have decided to work out composition by running two basic mechanisms, side by side, with a piece of fudge wedged in between.

  • For each full 1000 infantry (500 cavalry) in the historical division the SoN brigade will get one unit. Generally, there shouldn't be rounding a up of fractions here. If the infantry division has 4999 men it should get four units, not five. Doing it this way will produce four unit SoN brigades more often and it will give the units within a division a more variable stand count. Rounding fractions will nearly always lead to SoN brigades of five or six units all with 4 stands each. Sometimes divisions will comprise fewer very big units and sometimes the number of units may need to be increased but in general, dividing by 1000 (without rounding) will be the rule of thumb.
  • To work out the stand count, divide the number of infantry in the division by 250 (125 cavalry), rounding fractions. If the infantry division has 4999 men it gets twenty stands to divide amongst its four units. How the stands are divided between the units is more art than mechanism: It’s generally a fudge, pure and simple.

Looking at some bath-tubbed British and French divisions (SoN Brigades), this is how I’m going to do.

Example 1: 2nd Division, Houdelet (Fuentes de Onoro, 1811). Comprising 17th Legere (1224 men); 70th Ligne (1078 men); 31st Legere (1583 men); 47th Ligne (1606 men). This gives a total of 5491 men. This firmly gives a five unit SoN brigade with 22 stands. Now comes the fudge. There are 2807 Legere and 2684 Ligne. This gives three units of Legere (simply because they outnumber the Ligne) with 11.2 stands and two units of Ligne with 10.7 stands. However, applying more art than science, I’m going to call it three units of Legere each with 4 stands, and two units of Ligne each with 5 stands. To this, in Peninsular fashion, I would attach a single two gun battery of 8pdr foot artillery. I would need to look up the division’s history / battle performance to determine unit quality.

Example 2: 7th Division, Houston (Fuentes de Onoro, 1811). Comprising 51st Light Infantry (590 men); 85th Light Infantry (387); Chasseurs Britanniques (839 men); Brunswick Oels (593 men); 7th Portuguese (713 men); 19th Portuguese (1024 men); 2nd Cacadores (442). This gives a total of 4588 men for four units with 18 stands. To give the feel of 7th Division (Wellington’s intended second Light Division) I would represent this division as follows. There will be a unit of Veteran Light Infantry (Shorncliffe trained) represented by the 4 stands, a unit of trained Light Infantry ( representing Chasseurs Britanniques / Brunswick Oels) with 5 stands, one unit of trained Portuguese Line with 4 stands and one with 3 stands; the remaining two stands will be trained Cacadores fielded as musket armed ‘SoN Detachments’. I would probably attach a single two gun battery of 9pdr Portuguese foot artillery. At least, that would be the way to do it 'properly'. However, I’d probably lose a stand of Cacadores and add a stand of Portuguese Line (increasing the second unit to a 4 stand unit), then I'd split the remaining stand of Cacadores and simply use it to increase the skirmish factor of the two Portuguese units from 2 to 3: I’d do this because its much less faff than detachments, and 3 stand infantry units are brittle.

Example 3: Cavalry Division, Cotton (Fuentes de Onoro, 1811) Comprising 1st Dragoons (388 men); 14th and 16th Light Dragoons (378/362 men); 1st Hussars KGL (414 men); 4th and 10th Portuguese Cavalry (312 men). Total 1854 troopers for (dividing by 500 for cavalry) three units with (dividing by 125) 15 stands. However, because this division didn’t operate as a single entity I’d ignore the mechanism for unit numbers and increase the number of units to four and split it into two brigades – possibly only fielding one. The first would be a ‘brigade’ comprising a unit of Dragoons with 4 stands and a unit of Light dragoons with 3 stands. The second would be a unit of Light dragoons with 4 stands and a unit of Hussars with 4 stands. There might be a temptation to convert one of the Light Dragoons to Portuguese cavalry, or even increase the number of units still further and have a lot of little units but, the Portuguese cavalry didn’t contribute very much to the battle and lots of little light cavalry units can still still Harass and thus make them slightly OP for their size; consequently, as the smallest contingent, I would choose to ignore their representation on the table. I’d probably attach two 6pdr guns (horse artillery) to the entire division, possibly one gun to each ‘brigade’.

So that’s it, that’s how I would represent historical formations on the table-top in a Soldiers of Napoleon game. I hope it is useful to someone – or, at least food for thought.

Next up, for SoN, generic brigade lists for British and French. Followed by troop types.

Friday, 19 August 2022

Dice Cell Trays

I needed dice cell trays for SoN games. I bought a load from War Bases (not enough) and they are great. However, I needed a lot and, rather than double the price by sticking two together, I decided to make them deeper by cutting out lots of platforms, made from mounting board, with the centres cut out, just wider than the cells but not wider than the cell walls. As it turned out, a 1mm tolerance was more than sufficient. Once cut out, I chamfered the edges so that, when textured, the platform was lost / disguised. It was all a bit tedious for the money saved but, it worked very well.

Cells, on platforms, on bases. And the finished test cell - should of stopped with that one.
Why didn't I just buy double the  cells, to save time and pain, I ask you?
A Yorkshireman's 
stingy, bloody mindedness, that's why!


Soldiers of Napoleon - For 'MY' Peninsular Battles

The associated pics show our current SoN battle. It's being played on a 12'x6' table, has about 70 units in 16 command groups, and two players a side. It's one-side-go-other-side-go and Events only effect one end of the table depending on which player plays it (each player has an end of table). There is no limit to where players can move or fight after initial deployment. We didn't find it necessary to declare arrival point of reserves other than they had to arrive behind the owning player's initial deployment area. One thing we are trying in this game (the Lads came up with it) is a new way of playing 'How Goes the Day?': Instead of getting victory points you get Event cards. These are dealt blind (not chosen from a hand) and played as the very first cards of the turn and before normal play begins (one card = random end of table, two cards = one at each end). It seems to work nicely, probably because it's so simple.

I've captioned the pictures with details showing just how easy it is to play a game of SoN, this size, without a single roster sheet. One thing not photographed are the trays with each side's VPs (poker chips) in.

Looking up the table. Note the commander in the foreground. A white dice displaying 'At Risk' chance
and a day glow orange pawn indicating that this command was the last to receive orders.
 
The Lancers are a four stand unit (black dice) with two disruptions (white dice) and they have
used their lances up (barrel); they are professionals (purple bead) of command group
3 (square bead) and their unit leader is La Beau Sabre (orange bead marked LBS).
 

The more I play this game the more I like it but, because of the way I play my Peninsular games - big battles; two players a side; on a big table - things don't move far enough for my liking and I felt a tweak here and there, for my personal taste, was necessary. This isn't a criticism of SoN: I just can't help tweaking things! So, just how many tweaks did I need for my SoN games run as I want them to? Answer, not many and to SoN's credit it was a matter of tinkering rather than re-writing whole swathes of the rules. The changes I've made all fit nicely onto my QRS and are simple enough not to require much explanation. 

Movement: This is where the biggest house amendments have been made. They have been made to compensate for the table size. Shooting ranges have not altered that much in response and the balance of play has undoubtedly been altered here to a small degree. Before deciding to make the change we did try altering a 'pace' to 1.5" but, we all found the shooting ranges to be preposterously long, especially for skirmish fire (30" with no line of sight restrictions!). Changing movement wasn't as simple as it sounds and what I have come up with is quite different in a lot of ways but, the rules covering basic 'Orders' remain the same and the new movement rules follow most of SoN's basic movement principles. All movement rates (for my 28mm games) are in inches.

 

Infantry

Cavalry

 

Open

Diff.

Obst.

Open

Diff.

Obst.

Line

6

3+D3

-D3

10

3+D6

-2D6

Col. Att.

8

3+D3

-D3

15

3+D6

-2D6

March Col.

12

3+D6

-D3

20

6+2D6

-2D6

Square

3

D3

-D3

-

-

-

Ext. Line

8

3+D6

NC

-

-

-

F.A.

12

3+D6

-

Note: Where 2D6, use the highest.

H.A.

18

3+D6

-


Road Bonus: +3
Withdraw / Wheel 45ᵒ / Cautious Advance (can skirmish)-50%
At the Quick: (1 Disruption): +50%
Charge bonus: Infantry D6, Cavalry 2D6 (use highest).
6pdr H.A. limber and move / move and unlimber: -50%

Light Cavalry: Because I believe that the battlefield speed of light and heavy cavalry was basically the same I only have one move rate for both types. It is also my view that light cavalry, in the Peninsular at least, was often called upon to fulfil the role of heavy cavalry in set piece battles and it generally did so quite successfully. To emphasise this dual role, and to compensate for the loss of move rate, I have added the following line (in parenthesis) to the Intimidate rule:

  • Intimidate: Heavy Cavalry & Lancers: 2 discipline tests Vs 2 units (Optional: Light Cavalry: 1 discipline test Vs 2 units that are not Heavy Cavalry or in Square) up to 20” away: Each failed test causes 1 disruption.

Artillery: I have chosen to reclassify artillery by type: Horse Artillery H.A. and Foot Artillery. I will allow 6pdr H.A. to limber move / move unlimber but, I will not allow heavier pieces to do so; 12pdr horse artillery does not exist. I have removed the right of any artillery to be manhandled forwards (prolong) because gun batteries, with all the accompanying caissons and other paraphernalia of the train were so very rarely moved this way; repositioning on a Manoeuvre order is still allowed, with the gun stand pivoting on its front centre. Artillery rarely fired at targets much beyond 800 meters, gunners thinking such fire a waste of powder, so not increasing maximum artillery ranges seemed logical to me. Consequently, artillery range changes are very moderate: 6pdrs shoot cannister to 12", shot to 32". 8/9pdrs 12" and 40". 12pdrs 16" and 48". 5.5" Howitzers 8" and 40". 

Graham's French. His main command stand with a green dice showing his remaining Command Points.
Note the artillery to the left: 2 guns (black dice -replaced by purple here because I don't have
enough black dice to go round),
 Seasoned (blue bead) with with full caissons (pink bead).

Small Arms Shooting Ranges: Muskets 12", Carbines 8", Rifles 18". Skirmish fire, which is very powerful (over-powerful?) in the rules, remains the same at 20".  

Linear Tactics: Unlike some, I find no specific coverage of the Peninsular War in SoN to be a blessing because I can go off on my own tangent and do as I please. In reality, this doesn't mean very much because so little had to be done. Except for Light Cavalry (see above) the only essential rule change is to not allow Anglo-Portuguese or Spanish infantry to form Column of Attack. To compensate, trained or better British and Portuguese units will now be able to re-roll a miss when conducting volley fire whilst in line formation to represent their superior, very steady, fire drill - the Spanish get no compensation, LOL. It's probably worth noting that I had originally thought to increase the number of dice by one: This was tried and would have been fine except that certain Event Cards made this a devastating, over powered, adjustment (see Event: Withering Volley) - rerolling a miss is probably better as the maximums are not effected. 

The Centre. Big table and lots of units.

No Stand Removal: As said in a previous post: 

  • ".... one thing we stopped playing after the first game is stand removal. I don't like it because after spending all that time painting I want to see my figures on the table for as long as possible and, as I don't own any 5 or 6 stand infantry units, not doing stand removal also allows a four stand unit to represent anything between 3-5 stands easily, 6 stands at a pinch..... However, in consequence of units having a constant frontage when in line (okay, that's the fudge - I love fudge), we now need to measure all ranges middle to nearest, and one whole enemy stand must be in unit weapon arc to qualify it as a target to all; split fire is done by halving the number of dice, with any odd dice to majority side or player's choice if about equal." 

This has moved on a step as I now have dice cell bases for displaying stands (black dice) and disruptions (white dice). Things are much clearer and easier now.

Unit Classification: These have, pretty much, been lifted straight out of the lists for 1813-15 except for one major change. Most Trained or better Line Infantry are now skirmish factor 2 (there are one or two exceptions with skirmish factor 1). Only Seasoned Light Infantry or better are skirmish factor 3. I also downgraded Riflemen to skirmish factor 2 for the reasons given below. It's worth noting that I denote the skirmish factor of units by using the appropriate number of skirmish stands, E.g. Skirmish 2 = two round skirmish stands.

Town occupation: This module represents two buildings. The one on the left has an occupancy
value of two stands and the one on the right three stands indicated by the orange dice. The town has
been occupied by a Legere unit of command group 1 (square bead). The green dice show how
many stands are actually in each section whilst the black dice [showing 5] is the unit's
total formed strength dice. Note that their command group commander will be rolling
1 die for 'At Risk' in the end phase (white dice). The unit's quality beads are just out of sight
(next to the unit's square white command group ID bead)
- they are yellow over blue, Seasoned Light Infantry.

British Riflemen: I've changed the rules for riflemen simply because of the way mine are based up (two figures per base rather than six), and a general belief that they very rarely fought as formed bodies in the Peninsular (and even then, if they ever had to, units were generally four or five companies strong rather than whole ten company battalions - look up Light Division OOB). I fear that allowing otherwise will only encourage players to use large formed units of Riflemen like Gatling guns! My rules for them are as follows:

  • Rifle units always count as 2-3 stand maximum units. Rifle units can only use Extended Line (base to base contact in line for these units), Square or Column formation; Rifles may re-roll 1 missed shooting hit. Rifle units are only skirmish factor 2 (due to unit size).

Special Units - Detachments: I have tried the proper rule (Detachments are covered in SoN) and, although it works well enough as written, it's not as elegant as most of the other rules, far too expensive in points, and it doesn't fit well with how I've organised my existing figure collection. Consequently, personal taste and a desire for simplicity will lead me to use my own version of 'Detachments': The Anglo-Portuguese Army can have 'stands' of skirmish screen Riflemen or Cacadores (at half the usual stand points cost) to use as Detachments. A single skirmish stand (Detachment) can be added to the skirmish screen of an Infantry unit, adding 1 to the unit's skirmish factor when its skirmishers are deployed. If the detachment is Riflemen the skirmish screen is allowed to re-roll 1 missed hit; otherwise they operate as per unit skirmishers as standard, using the parent unit's to hit and discipline factors. I think this will represent the generally heavy nature of Anglo-Portuguese skirmish screens far better than the standard rules and bring another counter-balance to their rule enforced linear tactics. Note: Because of the way I organised my Line Infantry Divisions (see below), a unit of Cacadores in a Line Division will only ever be represented as Detachments (up to one per Line unit therein); for each Rifle company attached to a division one Rifle Detachment can be fielded.

My French, being mercilessly peppered by British skirmishers. Black die indicate
formed strength, white die indicate disruption. Note, the two militia units (red beads).

Command Groups (SoN Brigades): I will be using my usual Peninsular organisations to fulfil the requirements of 'SoN Brigades'. That is to say, I'll be using 'bath-tubbed' divisions (1 unit represents around 1000 men - a 5000 man division is five units) as the basic command group and I'll detail my Army Lists as soon as they are done.

Using bath-tubbed divisions means that my 'SoN Brigade Commanders' will be termed 'Division Commanders' and my 'SoN Division Commander' will be termed a 'Corps or Column Commander'. This requires only a semantic change to the rules regarding the arrival of a Corps commander on an Event card - the rules regarding what a SoN Corps Commander actually does remain unchanged: When a Corps commander turns up as an Event the table-top commander will gain 'Corps Command Clarity'. If he disappears in an End Phase the table-top commander loses 'Clarity'. If he is killed the table-top commander loses 'Clarity' permanently. If the Division commander is dead, 'Corps Command Clarity' is passed to his second in command (a chosen SoN Brigade commander) until it disappears as a result of the End Phase (leaves) or Event (death). Army Commander rules are completely unchanged. Note: I do not use actual command stands for Corps or Army command arrivals - I use yellow and green pawns instead. Note: I use large day glow orange pawns to note 'Last Order' given.

French Light Infantry of command group number 1 - how can you tell?
Easy: White square bead indicates command group, yellow over blue bead indicating
seasoned light troops. They also have a Drillmaster - green bead marked DM.
They have four formed stands (black dice) without disruption (no white dice)
and skirmish factor 3 (3 stands) out in front.

Beads: I've now formalised my plastic pony bead colours, to display unit information, in the usual 'Olicanalad's fashion', to do away with roster sheets. My army lists no longer use descriptive unit names like "Veteran Line Infantry", which to be honest only confused the Hell out of everyone because the term 'veteran' means absolutely nothing in the rules, and now units are simply listed by 'game quality': E.g. Trained Line Infantry, Professional Riles, Seasoned Light Dragoons, etc. My bead colours, following the usual progression and meanings, are: 

  • Square number bead: Command I.D.
  • Red: Militia Quality.
  • Green: Trained Quality.
  • Blue: Seasoned Quality.
  • Purple: Professional Quality.
  • Black: Elite Quality.
  • Extra Yellow (above quality): Light Infantry.
  • Extra White (above quality): Trained or better unit with Skirmish Factor 1.
  • Extra Pink (above quality): Full Caissons for artillery, Fine Horses for cavalry.

I've done some round wooden beads (with initial letters painted on). These are placed above a unit's Command Group I.D. bead if the unit commander has a special ability (E.g. Red bead marked 'HC' = Heroic Commander). I've also done some similar beads for 'table-top commander' special ability.  

Apart from needing more dice cells and dice, that's about it, job done and ready to rock.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Soldiers of Napoleon - First Games.

Because we are still exploring the rules I'm not going to do a battle report on what we have played. Rather, this is very short report about my own personal impression on how the rules worked in practice over three gaming sessions.

The first game (two sessions) was fought on a 6x4 as a one on one (with two players a side) game with four brigades (one reserve) a side. This was fine but, two players deciding how each card should be played slowed the game somewhat. Also, and this isn't really a rules related thing (beyond the game being designed for a table this size), everything felt cramped; I'm not used to fighting on a table a third of its usual size.

The second game (we are halfway through) we are fighting on an 8x6 (which felt much better) with each player having two brigades and his own cards (two cards + command stands) one player being elected Div. Com.; order of play was randomly determined for each hand by assigning each player an ordinary playing card (A,J,Q,K) and randomly dealing them out in a sequence of play (this worked very well); we used one 'last order' marker per side. I plan on the next game being played on a 12x6 with the same 'order of play' rules and seven brigades (each player will have three, his own Div Com, and there will be 1 reserve between them) and one 'last order' marker per player.

To start the ball rolling, Soldiers of Napoleon (SoN) is a damn fine ruleset. For games involving no more than two players a side I can wholeheartedly recommend them to you: One player a side would be optimum. 

Table Size Note: They are not really written for big tables and I will need to tinker with the movement rules (simply upping the measurement of a pace by 50% and having a 30" skirmish range will not look right) to suit my requirements but, that's nothing new.  Most rule sets are not written thinking everyone has a 12x6 table permanently set up in a dedicated hobby room. 


The cards (deck of 56) are the key game driver and everything about them works just fine and dandy. Using a card to order units is a great way to make players prioritise there effort, and it allows the flow of play to pass from one player to another quite quickly - even in big battles. It feels very similar to Piquet in this respect. 

The option to use cards as 'Events' or 'Rally' cards, instead of 'Order' cards, also speeds up play quite a bit. 
The card events have a noticeable effect on the course of a battle but they are not over powerful: I would describe them as well balanced - I like to play them but don't like them played on me! The way you use cards to rally is one of my favourite mechanisms in the game: it's novel, it's quick, it's logical, it's ingenious, you'll like it.

The combat mechanisms for fire and melee are nothing special but very clean, generally easy to use (see below) and give logical results. The rules governing skirmishers are particularly good; I think they are amongst the best rules I've ever seen for this aspect of Napoleonic warfare: Skirmishers are a very useful game component in SoN and perform their historic function on the table without ever being a fussy or finickity thing; again, ingenious!
That said, one thing we stopped playing after the first game is stand removal. I don't like it because after spending all that time painting I want to see my figures on the table for as long as possible and, as I don't own any 5 or 6 stand infantry units, not doing stand removal also allows a four stand unit to represent anything between 3-5 stands easily, 6 stands at a pinch. I'm presently using a big dice at the back of the unit to indicate how many stands the unit is presently 'worth'; at some point I'm going to buy some triple dice cells (from War Bases) to show stands and disruptions with smaller (10mm) dice. Finally, and not least, not doing stand removal saves time sorting out mixed up stands at the end of a game - time is everything. 

However, in consequence of units having a constant frontage when in line (okay, that's the fudge - I love fudge), we now need to measure all ranges middle to nearest, and one whole enemy stand must be in unit weapon arc to qualify it as a target to all; split fire is done by halving the number of dice, with any odd dice to majority side or player's choice if about equal. Actually, this has the added benefit of speeding up play by removing a lot of "is it, isn't it": In the first game play bogged down slightly working out (and it has to be said, agreeing) how many stands could fire at what.

SoN also has a couple of nice flavoursome rules that allow cavalry to do more than move and charge - which is their sole purpose in most rule sets. In SoN their presence can have a game effect even when they do neither. This aspect of the rules has not been fully explored yet but, it looks very interesting: Light cavalry can Harass Skirmishers, and heavy cavalry can Intimidate.  
Now, the downsides: The rules are pretty simple in essence but, there are some rules Mark and I misinterpreted even having read them several times before play, and even with four heads during play. Although the rules are, by and large, well written, one or two things are not made easy to understand, or entirely clear. 

Two rules we definitely struggled to understand were At Risk and Buildings, and I've also found a minor omission regarding March Column. You need to read the rules very carefully for all these and even then, the one concerning At Risk is still as clear as mud - it seems to be the most commonly queried rule; the one for Buildings is actually clear if you read it very carefully but, it's in some fairly long and detailed sections and, because important bits are not repeated in the relevant sections, you can easily miss and misconstrue stuff:

At Risk: Clarity given by the man himself Warwick Kinrade "If you fail the test, by rolling a 1, you lose the card and have to run-off. Passing the test, then fine, carry on as normal. Just taking a test isn't enough." That settles that (and for the better) - here we all agree, the rule as written, no matter how many times you read it, says something else.

Buildings: For a unit to enter or attack a building it must move to contact and stop. On the next order a 'Manoeuvre Order' must be given to change formation, regardless of the unit's present formation, into a special formation that is counted as, but isn't actually, line (the unit doesn't need to physically be in line). If the unit doesn't do this it is not in a formation that can enter buildings or charge the occupants of buildings! 

If the building is unoccupied the unit immediately moves into the building, as part of the 'Manoeuvre Order', in disorder (I'm pretty sure about this but, there is a gap in the narrative on how this happens). A unit cannot rally from disorder whilst in buildings, and it will always exit in disorder. 

For a unit to enter a building occupied by the enemy it will require a subsequent order to 'Charge' - to melee the defenders, evict them, and take their place. 

In the melee, the defender is counted as being in line formation, disordered but in a superior position (these two factors cancel); having changed formation to get into the buildings the attacker (regardless of the formation the figures are physically in) is also counted as being in  line formation and because they are entering buildings they are in disorder (latter point confirmed by Mr. Kinrade yesterday). Both sides roll their respective number of dice, modified by any other pertinent modifiers (but definitely not including column of attack formation, Peter) in the combat table, and the defender re-rolls misses; if the building is fortified the attacker re-rolls hits. If the attacker wins, he throws the defender out and occupies the buildings in disorder; other results are treated normally. Attacking a building with more than one unit at the same time is definitely the way to go (grin).

Taking a step back, there is an important thing to remember, and this definitely threw me. I think fighting in this game is for individual model buildings, not a group of model buildings, and buildings have a limited capacity. Capacity is 1 to 6 stands depending on the size of the building and I suspect most should have a capacity of 2-3. Thinking about it logically, in real life large buildings with a capacity of 5 - 6 stands are probably things like cathedrals, a building with a capacity of 4 stands is something like a village church and it's attached heavily walled cemetery, or something with the real life footprint of La Haye Sainte. This means most of my modular 'town sections' will need to be divided into two smaller sections with small dice to indicate relative position and capacity. Most of my 'town sections' have a 7"x9" footprint, one or two buildings and a walled enclosure physically capable of holding 4 to 8 stands: I made them to represent something the size of a hamlet / village quarter / town section. I love 'em but this game requires something else.

That all sounds very simple but, all four of us read the Buildings rules the other night and not one of us read the rules as that. Surprising, because it's almost a cut and paste rule from classic Piquet by Bob Jones. Now I understand how it works I'm more than happy to play it - I wasn't happy to play the rule as suggested the other night - columns of attack charging into buildings, only becoming disordered after melee, I ask you!

March Column: As far as I can see (I'm happy to be corrected), this a case of a rule being inferred several times but never actually stated as a plain and simple rule - March Columns cannot charge. It certainly isn't disqualified in the charge rules section that lists the other things that are disqualified from charging. It was only the absence of factors for March Column and Line in the Attacker's Melee Combat Table that led me to try and find the rule that disqualified a March Column. A simple rule oversight but one that lost me an hour of my life. Eventually, the line in the Intimidate order section "Note, a cavalry unit in March Column cannot be given the Intimidate order, they aren't ready to charge." clinched it. 

Finally, a constant bugbear of mine and my last dig at the rules is this. What is the rule for crossing bridges in the face of the enemy? My thought, class the bridge as a building except you don't move in but cross. What is it about bridges?

There it is. My first overall view of the rules after three sessions. Even given my misgivings over the rules not being for a table the size of mine, and some rules being a bit hard to understand or vague, I'm going to keep to my original score because the rules play even better than I thought they would: A solid eight, verging nine out of ten. 

Excellent rule set. Buy 'em!

BTW: For those looking for card sleeves (its an expensive deck of cards - 1 per ruleset only) I also managed to get hold of this pack of clear card sleeves. This is the perfect size for the cards and being clear on the back allows the back of the cards to be seen as well as the front. Enough for the deck with four spares left over - Amazon £3.99



Sunday, 10 July 2022

Soldiers of Napoleon: First read through (the rules sections) review

Soldiers of Napoleon by Warwick Kinrade (& Andy Fox).
Produced by Artorus Games.
Retailed by Gripping Beast. 

Firstly, this is not a full review, it's simply my first impression of the core rules, especially as regards to them being used by me, and my opinion of the product in general. There is far too much in the book to review in a single concise blog post. However, there is a lot of buzz about these rules so I'll join in the chorus with my two pennies worth.

My copy of this rules set, with accompanying boxed deck of 56 cards, arrived yesterday and on opening the box my first impression was favourable. The book, 127 numbered pages, is a quality (softback) affair; the print seems to be well organised and laid out in clearly labelled paragraphs; it's printed in a nicely sized font; from first reading, the writing style is excellent. The pictures (prints of original paintings, as well as the usual photos of some nice model soldiers, some of which are used as explanatory diagrams) are not excessive - this is not a fluffed out glossy picture book, for a change. The only thing I'm worried about is the softback binding which at the moment, it has to be said, looks nice and tight - however, I'm yet to buy an unstapled softback rules book which, if used a lot, has managed to remain so over time and time will tell. 

The die cut cards (proper playing cards, if on the narrow side of standard) are very nicely presented. They are a quality product. I have immediately put mine into protective card sleeves and will put their box away for safe keeping. I would advise everyone to do this because cards deteriorate rapidly on a wargames table because wargames table-tops tend to be slightly abrasive and slightly 'dirty'. The cards cannot be bought separately from the rules - it's a £30 deck of cards folks; you can't play the game without it; take care of it.

The book is divided into five major sections. The core rules, which are quite short at 36 pages, followed by a section on 'Battles and Battlefields' covering terrain, deployment, scouting, etc; a section on 'Armies and Theatres' which covers army building, brigade construction, commanders, reserves and special unit types, etc; and then the last two sections deal with setting up battles for '1813-14 the War of the 6th Coalition' and '1815 the War of the Seventh Coalition' - neither of which I have troops for but are generally instructive as guidelines for the armies and campaigns that the book doesn't cover. The lack of initial scope (other campaigns are not specifically covered at all) will be a disappointment to some players, especially those without the time or inclination to do some spade work but, I expect supplements for other sub-periods will be forthcoming. Nor is the rulebook an 'all in guide' for the beginner - prior knowledge of Napoleonic warfare is essential.

Getting onto the rules themselves. Firstly, scale of game. Having only seen reviews and a couple of videos of the game this was my chief concern. Could I use the rules to fight the scale of battle I want to fight using the rules without 'house amendment'. I'm glad to say that, from first read through, I can. The rules allow for battles with two to five (typically three or four) 'brigades' representing a 'division' and its reserves: Brigades, according to the rules, can each be anything between two and six units, plus artillery, strong (they can be up to seven strong according to the coalition lists): When playing this (on-table) 'division', it should be seen as one of several fighting on a wider (off table) front, with abstracted rules to say how what is going on elsewhere effects your own (on table) effort. 

As you know, I don't play with brigades. I play with brigade-less divisions made up of units each representing 1000 infantry or 500 cavalry - for the Peninsular that typically works out at four to six infantry units, or two to four cavalry units, per division. These numbers fall quite nicely within the parameters of the game: Instead of what they call 'brigades' I'll field what I call 'divisions', and as I usually field three to four this looks to fall nicely within the rule parameters as well; corps commanders will substitute for division commanders, and army commanders will substitute for corps. I really can't see how playing at this scale will effect how the game is played very much: I believe the term is 'bath-tubbing'.

Although I knew that base size was unimportant, the next concern I had was that the rules allow for, indeed they encourage, different sized units. A stand equates to 150 infantry: Consequently, infantry units vary between two and six stands strong. Because of the way I field my divisions all of my units are the same size (four stands, representing 1000 men). Will this be a problem? Obviously, if the rules cover everything between two and six stands they will cover four stands but, will this take away a significant nuance in the way things are set up. Until the game is played it is hard to tell but, I suspect not. 

Measurements are stated as paces and paces are left to the player to define. Typically in 28mm, one pace is 1". Movement distances are what we all expect - infantry in a column of attack move 6; line 4; column 8. Heavy cavalry 50% more, light cavalry 100% more. Dice are used to determine the effect of terrain. Musketry range for a volley is 10. 8pdrs can shoot canister 10 and round shot or shrapnel 40. 

Recommended table size for 28mm is roughly 6 x 4, larger being considered a nice to have: Lucky me!

I'm not going to dwell at all on the fire and melee combat mechanics. Although they vary from one set of rules to another they are, to a large extent, the easiest thing to get right. To my mind they are also the least interesting part of any rule set. Mr Kinrade has written rules before. I expect that he knows his onions and I'm prepared to take his combat mechanics on trust. Suffice to say that it is a D6 per stand game with fairly standard modifiers; they look elegant enough to allow for swift play without constant reference to the very short (1 page) QRS. However, there are two things worth mentioning. Firstly, and importantly in my view, skirmishers feature and look to be an important tool. Secondly, the way 'damage' (disruptions) is taken and recovered looks interesting - play will tell.

Units stay on table until disruptions are greater than stands, at which point the unit is destroyed at the end of a turn. Disruptions are taken during fire, melee, for repetitive orders and some movements - possibly other things that have slipped my mind too.

Now the important thing: Command and control. To my mind, this is the most important thing in any set of rules and the game mechanics that govern it should always lie at the game's heart: It is what differentiates one set of rules from another, and either makes a game good, bad, or meh. They are certainly at the core of this set of rules so Mr. Kinrade has my respect for that.

On first reading, the mechanics governing this aspect of the game look right up my street. In general, everything you do is governed by the playing of 'Action Cards'. At the start of each turn the player is dealt a hand of cards (two plus the number of brigade commanders 'not at risk'). These are played alternately by the players to activate units in a chosen 'brigade' by giving them an order; or the card may be played as an event; or played to rally. 

The number of orders a card allows is restricted (each card has a number of 'order points', 2 - 6, printed on it). Units in the brigade, up to the card's order points number, can be given one order each (though distance to the commander has an effect on how many order points the order will cost). These orders are quite specific: move is an order, change formation is an order, wheeling ('manoeuvre') is an order, fire is an order, charge is an order, etc. This will severely limit what players can do and I like that. The 'brigade' can be activated again on the player's next card but this causes disruption (damage) to its units. 

There seems to be no limit on how many consecutive order cards can be played by the player on a 'brigade', except that each time a consecutive card is played on a single brigade, even turn to turn, it causes disruption (damage) to the units that receive orders. The author suggests that a marker is placed next to the last 'brigadier' to issue orders so that this is not forgotten. This will naturally limit the number of successive actions a player will wish to order a brigade's units to carry out and represents them being overburdened within the timescale of a turn. It's worth noting that events and rallies do not incur the same disruption on a brigade. 

The card can be used to play an event. Events are varied but include things like 'Fierce Cavalry Charge (6+)', 'Commander [enemy] Wounded (5+) ', and so forth. They are not automatic but rely on a simple chance roll on D6, e.g. 5+. In themselves they are not battle winning but can unpredictably change conditions locally to something advantageous. In short, they allow you to throw a spanner at your opponent.  

There are also six 'objective missions' which can be played as events, such as 'Take The High Ground', which if achieved wins victory points. I've not come across this before: Its novel and slightly abstract (because the 'mission' might not seem that important in relation to how the game looks) but, again I like the idea. Look out, incoming spanner!

Last of all a card can be used to rally disruptions from a unit. There are several ways this can be done. The most interesting is to swap one stand for two disruptions - effectively converting disruptions into physical unit casualties. I think this is quite novel and might actually be something very clever - game play will tell.

At the end of every turn there is an end phase. Each side goes through this, deciding if reserves arrive, removing units with more disruptions than stands and gaining victory points for them, and so on.

Victory points decide who wins and when. They are amassed during a game for effectively killing units, when the enemy rallies units (interesting), gaining game objective points, etc. When your VPs are more than the enemy's break point total (his points per unit) you win the game. Most rules seem to have something similar these days so I will not go into these in any detail but, they look reasonable enough and will steer a player's overall 'game strategy' to gain ascendancy.

Then, new Action Cards are dealt for the start of the next turn.

When the Action Card deck is completely depleted all of the cards are collected together again and shuffled. Six cards are then permanently removed sight unseen before Action Cards continue to be dealt and play can start again (BTW, six cards are removed in a similar way on the first turn too, so you can never be sure what's in the deck). If victory has not been achieved before the cards 'run out' (a very long game?) it's nightfall and the game will end in a draw. So, the game even has a natural end to it - that's a nice touch.  

So, after reading through the first two sections, and only browsing the others, that's it. There is a lot in the first sections and I'll need to read through them again before moving onto the others. All in all, this book is packed with 'extra bits' and I don't expect to be fully conversant for some time. One thing I'm sure of is that the initial learning curve is too steep to play the 'whole game' straight out of the box unless an experienced player is on hand to show you the ropes. However, at their core, the basic rules are quite simple. I don't think the rules will require more than one game for the players to get the basics; all else will surely follow in the way most rules are learnt. So, that's my plan: The next game here will be a small Soldiers of Napoleon practice game featuring two or three of my 'divisions' / their 'brigades' a side. I'll do a short follow up report on how this goes.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, there has been quite a lot of hype and buzz around these rules. I think they will be a fun set that lead to exciting games and in consequence I think they will become very popular. So, I'm going to stick my neck out and tell you to take a punt before they sell out and you need to wait for a reprint - I don't have any insider information so I don't know if this will actually happen but, I think it might. The rules are available from Gripping Beast.

For another review, here's a link to one by Mark (Extra Crispy) Severin.

Here's a Wargames Illustrated video interview conducted by Daniel Faulconbridge with the author / designers W. Kinrade and A. Fox.