Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Why I like Piquet and how it is played.

Classic Piquet, pronounced P – K after the French card game is either loved or loathed. The loathing is generally down to one of three reasons:

First, because you are never in total control of your units when you feel you should be, or rather when other rules allow you to be; but Piquet is not a battalion commander game – you, the general, send your units along their merry way, then hope they can do what’s right at the right time.

Second, because players new to Piquet find the 'dynamic theory of motion and action in a flexible time construct' difficult to get their heads around (I'm going to use that line when out to dinner with non-wargamers). This is because there is no rigid move sequence, things happen within the bound of a turn in a random manner – some players like the comfort blanket of knowing exactly what units can do, like covering a specific distance, so they can, chess like, plan well ahead; but Piquet, like war, does not allow this luxury (see Clauswitz’s theory of friction in war).

Third, because there are times when the enemy is doing everything and you can do nothing much about it (I believe, in modern military parlance, that this is known as 'operating within the enemy’s loop'); Classic Piquet is a game about winning the initiative, initiative allows you to do things, and there are times when you don’t win any, sometimes at all, for long periods of the game.

Personally, these are the reasons I like Piquet. Piquet games are more tense and exciting than any other wargames I have ever played.

To illustrate how Piquet works I will go through a couple of turns of The Battle of Marignano scenario, which I am fighting solo; card by card, dice by dice. But before I start, there are a few things you should know.

Piquet initiative is always won by rolling off D20s, one per side, with the higher die result getting the difference in the rolls as initiative pips. Piquet initiative comes in phases of 20. The amount of initiative a player wins is deducted from what’s left in the phase until the 20 are exhausted. [See picture above showing the Piquet initiative tracking clock]. Initiative is used to turn cards from the sequence deck and act upon them. There are also a small number of opportunity initiative pips (2 – 4, called opportunity chips)) that can be stored by the player, mainly for shooting, during the other side’s initiative - they cost an initiative pip to buy back after use.

A turn of Piquet is governed by a deck of sequence cards. The sequence deck contains cards for movement, combat and command. Each deck is usually 24 – 30 cards strong. Armies have different decks reflecting their ability – good armies have good decks, rubbish armies have rubbish decks stuffed with ‘Milling Around’ (do nothing) cards. Every card costs an initiative pip to turn. Actions can be taken on cards for a pip per command (group of units) or unit (most combats cost a pip each). One type of card, ‘Reload’ cards, need a bit of explanation. It costs a pip to shoot a loaded unit, then a pip ‘reload’ a unit on a ‘Reload’ card. In my opinion the use of the word reload gives the wrong impression; the game assumes that a lot of firing is going on when units are in range – being loaded gives you the chance to actually resolve the effect of shooting. A Piquet turn ends when the deck is exhausted by one of the players (or on equal D20 initiative rolls). [The above picture shows some typical Sequence Deck card types].

Units: Like most wargames units have move distances and combat factors. Formation and type govern the former, weapons and training the latter. Combat factors for shooting, melee and morale are expressed as die types (ranging through D4, D6, D8, D10 and D12); a unit of mercenary crossbows, for example, would be D10 for shooting, D6 for melee and D6 for morale. Most Piquet units count as four stands strong with equal frontage – skirmish unit stands count as having 2 hits each, others three hits each. I allow no tally of ‘hanging hits’ to be kept from one card to another (house rule).

Dice: Combat factors are adjusted by tactical situation using fairly typical combat tables, but these change die type; a D6 adjusted Up2, for example, makes the D6 a D10 (two die types bigger); a D10 adjusted Down1 becomes a D8 (one type smaller). On reaching D12, any more Ups are simply added to the result as digits but the maximum result is 12; a D12+4 rolling 4 is 8; a D12+4 rolling a 10 is only 12 . Lastly, all commanders have a base die of D20 with Downs taking it down through the die types and Ups adding to the result. All die are rolled Vs another die to obtain results. Shooting die are always rolled Vs D6, Melees are resolved by rolling melee die Vs melee die, and in most other situations the required die is rolled Vs D8. In the blow by blow account of the following battle I will only give the final die types used in each situation (so I can’t get picked up on missing factors and save time writing!).

Each army is dealt a number of special morale cards (from the ‘Army Characterisation Deck’) at the beginning of the game. These cards express the army’s willingness to fight (expressed in morale chips) and any ‘on the day’ bonuses that the army has. Morale chips are lost for stand loss and adverse morale results; they are spent to rally. This is where I will start. [The picture above shows some typical Army Characterisation Deck cards].

……….Oh, one thing more before I do, Classic Piquet describes itself as a tool box. That is, it is there to be used to give structure to games but it is not the last word – Bible fashion. So, if you are familiar with Classic Piquet and the Band of Brothers 2 supplement, and you see things that you don’t recognise – don’t worry, I’ve had the Piquet spanner out. [I’m happy to post you my house rule changes on request].


Swiss: 7 cards total: Five morale chip cards 9, 7, 4, 4, 3 for a total of 27 morale chips. Two characterisation cards; 1 extra melee resolution sequence card, cavalry Up1 in melee.

France: 9 cards total: Six morale chip cards 10, 9, 7, 6, 2, 2 for a total of 36 morale chips. Three characterisation cards; 1 extra heroic moment sequence card, Up2 for cavalry rallies and assertion, Up1 for infantry morale challenges.


20 initiative pips [IP] to play for. Swiss roll d20 for initiative scoring 16, France rolls d20 and scores 4, Swiss win 12 IP- the difference between 16 and 4.
Infantry move in the open card - 4 pips spent to move all Swiss command groups. Deployment card, Artillery move card, Artillery reload card, Cavalry move in the open card - 1 pip to move Sforza's cavalry / artillery command. Move in difficult terrain card, Leader check card.

The Swiss have used all 12 pips to turn and act on 7 cards. You will note that 5 cards were turned without action, most were useless but as you play Piquet you learn to ignore some cards that don't fit in with your plan. OK, now you've got the format I will now dispense with the word 'card' and add some abreviation to speed my writing.
IP = Impetus Pip
OC = Opportunity Chip
MP = Morale point

Initiative rolls: F14 Vs S6 = F 8IP - economic rolling as there were only 8 left in the phase to play for.
Courage, Infantry maneuvre, Leader check, Deployment - 1 IP to start deploying the Black bands through Ziuido, Infantry move in open, Move in difficult terrain.

20IP to play for: S20 Vs F4 = S 16IP.

Melee Resolution (nothing in contact so can't use!), Uncontrolled charge - Swiss test, fail, and their advance guard and left pike block charge the skirmish cavalry facing them. The skirmish cavalry evade spending two opportunity chips [OC] - the French only have one OC left now - to shoot before they do so. The Stradiots roll D8 Vs D6, the mounted xbow roll D6 Vs D6 but both have no effect - the cavalry evades disordered [pic above]. Melee resolution, Infantry in the open - Swiss spend 4 pips and advance their units forcing the remaining forward mtd xbow unit to evade disordered - it does not shoot because the french only have 1 OC and they are saving that for emergencies! Melee resolution, Missile reload - the left hand Swiss pike block is in range of the Stradiots and shoots and reloads, D4 Vs D6 causing 2 hits, the Stradiots take a stand loss and lose 1 morale point. Cavalry move in open - Sforza's command moves.

4IP to roll for: F14 Vs S7 = F 4IP (only four left in phase).

The french immediately buy back 2 OC for 2IP. Light cavalry move - The Stradiots use this card to advance fire and retire for 1 IP Vs their Swiss tormentors D10 Vs D6 causing 4 hits - the Swiss pike block loses a stand and 1 MP. (Light cavalry move card only applies to Stradiots)

20IP to play for: F11 Vs S10 = F 1IP.
Artillery reload.

19 IP to play for: S13 Vs F2 = S 11IP.

Melee resolution (still nothing in contact!), Heroic moment, Cavalry maneuvre - heroic moment cards can change the next card if there is a good reason to back it up; the Swiss decide to use the heroic moment to change the Cavalry maneuvre card into a Cavalry move in open card for the cavalry only, citing the presence of Sforza as a good reason, the cavalry move into contact with the Mtd xbow (1IP) and as they are light cavalry declare an automatic melee unless they evade. As the French have their artillery reload showing, and given their lack of initiative thus far in the game, they decide not to evade - the Mtd xbow are already disordered and require an OC to evade without becoming doubly disordered (= rout) - thus 'saving their powder. In the resulting melee D12+3 Vs D4 the Mtd xbow are destroyed for 3 MP loss. Sforza's cavalry go disordered (fought a melee) and out of command (the artillery and cavalry can no longer move together as a group). Melee resolution (damn, last one), Infantry maneuvre, Heroic moment, Move in difficult terrain - I allow pike blocks of good mercenary stock, and not having taken casualties (stand loss), to move in the open on this card, the Swiss move their centre and right hand blocks forward for 2 pips.

8IP to play for: S16 F7 = S 8IP - the French are feeling desperate - as their lack of initiative begins to tell the tension builds.

Courage - The Swiss are fearsome units, anything within a move of them can be morale challenged for a pip or chip, and the Stradiots and Mtd xbow are within reach! D12 Vs D6 and D12 Vs D4 respectively. The Stradiots fail (dice roll beaten) and are doubly disordered and rout (Swiss gain 2IP), amazingly, the mounted crossbow, either fearless or clueless, stand! Infantry move in open - 4 IP to move the swiss forward, the advance guard gets to the ditch in front of the artillery - the French have simply got to use 2 OC to shoot - BOOM! BOOM! go the guns D12 Vs D6 twice for 9 hits and 3 stands killed and 3MP lost. The French having done such good work press their advantage by using a morale chip to test the morale of the Swiss; three stands to fire means they are rolling a D12, after factoring everything up the Swiss are rolling a D6. The French roll double the Swiss roll - the Swiss advance guard are routed; except of course they are Swiss so retreat disordered facing the enemy instead (lose 1 MP) until they are rallied (special rule for Swiss!) causing the following pike block to incline to the left. But the Swiss do lose 2 IP for the technical rout of a major unit and must add a milling around card at the end of the turn. Leader check - but out of pips!

NOTE: Oh yes indeed, as you lose units and leaders, skirmish units don't count, you add milling around cards (do nothing cards) to your sequence deck at the end of the turn, shuffle the deck then, face down, discard an equal number of cards before the start of the turn. You've got it - even if you win all of the initiative you might have dealt out every card you need and be left with a deck of milling around. Bloody amazing - Bloody exciting - Innit'!)

20IP to play for. F15 Vs S12 = F 3IP.
The French have an open artillery reload card showing that they have not used - the Swiss can't believe it - reload the guns for 2IP. Buy back 1 OC.

17IP to play for: S3 Vs F2 = S 1IP. The French can't even beat a 3.
Open leadership card showing try and rally the advance guard for 1IP plus 1 morale point, D20 Vs D8 - FAIL!!!!!

16IP to play for: S2 Vs F1 = S 1P. The French can't believe this!
Infantry in the open.

15IP to play for: S15 Vs F14 = S 1IP. What's happening!
The Swiss must retreat their 'technical router' for 1IP on the unused Infantry in the open card.

14IP to play for: S18 Vs F14 = S 4IP. The French are spitting garlic!

3IP used to advance the remaining Swiss units. This forces the remaining French Mtd xbow unit to evade without OC aid, it goes doubly disordered and routs. But the French have reloaded their guns and the Swiss are within point blank range. BOOM! BOOM! go the guns for 2 OC, D12=2 Vs D6 twice. This kills four stands of the central pike block, the French morale challenge it D12 Vs D12+2 and force it back disordered (in effect the front ranks were pummelled and slowed it up). The Swiss lose 5MP. Major Morale check card - D4 Vs D12 - pass.

10IP to play for: S9 Vs F 4 = S 5IP. Now the French are crying!

Cavalry move in open - Sforza wheels his men-at-arms 45 degrees and advances to the ditch (called a move maneuvre) for 2 pips. Heroic moment - the Swiss pike block on the left shoots heroically at the French foot crossbows beyond the ditch gaining an aditional Up1 for the heroic card (elegantly simple) D8 Vs D6 and kill a stand (French lose 1 MP) and morale challenge them D6 Vs D6 to no effect (Swiss use 1 MP). No cards left - for a final IP the Swiss close the turn.

Turn 1 is over. The Swiss must have had the factor of surprise with them. Certainly the initiative was with them, winning 58 pips to a poultry 16. Unusually imbalanced, but damn those Swiss had the French worried. No major damage was done, the Swiss having turned their move in difficult cards before reaching the ditch, but they are poised if the French can't roll better.

This is as far as I can go with this post. I'll try and get turn 2 done over the weekend and the write up shortly afterwards. It's a laborious process, playing solo, taking notes, taking pictures, and then tapping it in.

I hope, if you are unfamiliar with Piquet, that this has whetted your appetite for a set of rules that offers something different. The rules break everthing down into simply resolvable chunks so well, no firing along an entire line just because you can: Oh, the endless dice rolling and combat table fatigues in some games - in Piquet it all means something; because pips are such valuable commodities that they are not to be squandered - this is a game of decisions. For solo gaming you just can't beat it. The tension is killing me! Time for a cigar.

P.S. For some reason I can't spell check this post - sorry for any errors.


Bluebear Jeff said...

Thank you.

I am unfamiliar with Piquet, so this breakdown is certainly of use for me so that I can understand it better. Please continue.

Also, since the 18th century is my major area of interest, I'd would appreciate it if at some point you could run through a few turns of it . . . or at least cover the differences.

-- Jeff

Eric said...

This is wonderful stuff. Thank you for taking the time to post it. I have always thought that the unpredictability was a facet of Piquet that I would probably like, but have never played the rules. I must pick them up and have a go of it. Thanks again.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Good stuff.. well written article..

Your reasons for liking Piquet by the way are the very reasons I don't like it... but I accept that many people do! :o))

Mike said...

Thank you for sharing this.

I've been considering buying Piquet for a while, but the mystery surrounding the game mechanics has always kept me away. Well, mystery solved!

Keep up the good work.

john de terre neuve said...

It was great that you did this, I wish someone would do the same with FoB. Very informative about Piquet.


snotereceorlas said...

Olicanalad's article on using FoB for Crusaders got me into the whole piquet/FoB thing. While i'm not giving up on certain rulesets, Piquet has everything for me. It's the most 'historical' feel (exc SLances which is on a par), satisfying game mechanics and i think in my ignorant way the possibility of chaos hanging over your head has to be right. It's easy to use once you have the hang of it.

So thanks for this account - very useful for those of us who either play a lot solo or play with non-gaming friends and family we have roped in.

The rulesets I'm not giving up on are WAB thanks to Adrian Goldsworthy, Shattered Lances, DBMM and of course the fantastic but less historical(its writers have godd reasons for this) Black Powder. That was just in case anyone wanted to know that.

Ozvortex said...

Good review of Piquet. I was always curious about this set of rules. Thanks for sharing.

Christopher(aka Axebreaker) said...

All your Italian War stuff is fantastic and very inspiring!I want to try the period myself,but I have other projects in line so it will be some time.Until then,I can always take in this.