The 2020 To Do List

After my review of 2019 I will now look into my plans for 2020:

Modelling & Painting

Still more terrain to finish. Especially woods and painting houses. Town bases to but said houses onto are also on the list. There are two terrain types I haven’t covered in a satisfactory manner: Swamps and rocky terrain. I have concepts how to build them easily, though.

The packing chips I use as smoke markers lately are not the best looking solution but they are very practical to use and stow away (space is at a premium). Maybe cutting some shapes will make them look better.

Still lots of painting to do on my Sword & Sorcery dungeon crawling games. It progresses nicely but will need many month before completion at my speed.

The look of the 2mm figures from Irregular Miniatures is not what I was looking for in Napoleonics. I need to use some different period paint schemes to see if I can salvage them. American and English Civil Wars come to mind.

The movement trays I sometimes use for Blücher are really barebones. Something nicer with re-useable unit labels is on the list. Tests were disappointing so far.

I did some experimentation with a Kriegspiel-look DBA set. It did turn out Ok but is only a side project. Even if I don’t continue I should probably write a blog post about it.

Campaigns

The For King & Parliament ECW campaign will continue. If I can make good progress I will be able to finish it this year.

I have a new, smaller Napoleonic campaign in the wings. Several posts are already written up.

There is also an Ancients campaign with DBA 3.0 campaign I started but packed away for Napoleonics quickly. Not sure if i’m motivated enough to finish this.

Battles

Playing games is of course the main focus every year. I mostly play fictional battles or campaign games but I’m interested in trying out scenarios. There are several good Blücher scenarios here. As I like Big Bloody Battles I would like to give the Aspern-Esslingen scenario a spin. I have enough forces to field the armies but need more road crossings and bendy river sections to set it up.

Then there is 2 Hour Wargames. I quite like the scenarios of the book but I have one or two new ideas to represent encircling and interior lines. Another idea of mine was to randomly combine two scenarios into one larger battle. Some groundwork has been done but a test has yet to be conducted.

I have a large collection of starship miniatures begging me to use them. Maybe this year. Talking of maybe’s, Hordes of the Things arrived over Christmas…

Rules

Over the past years I have tried out a wide array of rule sets for Napoleonics and other periods. Lately I am more and more jaded about most of them. To a point where I’m thinking about getting rid of some. For a self proclaimed rules collector a sacrilegious thing to say! I will think more about this but so far here are my categories for Napoleonics alone:

Rule sets I currently play and like:

  • Blücher: It simply works.
  • Big Bloody Battles: With modifications that are not set in stone yet.
  • Black Powder: I’m using a fair bit of house rules. But this set is easily adaptable.
  • C&C Napoleonics: With the rule that a block can absorb two hits before it is removed.

On the fence:

  • 2×2 Napoleonics: I only played one game which I liked but the rules are all over the place. I started a re-write for my own purposes but it is not finished or tested.
  • General d’Armee: The rules are nice and give a good game but they simply seem less elegant and slower than Black Powder. If I had to replace Black Powder, this set would probably be it. The ADC system is a big draw towards General d’Armee but in order to really get it going you need sizeable forces on the table which is difficult for me figure- and spacewise.
  • Bataille Empire: Again, great rule set for people who want the detail and slower gaming speed. I still think I prefer Black Powder. The move away from YGO IGO will probably much more interesting for people who play this head to head. For solo play the sequencing is actually difficult to game through. Maybe I give it another try with a more traditional turn order, because most of the other rules are quite good.

Rule sets I tried and didn’t like:

  • Field of Glory: Napoleonics: The terrain generation and pre-battle rules are slick but the main rules are too complicated for me, given that it is a tournament set. I want to like them, but I cant.
  • Portable Napoleonic Wargame: Didn’t give me the period feel I’m looking for.
  • Polemos: Neither the small nor the large scale set convinced me. The rules are not written clearly and don’t give a satisfying period feel in my opinion. To be blunt, Polemos is probably the worst on the list.
  • DBN: It feels too much like DBA for me.
  • Age of Eagles: More detailed in scale and rules than Big Bloody Battles. It needs an absurd amount of bases and has some fiddly stuff that is thankfully abstracted away in Big Bloody Battles.
  • Twilight of the Sun King: Not Napoleonic but I tested them in order to modify them for the period. The concepts are great but the writing is quite vague and some details could have been omitted for my taste.
  • Several variants of 2 Hour Wargames Horse and Musket: All the variants I tried added more chrome to the rules but the game still felt very basic and too attritional in a sense that you nearly always inflict some damage to the enemy. Compare this with Blücher or Black Powder where fights can be over quick or last a long time with some regularity. There is no disruption or disorder of any kind which is key for the period in my opinion.
  • Shako: To be fair, I only started one game and it was Shako I not II. The order system is very good and has been nicked immediately for other games. All the other stuff… Somehow too fiddly for me. Hard to put a finger on though. It somehow felt too old school.

Rule sets I want to try:

  • Napoleon’s battles: Brigade scale and they don’t seem too complicated. Hard to obtain the rules or information about them, though.
  • Grande Armee: I already heard that it is very time consuming so I’m going into this to find new mechanics and ideas, not a new rule set.
  • Volley & Bayonet: Command & Control seems underdeveloped from what I read but it has a scenario system I ‘m interested in and maybe I like the combat mechanics.

Rules I want to write:

I developed my own starship combat rules quite often in the past. I even came up with something remarkably similar to early Starmada in the time of dial-up internet. I refrained from doing so for historical periods though, as my grasp on them wasn’t good enough and design space seemed less open. You can do crazy thinks in science fiction which are hard to explain in historical periods. Lately there are some ideas froming for a Horse & Musket rule set of my own:

  • Strong command system that makes it necessary to have a plan in advance. Some form of (written) orders which can be changed at a delay or lost in transmission or misunderstood.
  • A turn order that rewards the battle plan, not good initiative dice and moving unit X before unit Y to get into the building first. I have no solid idea for this yet.
  • A simple, free flowing movement system that is constricted by command and control and not by measuring degrees of wheeling.
  • A combat system a bit like Twilight of the Sun King but even more radical. There is no musketry, there are no charges! The driving concept is the proximity of units and the intensity of their orders and will. For example: My cavalry on attack orders, barely an inch away from your infantry is really hurting your infantry’s morale. Whether they fight or threaten each other is abstracted away in Brigade scale. This idea goes back to a quote I read about French infantry breaking next to Prussian cavalry (which didn’t charge).
  • A pre battle system for stratagems and terrain selection. My working idea is that one player has to offer battle at a battlefield but the enemy can decline, going to another battlefield.
  • Mechanics which allow strong period flavor and national differences.

Napoleonics with Bloody Big Battles

After I disliked Age of Eagles for its huge amount of bases required and too much detail for a brigade level rule set, I promised myself to give Bloody Big Battles from Chris Pringle (Blog) another go. It uses about 1000 men to a base and is primarily used for battles after Napoleonics and before WWI. I had some Napoleonic rule amendments which diversified artillery and cavalry a bit and made muskets more potent. In the original they are at the lowest end of the weapon scale and quite useless (rightfully so).

As this was more of a rules test I played a fictional battle with similar forces. The table was generated with Field of Glory: Napoleonics rules (my new favorite terrain generator). The battle pitted French against Austrians. The French used units of 4 bases with skirmishers, Dragoons and some artillery. The Austrians had the disadvantage passive infantry (harder to move and rally) but the advantage of larger units and a few more bases in general. All units were considered trained to keep it easier.

Disclaimer: This was a test, so there is not much flavor to it. Units are units and not the 5é Ligne of II Corps. Though the rules and the look on the table lend itself to it and I have seen other bloggers working with 1-2″ unit markers with flag and name and stats that looked quite nice. This you won’t see here, for now 🙂

Set up

A view from the French left wing and center. The cavalry command of the French was situated on the left, while the Austrian counterpart was deployed in the center (randomly determined).

And here we move over to the center-right wing. The Cavalry in the lower center of the picture is part of an infantry command. As you can see the roads leading to the enemy can be quite useful for the French here, as their side of the table is void of good defensive positions and the want to close the gap quickly.

The Austrian right flank. Two large ad passive infantry units and some Dragoons.

A nice quirk of random deployment zones. You rarely see the cavalry command of an army in the center. It is a small one, though. Two medium cavalry units and horse artillery. To the left you can see a steep hill which incurs movement penalties (important for later on).

Close up of parts of the Austrian left wing. This is the biggest command and it starts close to two hills. From there they will have a commanding view and artillery position.

The Battle Plan

Of course a simple rule set test is not complete without testing other ideas at the same time! This one is from Shako. In Shako you draw a map and arrows for your commanding officers. An arrow is an attack order and at the end of the arrow is a defend order. In theory you have to advance with your units on attack order into combat, apart form artillery which can support from farther away. The Commander of a formation ‘rides’ on the arrow and his units need to stay in command.

This is the plan for both sides (as I played solo) viewed from the French side. The Austrians are rather careful and want to deploy in defensive positions on and between the hills. The French are effectively trying to refuse the left flank. Their left flank Cavalry is ordered to attack the Austrian Cavalry in the center and the French center is ordered to move around the forest in support of the right wing. The ‘T2’ means that they start this on turn 2.

Each side has a HQ with an Aide de Camp. The Aide can be sent to give new orders to a commander at the speed of Cavalry. He also have to get back thereafter. In Shako you have two Aides but for only three commands I limited this to one Aide each. As the French are way better and facilitating orders, they change orders as the Aide arrives. The Austrians are more plodding. They need a full turn to change their orders after they arrived.

The Battle

A few turns in. The Cavalry forces are clashing in the center. Austrians are getting the better of it. They already caused losses on both French units and routed a limbered horse battery. The white packing chips are musket smoke or dust clouds and signify disrupted status.

Being disrupted in BBB affects movement, firing and melee but doesn’t make a unit completely useless. BBB finds a nice balance here I think. On the lower right you can see the Aide de Camp with new orders for the French. They are to defend in the position they are in. The French don’t need their Cavalry to win here but to keep the Austrians at bay.

The Austrian Aide can be seen as well far away. He brings new orders to switch from defense to pursuit of the French Cavalry.

The refused Austrian right wing has already been ordered to pack it up and move to the steep hill in the background. The gains of Austrian cavalrymen make this a safe move so they form in column to be faster. Still, with the turn long order delay they are already late.

And this is the reason for the order change. The Austrians were quite surprised as the central French formation swung right. Now there are close to 30.000 Frenchmen weighing down on a thin Austrian defense line. It is not all going to plan for the French, though. Their artillery support has been silenced for (has to retreat). The attack columns keep getting disrupted and halted before connecting. Space is also a problem as support and reserves try to find the right deployment area. Part of the problem is the Austrian Foot Artillery position top right on the hill. Fire support from the guns is key for the Austrian defense.

As the Austrian columns cross the battlefield, Cavalry still clashes. Austrian battery support is showing here as well. Not by casualties but by continuously disrupting French movements.

Another of couple turns in the French concentrated mass has done its damage. Assault columns have routed the central Austrian unit and are now closing on on the remains. In the top left an isolated Austrian Brigade deployed squares against nearby Cavalry but gets blasted by musket fire. In the top right Austrian losses are mounting off table.

At the end of the battle French troops have successfully stormed the artillery position.

Austrian left wing forces finally shaking into battle formation at the end of the battle. Even if the engagement wasn’t over (turn limit) they would have had a hard time attacking up hill against the basically intact French forces.

Verdict

My downscaling of ranges for a smaller table and Napoleonic amendments were off a tad and I made some mistakes. One Austrian commander should have been killed or captured twice! Still I really liked the game. Yes I know. Shockingly I like the rules.

Where the similar Age of Eagles complicates things for sake of realism, BBB moves a step further back. Which is a good thing for me, who favors less restrictive rules these days.

Units are big and can move quite far. Command friction is done via dice rolls and failure to move or rally disruption. All this give a game that feels strategic akin to its scale. Part of this stems from the battle plan rules I grafted from Shako on top of it. But this is basically a solo play mechanism, not a missing part of BBB in any way.

After the game I found another Napoleonics amendment that looks better. It incorporates skirmishers better. For example by limiting the effects of long range musketry (basically skirmishing at this scale) against Cavalry.

The Aide de Camp feature is a nice ‘realism’ feature but I think it will work better with some form of command dice roll to see if the orders arrive and when they can be executed. The whole turn delay for non-French is rather harsh from a balance perspective, though it gives some insights about the problems generals faced against the French system.