A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Commands & Colors: Napoleonics - Observations #1

I have to remind myself, right here at the start, that I have bought GMT's new game primarily because I intend to use it with miniatures. I have made up the troop blocks - all the game's own equipment is ready now, to the house's rather rigorous standards (as discussed). The blocks, supplied hex board and scenery tiles will all be useful for gaining a bit of practice, but I confess that I find board games a bit unsatisfactory visually - even though this is rather an attractive one.

The other thing I have to remind myself about, and I'll write this in bold characters, to increase my chances of remembering, is that I will not start changing the rules. At least not until I have some experience of the game as published.

CCN's pocket-sized Waterloo scenario

The scenarios supplied start off with Rolica, and finish with Waterloo, no less. Rolica has about a dozen units a side. At Waterloo, the Allies have 21 units in total, including 3 batteries. Righto. Observation 1 is that there is an obvious amount of implicit scaling of the game to suit the size of the original action. That is certainly one way to fight a big battle with fewer troops (and it is only a game, after all...), but I have some initial misgivings about the distortion this can introduce to the structure of the armies, and the potential for (for example) musket ranges to get out of proportion to the ground scale. Having recently gone through the process of developing Grand Tactical rules of my own, and having consciously rejected the approach of just pretending big battles were smaller, with smaller armies on a smaller field, I'm pretty focused on the areas of potential discomfort. OK - maybe I'll avoid their Waterloo scenario for the time being.

Observation 2 - I quite fancy trying some rather larger actions - not ridiculous, of course, but involving a few more units, on a larger board. I could do with a little more information on how they design the scenarios - in particular how they fix the number of command cards to be used with the armies as deployed, and how they set the victory conditions (which in CCN is "the number of victory flags"). By inspection, it looks as though the number of command cards for each commander is something like a third of the number of units in his army, rounded up. That's fine - I can use that to create my own battles, but an obvious scalability question looms. The command cards are played singly, and allow a number of units to do something - this number is not large, and it may be that for actions involving more than, say, 25 units a side, I may have to alter the game so command cards are played in twos. This is a first guess - I'm not sure how this will work. Initially I will be trying small actions, and it could be that the proposed La Grande Battle extension set will provide command cards capable of rather more extensive orders.

Observation 3 - The troop classifications will need a bit of generalising - units are described as Grenadiers, Guard, Militia etc, and I have no problems with these descriptions, but there will have to be some conventions so that I can remember that, for example, poorly-trained line troops might be classified as "militia" for the purposes of the game, even when they are evidently nothing of the sort.

Militia in trouble

Observation 4 - there are some very nice bits in the game. Naturally, the bits I am most pleased with are the sections in the movement rules which are almost identical with my own hex-based game - sound judgement, GMT! No - this isn't just self-congratulation, it's simply something less I'll need to re-learn! The combat dice bear various symbols, some of which cause casualties and one (a flag symbol) can cause a one-hex retreat. Retreats may be ignored a bit in certain terrain situations, or for good quality troops, but if the rules say a unit must retreat, then retreat they must. If for some reason they are unable to retreat as required then they will lose blocks (subunits), as extra casualties. The Militia are treated specially - they retreat 3 hexes for each flag, which means, if they cannot retreat, they lose 3 blocks for each flag they are forced to ignore. Since an infantry battalion will normally be 4 blocks, this means that the unit is effectively wrecked - retreats for Militia are bad news, they either lose a lot of ground or a lot of men. I like this. It's simple and it's elegant.

Observation 5 is from the smart-ass department - one of the supplied troop classes for the blocks is Portuguese heavy cavalry. Naturally, my hand shoots up - please, miss, the Portuguese don't have heavy cavalry. That is correct, comes the answer, but they do when they are pretending to be Dutch Belgians, or whatever, so go and stand in the corner, and try to buck your ideas up.

1 comment:

  1. I had the same reaction to the Portuguese heavy cavalry!

    The rating of troops is subjective and entirely relative to the scenario. This I think is one of the strengths if the game because it cuts down massively on special rules and exceptions.