Saturday, 24 March 2012
ECW - Victory Without Quarter
I've been very busy this last week reading and comparing English Civil War rules. I've read a lot of rules, and some are very good, but I keep finding things which I don't fancy. If you like some or all of these things, then good for you - my main priority in starting this period is to keep myself happy, so if you disagree with anything that I say here then you are probably right...
I was surprised how many of the rules use singly-based figures - I don't like this system at the best of times, so the prospect of figures armed with dirty great pikes on single bases fills me with dread. I can see the advantages for flexibility of unit organisation and formations that this might offer, but don't want to go that way. A "best of all worlds" arrangement might be achieved by mounting single bases with magnetic sheet on collective sabots faced with steel paper. Thus far, my experiments with this approach indicate that it is good for keeping the little bases in order, but I have problems when I fail to remember to pick the stands up by the stand itself. Pick the stands up by the figures and they will tip towards each other, things fall apart...
I have been strongly tempted to go back to my Old School Charlie Wesencraft rules - I was a big fan of his Horse & Musket rules years ago, but I've never used his Pike & Musket rules, and it seems likely that I'm going to try these out in anger (perhaps that's the wrong phrase?) next week. In fact I'm starting to cool on this idea - the 36-inch light cavalry charge move seems remarkably spritely - I've seen aerial dog fight games with smaller moves than this. We've agreed that next week we will reduce Wesencraft's moves and ranges by half, or maybe use centimetres instead of inches, but I find another thing I am not enthusiastic about is the casualty table - I really dislike pieces of paper on the battlefield, and I prefer casualty calcs which are understandable and intuitive. I have considered Terry Wise's ECW rules, but there is a touch too much tactical detail in there for me. Forlorn Hope is obviously a quality product, but I don't care for the Vintage-WRG style casualty tables - the historic stuff and the organisational and uniform material are first rate, however.
And so it goes on. Overall, the rule set I have found most appealing on most counts is "Victory Without Quarter", by Clarence Harrison, which until recently was available as a free download from Quindia Studios. I like the multiple-figure bases, the absence of rosters and record keeping, the stand-level calcs, the non-removal of casualties, the simple mechanisms and general logic and flow of the game. I have not actually played the game so far, you understand, and I have had a few problems with getting a full understanding of the rules. They are well written, and everything is there, but sometimes you have to look for the bits. To understand how melees work, for example, you have to assemble a collection of elements from each of the sections on The Order Deck, Commanders, Unit Status, Melees (not unreasonably) and Morale. I am gradually getting the hang of where everything is, and I am reluctant to criticise, but things could have been structured more helpfully. I've had a go at reducing the rules to a short Quick-Ref sheet, and it is not straightforward.
Main issue, and the reason for the hours I've committed this week, is the card system for activation. This is absolutely central to the game - there is a card for each unit and general officer, plus some additional cards which allow universal reloading, artillery fire and so on. The card system looks to me like both a strength and an area for some concern. The player is required to make up his own pack of cards, which will be specific to each game being played. I really don't fancy the idea of spoiling the game by my sloppy card shuffling, or even of having the game based around nasty-looking handwritten cards. I have a feeling that an automated version would be smoother and less clunky for me - I'm going to give it a try, anyway. I've been writing a program to automate the game. If I am to rely on being told what to do next, I am just as happy for a computer to do the telling - it cuts down on the bits of cardboard, and I know for a fact that there can be no doubts about the computer's ability to shuffle. I'm also looking at the viability of having an option to have the game based on hexes - thus far, it looks like a goer. I am keeping the program so that it is switchable - at any point in the game, you can switch to hexes or back to inches, so all bets are carefully hedged.
That is really all I want to say about this at the moment. I won't have any ECW figures ready for fighting for a month or two, so I have some time to finalise my choice and implementation of rules.
Elsewhere, Week 9 of the Solo Peninsular War Campaign produced very little action worth noting - having had bad experience of the effects of trying to march in Winter conditions, both armies are consolidating and pretty much sitting tight, waiting for April and the better campaigning weather. I'll include Week 9 with Week 10 in my report in week or so.