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

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.


  1. We played a couple of games with these rules last year and I enjoyed them. I found them better as a 2 player game than a 6 player one due to one 1 brigade being active at a time but I don't think that is a factor here. We had to improvise for the Scots and for non-standard units but both were easily handled.

    Since we were trialing various rules sets, we used an ordinary set of playing cards with a cross reference sheet. Though we were thinkimng about printing up business cards.

    The one I liked best was Charge Pikes by Wesley Rogers. We had to use some form of casualty markers since all of our figures were mounted 4 to a base. We only got 1 game in before the ECW quietly faded to oblivion again. I'd be tempted now to try one of the adaptations of Basic Impetus which also available free.

    btw perhap "in earnest" vs "in anger"?

    1. Thanks Ross - that's valuable input. One spin-off of trying to automate something is you find holes in the logic (for example, as I sit here I still have not found what the blazes artillery do in a melee in VwQ), so it's a useful additional exercise in understanding. I've also looked seriously at John Armatys' "Pike & Shot" rules (Dodo Publications), Trevor Raymond's "A Splendid Victory" and a number of others, including "Charge Pikes" and another game called "Charge Yr Pikes" - naturally, I can't remember which was which, but now I come to check I recall that Wesley Rogers' game is the one with the Later-WRG style casualties, with double hit on a 6 (which is a system I'm comfortable with), and is another set I intend to give a serious try to. I'm aware of Basic Impetus, though I haven't seen it, and I have had a look at the Perfect Captain offerings - I believe they are magnificent, but I haven't got my head around them yet - the "Civile Actions" game looks best for very small actions, but I wasn't brave enough (yet) to get into the heavier-weight Spanish Fury - Battle module.

      You are right - earnest is the word I was looking for. It must be a time of life thing - I find anger more readily available.

      Regards - Tony

  2. Well, the table and figures are laid out ready (might have over-dressed the table a bit!!)but like you can't decide on rules, I too have read lots inc Warhammer, for God's sake, again don't care for single figure figure removal, my main trouble is that I'm fixated on Fire & Fury style rules, one D10 and simple chart (not keen on Nap variant) but I'm sure we'll come to an agreement on the day ( only 2 days to go).Looking forward to it.

    1. Hi John - absolutely! Having suggested the use of Wesencraft, I've been swotting up, and I keep having that "just a minute - don't fancy that!" moment. I went and had a look at the Pike & Shot period rules in his Practical Wargaming book, and they look better (on a quick squint). I can't remember which book is earlier - I guess that the Pike and Musket book is the improved version, but some of the improvements are in the direction of early WRG. As you say, it'll be OK on the day. It is unlikely I'll have the computerised VwQ debugged and running smoothly by then, but I might.... I'll have my netbook with me, anyway.

      There was a time when I'd be sheepish about letting anyone see my bottom-of-the-range netbook, but nowadays I carry it with pride just because it isn't an iPad (and it doesn't overheat). Which isn't to say I don't secretly covet an iPad. Cheers - Tony

  3. I'll be interested to see where you end up with this. I've been (at least in theory) looking for an ECW set for a few years now. You don't mention Foundry's 1644, i looked at them and didn't take to them. They do, however, feature an excellent campaign system (which is the reason i originally bought them) that i thoroughly recommend. I can see it working well for an AWI campaing too, which is a bonus. I suspect i'll go with Terry Wise's set (which strikes me as quite simple and easily tweaked) until i get my hands on a copy of Forlorn Hope (which is the set recommended by every ECW expert i've consulted). Cheers.

    1. I didn't look at 1644 because I was warned off it by a couple of friends. The rule sets which seem to have the most devoted followings, as far as I could make out, are DBR (which is a kind of world standard - I have it on order but haven't studied it yet), Forlorn Hope (not the least of the claims made for it is that it isn't DBR(!) - I don't have a view on that) and Civile Actions and VwQ, both of which are loved passionately as fun games by their fans. I'll take any of these seriously!

    2. Best of luck with your search Foy and best of luck with the wily Cunningham.

  4. Hi,

    I used to play ECW games with a bunch of Sealed Knot veterans. We settled on Forlorn Hope rules as being the best representation of Civil War battle. We had many cracking games under those rules, always fun, never slow and they could handle some big games with no problems. Give them a try Foy, if I was to play ECW today I'd go right back to them.