Having oscillated between hot and cold on the subject of the Victory without Quarter ECW rules for some time now, and having gone so far as to do a fair amount of amendment and rewriting of those rules, the announcement that once again I am not happy with some aspects of them might generate a range of reaction somewhere between mild eye-rolling and total indifference. So the fool can’t make up his mind – so what’s new?
My concerns with VwQ are mainly about the activation rules. I’m really still not very happy with them – not even with my own revamped version – and they get a mixed press on TMP and elsewhere. Taking the core activation system out of VwQ might be likened to removing the nervous system from your favourite cat. The results are unpredictable. You might not like what you are left with. Might be better to think of something else to do instead.
As a last ditch effort to stop short of a completely fresh start, I’ve been doing a bit more reading about activation approaches, to see what else might just fit with the rest of VwQ. I have been revisiting all sorts of games. I liked the activation rules in the latest version of Ross’s Hearts of Tin rules, and these formed the basis of some further scribblings of my own, and I had an exchange of thoughts on this with Martin. As it happens, Martin recently purchased the John Curry reprint of Donald Featherstone’s Wargaming Pike and Shot (first published 1977), which is not the first place I would have thought of looking for ideas on activation. Martin’s enthusiasm encouraged me to buy my own copy, however. Well, well.
It's actually a pretty good book. The bulk of it consists of scenario descriptions of battles from the Renaissance and 30 Years' War period, but a new bit of this revised edition is a summary of some previously unpublished rules used by Don, and there is a discussion of turn sequences which uses a simple activation rule (or, as Don calls it, motivation – which I rather like) – it involves a fair amount of dice-rolling, so it might be a bit labour intensive for my taste, but it looks interesting. I haven’t tried it out yet. Naturally, I couldn’t just use it as published, so I’ve started by meddling with it and tweaking to fit with my own games better. What follows is not Don F’s rule, but it is influenced by it and is not unlike it.
Let's start with a slight detour. First thing you need for this is some easy way of identifying units which are part of the same formation, or which all report to the same commander. A while ago, when I was under the spell of Sam Mustafa’s Fast Play Grande Armée, I adopted a very handy idea of his, which was to put coloured markers on the bases of units which were brigaded together, so you could see the breadth of an individual general’s command at a single glance. Naturally, once again, I fiddled with the system until it looked like this:
This is a Napoleonic example – here you see some labels waiting to be cut out and attached to unit bases. This is a collection of leaders and units from Maucune’s Division, which you will see has the distinguishing colour of yellow. The brigades are identified by the colour of the inner square. Thus it is very easy to identify all Maucune’s units (yellow outer square), or all the units which report to General Montfort, who is one of Maucune’s brigade commanders (red within yellow). These labels are much smaller in reality than they appear here – I laminate them, cut them out and attach with a smear of BluTack. [OCD on the battlefield.]
Right, you may be thinking, this must be leading up to something. There is obviously some reason why we might wish to identify higher formations in this way. And you will be correct - at long last, we come to the ideas about activation.
1. A brigade should consist of between 3 and 8 units. If a higher level of organisation is suitable for your game, a division may comprise between 2 and 4 such brigades.
2. When the player takes his turn, he nominates one of his generals. In a big game, he may have a choice of nominating 1 of his division commanders or up to two of his brigade commanders – decide for yourself how this would work.
a. For the nominated general he now rolls 2D6 for each unit in that general’s command for which he wishes to issue an order – this is where the coloured labels come in handy, so you don’t miss any.
b. A natural roll of 9 or more activates the unit – give them a counter or something – they are under orders for this turn.
c. Otherwise, adjust the dice roll as follows:
i. For a good general, add 1
ii. For a poor general, deduct 1 – sort-of-OK generals require no adjustment
iii. For a good unit, add 1
iv. For a poor unit, or one with heavy losses (shaken, whatever...) deduct 1
v. For each complete 6 inches (or whatever you fancy) that the unit is distant from the general, deduct 1 (for hexes, this would be “for each hex beyond the first...”)
d. If the result is 4 or more, the unit is under orders
e. This continues until all units under the general’s command are activated, or until one fails the test, in which case no more units are tested. This means that it is important to take care over the order in which units are tested for activation – go for the good guys who are near at hand first – one failure and that’s your lot for this general on this turn.
3. The activated units now move, fight and all that stuff, as you would expect. End of turn.
4. Then the opposing player nominates one (or maybe two) of his generals, and so on. And that’s it, really. It may involve too much dice throwing, I'm not sure, but it has a few ingredients which appeal:
a. It’s simple, and easy to understand
b. Restricting activation to a single general keeps the game focused and ensures a quick rotation of turns
c. The fact that you can choose the general gives more direct control – less of a random element than a card system, for example, but some bad luck with the dice can still make life difficult.
5. And, as an add-on, we propose that any general who is a casualty has to be replaced, but should be replaced by an officer who is one degree worse.
Re-reading this now, it seems to me that most of this is familiar anyway, and I’m not sure why it has taken Martin and me so much correspondence to get to this stage. I am not even sure that I shall go on to test it, though I have thoroughly enjoyed the development process. However, in a spirit of what I hope will charitably be taken as innocent enthusiasm, I offer it for your thoughts.