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

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Rules - Field of Battle

Since 1970 or thereabouts I guess I've read many hundreds of sets of wargames rules - the number expands rapidly if I include boardgames. The proportion of these which I've actually played is really so small that often I wonder why I've wasted so much time on my researches - what is it I've been looking for? Typically I don't finish a first reading - my initial interest will suddenly be frozen out by my dislike of the morale rules, or the activation rules, or the potential requirement to rebase everything - or something. My hit rate for eventual buy-in is pathetic. For a while, a couple of years ago, I thought I was going to really go for Lasalle, but I managed to find enough areas of discomfort to avoid making a commitment. [Phew - that was a close call...]

At present I am supposed to be working on an update to my (slowly developing) ECW siege game (Leaguer - yes, all right, all right...) and the development of a hex-gridded game for my Napoleonics which allows for more tactical manoeuvre than the Commands & Colors games which have become the house standard. Over both of these I am feeling rather guilty, since I have had a splendid amount of help from Mark and Jay, respectively, and I am keen not to leave everything hanging - it seems, at best, a bit impolite. Problem with the siege game has been that the discussion (which has been excellent, by the way) has turned up a few more questions than answers of late, so some heavyweight re-thinking is needed. Problem with the detailed hex Napoleonic game (for smaller actions, you understand) is that my original idea of simply sticking extra activities into C&C just produced a mess of a game - the tactical additions were compromised by the join with C&C, and the beauties (and they are considerable) of C&C were wrecked by the fiddly additions. Thus I started again - the new game has a proportion of Neil Thomas in it, but develops some of Neil's ideas quite a bit. I'd reached the point with this where the next thing to do was some serious playtesting, to enable me to produce a good, robust, working draft. So that's where I am: playtesting to be arranged as soon as is practicable.

There's a lot going on, and it doesn't seem too helpful if I find myself reading yet more rules which are not on the plan, but that's what I've been doing. I have suddenly become very interested in Field of Battle, from Brent Oman's Piquet product family. I have been very interested in Piquet for years - I have the base rules and the Grognards supplement, and have read them numerous times. Always with the same result - I really like a lot of the ideas in there, but there are a good few things which are - well - too fussy for my taste. I am unlikely to become a regular user.

Field of Battle is a relative of Piquet, involves some of the same principles and philosophies, but is a more straightforward game - or at least it seems so to me. My interest was sparked by the blogged activities of Le Duc de Gobin and Sgt Steiner - excellent fellows both. I am grateful to M Le Duc for explaining the nature of the game (left to myself, I find Piquet's product range, and the overlaps within it, bewildering), and for guiding me through some of the basic ideas. I have now read the booklet twice, and will start a third reading next week. I have found nothing that turns me off. The game is card driven, and lends itself very well to solo play (a big plus for me), the unit basing is almost identical to the way my armies have been set up since 1972 [If you build it, they will come - though it might take a while...], it all makes the most excellent sense. It looks very like what I thought Lasalle might offer, when I had the hots for that. It also offers a tweakable base set of rules which will lend themselves to a wide range of horse-&-musket wars. I have now gone so far as to invest in a proper set of the cards from the publisher - the US postal rates make this more of a serious investment than I had anticipated - and I hope to receive these shortly when new stocks come in.

As interruptions go, this promises to be a worthwhile one. I am gently enthusiastic about this - not to replace my existing rule systems, but to provide a rewarding alternative. Let's see how it goes.

If it all turns to rat droppings, you may hear no more about it, but I'm not approaching it with that expectation.


  1. Guilty as charged m'lud.
    Will be most interesting to read further analysis.

    1. Thanks again for help, and for blogging about the game in the first place.


  2. Good luck with FoB. I played the original Piquet many years ago and, personally, I did not like it at all. I just could not buy into the model of the asynchronous initiative impulses. Long runs for one side made for a very boring game.

    1. I am a theoretical dabbler rather than an experienced user - I've read a lot of forum stuff about Piquet with gripes along similar lines. People seem either to love it or hate it. FoB seems more suitable for my own situation - the cleverness is still there, but the approach is pragmatic - if it wastes time, abstract it or drop it. I'm also more confident that FoB will support big actions efficiently.

      I'm interested, but I have to see how it goes in practice.

    2. The issue of one side dominating the Initiative for long spells seems to be offset in FoB by the Opportunity Fire concept - if your enemy is doing all the card-turning and moving for a period, you will certainly be busy shooting lumps out of him while he is about it. I retain an open mind, however!

  3. Hi Tony,

    Nice to hear that the Napoleonic rules are coming on. Let me know when you have a set for testing.



  4. So here's a test for a question I've had for a while - specifically, if you post a comment to a long-ago blog post, does anybody hear?
    I play Piquet a lot. Indeed, for my ACW games it is THE rule set (I have other rules, they play quite well too). I like Piquet because it is really good for solo games. It also tends to focus activity on the field, because at any stage in a phase, there are only so many Impetus points to spend. I totally understand Jonathan Freitag's point about 'long runs (of play) for one side', but that is easily overcome with some in house modifications (e.g. domino rules). As I work through ACW scenarios, I'm more concerned with standard unit sizes (4 bases) than with the basic mechanics of the rules. Overall, I'd urge you to give them a go - a nice ruleset with space to build in home-variants

    1. Hi Ivan - thanks for getting in touch. I've put some serious study into FoB now, and played a few solo games, and I was lucky enough to sit in with some experienced players in Ireland a month or two ago. All very impressive - on the whole, the game is well thought out and works well. It does take a lot of mental effort - there are lots of things to remember, though less than the full Piquet Grognards game (which I always thought was a good game, though playing it could be more like a job of work than a recreation).

      Current stumbling block for me is (for example) the Leadership cards - they crop up a few times each turn, and in a large battle that means (subject to throwing natural 1's and thus getting stopped in your tracks) throwing selected pairs of dice for EVERY unit which has losses, or is OOC, or is routing. That is just a huge rigmarole - in a solo game, especially a large one, I very quickly reach a point where i would rather go and do something else rather than go through all this again. That particular process is a great advert for introducing computers into wargaming... - that was a sort of joke, but what I do think is that I very quickly lose interest in carrying through that amount of grunt. The game, as I see it at the moment, is far too procedural, which is a problem for me. This is disappointing, since I've invested a lot of time and a fair bit of money, and had some very generous help from established players.

      As things stand, the one change which would get my enthusiasm fired up again would be a very large tweak (surgical, even) to the Leadership card ritual. The Move cards are less of a problem, since one dice roll will determine the movement allowance for a bunch of units (a Command Group, in fact) - I can live with that, but the Leadership card's rally function is just a huge amount of work - fiddly, fiddly.

      I've never been particularly interested in micro-managing the position and strength of broken units anyway, so I'm not coming from a good place with this.

      Seriously, I intend to get this going again, but probably not in the published form.

  5. Hi MSFoy. Thank you for answering the basic question (old posts...do they die?) Apparently not.

    So, procedural, rigmarole etc....

    I hadn't really thought about this before (WRG in 80's...big hiatus, quite different rule sets now). But yes, PIQUET is quite a rigmarole. Each phase, you have to determine which side has initiative, reset the clocks, play through the initiative, and keep track of results (Keeping track is important, as e.g. an officer check card will require you to know how many hits a command had taken when assessing if Brigadier Bullhorn is now actually dead, which will affect future performance of his brigade.) Add in the time between turns to reset the card decks, and the time required to set up the unit and command stats, and I'd never recommend PIQUET as a pick-up game.

    In contrast, CCN seems pretty simple - play the cards, move the units across the hexes, roll the funky dice... voila! result. And this is not unattractive -

    So why then do I stick with PIQUET? (classic PIQUET, "Hallowed Grounds"; I cant comment on FOB except that my understanding is that it streamlined/simplified the concept)

    Well, in the field I play (Western theatre, ACW, 1863/1864) where most troups were veteran but amateur, and many brigadiers amateur and/or drunk, simply getting a brigade into the right place, in the right formation, at the right time, was a big challenge. And I see this reflected in the way PIQUET, Hallowed Grounds plays out on the tabletop. I also like the way the these rules, through turn-to-turn manipulation of the sequence deck, factor in exhaustion and the increasing difficulty of maintaining central command.

    Anyway.....snowy here in Michigan, and I should probably dig out my car. Assuming the Leadership card is the same as Officer Check in classic PIQUET, (tedious but necessary) but hope to hear more.......

    1. "...brigadiers amateur and/or drunk..." - love it! My apparent assault on FoB is not intended to dismiss the game as a waste of time - far from it - but at present my aim is to stage games involving 80 units or more, and at that size the Leadership card is a heart-stopper. I can see a lot of merit in the rules, though. Always have - right from my first reading of full, classic Piquet. One aspect of the big games of FoB I was involved in in Ireland was that in a multiple player game, everyone can get on with their own bit, but it all comes back together again for the next card - that was slick.

  6. 'Brigadiers amateur and/or drunk' is a big feature of 1862/1863 refights... and kinda handy from a solo perspective (it aint me, he's drunk - helps to reconcile weird results into a narrative). I totally take your point re big battles; I couldn't manage a PIQUET battle with more that 20 units per side, simply too much paperwork. As it is, the scenarios I've run over the last couple of years have taken multiple days to play out.

  7. but I do think that if you want your wargames to be slightly more granular, and hence less abstract, PIQUET is a good way to go.

  8. You have me beat at "80 units or more". More than ~ 20 units a side, and PIQUET quickly becomes work, not play.