Last week I finally (finally) managed to set up a range-finder game of For King and Parliament - Count Goya was kind enough to travel down from his estates up North to take part.
What follows is not a serious critical review of FK&P - since the game is becoming very successful and popular, and is played enthusiastically by a number of people whose taste and judgement I respect, anything I write here is likely to say more about me than it does about the game, and much has already been expressed about its merits. If you have not played it yourself, there is a good chance you will have seen one of the spectacular demonstration games at wargame shows in recent months. On the other hand, whether or not it suits me is - inescapably - an important personal criterion.
I did have some concurrent distractions going on in the Real World, which is a lame excuse really, but I found it quite difficult to get up to speed with the rules. I had no background involvement with its Ancient and Medieval father, To the Strongest (and I still reckon that makes a big difference to understanding the concepts). I found a lot of excellent ideas in it, and I very much liked the spirit in which the rules were written and presented. I have also benefitted, I must add, from some very kind after-sales consultancy from the co-authors, and from on-line friends and blog contacts who have played it already, so I have little or no justification for being obtuse.
It's not that the game is complex - it is a little unusual, maybe even quirky, in some respects, but that's all grist to the wassname. I found there was a lot to remember - a lot of exceptional combinations of things which need to be jotted down somewhere [example - although I thought I was OK with this one, I suddenly had a wobbly moment during our game - I was sure that when "Dutch" style horse attack "Swedish" style, the melee has to switch around so that the defenders become the attackers (in rule terms). Damned if I could find it in the rule-book in the heat of the moment, so we had to fix up a Convention of the Day. I was disappointed with myself...]
With all due respect, I have to say that the official QRS is among the three or four worst I have ever seen - it is verbose, yet it seems to avoid saying anything about combat, for example. I was very grateful for the inclusion of a very good index in the book though - I'd have been in big trouble without it.
I had real problems getting my head around the Activation Penalties rules, but it turned out that I was confused by a couple of errors in the worked examples in the book. I know that Ver 1.1 of the rules has these slips corrected. I have no problems at all with the gridded battlefield, that's all pleasingly straightforward (though Morschauser followers may object to the fact that I find square-based terrain a lot more alien than my usual hexes). The use of playing cards did not alarm me, provided I could keep the tabletop clutter down to acceptable levels - I have bought in supplies of half-sized patience cards, which helps a lot, and have tried to develop a very OCD regime for tidying up after each turn. One thing which is actually suggested in the rule book, and to which we should have attached more weight, is the need to keep the "To Hit" and "Save" cards physically separated from the "Activation" cards - it is important to keep the former on your baseline, and tidy them away immediately after play, and to keep the latter on the table, placed tidily alongside the unit or leader to whom they apply. My newly-developed house protocols also require the cards to be tidied and placed face down with each brigade when its activation is complete (so you can see which brigades haven't done anything yet this turn), and we tidy all cards away and shuffle them back into the deck when the player's turn is finished. This game includes a lot of potential for making a real mess with the playing equipment, which is aesthetically suboptimal and especially so if you use small figures like mine. You have to be able to take photos of your game, after all...
On the same theme, there is a lot of information to be carried around with the units. I was a bit alarmed at the outset with the potential for the game to become buried in counters. The systems are well thought out, no doubt, but I think it is necessary for each player to decide for himself how he keeps track of the unit info. I have a long-held hatred of off-table rosters, which I find distracting and which disrupt the on-table flow. I am also famously cack-handed when it comes to knocking over piles of tiddlywinks, or leaving the things adjacent to the wrong unit, which may be explained as the Fog of War, but doesn't help the already-confused.
I got a lot of help and good ideas from a number of people (to whom I have offered my thanks previously), and I adopted (to some extent pinched) a system of small, attached labels, laminated, on which records may be maintained in dry-wipe whiteboard pen. The labels actually worked out pretty well, though the magnetic attachment system proved unreliable - labels kept getting separated from their units, which was fiddly and inconvenient. I had hoped to avoid it, but I think I had better make proper sabots for the units to stand on - it will simplify moving, and tidy things up a lot. That's sort of pencilled in as a must-do.
One aspect of the game which I appreciated (perversely, maybe) is that to some extent it is an ideas toolkit - it is not overly prescriptive - there is a need for each player adopting the game to think seriously about how he will set it up physically - what size squares, how (and if) he uses playing cards, or chits-in-a-bag, or decimal dice, how he adopts (or adapts) the information counters system to suit his scales and his sense of aesthetics (and level of OCD).
I set up a decent-looking game the night before the arranged date, and spent some of the night worrying about it, so that first thing the next morning I came downstairs and cut the size of the game down by about half. That was a sound idea - we played very slowly, since we spent a lot of time with our heads in the book, but we did OK. As units collected "disorder" markers, their fighting effectiveness fell away, and for a while there was the impression of a relentless (occasionally bewildering) series of card drawings which for the most part didn't achieve anything. With more time and experience (and wisdom), of course, we'd have put more effort into pulling units back out of the action and attempting to rally them back into shape, in a more soldierly manner. The card play is entertaining - in a social game, there is good scope for associated banter and mock applause, etc, but for a solo game I am not so sure. It might be a grunt.
We didn't finish the game, but that wasn't the point. I am left with a recollection that, even in a small game, each player's turn is quite long, and it is easy to forget where you are up to, especially when units are fighting back in melee, or returning fire - I think I might try to add a little jotter system to remind me whose turn it is. We didn't use Victory Medals (though I strongly fancy the chocolate coins idea) - we counted backwards on my ex-billiards scoreboard.
Unfortunately, my period of induction to the game has coincided with some issues elsewhere, but for a couple of months the rulebook has accompanied me on train journeys and so on, and has been my bedtime reading matter. It is a genuine relief to have advanced as far as playing a game - I have a better feel for what is involved now, I can put some more focused effort into setting up the next game. I can also put the bloody book away for a few weeks and think about something else!
The game is good - it is not the life-changing experience some might have hoped for, but it will doubtless become more familiar and more intuitive. My first impressions are a bit mixed, but overall probably more favourable than my first efforts at Commands & Colors, which has become a way of life for me now!
Some pictures follow - I won't attempt any kind of logical narrative, since it was a rules try-out, and there isn't one. Apologies for the cut-price scenery - I'm working on it.
|The trial game - if the cards behave themselves, and co-operate, you can get a lot done in a single turn, and move some of your units a long way|
|Horse - we adopted a convention that "Swedish"-style (galloper) horse deployed as a line of 3 bases, and "Dutch"-style as a column of 4|
|Foot getting up close|
|No Victory Medals for us - too mean, for one thing - just the old scoreboard waiting patiently for some action|
|This and the remainder of the photos are here under false pretence - this is the original, larger game I set up the night before, which would have been nice to look at but a really bad idea for getting to grips with the rules.|