Napoleonic, WSS & ECW wargaming, with a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Monday 6 January 2014

ECW – Gallopers, or Whatever

Tweakle, tweakle, melee rule;
Still not ryte, thou bless’d owld fule 

Artwork by Paul Hitchin
Dalliance with my variation on Commands & Colors rules for the English Civil War is going well. The games bash along nicely, but my preferred “suck it and see” approach to changing the rules has sometimes produced some unexpected results.

One area of study has been the rules for Melee Combat involving horse. For those who are interested in this stuff, and anyone else who has a few minutes to spare, let me explain a little.

Commands & Colors is a boardgame. I’m quite comfortable with this fact, though occasionally stones fall on my house because I have painted hexes on my tabletop. The advantages of using C&C with miniatures, for me, are that it works, its mechanisms are simple almost to the point of being crude, there are no debates about what happens in certain situations and the game trots along nicely – invariably reaching a conclusion which all parties can understand. All of which adds up to the thing being – well, a lot of fun.

My ECW game is actually based on the Napoleonics version of C&C. My changes to the basic rule set reflect my understanding of how cavalry (sorry, horse) operated in this period. As much for my own benefit as anyone else’s, I shall set down a simplified version of this – if the simplicity is verging on the infantile, that’s OK – that is the sort of person I am.

In the Thirty Years War, according to my sources, there were two main types of horse – cuirassiers and general-purpose cavalry usually referred to as arquebusiers. The accepted way of using them was based on the methods and training of the Spanish and Dutch schools. As follows: 
  1. Horse have pistols. These pistols are heavy, inaccurate, unreliable, almost impossible to load on a moving horse and serve mostly as a cross between a badge of a gentleman’s rank and a cudgel. 
  2. When ordered to advance to the attack, the horse trot steadily up to the opposition, get their pistols ready (usually in a surprising, tipped-over-sideways posture which apparently increases the chance of the priming igniting properly), get as close as possible (preferably right in their faces) and attempt to fire (did it go off? – oh bugger – I’ve got another one here – hang on…). 
  3. If the enemy flinches, or otherwise appear to be discouraged by all this carry-on, the discharged pistols are discarded, or possibly thrown at the foe, swords are drawn and the whole thing becomes a lot more energetic, one side or other being chased from the field, cut down, captured etc.
You can see this would be an unpleasant event to be caught up in, but it presents a strange, lumpy blend of chivalrous protocol and loyal commitment to the fashionable technology. At least in theory, at its peak this pistol ritual was developed into some complicated formation manoeuvres – specifically the Caracole (derived from the Spanish word for a snail, which I believe was associated with the shape of the turning movement rather than the speed with which it was delivered) – which in hindsight seem better suited to the parade ground than the battlefield.

"…pistol? - what pistol…?…"
A number of rule sets I have read make a particular feature of this pistol skirmishing, and even of the caracole, but it doesn’t look like anything I would wish to use in a game, unless it was a 1:1 skirmish – fortunately, the caracole seems to have been abandoned by the 1640s. Managing the loading and firing of individual pistol volleys within a brigade-level wargame seems to me the sort of thing my late friend and guru, Allan Gallacher, would have termed “Fannying About” – molecular-level activity of little consequence.

According to the story, King Gustavus Adolfus of Sweden (or some influential party in his gang) decided, probably correctly, that the pistol was not yet ready to be used in such a manner, and that it made more sense to forget about it and just jump straight to the sword bit and – since you then didn’t have to worry about aiming a pistol, you could thus get a bit of a move on as a result. One can almost visualize the shocked expressions of struggling pistol men being charged in this barbaric manner…

Righto – having thus reached the limits of my own attention span, I have adopted the convenient and widely used convention that my ECW cavalry will break down into 3 types – “Gallopers”, who are Swedish-style charging horse who just rush in with swords, rather than fiddling around with pistols, “Trotters”, who are the more cautious pistol chaps, and Cuirassiers, who are heavily armoured, slow-moving Trotters. I have also decided to rise above the irritation caused by these modern wargaming names for the classes, which generate a lot of heat and some contempt among purists. If you are offended by the names then you are absolutely correct – please be assured that when I say Gallopers, what I really mean is “that type of horse which are not, and never were, actually called Gallopers, but which I incorrectly and sloppily refer to as Gallopers entirely for my own convenience”. And similarly for the Trotters - I hope that makes everything all right.

Anyway – where was I? – oh yes – Gallopers. Within my C&C-based ECW rules, Cuirassiers, being heavy,  have a 2-hex move, Gallopers (which includes a lot of early-period Royalists) have a 3-hex move and Trotters also have a 3-hex move, though any Trotters moving into contact with the enemy are limited to 2 hexes, to allow for all this faffing about with pistols, and keeping everything calm in the approach. Gallopers  get an extra Combat Die in a melee, to allow for the extra elan and momentum and shock effect and suchlike – which seems reasonable – but they only get it in a newly formed melee in which they are the attackers. In other words, they do not get this in a melee which is continuing from an earlier turn, nor in any bonus melee resulting from the C&C “Cavalry Breakthrough” rule, whereby a cavalry unit which wins a melee may occupy the hex vacated by the enemy, and optionally move a further hex, and may fight an extra melee immediately (i.e. in the same turn). Neither do I allow Gallopers to claim this extra bonus die if they are “battling back”, in C&C speak, having been themselves attacked.

My intention, as you will gather, was to restrict this bonus to sections of the combat in which the Gallopers had the initiative and had a definite extra shock impact.

I am still testing to see how this all works out – the recent debacle of the Battle of Netherfield demonstrated an extreme consequence of the horse getting a run of luck (mumble, mumble), which is clearly something that has to be checked over.

An unexpected side-effect has shown up in a couple of subsequent replays of the same test game; since an extra Combat Die is a significant bonus, it is a smart move for the Parliamentarian (Trotter) horse to attack first, so that the Gallopers are restricted to “battling back” and do not get the bonus die. The result is that the Trotter horse have definitely become very aggressive – unrealistically so. In an attempt to reflect a real tactical situation in the game, I have generated distinctly unrealistic behaviour on the part of the Trotters.

I can solve this at a stroke by allowing the Gallopers the bonus die even when they are battling back, in which case there is no particular advantage for the non-Gallopers in making pre-emptive attacks (other than the obvious one that they get first blow, and only the survivors will fight back). The downside of this instant fix is that the Gallopers become even more formidable than they were already. Hmmm.

We’ll try it out, anyway. I really do like fiddling around with rules, but only on the understanding that one day they settle down into something which is demonstrably sensible.


  1. Still smarting from my competition entry not even getting a mention - and I sent a comment as well as an email. Why do you allow entries by email anyway?

    Your galloper cavalry would not stand and wait to be attacked I thik they would make it a point of honour to countercharge on every occasion, so bonus die is probably correct on battling back. Downside for gallopers should be lack of control - does this feature in the game?

    Your quote from A Gallacher seems to be from one of his more polite days. Have you got his book btw?

    Cheers - Lou

  2. Hi Lou - I put an email address in my profile since a number of people who make contact choose not to have a Google a/c - for political and anti-spam reasons. Don't ask.

    Countercharging comment is valid. The lack of control thing appears only for "rash" gallopers, which is a further subset i didn't mention in the post - they must always take the option to take breakthrough and make bonus attacks - they are only excused if the only target is in a village or a wood or something inappropriate.

    Your competition entry (for which i thank you) failed on a number of counts, one of which was the fact that i didn't understand it - and I did try.

    I don't have Allan's book - which book?

    It is my intention to put a link to an updated version of the C&C_ECW rules documentation, but at the moment I don't have the facility to print a Word document as a pdf - I haven't got deskpdf for the iMac yet, and it's stopped working with Word on the Windows machine. I knew that you wanted to know that.

    Cheers - Tony

  3. The law of unintended consequences is always an interesting one, particularly in wargames rules. I recall reading a story about a chap who reading an account of a Napoleonic column that fell into disarray after a chance shot killed all the drummers and decided to account for this in his own rules.

    The end result was that cannon ended up being carefully aimed in an attempt to snipe the drummers and paralyse the column. This tactic became a mainstay of the game for nearly a year.

    Perhaps only allow trotters to melee opposing gallopers on a special card (i.e. cavalry charge), that still allows for them to pre-emptively charge on occasion, but makes it suitably rare without over egging the gallopers.

    That said, any army that fields Prince Rupert and gallopers should simply win by turning up and being beautiful at the enemy.

  4. A most interesting read Tony - I can see the problems you are having with getting the balance correct. I have always been slightly concerned at the clear distinction made between 'Trotters' and 'Gallopers' in ECW rules generally.

    My take has always been that Royalists had an advantage in terms of both the quality of the horses and the ability of the riders to control them. I'm not saying that all were sons of landowners and Gentlemen but many were, and they were practically born to the saddle. This bred a confidence in the Royalist units that made them tough adversaries in the field. I honestly believe the training and tactics were of less significance than the elan with which they fought. Both sides used pistols in melee, as you say usually at extreme close quarters where it was not uncommon to touch the armour of the foe before discharching (as evidenced by Atkins), and even then it might not fully penetrate a breastplate. Once discharged it would often be thrown at the enemy and swords would be drawn. But even a good buff coat could turn a sword cut and my thoughts are that only when one side would break and turn away would the real slaughter begin. It's hard to model this in a wargame and especially in C&C style rules. I guess what I'm trying to say here is morale/spirit/ horsemanship is what might win the day. Sure Rupert's elite and hard trained units had an edge, but they represented only a fraction of the troops/regiments raised up and down the country during the war. IN my mind I'm certain that the great bulk of troops raised at local level would never have recieved this level of training and the clear distinction between the Swedish and old Dutch style tactics.

    Just my opinion of course, but something else to think about as you work towards tweaking the adaption.