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

Friday, 27 April 2018

Field of Battle - Rules Try-Out

Today, Count Goya - having a rare day off-duty from running his mysterious empire - kindly visited Chateau Foy to help with a first attempt at playing with my new Piquet Field of Battle rules.

It all went pretty well, really - I have to say I've been doing a lot of homework in preparation. These days I find new rules quite daunting - especially a game as unusual in style and philosophy as FoB. We had a small trial action - about a dozen units a side on a very simple terrain.

Trying out rules requires a bit of mental adjustment - you have to forget about playing a game - and never mind at all about winning the thing - the trick is to try all sorts of suicidal cavalry charges against infantry lines and all that - to see what happens. That is the point of the exercise.

With hindsight, I'd have been better to follow Mark D's advice and start with a game where all the leaders and units were straight vanilla - as it was, I decided to follow the randomiser rules and create forces with units of varying quality, just to see how it went. This places a lot of reliance on the little stickers bearing the information for each unit, so it might have been a good idea also if I had made the labels big enough to read more easily(!), but no matter - it's all a learning process.

Simple, minimalist terrain featuring low-kudos cork table-mat hills. Small field (boards
plain side up - they really are hex-free on the reverse, you see).
1809 Spaniards vs French - usual stuff. The Spanish army was officially classified
Abysmal, with Leadership ratings and Sequence Card deck to suit.
Smoke markers indicate units which cannot fire again until a Firepower card turns up
FoB Quick Reference Sheet - my edited version - with (optional) Ninky Nonk attached
A gizmo, but a useful one - an electric shuffling machine, which makes short (though
noisy) work of the task of shuffling the (sleeved) cards to the standard necessary to keep
the game working. As an aside, I note that this machine causes interference on
DAB radio - maybe we should have bought a more expensive one?
The game, it goes without saying, is intriguing, well thought out and, I believe, worthy of study. We were slow and halting today, as we had to discuss how the rules worked, and double-check just about everything (the rules manual is big and thorough, but it is not always easy to find the bit you are looking for among the numerous examples), so it was quite hard work, but we certainly knew a lot more about the game when we had finished. Familiarity will make it a lot more slick and straightforward, I am sure; my main problems today were to do with lack of facility in identifying and selecting the correct poly-dice (and stopping the damned things hiding in odd corners of the table), and with the fact that I'm really not used to a free-form (non-gridded) game these days - certainly not without a knowledgeable umpire to hold my hand. However you look at it, measuring everything is a bit of a pain in the wassname, and so much of the action today seemed to take place in odd angles between units, where the lack of space and the alignments never quite fitted comfortably with my limited understanding of how the rules work. Entirely my own problem, I appreciate. I would be very shame-faced to be starting thinking already about how the game might benefit from being placed on a gridded board, but it is hard not to!

I shall persevere, and I'm sure it will all seem more natural and feel smoother next time. We used a very basic terrain, so there's not a lot to look at here - the photos are really just to prove we got it on the table, and came out undismayed! I'm looking forward to trying again soon, but an early priority for me is to get a look at some more experienced players doing it properly, and I'm working on that, hoping to set something up.

My thanks to Goya for his company and help, and most especially to Darren for his commendable patience and sound guidance over the last few weeks.

Separate Topic - Nothing to do with anything: when I was checking out the Marston Moor battlefield a few months ago, it occurred to me that it would be rather droll to have the battlefield monument appearing on the tabletop for the miniature game. Doesn't seem so amusing now, I guess, but I was impressed enough with the idea to order a suitable specimen from a model railway supplier. In fact the item was out of stock, and the matter dragged on for long enough for me to become unsure whether I'd actually cancelled the order. Eventually I decided I had, and thought no more about it. Marston Moor came and went - twice, in fact, if you count the postponed attempt when we were snowed off. Long after everything was finished and put away and written up, I received an email this week to say that my monument was now in stock and had been posted, and it duly arrived this afternoon. It's quite a handsome item, I guess - it will have to appear in a battle somewhere or other soon, but in the meantime here is a picture, simply to commemorate the passing of a half-baked idea and the uncertainty of medium-term memory. Regard it as a memorial to all those good intentions that don't quite work out. I think it is probably generic enough to serve in a number of contexts and centuries, so no doubt we'll see it around.

Memorial to an unexceptional idea


  1. Ninky nonk? This is obviously outside the realm of artillery fortifications so I had to run a search for Ninky Nonk. This led to a three minute clip on YouTube and a good laugh for me. A good way to start the weekend.

    1. If you don't know the Ninky Nonk, then recommend you check out Makka Pakka - he's my favourite. That's all the recommendations, I think.

  2. Excellent game, and I can see some of those desperate charges in action.
    I agree - a sample game with mental adjustment to check how the thing works is the best policy, and it looks like you have grasped the mechanics admirably.
    It's an easy system to play solo too, such that the mechanisms can be absorbed with practice - and honestly, it's a entertaining solo game to play (unlike some other rulesets).
    I do still find myself flipping to some of the card definitions, but hopefully you can see how repeat plays will make a fast flowing game, which is chock full of 'fog of war' whilst also allowing generalship to shine. That's the aspect that drew me to these rules - the narrative that is generated is akin to a historical record almost.

    (p.s. I am now looking for a card shuffler on Amazon)

    1. Because it was an exploratory game, I deliberately avoided taking an instant dislike to anything - this is better than i normally manage with new games...

      I do have some notes to remind me to think further about a couple of things which surprised me. A Melee! card will only let you engage from less than a half move away, yet an even roll on a Move! card (of which there are more?) will allow you to charge home (subject to Opportunity Fire) from a full move.

      Also, I had a battery whose combat rating was CD12 - if it lost a single UI point, which is half-way to silencing the thing, the combat rating only Goes to Down 1, which is still a D10. That seems pretty generous. Hmmm. No problem - that's what the rules say!

      We were getting a lot quicker at identifying the dice pairings for each situation by the end, but it would have helped if we'd had less different ratings for the units for this first bash!

      I had a feeling we should have had a special, additional, dedicated pair of dice standing by for LD vs LD rolls, since there are so many of them.

      Anyway - as ever with these things, many of the things I thought would be difficult were not, and some things I hadn't expected took a lot of time and attention.

      A most entertaining afternoon!

  3. Ah yes - some excellent points:

    The melee card is a bonus for later periods. It's really there to co-ordinate melee in earlier periods where the infantry is perhaps less flexible (see p. 97 for Marlburian for instance; infantry and pistol cavalry may only resolve melee on a melee card - you can see the immediate advantage that this gives charging/sword cavalry on the battlefield - who are the only ones who can use immediate melee. This is quite restrictive (and more period applicable) in the earlier years.

    Yes - that artillery is very powerful. A D12 battery is an exception I guess, but again, artillery can be silenced more quickly than other units - perhaps an anomaly here, but easily argued around if the artillery is particularly elite or effective.

    Getting to grips with the dice gets easier. We normally have a box with the full dice set on each side of the table and just go for the requisite one as required - getting used to d8s on leadership rolls, d6 on movement rolls, vs the opponent's leadership dice starts to go smoothly with more plays.

    1. Thank you sir - you should really be billing me for consultancy. I am much obliged.

  4. problem mate.
    Knowing that Sgt Steiner and I are not alone in appreciating the nuances of these rules, and thus not going mad while everyone else seems to be falling in love with Black Powder, is reward enough.

  5. May I suggest you rename the monument and use it as a generic but amusing piece of set decoration in or about your rather lovely villages? I vote for either St Barbara's Cross in honour of the patron saint of gunners, or St Michael's Cross, in honour of the Arch-Angel who is patron of both soldiers and postal workers (which I think rather apt), not mention the patron of Ambassadors of Argentina (which may be less apposite but will start dinner party conversations).

    1. I am very partial to off-beat saints. My namesake, St Anthony, of course, is the patron of things which are lost, which probably has a deep relevance if I could only remember where I put it. When I was a babby, old Mrs Murphy from the basement flat once borrowed me because she'd lost her purse - it worked, apparently, and she gave my mother a shilling as a token of her gratitude.

      I sort of empathise with St Drogo, the patron saint of the unattractive, and there are others I am fond of. The wonder of it all is that there are so many - presumably they had a special department at the Vatican working full-time on it for centuries? Maybe that's where they put the dead-enders and the promotion-blockers - a bit like audit and compliance?

  6. I think you did quite well for a first battle with no experienced player to guide you. Once you get the concepts down the rules (my favorite) play quite rapidly.