Fast Play Grande Armee version 1.2

February 14, 2015

Since I posted my latest version of Fast Play “Rights & Treason”, I thought I would also post my latest version of Fast Play Grande Armee. It is based on the original version of Fast Play Grande Armee by Sam Mustafa, but I have also included aspects of Might & Reason that I liked better. It seemed to me that Might & Reason was in many ways the next step forward in the Fast Play Grande Armee system, so it only seemed logical that the improvements from Might & Reason could be melded with Fast Play Grande Armee.

You can get my FPGA v 1.2 charts here: Napoleonic Charts v 1.2

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Blűcher podcasts by Sam Mustafa

December 6, 2014

When I read about a new set of wargame rules coming out, I always hesitate. Unlike many people, I do not rush out to buy the newest thing just because “new” is cool. Actually, new isn’t always good. So when I heard about Sam Mustafa’s new wargame rules, Blűcher, I was cautiously interested. I really like the one base equals one brigade grand tactical scale for Napoleonic wargaming. I have played a lot of Volley & Bayonet, but the lack of meaningful command and control rules has always left me wanting more. I liked Grande Armee and Fast Play Grande Armee, but I could never seem to figure out how to integrate them into a campaign system given the nature of SP losses in the games. So Blűcher seemed liked what I was looking for, especially with the emphasis on campaign games.

In an earlier post I linked to some of the free downloads on Sam’s Honour Page for Blűcher. I downloaded all of these and read through them. My first impression was Blűcher uses the SP system from Might & Reason/Fast Play Grande Armee along with some ideas from LaSalle, as well as some new innovations. I couldn’t (and still can’t) see how better overall commanders impacts the command system, but I am sure it is probably somewhere in the rules or could be easily added in. The system seemed interesting, but I had some hesitations. I’ve reached the point where I hate to buy yet another set of wargame rules only to try it a few times and then discard them.

Then I heard about Sam’s podcasts about Blűcher. I thought I’d give them a listen. I found that Sam did a very good job explaining the basics of the game, and most importantly a lot about the design philosophy that went into the rules. The podcast was an explanation of the rules rather than a sales pitch. I’ve listened to the first three podcasts (all that have been posted as of December 6). The podcasts answered a few questions that I had, and therefore made me far more likely to purchase the rules. The rules seem to be about the right focus in scale, design concepts and complexity. They seem to be about a 5 on a complexity scale of 1-10 (low to high), but they are close enough to my ideal complexity of 6 or 7 for me to consider. That is refreshing as so many rule sets are now oriented to super fast play and very low complexity (and therefore super silly in my opinion).

If you want to hear the podcasts you can find them at: http://www.sammustafa.com/honour/category/podcast/

The first three have been about 20 minutes long. I felt like Sam had a good depth of discussion in them without getting bogged down in too many details. So take a listen if you are interested in learning more about Blűcher.


More on Blucher (by Sam Mustafa)

October 31, 2014

Sam Mustafa’s Webpage (Honour) has a lot of downloads for the upcoming Blucher rules. While you can’t play the game off of these downloads, you can get an idea of what the game is like. For more go to: http://www.sammustafa.com/honour/downloads/.


Lasalle (or our first game of it)

June 26, 2014

Lasalle-Front-Cover-500

 

I took a rare break from my actual game playing hiatus to play a game with a friend of mine, Shane, who I have been playing historical miniature wargames with off and on since 1982. He is a good friend and was one of my wedding groomsman, so I could not turn down a game with him. In theory, Shane lives in Oregon, but really lives most of his life in Tucson where he works, and where we met many years ago while I was working at the local game store while a college student.

Shane is one of the 8mm Adler diehards. I have many of the Adler figures, and they are great, but my eyes don’t do so well with them anymore. I have a few projects going with Adlers, but after that I am done with painting anything smaller than 15/18mm, OK, maybe I’d do 20th century conflicts in 10mm, but that is about it. He was searching around for some rules for Napoleonic small actions and thought that maybe General de Brigade would work. I’ve played the Seven Years’ War, American Revolution, and American Civil War versions of those rules. I found they worked, but are a bit cumbersome for my very 21st century tastes. Had I played those rules in the 1980s, I’d love them, but they just don’t excite me in 2014. I will admit that all of the General de Brigade rules work well and are solid designs, they just don’t really do it for me.

Because of that, I suggested to Shane that maybe Lasalle by Sam Mustafa might work. I’ve read the rules, but never played them. Shane got a copy and read them, and we both thought they were worth trying. So after a year of talking about doing that (usually Shane and I go out to eat or drink when he is in Oregon), we actually got together to try out Lasalle. We played a small game with six or seven infantry battalions, one artillery battery, and one cavalry regiment per side. Shane had French and British so we called it an 1810 game for the unit ratings.

In terms of the rules, I think they fall into the “worth another go” category, but fell short of the magical, “these are the greatest rules ever” category. We played a full 16 turn game (8 turns for each player). We found that the rules were easy to understand and by turn 3 or 4 we were able to do most of the game basics with ease. I should note that Shane had not read the rules for a couple of weeks, but I was able to read them the night before and again the morning of the game we played, but I have not read the rules more than three times. The rules are clearly laid out and we were able to answer any question we had in a few minutes. For the first time it was a very smooth game.

I found the mechanics very playable. I also noted that they were inventive, especially in terms of how the turn sequence is laid out. Having some events in the game broken into several different parts of the turn worked very well, and reduced the need for cumbersome special rules to handle special situations. I have taught a course about the Napoleonic Era and have read many primary and secondary sources about the era. I felt in every case, the rules produced a historical outcome in contrast to rules that seem to have gained their understanding of the period from other wargame rules. Sam Mustafa has a Ph.D. in History and teaches a course in the Napoleonic Era, and it shows in the historical understanding of the period as reflected by the rules. Sort of nice to have an expert write a set of rules rather than the typical “Larry the Wargamer”.

I think we need to try out the advanced rules next time as they look like they will answer some of the issues I had with the first go of the rules. In the basic games, commanders seem a bit unimportant, but reading through the advanced rules shows they can be very important by a few simple modifiers, especially in terms of rallying unit disruptions. I did feel that infantry was a bit feeble in woods, but the advanced rules allow light infantry to act as irregulars in the woods, which also will fix that issue. But all of my quibbles were pretty minor, which is the sign of a well designed wargame. That is not surprising as I really like some of Sam’s earlier games like Might and Reason and Fast Play Grande Armee. So if asked about Lasalle by a friend, I would say that it is clearly worth a try.

One last note, I have noticed that in many of Sam Mustafa’s newer games, he has strived to create games that don’t seem to require 1000 figures to play a game. While Grande Armee required a lot of figures because it was representing large Napoleonic battles, his later games seems to have reduced the number of units and hence numbers of figures that players need. For example, the use of “brigades” as the basis for Might & Reason reduced the number of figures for large Seven Years’ War battles compared to say Volley & Bayonet which uses stands which represent half as many men. In Lasalle, a player seems to be able to field a competent force with less than a dozen units and figures per unit is entirely up to the player. I know the same is true of Sam’s Maurice rule set. I really appreciate this as it puts the emphasis back on playing the game rather than painting endlessly so you can play the game. I hope that Sam’s future games continue with this trend.

Sorry about the lack of pictures. Neither Shane nor I are really high-tech guys. Shane did have a camera on his tablet (which also had our copy of the rules), but neither of us thought about taking a picture of the game!

 


November’s Game: Black Powder

November 22, 2011

This month Mark and I tried out the new Black Powder rules. Mark set up the ‘Fighting Retreat at El Perez’ scenario from the rulebook. We used 15mm figures from Mark’s collection. We have been playing games together now for over five years and this was the first time Mark had ever used his 15mm Napoleonic figures. Some of which he painted, but I gathered that the majority had been purchased prepainted from Lancashire games. We were slow getting started but we were able to complete four full turns and got a good feel for the rules.

I’ll admit that I played the rules because Mark wanted to, I could have lived my entire life without playing another set of toy soldier set of rules (rules that are not about historical battles, but instead my little army vs. your little army). Having said that, I was really surprised at how good a set of rules Black Powder are. Everything played smoothly and we were able to get a very solid grasp of them in just four turns of play. I have not read the rules personally so I’ll not try to give a full review of them, but every system worked well. I thought the command rules really succeeded in providing a simple command system, but also a command system that introduced a good amount of unsurety in terms of how far you would move every turn. The combat systems worked well and again were fairly simple to remember. It all reminded me of my friend Les Reese’s comment about Volley and Bayonet, “simple but not simplistic”. If you are seeking a game where each player commands 12-15 units, can be played in a reasonable amount of time, works well, and is fun, then Black Powder is worth a try.

Playing the game really brought out two important concepts for me. The first was that in wargame rules, all of the systems need to work for the game to work. Just one part of the rules failing, makes the entire game fail. This is a lesson that Mark and I have seen over and over with other sets of rules we have tried. We often try rules to find that 30% of the system works great, 50% works fine, but 20% of the system is flawed beyond hope and that makes those rules a failure. Much like a computer program, the entire system has to work or the entire program is flawed. I found that with Black Powder, 100% of the system worked and many parts were very innovative and enjoyable to play.

The other concept was what do we want to achieve from playing the game. I like the painting and social part of gaming and as a professional historian, the History part is a given for me. What I am thinking about here is what are we trying to achieve in the game. I see games as falling in a spectrum that has on one pole “toy soldier” games and on the other military simulations. Toy soldier games are simply games with units representing military forces from the period but not aimed at fighting historical battles, instead the games are more my Napoleonic French “army” vs. your Napoleonic British “army”. Toy soldier games were the very first sort of games played by H.G. Wells and that sort of game continued to dominate wargaming until the 1980s. The more simulation games, which were more popular in the 1980s and 1990s try to provide a venue to refight historical battles and at their core have the idea that the game is about exploring historical battles. While many toy soldier gamers pooh-pooh simulative games, I think they can be very successful as demonstrated by many historical board wargames and the professional military simulations I encountered as an infantry officer in the American Army in the last century (was it really that long ago!).

In 28 years of serious historical miniature wargaming, I’ve played a lot of both sort of games. In fact, the majority of the games I have played have been entirely fictional mini-battles that were clearly toy soldier games. They are easy to set up and don’t require tons of historical research. They are also effective as the players don’t have historical hindsight to help them in the game. Having said that, after 28 years, I think I’ve burnt out on toy soldier games. I find myself wondering what the point of them is. When I brought this up at the end of our game (and in later email conversations), Mark made a valid defense of them in that they can be fun games to play. I agree, but I think I’ve been there and done that too many times. The only explicitly ahistorical games I think I enjoy are skirmish games, but then it is hard to research games to the level of a squad or platoon in combat, so most skirmish games are sort of toy soldierish in nature.

Instead, I find myself more interested in games that reflect historical battles and engagements. All of my most memorable games have been about real battles. I can clearly remember refighting Bir Hacheim with Command Decision way back in the early 1990s. We played for hours and late into the night, but everyone involved loved the game and still talks about it. Likewise I’ve played other great historical games such as the Orne River Bridge (1944) with Command Decision, part of Antietam with Johnny Reb, and many great games with Volley and Bayonet: Fontenoy, Borodino, Monmouth, Saratoga, Guilford Courthouse, First Bull Run, Shiloh, Hastenbeck, Corbach, and others. I can’t remember that many toy soldier games that had your army vs. my army. Maybe it’s because I am so interested in History (why I am a professional historian) that I prefer historical battles with more of a simulative focus. Also the map style wargames I played as a Army officer proved to me that games could have a simulative value, they were not just toy soldiers for “big boys”.

That seems to put me out of step with most wargamers today and most of the wargame rules being published recently. For example, I thought Sam Mustafa’s Grande Armee was a very good game (outside of lacking a campaign system), but in a preview of Sam’s new 18th Century rules as well as his Lasalle rules, it looks like his great design efforts have become less focused on fighting historical battles. Even the guru of historical games, Frank Chadwick, seems to have gone more to point values and pick up games as evident in the second edition of Volley and Bayonet and the fourth edition of Command Decision. Many popular rules such as Flames of War have shown the real market for more toy solder games. While popular with many, I am just not that interested in primarily playing games that don’t represent a real battle or skirmish in some way. I guess I’ll just march to the beat of a different drum and stick with my historical games and desire to play campaigns (which fortunately also interests Mark).

And now some pictures from our Black Powder game (again a very good game system); all figures and terrain and game provided by Mark. No game summary as we only played four turns and the game did not reach a full conclusion.