Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Free playtest hex based horse & musket rules at Crusader

Another new ruleset, this time from Mark Sims of Crusader, available electronically and free, at least for now, just not sure whether after 'playtest' they will eventually become commercial, I assume so, but as the saying goes 'make hay while the sun shines'.

With a 6' x 4' representing about 4miles by 3miles this is a grand tactical game, your are the Army or Corps commander, uses 2" hexes, and obviously you will therefore need a hexmat!!

I've been toying with the idea of combining boardgame and wargame game mechanics for quite a while and have finally put all my notes togther into a (mostly) understandable format.

The playtest rules are available as a free PDF from the downloads page of the Crusader Publishing site here.

There are 20 pages of rules (plus some sample army lists) which includes a lot of examples and the fast play sheet could be squeezed into half a page of A4 (though I've added helpful notes) so they are easy to learn!

The rules are designed to use infantry battalions, cavalry regiments or artillery batteries but to have lots of these on the table. The scale of the game is pretty big with a 6 foot by 4 foot table representing something like 4 miles by 3 miles.

I still have stuff to do on the rules but the majority of the work is done and they are a 'playable' set for anyone that has an interest in hex based gaming.

Hope Mark doesn't mind but I think his first page introduction explains a lot of the thinking behind these rules:

Why bother with yet more rules? I have always enjoyed board wargaming as much as tabletop and combining aspects of the two seems to make perfect sense to me. These rules use a hex grid to regulate movement, firing and so on but they also use tabletop mechanics and figures. Both of these aspects have their advantages and disadvantages, a few obvious examples include the ease and accuracy of measuring movement, firing or facings with hexes but the problem with an inability to ‘stack’ units in a hex when using figures.

With the above in mind there are some abstractions that players are just going to have to live with (or find another set of rules to play, obviously). The game is designed for large battles where each individual battalion of infantry, regiment of cavalry or battery of artillery is being represented, The idea being that players represent higher level commanders and are not really interested in whether the 2nd battalion of the 27th Line has skirmishers deployed or
not. The local, lower level, commands are assumed to be doing the best thing at the right time, you can even say that the die rolls for firing, melee and so on reflect how well their command is doing.

What do the rules aim to achieve? Well, if you are anything like me you have fought your fair share of battles that start with both sides lined up within artillery range, each player has their troops to command and on the first turn one side or the other begins to attack. This isn’t because an all out attack is the plan but simply so that players get something to do and so that a game has a chance of being finished in a day or evening. As often as not there is little or no manoeuvre, no time for preparatory bombardment and the idea of keeping a reserve is laughable - after all, they’ll never have time to get into the fight if you do that so why bother?

The rules that you choose obviously affect this to one degree or another but I decided that I wanted a game where there were lots of units on the table and where both sides actually had time to develop plans and fight battles as they were actually fought. Turn 1 - charge! gets a bit dull after a while.

How did I try to do this? The obvious option is to make each ‘unit’ on the table represent a larger formation. Instead of your block of troops being a battalion make it a regiment or a brigade, this is what a lot of large scale rules do.
Unfortunately a battle with 25 units on the table where each is a battalion is not far removed from a battle with 25 units on the table where each unit is a brigade. Whatever you call them - you have 25 units. Once again the rules you choose determine to what degree this applies.

I wanted a game where I could command a Corps and have that Corps comprise all of the battalions, regiments and batteries that it did historically. The game then becomes about how you deploy and use that ‘mass’ of troops. You have the scope to detach troops, keep reserves, attack multiple objective and so on, and while you are doing this the other commanders (players) are doing the same thing.

Does it work? Yes, pretty well I think, so long as you accept the fact that the rules are streamlined (‘its all factored in’ conveniently glosses over a lot of things) to allow players to manage a large number of units in a playable time frame. If you want detail you wont find it here, if you want the spectacle of a mass battle and a realistic time frame for playing you’ll ignore the more obvious ‘factoring in’. Think like a Corps or Army commander and not like a Regiment or Battalion commander and you won’t go too far wrong.

If its a grand tactical set of rules where is the Command & Control? Basically, in a nutshell - its the players. I have yet to find two wargamers that fight or think the same way. Where one is ordered to ‘attack’ they’ll go all out with every unit as fast as they can while another will carefully creep forward covering every flank and terrain feature. I guarantee a multi player battle will have at least one player tearing their hair out in frustration - ‘That wasn’t the plan!’.

Finally, these rules are still in the playtest stage, the examples may not be complete, there are some sections that still need to be updated and there are no doubt a fair few typos and possibly some contradictions where one rule has been updated but another has not. I’m always open to suggestions about how to improve things but one thing I am not going to do is add anything. To my mind the trick to writing rules is to see what you can take out and still have
a realistic, playable game - anyone can add rules to cover situations or fill gaps where the basic rules don’t quite work. So, if you can streamline these rules let me know, if you just want to add cavalry feint charges, reverse slope bombardment or overhead fire from howitzers by all means do so for yourself but its not what these rules are about.

Nothing much else to say - try the rules, if you like them, great. If not then you can’t complain - they’re free.

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