Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Thoughts on Gaming Rules

While Dave will entertain you with his extraordinary painting abilities, I thought I might delve into the ever so important (and exciting!) topic of wargaming rules critiques.

I must admit - I am a rules hound.  It's true!  I've been hording rules and graphic player aids for a long time so I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of wargaming rules, or at the very least obsessive-compulsive.  Perhaps that's because of my passion for modeling and simulating the abstract and perplexing motions of four hundred armed men, acting in unison on the battlefield and their subsquent actions. 

Modeling systems is what wargaming is all about - whether you believe it or not.  The real fun comes in making the decisions you would have been forced to make as one of the great captains you're attempting to replicate, and, if you're reading this blog, you enjoy replicating those decisions in the comfort of your or someone else's home with pewter, lead, and plastic.  When you "vote with your money" as Dave likes to say, you are shelling out your hard-earned cash for a glimpse into the world of the soldier and his officers, delivered through the rules in your hand.  For me, I enjoy the author's take on historical and tactical problems associated with combat in the period, and I enjoy reading how he simulates or portrays it.  To me, much of the fun from gaming comes from the author's words.

So with that in mind, I open a series of posts on rules, after action reports, and opinions on some popular Napoleonic rule sets.

What do we look for in a Napoleonic rules set?  By that I mean what are some defining characteristics that you can gauge the rules by?  Here are my thoughts... The reader will kindly pardon any cliches, stereotypes, or other generalizations.

Mass.  When we think of Napoleonic Battles, we are enamored with scenes from Waterloo, or paintings of huge Napoleonic Battles in which hundreds, if not thousands of Soldiers are engaged in the painting itself.  Napoleonic rules sets that allow players to be general officers, should enable you to create armies that look the part.  I want massed formations of troops on my tabletop and basing conventions should be conducive to that end.

Maneuver.  Napoleonic battles are rich with maneuver and timing of reinforcements, unbeknownst to the enemy.  The rules should replicate this aspect of battle in the Napoleonic wars.  While they may have been set-piece battles for the most part, Napoleonic Battles were not battles of antiquity and the rules should allow for an appropriate ebb and flow.

Firepower.  There is no doubt that by 1808, the musket volley was the primary method for infantry to engage their opponents, and that artillery was a potent and decisive arm on the battlefield.  Napoleonic rules should showcase the awesome power of the field artillery on the battlefield as a major casualty producing weapon, as well as musketry of a formation, and the ability of trained and disciplined opponents to stand or not to stand against it.  All of these factors should be tied together with a realistic casualty system.  Simple body counting does the period no justice.

Troop Quality. The discipline, drill, and abilities of troop training programmes separate hastily called up militia from battle-hardened veterans of multiple engagements.  Troop reliability under fire is a function of the quality of their training and their discipline.  This is especially so in the Napoleonic wars.  I do not want to see Guards troops stacked up against Spanish 2nd line and have the same, generic ratings.  That being said, I do believe that 400 Spanish troops can pull the trigger just the same as 400 of the Old Guard (I see why Arty Conliffe doesn't put as much emphasis on firepower - firepower can be abstracted into a constant - troop quality cannot be).

Terrain.  Terrain is used by clever commanders to win battles.  Good commanders don't just deal with terrain, they utilize it to win!  I would like to see a system that rewards players for being behind a hill, or for defending in a woodline.

Command & Staff.  I would like to see a game system where the command stand and aide de camps (ADCs) are present on the battlefield and transmit orders to troops in some fashion.  I understand that in games representing a higher level of command this concept becomes very abstract but at the very least, command should have a tangible effect on the battlefield (ie command radius and morale bonuses within proximity to good commanders)

Morale & Rallying.  I would very much like to see an elegant morale system that gives highly motivated troops and edge on the battlefield, but recognizes that those troops may not always be of the best quality.

So there you have it - Steve's recipe for what ought to be in a Napoleonic rules set.  I plan on playing numerous rules sets and offering my opinion on how those rules play out within this context to determine, just what rules set we're going to use. 

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