I am probably way behind the times on writing this as there is already a second (and much more popular) version of Arty Conliffe's Napoleonic Rules set out there. Still though, this is our first venture into all things Napoleonic so with that in mind, I am "having a go" (that's for our British readers) at reviewing the rules.
Refer to my post below on all of the things I am looking for in a Napoleonic Rules set and buckle up! This could get a little bumpy...
The SHAKO rule book is short on pages and relies very much on pictorial explanations to teach its unique concepts on command/orders as well as unit firing. The explanations are not comprehensive and are illogically laid out. In that I mean I had to look in the chapter on Artillery Fire to learn about casualties from firing and the difference between a "stagger" and a "kill." For my first round, I spent more time looking things up than I did playing.
The back of the book has a great army composition book that can be used to build Shako Armies and a Seven Years War supplement that you can use for larger battles from the SYW era. If Arty wanted to impress he could also have provided some OOB's for battles (but then who would purchase a supplement? :)
Having a little bit of time on my hands, I thought I might play a round of Shako, albeit a small round. This game pitted one British Battalion against one French Battalion, both had Morale/Troop Quality ratings of "4" for Regulars. Shako hones an elegant system for morale / troop quality by assigning a number that must be rolled against. This number goes down as troop's enthusiasm wanes and casualties mount. All in all, a bloody system and troop ability to wither constant volleys expires quickly as one would expect. Imagine my surprise when my single Battalion vs. Battalion game ended in just under 20 minutes (with most of my time spent reading the rules)
Infantry Battalions move 9" (6" for 15mm troops). I played with 6mm troops and thought I would at first use centimeters which was a huge mistake - I should have doubled the 28mm range but that is for another paragraph.
The plan was simple - the French started the game near a small farm with a low stone wall surrounding it, at the base of a small hill. The British wanted the hill. The scenario is set! The French changed their formation to Column and were able to move very quickly. (caveat - only the French can change formation and move in Shako - all other nationalities must choose - I disagree with this) the French took up a position within the enclosed farm and the British sped through the small valley taking a circuitous route to the hill top.
Once atop the hill the British wheeled to meet the French who were arrayed against them beyond Line of Sight. The British moved to the edge of the hill and the two sides exchanged a volley during the Fire phase. It's important to note that both sides had a completely even chance of hitting each other. The French had moved slightly last turn and were 60% uncovered by the stone wall at the farmhouse.
Shako used a very interesting methodology for volley fire. As long as a unit is within the firing unit's flank lines and is somewhat unobscured it can be hit. The closest unit can receive a "kill" and/or a "stagger." As long as the die roll is above the unit's Morale Rating, it is staggered. If the firer rolls a "5" or a "6" and is closest, it receives a "kill."
The British roll a "2" and the French roll a "5." the British receive a stagger and the French sit there and laugh.
The British, since they are staggered, receive a -1 modifier until they rally. However to rally they must disengage and leave the French flank lines.
I'm thinking "game over" for the British Battalion but not so much. The French, greedy and eager to cash in on their musketry close in for the kill, and believe it or not are defeated in the melee. They receive a kill and have to retreat (the methodology for casualties after a melee is also very elegant - the loser receives kills equal to the difference in the die roll and good tactical common sense pays off).
All-in-all, I very much enjoyed playing Shako and will definitely play it again, although with Artillery and then with Cavalry. There is much to like about Shako (it's ease of play, ability to reach a decision early-on, and its combat mechanics) and there is also some to dislike (the French flexibilities, the disorganization of the rule book, and the lack of scale for 6mm troops). If you ask me, the things I dislike, are soundly out-gunned by the things I like.
Shako gets an A-