Tuesday 16 June 2009

The Call of the New

Two new things this week: a new set of rules for my SYW gaming and a new terrain mat.

First, the rules. These were the new set from Crusader Publishing; Rank and File: Horse and Musket Rules 1740-1900. The Crusader Publishing website ( allows you to get a good idea of the nature of the rules before buying, which is a thoroughly sensible idea and should be more widely adopted. I recall that the availability of a stripped down set of the Blitzkrieg Commander rules in PDF form (called Blitzkrieg Commander Lite) was instrumental in getting me to buy the full Blitzkrieg Commander ruleset a few years ago.

Rank and File seemed to be my kind of thing: designed to be genuinely simple and fast play, and contained in a manageably sized and well produced rulebook. The price of £16.50 including p&p seemed reasonable. They arrived within a week and so far I have read them through a few times and played one short solo game. They seem to do exactly what it says on the tin.

The rulebook is produced to a very high standard, being a 67 page full colour production on glossy paper with card covers. There is very little black and white here, and plenty of eye candy. This is perhaps one of the few criticisms I would offer: the high quality photos might have been better employed as illustrations of how the rules work rather than being mostly just nice to look at. However, explanation of the rules is thorough and generally straightforward, and includes some diagrams to clarify certain points as well as a 3 turn extended example which provides a solid idea of how gameplay proceeds. The rules fit my theory of a truly simple set: you can get a good sense of how they work in a single read through.

You won't find any strikingly new concepts here, but the rules are obviously designed to produce fast and eventful games. Instrumental in this are the generous moves, the fairly quick and deadly morale system and the generally simple mechanisms. There is no order system in the core rules and command and control is basic, which is fine by me. There are a fair number of optional rules which you can add in for more 'realism': at a first look I am quite happy with the core rules and am not particularly tempted by the extras.

The introduction states that the rules were 'designed so that a fairly large game can be set up and played to a conclusion within an evening'. Of course, what you consider a 'fairly large game' might vary, but I am aiming to raise forces of maybe 200 infantry, 50 cavalry and 4 to 6 guns per side, organised in units of around 8 to 10 cavalry and 20 infantry each. I think these rules will allow me to get a game with these forces played in around 3 hours quite easily. I would say these rules are definitely simpler than Minden Rose, and much simpler than Die Kriegskunst. They are perhaps a little more complex than the rules I have been developing myself which can be found on this blog, but I have no hesitation in saying they are much better, and my own little project will probably now cease development.

The fairly lengthy historical period covered is coped with by providing period specific tweaks for three time divisions: 1740-1792, 1792-1848, and 1848-1900. These tweaks (or 'period specific rules') are undemanding but sensible and take up only a page each.

What you won't find in these rules are army lists or detailed set up rules for terrain and scenarios. For myself, I can easily do without both. If you know your period, or are prepared to do a little research and reading (and surely the latter is part and parcel of wargaming), who needs army lists? And only a complete newcomer to wargaming will be phased by the absence of instructions on how to set up a battle. So, you provide your own armies, organised how you think they should be organised, and you devise your own scenarios. Suits me, and it saves many pages of extra rules.

I should finally say that the rules aim to accommodate all figure scales and basing conventions, and a variety of levels of play: that unit of six bases might have 4 28mm infantry figures per base and represent a battalion, or a larger number of smaller figures on it and represent a brigade (or vice versa, if you see what I mean). However, for 28mm figures the basing conventions and units sizes used in the examples and photos are almost identical to those of Minden Rose and Die Kriegskunst.

In summary, these may well turn out to be my new rules of choice for SYW. I recommend you look into them. And if you have any questions, there's an active Yahoo group called Crusaderminis where the author (Mark Sims) is available.

* * *

My second new thing is the purchase of a Citadel (i.e. Games Workshop) gaming mat. Easily available, and a snip at £14.70 for a 6'x4' mat, but the reasons I decided to buy it go back a fair way.

During my visits to shows over recent years I have noticed one thing in particular: for my money, a lighter coloured green as a basic terrain colour made better looking games. In particular the lighter shades of tile or mat showed off the figures better. Those games with a more drab green base colour looked rather, well, drab. My own TSS tiles have served me very well over nearly twenty years, and I would recommend them to anyone. But I began to wish they were flocked in a brighter shade of green.

So my search for possible alternatives began. I certainly wasn't going to model a new set of terrain tiles for myself! The idea of spraying the TSS tiles a lighter shade was kicked around, but I have a bad feeling commercial spray paints would react with the expanded foam, and I had no great hopes of making a decent job of the spraying even if I could find the right colour. So it came down to some sort of terrain mat. I looked around a number of local fabric shops seeking a nice bit of green cloth that would do the job but the right shade eluded me. The Terrain Mat people seemed to produce mats that had a reputation for being easily damaged, and the colour was a bit too olive. Mat-O-War were a favourite for a while but they are widely reported to be rather stiff. This would mean I would need to find a new set of matching hills to put on top of them: more expense. Ditto the mats from The Terrain Guy in the US. These had a mottled appearance on the website which I didn't really want and I would have to buy the matching hills.

The GW mats were a genuine, flexible cloth, so I could create hills by placing my current TSS hill contours under the mat. This is a technique I have been reading about since Donald Featherstone mentioned it in his 1962 book Wargames: yet I have never used it till now. I had also seen the mats in use at the WMMS show this year, and they were widely reported to be durable and well made. The final sell on the GW mat actually came via the Rank and File rules. Most of the photos in the rulebook use the GW mat, which is a nice green colour significantly brighter than my present tiles.

The results you see below. The mats are indeed well made, and the packing creases are easily ironed out. They lay well and don't seem to slip much. The hills I created are not really obvious in the shots: the Prussian infantry on the left are on one hill, and the Prussian guns on the right are on the other. The photos were actually taken during my solo run through of the Rank and File rules. The table was only quickly set up and will probably look even better when properly 'dressed' in a bit more detail. Generally, I am pleased with the new look. The only problem now is that I have to get some new rivers if I want to use them with the mat: my current rivers are produced by using TSS river tiles. The Flames of War river sections on sale for £45 seem a good option, but funds are lacking at the moment!

One thing I will have to look into is why my photos make the green on my terrain look less green than it really is. My TSS tiles often look a khaki shade in the photos, and the new mat looks a lot less green than it really is. If anyone knows why this may be, I would be interested to know. For the moment, I will search out a high wattage daylight simulation bulb for the light in the dining room where my games take place. Perhaps that will help.

As usual, comments encouraged. Go on, surprise yourself! Wishing you good wargaming until the next instalment.

P.S. Some excellent photos are now available of an ACW game using both the Rank and File rules and a table laid out with GW game mats in the same way as shown above. See the Crusader Publishing website at then look up Battle Reports.

Thursday 11 June 2009

Austrians in Rout

I have recently ordered a set of the new Rank and File rules from Crusader Publishing. However, they are not here yet so last night's game was played with Minden Rose. Not a bad thing: I haven't had a go with these rules for a while and they produced an excellent battle. Just for once I decided to have a straight encounter punch-up, rather than work out a clever scenario. Below are a few pictures: I won't go into too much detail, but the Austrians (me) were soundly beaten. Cavalry on both flanks fell back then routed, and at the end of the game the infantry in the centre also routed decisively under a hail of Prussian fire.
Tipple of the night was a very pleasant Rioja.

Light infantry occupy the town, which they will hold throughout the game.

Infantry faces off in the centre. The Prussians put everything in a single line, which seemed to work. This was the age of linear warfare after all!

Another view of the centre. No, those aren't Bavarians: a trick of the light in the camera has somehow turned the white Austrian coats to pale blue! Hungarian columns in background.

Destination disaster: the Austrian left flank cavalry are under pressure.

Meanhile the light infantry continue to hold out: mainly because the
Prussians decided not to charge in.

Prussian grenadiers in the centre brace themselves for an Austrian volley.

Run away! In the final move Prussian firepower triumphs. Austrian infantry routs and the Prussians pursue. The C-in-C (centre, with black counter indicating he is inferior) is powerless to stop the rot

And on the right flank the remaining Austrian cavalry are being ushered back over their baseline. The Austrian officer (inferior again!) seems to hang his head in shame, whilst the Prussian officer urges his men on

Light infantry still there in the last move!