Tuesday 26 March 2024

In Which I Try Out Valour & Fortitude

The Perry Twin's Valour & Fortitude rules are a set I have been interested in since they first came out about 18 months ago. The basic idea is excellent, and impressed me straight away - a set of Napoleonic rules created by some very well known wargamers (mainly Jervis Johnson), designed to be short and relatively simple, available for entirely free download and supported by regular updates as they improve and develop. I think that's what is sometimes called 'the spirit of wargaming'. The shame is, it has taken me so long to get around to a playtest. I finally got around to it recently following an invitation from a friend at the Cirencester Wargames Club (many thanks Nigel). 

For our game, Nigel set up a fictional Prussians vs. French battle from 1806. Each side had 3 infantry brigades and a cavalry brigade, plus an artillery battery in each brigade - around 20 units a side. Nigel has a wonderful collection of 20mm plastic figures, including Airfix figures going back to when he was a teenager, and we were using a 6' x 4' table, with the ranges and distances in the rules reduced by one third. Here was my first lesson in V&F - as with Black Powder, the big games and large units they were apparently designed for can easily be reduced for the collections and tables of mere mortals.

The French 'come on in the same old way...'

After the game, both of us had some comments about the detail of the rules, but the overall conclusion was straightforward enough - we had both enjoyed ourselves, and we were keen to play the rules again and further our understanding of how they worked. Simply writing a decent set of Napoleonic rules within a limit of 4 pages is a remarkable achievement in itself, and this is certainly a very decent set of rules. Any modest criticisms given below should be seen in this light.

Just a few words about the game. Firstly, both of us were new to V&F. The version we were using was v.2.3. In order to give the rules a good wring out, Nigel flung his French forces into a headlong attack against my Prussians, who adopted a defensive posture. Under these circumstances, the Prussians managed to see off the French assaulting columns relatively easily, and the battle ended (if I remember correctly) with 2 French brigades destroyed and a third approaching destruction, whilst all Prussian brigades were still functioning. A few photos are given below, mainly to enable readers to admire Nigel's lovely figures.

Impressions of the Rules
Most people interested in V&F have had plenty of time to check them out and will be familiar with their basics - so this post won't attempt any summary or overall description of the rules. I just wanted to record the thoughts of a couple of experienced wargamers following their first game.

One interesting thing I've never seen mentioned is that the rules don't actually say what period they are for. "Designed for fighting battles using the Perry Miniatures range of figures" is the nearest the rules get, but as Perry Miniatures cover periods from Medieval to WW2 this isn't much help. It's the kind of thing one expects on a title page - but there we are, everyone seems to know they are primarily for Napoleonics but can be adapted for other Horse and Musket periods, so let's leave it at that.

Now then - the Fate Cards. Personally I could do without them. Their presence was one reason I left the rules alone for a while. The idea of such cards is as old as the hills (as I'm sure Jervis would admit), being something I remember reading about in Donald Featherstone's earliest books. In V&F you draw a card at the beginning of each turn and add it to your store of surprises (i.e. previously drawn Fate Cards) which you can spring whenever you want. You know the kind of thing - that unit that's about to be destroyed or retreat can re-roll its last dice throw and be saved. For me, this just adds an extra layer that detracts from the game - the rules themselves, especially with the special rules for particular nations, provide all the period character you might need. The rest is just fluff, IMHO. Yes, you guessed it, I don't like cards in wargames. I'm pleased to see that V&F isn't one of those 'card driven systems' that are all the rage these days.

A particular mechanism I retain some doubts about is the use of supporting units for both fire and melee - only one unit attacks in both these processes, whilst others offer support. This seemed to be one reason that the Prussians saw off the French so well in our game - perhaps rather too well, as the rules seemed to prevent the French columns from developing their full potential. However, more games are needed to see the rule in action before I get too dismissive!

The various army lists currently offered are a fundamental part of playing a 'proper' Napoleonic game, and a solid attempt has been made to give each nation a bit of historical character. The 'stat line' system defining the characteristics of each type of unit is carried over from Black Powder, and is very useful in creating period flavour whilst keeping the core rules simple. The 'elan' rule for the French is a good example of a national special rule that seems to work well, but the 'drilled' special rule for the Prussians had both Nigel and I scratching our heads over whether it was really justified, particularly in 1806. 

The compressed nature of the rules does make for the occasional difficulty in understanding what is intended, and overlooking a short sentence buried in a particular section can make a big difference in a game - so if you're new to the rules, some careful reading is advised. I was unsure what the 'reform' action was all about until I read the Designer's Comments and twigged that it was all about formation changes - but the phrase 'formation change' is entirely absent in the main rules. A minor point, but the sort of thing you need to look out for.

The rules for skirmishers (i.e. skirmish screens in front of a formed unit) are commendably simple, but I'm not sure if they really provide the flavour of the real thing - in particular the unit deploying them doesn't seem to get any protection from their presence. Rule 8.1.2 gives line a significant advantage vs. column in melee (as far as I can tell after one game). This was great for me in this battle, but whether it is justified? Who knows. Maybe more experienced players can put me straight.

Finally, as the reviewers on Little Wars TV have noted, the QRS has the look of a sheet of A4 where the rules were fitted on...well, where they would fit on, rather than in any particular order. The LWTV QRS is much better, but note it is a bit out of date now and will need amending for the latest rule changes.

Nigel was fully in favour of the Fate Cards idea, maintaining that they added some colour to the game without adversely affecting play. Overall, he reckoned (as I did) that the rules gave a game that flowed well without getting bogged down in too much detail. He also liked the system for working out who had won, based on the accumulation of Defeat Tokens, again something I liked as well. It is a nifty and easy to use mechanic. Nigel also liked the command and control system - perhaps 'system' is too strong a word, but the rules are simple and have the required effect.

On the down side he noted that you need to have decent sized armies for the system to work well - even using smaller units and smaller size figures, you still need a handful of brigades to get a worthwhile game. This is fine, and it is what the rules are written for, but players of Sharpe Practice and Dan Mersey-style rules should beware. Nigel also thought the sudden death of units (the Valour Test), reliant on a 50/50 dice roll when they reached the appropriate level of damage, was a bit too harsh and too dependent on a single D6. I could certainly see what he meant, although at this level of game I do tend to like a set of rules that are reasonably bloody. 

Over and Out
And that's just about that. If you're holding back from giving these rules a run out, wait no longer. I seem to have concentrated in my comments on things I had some doubts about - but overall I found the rules interesting and original, and fun to play. They're well worth trying and have much to recommend them. For myself, I need to look in particular at the special rules for each nation and see how they fit in with my own thoughts. But that's just me.

'Til next time!


Norm said...

Hi Keith, I think those coming to version 2+ are seeing a better and different and better game than the original gave us. The re-write certainly makes it easier to have 2 - 4 brigades per side and get a game which is not subject to the sudden crashing out of a brigade in a 2 brigade game and just ending it all, as the originals were inclined to do - so they are more dining room friendly now than they were.

I don’t see them as a 4 page set, they seem more like a 6 page crammed into 4 and then the army lists sit on top, so there is quite a bit of system there and often I can remember there is a ‘one line rule’ somewhere, but then need to search for it.

The title is deliberately generic as the ‘vision’ is that these will go multi - period (ACW army lists are now out), so it is the army list that in effect becomes the title. It will be VERY interesting to see how a Wars of the Roses army list will make the system feel true to the period, with the extensive support that the Perry’s give WotR, i hope that such a thing sees the light of day - the Author says the rules should work for ancients right through to, but not including WW1.

I agree on the cards and would rather see a random events table that just cropped up once or twice per game. The cards have a big presence and can be collected, so can be heavy hitting when several are played at once - One thing is, in solo play, managing the two card hands and remembering what is what and to play them at the right moment, taxes my grey cells. I am anti-cards anyway, so my view is not completely neutral.

overall, they give a good game and have some ideas that I feel are better than those presented with Black Powder.

Steve J. said...

Well they do seem to be gaining some traction as a set of rules, certainly after the release of version 2. With the ACW have just been added I imagine that this will increase yet again. Whilst I've been tempted, for the moment I'll carry on with my current rules. Why? Well a few reasons:

I just don't want to learn a new set of rules! Simples. Even with my much reduced sets, it's hard enough as it is. Better the devil you know and all that.

As another Blogger commented, when playing they kept thinking of BPII and playing those rules, rather than as written, as they were too similar, which is not surprising, giving the authors previous works.

4 pages is a small space to cram everything in and as you and others have mentioned, you can easily miss that crucial sentence hidden away. To be honest if you took all the fluff out of BPII, you could probably condense those down to a similar size.

I'm not a fan of the fate cards, or cards in games in general. Again another Blogger commented upon how their opponent effectively used the Fate cards to gain a winning hand, almost playing the cards rather than the game. I exagerate a tad, but you get my drift.

Keith Flint said...

Norm - 'ancients to WW1'? Seems a bit of a stretch to me. I guess we'll see. I agree with you that calling them a 4 page set of rules is a bit cheeky. But they're still a pretty good achievement.

Jim Walkley said...

As I play largely with 20mm plastics, including old Airfix Napoleonics (apart from when I refer to 2mm to wind you up :-)) it was a delight to see the pictures accompanying your report. I downloaded a copy of these rules but, like you, was a bit put off by the fate cards. Perhaps a bit perverse of me as, playing solo, I find some card driven rules add a lot. I shall have to try Valour and Fortitude, especially as Norm says V2 allows for games within my reach. I am very doubtful if I would prefer them to Shadow of the Eagle however. Best wishes.

Keith Flint said...

Thanks Jim. Norm is correct - the latest version is significantly improved. Despite my authorship of SotE, I have no hesitation in saying that V&F gives a fun game and is pretty quick to learn and play.