Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Rules of the Game

As the Duc de Gobin mentioned in his comment on the previous post, I did indeed say that I was intending to use Brent Oman's Field of Battle 2 rules with my Grand Alliance collection. As the Duc says, they area great set of rules - one of my top three of all time I would say. They are elegant, ingenious, full of great ideas and bring some much needed "fog of war" to the table top.

But sets such as these touch on a theme that our group is wrestling with at the moment - generic or period specific rules. Basically this has come about through our fairly widespread use of Black Powder over the last couple of years or so. Whilst generally unimpressed with the rules when I first read them, I was quite happy to give them a go when one of the lads organised a game. Whilst some of my fears were confirmed, what Black Powder did offer was a result in a reasonable time frame. This, it has to be said, counted for something, as many of our games seemed to end without any clear conclusion. We have since used them to play several periods, including AWI, Carlist Wars and more recently the Great Northern War. It was during this game that the problem arose. Whilst the game was enjoyable enough and played in a great spirit amongst old friends, I found myself trying to appreciate the differences between these three periods, separated by almost 150 years of history. And I couldn't. All the games were played in the same way using the same tactics, which were essentially driven by the rule system itself. I was left feeling a little deflated at the thought of accumulating different armies, which would essentially give me the same game.

Now in my opinion FOB2 are infinitely better as a rules system than BP, but be that as it may, the basic problem is the same: do I want to have essentially the same gaming experience with several different historical periods? Much as I like FOB2, I have concluded that I don't. Which brings me at last, to the point of this post. I have decided that even though learning several rule sets is a challenge for my ageing brain, it has to be done. Where Grand Alliance/Marlburian is concerned I am going to try out the Grimsby club's Corporal John and the Sun King rules that I mentioned nearly two years ago (19/07/15 post). Whilst decidedly "Old School" - actual figure casualties begod - they seem fun and pretty simple, whilst covering most of the historical bases. I have streamlined a few things, amended a few others and added a basic card system (a la Piquet), to mix things up a bit, but they are very much the Grimsby rules. I look forward to finally getting this collection on the table in the very near future. I will certainly report back when I do.

Whilst I don't usually go in for wargaming philosophy posts, I wanted to get this off my chest. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts on this thorny topic.


  1. Great to read this, as it's a dilemma I've had myself, but perhaps from the opposite point of view.

    I have actively been looking for a set of horse and musket rules, a 'single set' that I can use across periods, and have to say that I disliked BP's ethos. I discovered FoB thanks to gaming with Sgt Steiner (see his and my blog for games) and to be honest it was a breath of fresh air.

    It's not that different periods are very different, but it's the fact that FoB's mechanisms using multi sided dice, mean that you can quite easily 'hack' the rules for period flavour.

    Here's a couple of examples:

    Sgt Steiner in one of his posts allows dice to be modified down when attacking squares, and allows a rule for hasty squares to be formed - this is purely for the Napoleonic version.

    In my Boyne game (see Blog around this time last year), I allowed units to form with 'pikes forward' which allowed them to 'dice up' for combat vs cavalry, but they couldn't then move on a move card - they could only change formation back to pikes behind.

    Both these changes were minor, but key, were easily handled by the rules.

    The rules themselves are well tested and thus blend changes seamlessly into play (and we have played epic games at Steiner's with 5 players, on a regular basis).

    With BP, almost everyone seems to have changed the turn sequence and it's still flawed in my opinion.

    With FoB, you're playing the same core game across periods, but adding nuances like square and pike and even early machine guns if you want to go far enough forward, is completelky seamless. (The WWI version still works, as does the WWII version for operational level games).

    Though perhaps, the narrative thats produced 'feels' more like a battle, and that blinds us a little to any non-period like mechanisms. I'm intent on using them with AWI and ACW - the changes will be quality of troops, ranges, quality of leadership etc. I think those are the core things that make the battle flow, and make it different from other rules. Yes, there will be key differences in doctrine and weapons, but I think FoB still handles those well, while making you feel like a horse & musket commander.

    1. I cannot disagree with anything you have said. I was hedging my bets in the post - they are my favourite set of rules! The degree of "tweaking" that they allow to account not only for period differences but one-off considerations is almost endless. I think that what I was trying to say is that I want my games in various historical periods to "feel" different in terms of the mechanics of play. Thanks very much for your comment - food for thought. I am still not fully committed where my Grand Alliance collection is concerned. Watch this space!!

  2. I await with eager anticipation sir...I'm still keen to use FoB for almost everything, and so very keen to hear your changes if you decide to use it for Grand Alliance.

    Also, have noted that Brent Oman has a company level WWII version on the works, though I'm not sure if it uses the same mechanisms.

  3. Hi chaps bit late to discussion but here is my tupennce worth.
    I think FOB are by far the best set of rules I have ever played (and that's a lot) generating an exciting narrative driven style game. But they can indeed be a tad generic despite the period specific rules. As written I feel they work fine for 1685-1790ish but felt they lacked flavour for Napoleonic period. Brent clearly explains his rationale for lack of some rules staples such as Hasty Square which he feels is best represented by dice outcomes at level of command he is aiming for. I accept his premise fully but wanted to see Square appear more often than it did in our games hence my house rule. This along with a couple of others simply enhances the game experience for me but without losing the core playability and ease of the rule set.
    But, and like that Kardashian bints it's a big one !, that does not mean I will play only FOB to the exclusion of every other ruleset.
    Other sets bring other things to the table be it more period specific flavour or other innovative or playable systems.
    Eg for Naps I love Over The Hills which has a slick system and plenty of Napoleonic items such as Closed Column (in addition to attack or March column) and every rule optional or otherwise I see as an out working of what I read in Nosworthy etc. Incidentally one of the authors is also a Black Powder contributor which has its faults but which I also play happily. Sets such as Blucher, Maurice, Might and Reason, Beneath the Lilly Banners, Gen De Brig, Gen D'Armee, Age of Reason even BP are all sets I can pick up and play.
    For me it's like eating steak....my favourite food but would I want it every single dinner time ?? I think not as I also like chicken, lamb, pork etc etc
    So whilst FOB is my preferred set I still like the variety offered by others and the differing 'tastes' they serve.
    Am fan of what I call 'chaos' style games like FOB or original Piquet or those with less severe 'chaos' models like Blucher or Gen De Armee but sometimes lean to sets with more traditional or structured Sequence of Play for a change of pace.

    So basically my ramble is to the effect that I like variety in my gaming and let's face it is this not why most wargamers play in multiple periods, scales and styles ?
    I suspect playing any one ruleset exclusively no matter how good would eventually see it lose its sheen/appeal even FOB
    I suppose my Blog reflects this.
    Though if I were marooned on an island with my figures but only one ruleset I would hope it was FOB :-)

  4. Hi Sarge. Your "tuppence worth" gratefully received. Agree with your conclusions - love variety, especially across periods, but my Desert Island Rule Set would also be FOB