Sunday, 20 April 2014

18th Century Rules

If you looked very carefully at my last post you might have noticed that I'd acquired at Salute two new sets of rules: Muskets & Tomahawks by Alex Buchel (publ. Studio Tomahawk) and The War Game Rules by Charles S Grant (publ. Ken Trotman). Now that I've a chance to read through them (but not play them) I thought I'd put down my initial thoughts about them.

About the only thing the two rule sets really have in common is that they are both intended primarily for the 18th Century. Otherwise they are very different: for example M&T is very much a skirmish game, (and set in a particular genre: 18C America, ie the French & Indian war and the American Revolution) whereas the War Game Rules are quite generic and are intended for big battalions: the rules suggest 48 figures per battalion which is well beyond my capability.

Muskets & Tomahawks

I am attracted to this for several reasons. Firstly I like skirmish games which don't require too many figures (this is partly as I'm a pretty s..l..o..w painter) and M&T only requires about 25 figs per side which is low entry level though I suspect that it will run better with somewhat more figures. I've also found some nice French & Indian War figures which I fancy having a go at.

The rules are by the author of Saga - I'm not a fan of Saga so perhaps its a good thing the rules are not very similar to Saga. The basics of the rules are not that innovative with a fairly straight forward D6 roll to hit followed by a second roll to kill. However the game is card activated which I do like; troops will gets several actions in a turn which can be used to move, load, fire etc; for example regular troops get 4 actions while militia get 3 actions & civilians only 2. There are also cards for events which can crop up in the turn; when a card comes up you roll randomly for the event. These will certainly add to the flavour of the game though I think the novelty of the 'solar eclipse' event might pall after a while (this is basically an excuse to use the night fighting rules). I was very pleased to find that the rules come with a set of cards (though it's not ideal that some of these are slightly larger than others, at least in my set).

While there is some friction caused by the random order of activation, the cards do standardly all get played through in a turn which means you do know how often groups will act overall. There is an optional rule to increase uncertainty by ending the run when a third event card comes up (a bit like a 'tiffin' card in Sharp Practice). I might go further and end the turn with the second of three event cards.

Like Sharp Practice troops are activated in groups, usually here of 6-8. They will all be activated together but unlike in SP they do not all have to do the same thing. For example some of a group can move while the others fire provided they stay relatively close together. There are also officers and one of the strengths of the rules is that there is lots of scope to give the officers flavour in the form of talents and side-plots etc. Finally, I haven't yet mentioned the Indians, such as the  Huron & Mohawks. While it isn't strictly necessary to have any Indians in the game,  if you don't you'r probably missing the point of the game rather.

I think the rules look fun and they don't seem too complex. Given the low entry level for figures required, Muskets & Tomahawks is definitely on the list of projects I'd like to give a try.

Muskets & Tomahawks can be obtained from either Gripping Beast or North Star.

The War Games Rules

These rules were published a couple of years ago & originate in the 1970's book 'The War Game'. I became intrigued by them when I read the excellent Wargaming in History, vol 7 (Peninsular Actions) by CSG. While they are aimed primarily at 18C battles such as in the SYW, they clearly do work for napoleonics with a little adaption; they were used for the Wargaming in History games.

They are unashamedly 'old school' in style with written orders (though these are described as 'optional') and simultaneous movement and it's fairly clear that the rules work best using individually based figures. Firing is fairly straightforward; roll a D6 for each group of 6 figures firing, deduct a number based on range & degree of cover and that is the number of casualties inflicted. Artillery is interesting as it requires a number of 'devices' to define the area of effect for roundshot, canister & howitzers. In reality though these are just templates which are not difficult to improvise.

The rules do, in my opinion, go rather off-piste in the melee. This is divided up into a series of combats between individual figures (or perhaps 2 against one) which dice off against each other. It is obviously advantageous to maximize the number of  these contests where you have an advantage. While this might be quite fun, I can see it being time-consuming & fiddly to do. There could also be some quite gamey aspects to it, eg picking on the enemy's officers, standard bearers, etc as if they die that will have an effect on morale. (I'm not going to go into morale but its actually been done quite simply & elegantly, I think).

Where the rules fall down for me is the absence of any real mechanism for command & control. Most modern rules limit the ability of a general to move all of his units in some way. As far as I can see, these don't do that. It could be argued that the use of written orders makes up for this particularly as these can't be changed instantly, only through transmission from the commander which takes some time. However I don't think that this captures the real unpredictability of C & C. Also orders are not generally a popular mechanic in rules.

So overall, what do I think? Well they certainly won't become my main set of rules, but I'd be interested to give them a try. There are some ideas for adapting them to napoleonics in the Wargaming in History book and I could probably go with 24 rather than 48 figs per unit (which is contemplated in the rules). It would be fun to try one or two of the scenarios from the W in H book (though not the Fuentes d'Onoro one which requires shed-loads of buildings). I would, incidentally, be delighted to see another book in the W in H series on a napoleonic topic.

The War Game Rules are available direct from Ken Trotman or from other specialists.


  1. A great post and honest review. I am a big fan of M&T, they play excellently even at the 200 points a side level, the rules have nice subtleties which really add character. Oh and Indians make it a heck of a lot of fun

    1. Many thanks for that. That's good to hear. Tim

  2. If M&T supports the French and Indian War presumably it could also support skirmishes elsewhere in the Seven Years' War? There's even the aborted French invasion of Britain in 1759. I don't know much about this period; school history let me down badly and it's only in recent years I've started taking an interest.

    1. I guess M&T would work for that, though its not really what they are aimed at. Personally, I think that Sharp Practice might be a better fit.