Friday, 16 March 2018

Who exactly put those men in column?

Somewhat to my surprise the recent post with the fewest views is last week’s report on the current Seven Years War game at James’. Apart from anything else the mention of Russians usually attracts spambots in their droves. Anyway, things have moved on, mostly to the benefit of the Prussians. In the centre the bridge was completed and units moved across it, with mixed success it must be said. On the right the Prussian heavy artillery was able to wreak havoc on some rather badly placed infantry columns – the player responsible perhaps wisely choosing not to reappear this week – and to take out the Russian artillery facing them. It would seem that this is one of those games that James isn’t going to feature on his blog, so I’m afraid that’s probably the best description that you’ll get of the action.

Some readers (Hello Don) have said that the apparent constant rule changes in our games would drive them mad, but I think this game demonstrates why they are sometimes not such a bad idea. This is the only period in which the rules played are recognisably classic Piquet (although I will make a prediction here that that’s what James ends up using for the Peninsular War collection currently being painted) and the differences from the base set come from, perhaps, four directions.

Firstly, the chrome which reflects how we (i.e. James) understand warfare of the time to have been conducted. This is, of course, precisely, how Piquet was intended to be played and there are published supplements covering periods from ancients through to the 20th century. The original set is Horse and Musket, but perhaps mainly Napoleonic focused and the desire to have something more mid eighteenth century and specifically central European led to the ‘Lemon’ rules being written. Pretty much everything I know about the period comes from playing these rules, so I can shed no light at all on how successful they may or may not be in achieving this.

Secondly, there are things that just seem as if they could be improved. Changes made of this type would include playing Major Morale on the opponent rather than oneself when the card is turned and a morale challenge only costing a morale chip when it fails, both of which, in my opinion, substantially improve things.

Thirdly, there is the influence of other rulesets. Classic Piquet was written for much smaller, shorter lasting games than those we tend to play in the legendary wargames room. Morale is lost per stand lost, and when you’re dead, you’re dead. The publishers of Piquet subsequently issued a derivative set of rules – collectively known as FoB – which among other things reduce the potential for the swings of fortune that put a lot of people off and also make multiplayer games more practical. Further changes related to loss of morale, now by unit not stand, and the introduction of the ability to rally back losses that had been taken. Both of these changes suited the longer games we played and so were adopted. We then experimented with Black Powder for a different period - the Italian wars. Black Powder allows rallying back - although it makes it bloody difficult to do in practice – but the first hit can never be recovered i.e. units can never be recovered back to full strength. We rather liked that, and so it too was adopted.

Regular readers may also recall that the definition of a flank has proved problematic. It cropped up during the very first game that I played with the Ilkley Lads – an ACW game which must have been getting on for fifteen years ago now – and it has done so pretty much ever since. I think (hope?) that we have settled on one (if the centre of your unit is behind the extended front edge of the target unit then it’s a flank), but having done so I think we are just about to transcend flanks completely. Black Powder talks in terms of ‘enfilade’ instead of ‘flank’ and because there’s a compelling logic to that it has started to make an appearance in our games using other rules.

Which neatly brings me on to the fourth reason for changing the rules: new elements to the game. In this case it’s obviously the pontoon bridge. Standing looking down at the table, it doesn’t make much sense that a unit crossing the bridge in column should take more casualties when fired at from the side than from the front, which gives a push to the switch from ‘flank’ to ‘enfilade’. But that wasn’t the only issue that just didn’t seem right. As I referred to in the previous post we had need of some mechanics for building the bridge and so used those in the original Piquet rules. On the table the rather slow progress in construction enabled Peter to send up some Cossacks to harry the sappers. A quick look at the rules shows that the effect of this is, er, nothing at all; the bridge builders just carry on regardless. The same turns out to be true for being under fire from artillery. None of that seemed to make sense and so some tweaks were applied. In addition there are artillery rules for shooting at structures (cue much discussion as to whether a pontoon bridge was more like a wooden fence or a wooden house) or for shooting at troops, but none for targeting both at the same time if the latter are passing across the former; so some more adjustments were deemed to be required. What we ended up with still didn’t quite feel right - it is of course very important that it still all fits in with the general style of Piquet, card driven, opposed single dice rolls etc. - and I have no doubt that it will have evolved further by next week. I personally can’t see any alternative to this suck it and see development process, and prefer it to playing on regardless with something that is clearly incorrect. Sometimes it’s the journey rather than the destination.

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