Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Rules of the Game

Chatting with some wargaming acquaintances at Triples has led me to think about the rules I use.  I do seem to be settling on a portfolio of rules that cover the span of periods that interest me. 

Over the years I’ve switched rules and rebased figures more times than I care to mention.  My 15mm Samurai were originally based for George Gush’s WRG Renaissance rules (but I’m not sure they ever got played with under those rules).  Then I rebased them on 80mm x 40mm bases inspired by a set of DBA-derived rules called something like The Age of the Country At War.  I think I tried these rules once before abandoning them.  Next I came across Peter Pig’s various rules sets and decided I liked the look of four 15mm figures on a 30mm square base.  With no particular rule set in mind, I rebased again!  Finally (I hope) I decided to recognise that I was only likely to use these figures with Hordes of the Things and rebased them again on 40mm wide bases.  At last they have been used for a few games!  I could tell similar tales about several other armies.

Now, however, I seem to be settling down.  I thought I’d review here the decisions that have led to the rules that now seem to be my defaults.

Ancients and Medievals - Impetus
I was first turned on to Impetus by the large bases it uses and the potential they have for making units as dioramas.  My Wars of the Roses forces (one rebase but a lot of time spent blutacked to sabot bases) are now on 12cm frontage bases.  I’m very happy with Basic Impetus’s speed of play.  A standard Basic Impetus army has slightly fewer elements than a DBA army but uses slightly more figures.  

In terms of game play I enjoy the way Impetus has a little more “texture” than DBA.  In a DBA combat there are typically three possible outcomes; either one or other of the units will be destroyed or pushed back or there will be a draw and the melee continues next round.  In Impetus there is more sense of the action swaying back and forth as first one side and then the other gains momentum.   The rules can occasionally give what seem to be anomalous results but I suspect these are no more extreme than would result from a 6:1 roll in a game like DBA.

I have a rather bitty collection of 6mm ancients and medievals on 60mm frontage.  This isn’t a standard Impetus basing size but the rules work fine using 1cm per U (the unit of measurement in the rules).

Renaissance to 19th Century - Principles of War
Principles of War is one of my more recent discoveries.  Alan Saunders suggested that I try the 19th century version for my (much rebased and infrequently used) Franco-Prussian War collection.  Before I got a chance to try this I was introduced to the unofficial ancients variant by Steve Oates.

My FPW chaps are now based for POW and are likely to stay that way after They Died For Glory, Volley and Bayonet, Les Gens Braves, and my own DBA and Square Bashing variants were all tried and found wanting.  

POW has scored with me because (a) it required the minimum of effort to set up the armies (one Irregular Miniatures strip per element) and (b) because I enjoy the elegant way hidden movement and map-based command and control are handled.

My renaissance figures are mostly on 6cm x 3cm bases and again whilst these are not standard for the rules I think they are going to work OK.

My most recent purchase in this family of rules is the 18th century variant.  It’s likely to be the set of choice for use with my Great Northern War Russians.  Again these are on non-standard 60mm bases but I’m getting pretty relaxed about base sizes.

Larger WW2 battles - Tac:WW2 / Blitzkrieg Commander
For many years Tac:WW2 has been an automatic choice for brigade level games.  It scores over Rapid Fire by being designed for 6mm figures and over Spearhead in being less bland (texture again).

I think I will carry on playing Tac:WW2 but BKC will probably see a lot of use simply because my local players are increasingly familiar with Cold War Commander and it makes sense to take advantage of that in using rules from the same family.

Another area where BKC scores is that its easier to cope with a single HQ element on a distinctive base than to keep track of which vehicles among many are the HQ elements of a Tac:WW2 battalion.

Twentieth Century Skirmish - Arc of Fire
Chris Pringle sent me a playtest copy of Arc of Fire because we’d worked together on the Blitzkrieg 1940 scenario book or Tac Publications.  It immediately became my go-to set of rules for this type of game.  I love the command and control system, which, unusually for a  card-driven system, manages to keep multiple players involved for most of the time.  The random events table is also a winner.  

Post-WW2 big battles - Cold War Commander
The way that CWC got my 6mm collection out of long-untouched storage and onto the table is something I’ve mentioned here before.  A Fistful of TOWs was the only set of rules that might have run it close but when I wanted to start playing with these toys again, FFOT was between versions and heading in the direction of being majorly expensive to purchase whilst CWC was on the shelves of my local wargame store and gave everything I needed in one book.

CWC ain’t perfect but it gets played and I can’t see any other set overtaking it in the near future.

Fantasy battles - Hordes of the Things / Basic Impetus Fantasy
As I’ve said before, the number of times I’ve played HOTT exceeds any other set of rules by a factor of at least ten.  You can comfortably play four or more games in a day and is remarkably free for areas where people disagree on rules interpretations.  With the Glory Day amendments in place (Shooters’ and Warbands’ move distances swapped) it’s a remarkable well-balanced game too.  

So why has Impetus found it’s way in here? Well, it comes down to what I call texture.  HOTT does a great job of abstracting a lot of interaction into a single pair of opposed dice rolls but sometimes I want the game system to tell me a little more about what’s going on.  Impetus brings a greater range of interesting unit characteristics and a more nuanced combat system to the table.

In an odd sort of way Impetus (in both its fantasy and historical variants) reminds me of the sort of battles I occasionally played and enjoyed reading about back in the days of WRG 5th edition Ancients!

Fantasy Skirmish - Song of Blades and Heroes
As I’ve said elsewhere: quick, easy, fun and suddenly a few lonely figures become a useful warband.   

So what have we learned? Firstly, it’s really easy to identify a successful set of rules.  They get played.  If your figures for a particular period are sitting unused in a box somewhere, the rules you’re (not) using are probably to blame.

Secondly, basing standards are, at least for me, important.  I’m increasingly impressed by the way some gamers manage to make their elements look like real military units  by turning each base into a mini-diorama.  This can be anything from a 30mm square HQ element for 1/300th scale Cold War Commander to a 12cm frontage unit of 28mm knights for Impetus.

And finally, if you’re likely to play most of your games in situations where you’re providing both sides, don’t fret about base sizes. If a game is designed with 40mm frontages in mind, it’s most unlikely that you’ll break it utterly by using 60mm bases instead (as long as you’re consistent between opposing armies).


Itinerant said...

Have you gone full impetus or stuck with Basic? Nice list and read. I'm trying to find my ruleset for samurai - 1550-1600.

Trying both KoW and Basic Impetus. Though I think I would go with Full impetus because it appears to have more CnC.

Counterpane said...

I'm still on Basic Impetus at present. £25 seems a lot to pay for more rules that I may not want to use. I'll probably weaken before too long, though.

Kaptain Kobold said...

An interesting portfolio, and one I'm in some agreement with. In the UK I had a similar one, but it's been a bit up in the air since I emigrated, as the group I'm with is a bit uncommitted on rules in some areas, and contains people who are passionately against certain sets. So my portfolio is having to be adapted and compromised. We are looking at BKC for WWII (I've sold them on TAC as a concept, but since none of us actually have the rules it's a little hard to go any further). In the last five years I've played precisely one game of PoW; no-one here seems that interested, and Black Powder is slipping in as the favoured choice for 19th century games anyway.

On the plus side, the group I found is seriously into HOTT. Moreso than the guys in Staines were :)