21 December 2011

By Fire and Sword rules review part 2

The rules for By Fire and Sword are in my opinion pretty dynamic as they are a hybrid version of the IGOUGO system where players take turns in moving their entire army, shooting and fighting in close combat.

Things that set these rules apart are the following turn sequence.

Initiative phase
Players roll for initiative. Winner chooses whether he wants to go first or force the enemy to perform his actions first in each phase.

Order phase
Players place small order tokens face down next to units within reach of a viable commander. Regiment commanders can only give orders to their own regiment units, division commanders can give orders to regiment units, and generals can give orders to everyone. Each officer class have their own amount of order points they can spend each turn, and a specific range in which they can issue orders to units within that range. Commanders don't have to spend all their order points on issuing orders, order points can also be used to tweak die rolls for initiative, making friendly units pick able to charge enemy units further away, improve unit skill checks and also to improve the commanding officers command range.
In other words, commanding officers are very valuable and necessary to get things done. Orders are "Move", "Charge" and "Defend".

Once all orders have been placed by both players, they proceed to the movement phase.

Movement phase.
The player with the initiative proceed to moving all his units and begin all charge actions that he has ordered. Units need to have the order "Move", "Charge" or "Defend" in order to be able to do anything in this phase. Units with no order must stay put or move towards the friendly table edge only.

Units with the "Move"  order may move up to their normal speed, or if in proper formation (column) they may march if there are no enemy models within 20cm. Models marching add +5 cm/+10cm depending on whether they are infantry or cavalry units. Models that do not march but move at normal speed are allowed to fire after having moved at a -1 penalty to their weapon skill check. You are also allowed to spend movement in order to change formation from Line to Column, from close formation to lose formation, change facing and movement points are also spent on “wheeling” your units during movement.

Units that charge do so over 2 phases. Firstly you have to say what unit of yours will charge which unit belonging to the enemy player. They then move up to their regular movement during the movement phase towards the target. They can end in contact with the enemy already if their basic move allows it. If still out of reach, units with additional special movement dedicated for charges move this additional distance until they make contact with their intended target. If you charge an enemy unit which has also received the order "charge" your opponent flips the order token to reveal the unit intentions and is able to "countercharge" in which case both friendly and enemy unit clash in the middle of the charge move.

Fighting phase
In this phase units that have the order "Defend" may fire their weapons. After this have been done - any charging units move into contact with the enemy and the following happens:

Defensive fire - if a unit with "Defend" delayed their fire they may fire in close combat at a -1 to hit penalty but their guns will be much more efficient at this close range with better penetration modifiers and thus able to kill heavily armored units easier.

Charging unit opens fire into the defenders. Units need to have the special rule “fire during charge”, this mostly applies to cavalry armed with pistols.

First round of close combat begins. Both the charging unit and the defender may receive some advantage and positive modifiers to their close combat rolls depending on several factors. Charging models receive +1/+2 charge depending on infantry/cavalry type. Cavalry also receive additional bonus if they have a short or long bonus move in their profile. Cavalry on top of that receive additional bonus if they move at great speed over a long distance and clash into the target with force.  Terrain also comes into play, charging at units behind cover, uphill or downhill can also work in favor of the attacker or the defender.
If the target has been ordered to “Defend” the attacker gets a negative penalty to hit them. All these modifiers are cumulative, needless to say a well placed cavalry charge under the right circumstances will be a brutal demonstration of force where the target unit will be cut down very easily.

Check who won the first round of close combat. Loser flees, winner may peruse.
Second round of combat in pursuit - check for winner/loser again.
Winning unit does not continue the pursuit, loser however continues to flee.

After the above has been done, units that received no order this turn may fire their weapons at a reduced rate of fire. This is the last attack action that happens during a players turn.

Regroup phase and regiment morale
This is followed by the regroup phase; players check for regiment morale and see if the regiment has reached a breaking point. Regiments receive "breaking points" when units are destroyed or whenever a unit stand is lost. Once the amount of breaking points have reached or passed a regiment specific breaking point the regiment commander must roll a morale test with negative modifiers if things are going really bad - to see whether the entire company breaks and withdraws from battle or stays and fights.

Regiment morale is specific for each regiment and depends on what organization the regiment belongs to. Hastily put together rabble with little training will have lower company morale than elite cavalry companies. These may however share the same army, meaning that weak companies will start fleeing off the battlefield before veteran companies.

When a regiment breaks every single unit belonging to that regiment  flees off table leaving the rest of the army to fend for itself. You calculate the regiment morale by doing a little math equation. A regiment with 50% motivation in its regiment roster means that if it has 10 stands the company regiment is 0.5x10 = 5. If it had 20 stands it would be 0.5x20=10.
Whenever you lose a stand from a unit belonging to a specific regiment you receive 1 breaking point, 1 for destroyed units that had fewer than 10 stands, 2 for destroyed units that had more than 10 stands, 3 points for killed main commander etc.

Once your regiment reach 5 you must roll an unmodified morale check for your regiment commander. Every point that you have accumulated beyond your breaking point adds a negative modifier to your morale checks.

Now let’s talk a bit more closely about how the stats look and how you work out results.

Movement: The distance a unit can move. As already mentioned you add additional 5/10cm if a unit marches. And some units, mostly cavalry, have a special additional amount of movement which is used for charges.

Toughness: Depending on whether your models are dressed in regular clothes, chainmail, cuirass or other protection their profile is different according to the level of protection. Units with not protective armor at all have toughness 2. Well armored models like armored Pikemen have toughness 5 and so on. The toughness is locked and stays static as each unit is armored and armed in a historical manner. So you will not buy additional weapons, armor or magic flags in this game. You have to roll lower or equal to your Toughness to prevent being wounded.

Morale: Also self explanatory. It ranges from 4 (lowest) to 7 (highest). You have to roll lower or equal to your morale to pass morale checks.

Skill: Skill both applies in close combat and ranged combat. You have to roll lower or equal to your skill in order to be able to hit the enemy. Several factors can improve or decrease this stat during the game, such as having moved, firing from horseback, firing at enemies in loose formation and so on.

Hand to Hand combat:
How many dice each stand will roll in close combat.

Ranged combat: How many dice each stand rolls when firing ranged weapons.

This briefly states what weapon your unit is armed with, some may have multiple weapons.

Efficiency: Closely linked to the Weapon stat is the weapon efficiency. This is the modifier applied to the enemy defense roll. 0 means that they roll an unmodified D10 to prevent being harmed, while 3/1 when firing a musket means that the enemy adds 3 to their roll at close range from your muskets – but only add 1 to their roll from your muskets if being fired at long range. The same principle works for close combat weapons, such as lances, specialized in a certain role such as charging.

Weapon range: States whether it is a close combat weapon, or states the close/long range for firearms.

Special rules: Any number of special rules that may apply to this specific unit.

Specific example A Musketeers firing at approaching Winged Hussars

The Musketeers have Skill 4 and their weapons have range 10/30 with the efficiency 3/1.
The Hussars are at long range and move in loose formation. Firing at long range forces the Musketeers to reroll any scoring hit. 3 stands of musketeers have a total of 6 shots.
They roll 8, 2, 1, 3, 5, 6. Discarding all results above their training the musketeers now proceed to re-roll the 2, 1 and 3. The re-roll inflicts a single hit on the approaching enemy.
The Winged Hussar toughness is 7. The musket round has lost much of its force at the long range, so it only reduces the Hussar toughness by 1. The Hussar rolls 1D10 and needs to roll 6 or lower in order to survive. He rolls 10 and is killed.

Additional information on units and their basing:
Models in this game share bases and multiple stands form a unit. Infantry is based 3 models on a 4x2cm base, cavalry is based 3 models on a 4x3cm base, artillery 1 model with crew on a 4x4cm base, lower tier commanders with staff on a 4x3cm base and high level commanders with staff on a 4x4cm base.

Worth noticing is that unless specified each stand has 3 “wounds”. So when a unit takes casualties you have to keep track of how many wounds your unit stands have received. As soon as a stand has received 3 wounds it is then removed. You always fill up wounds on a single stand before applying surplus damage from enemy attacks on the next stand. Casualties are normally taken from the rear of a unit.

Some special rules worth mentioning
The game has a lot of very nice special rules that add historical weight to both the weapons, tactics of those times and the historical units featured on the battlefield.  The following rules are “generic” and not bound to a specific nation.

“Fire by Rank”

You are able to set up ranged weapon stands up to 3 deep and may fire with each rank . You have to measure the distance from each individual rank however. You cannot fire by rank 2 turns in a row as the unit must reload their guns efficiently in order to do so again.

“Fire salvo”
The entire unit opens fire at once, which forces the enemy to take a morale test even if no stands were lost. Same thing as with Fire by Rank, unit has to reload before being able to do it again.

“Independent units”
Units that know what to do and don’t need orders issued to them in the order phase in order to perform tasks on the battlefield.

A rule for several cavalry units which adds 1 additional attack dice for each 2 stands with this rule. Symbolizes cavalry that charged in multiple ranks, spearheaded by veterans and backed up by younger soldiers. Such as the Winged Hussars.

“Great/poor tactical discipline”
Units that receive a bonus or a penalty in close combat,  all friendly units taking part in the close combat need to have the same rule in order for it to apply. As such bad units drag good units down, while good units keep bad units from breaking easier as they share the same combat.

There are several types of weapons within each class in this game. You get old and new types of muskets, pikes and spears of various lengths, lances, bows, pistols etc. All with their own profiles, efficiency and range modifiers. I will talk about a couple of special rules and national special rules in part 3.

There is one last intriguing thing worth mentioning– "Ammunition".
This game has units armed and equipped differently. Some units have “low on ammunition” in their profile, others may have “lots of ammunition”.  By Fire and Sword has a game mechanic that keeps track of ammunition or checks whether a unit has spent its last rounds. You are given two choices.

Either you mark the use of ammunition on a piece of paper or you make a die roll each time a unit has fired (except for the very first time).

Counting ammunition uses the “low/high on ammunition” modifiers and apply it to a historical average amount of rounds each unit would bring with it to the battlefield. Using this method most units will have 6 “rounds” of ammunition, 4 or 8 if they are low/high on ammo. Whenever a unit fires at half rate, they use up ½ rounds worth of ammo.
The alternative for faster gameplay and less work is to make a “ammunition check”. This is a roll of D10 after each time you open fire with your unit. On a roll of 8-10 the unit has spent all its ammunition, 7-10 if you are low on ammo, or 9-10 if you have lots of it. You get a positive modifiers of 1 if you only fire with half your unit.

In both cases you are able to regain lost or spent ammunition by either interact with wagon of  ammunition or by rolling a skill test and use up some of your movement points. If you pass your skill test then your troops have scavenged dead bodies on the battlefield or efficiently shared their reserves of ammo among the soldiers within the unit.

I understand this has been a LOT to take in, trust me when I say it is not that overwhelming as it sounds. It is however a different pace and flow from other games on this level that I have played. I cannot say that anything feels unnatural or unrealistic however. There is a sound logic to how the rules are formed and how you go about your turn, how the units react and logical or historical special rules that do not feel tacked on for the sake of “this unit needs something to set it apart from the rest”.

The rules are written quite well, lots of air in between the text, good layout of the rules and you won't have to flip through 5 chapters to work out how a charge works like in Flames of War.

I hope you guys will check in again tomorrow when I will describe the nations, national special rules, talk units and army building.


  1. Great stuff Anatoli, I pass one comment on forum, as part of text might gets confusing now ;)

  2. Sounds really good, looking forward to seeing these in English in the new year (unlike you my Polish is poor conversational and certainly not up to rules reading!)


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