22 December 2011

By Fire and Sword rules review part 3

You could say that I saved the best stuff for last, background, army building, unit rosters and all the thematic special rules. I will also mention a bit about scenarios, tactics, penalties for being the weaker army, perks for being the smaller army and describe the huge chunk of the book that forms all of this. The rules themselves used to play the game only make up some 80 pages all in all. That includes all the examples, advanced rules and variants. The largest chunk of the book spanning almost 250 pages is a great collection of unit descriptions, history, scenarios, scenario rules, national descriptions, national rules and army lists. So if you are only interested in say, the armies of 17th century eastern Europe you will still enjoy the book even if you won't necessarily play the game.

First of all i must mention that the period during which the game takes place, in the core rulebook and which affects what army organizations are represented, is the period of 1648-1678. The reasoning behind this is as the book calls it "The Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in flames".

You get a 2 page summary of important dates starting with the 1648 Cossack uprising and 30 years of constant wars against various enemies along the borders of and within the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth ending with the last battle against the Ottoman Empire in 1676.
Some of the army lists in the book will come with specific dates or periods of time limitations if you like, so that you can fine tune your campaigns to be set within a specific timeframe of those 30 years of constant warfare. The armies will then differ in what amount of units you can field of each type, some units may not even be present in one period while appear in another.

Of course you could play every army lists if you like out of historical context, the dates marked on the army lists are mostly there to provide players that like specific historical limitations to be able to play campaigns with the exact type of army composition.

Each nation in this book comes with the following: A map showing its geographical location in relation to the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth (marked in red). This is rather logical since you could argue that the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth are "the Germans of the 17th century" - they fought everyone. You then get a couple of pages of history, describing the nation during the timeframe of the game, how the armies were formed, what their fighting style was, their shortcomings or strengths. There is for instance a very nice rundown of how the Polish-Lithuanian armies looked during this period - being divided into 4 categories. The Winged Hussars and Pancerni heavy Cossacks formed  the regular army belonging to the Crown while the bulk of the army was levy forces, nobility militias and registered Cossack forces.

Following that you get a detailed description of all the troops within each nation. The description not only shows the stats necessary to represent and play with the unit in the game, but also additional information on armament, different variations of the unit like musketeers with different types of firearms. Each unit has a description of its historical background, how it came to be, what its role in the army was, the tactical uses and how it was organized. So if you know absolutely nothing or very little about this historical period - you will end up with a pretty decent amount of knowledge about each individual nation and army represented in this book.

I mention in part 2 the special rules that are generic, like unit tactics with salvo fire - there are other such rules such as Pike&Shotte formation, Light cavalry being able to cross rivers etc.

But it is in the national special rules that the game really comes to life and brings you a great sense of historical impact. I will give you a couple of examples from each nation represented in the book.

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Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth:

Problems with the treasury
A rule that symbolizes how the nobility often caused problems for the Polish king and how the commonwealth was often strapped for cash to raise armies in times of trouble. When you play on a Division level this special rule will make an impact and you have to roll a D10 to see what effects your division will suffer from. The effects range from the soldiers not caring about money at the moment to them being disobedient meaning every higher tier commander will lose 1 point of orders for the duration of the game.

We are here to be seen, not to fight
A rule specific for the nobility militia, which during this period of history was reluctant to come to the Kings aid, reluctant to take part in battle and just waited for a good reason to withdraw from battle. This special rule makes the regiments of nobility militia break easier and faster than other regiments of the commonwealth.

On their own soil
As most battles took place on Polish-Lithuanian territory the armies automatically get 2 points of reconnaissance (will get back to reconnaissance in a moment)


Ukrainian Cossacks:

Peasant spies
Not having much cavalry to do reconnaissance the Cossacks relied on villagers and farmers to provide them with information on enemy movement. They receive D10 points of reconnaissance at the start of the game.

Where is the plunder, the prisoners, the victory?
Cossacks relied on Tatar allies to provide them with cavalry. Their relation was shaky and the Tatars expected bounty from their participation in the uprising. When they weren't satisfied with the amount of loot and prisoners they took it out on the Ukrainian population. As such the Tatar units get 1 regiment breaking point for each broken Cossack regiment.


Kingdom of Sweden:

Army drill

The Swedish army being extremely well trained results in them being able to perform 1 additional special maneuver for free if the unit has a skill of at least 5.

Discipline
The army is able to keep a cool head even when they became ambushed. As such all units may reroll morale tests related to enemy units suddenly appearing out of nowhere.

Expanded army staff
Officers that use their influence to affect the skill checks of units within their control may reroll failed skill checks.


Crimean Tatars:

Plunderers
Tatar units will always stop to plunder enemy camps or supply wagons.

Excellent bowmen

Horse archers are treated as if they were veteran units with skill 5 when using their bows.

Fear of firearms
Tatar units are easily scared by gunpowder weapons and have to roll morale tests if they come under fire within short range from such weapons even if they do not lose a unit stand.


Ottoman Empire:

Allah, Allah!
Ottoman army commanders are given 3 markers; these may be discarded to deem any failed charge, morale test etc to automatically be passed. A unit that receive such  a marker will also ignore any morale tests even if it loses the fight.

Contract of servitude
Ottoman Janissaries often wrote contracts that said they would not fall back until at least 3 attacks on enemy positions had failed. As such the player is free to mark regiments with such a contract, in which case the units will ignore failed morale tests, won't flee etc until they have failed 3 morale tests or if their commander is killed in battle. Units will charge enemies and stand their ground out of the players control until they fulfill their contract. So it can be a double edged sword in that regard. Fanatical units with little tactical discipline.


Tsar Russia

Origin of birth
Russian commanders were often placed in charge of armies not based on their skills but because they were deemed to have been born in a place of importance. This makes the Russian commanders have a random amount of command points (order points). You have to roll and see if they are incompetent but important figures of society - or if they are capable commanders.

Ambush
Russian infantry was often used to ambush enemy units. As such if you are the weaker army in smaller battles you may always place 1 unit in ambush - even if your total amount of reconnaissance points don't allow for it. In larger battles you may place an entire regiment in ambush.
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Army building

A refreshing attitude has its mark upon this game. You don't work with 1000's of points adding small rifle upgrades for 5 points to single units. The game uses a much more scaled down point system, I think it would simply translate as "army points". You could say that you and your friend decide to play 10 army points. You then look in your army lists and pick a regiment. You are also allowed to play different amounts of points per side if you like, in which case the weaker army will get to pick scenario and get a few additional effects.

Each regiment has a basic core amount of companies and is marked with how many army points this basic core costs. You are then allowed to add additional companies beyond the core units. In which case each additional unit will add another army point to the total regiment value.  As you move down the army lists you will be given the option to field one of several units - you have to pick one - for one additional army point per tier. You can also pay 1 additional army point to fill out under strength companies, improve your commander or buy additional "greyed out" units located in the regiment margin. There will be a limit on how many of this additional unit stands you can add.

For instance the Polish royal cavalry regiment  has the basic cost of 5 army points. They are allowed to upgrade their commander for 1 army point, add 1 stand of Winged hussars for 1 army point each and also allowed to swap the heavy Pancerni cossacks for light cossacks instead reducing the cost of the army by 1 point.

This is the regiment level of army building. Now moving on to the Divisional level there is a basic requirement of how many regiments you have to include to form a division. You are then allowed to add additional regiments further down the ladder - but you are often restricted to how many of these additional regiments you can include. And finally you can add something I would call "divisional support units" in the shape of units often not represented in the regiments themselves - special infantry, artillery etc.  The restriction here is 1 divisional support unit per regiment fielded. And they all have army build points written next to them so you can keep track of how many points your total army is worth when you decide who will be the underdog or the stronger player in the battle to come.

I find this to be a much cleaner system of historical requirements than say Flames of War where you can often field a company with minimal amount of core troops and max out on divisional support. This system gives a much closer historical representation of how the armies of each nation actually looked and what they were composed of. It is also much easier to throw together an army list and get a quick overview of what each unit, regiment and division will cost you.
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So I have mentioned "reconnaissance" a couple of times by now, this is a very interesting game mechanic that makes an impact on your tactics and force on the battlefield. In larger battles you are allowed to send a vanguard regiment ahead of the army to make reconnaissance of enemy positions. This regiment may or may not return in time for the battle so you could potentially lose or delay part of your army. Players compare the combined reconnaissance value of their recon regiments - cavalry stands are worth more than infantry. The combined total will result in a number which the players compare with each other. The player who has the larger number wins the reconnaissance, but he also needs to win by a sufficient margin in order to get some decent effects of the reconnaissance. The greater the difference the better for the winning player. You may end up being able to choose additional battlefield tactics, put regiments in ambush, make one regiment sneak around the enemy and appear on their flank.

Units that were sent on reconnaissance make a skill test to see what happened to them and if they are able to make it back to your main army safe and sound and on time. They may end up losing stands in the process, be delayed or completely annihilated.

Apart from the tactical gains of reconnaissance there is another important factor playing a decisive role - and that is being the underdog or the player with the larger army. The player with the smaller army will suffer a random effect upon each of his regiments. These effects range from unhappiness, panic, attrition losses, delayed units or "favorable signs" which actually boost the morale of the regiment.

There are a lot of other scenario related special rules, such as commanders having a good or a bad day which will impact their judgment a amount of order points. You may also get unexpected reinforcements.

The scenarios range from various situations such as raiding a village, capturing the enemy army in an well placed ambush, trying to cross a river and engage the enemy on the other side and such.

The size of the table used for the game depend a little on how large an army each player has but the standard measurements seem to be 100x100cm.

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My closing thoughts about the entire rulebook and impression I have of it with only minimal testing with proxy units is as such:

The rules are rather well written, I don't think you will have headaches as often as when you play Flames of War and during the assault step try to figure out how 12 units with different special rules will react to your charge. The game is also neither a dumbed down streamlined wargame like Warhammer Fantasy Battles. That does not mean that the game lacks complexity or good flow. There is enough detailed behavior of units within historical context of the game setting, enough things that lend tactical weight to satisfy gamers more geared towards realistic battles than just "fast paced rules".

You won't roll 40 dice per unit, the saves and attack values make sense - often you won't get to make any save because troops are unarmored. The D10 is a much better and accurate way of tweaking the action and tests of various units than the D6 will ever be. Units take certain amount of damage points to each stand before it is removed as such you won't massacre small elite units or have this huge impact of battlefield attrition that for instance FoW has - where one failed save removes a unit stand immediately. You won't annihilate a fleeing enemy with the snap of your fingers with 2 stands of cavalry like in Warhammer FB.

I think this game combines the good parts of many games, and to some extent owes its gratitude towards those games. I do however believe that the final result is a much more logical, tactical and well written set of rules. Add to that the rich background and history of the units and armies, flavor special rules that are nation specific and have historical context. I hope this game will grow to be popular and successful because judging from the core rulebook it deserves praise and recognition. I also think it does fill a historical gap that is a very interesting and somewhat overlooked period.

17 comments:

  1. Great review, some wee comments to the text on forum, as before :)

    Regards from Scotland!

    Cheers
    Michał

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  2. Great stuff! Thanks again for writing these up.

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  3. Thanks for taking the time to read guys.
    I realize it was a massive amount of text, but the rulebook was so extensive and filled with cool stuff I felt obligated to mention as much as possible to convey onto you the same excited feeling I was having upon reading the book :-D

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  4. Great review Anatoli, I really hope that translated rules will find its own niche among players, as they do deserve this.

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  5. Very interesting read. I'd really like to give the game a try, but being in a very small, FOW and WH Ancients-centered community, there is little hope for finding enough players locally ...
    However, reading your descriptions on stuff like army composition and recce, I think if the system were to be implemented in a Napoleonic setting, FOW would get a serious contender in the "user friendly" historical segment ...

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  6. BTW; did you know you can get winged hussars in 2mm scale as well? :D

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  7. @Luka

    2mm?!! I saw some in 6mm that you almost could not recognize being winged hussars LOL! I will stick to 15mm for this game, but if I already had a collection of 28mm stuff matching the period I would just swap centimeters to inches and run it on a bigger table.

    I think you could apply some of the scenario and tactical rules quite effortlessly to other systems and periods. I find the entire reconnaissance part of the rules very clever and it makes a more logical explanation as to who gets the upper hand based on information about enemy movements and thus is able to deploy his army more favorably. And it makes for better use of "recon troops" and represents them being used in a much more creative and interesting way than just to prevent enemy ambushes to be sprung like in FoW.

    I hope I will be able to build up interest in my local group as well. I will however invest in 2 armies for myself so that I can always invite a friend over for a game or run a demo of it on my own at local events.

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  8. Another cool review. You noted a table is 100cm squared for most scenarions which doesn't seem massive, so how big is an average army? Would be good to know. March 2012 can't roll around quick enough for me now.

    Leigh

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  9. Basic "skirmish" level small "army" is usually up to 10-12 bases strong. But this is just basic troops, one can add easily twice or thrice that on that level of play. It depends on agreement between players. how big battle in Army Points terms they would like to play. This basic skirmish level of game could have few dozen of stands maximum IIRC. Image 20 is a snapshot of the very basic "regiment of cavalry" for Polish. You can see that there are 3 bases of Pancerni and 8 bases of Kossacks cavalry obligatory (and commander of course) for 5 points, one more point will get You another two bases of Cossacks and so on...

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  10. @ Leigh

    Well an army, if we are talking a basic division made up of minimum sized regiments could be somewhere around 12 cavalry companies, each 3 stands worth of cavalry strong. So 36 stands to represent units + 3 stands for commanders. Bear in mind that the stands are smaller than FoW stands as they only have a footprint of 4x2cm /4x3cm/ 4x4cm per stand.

    Playing division level games will give you 1 army commander and 3 regiment commanders to order around the troops. The regiments could be fleshed out with additional companies, company commanders, company artillery support and divisional support could be added. It also depends on the nation. Cossacks and Ottoman empire have huge blocks of infantry.

    An example of a Cossack regiment would be 4 units each being 4 stands of infantry strong, and they would still only be worth half of what a regular cavalry regiment is worth. So in reality you would get 8 companies of Cossack infantry to match the army value of a Polish cavalry regiment with 4 companies of cavalry.

    So far the core rules settle for division being the largest scale you can play. So I think the 100x100cm battlefield which often have a deployment zone of 20cm per side per default is best suited for either Regiment vs Regiment clashes or up to a basic core divisional level. There are no strict guidelines in regard to how to increase the size of the table with the size of the army but I think that most gamers have a 4x6’ table that would suit perfectly for a more epic scale engagement between large divisions.

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  11. @Anatoli
    Thanks, gives me a good rule of thumb, something like two forces of 40 odd bases, or about 120 figures a side will give me a good force to start with and be able to play some games.
    I hope they are able to have it over here in English for Salute in April. That is usually my buy new rules and figures show!

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  12. Wowza! The basing system is identical to DBR and FoG so will be a boon to players like me. Has the review author played either of those seminal systems and can offer a comparison to F&S?

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  13. @dpooley

    No experience with either of those systems I'm affraid (no one in the club plays them). Though I was made aware of the similar basing while browsing for alternative plasticard bases.

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  14. Anyone got any of the figures from wargamer.pl? What are they like, easy to assemble, nice metal? I know I got some of the oddzial ozmy medievals and there were a very brittle and had seperate lances that were really fiddly to assemble.

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  15. I will order a few of the Wargamer boxes after New Year, I found one retailer in Germany that will give free shipping above 40Euro within Europe. So as soon as Christmas is over I hope there will be a review of the miniatures as well.

    I think the lances and pikes are all solid metal wire since they had a picture on their site showing how to shorten it to represent various spears, lances and pikes.

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  16. Damn that book is pretty! Great reviews Anatoli. I'll have to grab this when it comes out in English.

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  17. Leigh:

    I have a Lvl 1 Swedish army. Models are well casted, good metal quality (no to fragile, not to hard - much better quality than Oddzial 8. I had olny 1 broken tail/leg in 6 boxes), moulds are on a reasonable level. Each unit type (infantry, horses, riders) has 3-4 poses.

    Riders fit all hourse type with ease.

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