28 August 2013

BF&S Skirmish level tactics: Command & Control

Continuing the in depth series about the By Fire & Sword rules with an article about "command & control" which is extremely important and often the difference between victory and defeat on the battlefield.  I will, like in my previous article, focus on the Skirmish level aspects but there will be a few comments on Division level gameplay towards the end.

Commanders in By Fire & Sword are really the most important pieces in your force, without them your troops are left clueless about what to do, and without effective use of your commanders the troops are more vulnerable to loss of morale and a lot harder to rally if they start to panic.

Let's start by talking about the command points. Command points have several areas of use in the game. Primarily they are used to issue orders from a commander to a unit or a squadron. Each commander has a basic command range of 20cm. If you issue an order within that command range it will only cost you a single command point, but ordering units outside of your command range costs you another 1 command point for every additional 20cm.

20cm = 1 command points to issue an order
40cm = 2 command points to issue an order
60cm=  3 command points to issue an order

So it is always good to have your commander at the center of your line and keep track of the distance between him and other units. Remember that your command bases never need to spend any command points on themselves in order to move, they always move for free - but they also move after the order phase. So you can't start the turn by moving your commander and then issue order.

Each skirmish force is led by a Colonel - which is called something different in each nation - so we will simply call this guy the commanding officer "CO". Every force has a CO, his command abilities differ from nation to nation, or sometimes even between skirmish forces of the same nation. But most often his command rating is 2-3 command points. This means that such an officer can issue 2-3 orders per turn.

Now, most of the time it is possible to upgrade the command rating by +1 command point. My advice is to always upgrade your officer if possible. The more command points you have the better. Also worth considering is that orders remain in place until you either change the order or the unit loses their orders due to a failed morale test or having been engaged in close combat. An officer with many order points may order a lot of units during turn 1, and then move along them and use his command point pool to boost them during turn 2 and onwards.

Many nations also include at least one second in command, often a Major or something along those lines. We will refer to this fellow as the "2iC". These officers are always limited to a single command point, which may seem bad but their potential is so much greater than that.

On skirmish level, orders can be given by all officers in your force. The more officers you have the greater the area of control. Furthermore your CO can transfer his own command points to the 2iC if he wish, for the duration of the turn. So if your CO has 3 command points, he can transfer them all to the 2iC if he wants, boosting the 2iC to possess 4 command points for the remainder of the turn. This transfer of command points occur during the Orders Phase. And if your two commanders are further than 20cm from each other the transfer comes with a cost that is identical to that of orders given to units out of basic command range.

Command points are not only used for giving orders to units and squadrons, they are also necessary for:

1) Rallying fleeing  or disorganized units (only within basic command range!)
2) Boosting unit morale
3) Boosting unit skill that does not involve any "To Hit" roll.
4) Used to add a +2 bonus for each command point spent, to your initiative roll at the start of a turn.

Rallying occurs at the start of the turn during the order phase, but you can boost the morale and skill of units at any other time during your turn. And boosting morale is the main use for command points during later parts of the turn.

A commander within basic or extended command range if he pays additional points, of a unit may use his pool of remaining command points to improve the morale of a unit. Morale can be improved at a 1 command point for +1 Morale basis. A maximum of 3 command points may be spent on this, but it is often enough.

Any improvement made with command points only lasts for a single test, if you improved the morale for a unit which just came under fire then the morale improvement only lasts until you roll for that test. And the most frequent use for this morale boost is when units are charging an enemy and come under fire which forces them to take a morale test. You then boost morale to increase the probability of your unit not breaking away from the charge. This is especially important if you are attacking with fragile units that have poor morale to begin with - like Volunteer cavalry.

Another frequent use of morale boosts is after the close combat resolution where the loser may suffer quite badly if his morale fails. The combat resolution directly impacts your morale. If you lose the fight by 1 point, you also get -1 to your unit’s morale. Remember that if you fail a morale test by 1-4 points you are disorganized, but losing by 5 or more points your unit breaks and starts to flee.

There is a significant difference between just suffering disorganized and suffering fleeing results. Disorganized units can still fight back when pursuing enemies catch up with them. Fleeing units can't fight at all. Disorganized units can be rallied and given a new order in the next order phase, while fleeing units require you tor rally them next turn, and can only be given orders the turn after that. This severely limits their combat use. Even if your morale drops to 0 or lower because of abysmal combat resolution, you still roll 1D10 to test morale. If you roll really low on that D10 you still have a chance to only become disorganized. It is as such often a good idea to boost the morale of units, even if they got brutally defeated in combat.

All commanders can also opt to temporarily join units. This has both benefits and drawbacks. In general you should avoid joining commanding officers with a unit for two reasons.

1) If they get killed in close combat you have pretty much lost the battle.
2) Should the unit flee, he is stuck with the unit until the end of the turn, this means he may be dragged off the table if the unit should be close to the edge when they start to flee.
3) Officers that join a unit cannot use their command points to order anyone or boost anyone outside of that unit.

The benefits of joining a unit with an officer are:

1) The unit doesn't require a command point to be spent in order to change or be issued an order.
2) The unit gets +1 morale.
3) The unit treats the command base as one of their own, if you have a Reiter unit the command base counts as a regular Reiter unit. If you have a Winged Hussar unit the command base counts as a winged hussar unit. The command base also gets to use all the special rules of the unit it has joined, such as Companions or Good Tactical Discipline. Additionally the whole unit gets a total of +1 attack on top of their combined normal attacks.

Example: 3 reiter bases with 6 attacks, are joined by a commander. The unit now has 8 attacks +1 attack for being joined by a commander = a total of 9 attacks.

As you may have guessed, the 2iC is perfect for leading units this way for a couple of reasons:

1) He only has a single command point so your force won't suffer too much if he dies.
2) Leading a unit for free allows him to use his single command point to boost them directly when needed.

So commanders have several uses in By Fire & Sword and they are extremely important.

You can also increase the command & control of your force by utilizing the squadron option. Companies that join and form a larger unit are called squadrons. There are pretty much only benefits from forming your force into squadrons. Maximum squadron sizes are 6 bases for cavalry and 12 for infantry. You are also limited to joining companies of the exact same unit type only, you cannot mix Cossack Style cavalry and Reiter cavalry bases into a single squadron.

You may however mix Veteran and non veteran, armored and non armored, and differently equipped units of t he same type. Such as mixing 2 bases of armored Veteran Reiter’s with arquebus with 3 bases of regular unarmored Reiter’s with pistols. Mixing units of different skill, morale and equipment has a tradeoff however, the entire squadron counts towards the lowest skill, morale and the worst equipment.
In the above example it would mean that all 5 Reiter bases would count as regular Reiter’s, with pistols and without any armor.

The benefits for joining a squadron however are that if you have at least 5 bases combined together, they will all receive +1 morale until they drop below 5 bases.

The main reason to combine units into squadrons is often a lot simpler than that however, it allows your commanders who have a very limited command point pool to more effectively command your troops. They need to spend 1 command point to issue an order, regardless of whether they order a company or a squadron.

And secondly, there is strength in numbers, it does not only improve the morale, but the combat potential of your troops is increased if they act together as opposed to running around alone in small companies. Musket armed infantry in particular benefit from this, the more bases are firing at the same time the greater the chance of inflicting casualties and morale tests upon the enemy. Combat resolution also takes numerical superiority into account, and you can get +1/+2/+3 to your combat resolution if you outnumber the enemy slightly, by 2:1 or by 3:1 or more.


On division level, the command and control is additionally important as this level of the game adds a General who issues instructions with his command points. Instructions are similar to orders, they cost 1command point per instruction, and follow the same command range restrictions and costs.

However, unlike orders, they are guidelines for the regiment commanders. This means that a regiment commander who issues orders to his subordinate units that are in line with the instructions he has received - orders his units for 1 command point per unit. If he however goes against the instructions and wants to give different orders to some of his units he pays twice the command point cost for doing so.

This simulates the stiff command structure and poor communications of the period. On division level you basically play with regiments that correspond to what you have already used on a skirmish level. Each regiment is roughly the same size, and the commanding officer is now called a regimental commander. The regiment still has a commanding officer and a second in command, but they all follow instructions given by a divisional general.

The other big difference on Division level is regiment morale. On skirmish level you don't have anything that comes close to being "force morale", individual units can flee off the table or be destroyed but it does not affect the remaining units.

On division level however, each regiment has a breaking point which is often 40-50% of its initial bases. Once they reach their breaking point the regiment must roll a regimental break test, which can receive further negative modifiers if the losses are greater than the breaking point. If the regiment fails the morale test it routs off the battlefield.

Each time a regiment routs, the remaining regiments receive additional break points and themselves come closer to panicking. There is as such no "army morale" but instead regiments break and flee one by one, and at an increasing pace the greater your losses become. The morale level of regiments is also affected by the loss of their regimental commander or the division general.

As such, division level games add one more layer of command & control to the rules.


  1. A nice and helpful review.
    Thanks Anatoli!


  2. Well done Alex, yet another great article!

  3. Hi, good explanation! So, 1 command point equals 1 order to 1 unit or squadron? assuming it's within 20cm of the commander. But once the order is issued it stands until such time as I choose to issue a different order or something happens like shooting or close combat to change that order?

    1. Yes 1 command point is used to activate a company/unit or a squadron. Which is why putting units together forming squadrons is a good idea.

      Correct, the order move would be in place until you change it yourself or something happens that your unit loses the order. Same with the order Defend.

      Charge order is a bit different, and often only lasts until the end of close combat. Should you fail to make it into close combat you can still keep the order if you pass a skill test. If you fail the skill test the order is lost and your unit becomes disorganized.

  4. Thanks for the article, having just read the rulebook this was one area I had concern over.

    With the command range of 20cm being so short and only having 1 commander (to begin with - until I get more models) I was concerned that the armies would be all bunched up with little possibility in sending units around the sides or leaving units at the back (how do you operate a cannon when the commander is further up the battlefield?).

    How likely is it to rally fleeing units, do they pretty much have to run into the commanders command range or theyre basically out of the game?

    Im currently painting up my first boxes of polish and Swedish skirmish and this article (and all your others) has really got me excited to paint them up quicker (:

    1. With a single officer you should give the cannon orders and then move forward with the rest of your force.
      If you give the order Defend, the cannon can provide covering fire, if you give it the order Move it can keep up with friendly infantry and support them - firing in the "fire after movement" step at the end of each turn.

      It is rare that cannons lose their order as they are out of small arms range most of the time, and the only thing really posing a threat to them are fast moving cavalry units that can get into close combat where they kill the cannon crew with ease.

      Something I forgot to mention is that all units (most of the time) start a scenario with "starting orders" so they are already prepared to do something when the first turn begins. On Division level you also have something called "group order" where your regimental commanders can spend command points to activate multiple units within close range at once - this is not possible on Skirmish level.

      As for rallying troops with a single commander, it is possible, but a lot more difficult than if you have two commanders (or 3 if you run one of the Swedish lists!).
      The trick is to know how far your troops will retreat if broken or pushed back and attempt to keep your commander within that area of control. It is hard but not impossible, and I have been able to get into range to rally my troops more often than not. Of course the hard part is to actually rally them with a morale test, which is another reason to save your valuable command points - boost the morale when rolling the rally test.

      Glad you enjoy the articles, there will be more on BF&S after the weekend, next part will focus on the close combat aspects of the game.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...