Saturday, 22 October 2016

Over the Hills - Napoleonic Rules Play-test


Friday night after a busy week at work and another busy one to follow next week, with the weekend to look forward to; so how better to spend the evening than with Tom, Will and Steve M play-testing the latest set of Napoleonic rules to hit the streets.

I first mentioned getting a copy of these rules when I attended Colours last month and my glee at finding them waiting for me when I got back from the show.


I have been looking for a set of Napoleonic rules that would allow me to use my collection of figures with my friends who prefer a dice based set of rules to mine, Tom and Will's preference "Carnage & Glory II" on the computer.

The best aspect of C&G is the ability to have the effects of fatigue gradually erode the fighting capability of your army without having any annoying paperwork or mental strain at all. Thus commanders are able to just concentrate on managing the battle they are aiming to fight with the computer doing all the donkey work - love it.

So if I were going to spend time doing some of that donkey work to have the pleasure of rolling dice then I wanted a set of rules that could capture that fatigue aspect of G&G as closely as possible.

View from the British lines in last night's play-test of Over the Hills
So you can imagine how my curiosity was peaked when I read the first reviews and discussions about this new set of rules from Adrian McWalter and Quinton Dalton and published by Caliver Books. The aspect that captured my attention was the games and units featured looked similar to mine, with individual, battalions, regiments and batteries represented on the table. However the hook for me was the mention of fatigue scores and fatigue hits to determine wear and tear on armies and units.

The Contents pages made finding relevant sections through our game pretty straight forward
So I splashed out on the shiny new hard back rule book copiously accompanied with full colour diagrams and lovely artwork from Bob Marrion and got busy understanding how these rules worked and the design concepts that lay behind them.

Caliver Books - Over the Hills

Last night was our first go with the rules to see how they play and to give you my first impressions.

So to test out the rules I put together a classic little ridge-line scenario on the Talavera table with a British brigade of three line battalions supported by a battery of 6lbr foot guns and a light cavalry brigade of British and a Portuguese light dragoons.

Across the valley eager to push the British "Rostbeefs" off their pinnacle was a French infantry brigade of six battalions of line infantry, supported by a battery of 8lbr foot guns and a light cavalry brigade of two regiments of chasseurs a cheval.

Each force was commanded by a divisional general.

We decided to play the game very much as we would a C&G scenario and then be able to compare and contrast how the rules model the game we would have expected to play.

Fatigue Hit mini dice start to appear as the first shots are exchanged
So lets first consider the basic principles of the rules
The rules are written principally with 28mm scale figures in mind but with simple adaptions advised for the smaller scale gamer, namely to use centimeters or, as we chose, to halve the distances which are in inches. I immediately produced my own quick reference sheet with those changes and have a mind to move to paces so I can use my C&G range sticks in future.

The turn has a clear sequence of play with a simple die roll off at the start to decide which player starts with the initiative, with the higher roller deciding to either move first as Player A or second as Player B. Thus the player with the initiative (Player A) moves first but the defender (Player B) shoots first. The defending player then moves and then the player with the initiative shoots last. Thus the decision to close with the bayonet takes preparation as the defender shoots first and British infantry have a better potential than most at causing damaging hits on the way in.

Troop types are what you would expect, infantry, cavalry and artillery, categorised according to their training and experience as Guard, Line, Light and Skirmishers and are also classed on their 'elan' or willingness to fight and take casualties characterised in a numerical rating known as their Fatigue Score.

A typical line battalion of infantry 600 men strong (six bases) would rate a Fatigue Score (FS) of 7. This number can be adjusted up or down according to various factors at the start and during the game. Thus for example an over-strength battalion would increase the FS by one for every 100 men over 600 or vice versa for understrength units.

During the game the FS is adjusted by circumstances and damage collectively known as Fatigue Hits (FH) so crossing a small stream in our game caused units a one FH that reduced the units starting FS. Likewise hits from shooting similarly reduces unit FS ratings.

The importance of the FS rating is that this is the base number plus or minus situational factors that the player rolls against with a D10 when firing or rallying needing to score equal to or below to get a positive result.

Hits (FH) reduce the FS thus producing the fatigue effects of wear and tear throughout the game and they can be rallied off as commanders attempt to keep their units in the fight, however the total number of FH accrued throughout the game by a given side is compared against the total value of the Fatigue Score for a given force. When more than half that total has been reached the force is considered shattered despite the condition of its units at that time and either loses the battle or, if part of a larger force, becomes under compulsory withdrawal.

Example, a brigade of three battalions at FS 7 has a brigade FS value of 21 points thus when the total number of FH accrued throughout the game reaches 11 points the brigade is shattered and under withdrawal orders - simple.

The typical historical stuff that fills modern rule sets today. Good background for the new student to the period
The command structure is what you would expect, with commanders in our game having a command radius of six, twelve and twenty four inches as brigade, divisional or army CO's respectively and these could easily be adjusted to reflect superior commanders. Commanders and units need to be in range of their superior to be under command with units out of command unable to move in that phase of play.

In addition commanders have a Control Factor (CF) number of between 1 and 5 indicating the number of units that a CO can influence at any given time such as during the rally phase, thus limiting what they can do at any time. The CF is also used to rally off FH on a unit, allowing the commander to allocate a number of D10 to the unit to roll to rally off the fatigue.

Finally, commanders can also have an Inspiration Factor ranging from -1 to +2 which can be added to a unit's FS rating during a rally test either having a positive or negative effect depending how inspirational or not they are.

Tom pushes the French cavalry forward as the infantry close in on the British ridge
All infantry have a skirmish class of A (highest) to D (lowest) and reflected in our game with the number of skirmish bases out front of the unit with equal quality cancelling each other out but with superiority adding to the units firing effect against a poorer defender.

This is the basic game system for skirmishing, which was the least satisfying aspect for me and I would incorporate the advanced rule suggestions by looking to put my skirmish elements into combined light battalions and allow them to skirmish for their respective brigades which I think better models how these units actually fought.

I have to say that I found the rules well written easily understood with the minimum of words used to set out each rule in an easy to follow order that mirrored the phases of play 
Movement is broken down into segments of, for our game, three inches (infantry - foot artillery) or six inches (cavalry - horse artillery) based on the formation the unit is in including any deductions for formation changes, producing the number of move segments a unit can use in that turn.

Thus an infantry battalion in line can potentially move two segments forward or six inches but with the last segment of move putting a fatigue hit on the battalion. Conversely it could move just one segment of three inches without fatigue, or move one segment and change formation to attack column.

Infantry in assault column have three segments of movement with the third segment incurring a fatigue hit.

The stream provided us an opportunity to inflict fatigue on movement and consider the difficulties of rallying it off whilst under fire. Off course having French infantry in assault column helps!
When it comes to shooting, fire effect is calculated by using the FS of the unit at the time of firing with addition or deduction of a list of modifiers again using a single D10 to determine success or failure with a lower score on the dice causing more fatigue hits to the target, usually to a maximum of three hits.

The FS can be further modified by the number of stands able to have line of sight to the target and thus able to fire and is calculated on 25 per cent increments of the FS.

Close combat is similarly calculated with the additional effects of what the target unit of an enemy move to contact chooses to do in response. The combats are resolved over a maximum of three rounds until one or both parties retreat or one side is broken.

The British under pressure with their cavalry brigade shattered and their line unhinged whilst facing off French columns to their front. Steve's die rolling didn't help.

So on to our game and first impressions.

For our little play-test Tom and Will took the larger force the French and were offered the initiative by Steve who took command of the British.

I should say the players were encouraged to throw caution to the wind and put the units into the fray so we could assess how the rules would model given situations rather than play this as a typical scenario; although a loose objective was for the British to repulse French attempts to gain the summit of the British ridge position.

Good use of pictures throughout the rules helped illustrate the various formations the armies can use
So based on my preamble we can forgive Steve for putting one of his infantry battalions forward on the front slope with his guns to test the effects of French artillery playing on his line whist his guns played on the French columns.

In addition both sides were quite aggressive bringing forward their light cavalry and getting into combat within a couple of moves.

We soon had fatigue hits caused across the opposing lines and general officers using their dice to get rid of them plus the odd unit halting for a phase and using their own Officers and NCO's to rally off the fatigue as an alternative.

The book is full of easy to follow diagrams and tables with explanatory text to accompany. I have read poorly laid out rules and these are not in that category.
It is hard to say definitively how successful or unsuccessful the respective sides were in our game as Tom and Will were rolling spectacular dice all evening and poor old Steve was just having one of those nights.

In one fire-fight with a British infantry battalion only needing to avoid rolling 0 on a D10 to inflict casualties on two French columns closing to combat, I don't need to tell you what Steve decided to roll.

We decided to play the Divisional and Brigade fatigue rules to determine game result and Steve threw in the towel with is cavalry brigade shattered and his division within two FH of losing and the French on a cushion of seven FH at the same stage.

Several pages at the back provide the unit stats for the nations of the period which seem to me to pretty well cover just about any period or force most people would want to do.
Our first impression is that these are a well crafted set of Napoleonic rules that really model well the fatigue of battle in a seamless easy way that doesn't involve copious book keeping. We recorded FH by simply placing micro die behind the respective units. In addition the accumulating FH effects on the army and its component parts really add to the game and in a large battle really encourage the smart commander to hang on to that battle changing reserve formation, fatigue free, ready to finish off the worn out enemy force hanging on to the ropes.

In addition all the aspects a Napoleonic gamer would look for are built into these rules. These are not a Black Powder fits all sizes rule set and really strive to capture the feel of the defined period of the Revolutionary/Napoleonic era with a basic game set of rules and plenty of add-ons in the advanced rule section.

The aspects alongside the fatigue that really ticked the box for me was the play sequence that kept both sides in the action of the game throughout. This is not your typical IGOUGO rule set and would, I think, be great in a large scale game in keeping all the players involved throughout.

The fact that combat, shooting and rallying are resolved with the use of a single D10 is also very appealing. I get that some of us like the old Gilder style games of picking up handfuls of D6 and scrutinising the roll result for fives and sixes but that is all very time consuming in the big Napoleonic game and this single die mechanic is very useful. I also like D10 as I find percentages of chance effects really easy to work with in my minds eye and very simple to adapt according to my taste.

Our battle test reaches its climax with British morale teetering on the brink
The rule book currently comes with suggested unit statistics for the War of 1812 and the following;
Austria Hungary, Baden, Bavaria, Berg, Confederation of the Rhine, Brunswick, Denmark & Norway, France, Great Britain, Hanover, Hesse-Darmstadt, Italy, Nassau, Ottomans, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Spain, Sweden, Warsaw, Westphalia and Wurttemburg.

There is also talk of scenario books to follow with more specific force and unit stats. Personally I am happy to produce my own as these rules make such design very straight forward. We were playing with "vanilla" French and British forces last night, but were soon discussing enhancements to reflect different troop types.

My re-write of the Quick Reference Sheet with half distances
for 15/18mm and the addition of the terrain effects table - see the link
below if you want a PDF copy.

Over the Hills Quick Reference Sheet 15/18mm

As you might have guessed, I really like these rules based on the first game and I know there is more to them than we found last night. I always judge a good sign is when play flows along easily and players start to become unconsciously competent with only the occasional glance at the quick reference sheet.

Steve M is off to get a copy from Caliver Books and I am thinking of some games to take to club in the near future.

Don't get me wrong, Tom Will and myself are confirmed C&G players and for granularity and meatiness in a Napoleonic battle they are our rules of choice, but we would be thinking of this set if the computer broke down.

Definitely worth checking out.

Lots more stuff to come with some Dark Ages eye candy from Steve M Studios and some Spanish Dragoons ready for Talavera.

15 comments:

  1. The sound an interesting rule set JJ. I am more inclined to believe that "fatigue" represents a units state better than "casualties" and give a better range of effects a formation is likely to face. At the end of the day we are back to "morale", which is a combination of so many more things than just the number of men killed or wounded.

    You will never convince me "Carnage & Glory" are any good, because they lack the interaction of seeing that dice roll back onto a one ! Anyway, as Chas say, "tis witchcraft, I tell 'ee".

    Vince

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    1. I think these rules will make for some fun at club and I am looking forward to giving them another go. The basic design is so open to adaption and aspects from C&G could be added in, such as the range sticks, changing the angles of fire from straight lanes and fatigue for gun crews that try to blaze away through the game. As you can see I have lots of ideas to try out.

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  2. Those look like an interesting set of rules and a really nice looking rulebook

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    1. Hi Paul, yes the rules are attractive and well laid out with plenty of substance and Napoleonic theme built into them. Well worth checking out.

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    2. If I ever cave in to the ever-looming Napoleonics temptation, I'll be sure to give them a look, thanks!

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  3. Jonathan, excellent review! As I read your review, I keep thinking that Fatigue Status is just another term for the same method of having a unit's capability degenerate over time. Impetvs uses VBU, some rules use Cohesion, some Combat Effectiveness, others Resolve. All measure similar attributes. Based on your review alone, it sounds an interesting set.

    Your effort and insight much appreciated!

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    1. Thanks Jonathan glad you enjoyed the review.
      Yes call it what you will, fatigue, morale, cohesion, the point is that armies of this and most periods didn't attempt to kill every living sole whilst the enemy still had the will to fight. The process was all about breaking that will and when the enemy was forced to think about breaking off the fight, taking the battle to a broken foe and inflicting the casualties in the pursuit.

      Occasionally you ended up with a Cannae cauldron battle that in ancient times resulted in a blood bath but certainly in the Napoleonic period a totally surrounded beaten army would offer and be given terms of surrender.

      Thus a rule set that allows you to model that degradation of the will to fight and resist appeals to me every time over a game of trying to inflict more casualties than the other chap to accrue a points victory. I guess the basic point is a system like this encourages players to think about having the end in mind right at the start of play and that means trying your best to keep a reserve that can finish the battle in your favour, just like the historical event we are trying to model.

      Cheers
      JJ

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  4. A good opening game, they certainly have potential. There would have been more positive comments if my dice hadn't been so bad! :)

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    1. Thanks Steve and well played. I think it would be fun to try these rules with the Pajar scenario as those sides are quite well balanced but would be brittle only having base FS of about 5-6 for most of the units. The Spanish would be the strongest units on the table but start with a weak FS. The second British brigade would be the game arbiter if they are deployed correctly, oh and the dice gods were on side!

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  5. Sounds great, I m buying it. Excellent review btw!

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  6. Wonderful review, thanks for putting the time into it. Sound like a 'solid' rule-set.

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  7. Thanks for your comments chaps, glad you enjoyed the read. If you are looking for a new set of Napoleonic rules these are definitely worth checking out.
    JJ

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  8. Excellent review. I think you summed up Over the Hills very well indeed.

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    1. Thank you Ralph, glad you enjoyed the read.
      JJ

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