Friday, July 22, 2016

Search For The Holy Grail--The Best Napoleonic Rules, Part 2

As a continuation of the search for the best Napoleonic rules, here is Part 2. I replayed the scenario of the battle of Maida in 1806, which is a small divisional-sized game. Instead of focusing on several different AAR's covering the battle, I wanted to focus on the mechanics of each individual rules set and compare them to each other in areas of Playability and Realism/Historical Accuracy.

Le Feu Sacre (3rd Edition)

LFS is a popular rules system produced by the infamous Too Fat Lardies from the UK. It has a 50:1 figure scale in mind and a ground scale of 1"= 50 yards. The turn is card-based (like many TFL games) and represents approximately 15 minutes of historical time. The rules are designed for corps-sized actions but can be modified for larger battles. The intent is, for up to a corps on each side, that each 15 minute turn should equal 15 minutes of playing time. The rules are thorough but not overly complex and, with optional rules added, cover most characteristics of Napoleonic warfare.

In order to streamline and quicken the game, many aspects of combat are abstracted. For example, there is no specific musketry phase (although artillery and skirmishing fire are addressed individually). Combat is intended to be quick and decisive (and is considered to be a combination of close ranged musketry as well as melee), while using Kriegspiel-type charts. In this respect, the emphasis is on a fast game versus prolonged musketry slugfests between opposing formations. The turn sequence, once a division commander's card is drawn, concerns spotting formations on blinds, grand-tactical as well as tactical movement, artillery fire and skirmishing, and combat.

Command and control is an interesting concept within the rules. It is pip-based with each tactical action costing 1 or 2 pips. There are unit, regiment, and brigade-sized moves. Command distance is also part of the system.

LFS may not be for everyone, due to the abstraction of combat, but is a well-researched set of rules that many gamers are embracing, especially in the UK. One potential drawback that I sense from reading the rules is that there is no system for determining victory or a morale determination for formations above the unit level (brigade, division, etc).

I was a bit torn with my feelings toward Le Feu Sacre. On one hand, the rules, mechanisms, and various modifiers seemed very well-researched. I especially liked the system of blinds for spotting troops, the emphasis on command and control, and the streamlined combat mechanism. The concepts of Zones of Control and Pinning are very intriguing. The game that I played certainly moved very quickly. A final result was reached in an hour and a half. I can certainly see how a larger battle can be fought to a conclusion within 2-3 hours. On the other hand, even though the final results seemed valid, I had a hard time getting over the omission of a musketry phase. Skirmishing, when it did happen, seemed very ineffective. Lastly, the command pip system was interesting but felt a bit inflexible. I truly felt like I was playing a Napoleonic version of DBA (which is a fine system if you Iike it, but too abstract for me personally).  It seemed a bit unrealistic for 2 brigades on an attack order to be frozen in place most of the game due to an average commander's lack of command pips. That could also be due to my incompetence as a player with these rules. Of course, this also dramatically speeds up the game. As a counter argument, from a purely gaming aspect, the proper planning of how to utilize these scarce command pips presents a nice challenge and really forces each player to plan ahead. The experience was almost an extension of chess, which was enjoyable as such, but I would not label the tactical phase of the turn a "simulation."  In summary, it all worked effortlessly, but again felt rather mechanical. I feel that a larger game would bring out Le Feu Sacre's grand-tactical strengths more; it really was written for corps-sized actions.

I rated Le Feu Sacre a 7 out of 10 in Playability. The rules were certainly straight-forward and not overly complex. There is some tactical abstraction due to the scope of the game. Some players will love it, as it really demands tactical skill to master it. I personally would prefer a bit more tactical detail in a battalion-level game (a musketry phase, for example), but that's just my humble opinion.

As far as Realism/Historical Accuracy, I felt that the game portrayed a valid result. I cannot argue at all with the research into the game itself. Nothing seemed invalid or inaccurate. There are rules for passage of lines, emergency squares, firefights, etc. This is just what a person would expect from a well-researched set of rules. There are definitely some very interesting concepts in Le Feu Sacre. My concern, totally biased as it is, is more focused on the playing of the game and the overall experience, not the results that come from playing these rules. I rated Le Feu Sacre a 7.5 out of 10 in this area. It is certainly not as detailed as rules like Empire or From Valmy To Waterloo, but it can definitely give a historical result. I would like to see the command pip system tweaked, and a higher formation (brigade or division) morale system. An end of game Victory determination would also help out considerably. House rules could fix all of these details though.

The Total score for Le Feu Sacre is a 7.25 out of 10. I felt that LFS was a very solid set of rules and would be more than suitable for a larger battle. If a player doesn't mind abstraction in key areas of the game, these rules offer a compelling, historically-based, game that is both challenging and fast playing.

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