I was itching to get the rules onto the table-top.
Over The Hills
First off, my initial impression was that the book is very professionally-produced and very nicely illustrated and photographed. After reading through the rules several times, I came away with the feeling that the authors wrote a solid set of rules that have been "inspired" by concepts contained in the many Napoleonic rules that preceded them. Now, that is not a bad thing in my opinion. Being a self-proclaimed rules junkie, I have slaved over my own house rules for about 20 years and have not been successful incorporating my own ideas with excellent gaming concepts from other rules systems. I think that the authors have succeeded in producing a very effective set of rules that play very smoothly.
The book begins with a multi-page background to the Napoleonic Wars (geared to the novice gamer in the period) and quickly moves to a discussion of the primary concepts of the rules. Troop types, unit ratings, basing, scale, command and control, and unit formations are all discussed in great detail. The turn sequence and basic rules are discussed, giving the gamer an excellent introduction into the flow and basic mechanisms of the system. At this point, one has all of the information to play out a game. The basic rules, in my opinion, would fit very nicely in a convention setting.....easy to learn, flows smoothly, plays quickly with a nice amount of period flavor. But, for the jaded gamer like myself who yearns for more grit and detail, the book adds the optional rules section after the basic rules. This is where the basic concepts are fleshed out and adds an admirable amount of historical realism. The book concludes with several appendices, including a discussion of scale, the War of 1812, and historical deployments. The QRF, located at the very rear of the book, consists of 2 pages.
The question of scale is probably the first thing that I look at in a rules system. In Over The Hills, the number of figures per base is not important. The dimensions of a base are most important when it comes to ground scale and there are detailed recommendations contained within. The rules are intended for 25-28mm figures, but any size figures may be used and recommendations are included about ground scale when using smaller figures. An interesting concept of the rules is that any figure scale can be used, including 1:20, 1:30, 1:60, etc. The size of the base is most important; the number of figures on each base are really up to the individual gamer. For example, my 15mm figures are based at 1:30, therefore using the movement and fire distances contained in the rules, the ground scale ends up at approximately 35 yards to the inch. The time scale is not immediately evident, but in the author's appendix concerning scale, it is intended to be about 10 minutes per turn.
Tabletop units are portrayed as infantry battalions, cavalry regiments, and artillery batteries. Unit ratings are based on Elan (inspiration) and Grade (training). These ratings are combined with the actual number of combatants to yield a Fatigue score. The Fatigue score is the basic rating for each unit throughout the game. Although, I'm not personally a fan of unit ratings boiled down to 1 overall number, it does work and the game definitely revolves around the concept of the Fatigue score. It reminds me of the unit strength points rating in Sam Mustafa's rules or even that of March Attack (although MA also has a training rating that is used for discipline/morale tests). This Fatigue score is intended to be an all-encompassing rating that takes into account actual fatigue, casualties, and psychological wear and tear. The unit Fatigue score is affected by musketry/artillery casualties, melee, and movement through rough/broken terrain. Once a unit's Fatigue score reaches zero, the unit is removed from the table (although there are optional rules for units with low Fatigue scores -- routing and wavering units). What is interesting is that commanders can attempt to rally each turn to "add back" Fatigue points, which is useful in pushing a unit through woods or moving further than the basic movement allowance.
Command and Control
In the basic game, the command span for a brigade-sized formation is all-important. If a unit is outside this command span, movement or charges are unauthorized and Fatigue points may not be rallied. Commanders, depending on their rating, can attempt to rally Fatigue points for a certain number of units. In the optional rules, there is a section that discusses brigade and division orders and actions. The concept is actually very simple and effective.
The Turn Sequence
Side A and B are decided upon at the outset of a game. This is a concept that I'm not too keen on, as momentum may shift throughout the game; I am a proponent of an initiative roll at the start of each turn based on the current situation. A house rule can easily remedy this for those inclined. Once the order of movement is decided upon, the turn sequence is as follows:
1. Side A moves
2. Side A attempts to rally fatigue points
3. Side B conducts defensive fire
4. Side A conducts melee
5. Side B fires all remaining units
Steps 6-10 reverse sides and repeat steps 1-5
As one can see, the turn sequence allows for the non-phasing side to watch for defensive fire opportunities so it is not a strict UGO-IGO turn sequence.
Movement, for 25-28mm figures, is based on increments of 6 inches (for the 15mm figures that I own, simply modify down to centimeters). Depending on the type of formation or troop type (cavalry moves faster, for example), the number of increments that a unit may move varies. One concept that I truly like is the ability to move/push a unit an increment further, but accepting a Fatigue point penalty. Keeping in mind that commanders may attempt to rally Fatigue points (depending on unit's proximity to the enemy), this adds a nice tactical option.
Formation changes, depending again on the specific change, cost an amount of movement increments to perform.
Fire and Combat
Fire is based on Short range or Long range and utilizes the unit's current Fatigue rating and then rolled on the appropriate table. Using the basic rules, depending on the roll, a range of 0-3 Fatigue point casualties are inflicted. There is an optional rule that allows British infantry in 2-rank line to inflict up to 4 casualties.
Another concept that I really like is how skirmishers are handled. Each unit has a skirmisher score and when trading fire, the scores are compared. The difference between skirmish scores determine positive or negative modifiers on the fire chart. Typically, a unit with a higher skirmish score will have positive modifiers when firing at long range, while a unit with a lower score will suffer negatively at short range. Simple, yet effective....it's also a very subtle way of simulating skirmish effects without getting too low "into the weeds." Some gamers prefer a separate skirmish phase, but I really like this concept that is ingrained into the overall fire phase. Fans of Lasalle or Napoleon At War will recognize this system.
Artillery fire is similar with canister and bouncethrough (optional rule) fully integrated in the mechanics.
Melee is conducted similarly and may last up to 3 rounds. Casualties are rolled on the Fire chart (with separate close combat modifiers) and then compared between opposing units. If a unit does not retreat or break before 3 rounds of combat, it is considered a draw and both units are retreated after the 3rd round. Again, simple yet effective.
Cavalry combat, emergency squares, unit reactions when charged, evading, and more concepts are all contained and explained within the basic rules.
Although the basic rules do give a good game, the details and flavor of Napoleonic tactics are fully explored in the optional rules. Incorporating some, all, or none of the optional rules is totally up to each player.
Without going into excruciating detail on all of the optional rules present, some examples include brigade and division orders, ammunition, the use of howitzers, more detailed skirmish rules, national characteristics and special rules, and even weather effects.
I found the optional rules very interesting and enjoyable to read through.
I put together a couple of tabletop games and put the rules through its paces. I found Over The Hills to be effective, very smooth-flowing, and easy to understand. I did utilize most of the optional rules (because I'm a detail-addict) in my games and they added a nice bit of flavor to the proceedings. I'm still not a fan of the all-encompassing Fatigue score concept of each unit's effectiveness, but I understand the concept and what the authors were attempting to accomplish. With that said, the games worked well and were enjoyable.
I think that these rules are especially useful for the introduction of new Napoleonic gamers to the period. These rules are very straight-forward, fun, and will not scare away any "newbies." With that said, the optional rules do add a very nice amount of grit, even for those grognards out there like me.
Thoroughly enjoyable and well-produced, my rating for Over The Hills is an 8 for playability and a 7 for historical realism, for a very solid overall score of 7.5.
Ironically, this is the same overall score as Black Powder (I had to look back at my previous review after I wrote this). I think the 2 rules systems give a similar playing experience, although both systems approach Napoleonic gaming in a different way.