Friday, November 18, 2016

Search For The Holy Grail - The Best Napoleonic Rules, Part 6

Search For The Holy Grail - The Best Napoleonic Rules, Part 6

Shako 2

I am probably jumping into the lion's den with this one. Shako 2 (as well as the original version) is one of the most popular Napoleonic rules sets in the world. I have dabbled in the past with these rules, but never grew interested enough in them to pursue them on a deeper level. I have had several requests for a review of Shako 2, so I decided to finally spend a couple of weeks learning the rules and playtesting them thoroughly. Although I am not an expert with these rules, I did dive pretty deep and feel confident that I now have at least a basic understanding.

I found that there are many admirable, if not brilliant, concepts contained in the rulebook. I also found that there were also some characteristics of the rules that were a bit too abstract for me and detracted from my own gameplay experience. Now I know that Shako 2 has hundreds, if not thousands, of devoted players who claim that it truly provides the finest Napoleonic gaming experience available.  It is definitely a solid set of rules and it works for many, many gamers.  I also found that it works best as a grand-tactical Napoleonic game rather than a smaller, tactical game. 

I'd like to first describe the rules and its mechanisms. At the end of the review, I will summarize the specific things I liked and did not like about Shako 2.

Shako 2 can be used for large or small games on the tabletop


According to the rulebook, there is no specific figure scale. Each battalion of infantry, regiment of cavalry, or battery consists of an approximate "average-sized" Napoleonic unit. For example, a battalion of infantry on the tabletop is considered to have a numerical strength of between 400-800 troops. Larger units, such as Austrian line infantry units containing 1,000 or more soldiers, are covered (they can absorb an extra "hit"). Interestingly, smaller units are not included; the inference is to combine smaller units into an average-sized battalion. The time scale is considered to be 20-30 minutes per turn. As for ground scale, although I scoured the rules, I could not find any reference to number of yards per inch.

Base sizes are not critically important, although several methods of basing units are portrayed.

One of the first things that I look for in a set of rules is the section on game scales. I found it a bit frustrating (and interesting at the same time) to see such abstraction in this area. Of course, this could be my own obsessive-compulsive fondness for details and shouldn't be taken too awful seriously.

Units are then organized into "divisions," which can be 4-12 units strong. It's interesting that these "divisions" can range from brigades, actual divisions, or even small corps. Again, for a detail-minded fanatic like myself, I prefer a logical regiment-brigade-division-corps command structure. The "divisions" in Shako 2 allow gamers to generically create commands for convenience of play. The "army commander" can be either a division commander, corps commander, or true army commander, depending on the scope of the game.

Unit Ratings

Unit ratings are grouped into morale classes with each class containing an MR/DisMR rating. The MR (morale rating) is used when conducting melee, rallies from "stagger" or "fall-back" situations, and when conducting special maneuvers such as hasty formation changes. The DisMR (disordered morale rating) is used when conducting melee at a disadvantage (such as being attacked on the flank). The infantry morale classes range from "guard" to "unreliable." Cavalry morale classes are based on heavy, line, or light cavalry types, but also include "second rate" and "unreliable." Artillery is classified as heavy, foot, or horse guns.

The MR ratings also reflect the number of casualties that a unit may absorb before being dispersed and picked up from the table. For example, a regular line infantry battalion with a 4 MR can take 4 hits either due to fire or melee before disappearing off of the table. Large units may take an extra "hit," although its morale rating remains the same for other calculations. All artillery batteries can only absorb 3 hits total and are then removed from the table.

When rallying or conducting special maneuvers (ex. hasty square), a six-sided die is rolled. If the die roll is equal to or less than the unit's MR, than the rally maneuver attempt is deemed successful. Charge distance modifiers are added to this roll.

It is important to note that a unit's initial MR does not change even when taking "hits."  For example, a light cavalry unit with an initial MR of 4/1 that has taken 2 "hits" still has a morale rating of 4 for purposes of rallying, melee, or special maneuvers.

Specific game concepts

Tactically, action with the enemy revolves around a unit's frontal zone, which is a 6" zone that extends from the unit's flank lines outward. If two opposing units are in one of the other's frontal zone, than the units are considered to be "in contact." This is important not only for "divisional" orders, but also formation changes as well.  This concept is similar to the pinning zone in DBA and other similar games.

The concept of "stagger" is also important. This is intended to demonstrate a temporary state of disruption and can be caused by skirmish fire, or musketry/artillery fire.  Typically, a unit that is "staggered" gains a negative modifier to almost anything that it does. During the rally phase, if a unit is outside of an enemy's frontal zone, than a "stagger" can be rallied off.

Turn Sequence

This is pretty straight-forward.

1. Artillery Fire or Evade
2. Initiative / Movement phase
    a. Conduct support charges for allowed units
3. Musketry phase
    a. Skirmish fire first
    b. Volley fire
4. Melee
    a. After melee resolution, conduct breakthroughs, recalls, and countercharges
5. Command phase
     a. Change orders and send ADC's
     b. Rally and reform units
     c. Rally divisions
     d. Check division morale
     e. Check scenario victory conditions

Walking through the turn sequence, I didn't have any issues with it. It was a simple and logical process to conduct a game turn.

Artillery Fire or Evade

Artillery fire is conducted via 3 range bands: Cannister, Effective, and Long. It does allow a gamer, by using the pullback method, to fire ball shot even at close ranges in order to maximize bouncethrough fire onto tightly packed divisions. Counter batter is also represented on the artillery fire table.

I found it interesting that artillery batteries could also "evade" from the front line instead of firing. When I began conducting melees I quickly found out why: artillery batteries are pretty fragile when charged by formed infantry or cavalry (a last ditch canister volley is included though, to be fair).  Therefore, knowing when to evade with artillery batteries is definitely an important part of tactical decision-making in Shako 2.

Initiative / Movement

Instead of a card-driven method of moving "divisions" or a strict "UGO-IGO" process, Shako 2 uses a six-sided die roll for each division to identify what formations move first. All divisions that rolled a "6" move simultaneously, after that divisions that rolled a "5" move,  and so on.  So, opposing players may be moving divisions on opposite sides of the table at the same time. If directly opposing divisions roll the same initiative number, the division on attack orders moves first.

Movement is very straight-forward, with each type of unit moving a maximum distance per turn. No surprises here. There is no charge movement bonus. Charging units are simply moved into contact with an enemy unit. There are terrain effects upon movment and wheeling a unit costs double (skirmishers excepted--they move much more freely).

At the end of regular movement, units that moved 1/2 or less of its movement allowance are able to conduct "support charges," which basically allow a player to exploit situations or to counter enemy maneuvers during the regular movement phase.


Skirmishers are fired first. I found that skirmish stands in Shako 2 seem to perform in a historically accurate way. They are not overly powerful, but they are irritating to the enemy and have to be dealt with. Besides the ingrained skirmishers that form a chain for each "division," entire infantry battalions may break down into 2 skirmish stands instead of remaining formed.

Musketry occurs next and affects all enemy units in its frontal zone (only if there are gaps; a formed unit does block pass-through fire if a unit is directly behind it). There is no oblique fire.....just straight ahead. Musketry tends to be very bloody and decisive in Shako 2. A typical infantry battalion that can only absorb 4 "hits" will only last for so long when trading volleys with an enemy unit.


Melee is also very straight forward.  Basically, one compares the MR's (or disordered MR if it applies) of opposing units, add or subtract any tactical modifiers, and then throw one six-sided die. The difference in points determines the number of "hits" and the winner/loser. The loser then falls back "staggered" a particular distance. Typically, if an infantry unit out of square loses to cavalry, it is considered dispersed. Ditto for an artillery unit that loses any melee.

Cavalry breakthrough charges, recalls for cavalry, and countercharges are all covered within the rules. It's nice that, although cavalry has the potential for powerful results, its endurance is covered within the mechanisms of Shako 2.

Command Phase

The command phase is the section of the turn that brings it all together. Order changes, unit rallies, and divisional morale checks are conducted.

Order changes are conducted through the movement of ADC's from the Army commander. To replicate command and staff efficiency, army commanders of each nationality may differ on the number of ADC's available each turn. A die roll to see if the ADC was killed or only moved halfway is conducted during this turn. Certain nationalities with only one ADC (1805 Russians and Austrians are but 2 examples) can find the activation of reserves or changing of other orders frustrating. Conversely, the French typically have up to 4 ADC's per turn available and can afford to send multiple ADC's to a division to ensure delivery of orders. This system is one of the most effective, yet incredibly simple, command and control gaming mechanisms that I have seen. Ingenious.

As far as unit rallies go, this process can prove devastatingly decisive. If a unit previously lost a melee and fell back, it must be rallied. If it fails just one rally attempt, it is considered dispersed and picked up from the table. This phase is incredibly important and can make or break the game. I'm used to units in more tactical games continue falling back until actually off the table before dispersing. In Shako 2, the author does not play around; a unit either reforms or it is gone.

Divisional morale checks based on dispersed units also occur, which is a strong point of the rules. Too many rules do not contain higher formation morale checks. I was very happy to see that it is contained in Shako 2.

Personal Likes and Dislikes

As with any rules system, I found many areas of Shako 2 that I felt were very solid. And with most rules systems, there are a few things that I had a hard time wrapping my head around. Here are my personal observations:

I particularly admired the following:

1. The divisional orders/changing orders system is simple, yet highly effective. Divisions on Defend basically hold in a designated area tied to a geographic feature. Divisions on Attack must advance until at least one formed unit comes into "contact" with the enemy (within a unit's frontal zone). Divisions on Reserve are held motionless until activated. As for changing a division's orders, the use of ADC's as a measure of staff efficiency or national tactical philosophy (Linear vs Napoleonic in some systems) is excellent.

2. The modifiers for melee and firing make sense. I never found myself shaking my head trying to figure out what the author was thinking.

3. I feel that the support modifiers replicate the tactical differences between Linear and Napoleonic philosophies nicely. In order to receive positive modifiers for flank or rear support during melee, it literally forces a player to fight with his army as it historically fought.

4. I liked the fact that an attack path has to be planned in advance and drawn onto a map of the table. This allows for an oblique approach or a feint in a specific direction, yet has to be pre-planned by the division commander.

5. Using the artillery "pull-back" method accurately creates a historically accurate "beaten zone."

6. The rules for "hasty squares" and "hasty lines" within an enemy unit's frontal zone seem absolutely "right" to me.

7. The critical concept of Divisional morale is included.

I struggled with the following concepts:

1. There does not seem to be any emphasis on a particular ground scale. Musketry and artillery ranges seemed accurate at first sight, but did not seem to match up with unit movement. I felt that units moved too little during what was supposed to be a 20-30 minute turn. Add in the factor of "no particular figure scale," and it all felt a bit too vague and abstract for my taste.

2. Initiative seemed gamey. Although I liked the fact of rolling a six sided die for random movement for divisions, there was no concept of "momentum" on the gaming table that systems like Carnage and Glory 2 excel in. Also, divisions that rolled "6's" were not always at an advantage by moving first.

3. Artillery seemed too fragile when charged, especially when compared to musketry. Units charging a battery did not receive defensive fire; the battery used their MR in melee to replicate a last-ditch canister fire. When a unit charged infantry, they not only had to endure a defensive volley, but were halted before contact if this defensive volley caused a "stagger." 

4. There were no "passage-of-line" rules for interpenetration.

5. Melee seemed too luck-based for my personal taste. Although the melee modifiers made sense, the addition of just one six-sided die could cause extreme results. But, in fairness, this "luck factor" is what pulls many gamers into the fold.

In summary, I found Shako 2 to be a well-researched rules system that works well on the tabletop, especially for grand-tactical scenarios. Although there is an admirable  amount of detail within certain aspects of the game, the ambiguity of figure scale, ground scale, and unit size seemed much too generic and fuzzy to me.

I rated Shako 2 in the area of playability a 6.5 out of 10. For historical accuracy, I also rated Shako 2 a 6.5 out of 10. My total rating is therefore 6.5 out of 10, a very solid set of rules that continues to be very popular worldwide.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Battle of Olper, August 1st, 1809

The Battle of Olper, August 1st, 1809

Brunswick infantry

In the mood for a small pick-up game of Carnage and Glory 2, I was flipping through one of my scenario books from the General de Brigade system and found an interesting action which called for less than 10,000 actual troops on the table. Luckily, I just recently started to collect a Westphalian army.  This was a perfect small scenario to set up in the garage.

Black Brunswickers ready for the advance !

Westphalian conscripts form lines against advancing Brunswick columns

The Scenario

This action featured a mixed division of Westphalian infantry and cavalry against a smaller Brunswick force that was attempting to break out from the large town of Braunschweigen. It was a classic battle between a larger, yet inexperienced, force against a much smaller, but veteran in quality, formation. Total Westphalian troops numbered slightly over 5,000 while the smaller Brunswick force numbered about 2,800.

Due to the defeat of the Prussians at Jena and Auerstadt, the Duchy of Brunswick was declared null and void by the Emperor Napoleon, who ceded its territory to the new Kingdom of Westphalia. Frederick William, the son of Duke Charles William Ferdinand (mortally wounded during the Jena campaign) resisted Napoleon's decree and organized a small force of 2,000 troops and then promptly offered their service to the Austrians in the great war of 1809. Following Austria's defeat at Wagram and ultimate surrender, the new Duke of Brunswick attempted to march through northern Germany in order to sail his troops to England and continue the struggle against Napoleon. Having captured the towns of Halberstadt and Braunschweigen, a Westphalian division marched to block Frederick William's advance to the coast and the waiting British fleet. To make matters worse, Dutch troops from the direction of Halberstadt were also marching to catch the Brunswick force in a pincer move. Frederick William decided to attack the Westphalians in the direction of the village of Olper and force his way to the coast.

The Brunswick force deployed on the outskirts of Braunschweigen, with the cavalry supporting the left flank. Opposite this position, the Westphalians under General Reubell deployed on the heights overlooking the town of Olper, with the Berg infantry protecting the village. The Westphalian cuirassiers protected the Westphalian right flank next to a large section of wooded terrain.

The Historical Battle

Although the Black Brunswickers initially occupied Olper, they then abandoned it to the Westphalians. The Brunswick troops then aggressively attacked the white-coated Westphalians on the heights. The Westphalian conscripts held firm and the spirited (but small in number) Brunswick troops had to withdraw. The battle was technically a tactical draw, but Reubell's Westphalians strangely abandoned the field during the night. Casualties were very light with only 100-200 casualties on each side. The following morning saw the Brunswick force march to meet the British ships and embark for England. Although General Reubell halfheartedly pursued the Brunswick troops, he was unable to keep the Brunswickers from escaping. Napoleon sacked Reubell for his failure but the General safely escaped to America.

As a postscript, the Black Brunswickers accompanied Wellington's troops in the Peninsular campaign in Spain for years afterward and were also heavily engaged during the Waterloo campaign.

The Game

I wanted to use Carnage and Glory 2 in order to demonstrate the system's ability to handle smaller actions as well as larger battles. The terrain, courtesy of Doug Kline's Battlefield Terrain Concepts, was set up on a 6' x 5' table. Although I had more than enough Brunswick troops to put on the table, I had to use French carabiniers in place of the Westphalian cuirassiers (I'm sure true grognards will notice this from the pictures, so I wanted to be honest about that up front).

Having deployed all of the troops, I noticed that the Westphalian troops in the vicinity of Olper had nice defensive terrain, so I endeavored to avoid this sector and focus on the Westphalian troops in the open.

Initial deployment on the table. Brunwick troops are on the bottom and the Westphalians are deployed in the vicinity of Olper

As the Brunswick force advanced to engage the Westphalians, the Westphalian cuirassiers moved up quickly to anchor Reubell's right flank. The Brunswick hussars then engaged the cuirassiers in a multi-unit charge. 

Westphalian cuirassiers versus Brunswick Hussars

In direct contradiction of my plan, I found the town of Olper was a magnet for a couple of my Brunswick battalions. I found myself totally sucked in to this position and heavy casualties began to mount in the firefights in this sector.

Olper proved to be an irresistible objective and heavy casualties were suffered here

Meanwhile, although the Brunswick Hussars were victorious against the opposing cuirassiers (conscript cuirassiers mind you) the fatigue was already starting to set in among the cavalry. A battery of Brunswick horse guns unlimbered in front of the white coats and were beginning to pummel the Westphalian conscripts. A couple of Westphalian units on the right flank formed square in order to keep the victorious Brunswick cavalry at bay, and suffered even more casualties from the Brunswick guns for their trouble. Meanwhile, a small unit of Brunswick uhlans was searching for a target in the center. 

Artillery on both sides open up

As the cavalry were attempting to creep around the Westphalian right, the main fight continued to erupt around the town of Olper, with the Brunswick troops actually getting the worse of it due to the Berg infantry's superior defensive position. In the center, the Westphalian conscripts began to waver due to the rising casualties from the Brunswick guns, but were replaced by the second line of infantry in order to continue the fight. On the Westphalian right, fatigue really set in among the cavalry and the Brunswick hussars found themselves restricted in their pursuit of the defeated Westphalian cuirassiers (who at this time were beginning to rally and rejoin the fight).

By turn 6, the infantry around the village of Olper were beginning to waver (on both sides). Most units in this sector received "halt in disorder" markers. In the center, the Westphalian numerical advantage was beginning to make a difference, as the supporting second line of infantry began to take its place in the front line, while the Brunswick horse battery was beginning to fatigue noticeably.

Units around the village of Olper begin to waver

The Westphalian infantry, although restricted in movement, began to boldly advance in the center and right flank to put fire onto the Brunswick cavalry. The uhlans and hussars accordingly maneuvered out of musketry range. The use of Westphalian infantry in squares on the flank effectively blocked any Brunswick cavalry thrust in this sector.

The Westphalian conscripts hold their ground and even advance boldly in the center

On turn 8, the move of the game occurred. The Brunswick horse battery, considerably fatigued, in the center failed to notice a Westphalian infantry battalion that had slowly maneuvered onto its flank. When the Westphalians charged, the battery was caught in place. In the ensuing melee, the battery was completely lost and the conscript infantry victorious !  With the right flank secure, the center actually advancing, and the Brunswickers fleeing in front of Olper, the battle was essentially over.

Westphalian infantry charge into and capture the lone Brunswick artillery battery

The Westphalians held their ground against a veteran and highly motivated enemy. The Brunswick troops would retreat back into Braunschweigen in order to regroup for another attack. Total casualties were about 250 Westphalians and 540 Brunswickers (including the only Brunswick artillery battery).

This was yet another example of Carnage and Glory 2's flexibility and "elegance" for any size battle. The battle for Olper provided a break from the typical "French vs Allies" scenario and provided a highly entertaining game as well. German versus German........interesting.

Here is the complete order of battle:

Division Reubell - Attack
  [ 101] Generalmajor Reubell - Active C+ [800 paces]
    Brigade Scharnner - Attack
    [ 102] Generalmajor Scharnner - Active C+ [400 paces]
 [ 101] 1/1st Westphalian Line            0/ 587      C- [sk-]    
 [ 102] 2/1st Westphalian Line            0/ 580      D+ [sk-]    
 [ 103] 3/1st Westphalian Line            0/ 606      D+ [sk-]    
 [ 104] 1/6th Westphalian Line            0/ 497      C- [sk-]    
 [ 105] 2/6th Westphalian Line            0/ 481      D+ [sk-]    
 [ 106] 3/6th Westphalian Line            0/ 500      D+ [sk-]    
    Brigade Wickenberg - Attack
    [ 103] Oberst Wickenberg - Active C+ [400 paces]
 [ 109] 1/3rd Berg Line                   0/ 594      C- [sk-]    
 [ 110] 2/3rd Berg Line                   0/ 627      C- [sk-]    
 [ 111] 1/1st Westphalian Foot Battery    0/ 200 [ 8] C-          
    Regiment Schwimmer - Attack
    [ 104] Oberst Schwimmer - Active C+ [200 paces]
 [ 107] 1/1st Westphalian Cuirassiers     0/ 178      C-          
 [ 108] 2/1st Westphalian Cuirassiers     0/ 186      C-          
       0/  4472 Bayonets
       0/   364 Sabres
       0/   200 Artillerists
       0/     8 Cannon
       0/  5036 Total of all arms
              4 Colors present

Division Wilhelm, The Duke of Brunswick - Attack
  [ 501] Generalleutnant Wilhelm, The Duke of Brunswick - Active B [875 paces]
    Brigade Burnmeist - Attack
    [ 502] Generalmajor Burnmeist - Active B- [400 paces]
 [ 501] 1st Brunswick Inf.                0/ 640      C  [sk-]    
 [ 502] 2nd Brunswick Inf.                0/ 669      C  [sk-]    
 [ 503] 3rd Brunswick Inf.                0/ 666      C  [sk-]    
 [ 504] 1st Brunswick Jagers              0/ 247      C+ [sk+]    
    Brigade Runkel - Attack
    [ 503] Generalmajor Runkel - Active B- [400 paces]
 [ 505] 1/1st Brunswick Hussars           0/ 187      C  [sk+]    
 [ 506] 2/1st Brunswick Hussars           0/ 183      C  [sk+]    
 [ 507] 1/1st Brunswick Uhlans            0/ 120      C  [sk+]    
 [ 508] 1/1st Brunswick Horse Battery     0/ 150 [ 6] C           
       0/  2222 Bayonets
       0/   490 Sabres
       0/   150 Artillerists
       0/     6 Cannon
       0/  2862 Total of all arms
              4 Colors present