Monday, July 3, 2017

Search For The Holy Grail: The Best Napoleonic Rules Pt. 7

In this ongoing series, I have analyzed several Napoleonic rules sets in order to find the elusive "holy grail" that most Napoleonic gamers seek. The specific rules rated are tactical in nature; in other words, these rules feature tactical units at the level of infantry battalions, batteries, and cavalry regimentsl. I also reviewed rules that did not feature "simultaneous movement." Grand-tactical rules sets were not reviewed.

This post features General d' Armee, the new Napoleonic system from David Brown (of General de Brigade fame). I have recently reviewed the author's American Civil War rules, Pickett's Charge, and am glad to report that General d' Armee is even more impressive.

General d' Armee is not a clone of Pickett's Charge with a few Napoleonic adjectives added. A great deal of work has gone into this rules set to encompass the overall feel of Napoleonic warfare. Although the basic mechanisms are similar to Pickett's Charge, the details are purely Napoleonic in nature. I actually feel that releasing Pickett's Charge several months ago was a brilliant marketing move to pave the way for the masterful General d' Armee.

Scale:  In my analysis of any rules set, I always take a look at game scale first. The rules can be used for any figure scale available, but are geared towards 15mm and 25mm. Ground scale is approximately 1 yard per millimeter while time scale is 10-15 simulated minutes per game turn. As for figure ratio, the author devised an interesting system that gives the gamer all options. Each tactical unit is classified as Small, Standard, or Large. The rules do not dictate how many figures equals each size unit (although several options are given), as long as players are consistent within the game. I first saw this concept in the Black Powder rules and was impressed with the idea. It is a refreshing change from General de Brigade (which I think very highly of, by the way) with its very stringent basing and figure ratio requirements. It allows me to use my figures for these rules as well as Carnage and Glory 2  (my other favorite rules system).

For my 15mm collection, I personally settled on a figure ratio based on the following:

- A small infantry unit equals 16 casting, while a small cavalry unit equals 8 figures.
- A standard infantry unit equals 24 figures, a standard cavalry unit is made up of 16 figures and a standard 6-8 gun battery equals 2 bases.
- A large infantry unit equals 36 figures, a large cavalry unit equals 24 figures, and a large battery has 3 bases.

Again, this was my choice that reflected my collection and "look" that I wanted on the tabletop and may not be shared by others.

Turn Sequence:  The turn consists of the following phases.

     Command and Initiative. ADC's are rolled for and allocated to brigades by the Division commander. Brigade activations are rolled for. Initiative is rolled for to determine the first side in movement, charges, and firing.
     Charges. Charges are declared, defensive fire occurs, and Charge results are determined.  
     Movement. Normal movement occurs in a UGO/IGO system, with the side winning initiative moving first.
     Firing. All skirmish, musketry, and artillery fire is conducted with the side winning initiative firing first and causing casualties and possible discipline tests before the other side has a chance to fire.
     Melee. All charge results that indicate Melee are conducted at the end of the turn.

Command and Control:  General d' Armee has an interesting "game within a game" when it comes to command and control. In a division-sized game, the division commander is the commander-in-chief and rolls to determine ADC's (aides de camp). The quality of the division commander can impact the number of ADC's rolled for. These ADC's can then be attached to brigades for several different functions.

Each brigade is required to make an activation roll. Passing the activation roll ensures that the brigade follows orders and may move at the player's discretion that turn. When a brigade fails its activation roll, it becomes "hesitant" and is severely limited as to the actions each unit may undertake. Faltering brigades have experienced unit routs or dispersals in previous turns and must be rolled for on a separate table and may end up following orders, retiring, retreating, or routing away.

Here is where the ADC's come in handy. They are always limited in number but extremely valuable in order to keep the division moving.

Attached ADC's can allow another brigade activation roll if the first one is failed. ADC's can also be used to activate reserve brigades, increase artillery rate of fire, add to the brigade skirmish line, order an infantry assault, and other missions. A Faltering brigade must have an ADC attached or the entire brigade conducts a "Sauve Qui Peut."  This is a rather annoying use of a valuable ADC and is a brilliant method of simulating a deteriorating command structure in a division.

For Corps and Army-sized battles, the Corps commander allocates extra ADC's (depending on commander quality) to a particular division or divisions. This is an excellent method of allowing the Corps commander the ability to influence a particular area of the battle.

Tactical command and control is simple and based on a command span of a brigade commander. Units outside this distance are severely limited in their actions.

Charges:  Once initiative is determined, the first player announces all charges, while the second player announces reactions to those charges, whether it is to stand and deliver defensive fire or form square versus a cavalry attack. The charging unit are then moved to within 5 cm of the target, receives any defensive or supporting fire, and then the charge is rolled for depending on the tactical situation. Most of the time, one unit or the other will either falter, retire, retreat, or rout. In some cases, the units close into melee which are conducted at the end of the turn. In comparison to Pickett's Charge, cavalry versus cavalry charges will most often result in melees.

Supporting units in a charge are discussed as well as Massed Columns in a charge. This section takes some extra digestion and is probably the most complex part of the rules (for me, anyway).

The Discipline Test and Morale: As another change to General de Brigade, there is no separate Morale phase. Morale is determined on the unit level during charges, melees, or when a unit suffers destructive fire. When called for, a unit must roll a discipline test to determine any effect on morale.

Morale on the grand-tactical level is dealt with during the command phase. Again, brigades suffering routs or dispersals become Faltering and must roll on a separate activation table.

Movement: After charges are conducted, the first player conducts normal movement. Terrain, changing formations, and movement distances are easily understood for each type of unit. After the first player moves, the second player then conducts all movement. All formations including open order and column by platoons are discussed in detail.

Fire: The first player conducts all fire. Skirmish fire from either the brigade skirmish screens or an open order unit is one of my favorite parts of the system. The formation of brigade skirmish screens are covered as well, with the differences covered in detail between French impulse systems and linear systems of the early Russians or Austrians used. Musketry and Artillery fire are also completely covered in the rules and utilizes a simple 2d6 roll on the fire table plus or minus modifiers. After the first player finishes all fire and all casualties and discipline tests are suffered, the second player then conducts all fire. National characteristics are ingrained in the tables; one example is that 2 rank infantry (British) in line fire on the "superior volley" table as opposed to the standard or inferior volley table. As a unit takes casualties, it not only gets closer to dispersal, its performance in fire and charge ability suffers as well. For certain modifiers (like large battalions or batteries, or Elite units) a number of casualty dice (six sided dice) are generated in addition to the fire table. A nice optional rule that I also use is an extra casualty die for a unit's initial volley.

Melee: For any charges that result in a close combat, these melees are conducted at the end of the turn. Each side will generate a number of casualty dice depending on each unit's tactical situation (size of unit, unformed, morale rating, etc). Casualty dice (six sided dice) are rolled, with hits occurring on 4-6. The difference in hits between opposing units determine what happens. Again, this system is generally similar to Black Powder and is simple and effective.

Summary:  After testing the system out on the table, I felt the rules flow extremely smoothly. One of my primary measures of a great rules set is how it portrays a "story" on the tabletop. These rules do that very well. I am also impressed with the realism and detail that is contained within the rules. The command and control phase in particular inspires excellence.  Not only does it provide dramatic tension, a player is literally forced to keep the grand-tactical big picture in mind...........if not, the battle can be lost solely due to command issues.

As an admirer of Mr. Brown's General de Brigade rules, I feel that the author took the best parts of that rules system and married some truly groundbreaking ideas to create General d' Armee.

As for playability, I rate General d' Armee as a 9 even though there is a large amount of detail ingrained within the pages. Mr. Brown has also certainly done his historical research as the detail and accuracy also seem right on point. I rate General d' Armee an 8.5 in historical accuracy for an overall score of 8.75. 

I think I've found my Holy Grail !