13 October 2010

This Very Ground [Special]

This Very Ground: skirmish wargaming in the French & Indian War.
An  ”Iron Ivan Games” set of rules. It says “A 1:1 small unit skirmish for use with 15-54mm miniatures – by Keith Stine” on the cover. This is my first Iron Ivan Games set of rules so I’m not familiar with their other products or the previous work of Keith Stine.

But I feel I should talk about the price and what you get before going into the content. The rules are 16$ at Conquest Miniatures, or £11.25 over at Maelstrom Games – that’s not a lot of money to be honest for a rulebook. However the rulebook itself is just 42 pages long, has no pictures, has soft cover, regular black& white text on the pages and really nothing, maybe except for the cover, that stands out as anything special or beyond something you could print out and fasten together by yourself at home. The pages are slightly wider than the European A4 format, I think it is the standard US size. The print is done on one large sheet which is folded to create 2 pages and joined a few times in the middle.
So you are not buying an exquisite product, I see it more like you pay the guy who wrote the rules for his time and effort and not the material it is written upon.  That’s really the only critique I may have, and feel I need to share so that anyone running off buying these rules won’t feel disappointed by this. As I said earlier, I have no previous experience with Iron Ivan Games rules so – might be that you are already familiar with the style and look of their product.

The rules themselves compensate this flaw well enough though.

These are the kind of rules that I kind of like right away, they are pretty well structured within the book, the system of stats is just the right balance between volume and detail, and I guess they simulate what I was looking for in a French & Indian War game. I won’t recap too much from my previous blog entry – but the French & Indian War was a north American conflict between the British and the French which actually sparked the 7 year war in Europe. So naturally what you get is a roster of troops that reflect this fact, and as a guy with a musket – is a guy with a musket no matter where he is from you get a pretty distinct but generic classification of troop types which will apply for both the British and the French. It is not as if the French have better stats in one area, and the British being complete drill monsters and fearless in their unit stats.
There are 5 types of troops in this game, and a few additional rules which I will describe further down after I tell more about the game mechanics. But each troop type includes at least one “officer”, one “NCO” and one “soldier” category in the stats. Some troop types have more categories (especially European Regulars have a wider range of troops at their disposal). Each troop type also has a list of weapons which you are free to use as you please. You can for instance arm half you Indian unit with clubs and hatchets, and the other half with bows if you like at no additional cost. There are limits as to how many weapons you may include on one soldier though.

Let’s start with the “stat line”. Each stat line includes the name of the unit – be it a Indian NCO “Sachem”, or a Colonial Militiaman. You are then presented with Marksmanship, Valor and Courage.
This game uses D10 dice for a change, so you are always required to roll equal to OR below your stats to pass tests, hit enemies etc. So if your Marksmanship is 5 (the most common value) then you have to roll 1-5 on a D10 to hit an enemy.  This is a very simple system with pretty generic modifiers, and 3 set stat lines for every single unit in the game which varies depending on their training and type.

Units are activated one at a time, both players take turns in activating one unit until all units have been used before next turn begins. Activation includes movement, firing and charging. Players are allowed to more and fire in whatever order they like. However charging and close combat always comes last in each activation. Movement for all infantry is divided into “Hold” (standing still), “Displace” move up to 3” to stay in formation or change facing, “March” (up to 6” normal movement that allows firing of weapons) and Double time, making units run 9” but not fire any weapons.

Terrain can add or reduce your movement. Flat open ground provides +2” to your movement, while moving through a field may reduce your movement by 1” etc. There are modifiers for pretty much all your common terrain features fields, forests, water features and such.
Firing weapons, is where the rules shine the most and simulate the inefficiency of gunpowder warfare at this time. This is the part of the rules that I like the most, and I figure you could use this system and apply it to pretty much every gunpowder era you may like. Most weapons are inaccurate, even trained troops will hit at 1-6 on a D10 at the best. The most common “to hit” value is 1-5 on a D10. Range varies between pistols, muskets and longrifles. Longrifles have a tremendous range which makes up for the poor hit ratio by being able to fire more than once before the enemy close in to fire back. Wounding someone with a gunpowder weapon is easy though as you might imagine. Most wounds are made at 1-8 on a D10. So once you hit someone you can count on him being killed as well. Players are not allowed to snipe or target unit leaders and officers in particular – following the spirit of warfare back in those days. Officers may still be “accidentally” targeted if you roll one or more results of 1 while firing at a unit. You are then allowed to use one of those 1 results and reroll it, if you roll a 10 you have managed to kill the officer.

But what I’m excited about is the “volume of fire”, which simulates reloading time and reflects the consumption of ammunition and weapons fired within a single unit. Volumes of fire include “Volley” where the entire unit empties their muskets into the target enemy unit.  “Fire!” where half of the unit opens fire, “Fire at will” up to 3 models fire their weapon each turn.

You keep track of this by using so called “smoke markers”, each unit is allowed to fire as long as it does not accumulate more than 3 smoke markers. Each type of firing drill generates a certain amount of smoke markers. “Volley” gives you 4 smoke markers immediately, making your unit unable to fire during the next turn and only fire low volume on the turn after that as they are reloading their guns. “Fire!” generates 2 smoke markers, making your unit able to fire two salvos before having to reload.

At the start of each turn you remove one smoke marker from your unit if they didn’t fire their weapon on the previous turn, this symbolizes the reloading of their weapons. This also make it more tactical as you have to decide when to open fire, at what target, which volume of fire to choose from depending on the situation and if you can afford standing there reloading your guns or have to follow up with a bayonet charge! Each volume of fire also has an impact on the enemy morale, as you always roll morale tests when being fired upon – and reduce your leadership for the type of volume of fire used against you as well as for casualties that were inflicted. A unit with “Courage 8” , taking a “Volley” (-2) and which looses 3 men (-3) is reduced to “Courage 3”.

There are 3 formations which your troops can adapt in this game, Loose, Skirmish and Formed. Some troop types can pick between these 3, other troops like the European Regulars are locked to one only. “Skirmish” formation is the most free of the 3 formations, you are basically running in a gang, have 360 degree Line of Sight, can never be flanked but are poor at receiving charges and your fire will be so spread out that the morale of the enemy won’t be affected. You will not suffer most of the movement penalties either. “Loose” formation has 180 degree Line of Sight, and is still formed as a line, but more loosely – this type gives you the ability to still receive an enemy charge and strike back with bayonets while not suffering all movement penalties from terrain. “Formed”  is a tightly packed formation which may never march on the double unless they are moving over terrain with no movement penalties. As I will explain later in my description of the European regulars, you will know why they are still good to bring along to a fight.

Close combat is fought using an easy system of stats as well, similar to your unit stats. You use your “Valor” for the “to hit” rolls against enemies. But each weapon in the game, from swinging a musket to slashing with a sword has its own initiative value, and sometimes penalty/bonus as well. Each weapon also has a “kill value”.
Units are paired 1:1 or as evenly as possible if the fight are uneven. Each player then rolls 1D10 and apply the initiative value of his weapon to the result. The player rolling highest starts the fight throughout the unit and close combat phase. If more types of weapons are involved then you roll for all weapons. This could mean that all axes will be used first, followed by  a stabbing of the bayonet, and finally slashing with a knife. It may sound complicated but it is an easy and dynamic system.

For instance, a Regular armed with a musket w bayonet fighting an Indian armed with knife and hatchet. The Indian wins the initiative for his Hatchet, the Regular rolls the highest 2nd result for his musket w bayonet, followed by the Indians knife. In the close combat that follows the Indian starts to roll for his hatchet, if he scores a hit he rolls to wound. If killed the regular does not get to hit back. If the Indian fails to hit or kill the regular, the regular then strikes back with his bayonet. If he fails to hit or kill the Indian the Indian uses his last weapon – the knife. Repeat until either one is dead. Close combat in this game is brutal as unit fight to the last man, symbolizing the frenzied brutality of this conflict where people were scalped on the spot and no pardon was given in the heat of battle.

As for the troop types.

First of all you have the Native Americans/Indians of course, used as allies both by the French and the British. They have somewhat lower leadership, are not particularly good shots with gunpowder weapons (though not that terrible compared to the rest of the troops in this game). They excel at close combat, they fight in “skirmish” formations taking advantage of all kinds of cover the rules allow you to use, and they get an additional leadership bonus if they charge into close combat.  Their weaponry includes, bows, clubs, knifes, hatchets, muskets and rifles.  They also have the cheapest low tier troops “Indian Warrior” priced at 9 points.

We then have Colonial Militia, these are the guys that filled the ranks of each side to boost the numbers while they waited for reinforcements from Europe. Often these men would protect villages, or go out on the occasional raid. I would say to play historically they should form at least half of your force. They are the 2nd cheapest troop type you can field, their regular Militiaman is priced at 12 points. They have low morale, but can fight both in “loose” and “skirmish” formations if needed depending on how you want to play them and how much advantage you want to take of the terrain at hand. Mainly armed with muskets, the officers have pistols, swords, polearms and the Militia could be equipped with knifes&hatchets as part of becoming Veterans during a campaign.

Third troop type is the Provincial forces made up of “Continental Regulars”, the best the colonies could muster in form of regular troops. They had the best equipment and training available. They were not as drilled as their European brothers though. These guys are equipped with Muskets and bayonets. They can fight in both “formed” and “loose formation”. While not being the “best” troops, they really are the most useful as they are not locked in a European fighting mentality and are somewhat better than your regular Colonial Militia. They are slightly cheaper than the European Regulars as well.

Fourth type of troop is the European Regulars, the most expensive troop type. And the troop with most variation within their ranks, officers, grenadiers, light infantry and line infantry.  Drilled in the ways of European warfare, these men are only able to ever fight in “Formed” formation. They have several strong bonuses. First of all they NEVER take any morale tests until at least 50% of the unit has been killed. They only suffer morale penalties if they are down to 25% strength. They may “Volley” which means that the entire unit opens fire at once – giving them a tremendous edge at breaking enemy morale. Their main drawback is that they are only able to fight in formed formation, meaning they will not get cover bonuses from light terrain, and will suffer movement penalties in uneven or rough terrain. Still, these guys are best used as the heart of your force – including a European commanding officer to boost the leadership of the force to a maximum.

Last troop type is the “Rangers & Coureur du Bois”. Your continental Light Infantry, skirmishers, raiders and your best sharpshooters. Able to fight in both “skirmish” and loose” formation, they take advantage of the surrounding terrain. They are good shots, have good equipment and decent morale to be able to handle themselves.  Include them in your force to provide some long range accurate fire, they are not cheap, but even in small numbers their accuracy can reduce key enemy units over a few turns.
These are the 5 troop types you may pick from, each is described in more detail within the rules. Each troop type can be played as a “separate army” or you can mix them. Each soldier, officer and such has their own point value – if you agree upon say 500 points with your friends then you can build your force accordingly to that restriction and the restriction of minimum unit size of each troop type and unit.

“What, no cavalry?” you say. No not really, cavalry was not used in the French & Indian War in any large numbers unlike the following American War of Independence. Cavalry was used for transportation only, and mainly by officers who couldn’t care to walk on foot. There are additional rules for cavalry, and how you upgrade all kinds of troops to be mounted for “X” points. The cavalry falls into two categories “Trained” and “Untrained”. Untrained are soldiers not used to fight from horseback. Trained is your real cavalry, they may engage enemy units on horseback, fire muskets or pistols on the move etc. There are mechanics for how to reloading weapons, changing formations, dismounting/mounting,  additional cover bonuses from terrain and a lot of other stuff. These rules are “additional” mainly because you will use them rarely. Some of the rules also has a suggestion to be used in American War of Independence games instead.

There are also rules for boats, rafts, canoes and water features like rivers and wind. Pretty well written if you have terrain for this kind of gameplay I would strongly recommend it as the rules seem very interesting. There are rules for how you can row boats upstream, how wind direction may make your boat drift, and if damaged how they start to sink over the next few turns which may drown your men if you don’t reach shore!

Finally there is also a section explaning  how to use artillery, while not provided with a point system like the infantry or cavalry – you can easily make up your own mind as to how much each type of cannon should be priced. I really like this part of the rules, because cannons are pretty good and have their own traits that add to the atmosphere. You will of course not use cannons in ambush scenarios – but you can include them in the defense of a fort, a village, a river crossing or one of the few pitched battles of the conflict like the battle for Quebec at the plains of Abraham.  The artillery is well described, and the list includes everything from swivel guns mounted on boats, 1-3pdr cannons up to 12pdr cannons! Each type is described with range, impact on morale when a troop is hit by projectiles from this piece of artillery, how many crew operates it, how many wounds are inflicted upon a unit hit depending on what kind of formation the target unit uses and reload time etc. For not being part of the “regular” troops artillery is pretty damn well described. And you will most likely find perfect use for both these rules, artillery models and specific scenarios which could benefit from the use of artillery.

This became a VERY long review of the rules. But I hope it is detailed enough to give you an idea of how this game works, and maybe spark an interest in the rules themselves and French & Indian Wargaming in particular. The book features a short campaign where one player plays as Indian raiders and the other player as colonials and Rangers trying to protect their homes and supply lines. It’s a good start and gives you an idea how to create scenarios of your own. But the best inspiration I would advice on watching the “Last of the Mohicans” with Daniel Day Lewis from 1992. It is actually surprising how much detail and character the rules provide in such a thin and simple rulebook. At the last page you are also provided with links to various miniature sources such as Conquest Miniatures and OldGlory as well as sources of historical information which might come in handy if you want to do some research when building a force of your own
So if you can swallow the pricetag and don't care about the visual aspect of the rulebook then the rules themselves are pretty damn worth your money!

Pictures are all from three different games between me and my buddy Millmir/Calle. One clash in the wild, one siege of a blockhouse/warehouse and one attack against a small hamlet.

3 comments:

  1. I'm shocked to see no comments on such a fantastic post. I'm really glad to see such a detailed review. I wish I had read it before I ordered the rules. I'm very happy with them, but I was going in blind.

    I'll most likely use Sharp Practice as it has just a bit more in the way of...character.. to the rules. I really like the firing mechanisms in this book, but I like the TFL aspects of Sharp Practice more.

    Thanks again!

    I'm just getting into the period and am blogging about it at www.syw6mm.com .

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for reading The Haggis, just like you I ordered the rules " blind" since I couldn't find anything about the game beforehand. Don't own any other rules for this period so I'm kind of OK with the way they play. They are not spectacular, but I find them good and solid enough (and fun enough!) to keep me and my French Indian War playing friend busy :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. A nice alternitive set of rules is Smooth and Rifled.

    ReplyDelete

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