Tuesday, 14 February 2012

As I went home on Tuesday night...

I've had a better read of Edwardian Splendour.  It's nice but... to be honest it's got a rather fussy turn sequence (Move figures, fire from non-moving figures then after that fire from moving figures) that looks like it might be irritating to keep track of)  So I don't think I'll be trying that.

Instead I'm pondering trying Warhammer: The Great War, which I bought ages ago when it was on sale.

Incidentally after three days fighting over this same terrain, I've reached the conclusion that 10 man manoeuvre units are much better suited to this sort of cluttered layout.  The 20 man units look impressive but are just too ungainly in anything other than plain, abstracted terrain (the sort of  "one wood, two hills" terrain that competition gamers tend to use.)  I'm going to experiment later on with games using that sort of terrain and the figures using movement trays again, but for the bulk of my games I want to go back to individually based figures organised in 10 man platoons.

Onwards to today's test candidate and the Third Battle Of Little Grantling-on-the-Test.
Today only - two cavalry melees for the price of one!

Colonial Adventures is a Two Hour Wargames ruleset designed for the same sort of game as Soldiers Companion and The Sword And The Flame.  THW rules are all based around their celebrated "Reaction System", which often dictate how your troops on the tabletop will act.  This feature makes their rules highly entertaining for solitaire play, as the Reaction tables can drive non-player troops actions.  Their flagship is a set of modern skirmish rules called Chain Reaction, the latest definitive version of which is actually available as a free download.  Other skirmish rulesets, like "All things Zombie", "NUTS!" and "5150 Star Army" are based off this set to some degree or another.  The big-battle rules use different mechanisms for combat, but still tend to retain  the idea of reaction tests.

I've long been an advocate of 2HW rules, so I was looking forward to trying Colonial Adventures.

Overall I was a little disappointed.  I won't be doing a blow-by-blow account or too many pictures of this game, as a lot of it followed a similar course of events to the previous two.

The first thing you run into is the Activation system.  Troops in most 2HW rules are rated by "Reputation" or REP (the name I think is a hangover from their original Western gunfight game, 6 Gun Sound)  Regular troops are REP 4, elites might be REP 5.  On Reaction tests, your rep is the number you need to roll or lower one each of two or three dice, different numbers of successes yield different results.  In combat, your REP is the base number of dice you roll.  But for Activation, every turn both sides roll 1D6.  The highest roller wins initiative and gets to go first BUT can only activate units of REPs equal to or higher than their roll. So it's perfectly possible for you to "win" the initiative 6-1, but be unable to activate any troops because the best troops you have are only REP 5.  This happened many times during the playtest.

Like I said earlier about the FUBAR activation, it's easy to rationalise this and necessarily unrealistic. But it can be frustrating and not-fun.

The next thing that shook me up was the movement distances.  Infantry in line moves 4".  Column 8" Open Order 12".  Doesn''t sound too bad, does it?  Until you realise that troops more than 2ft away from the enemy can make "Fast Moves" that double this value.  In Turn 1 the Border Light Infantry were able to cross half my 4ft table and make it to the farmyard.  What makes it worse is that cavalry in Line can only move 8", which means your open order infantry can outrun horses...

Both the Guardsmen (left) and the Light Inf (right)
after one turn of moving left to right from the
same starting position. 
The difference is so extreme, it's hard to rationalise why anybody would ever use anything except Open Order.  Now we can look back on our vantage point from a hundred years down the time stream and say "Of course open order is better, that's why troops fight dispersed nowadays."  But we're trying to recreate the style of fighting from the mid-to-late 19th century, when troops were still using close order drill (albeit in decline)

The only advantage offered to troops in Line is actually quite nifty.  Formed troops in Line that fire are considered to be using Volley Fire.  The number of casualties caused by that fire is then applied as a penalty to the REP of the targets when they take their "Suffered Casualties" Reaction test.  So a REP4 unit that takes 3 casualties needs to be rolling 1s to pass Reaction.  Doubly nasty, as a double failure on this test can cause 1/3 of your remaining unit to run away, or the whole unit to rout if down to 25% strength.  So if a 20 man unit takes a single casualty, but then fails both rolls on the Suffered Casualties reaction test, a further 6 men could rout!

Guardsmen and German infantry exchanging fire at the
top of Main Road
Ranged combat is yet another "handful of dice, hits on X" system., though the number of dice is based on the unit REP and weapon, with some modifiers for outnumbering your target by 2 or 3 to one.  This number of dice is then capped at half the number of firing figures, so if your unit is down to ten men, the most it can roll in ranged combat is 5 dice.

Artillery is a little more effective in this ruleset than the previous two, mainly down to the fact that for outnumbering purposes the number of gunners is multiplied by 5.  So my two gun battery with four gunners is equivalent to 40 men.  There's a stupid typo on the quick reference sheet that had me confused at first - the range bands were reversed so that it looked like field guns were getting 5 weapon dice at long range, when the weapons table in the body of the text makes it clear - +5 dice at up to 6" close range, +2 dice for up to 36".  As a result my first few artillery bombardments were particularly effective and made it look like a superweapon!

I have the nagging suspicion that the de-emphasis of the number of firers leads to some glitchy maths if you allow units to split their fire.  In the test game, the advancing Guardsmen found themselves separated by a terrain feature with each half-unit facing a different enemy unit, such that splitting their fire was the only logical  course of action.  The unit firing as a whole (20 men) got 5 dice (REP) plus 2 (for breachloading rifles) but did not outnumber their target unit enough to get a bonus, giving them a total of 7 dice which is less than half the 20 men in the unit, and so isn't capped.  Split into two half-units, each unit gets the same 5 dice (REP) plus 2 (weapon), which is then capped down to 5 as half the number of men firing.  So the two half units put out a total of 10 firing dice, compared to the unified unit only managing 7.

I'm not sure I like that, and while it's easy to rule "NO SPLIT FIRE", that then leads to the situation where half a unit can't fire because it's confronted by a different target unit to its other half.  This situation came up an awful lot in the test game, with the terrain leading to a lot of L-shaped deployments, half the unit across the width of the road and the other half at right angles to it.

Melee combat works via a similar mechanism to ranged fire.  It's easy for a melee to be inconclusive as both sides roll and take the difference between the number of successes as the casualties to be applied to the losing side.

Like Macduff, there's a mechanism for recovering a proportion of your casualties by Rallying, but this requires keeping track of which casualties are available for recovery and which are irretrievably lost.  Couter-intuitively, troops lost through "runaway" results on the Reaction table cannot be recovered in this way and are lost permanently.

Like most 2HW rulesets, Colonial Adventures comes with its own campaign system and a mechanism for randomly generating battlefield terrain.  These features weren't part of this test.

Overall I'm somewhat conflicted about Colonial Adventures.  There's plenty of interesting stuff here, but too much that just doesn't feel right.  Open Order movement needs to be dropped or seriously curtailed - I'd at least drop it down to equal Column speed.  The casualty threshold at which a unit might break and run is set way too high at 75%, which led to inconclusive combats.

I can't say for sure, but I get the distinct impression that Victorian or Colonial gaming is not one of the author's real interests, as he even gives a credit in the rules to someone "for showing me what Colonials should look like."  I think this set may have been written in response to requests from the 2HW fans rather than having any real feel for the genre/period.

So a very disappointed thumbs down for Colonial Adventures for me.  I still wholeheartedly recommend Chain Reaction and its derivatives as possibly the very best simulation of small-unit/individual fire combat around, but CA is not the game I'm looking for.

No test game tomorrow, as I'm travelling down to the East Midlands to visit an old friend and his son who received some miniatures for Christmas and is looking for help and advice on painting and gaming with them.    But I'll  be back on Thursday with either Soldier's Companion or The Sword And The Flame.


  1. So, so far the leader is MacDuff, eh? Ross writes some good rules.

    I've never played Soldier's Companion, but The Sword and the Flame often makes for a good game.

    -- Jeff

    1. Soldiers' Companion is a good game - at the end of the day Frank Chadwick was an old grognard so took pains to create a solid historical wargame before crafting on the rivets and steam. It was the set I started out with when I first started playing 15mm Colonials back in the day.

      That lasted exactly until I was able to get my sweaty hands on a copy of the Sword And The Flame 20th Anniversary Edition, which is what all the cool kids (The Major General, The Red Shadow et al) were playing. That was my main game until I started hearing about this GASLIGHT thingie. I was just starting to try it out for quasi-historical games (no steampunk bits) when 9/11 happened and playing westeners vs islamic natives games suddenly left a bad taste in the mouth (an entirely personal reaction, which I wouldn't seek to impose on anyone else) I knocked up some steam contraptions from the bitz box and moved the action to the 188x Invasion of England. The rest, as they say, is history.

      So playing Soldiers' Companion and Sword And The Flame will be like revisiting old friends. I just hope the years have been kind to them.