Thursday, 24 December 2009

Rules I Like (Part 1)

Yes, I know you're all thinking what poor sap blogs on Christmas Eve. Well, I've got in from work early, shovelled the snow, made a cup of tea and now there's cooking stuff going on in the kitchen, so I've just ducked out of the way.

Only to be interrupted as the microwave has just stopped working. There's that smoky electric burn smell hanging around the kitchen now. It's not the fuse, - it starts up then stops after 30 seconds. Lights and display still work, turntable rotates but then it stops and shuts down.

Luckily there's a spare one in the garage, previously used by one of the younger Trebians at University. Excuse me whilst I go and get it.

Real life, huh?

Right, back to the subject. Firstly I have to say that just because I like a set of rules doesn't mean I play them regularly. This is more the first part of a series about rule sets I like because of things about the way they're written, or because they broke new ground, - not because they have lots of pictures, or feature loads of army lists of are written in the greatest prose since Dickens.

I was prompted to think about this because of my last blog, when I used Slim Mumford's rules to illustrate a point. They are one of the sets that I like, although I rarely play them.

One of the sets that makes me wish I'd thought of the idea is "File Leader" by Pete Berry. I've just had a look on my shelves and I seem to have lost my original copy from when they were first published, but I've got the 1994 re-print which illustrates this blog.

So why do I rate these rules? In some ways they are derivative. The morale tables, for example, are a direct copy almost of those in the WRG 1685 - 1845 Rules and often don't work that well. The move sequence is a simply "I Go - You Go". Troop classification is entirely normal, with no clever twists.

The firing system is simple and effective, but nothing special, and the hand to hand rules are clunky and require too many sums to get them to work.

The combat effect system is quite clever, however, as a unit can elect not to lose figures by giving ground. It simulates well the reluctance of units to close when under fire. If you press home you will take casualties, but if you won't take casualties you can't win.

However what makes "File Leader" special in my eyes is how it is just "fit for purpose".

The problem with many rule sets for table top games is the level of resolution. Many games have a limited number of units a side and might represent nothing more than a Napoleonic division. In order to fight battles that actually took place then you need masses of figures and more space than most people have. They also end up playing really slowly because of the level of detail in them.

On the other hand such rules don't scale down well, either. If you try to fight a typical English Civil War battle most rules are overkill. In many of the minor actions there's often only a few companies aside, - 2,000 men or so - especially in the early period Irish conflicts. You can try to scale down your George Gush rules or whatever, but they're still not written for this type of combat.

File Leader has as its basic unit a company or cavalry squadron, and they behave as such, not as cut down regiments. Before they came along games were either big battle or skirmish. The idea that you would work at a level between the two didn't seem to have occurred to anyone.

Having set that as the level of resolution for the rules the command structure is very neat, with officers really being needed for companies to function and co-ordinate with each other. This is done simply and elegantly.

And finally the Officer Incident tables. Rather than have the simple "Roll a 6, he dies" type of resolution for officers foolish enough to get near combat, there's a graduated scale to see if he is hit and then 60 different outcomes from Death to Capture and Lucky Escapes. Most of these have a different effect on the troops under the officer's command. They add real period flavour and enjoyment to the game without being unnecessary chrome.

As far as I can tell File Leader is unique in addressing this level of combat resolution. It has been written specifically to address type of combat, and so is precisely "fit for purpose".

Subsequent versions have been published for the French-Indian Wars ("Ranger") and the American War of Independence ("Minuteman") which I've never played, and the Indian Mutiny ("Sepoy") which I have. We, as a group, have used File Leader for the Dutch Revolt, French Wars of Religion (with slight changes) and hopefully next year for the Elizabethan campaigns in Ireland, - when I've painted the Irish Kerns I bought on an impulse at Derby this year.

Any how, that's my first pick for Rules I Like. Comments, as ever, welcome.

Merry Christmas to all of you out there in the blogosphere.

5 comments:

  1. I will not spam you blog with my favourite rules, but you have inspired me to write up a review of Battletech on my own blog, and why I like what I like, and what I dislike about my favourite ruleset.

    Been enjoying the blog, so it just leaves me to wish you a very Merry Xmas, and a happy New Year

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  2. Do they even call it the blogosphere anymore?

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  3. I don't know if "they" do, but I do. At least twice now on this blog.

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  4. I have had File Leader for about 10 years now but never played them - I must have a game in 2010.

    My first New Years Resolution!

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  5. Be prepared for an interesting experience and "go with the flow". They're definately a fun game, without too much calculation.

    As a beginner, have musketeers in preference to pikemen, and don't overload the table.

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