Saturday, 4 September 2010

Black Powder Ponderings

Black Powder has been the big thing in horse and musket this year. In fact, it's the biggest thing in horse & musket for quite a while. I've not paid it much attention until recently. After all if touches all of my prejudices, - it's a big glossy book, it covers a big non-period specific era, (from the Great Northern War* to the British in the Sudan in the 1890s) and it seems to be a platform for selling more 28mm figures. Sure the people playing it at shows seem to be having fun, but then a lot of people do and the games are often rubbish.

A couple of our group have played a game or two and taken the plunge and bought the book, so last night we had a game. We did an ACW scenario, but we did it in 15mm not 28mm and we used centimetres instead of inches for distances, principally because of the size of our table.

Well I have to say I enjoyed it. The basic game is almost devoid of period feel but you put that in with unit special characteristics, rules you make up yourself, and a reliance on players doing "the right thing". It plays quickly and cleanly and is fun. Admittedly that's only after one game and I don't know if the rule system might pall after a while.

Good things about the system, - the command / orders system is neat and has a lot in common with my command and control system in "Return to the River Don". The firing system is quick and efficient. Melee is effective if not imaginative. It hangs together and works, if you don't poke it too hard. An even points competition game it ain't.

Bad things about the system, - well, nothing really.

However the book is exceptionally irritating. This is a full colour hard-back book that runs to nearly 200 pages, and retails at £30. The rules are simple and could be explained in about 6 sides of A4 if you put in a few diagrams. Why does it take nearly 100 pages? Well, it is verbose and matey in its writing style which is fun but more suited to a magazine article than something trying to explain rules to me. Rules should be concise and clearly written. It has a good number of helpful diagrams, but mostly it has masses of pictures of 28mm figures from all the periods covered by the rules. Many of which are clearly not illustrating the game actually being played but presumably have been put in as wargamer pornography. It's like Delia Smith publishing a recipe book and sticking in photos of dishes she hasn't described.

The second half of the book is the real wind up. 80 plus pages of BATTLE REPORTS!!!! The 6 or 7 battles described certainly give you information about the armies involved and how they are simulated under the game system. I can't help thinking it would have been a whole lot more useful to have done 80 pages of army lists, showing the factors for troops for the whole period allegedly covered by the rules. At the very least they could have started with the War of Spanish Succession and picked armies at every 30 years or so to show the development. It's not like they haven't got the figures. THEY PRINTED ENOUGH PHOTOS OF THEM. The Battle Reports would have made good magazine articles or downloads on the web to help you once you've bought the rules.

I realise I'm a lonely voice in the wilderness on this matter. The three reviews on Amazon (including one from Charles Vasey) are 4 or 5 star. It's almost like wargamers want to have their pockets picked. I'm not objecting to quality. I like a nice production standard in a book, but I also expect to get decent actual content. The goal shouldn't be to pad something to 190 pages so the punter thinks he's getting value for money when the intellectual property in the book is short changing you.

Which is a way of saying can they please put a pdf on the Warlord Games website for War of the Spanish Succession armies.

(*Actually you can't use it for the GNW as it doesn't have rules for Swedish pike armed units)


  1. Pretty pictures about toy soldiers, non-tournament oriented rules, fun to read text, good game design, gorgeous book in every aspect. Somehow I feel I'm not a "grown-up wargamer" because I see nothing less than perfection here (comparing it to the rest of the historical wargames texts around). And it suits me.

  2. I don't disagree with most of your comments, - the point is that about half of what is in the book is lazy. It doesn't provide what it purports to, - ie rules and data to allow you to play the full period. Plus the photos don't illustrate the game. It would not have been hard for the pictures to tie into the text, or for the space devoted to battle reports to have covered the armies for the period.

    There could have been much more "meat" in the production, - it feels to me that it has hit lowest common denominator levels to make sales.

    As for being a "grown up wargamer"... that's just a reference to trying to fit everything in your hobby with trying to do a job and have a family. You can be a grown up wargamer and disagree with me about everything I write on wargaming.

  3. There is no such thing as a 'grown-up' wargamer, unless you count the ones who left the hobby for something their mates considered more along the lines of what an adult *should* do with his leisure. Perhaps they're football fans now, or they've taken up fishing, or they've a hobby they use to generate a bit of income.

    In any case, they're no longer wargamers.

    Half of what is in the book could have been linked to the rules, etc. I see what you mean. On the other hand, a lot of it is, as you called it, wargamer porn. I think the book, in addition to being a hefty rule book, will find itself making trips to the loo fairly often. 'Reading material', right?

    I wonder why they *didn't* do the obvious and associate the images more closely, trim back the informal style, etc? Have they caught the Games Workshop bug?

  4. There aren't any grown up wargamers, but there are grown ups that wargame. At least there are people like me who have jobs & families & power tools and still wargame.

    I suppose I don't have a problem with the informal style of the rules when explaining the game, but the pictures are an issue. Their lack of relevance to the text is simple laziness. They had a size of book in mind and filled it with easy pictures - probably already in someone's photo library - rather than give text to explain how the rules are adapted to the periods they claim to cover. I think that is what jars with the matey, hail fellow well met, we're all chaps here style.

    Particularly given what was promised in the interview quoted in my next blog.

  5. "Why does it take nearly 100 pages?"

    Probably because you can make a lot more money from selling a £30 book than a £6 book. And that's what it comes down to in the end. Oh and of course you get more glossy miniatures porn to encourage people to buy more figures. -

    I don't really know anything about the rules I have to confess. However, the cynic in me wonders how big the units are. Would I be wrong in guessing that they are fairly big? (Means you have to buy more minis of course!) :)

    1. Red,

      You are right about the unit sizes in the book, although if you look at the pictures of our gsmes we play with 12 figure units and it works well enough.