Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Taiping Lesson

I've spent the last couple of weeks on and off on the train putting together the first draft of rules for mid-19th century Chinese warfare. These rules are intended to cover mainly the Taiping Rebellion and the Second Opium War.

I had a solo playetest in the garage the weekend before last which indicated a few areas to be tightened up, so I felt I was ready to share where I'd got to with the Monday Night Group.

As I haven't bought any Chinese yet my Red coated Sudan British stood in for the "Barbarians" and the Ansar and Fuzzy-Wuzzies for the Manchus, Mongols and Chinese of the Imperial forces. Hence no pictures.

The core of the system is a use of the EDNA mechanism. Each unit has a discipline score which is whittled down by combat and also provides a measure of how able it is to perform any actions like charging home. For example a British line Regiment has a discipline of 11 on a d12, a Chinese foot "ying" has a discipline of 5 on a d6. Other units variously use a d8 or d10. When a unit is hit it rolls against its rating. If it rolls more than the number then it is reduced by the difference. When a unit's rating is reduced to 1 it has to retire, at 0 it routs.

The use of multi-sided dice isn't popular with all of my players. It was remarked to me that "wargamers don't like them". I'm not sure about this as you sure see a lot of them sold at shows. It might be that some types of wargamers, - those brought up in the purely historical tradition - don't like them. I prefer to use d6, but sometimes altering the number of sides on the dice is just convenient.

How did the play test go? In summary the British mostly roughed the Chinese up fairly efficiently, although they lost a cavalry regiment and one unit of foot in the process. I'm sure there'll be questions in the House about both of them.

The core mechanism works, although I need to stop it being so brutal at times. Hits are inflicted by rolling a d6 per base, doubled at close range for the Europeans. The number of hits is then the number of dice rolled for the EDNA test. I had a bit of a design issue with this in the solo test, - whether to roll all of the dice at  once and rank them or roll them individually. I went for the former for this playtest. This means that a small number of hits can be catastrohic on a Chinese unit if there is only one 6 in the numbers rolled as that means that 5s have an effect that then means 4s have an effect and so on and the unit routs. I may go back to rolling one die at a time.

So I got the game I was expecting but it probably isn't much fun for the Chinese. I have the classic problem for Colonial games. If the British are well organised and lead (or just competently lead) they will prevail in a set piece battle. Even if they make a mistake (such as opening the square a Tamai) they'll probably recover the situation and give the locals a pasting. The challenge is then how do you make it an enjoyable game for the natives without distorting the history (SvP doesn't bother by having the natives run by the Umpire).

In some ways the European forces are a side show, as I want to be fighting Taiping v Imperialist or the EVA at the most. So perhaps a test with them next week. Or at least some fuzzies and Ansar who are a bit lost.


  1. This isn't an area of interest for me personally . . . but I have no objection to using polyhedral dice. I also often use "averaging dice" (d6s numbered 2,3,3,4,4,5) in my games.

    I wish you good luck with your rules as you work them through the playtests.

    -- Jeff

  2. That's a bit of a distortion of my comment re dice. Your game used 3 different types of dice: I made 3 comments based on a fair amount of wargaming and on reading a lot of comment threads: (a) that using a number of _different types of dice isn't popular with players - me included, actually - unless it clearly solves a lot of problems ... (b) that if you design a game requiring 'handfuls of' D12, D8 _and D6 most people won't actually play the game as many players aren't going to go out and buy dice for it; and (c) that of the available dice most players prefer D6.

    Like all my comments, they were intended as helpful clues. Based on the surveys, feedback and even dreaded TMP polls I have seen, I don't believe they misrepresent general opinion (the Harry Callahan had something to say about opinions ...) :)


    1. Phil,

      I found all of your comments helpful. The one on the dice (and you did actually say that)intrigued me and by putting it here in unattributed form I wondered if I'd get a feedback either way.

      I think you're right on the Buckets of Dice issue, so if you're going for volume d6 are the answer. It's just that using the different sided dice alters the odds without having a load of different factors.

      I got a lot of food for thought out of last night's game and I'm leaning towards seeing how a Chinese v Taiping game goes before I trash most of the system.

      Thanks for your thoughts, as ever.


  3. TREB: The one on the dice (and you did actually say that) ...

    Phil: Yes - but it was specifically within the context of changing the type of dice/having several shapes in play. I'll happily own up if I'm proved wrong on this ..

    1. Point taken. I find it easy to switch betyween them as I think their use is logical.

      But then I wrote the rules.

  4. I suspect gamers are inherently conservative/prejudiced on the question of dice. It can't be a price issue - the cost of a few dice would be nothing in comparison to the lead fielded on any table.

    Philosophically I'm not a fan of using buckets of dice (whether d6 or any other flavour) simply because everything converges towards the average, and absolute predictability ensues.

    So I would encourage experimenting with different dice as a way of reflecting differing quality, but as single/few rolls rather than in buckets.


    1. The point about the BOD approach is to give you a standard distribution, but we actually don't really roll enough at once for it to pan out correctly. Plus it is a lot of dice to roll without any falling on the floor.

      In theory all you really need are percentage dice. If you can alocate %age chances to things happening then you just roll the d100s and go.

      It's determining the %ages is the problem.