Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Giving it another chance

Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Or just a soft touch for a lost cause? Or just wanting value for money for an expensive purchase? Whatever the reason, "Black Powder" made a return to Shedquarters this Monday.

In fact it was inspired by the suggestion that I might be taking part in a BP game later in the week, so it made sense to get a refresher.

Consequently I dug out my War of Spanish Succession Airfix plastics, and filled the table full of terrain. On this occasion the Anglo Dutch are defending the top right of the picture, the French attacking from the bottom left. I had the French, Phil the Anglo-Dutch.

I advanced steadily on my left, volleying the troops occupying the small village out there.

They returned fire, and I got the worst of it. Still, plenty more subjects of the French King to fill their spaces.

As I said, Phil was playing the Anglo Dutch, and I had the French. We were a bit thin on the ground for a regular evening. He opened up with his artillery as I threatened the right hand bridge.

Regardless of this barrage, I was able to bound forward and seize the river line. My right flanking manoeuvre has stalled due to bad command rolls.

The musketry exchange continued on the left, and I was getting the worst of it.

The moment had come to launch my massed cavalry charge in the centre. Unfortunately my Guard cavalry were bounced conclusively by some countercharging Dutch cuirassiers.

Phil followed up with a "Sweeping Charge" or whatever it is called...

... and overran my second line too, although this time I inflicted some hits.

Meanwhile, back on my left one of my infantry units broke under musket fire.

I was able to rush up reinforcements and using a combination of front and enfilading fire did for the British infantry in the village.

Time to step back and survey the full picture. My artillery deployed on the hill couldn't hit a thing. To protect my flank on the river assault I had formed up an infantry unit to their left. The loss of the cavalry fight had rather opened up my centre quite badly. Over on the left I've got more infantry lined up, enfilading Phil's British again.

Having achieved fire superiority Phil counter-attacked across the river on the right, inflicting a lot of damage.

He was also able to counter attack on the left, hitting the flank of my line with a cavalry charge. You will be astonished to hear that I survived this attack.

Up until this point BP had been behaving itself fairly well, although the poorly written rule book doesn't help if you have any rule queries. Important rule points are buried in paragraphs of rambling text, and cross referencing in any sensible fashion is largely absent. The book really needs a proper index. However we had a couple of bizarre outcomes such as the flank charge here mentioned, and another on one of my lines on the left.

We ended the game with the armies looking like this. I had failed Brigade Morale for two out of three Brigades, so my army was done for presenting Phil with a win.

BP continues to infuriate me. The command sequence has a lot of merit, but it clearly works better when you have a lot of units to enable the random (I use the word advisedly) effects to even out. On the plus size you can use any size units with it, as long as you are consistent. Of course that does mean that the ground scale is complete garbage, but you can't have everything.

I know that for a WSS game I should have used the "Last Argument of Kings" supplement, but I've seen that and it's mostly garbage*, putting sticking plaster over an already flawed system. Bear in mind, of course, that the basic rule book promises to cover the WSS** anyway, - something the writer of LAOK makes clear isn't the case, as units under BP perform in a way that is alien to the start of the 18th century.

On the other hand it passed the evening pleasantly enough, with a lot of figures and terrain on the table, which is pretty much the justification for BP. I just tend to think that there's more to wargaming than only that.

*Although it is an absolute gem compared with the total waste of paper that is "Zulu".
** Note, however, that it refers to it as "The Spanish War of Succession", which is a thing that doesn't exist.


  1. Too bad Black Powder doesn't seem to work out for you. In my gaming group, we have used it repeatedly for the Great Northern War, and it suits our style of play very well.

    I do agree it strongly depends on the unit density and manouvre space available. E.g. we don;t use the 3-move possibilities, except for Follow-the-leader actions. That makes movement a bit more predictable, and the opponent can better anticipate certain troop movements.

    1. Phil says that t its best you can regard BP as a tool kit and select the bits and pieces you like, tweak, adjust and so on. I think he has a point. I would also guess that amongst a group of friends that once you have adjusted to its eccentricities that they custom and practice of how you play moulds it to your shape and takes off the bits I find annoying.

      But the layout & text is a dog's breakfast.

  2. Bit of a fanboy when it comes to BP , think you have to alter the stats and special rules to try and portray a period . My friend uses the Pike & Shotte rules for the Marlburian period as it makes the armies more ponderous to move about , Tony

    1. Good to see someone has found a use for P&S as it has nothing to do with 17th century warfare.

      As you say, with BP you have to alter the stats and mess about with it to make it work, which is really one of my points. It isn't what it purports to be. There's an element of Emperor's New cloths with the whole lot of it.

  3. I must admit to being one of BP's detractors for similar reasons to yourself.
    Most people seem also to have changed the turn sequence to prevent units moving up and shooting without being shot at on the way in. For a published rules set to have a flaw needing such a 'repair' still seems a little surprising. I've managed to sell my rules off on amazon - though have retained the AWI and 18th century sourcebooks for 'reference'.

    1. There aren't many of us. We should form a secret society and have special handshake.

      BP has some of the most redundant text ever written. I quote "Any dice scoring 4 or more indicate that the shooters have inflicted a hit on their target. So, three dice scoring 1,5 and 6 = 2 hits; 4,5 and 6 = 3 hits; 1,3, and 3 = 0 hits."

      Phew, I'm glad they gave me examples of numbers the equivalent of 4 or more, and some that are less as I was well confused up to that point.

    2. Haha - yes good point; 'The Treason Club' has a certain 17th century ring to it ;) .

      BP seems to make a meal of the simple stuff, then manage to disregard (1) proper rules for doing 'stuff' in the battle and (2) have an activation system which bears little/no resemblance to historic accounts of battles.

      If it's any consolation, I have universally started to use 'Field of Battle' - which is a significantly simpler derivation of the infamous 'Piquet' for all Horse and Musket...but don't let that put you off. It's quite a unique, card driven system - but a little less well known and although not as professionally produced as BP - is streets ahead in terms of the 'battle narrative' that is produced.

      Brent Oman produces the pdf for $10 - email me at ducdegobin (at) gmail (dot) com if you want to pursue?

      We used it for an ACW battle today for instance - and I commented on how the flank attack would have taken hours of modifier calculation with BP for absolutely no gain.


    3. Your second paragraph hits one of the major problems smack bang on the head. Reading back over my BP posts I have got to like the rules less and less over time.

  4. I didn't want to inflict them on anyone else so mine went in the recycling bin

    1. There are good things in them, just not nearly 200 pages worth. I note that Hail Caesar has the rules boiled down to 9 pages of A4 which seem clear and unambiguous as an appendix.

  5. I keep being tempted by Black Powder, mainly I suspect due to its glossy look, but I am maintaining a proper "stiff upper lip" as I can't buy yet another set of rules that will never be played. I also don't have a large enough house to put up the table big enough to play the game. I did succumb to both Hail Caesar and Pike & Shotte and I did like the look of the former - it also seems to have learned the lessons of BP by providing a concise rule book to complement the flowery text. Again though, I fear I need to move house or build the extension (so jealous of Shedquarters!) to be able to find the space to play it - which seems a bit extreme.

    1. It is all sold on the gloss. The rules are distinctly average and the break test mechanism is much too swings and roundabouts. We will be looking at HC in the near future. As someone who has a real love of the renaissance period P&S will not be filling my bookshelf anytime soon.

  6. Not all rulesets work for every style of play, but to give credit to BP, it does what it says. It's a quick game, that can produce some good results. Focus is on movement and manoeuvre, not on combat resolution, which is rather a straightforward mechanism.

    In order for BP "to work", you need lots of manoeuvre space. That means either a big table, or scale the game down (as we did with 2/3 and eliminate the 3-moves).

    The rulebook is indeed a bit confusing, but is more a "here's how we play the game" conversational book, rather a tome of precise rules.

    Anyway, approach it with the right mindset, and you will have a good light-hearted game. :-)

    1. I have written elsewhere that I liked the mechanisms. However, on further playings it isn't really doing what I want from a game.

      I do, of course, have a big table in Shedquarters that we can fill with figures if we want to, and I recognise that this is where the strength of the system lies. If you use enough stuff in a big enough space then the imperfections in the rules get smoothed out.

      I also agree that the rule book is confusing and the style and layout is difficult to defend, even in the terms you use. They have nearly 200 pages and couldn't find the space to put in a decent, coherent, rules summary.

      I have also been told that it is all about the mindset before, and "having fun". I get a lot of fun from playing historically accurate games that challenge me with a series of problems to solve and decisions to make. That doesn't mean our games are sober minded, dour affairs, - we laugh and joke as much as anyone. I can do amusing throwaway fun games both with and without figures and have had some published.

      One of the side effects of the BP phenomenon - and I can't blame the authors for this - is that some of the fan base that is most vocal take the view that BP and 28mm figures is the only way to wargame and you can forgive ANYTHING if the kit looks nice. To which I say "NO".

    2. Don't get me wrong, I am certainly not trying to "defend" BP in any way. I do believe there are different styles of wargaming - neither is right or wrong, it just depends on what you're looking for in a game and what a specific gaming group feels more comfortable with.

      But I do think that rules often get criticized when people expect things from them that are not there. BP is indeed a light-hearted ruleset without too much finesse. Whether that's anyone's cup-of-tea or not, is a matter of personal preference, nothing wrong with that.

    3. I agree. The problem is often with some elements of the fan base who latch on to a set of rules and then fill the forums with why they're the best thing ever. For example, never try to cross the Basic Impetus fans.

  7. Put me down in the ambivalent camp as far as BP goes. On the plus side I didn't buy the rules and so haven't spent all that money on them. Also I get to play with the HUGE 28mm figures of a colleague which is a nice visual treat compared to my usual 6mm smudges. Finally within the (very frustrating) rulebook some of the basic mechanisms are okay. With some tweaking and additions from Hail Caesar (turn order, halve movement rates, upgrade artillery slightly, morale/disorder modifications) it has been possible to put together a reasonable game with some nice narrative to it.

    However I have yet to be able to put together a functioning scenario for a whole battle which can be played in the three hours I generally have available to me. It seems to demand too many units of too many types over too large a table to represent a battle in that time. Curiously where it has been successful has been reproducing elements of larger battles. Around June of last year we spent three evenings doing three key elements of Waterloo (d'Erlon's charge, La Haye Sainte and Ney's Cavalry assaults) as individual battles and, with each side stripped back to fewer types and a restricted focus it worked surprisingly well. It's almost a big skirmish set of rules.

    Finally the last personal peeve of mine (with any set of rules) is the 'special abilities' available to different types. There are dozens of these for Napoleonics and it is a pain trying to keep track of which units have First Fire, which are bloodthirsty (or sthg like that), which get bonuses to their Command rolls (but only when in attack column) etc. These are in the supplements to add flavour but change so much of the basic mechanism as to thoroughly clog it. In the end we tend to forget all the special abilities and just play the vanilla version with the tweaks we make for all units. Which makes it an 'okay' set of rules for Napoleonics.

    But that then begs the question of why you'd want a poorly organised and poor simulation which requires homemade adjustments to bring it up to 'okay' and even then be unable to play a full battle scenario.

    Nevertheless I have had some fun with it - including my worst ever turn in a single game (worse even than any turn of my Northampton 1460 game with you). From being perfectly sound with a few casualties I lost five of my total of seven units. Time for an early bath.



    1. Yes. I think you have nailed it. There's certainly an air of "look at all of our figures" in the rules. They say they're intended to be played on big tables with lots of toys. Some of the playing areas are bigger than Shedquarters, and I have a 14' x 5' table.

      I would say it is certainly a set of Napoleonic rules that have spread and the extra rules you ignore are needed to pull the rules into line where you are trying to do something else.

      As for the skirmish thing...the "Zulu" supplement has scenarios for both Isandalwhana AND Rorke's Drift.

      I also agree on the Hail Caesar point too, - they certainly dealt with some issues, - vis the rules summary I mentioned above. What is clear, however, is that a lot of people are prepared to forgive a lot because it looks nice.

      I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of the fanbase don't play a lot of games, and are "theoretical" wargamers, who collect and paint and don't play. You get a lot of them on TMP, who get together once a quarter for a game. We're playing at least weekly and any rule set with problems soon gets shown up.

      As you know I'm a great tweaker of other people's rules as well as a writer of my own. I do sort of object when you are paying a lot for the base set.

      On a foot note, Monday Night regular Chris A has both BP & HC which he got thrown in for free with armies on bring and buy stands. Draw your own conclusion.