I purchased the rules Black Powder some time again, mostly because of all of the buzz when it first came out. As I am not a fan of the Warmaster-style command and control system, and I like my rules "tournament tight", I did not think I would like these. So, why am I playing a test game and doing a battle report and review? Shawn, at our club, purchased the ancients equivalent to these rules Hail Caesar, and he wants to try them once he gets enough figures painted. He is also curious about the horse and musket period, so one way to scratch both itches is for me to pull out my AWI and give Black Powder a go. As I really don't like playing a big game when I am 'iffy' on the rules, I decided to set up a table at home and give it a go.
The scenario is a fictional one; something I can learn with and use some of the terrain I have been collecting and working on. I definitely wanted to use all of the hedges I have purchased (actually, bocage for 15mm Flames of War, so it is probably a bit too high for the size of hedge I want to represent in this scenario). Also, a road would look nice (even if they do have tank tread marks in them because they are also for Flames of War). So I decide to make this an attack on a plantation.
The British and Loyalists will be attacking from the South (bottom of the picture), while the Patriots will be defending the plantation.
The battle plan was relatively simple. The British would enter the board in three separate columns: left, center, and right. The left column, composed of Loyalists Provincials, would lead by marching down the road. Unbeknownst to them, the Patriots were aware of this approach and had hidden some militia and cavalry of their own in and behind the woods. Their job would be to flank the left column's attack.
The right column, composed of a converged Light Infantry battalion, a small Light Dragoon contingent, and a British Foot battalion, would approach through the woods (barely seen in the picture above) and the crops, then spring their attack as a spoiler to any attacks on the British center.
The center column, composed of British Line troops and a few small Loyalist militia units, was off of the board and unable to enter on turn one. The Commander-in-Chief figure (out of the picture) would mark where the column's center would enter, but the General would not actually be present until turn two.
Click on any pictures to enlarge.
Order of Battle
The British have three British Foot battalions, one British Light Infantry battalion, one British Light Dragoon regiment, four Loyalist Provincial battalions, and two Loyalist militia commands.
The Patriots have three militia commands, three militia rifle skirmish groups, one State rifle battalion, two Continental battalions, Hall's Delaware Blues (Continental battalion), and the Philadelphia Light Horse.
British Turn 1 - I decide to order the first Loyalist unit in the road column to advance (I indicated a spot on the table that was one move away), and change into line facing the corner of the hedges. So, with a Staff rating of '8', +2 for being in March Column on the Road, I need a '10' or less to succeed.
Great way to start and a perfect reminder about why I do not like Warmaster-style command and control systems. That, and I should not use "pink bubblegum" colored dice.
So, because the unit is in march column, it must make one move (as a free move) as that is compatible with the orders I had issued. Also, that Brigadier is now finished giving orders for the turn. Hmmm, someone must have interpreted the orders as having the first unit scout ahead!
On the opposite flank the Light Infantry are ordered forward through the woods and into the crop field in front of it. The unit is not to expose itself on the forward side of the field, but to remain hidden. I roll a '10', again barely failing. It moves forward one move and that Brigadier is finished with orders too.
As the General's figure is only on the board as a marker where the center brigade will appear, and not really on the board (he enters next turn with the last brigade), the turn is over.
Patriot Turn 1 - I just looked at the ranges again. Wow! 18" for muskets. I should probably be cutting everything down here, inches to centimeters or something, but I will go with this for the whole game. I hate changing rules before I really see their effects. As it stands, however, my unit frontages are about 2/3rds of what they suggest in the book.
I decide that I want to move my rifle unit in my right brigade out of cover into a position where it can shoot at the Loyalist militia on the road. The unit is in skirmish order, so it is really a single move to get some of the figures in a new skirmish line, and two moves to get them all sorted out (I have to move through the woods). Staff of '8' and I roll a '2'; three moves.
The militia rifles on my right (of the right brigade) also moves out, but only gets one move. I decide not to move any more of the brigade, nor any of the other brigades. Here is the situation on the Patriot right, at the end of movement.
Fire from my two units was pretty devastating. I scored four hits, none of which were saved (hard given they were caught in march column) and I rolled a '6' on hits, meaning the unit is also disordered (which is not a surprise).
Given that I inflicted exactly four hits, and no excess (this unit is a large unit), there was no Break test. Still, they are in a pretty bad way. Maybe I should have moved the Philadelphia Light Horse into position to charge after all.
A this point the Man Cave is getting too cold and it is obvious to me that I need to read the rules a little more, as I am flipping around too much looking for the answers to what I feel are basic questions. But at least I have a better idea what to look for and expect.
British Turn 2 - The first problem is the Loyalist infantry stuck on the road. As they are disordered, there is nothing I can really do (they cannot move). They will remove the disorder marker at the end of the British turn. The second Loyalist unit decides to march over the hedges and flank the right of the skirmish line. They get three orders and ... well this is why you need to measure out your moves before hand. Because I stated a long order, and got three orders, the ended up in a vulnerable position where they were still in march column, but did not have another order to change formation. This is going to hurt... The third unit in the brigade failed the roll, so that is all of the Loyalist column's movement.
The Light column started by having the Light Infantry form a line, then wheel forward to the hedge and deliver a volley into the militia. Meanwhile, the Foot Regiment continued to march in column to get around the flank. The cavalry was able to get past the hedges and execute a left face, ready to ride down the militia behind the first set of hedges. (However, they now notice the second line of militia in addition to the third line, composed of Continentals. Maybe better to wait...)
The Center column got an astounding three orders for the entire brigade, allowing them to march on all the way to the hedge line and form line of battle. The British are here!
Now it was time to fire. The British, from behind the hedges, fire at the Patriot skirmishers hiding behind their hedges. The British Foot on the left scores only one hit, but it is not saved. On the right, the British Foot and the Light Battalion fire on a single Patriot unit and score five hits, but they score an amazing four saves!
At this point it might be helpful to those that have never played Black Powder to understand how ranged combat works. Each unit has a number of dice for shooting, generally three, and to hit a 4+ is needed. There are some modifiers, both to the number of dice for firing, plus the number needed to hit. For example, the British have the First Fire ability, which grants them +1 to hit the first time the unit fires. A target in cover, or skirmishing, reduces the chance to be hit by -1. If a natural '6' is rolled, the target is disordered by the fire, even if no hits are inflicted (see morale saves below).
The target gets to attempt a save for each hit received based on the morale of the target unit. Generally the chance to save is 4+, but formation and cover can modify the chance. Being in March Column means your chance to save is worse (increasing the save number by 2 to a 6+), while being in cover decreases the save number by 1.
Once a unit equals its Stamina (generally a 3) in hits, it becomes Shaken. Once it has exceeded that value in hits it starts taking Break Tests.
Disorder is removed at the end of your player turn. Its primary penalty is that you cannot be given orders or act on initiative; you are frozen. Shaken units are penalized a die in shooting and in hand-to-hand combat.
So, with the British center engaged, we now start to see some real action.
Patriot Turn 2 - The first order on the Patriot right has got to be an attempt by the Philadelphia Light Horse to charge the Loyalists that attempted a flanking march and got stuck in March Column. I roll a '4' and ... three orders, allowing them to change formation and charge two moves! Just what I needed (two orders would have fallen short, so I was gambling)!
The skirmishing riflemen the cavalry charged through must have been surprised, as they failed their chance to receive orders.
In the left-center, the militia eye the British cavalry on the flank. They are ordered to wheel left and man the hedges to the left, giving them fire, but they think that is a damn fool idea. (They did not pass their order check)
The Continentals, meanwhile, stand pat.
As the Loyalists are in March Column, they get no Closing Fire on the charging cavalry. Meanwhile the rifle and musket fire on the right tear into the Loyalist column on the road, inflicting seven hits, of which three save. Fortunately for the Loyalists, none of the fire disordered them. Nonetheless, this causes four excess hits to be counted against their Break Test.
The chance to hit with the riflemen is a 3+, as they have +1 for being in skirmish order. Further, the rifle units are Sharpshooters so they can re-roll one miss each. With the Loyalists in March Column, they only receive a save on a '6', so they are in a bad way...In the center, the riflemen behind the hedges open fire. The unit to the right inflicts one hit, which is not saved. The unit on the left inflicts two hits, both of which are saved. This is going to be a long firefight.
The basic odds here are that the riflemen score hits on a 3+, but can re-roll one miss each. The British, as long as they are behind the hedges, save on a 3+. If they are Crack, like the Light Battalion, they further get to re-roll failed morale saves from shooting.With no real effect (no '6' rolled for causing Disorder), there will be no Break Tests in the center.
So now, to make the Break Test for the Loyalist unit in the center. They roll a '9', subtract -4 for the excess casualties for a total of 5. (If they had been disordered this turn they would have had an additional -1.) As they got a better than average roll, the unit was not automatically destroyed (had they rolled an '8' however...). The unit retires one move to their rear and is disordered. As they are in March Column, they automatically form into Line.
Finally, time to learn about hand-to-hand combat!
Hand-to-hand combat is much like shooting. Each unit gets a number of dice to roll, looking for a 4+ to hit. Both the number of dice and the die roll can be modified. Once the number of hits are established, morale saves are taken, except that the benefits of cover can be nullified.The cavalry inflict three hits of which one is saved. The infantry do not inflict any hits. As the result is two hits to zero, the infantry is defeated. This forces a Break Test on the infantry, who rolls a '3' and is destroyed!
In this battle the cavalry gets four dice in combat (it is a small unit), but gets +1 for charging. The infantry get six dice, but because they were caught in March Column, they only get to roll one!
At this point the winning unit can do nothing, change formation, fall back, or make a sweeping advance, as all enemy have retired or been broken. Cavalry making a sweeping advance can charge another unit within one move (18") if they are within their front arc (45).Unfortunately, the Loyalists that just retired in disorder is not within the front arc of the cavalry, otherwise I would push it. Also, given the Proximity of Enemy rule, any move has to be directly towards or directly away from them, which is outside of my arc. Thus, I decide to change formation to single line while also (barely) putting them in my front arc.
The turn comes to a close, but unfortunately, so does the game, as I have to pick up all the terrain and figures for my game tomorrow. This was a test of the rules and the scenario, plus getting me familiar enough to teach everyone else.
One thing I learned is that I cannot use the measurements out of the book. My units are 2/3rds the frontage of the 28mm Black Powder units, so 12" needs to be cut down to 8". This will make a 6' by 4' board feel like 9' by 6', which is a good thing.
Getting caught in March Column is deadly, which is as it should be. (I usually try out a March Column move close to the front line to test out just how bad it can be, ever since a fateful game of Napoleon's Battles.) Although the units were apart while in March Column, it is not indicative of the rules of a whole. In fact, turns seem to go in slower motion than I expected, given quick, decisive movement and long firing ranges. Unless I am doing something wrong, the basic formula is that a unit rolls three dice, needing a 4+ to inflict a hit. The enemy unit rolls to save against those hits by rolling a 4+. Three dice * 50% hit * 50% save equals about 0.75 hits a turn. With a stamina of 3, it will take about four turns of firing to match the stamina and five turns to exceed it, forcing the first break test. If the unit is Steady, it is even worse. If the unit is Crack, it is far worse. Rolling a '6' and inflicting disorder on your opponent suddenly becomes the critical tie-breaker.
Given that hand-to-hand combat has you throwing more dice, and the side that wins forces a break test regardless of how many hits have been inflicted, clearly hand-to-hand combat is the game winner. I strongly suspect that cavalry charging straight into a line is going to find the closing fire unpleasant.
I'll be honest, I was not expecting much from the rules. I figured that it would be Warmaster lightly warmed over, with a dash of Horse and Musket flavor. I think the larger distances and ranges, additional actions, and less fiddly movement rules were all refinements that appear subtle, but actually have a greater effect than you imagine when you simply read the rules. I still think their might be a problem in multi-player games, given that a bad roll early into the command phase stops you dead, so a player, regardless of the number of units he has, might be stuck doing nothing is his luck runs bad. (Again, I hearken back to a past game of Fast Play Grande Armee where I was stuck doing nothing for almost two hours. But hey, I met Justo at that game, so it was not all bad.)
I am definitely looking forward to replaying this scenario – with some appropriate changes – tomorrow.