Let me start with a disclaimer. This post is meant as constructive, even if it sounds critical, to the rules authors and potential rules authors out there. When Phil Barker was developing version 3 of DBA via a public forum, he always complained bitterly how Americans were all rules lawyers. I know that the term 'rules lawyer' is usually meant derogatorily, but I feel like there are two versions. The first is the negative one, the person who attempts to twist the meaning of rules due to unfortunate wording in order to gain competitive advantage. We all don't like them. The second is the person who believes that there is no way to determine an author's intent other than by reading the rules as written precisely. I admit it. I am one of them. That is why I have a Tournament Tight™ rating for rules.
I am in no way trying to denigrate the Tin Soldiers in Action rules. I like them, a lot. In fact, I think I like them better now. All that said, here we go...
Mistakes Were Made!One of the good things about global communication today is that doing things like having a conversation with the author of a set of rules you just purchased is possible, despite the fact that he is in Brussels and I am sitting out in the middle of nowhere in Arizona on the Mexican border. Unfortunately, like most guys I knew growing up, none of us learned more than a semester of any foreign language. (And we only learned that much because we thought it would be an easy credit!) So understanding may not always occur despite the fact that words are quickly and easily appearing on your screen.
Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA) got a rap in the first review I ever read of the rules as "being hard to understand" and "poorly translated". (My own review brought out some of the same remarks.) I remember thinking: "What are they talking about? The rules seem pretty clear to me." I honestly did not get it.
Okay, there were some phrases I would have said differently. In some ways I find some explanations verbose, especially the ones that I feel 'go without saying'. But, I did not really complain about it. But as many of you who have read this blog for awhile my style of writing is that I spew a stream of consciousness (or at least I think so); I say out loud my thought process. Some people appreciate that and others ... well I don't know about the others. I don't think they comment.
For rules authors that read my posts I think it helps them get into the head of at least one of the people reading their writing, which in turn they can use as an example of when they are being unclear. (Of course it is also a signal as to how dense some of their players can be too!) A good example of this is my babbling on about TSIA and whether to classify American Revolutionary War (ARW) infantry as "light infantry with no skirmishers" or "infantry with can operate in open formation". I then picked through the rules citing references to "light infantry" and "open formation" trying to figure out which option would modify the rules the least. In that analysis I came to one big conclusion: there was a significant difference in the light infantry designation as some rules applied to light infantry in open formation while others applied only to light infantry. I was actually proud of my deep analysis of the rules.
Too bad I was wrong.
According to the author, I had been reading the rules wrong. The references in modifiers to combat it often states "(light) infantry". I thought this was an odd way to indicate light infantry, which is a unit type, but I did not think much more of it other than "I wish he had not phrased it that way."
Here is the issue, and I have seen it in several rules. TSIA creates categories of figures called "branches" (as in "branches of service") and they are: infantry, cavalry, and artillery. They then categorize figures by unit type. The unit types for the infantry branch are: infantry and light infantry. Start to see the issue? Now, whenever the rules refer to "infantry", do they mean the infantry branch, which includes all infantry unit types, or do they mean the infantry unit type, which excludes light infantry?
It turns out that the author intended the designation "(light) infantry" to mean both the unit types infantry and light infantry! Hint to future authors out there:
- Don't use the same term twice, giving them two different definitions.
- Don't use new terms without defining them first.
- When using groups of values explicitly list out all values unless you have defined terms for groupings.
After this revelation I started reviewing what else was wrong with the way I was playing because I misread the author's intention. As I indicated above, not only was "infantry" duplicated, so was "cavalry". There is one key modifier that said "(light) cavalry" and I had assumed that it applied to light cavalry only. No, it applies to both unit types in the cavalry branch (cavalry and light cavalry). That means that all cavalry gets a multiplier of 0.5 when being shot at. (Note modifier does not apply in close combat.)
I asked the author to query some of his European players (there are two large groups out there, in Brussels and Hessen, I believe) and see if anyone had misinterpreted the rules as I had. (I suspect not because the two authors live in Brussels and Hessen.)
No offense meant to the author, but I do not see this as a translation error, but as lack of clarity in writing. I say this not to be cruel, but to help any other would-be authors out there on how easy it is for others to misinterpret something that is so clear and simple in your mind. Having played numerous games with rules authors in which I never read their rules and had a jolly old time, I can understand how easy it is for authors to get a false sense that their intent is perfectly clear in their writing because everyone in their test group plays exactly as they play. It takes something like this – someone completely outside of your influence who has to read your rules from start to finish in order to be able to attempt a game – in order to truly get a sense of how understandable your writing is.
It also takes a babbling data geek like me, who likes to run off at the mouth – well fingers in this case – and says every last little tidbit in his head to be able to get a crack at where your readers might go astray.
I knew I was performing a public service! 😀
So, what are the ramifications for TSIA? None really. These "changes" actually makes the game cleaner in that it feels like there are less exceptions to worry about.
- (Line) infantry can only be in closed formation.
- Light infantry can be in either closed formation or open formation, unless affected by the special rule always in open formation.
- (Line) cavalry can only be in closed formation.
- Light cavalry can be in either closed formation or open formation, unless affected by the special rule always in open formation.
- Structures benefit all infantry.
- All cavalry takes less casualties from ranged combat.
Cavalry versus Ranged Combat
- Patriot militia companies, like the NC militia that stood in the first line at Guilford Courthouse, I would rate as line infantry, inferior amateur, musket, no bayonets.
- Patriot militia rifle companies, like the VA rifles that were on the flanks and behind the first line at Guilford Courthouse, I would rate as light infantry, average amateur, rifle, no skirmishers, no bayonets.
- Patriot militia companies that were stiffened and led by former Continental soldiers and officers, and better equipped like the VA militia in the second line at Guilford Courthouse, I would rate as line infantry, average amateur, musket.
- State line regiments, which often had former Continental soldiers and officers, I would rate as line infantry, average professional, musket.
- State light infantry or rifle regiments I would rate as light infantry, average professional, rifle, no skirmishers, no bayonets. (Early war rifle regiments I would probably rate as light infantry, superior amateur, rifle, no skirmishers, no bayonets.)
- Continental regiments for this period would be line infantry, average professional, musket. But there were some exceptional regiments in the Southern Campaign, like the Delaware and Maryland regiments, which I would rate as light infantry, superior professional, musket, no skirmishers.
- Despite it sounding so strange, I would rate both British Grenadier and Light companies and converged battalions as light infantry, superior professionals, musket, assault troops, no skirmishers. To differentiate the two I might grant the Light companies ferocious also.
- Most British Line regiments would be rated light infantry, average professionals, musket, no skirmishers. Exceptional British Line regiments would be rated as superior.
- Some Highland regiments would be rated as ferocious if warranted in the battle played. In pickup games it would probably be best to give them ferocious for flavor. I would be reluctant to give them assault troops in general, however. The 71st Highlanders at Cowpens, for example, should be given neither ferocious nor assault troops given their degraded state due from force marching and not having breakfast.
- Loyalist units ran the gamut like Patriot units. Local militia is inferior amateur, but would not likely suffer from no bayonets. Most Loyalist units would be line infantry and average professional but certainly those units that fought in many campaigns would be rated light infantry.
- Hessian units in the Southern Campaign (late in the war) were not the best quality. As I am using a fusilier unit and a grenadier unit they are rated line infantry, average professional, musket. Not because I think poorly of them, but because I did not want to overload the British side with professional units.
What About No Bayonets?
The rule that they run away anyway is "no fun" if you play these troops in a game against another player. I would refuse to play troops who run away by default.My suggestion is not that they run automatically (if that was what was meant by "default"), but that it only occur if they fail their Close Combat Test. As for it being "no fun", the British expressed that same sentiment, about how hard is way to come to grips with the enemy.
Their automatic retreat – loss of the close combat really – is not a "get out of jail free" card. First off, the unit is disordered and that makes the unit weak in dishing out punishment and forces a pause as the unit has to spend a turn rallying (if able). The retreat is likely to break up the defensive line, making it possible if not probable that if it were charged by cavalry there would be little or no supporting fire. It is very vulnerable. Each time it is forced to retreat it loses one die of figures to desertions. Granted, the charging unit may well be able to inflict more casualties if it could get 'stuck in', but it did so with some peril to itself. This presents no peril to the attacker and causes the militia to disintegrate. This sounds exactly like what I read in complaints by the British in how they would have to 'chase the rebels for miles' as they would scatter like leaves before the winds.
I am more inclined, given that I am experimenting, to try the latter rule. But I am waiting for a counter by the author before I make my final decision. (As it stands now my game in progress is already wrecked given today's revelations. I have also been re-thinking some ratings from the ones I used last Saturday. So I will be starting over next weekend.)
Well, I hope you found this discussion useful, or at least mildly interesting if you have no interest in the TSIA rules.