Tuesday, January 31, 2012

18th Century Wars of Absolutism: A Review

Note: I will add pictures and mechanics details to this review shortly.

I have been a long time lurker at The Miniatures Page and every so often, I see an advert for something I find very interesting. As I am a collector of Wargames rules, I generally purchase items that I feel will add a missing element to my search for "the perfect rules" and when I saw the advertisement for these rules, I felt I had to buy them immediately. Currently, there are four books available for this series, with several apparently in the works or already finished and awaiting printing. The books are the campaign rules, fortress and siege rules, land battles rules, and an introductory campaign booklet for Mollwitz. I did not purchase the Mollwitz book, but probably should have, since my primary interest in the period lay in the years 1702-1730.

The land battles rules are...well, they remind me of rules written by Scotty Bowden. They are well organized, perhaps too much so, wordy, and can be frustrating to understand in places, especially since there is not an index. One may think that with the short length of the rules, that an index is not necessary, but to the contrary, with specific meanings and usage of certain terms, an index would have helped with rule clarity. The production value of all the books is fairly high. I like the paper quality and there are a number of black and white photos and illustrations throughout. In the land battles book, there are quite few color photos depicting units, but to be honest, they are not the best pictures or examples of painted miniatures. Not to slight the owner of the miniatures or the author, but when using minis in a rule book, they must be interesting and pleasing to look at...in my view, these are neither. This is especially true as the actual quality of the photos is less than stellar, likely due to them being digital and slightly out of focus.

The actual rules for the land battles have a bit more detail to them than General de Brigade, and the close combat mechanics lend themselves to those of Field of Glory, with double advantage, advantage, disadvantage, and double disadvantage. The units are intended to depict brigades, not battalions or squadrons, with a bit more artillery for the early years of the period than is perhaps warrants. However, I must modify this by stating that these rules are really meant to be a part of a complete rules system, including campaign books/booklets which list the orders of battle based on an abstract of army size. What is very useful, to me, is that one unit of regular trained infantry is = to 1AP (army point) and this is the basis from which all balance calculations are made throughout all of the rule books. Another very...very...useful feature are the terrain tables at the end of the book. There are a half dozen pages filled with 4x6 terrain layouts (in color!) which are utilized by the pre-battle mechanics. These, if printed out and mounted on cards would make for a nice random terrain generator for any land wargame rules of any period. These almost make the purchase of these rules worthwhile on their own.

  •      Infantry brigades are 12 to 36 figures (12 for campaign, 36 for land battles).
  •      Cavalry brigades are 12 figures.
  •      Artillery batteries are 1 piece plus crew.
  •      Brigades are formed into divisions which are moved as units on the tabletop and in the campaign (smallest army for campaign is 4APs).
  •      Redoubts may be constructed prior to battle.
  •      Pre-battle maneuvers for terrain position are modeled by either die roll or by a mechanism where the players make decisions which effect the terrain table (which is a table of terrain tables at back of the book) is used for the wargame terrain. There is die rolling involved, modified by the skill of the commanders.
  •      Flank march arrivals are modified by skill of commander.
  •     Turns are bounds, similar to other rule systems; commanders roll dice for pips which are then spent to order units to perform actions.
  •      Shooting utilizes d10 or d20 depending upon range. Score to hit is based off target type then adjusted by shooter modifiers; rolling under the resulting number causes a HIT.
  • Infantry lines move 4"; musket range is 4". Heavy artillery range is 26".

The campaign rules are definitely interesting, but they rely on the use of specific information to be found only in future campaign books in order to be completely useful. For the size of the book, there is a lot of background information, including economic and resource data, along with mathematical calculations and designer notes, that lend themselves to explaining why the rules handle things in the manner they do. The author includes campaign rules for both land and sea forces, where one ship model equals three actual ships or a squadron. Each turn represents one week of elapsed time, with each force moving one to four "dots" depending upon orders, leader quality, and the results of decision games. Those familiar with past work of the author will be familiar with these decision games where several options for each player are on a single matrix. As there are examples, only, of these in this book, I must assume that the campaign booklets will have the actual decision games. This mechanic does lend itself, I feel, to a campaign system as many of the decisions that players would make prior to fighting a battle can be placed on a matrix. For example, do I force the river crossing or attempt to ford the river upstream versus my opponent defending the river crossing with his entire force, leaving a potential ford unguarded (there are 16 possible outcomes). I can see how this would very useful for an open, as in not blind, campaign, which is what I intend to run for my imagi-nation campaign.

This rule book also shows the utility of basing the economic model on the 12 figure unit. Whether this represents a brigade or battalion, when all other units, ships, siege trains, etc., are costed based on this standard, one can have a fairly balanced campaign system. While this campaign rules book does not show individual AP costs for an elite infantry unit, for example, the AP values for artillery, infantry, and cavalry of various morale grades are included in the land battles book. This is counter-intuitive, in my opinion, in that as the campaign rules book should provide a complete foundation for the system and missing the baseline costs for all the units means that one must buy the land battles book in order to have a complete campaign system. Except, that you still need the fortress and siege book to have the entire system.

  • Battalions of 12 figures are = to 1 Army Point.
  • Minimum force size = 4 APs.
  • 15 miles between "dots" on campaign map.
  • Rules for siege trains and pontoon trains.
  • Lines of supply, depots, and fortified camps.
  • Four sizes of fortress above fortified camps.
  • Attrition.
  • Victory points
  • Method to resolve battles by die roll instead of wargame.

The fortress and siege book, while useful, could use a bit more love from the author. Basically, it came across to me as bullet points to be fleshed out by the campaign moderator. This does include a rather large matrix for decision games outcomes as well as a sample campaign diary, it is missing rules for fortress construction, which are in yet another campaign booklet, which takes away from the value of this particular book. It does provide some decent background information, but nothing really beyond a synopsis of Duffy's treatment of Vauban's writings; helpful to a novice, but not so much for a veteran wargamer. Essentially, sieges are a series of extended decisions games, with die rolls interspersed in the process. While I felt somewhat disappointed at first glance, it may be growing on me. However, just like the land battle rules, there are so many interconnected rules at a flow chart would have been helpful.

  • Extensive rules for "decision game" to resolve a siege, with several options for each player with several possible outcomes.
  • A log sheet for each fortress type to aid in resolving above.
  • Garrison Morale and Besieger Morale make it possible for a garrison to immediately surrender or hold on until the food runs out OR for the besieger to become disheartened and lift the siege.

Which brings me to the utter lack of a QRS in any of the books. I think this is a significant drawback to the value of the series. There are a lot of rules and without an index a decent reference sheet is really a requirement to ease a player into the system. To add to a previous observation, not all the rules fit where they are placed. For example, the campaign rules do include some rules for fortresses and sieges, which are meant to work with the fortress and siege rule book, but it also has rules for Honors of War (HOW) which only work with sieges as they give the defender bonus VPs and subtract VPs from the besieger. Since the rules for the campaign book specifically refer the player to another entire book, it only makes sense to have placed all of the rules for fortresses and sieges, hasty assaults on a fortress, and relieving forces all in a single book. Having to go back and forth between books is a pain...again there isn't an index.

Would this be worth purchasing? If you are a fan of the author or if you plan on using aspect of the rule system, but not all of it, yes. On the other hand, if you intend to replace your current wargame rules with this system, then perhaps not. For myself, I am happy to have the books as a point of reference and ideas for mechanics. I like the decisions games, but will have to tie actual tabletop outcomes with decision game choices. I will use some of the campaign mechanics and the economic model for a certainty, but will leave most of what is contained in the land battles book unplayed, aside for the army point costs for the units. I will have to get a campaign booklet to determine if anything else can be of use to me. Apart from a the issue with the photos and some lapses in copy editing, the books are sold at a fair price. I am not upset with my purchase, but I do not give it top marks, either.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Phew!! I tried to read it all in one breath and failed miserably, he he!
    I'd not heard of these rules but they do sound interesting. I've always wanted to play a more complicated campaign, we've played the Age of Reason campaign a few times, and enjoyed it a lot! But it does lack that little bit of in-depth strategy. Were they expensive?

  3. They were about 30 pounds and I purchased them through Caliver.

  4. Yeah, Blogger does not like the iPad. In fact, when I go to make comments here, if I stop and try to go back to edit earlier in a sentence, I must either publish it as is or start over after refreshing. I am home now, night class was canceled, and so I will fix the formatting.

  5. Thanks for the review! He was very helpful in making a decision about buying these rules.

  6. No worries! While the land battle rules are not to my taste, I have found much that I can use for my campaign. The way that sieges are handled is interesting, for sure!

  7. I, too, to a greater degree of interest in the campaign rules and regulations for wagering sieges. I have rules for the conduct of land battles (based on the rules "General de Brigade Deluxe"), and they are completely satisfied with me.