Monday, 15 July 2013

Muskets & Tomahawks: 28mm French & Indian Wars Wargames Rules Review

I've been looking for historical eras that lend themselves well to skirmish gaming. I also like those with little to no cavalry - for some reason with cavalry I always feel I need for dismounted versions which aren't always on offer.

I came across the French and Indian Wars after watching the Last of the Mohicans for the first time, being somewhat suspicious of its "realism" and reading up on the topic.  Small raids and skirmishes by the bucketload, not a cavalrymen in sight - and canoes. Canoes are cool.

I already have Sharpe Practice which is a very complete blackpowder skirmish ruleset, but I heard of Muskets & Tomahawks whilst looking through SAGA stuff. Apparently they're an earlier ruleset which were released later, presumably on the back of SAGA's success.

Whilst it does come with cards for playing the game, I'd be lying if I said I thought Muskets & Tomahawks was fantastic value for money.
The Shiny
Colour cover, black and white glossy softcover.  A sensible 63 pages.  Rather pricey at $40 for a 63 page softcover - which is similar to the highly polished, well-produced full-colour hardcover Infinity art books rulebooks, but it also comes with a set of cards needed to play the game. The book was also not written by a native English speaker - it's quite readable but has some quirks. The index is a bit generalised but it has a decent quick reference section.  In short, a bit pricey for what you get but a quite clear, usable rulebook.

Game Stats
The author's other ruleset, SAGA is driven by battleboards - the gameplay itself is rather beer-and-pretzels. Troops are in 3 broad categories - with identical stats across all factions. The differentiation comes from the different racial battleboards.  I like the tactics of battleboards and fatigue but SAGA feels a bit simple and "boardgamey."

Muskets & Tomahawks is a little more traditional.  Troops have 4 main stats:
Movement (usually 4-6")
Aggressiveness (3 to 6 - represents hand to hand "to hit")
Defence (3 to 6 - represents hand to hand "defence")
Markmanship (3 to 6 - represents ranged weapon "to hit.")

They are further classified into Regulars, Irregulars, Provincials, Militia, Indians, Artillery and Civilians who activate differently and have different reactions/morale.

There are also traits such as "scouts" (can move easily through rough terrain and use hidden movement), "sharpshooters" who can re-roll any '1's when firing, be able to use a "firing line" which does bonuses to firing and hurts enemy morale.

Units are usually 6-12 models. Interestingly, cohesion is equal to movement speed.  So rangers with 6" movement have 6" cohesion - regulars with 4" movement have 4" cohesion. This seems logical and I'm surprised I haven't seen it before.  

Warlord games are selling the Conquest line.  They have excellent postage rates.

Card Driven Mechanics
Each player pulls cards from a deck. He can activate any of his troops of that type. I.e. if an "Irregular" card is pulled, any of his Irregulars can act.   The cards make troops behave differently - Indians get 4 cards, each of which allows one action.  Regulars get 2 cards, but can perform 2 actions per card.  Officers and elite troops get an extra action card.  Officers can give their action to a unit within 6" and thus can influence the battle around them, rather like in GW's LOTR.

Morale cards, when pulled, cause a morale check to be made, if 50% casualties have been taken. Event cards will be added for certain scenarios.  Optional rules include allowing players to have a "hand" of three cards, allowing more forward planning. Actions include firing, moving, and reloading.

Zombie Indians? Shut up and take my money!

Spotting & Hidden Movement
Units see in a 180d arc. They can pivot around but it places a penalty on their firing. Scout units can be replaced with "hidden markers" (Sharpe Practice calls these "blinds") - tokens that replace the unit. Dummy markers can also be utilised - handy for confusing and ambushing your foes. 

Units need to "spot" their opponent before they can engage them. Dense cover and weather conditions such as mist or darkness can reduce this to very short ranges.

Terrain &Weather 
Terrain includes various levels of cover and areas of particular difficulty to traverse. There are rules for shooting into/out of/at buildings (and destroying them and/or setting them on fire).  Units can enter waterways to swim - or canoe - but current will have an effect. There are rules for shooting out of canoes - and at them - and a artillery shot into a canoe has impressive effects.  Dusk or night fighting rules are included, as are rules for rain, snow, and strong winds.

The Perry War of Independence line has perhaps the cheapest quality miniatures. I particularly like their civilian line - I grabbed them for use in scenarios.

Shooting & Reloading
If a target is spotted and in line of sight, a d6 is rolled for each firing model.  Crack units hit on a 3+, civilians on a 6+.  Obviously shots can be modified so a shot needs a 7+, 8+ etc to hit.  In that case, any natural '6' still hits, but the difference between the '6' and the actual roll needed is deducted from the damage roll.  A damage roll is then made based on the lethality of the weapon. Rifles kill on a 3+, whilst long range archery might only kill on a '6'.

Units that have fired must "reload' before firing again. The have "Black Powder" rules (annoyingly found in the Weapons section 10 pages on) which means figures who fire a musket etc have a "smoke" marker next to them which means they cannot fire until they reload and they are easier to spot.  It seems a little weird as a soldier who fires his weapon, then takes 5 move actions, would technically still have the spotting penalty, even though the smoke would logically have dissipated. 

Melee works in a similar matter - roll above a unit's "Aggression" rating to score hits, and the target rolls above its "Defence" rating to cancel the hits. 

Any unit that suffers casualties must roll on the reaction table.  Results include "routing"from the board, "fleeing" a move away from the enemy, "recoiling" back but still facing their foes.
 Different units behave differently. Regular troops are rather steady and will recoil in good order, but seldom flee or rout.  Indians flee easily, but also seldom rout, whereas militia are unlikely to simply recoil - they will stand their ground or completely break or flee. 

Weapons & Artillery
Some key rules like "Black Powder" probably should have been in the shooting section. It includes the weapon stats for muskets, carbines, bows, rifles, pistols, sabres, thrown weapons, grenades, lances and swivel guns.  Weapons typically have a range (24" for muskets), lethality (3+ or more; die roll to kill) and a special rule, i.e. Black Powder or One Shot Weapon.

Artillery rules are available - most used will be limited number and of limited size (i.e. usually under 6lb).  Artillery shoots in a straight line from the barrel and can take out multiple troops in its path.  Cannister is short ranged, and deadly in a arc.  Artillery have their own activation cards.

These Indians are also Perry Miniatures. 

These could be labelled "heroes" in LOTR, or "Big Men" in Sharpe Practice. They are their own unit, they never react to being shot at, and cannot be individually targeted if they are close to their men. They help boost morale of nearby troops and can have certain talents.

Officers may have talents specific to their troop type (regular, militia, Indian, etc) and a few general talents.  These include talents such as "Charismatic" (bonus to troops reaction tests); "Drill" (roll d6, a 5+ means a free reload action for nearby troops); Agile (+1d6 movement). There are about 20+ all up.  Your leaders' talents add a nice RPG element - I'll probably have mine gain new talents as games progress. 

Scenario Generator, Objectives, Side Plots & Random Events
Table size depends on points of troops used - a 200 point game (20-30 per side) will play on a 4x4 table; a 600 point would require a 8x4 or a 6x6 one.  Owning enough buildings for a small hamlet is mandatory - only 2 for a small game, but up to 5-6 for a big game.  Luckily Zvezda 1/72 log cabins are very cheap ($12 for 2) and fit OK-ish with 28mm.  A random roll is made for the building placement. Other scenery is placed by mutual agreement.  There should be no scenery-free lines greater than 24".  Players roll for weather then the general objective (slaughter, raid, scout mission, protection, defence or engagement). To keep things interesting there are 36 "side plots" which could include anything from a "Romance" (protect a lady through the battle) to "Capture" (defeat enemy in melee then carry off a prisoner).  In addition, there are also 36 random events.  A random event could  herald a weather change, friendly fire, a wild animal attack, a coffee break... I guess that's why they're called random events - they're pretty random.

Warlord supplies a "Last of the Mohicans" pack. Must.... ...resist.... buying...

Army Lists
There are lists for British, German mercenaries, French, Indians, Americans, and civilians (who can be added to scenarios).  Force creation is pretty simple - you need one officer, and 10 troops of any given type.  Artillery is limited to one cannon per 30 models, and you're allowed one officer per 10 models.  Aside from that, it's pretty relaxed.  You can buy troops in units of any size allowed (usually 6-12). Officers can buy random talents for 5pts each. You can get free talents if you have a Commander, but if he dies, it impacts morale.  You can also buy boats. 

Each army has a little blurb about it. Stat lines are easy and pleasant to read.  Army building is simple and pleasant.

(-) A little on the pricey side but I suppose you do get the activation cards too
(-) "Black Powder" spotting mechanic seems a little "gamey"/illogical

(+) Spotting, hidden movement and "blinds" add layer of surprise and tactics
(+) Officers have unique talents and abilities which add tactics and storytelling flavour
(+) Card mechanic means units types (militia, regulars, Indians etc) behave and act very differently
(+) Combat is simple without being overly simplistic
(+) Scenarios are interesting with zillions of side-plots and random events adding spice
(+) Army building is simple
(+) Unit stats are simple (4 key stats) with maybe one "special trait"; you won't get ambushed through obscure special rules *cough* Malifaux *cough*

Recommended?  Yep.  A little more polished and coherent than "Sharpe Practice" (TFL games often seem like a aggregation of house rules thrown together) and I like them better than the author's other offering, SAGA (the battleboards are cool but simplistic mechanics mean the overall effect is a bit boardgame-y). I definitely find them more fluid than the other French-Indian War ruleset "This Very Ground". In the same era, Two Hour Wargames do "Long Rifle" and "Muskets and Mohawks" but I don't even need to buy them to know they will be the millionth regurgitation of their "reaction" mechanics, with a decent campaign for solo gaming offset by average gameplay and irritating if not incoherent rules editing and layout.  
So, yes, Muskets & Tomahawks will be my go-to ruleset for FIW.

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