Saturday 2 November 2013

A Crowne of Paper/A Coate of Steele

I can't help but think that I sounded too dismissive or perhaps even critical of Perfect Captain's linked Wars of the Roses rule-sets yesterday. Namely A Crowne of Paper (the campaign rules) and A Coate of Steele (the battle rules). It felt as though I'd done them a great injustice, so, by way of recompense, I thought I should share my true views on these systems:


Okay, now that I've said that your probably wondering two things: "if they're so great why isn't he using them?" and "what makes them so great anyway?"

Being the contrary git that I am, I'll answer those questions in reverse order.

What Makes them So Great Anyway?
Simply because they capture the period they are written for so well. Wars of the Roses wargames are often cited as being "just one big scrum" with nearly indentical armies using identical tactics real fighting battles with a nearly random result. While that's often true when using generic rules systems, it's almost never the case where dedicated Wars of the Roses rules are concerned. In such systems, the skills and personalities of the nobles present on the battlefield -and their shifting loyalties- are often key to who wins and who will not.

ACoS takes this one step further. Armies are not chosen based on points values, but on how successful a given noble is at recruiting troops for his "contingent" during the  ACoP campaign turn. The success of these recruiting efforts depends on the reputation and influence of the noble in question, not to mention his current geographical location. A northern noble will have a far harder time recruiting in Kent than he would in Yorkshire, for example. And this isn't just true for the army commander. It's true for every noble present in the army. The forces recruited in the campaign phase using ACoP translate directly into the number of stands available to the army in an ACoS battle.

Thus, the "two identical armies" complaint is negated: the forces arrayed against each other in any given battle rarely represent a "fair" fight.

Secondly, in the ACoP campaign, active nobles can attempt to recruit inactive nobles to their cause. While a noble is more likely to succeed in recruiting a family member or sympathizer to his cause, he might also be able to recruit a noble who leans more towards the other side. This is a two-edged sword however. It denies the other faction a potentially valuable noble, but that same noble might turn traitor mid battle.
A Typical Noble Stat Card (used without permission)
Individual nobles have great influence on the battlefield (for good or ill). Some are audacious, others are lethargic or even treacherous. However, there are strict rules determining which nobles can be placed direct command of whom. It's all very well having an audacious, experienced Baron in your army. But you might yourself forced by the politics of heirarchies to place him under the direct command of an inept Duke or Earl. Thus, a player has to be careful when considering what nobles to allocate to which armies: not just from a recruiting point of view, but also from the point of view of organising an effective chain of command.

The difficulty of command and control in this era is further reflected in the Wards system. Before the battle begins, you assign each of your companies to one of your Wards or "Battles". Each Ward is given a set of orders at the beginning of the game, reflecting what you-the player- would like to achieve. These range from a steady "grim" advance to holding a defensive position. These orders limit what your Ward can do throughout the battle by granting a specific set of "tactics" tokens, each of which can be used only once during the battle (although some last for several turns). Once you're out of tactics tokens for your Ward, it can't do much else for the rest of the battle, representing the exhaustion of the troops and the lack of effective communications between Wards on the battlefield. So even if your Ward completely smashed the enemy Ward opposite it,  there's a good chance you won't have sufficient tokens left to organise an attack into the rear of a second enemy Ward. It's a perfect little mechanism that captures the very flawed"command and control" system of the period perfectly. Again,the talents of individual nobles are an important factor here: good commanders grant extra tokens. Bad ones don't.

Image from the Perfect Captain's website. Used without permission.
Finally, the other mechanism that helps to reduce the "random" element with regards to determining the victor is the excellent "hand-strokes" system. At the start of each turn, a player chooses which "hand-stroke", or order, to issue to each company engaged in hand to hand to hand combat. The hand-strokes chosen by each player are cross referenced to determine the modifiers for each player in that turn of combat. For example, a player might chose to have his company commander leap headlong into the fray to inspire his men. This gives favourable modifiers against just about any handstroke the enemy has chosen, but greatly increases the chance that the noble in question will will be killed. This is a big risk: a dead noble won't be bringing any troops to the next battle.So not only does losing a noble weaken the army in this battle, it weakens the army indeed, the entire faction) for the remainder of the campaign. 

[Edit: It's worth noting that you don't HAVE to fight A Coate of Steele battles as part of an A Crown Paper campaign. You can simply choose a battle or scenario and use the appropriate forces. But the two work so seamlessly together that it almost seems an abominable waste NOT to use the two together.]

If They're so Great Why Isn't He Going to be Using Them?

The simple answer to that question is time. A Crowne of Paper/A Coate of Steele capture the period so wonderfully because of all the various complex mechanisms built into the rules. But these mechanisms really slow the game down. Just assembling the required tokens and organising the various contingents into a viable army before the battle can take as long as the battle itself. In fact, just organising your army is as much as sub-game of the rules as the hand-stroke system itself.

Part of the ACoP Campaign Board. Used without permission.
Given that no-one in my current local gaming circle has a background in historical wargaming (most of them come from a Games Workshop background) I'm extremely dubious that I'd be able to entice any opponents. They're all used to relatively games that are played over an hour or two at most and require very little in the way of pre-game set-up. Hence my decision to adapt the War of the Rings and Lord of the Rings systems instead. Additionally, I'm already adapting these rules to the "Artesia" fantasy setting anyway, so much of the conversion work is already done (Artesia is set in a fantasy world very similar to the Wars of the Roses in technology, theme and flavour).

Frankly, I'd much rather be playing A Crowne of Paper and A Coate of Steele, but that just wouldn't work in my local gaming community.

Friday 1 November 2013

War of the Rings and Roses?

For the last few weeks, I've been musing about to do about the Wars of the Roses. Bloody Barons from Peter Pig is an excellent system, but uses an awkward 3 miniatures per 30mm square base in 15mm games. A basing system not really compatible with any other game system I now of. On the other hand, Coate of Steel has some interesting mechanics that revolve around the personalities of the various lords and their respective talents. Best of all, it's free to download here. On the other hand, it has an incredibly detailed but time consuming pre-battle and combat resolution system.  Combat resolution involves draw after draw of playing cards and more combat modifiers than I care to think about and the admirably detailed pre-battle sequence takes as long to play-out as the  battle itself.

Battle of Towton
Plus there's the fact that I want to play small skirmishes ranging from a single lord and retinue (or even a single knight and his household) all the way up to massive battles. That would create some real issues with basing for 15mm miniatures. I'd effectively have to collect and paint two separate forces for each faction: one multi-based for large battles and a another, single-based collection for skirmish games.

But then I stumbled across General Headquarters' excellent War of the Rose campaign. I was struck by how it was actually cheaper to use the plastic Perry 28mm boxed sets with the Bloody Barons rules than it was to use 15mm metal miniatures! A 40 figure box from the Perrys would cost just £20 and provides five whole companies of eight single "base" miniatures. I especially liked his movement trays with the round insets so that individual miniatures could be placed in them securely. Say, hadn't those been a GW innovation?  So that miniatures based for the Lord of the Rings skirmish game could be used in the mass combat War of the Rings system?

The excellent company bases used by CWT over at the General Headquarters Blog. Image used without permission.

And it hit me: Why not use the Lord of the Rings and War of the Rings systems to game out the War of the Roses? It shouldn't be hard. They're very adaptable to multiple genres. Fran over at the Angry Lurker uses them for his Warring States samurai. Or rather, he uses the Lord of the Rings skirmish rules. I'm not entirely sure if he uses the War of the Rings rules as well.

The more I think about it, the more reasons I have to use them:
  • The War of the Rings and Lord of the Rings games are fully compatible. Models have the same stats and abilities. 
  • The importance of "heroic orders" and "might points" which are assigned to captains and important characters means that the character traits of the nobles present on the battlefield will have a real impact.
  • The rules are quick and simple to use and easy to teach.
  •  Even the biggest games only last an hour or two.
  • Minimum adaption needed (use the stats for Gondor archers as retinue archers. Use Rohan archers as levy archers, use the typical Gondor captain stats for a typical War of the Roses "nameless captain" etc).
  • A campaign system will be easy enough to create, with losses in large games being applied to the forces in "skirmish" games on a point for point basis.
  • The War of the Ring mechanic of companies (represented) by a base of eight 28mm miniatures organised in formations with a single leader figure represents noblemen surrounded by their "affinity" of retainers extremely well.
  • If I don't like the mechanic after all, the eight figure company  easily converts across to Coate of Steel and Bloody Barons, which feature companies of eight-ten 15mm bases. In this case, one 28mm miniatures would equate to one base of 3 15mm figures.
However, as much as this would allow me to capture the impact of the various personalities on the battlefield and play a wide variety of scenario's, it doesn't quite capture the "treachery" and "random event" aspects of the Wars as captured by Coate of Steel and Bloody Barons. So I'll be looking very closely at the pre-battle phase of Bloody Barons and the random battlefield events from Coate of Steel with an eye towards converting them to my game.

This means I have to think up rules for the following:

  • Mixed formations of billmen and archers to represent "retinue" and "household" quality units.
  • Create rules for treachery
  • Create rules for random events.
Doesn't sound hard at all.