I did think of calling this section Designer’s Notes, but to be honest these rules weren’t really designed; they just evolved over time. They first started in 2008 as a development of Donald Featherstone’s Horse and Musket rules from his 1962 book Wargames. As an example of what I was about, an early iteration can be seen on this blogpost from 2009.
Now, however, nothing of the Featherstonian original survives. The project had no particular plan: it was just something I was doing as a bit of fun. It was only when Osprey Publishing advertised for submissions for new rule sets in 2013 that the idea of publishing the rules surfaced. And so here we are.
In these notes I just wanted to give players some idea of the thinking behind the rules. I am hoping that having an idea of my assumptions, rationalisations and intentions will help players understand them better, especially in those sections where questions have arisen during playtesting.
Honours of War is not any kind of simulation. The rules are about having fun playing with toy soldiers, whilst aiming to achieve historically plausible results. If you get the impression that ‘realism’ or ‘historical accuracy’ have been sacrificed occasionally in order to create a playable and enjoyable game, you are almost certainly right. This approach very much follows the contemporary trend in wargames rules where complexity and arcane procedures, which create hard to learn rules and slow games, have been largely abandoned.
As far as basing and the various figure and unit sizes goes, most of what needs to be said is stated in the rules.
The idea of having units that might not move at all, make a single move, or maybe a double move if they’re lucky, is older than most gamers might imagine, and can be found in a number of Donald Featherstone’s writings. Making this part of a basic command and control system is fundamental to the rules and is something that I feel has worked out well. I also think the move system provides a good compromise between simultaneous and alternate moving, keeping both players involved whilst making order of movement and precedence obvious. The same comments apply to the firing sequence. You will often find that having the initiative in movement or firing makes little difference – but once or twice in a game you will suddenly realise that either or both become crucial and can make a real impact. Watch out for those moments!
Note that ‘march column’ is a catch-all phrase for a non-fighting formation designed to move troops onto and occasionally around the battlefield. To cross a bridge or march through a town the column might be only 4 files wide – in open country it might be column with a platoon or even squadron frontage.
Moving your commanding general to supervise the most important sector of the battlefield is vital. However, you will see that these generals do not take personal charge of brigades or units – the chain of command is preserved. They do have the ability to help with rallying a unit, but this ability is limited. In the noise and confusion of battle, even the greatest of personalities was likely to be swamped. Frederick II of Prussia put himself at the head of wavering units at least twice in the Seven Years War (at Kolin and Zorndorf), and on both occasions he was largely ignored. On the other hand, if you decide to have a dithering or dashing commanding general, you will find they have a significant effect on army performance, so don’t create these lightly.
If the rule allowing a unit to be charged and meleed by only one enemy unit in each of its sectors seems a bit artificial, that is because it is. It first arose to prevent an attacker forming 2 cavalry units in double line, and then charging both of them into a defending infantry unit, thereby creating a standard tactic to defeat infantry by a frontal charge, which would be at variance with historical precedent. More broadly, the rule makes melees easier to resolve as each unit in melee basically lines up with one opponent. If you have an advantage in numbers, extra units will be effective as supporting units, or even better you might contrive to have them attack your enemy in flank. Whatever happens, numbers will always count in the end.
This raises a more general point. Situations that seem obvious on the table would often be far from obvious in the confusion, smoke, dust and noise of a real action. It is well worth considering this overall point when wondering why the rules do not allow you to do something which you think looks possible, In the example above, coordinating a closely parallel attack by two separate cavalry regiments on a single infantry battalion would be far from easy.
Firing and melee are both designed to be decisive. For melee, my intention is fairly obvious – hand to hand fighting must be concluded in a single turn. Men and horses quickly tired during this activity (you will find that melee will be much more common amongst cavalry). It is my belief that melees did not drag on for extended periods at this time. In this context it worth noting that we are considering morale and disruption in our casualty calculations, as well as killed and wounded men. You will also find that mutual ‘destruction’ of both sides is not uncommon; that is, both sides in a melee will end up Done For. Of course, this does not mean that both units are merely a pile of dead and wounded. It means that both have suffered significant casualties and have reached a level of exhaustion and disorder that will mean they can take no further effective action in the game. That this could occur to both parties in a melee is something I find reasonable.
Firing can also be quite brutal – it was my intention to have firefights that were usually resolved in a couple of moves. This is central to making the battles move along fairly briskly. Please remember that each roll of the firing die represents a sequence of actual volleys, not a single one. So your attacks must be in superior numbers and well supported by artillery, using your best quality troops if possible, and you must expect to lose units if you intend to achieve reasonably quick results. A little more will be said about tactics later on.
Finally, a few words about the rally phase. This represents the attempts of officers and NCOs to reassert control over their men in the heat of action. It may involve anything from a simple redressing of ranks to desperate attempts to prevent an entire unit disintegrating. These activities will obviously be easier when the unit is out of immediate danger from the enemy – hence the distances related to rallying off hits. For the opposing commander, keeping up the pressure on your opponent may prevent rallying taking place, much to your advantage.
Tactics and Playing the Game
Let me first admit that I am not a great wargaming tactician. I play my games for the pleasure of setting out nice models on a well-laid table, seeing how well the rules work as the game develops, and for the company of my fellow wargamers. Winning is entirely secondary, and that is why these rules will be of little use for competition gaming. However, this is not to say that trying to win, and noting which tactics work and which don’t, is not part of my hobby. Some basic tactical realities are mentioned in the introduction to the rules, but I feel there is more worth saying. Overall, I believe that historical tactics are favoured by these rules. But then, I would say that, wouldn’t I?
The key to good games of Honours of War is good scenarios, based on the type of encounters that occurred historically. Your scenarios and deployments should reflect the historical tactics of outflanking your opponent where possible, applying overwhelming force at your point of attack, using surprise and covered approaches, and creating refused flanks. The tables you set out and the scenarios you create should allow for choices, and give room for manouevre.
Unfortunately, the term ‘linear warfare’ fools some gamers into thinking that 18th century wargames should involve deploying the opposing forces equally along opposite table baselines, with infantry in the centre, cavalry on the wings, and artillery distributed along the front. These armies then advance to contact. Trust me, such deployments do not represent what really happened most of the time, and will result in dull, predictable battles.
Whilst the pattern of infantry in the centre and cavalry on the wings was a basic template, the briefest review of some real engagements will quickly reveal that terrain and the pre-battle tactical situation usually created much more interesting encounters. Consider the Battle of Minden, for example, where the French ended up with cavalry in the centre and infantry on the wings. In the much smaller actions that make up the normal diet of tabletop gamers, a wide variety of situations and deployments is even more likely. The four scenarios in the rulebook, and the additional ones available on this website, are intended to introduce and clarify this idea.
One of the most basic tactical concepts to grasp is that attacking frontally in a particular sector with a force roughly equal to your opponent will end in tears. Infantry will shoot down attacking infantry and cavalry, and equal cavalry-versus-cavalry encounters will just be a dice-rolling lottery. You must create a proper advantage to have a chance in the attack. This means artillery firing in support (ideally at least 2 batteries together) to cause some hits in advance of the attack, then an assault with at least a 50% advantage in numbers. Twice the number of units as the defender would be better, with the supports arranged on the flanks or in a second or third line. For cracking a really tough nut, a column of battalions can work well: that is, 3 or 4 battalions each individually formed in line, but then arranged one behind the other. You will probably lose the first two but there is then a good chance of creating a gap in the enemy line. Using grenadier battalions for such an assault is good practice as well – elite units tended to be used up front in the SYW, leading the attack rather than forming a reserve.
Of course, avoiding frontal assaults if you can is an even better idea, The outflanking manouevre is therefore another fundamental tactic, whether between individual units or with a significant part of your army. All types of units were nervous of their flanks in this period, and this is why there is a +1 modifier for firing into a flank. It is unlikely that more actual casualties would be caused by such fire, but the morale effect of having the enemy in a firing position to your flank would be debilitating.
A basic tenet of the rules is that a frontal assault on a close order infantry unit by a unit of cavalry will usually fail. It’s possible the horsemen will get into contact, but in the subsequent melee the firing hits they have taken will tell against them. They also get no charge bonus, representing the deterrent effect of that row of bayonets. But hit those infantry in the flank, and it will possibly be a different story.
Light infantry are very useful for securing and holding difficult terrain like woods, or towns and villages. Even the line of a hedge or wall gives them surprisingly good sticking power. Using them in these positions releases close order infantry for other tasks. Light infantry can also move into place very quickly given average luck on your command rolls. In the open, however, they will be easily rolled over by cavalry and close order infantry and should always choose to evade charges if they can.
I would offer the common advice about always keeping a reserve. This is a bit difficult in the smallest games, but in anything bigger a few units kept back to act as a fire brigade if things go wrong, or to exploit success if they go right (particularly towards the end of the game), are invaluable. Light cavalry are ideal and were commonly used in this role in real life. If backed up by a unit or two of infantry, such a reserve can be a game winner.
Finally, for this brief introduction, artillery. A single model battery (representing 4 guns) will often only chip away with the odd hit against the enemy, when outside canister range. This can be useful, but for a really decisive effect, two or three batteries (8 or 12 actual guns) will be needed. Three batteries firing together at the same target will usually be deadly. But note that phrase ‘at the same target’. Concentration of fire is essential. Although the rules call this type of fire ‘massed batteries’, this is not some out of place Napoleonic tactic. Real batteries of 10, 20 or 30 guns working together were common in the battles of the SYW. The difference was that Napoleonic massed batteries would more likely be 50 or 100 guns.
It often seems to me that gamers new to the period (and sometimes those who should know better) confuse the artillery of the SYW with that in use much earlier in the century, or even in the previous century. In general, artillery was professionally served and commanded in our period, and its deadliness was recognized by the call for more and more of it as the war progressed. Artillery was not static, and it was common for batteries to be moved 2 or 3 times during a significant action.
Most importantly, plan your artillery support before the battle. Deploying it somewhere where it can fire effectively without being masked by friendly troops is often difficult, as it was for commanders at the time. But make the effort. Rushing in your troops in such a way as to immediately cut off the support they need from long-range fire is a basic error. Having your artillery spend most of the game moving around trying to find a good firing position is another waste of a good asset.
And that’s about it. My apologies to those who find the above all rather obvious – I did warn you at the start that I am not much of a tactician!