Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Tale of Two Rulesets: Black Powder, Chapter I

It's almost embarrassing how happy it makes me that the title of my latest blog posting is a play on words from none other than Charles Dickens, one of my favorite authors.  It was unbelievably appropriate as well, seeing as how this was a Napoleonic game!  

I've taken on the immense and almost impossible task of playing some Napoleonic rules, comparing them, and writing about them on my blog.  What can I say?  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done"  Alright, alright, enough with the Dickens quotes.

This is my first "proper" game of Black Powder and even with only a handful of Battalions on a side, what a game it was!  The terrain was simple with an orchard and small outcropping, flanked by a low stone wall dominating the center of the map.  4 French Battalions, one of which was a Chasseur A Pied consolidated Battalion (made them rifle-armed) attacking 3 British Battalions and a section of light horse artillery.  The French staff rating was 8 with 7 for brigade commanders.  The British was 9 with 8 for the brigade commanders.
French Chasseurs consolidated into Battalion strength

French Line Fusiliers marching to the attack

Typical British Command Group...casually unimpressed by the French advance.

 Both sides started at opposing edges and advanced.  The British anchored their defense on the orchard.  The French advanced to the edge of the stone wall and the 2 sides traded vicious fire at each other before letting the bayonet decide the day...

Opening moves.  The French move out!
The French had some initial difficulties coordinating the advance, as did the British with both sides have a brigade that initially failed to carry out orders on the first turn.  (like in Warmaster, you roll your staff rating or less.  Success allows you to carry out movement.  Varying levels of success allow you to carry out a double or triple move).

The British infantry proudly march towards the orchard.

The French advance!

  Both sides advanced to within small arms range of each other and quickly started trading volleys.  Units have save values that keep the game from degenerating into "microarmor with toy soldiers" games and you roll morale saves against enemy hits.  This game say almost 50% of the hits scored lost to saving throws.  At this point, the British Royal Artillery gallops up on the left flank, and prepares their pieces for action!

British Royal Artillery Crewman preparing to load the gun

Infantry Battalion on the British left, trading shots with the French Chasseurs.

Intense rifle fire causes disorder (roll a "6" during fire) and casualties that go unsaved.  This battery is disordered (cotton) and the die indicates the 2 casualties.  I have no casualty markers made yet so these will have to do!

British infantry move up to support.

The next French turn, the Chasseurs focus all their rifle fire on the Battery and it evaporates after failing its break test.
In Black Powder, the debilitating effects of fire and shock on a unit are separate from casualties and this is reflected in the "Shaken" rules and "Disorder" rules.  Units who are shaken have taken dangerous amounts of casualties and are likely to break and run if they take more.  Disorder is the shock and confusion from taking fire.  It's much like in Shako having "Kills" versus "Staggers" or in GHQ's rules having "Suppressed" versus "Disorganized" effects.
trading volleys!
 The French at the edge of the orchard are enjoying the cover of the stone wall while the British are busy unloading volleys into them.  Both sides are starting to suffer from casualties now.  The unit on the British left, still reeling from the loss of the guns, tightens up its position next to the orchard to guard its flank.  The French advance during their turn but do not attack.  The British Battalion launches a spoiling attack next turn!
British spoiling attack against the French.  The first round of combat they are left still fighting for next turn.  The French fail in their order to move up and support the melee.  The Commander stands by, coldly allowing the troops to his front to get cut to ribbons, quietly wishing that unit's commander would fall - especially after the business with the man and his wife....

Sir shall we move up to help them?  Non!  We will stay where we are......high drama on the wargaming table!

Both battalions fighting it out another round.  They would eventually both withdraw before the Chasseurs move in and force the British Battalion back.

Fighting rages in the orchard.

On the British left, both Battalions are forced back!

casualties mount...

Fighting in the orchard leaves 1 British Battalion broken and a French Battalion disordered.

With the British left refused and British right also refused their Commander Sir Buckingham Frogmorton decided it was time to retire

This greedy French Battalion would be wiped out.  They go in, already shaken and take a crippling volley from the Brits, subsequently failing their break test

Final Dispositions!

Wow that was a long post but you know what Mr Dickens says: "A day wasted on others is not wasted" ALRIGHT!  My first impressions of Black Powder are positive.  It's simple to play without too many overly complicated processes.  The unique "special" rules are a welcome addition to a Horse and Musket game set as well.  The British get an extra fire die in their first volley, and the French elite got to reroll a miss.

The only real complain I have is the "break test" process I think needs to be practiced a little more before I have it mastered and I may have screwed a few things up but I'm sure you couldn't tell from the pictures...

Black Powder has a simple Sequence of Play which is basically, move, shoot, hand to hand, switch sides.  Doesn't get any better than that.  While the rule book was a little large, it was a good read, is full of anecdotal humour and well worth the price.

This game was a test of my Battalion/Regimental basing scheme and it worked out rather nicely for Black Powder.  The game doesn't bog down in minutia and details but instead allows you to really get at the meat and potatoes of the wargame itself , which is what was so appealing about Shako and Volley & Bayonet.

Space & Time: Movement in Black Powder is generous and the Frenchies can get up among your own troops before you know what hit you.  So when you move out, try moving Brigades at once to ensure you'll have support when you get there.  The worst thing in the world is to arrive piecemeal on the Battlefield without your friends at your back and flanks.

"Get Up There Fast" Black Powder is a real wargame.  It allows you to come up with a plan and execute it, without constantly fighting the rules.  The important thing it simulates is the ability to take advantage of opportunities on the battlefield, something that made Horse and Musket Commanders so great at their jobs.  (think Robert E Lee in many of his early war victories).  If the enemy fails to do what he needed to do, you can rush to take advantage of the situation.  I like the flexibility of the rules set in allowing me to carry out sweeping maneuvers like that
I give Black Powder 5 out of 5 stars.

Tune in next time as I “crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers" (OH ENOUGH OF THE DICKENS QUOTES ALREADY!) and play the same engagement with Shako to see how it turns out.



  1. Very nice report, some great looking pictures!

    1. Thanks, Phil! BP was very enjoyable and I am looking forward to incorporating it into my gaming rules menu.

  2. Good post. I've seen BP played at conventions, but never actually played it myself. 5 out of 5 is impressive.

    1. Thanks, Mike. I wanted to make sure I captured what I liked best about BP. It's very simple and really captures the things I like about wargames rules.

      That being said, I don't think I've found THE rules set yet. So I will continue to play Volley & Bayonet, BP, Shako, and the rest. Albeit with my regimental sized bases now.

  3. I've heard a lot of good things about BP and Hail Caeser. I'll be interested to see what you have to say in the re-fight of the scenario.

    1. Sean,
      I like BP so far. It's very clean and was alot of fun. I haven't played Hail Caesar as I bought Warmaster Ancients all those years ago and will most likely just play that (whenever the heck I get around to painting up my Romans and Gauls!!)