Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What Worked, What Didn't: Soldier's Companion

As promised, my thoughts on Helvetican Messiah with emphasis on the Soldier's Companion rules.

What worked: 
  • The scenario map in the book made setting up the table easy
  • Actually, having the whole scenario setup detailed in the book made the setup easy.
  • The rules cover a lot of situations, often with illustrations - what counts as a flank attack, enfilade, volley fire, etc. Although I ended up using very few of those rules, it was nice knowing they were there.
  • The hit mechanic for small arms - you hit on a 6. That number is modified by a variety of factors. If the number required is greater than 6, you need a 6, and then the opposing side rolls 1d6 against the total modifiers (so if I needed an 11 to hit (+5 total modifiers), I need a 6 to hit, and then if I do roll a 6, the opposing side rolls 1d6 and saves on a roll of 1 to 5).
  • Troop formations have an in-game impact in terms of melee, firing, and morale, as well as the usual movement rates. G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T., which I use for the same genre, does not have this.
  • Melee is opposed die rolls and the size of the difference determines the result - simple and allows multiple result states other than "winner" and "dead." Multiple attackers on a single defender, the attacker rolls for each attacker and uses the highest number rolled for determining results.
  • The seize the initiative mechanic for troops laying an ambush allowed lizard warriors to make contact with the Riesling platoon without getting shot up before they could get there.
  • Keeping the lizard warriors in cover meant they could use their Fieldcraft rating to avoid being hit. It proved to be quite effective at slowing their rate of attrition. I also like how Fieldcraft impacts the ability to spot a concealed unit - spotting is done at 5x the Fieldcraft rating, which came into play in the final shoot out.
  • Automatic disorder for each unit involved in a melee. This just makes sense. Melee is chaotic, to think you'd maintain your line in this situation is absurd.
  • My "solo AI" which was simply a d10 vs the number of lizard warriors in a unit. If the unit passed their morale check, I rolled a d10. If the result was greater ,they faded back into cover to reappear at a different point on the table. This was to give them the advantage I felt they would have in the jungles of their homeland.
  • Quick ref sheets in the back of the book were handy

What didn't work:
  • Initiative - Against irregulars, regular troops get +1 on the initiative roll which makes it very hard to win initiative for irregulars, at least by my dice rolling. One improbable result was that Major Carnap was able to rally his disordered and shaken platoon, reform line, and then fire upon the lizard warriors without them being able to do anything, since they were a melee weapon only sub-warband. As a solo player, the initiative system doesn't really do much for throwing wrenches in my plans if I'm running the regular troops. G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. with its unit card initiative for the win.
  • Morale system - I like the morale stages and the checked result (which can be devastating) but the 2d6 check against a target number, while it worked, seemed clunkier to me than the check against figures remaining. The latter, I find, makes it more likely that units will break as they are withered away. Because casualties do not have a cumulative effect on the morale target number (at least the rules aren't written in a way that makes that clear if they do), you can (and I did) have units with 80% casualties staying on the table.
  • Scaling the movement /ranges. This was my fault. The game, from what I can gather, is written for 25mm/28mm and I am using 15mm. So, I scaled the movement and shooting ranges accordingly. This was a mistake - even in G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. i tend to use the ranges as written regardless of figure scale. It wasn't game breaking, but it made things tedious.
  • Slow (for me). The game is slow compared to G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. for the same number of figures/units on the board. I understand that not everyone wants to finish playing in an hour or two, but I have very little time to game and need to start and finish in a 2 hour window usually. 1 platoon and an officer (9 figures) vs 1 warband and a shaman (19 figures) took nearly 3 hours to play. Even if I subtract an hour for having to look some things up (which I do with G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. for that matter), I'd still be looking at 2 hours for a very small encounter.
  • Quick ref tables for morale should really include some mention of casualties /  forced to rear (for melee) and their impact on the morale number. Also there's a +/- sign missing on the hit number modifier for targets in Column, Mass or Disorder. It seemed to me that it should be -1 (thus improving your chance to hit). 
The Verdict:

I had a great time and was really into the game, but would I use these rules again? 

Probably not - at least, not without tweaking. They were fun, but they were too slow for me. That's my deal breaker. 

So does that mean G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. for whatever the campaign holds? Maybe, maybe not. There is a lot I liked about Soldier's Companion that I'd hate to lose. 

Almost two years ago, I started mashing up G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. with some of what I had gathered from a brief skimming of Soldier's Companion. I think I may need to revisit that idea now that I've actually played the latter.

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