Review of the Din of Battle (2nd Edition; Eric Burgess, Piquet Inc., 2011) colonial supplement for Piquet (2nd Edition; Bob Jones, Piquet Inc., 1998) wargame rules.
I have played Piquet many times over the years using the Napoleonic (Les Grognards) supplement, and I intend giving a more detailed review of the basic rule mechanisms using this supplement at a future date. A few weeks ago I bought the colonial supplement (Din of Battle) primarily because I was looking for a set of rules to use with my 15mm Plains Wars armies. In addition I own Zulu Wars (10mm) and Sudan Wars (28mm) armies, which could also potentially utilise these rules.
The Piquet rules mechanisms tend to divide wargamers into distinct camps; you either love or hate them! My view is generally very positive, but there is a major proviso: Piquet, in my opinion, is a primarily solo experience. The random, fluctuating, non-IGOUGO initiative system can make an unlucky player feeling stranded and sidelined in an opposed game. In addition, combat results can be more ‘extreme’ compared to other rule sets, which can upset some gamers. The author freely admits he is looking to move away from the (possibly bland) trend of most other rules to create “average” results. Piquet games seem to me to create great narratives or storylines, which reflect historic battle accounts very well. Units occasionally make those surprising heroic break-throughs or last stands, which don’t seem to happen often enough in other games but frequently are found in historic accounts. The rules are very amenable to ‘house’ rules e.g. I find Morale Chips to be used up far too quickly, so I rule that disorder (and rallying from disorder) does not cost a Morale Chip.
So, what do you get with Din of Battle (DoB)? A 96 page booklet illustrated with B&W sketch drawings and a few colour photos, 2 sets of QRS (standard and squad levels), and 16 A4 light card pages printed with cards necessary for the game. Cutting out the cards is a bit of a pain and took me an hour. They are reasonably durable but I think I will use card sleeves for added protection. Almost half of the booklet is taken up with army characterisation details covering 13 different colonial wars. A copy of the main Piquet rules is required but DoB does duplicate some of the rules and card definitions. There are not that many new or altered rules: Natives have a new formation, ‘Mass’, and they cannot bring ‘Out of Command’ units back in to command. Colonial Powers have new ‘Mounted Infantry’, and will tend to utilise the ‘Extended Line’ formation more often. Well ordered cavalry can evade from infantry charges, and Plains Indians cavalry can evade US cavalry charges. Troops can move Cautiously (half speed) and improve their cover. Machine guns and modern breechloading weapons make an appearance, as do gun-boats, armoured trains and balloons. The main addition provided by DoB is the ‘Trouble and Delays’ (TAD) deck, replacing the usual ‘Dress Lines’ card. Essentially the TAD deck is a second, small card deck that contains primarily ‘Dress Lines’ cards with a few additional army specific cards. The TAD deck increases the range of unique cards available without distorting the main sequence deck, and is a good variant in my opinion. If you are already familiar with Piquet then DoB will be easily assimilated, and your main focus will be on the army characterisation section. My interests are Plains Wars, Zulu War and Sudan Wars, and the lists all appear OK. I would like to have seen some Zulu riflemen, even if they would be poor quality, and I think generally the Native melee values might have been a dice type higher.
So, how did DoB perform on the tabletop? I first tried Plains War using my 15mm Peter Pig forces and playing using the standard inches scale. The Lakota army consisted of 8 mounted units and 4 foot units; The US cavalry had 6 mounted units and 1 mounted Crow unit. The Lakota army threw poor dice throughout the game so my judgement is probably coloured by this. They did manage to KO a couple of US cavalry units, but otherwise they lost heavily to mounted carbine fire and frequently routed. The evade option worked OK but the US cavalry were shooting too well, which negated this Lakota skill. The ‘Counting Coup’ card was a nice addition, giving period colour to the game. I initially forgot the rule that mounted breechloaders require 2 PIPs to reload but I don’t think this dramatically affected the game. I did intend to dismount some US cavalry units to improve their shooting, but the good US dice rolls forced the Lakota back, so no US cavalry needed to dismount. After about 3 turns, the Lakota army ran out of Morale Chips (always a bad situation) and the army really began to fall apart, and by the 4th turn the US cavalry were closing in on the Lakota camp and total victory. The game I played was a straight head-to-head encounter which is probably not representative of actions in this war. I think future Plains War games I play will require a more imaginative scenario design to better reflect this conflict, possibly allowing more hidden (perhaps random) Indian deployment. Overall, I felt the rules worked but the inch scale could be halved for 15mm troops.
Next I tried DoB using my 10mm Pendraken Zulu Wars armies, with a cm (rather than inch) scaling.
I used the OOB’s from another set of rules: Principles of War, 2nd edition. The British forces were the ‘Flying Column’ from the second invasion of Zululand. In this game British firepower was devastating, the Zulus advanced and were blown away. When the Zulus managed to get into to melee combat, they rarely drew the required ‘Melee Resolution’ card. When they did manage to fight their melee dice types were too low to give them a chance of victory. This game did throw up some real concerns for me:- The number of British units was too great and needs to be reduced in future (this is my fault not the rules); The Zulus need improved melee dice types (at least up 1 type) to increase their close combat threat; I think the Zulus require more (another 2 cards) Melee Resolution cards in their deck to compensate for their lack of firepower. I also think the provision of some Zulu rifle-armed skirmish units in the army characterisation would help.
Finally I played a game using my 28mm later Sudan Wars armies. Again, the native army was defeated. Frontal attacks against disciplined European infantry is not a good idea (realistic), and the advancing Mahdist infantry died in droves. This game it was not as one sided as previously; in one turn the Mahdist cavalry surprisingly routed both British cavalry units against the odds, a skirmish unit inflicted significant hits against the Camel Corps and routed them, plus a unit of Fuzzy Wuzzy’s over-ran the British artillery section before it could reload. Unfortunately the Mahdists could not follow these successes up, the main British ‘square’ remained intact, the Mahdists ran out of Morale Chips and the game was effectively over.
So, what did I think of DoB? The rules gave fast moving battles that were fun to play and generated historic outcomes. Luck, as in all Piquet games, remains a major influence but this is OK in solo settings. I felt the Plains War game was the most balanced, even though the Lakota were defeated. They did take out some US cavalry and with a little better luck, could have caused some worries for the US side. The Zulu War and Sudan War games were a hard slog for the Native sides. Frontal attacks don’t work, and more focus needs to be placed on manoeuvre and flanking attacks. I think the rules need to be tweeked to give the native side a bit more of a chance:
- Native melee factors could be increased by up 1 dice type.
- Zulu forces should have some rifle armed skirmish units, and therefore some Opportunity Chips (divisor factor of 4?).
- Native Opportunity Chips could be given an additional use i.e. Opportunity Melee Resolution. This would greatly help the native player. Too often the European forces were able to shoot multiple times before the native Melee Resolution card was drawn, thereby driving off the attackers before they could strike. This rule change would ensure more native attacks once units were engaged.