Sunday, 16 October 2016

Pike and Shotte: 1st Battle Report & Rules Conclusions

Battle Report

As there were three of us I decided the best way to proceed was to give Peter (French) and Graham (Imperialists) a side each and let them go at it whilst I acted as umpire. For details of the set-up see the previous post.

As only I had read the rules prior to the game I decided not to explain everything before we started as it would both confuse the issue and take far too much time.  This proved to be a good idea; within ten minutes of the boys turning up we were playing.

The Landsknechts and Swiss slowly advanced towards the stream. The cannons banged and arquebus fire rattled in all directions. A cavalry skirmish between missile cavalry developed beyond the village whilst on the French right a cavalry battle began to develop.

The cavalry battle got underway in earnest. It went, in true cavalry style, backwards and forwards with charge and counter charge. The French were coming off the worst.

Seeing his flank begin to buckle, Peter launched the Swiss against the Imperial centre. They made short work of the Landsknecht shot which had ventured too close and began to get across the stream whilst the Landsknechts began to slowly withdraw.

The cavalry skirmish on the other flank wasn't going anywhere. Graham was content to shoot at Peter's forlorn hope of Stradiots.  Peter would not commit his Gendarmes which chose to hang about in the rear.

After several combats, the French cavalry on the right collapsed: battalia broken. The Imperialists were one nil up.

The Swiss crossed the stream in short order then in the next move were ordered to charge.  They covered the distance in a single, three move, bound. It came to push of pike with the ferocious charge giving the Swiss a distinct edge and they got the better of round one. One Landsknecht pike square was broken but, with some amazing defensive saving rolls, most of the Landsknechts remained in the field unshaken.

Next move, in true Graham fashion, Graham was Graham.  He deflected just about every hit the Swiss managed to land with morale saves.  He then threw three 'five hits out of six' in a row. Peter failed to save many of these and the Swiss battalia was broken.

The game was over. The Imperialists won at a canter. Only on the left were the French in any fit shape but with two out of three battalia broken the army was broken. Our first game had been fought to a conclusion in about three hours.

Rules Considerations

The game ended at 11 pm so we didn't have chance for a group 'rules autopsy'. Consequently, what follows are largely my own views.

When playing a new set of rules for the first time a stumble or two is to be expected; especially when only the 'bear of little brain' has read the rules. However, I thought the rules were quite intuitive and consequently the game rumbled along, with the odd hiccup, at a good lick.

I think that after two or three games, when the nuances have been picked up and ironed out, games using Pike & Shotte will move along very quickly indeed; even using large armies.  So far, so good.

The ordering system is quite straight forward, though we forgot the -1 modifier for being close to the enemy until half way through the game.  The rally order was used to rally the first casualty once or twice early on, and we ignored the blunder rule completely (because I don't like it). The players quickly pounced on “Moving on initiative” when close to the enemy as a good thing.

I did notice something that I had been forewarned of: two first order failures by the same commander on successive turns could spoil a game. As it was, in this game, failure was opposed by failure so the effect was not pronounced. As the unbiased umpire cum scenario designer, I can see situations where it might become a very irritating spoiler. I understand there are various house rules in use around the country to iron this out and I have an idea of my own but that's for later.

Everyone loved the easy way in which units could be moved within the confines of the orders given. It is a very refreshing aspect of the rules.

One point of friction between the umpire and players was a discrepancy between the quick play sheet (QPS) and the rules regarding the effect of terrain.  Using the QPS The players thought one thing, only to be told flatly by me that "we will use the rule book definition, I don't care what it says there".  In fairness to the players I was a bit tetchy about it.

I'm also not sure how easy the 45 degree arcs (or quarters in Pike & Shotte) are to understand when it comes to charges (especially at proximity distances). Peter got it, so did I but Graham didn't.

The combat rules were easy to pick up and most of the factors were quickly remembered enabling speedy resolution of both shooting and melee combat.  The basic odds in scores and factors felt about right, and the effects of combat all seemed very reasonable although some combats had very unexpected results mainly down to Graham's fluky (extreme?) dice rolling abilities.

I particularly liked how the larger combats worked. This is because I hold the view that in the Italian Wars, pike squares were not made up of small units but that they usually operated as a single mass. At one point we had four Landsknecht units in frontal combat with three Swiss units. They all fought separately but the results were combined to give an overall winner: it was, in effect, one big square against another big square. It didn't quite work like that when working out what happened to the losing units.  They each took separate break tests but, as a compromise, I can live with it.

The rules on victory and defeat (breaking both battalia and armies) are concise and definitely bring about a very quick end to the game. For one off, line them up, battles I can see the point as written to end a game in a reasonable time.  However, in the longer term, I think these rules might need tweaking, perhaps by making the 50% breaking point more about unit value than number of units.

For example I could see a player getting pretty miffed if, after losing four small units of militia rabble, his remaining three units of elite gendarmes counted as broken despite costing ten times as much.  And no, I don't believe the gendarmes should shepherd the militia to stay in the fight, because that's just silly!

Having looked at the rules since playing, I don't think we actually played anything wrong. There were some minor things we missed and only playing and reading will bring more of these things to light. After one more game I'll lend the rule book to Peter and Graham for them to read.  They don't have any renaissance stuff so will not be buying their own copies anytime soon. In any event three heads are better than one.

If I was to award Pike & Shotte marks out of 10 it would be a very solid 8. I'm definitely up for another game which I've already arranged for next week. These rules hold a lot of promise.

Tips On Counters & Playing Aids

One thing I would advise anyone to do when setting out with these rules is to get yourself lots of counters. These could be as simple as coins or as complex as casualty clocks but you'll need plenty of three types: casualty, disorder & shaken.  We used:

  • Casualties: small stones based on two pence pieces, with one stone per casualty.
  • Disorder: small tufts of brush bristle based on one pence pieces.
  • Shaken: broken wagon wheels (from discarded oversized MDF wagons) based on two pence pieces.

If your bases are square then life, using Pike & Shotte, will be simple. Otherwise, a tool for measuring 45 degree angles will prove very useful. We used the one shown above quite a bit in our game.  It is made from three ice lolly sticks and piano wire.

Obviously, a measuring device of some type is essential and a tape measure is the usual solution. However, some time ago we found it easier to use a couple of 12" measuring sticks graduated in 3" segments for all our gaming. They are so much easier to use than a tape measure and the 3” segments are ideal for Pike & Shotte. The 'Old School' got something right after all! 

By the way none of the counters, measuring sticks or the angle wangler were made for Pike & Shotte which I suppose shows their universal usefulness.

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