Friday, September 7, 2012

Belated Post Game Rules Thoughts

When I re-assembled MacDuff, I didn't need to come up with any new rule ideas, I just sifted through the various versions picking the things that I liked best. I was fairly confident that the result would give a fine game, and it did, but I didn't expect the first draft to be perfect, and it wan't. By and large it was fairly small things that affected the flow of the game, or the player experience or affected the story line in ways that I wasn't happy with. In the past these aspects of a set of rules were part of the design criteria but at times they have taken a back seat to the historical aspects.  Rather than rush in, I decided to ponder each of the things that irked me or which I had arbitrarily over ruled during the game.

Here are the main ones:

Fire and Movement. For most of its existence, MacDuff has penalized troops that fired and moved.  In part this was instinctive reasoning (as in time spent shooting is not spent moving and vice versa), and  in part it was one of those "designed to encouraged certain historical tactics" things which didn't work  but largely it was habit acquired during years of playing games where this was the norm.

The downside of movement penalties is that they slow the progress of the game, making it longer  When we  look at the theoretical basis of fir and movement penalties which by necessity involve time and ground scales and interaction of active and inactive units, it become quickly obvious that the reasoning is largely bogus and the penalty if any should be much smaller than the 1/2 that  I was using, perhaps 10% or less. The real trouble was that troops that started firing tended to stall rather than pressing home an assaut. I have tried various ways to try to reproduce this with varying results, none of them worth the effort for a game. At the end of the day, either the attack will succeed or it won't.

The actual reason why I re-instated the fire and 1/2 move rule had  nothing to do with any of those original reasons though. It was to stop a player from leapfrogging 2 units through each other allowing each to fire, like the scene in John Wayne's the Alamo after the cattle raid, or in Zulu where they drive the Zulus out of the compound after the final attack. Works for skirmish lines in movies, not so much I think for close order troops on a battlefield. I had tried to come up with a simple  way to say "don't do this" but finally settled on 1/2 move to move pass through friends and 1/2 move to fire, thus making the two incompatible. I was caught off guard during the  game when I suddenly remembered that I had brought it back. I played the rest of the game way but didn't like it and have now removed the 1/2 move to shoot and rewritten the Passae of lines rule to essentially say that if you move through friends you can't shoot afterwards and if you shoot, you can't move through friends unless you are running away.

Rallying. I had carefully thought out the factors for rallying and in theory, they were and still are right. In the middle of the game, having absolutely no chance to rally a rebel unit because there was only 1 leader and he was on the other side of the board, just didn't feel right. One option would have been more leaders, another would have been to remember that there had been a late modification to the chart to give +1 if no enemy were in sight. What I did was to say "what the heck, get a guy back on a 6". Much easier, unlikely to allow militia  to recover consistently and a good story if they do roll a fist full of 6's not to mention feeling better as a player to have some chance. That led me to look at the factors again, several of them either almost always apply or almost never apply and the extra effort of trying to arrange/avoid them isn't worth the loss of ease of play. The chart has been stripped down so that the only modifiers are elite/militia and the presence of a General/band. So maybe some militia will rally and maybe some regulars will lose stragglers. Adds excitement.

Fortified Targets. I don't know if this was an oversight or I thought there was a reason but I had removed the extra protection for being fired at when you were fortified as opposed to in partial or improvised cover. I put it back mid game when the government troops came up against rebels in a fortified stone house..

Melee. I could tell there was something wrong with the melee, for one thing, while I had meant to make it more deadly and decisive that the original, it was now too deadly and decisive. I had a hard time pinning the reason down at first and then once I had, I had a hard time deciding which way to jump. The original melee was much closer to Charge!, when opposing figures diced off, they had to beat the enemy by more than 1 pip, (meaning more ties) and the over all result included the effects of defensive fire. On the other hand, I allowed an immediate 2nd round in case of a tie.

Once I had introduced the possibility  to stop a charge with defensive fire, it seemed too much to also allow it to count towards winning the melee. It had to be one or the other. The temptation was to go back to the old way but stopping a charge makes more sense to me than saying, for example, "those Zulus were repulsed by your fire but still manged to stab 4 of your guys".

Ok so what about the only having to beat by 1? Its certainly deadlier as well as easier to explain to new players, the problem seemed to be that the modifiers became magnified and having 2 rounds meant units were too easily wiped out. A +2 advantage was always good but the low side only had to beat the throw by 1 to tie and the high side had to at least tie the low side to win so it didn't lead to the same sort of mass slaughter that I saw last weekend.  This effect was enhanced by the 2nd round, in two cases, the rebels got lucky and tied a  melee  only to be slaughtered wholesale in the 2nd round as rear ranks came up. The simplest solution seemed to be to borrow from the current HofT and not allow an immediate 2nd round. So now the attacker falls back an inch, either side can charge on their next turn or stand back and shoot or run away for that matter. In any case, a tie will mean delay and a chance to survive another turn and maybe even be rescued.

Once I did that, it meant that all melees involved one side or both charging so I looked at which charge factors were really necessary if I didn't need to differentiate between impact and melee if you will. That led me to look again at the bonus for charging without firing which was always dodgy as there are some circumstances where that was the better tactic just like there were other cases where stopping to fire was wrong. That led me in turn to look at charging fortifications, one of the places where firing was bad. As the rules stood, grenadiers escalading a fortress without firing would be even odds against defending regulars and so on.  Rather than add yet more complicated factors, I decided to just drop it. Troops can't fire in the middle of a move or while in contact so to get a shot in, you'll have to march up close anyway. As for cavalry, I finally just added a ban on cavalry shooting and charging. So now the melee chart has fewer modifiers and there is only 1 round.

In game terms, none of these things would have made a big difference, perhaps delaying victory by a turn but I think the game is better for them. The updated rules are available at the left.

Word has it that Faraway troops will be back on Sunday to take another stab at suppressing the rebellion.


  1. These all sound like reasonable changes.

    I look forward to reading about the next battle.

    -- Jeff

  2. Always interesting to read people's thoughts and ideas behind their rules-making decisions.