Friday, September 25, 2009

The search for the perfect set of ACW rules #1... "Rebel Yell"

The first in an occasional series dedicated to Steve the Wargamers search for the "perfect" set of wargame rules for the American Civil War... now "perfect" is a difficult thing to define, and I'm solidly of the opinion that one mans perfect is another mans mind numbing tedium, so as part of the analysis I'll try and define each of my plus and negatives, so that it might mean more to you...

What I'm looking for, in no particular order, is
  • fairly simple (ie. no big calculations and tables)
  • regimental level
  • playable with 20mm figures
  • multiple bases per regiment
  • covers/allows skirmishing
  • playable on a 6 foot by 4 foot table (possible extension to 8 foot)
  • no written orders
  • no commander ratings decided by dice (yuck) - or able to ignore it...
..and I may add and modify these as the search progresses..

First up then a nice simple introduction to the series - Rebel Yell by Simple Systems Inc. -

Price Cheap as chips as we say here - Spirit Games sell them for £2..

Format: A5 white paper, typed, black and white drawings, no photo's, contains pull out A4 quick reference sheet - think Wargamers Newsletter before it went A4 sized..

The RulesA curious hybrid between regimental and brigade level.. which has possibilities... (tick)

The rules are designed for 5mm figures (which I've never seen - 2mm yes, and also 6mm, but never 5mm) but obviously scaling up may be a possible.

Figures 5 to a base for regular infantry - representing 50-100 men - Cavalry are 4 figures to a base. Multiply the bases to make a regiment (according to historical numbers) so 4-7 bases and a CO (tick)

One of these bases can be swapped for two skirmisher bases (tick), or one dismounted plus a horse-holder unit for cavalry (tick)

A Brigade would then be 3-5 regiments plus any attachments - artillery etc. (tick)

..but then it starts to get complicated... they recommend a sheet of graph paper to track the status of the brigade (oh no) and that's because you track regimental training factor and also a separate "effectiveness" measure, which you then add up to get brigade morale, which decides what you can do,... and there's lots of pluses and minuses when working out morale (uh oh)..

Movement is alternate.. moving is by "impulse" - each troop type gets a number of impulses which they can spend on doing things like moving, wheeling, changing formation, etc (interesting)

Command and Control: Staff have their own impulses to cover writing orders and at this point I lost the will to live... have a look at this example....

"An example may help clarify all this. Colonel Green (commanding 2nd brigade, delay factor 3), has just received an order from division telling him to advance on the left. Green spends his delay factor, (3 staff impulses), in understanding the order. He issues an order for his 1st regiment in the 4th staff impulse (actually writing the new instructions on the organisation display) and hands it to an aide. The 1st regt. spent their first normal impulse loading their rifles. The aide rides 4" and over a wall, arriving in the 7th staff impulse, hands over the order, which is understood in the 9th (regt. delay factor 2 always). Meanwhile, Green rode 4" to his 2nd regt., arriving at the end of the 6th staff impulse. He wrote them an order in the 7th, which was also understood in the 9th (3rd normal). If Green's troops had four impulses they could move off in the 4th normal impulse. Otherwise they must wait until their next move."

Do you feel "clarified"?? (big cross)

Firing is by element, calculate effectiveness then read off on a big table for your percentage chance to hit - then throw a percentage dice. Hits are individual - so some more record keeping is required...(yuck)

Melee is a straight compare between the effectiveness of the units engaged - with more modifiers - no dice throws... (bit simplistic)

Summary:This set is described as being "simple and effective" and "allow players to get on with the action avoiding excessive calculation"... I think not....

What did I like.. unit organisation, represented skirmishers, reference sheet, unit impulse to decide what they can do, the idea that units can contribute to the health of their brigade (something similar to what DG and I are doing with the Sudan rules at the moment where the Dervish group concept is currently being discussed)

What didn't I like.. all the calculation and record keeping to make the effectiveness work - which is the core of the rules....

Steve the Wargamer rates these 5 out of 10...but I'd like to hear from anyone who's actually used them...


  1. Steve,

    I've not seen or read the "Rebel Yell" rules . . . but I have drunk the "Rebel Yell" whiskey.

    It is now available throughout the U.S., but when I was younger, it was only available "south of the Mason-Dixon Line" (basically the old Confederacy).

    A rather tasty whiskey too. Here's the Wikipedia link to it:

    As for the rules, your review is NOT going to get me to go out and get them (thank you).

    -- Jeff

  2. Heroics and Ross figures used to be advertised as 5mm

  3. Anyone remember Minifigs 5mm regimental blocks?

  4. Pretty much all models of the 1:300 scale were advertised as 5mm back in the 80's. I think GHQ (?) were responsible for introducion 1:285 scale referred to as 6mm, and GW 'Epic' scale may have popularised the term 6mm...

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  6. Ah - that makes sense these rules have a copyright date of '88... anyway - they are consigned to the recycling bin unless DG wants them back...

  7. I have almost the entire Army of the Potomac in Ros & Heroics 6mm (sorry - 5mm) for use with my own home-grown rules. Three pages only and quite good fun so I'll give Rebel Yell a miss!

    PS - Clive I still have some of those Minifigs blocks...

  8. Lots of older rules have (to more modern tastes) clunky rule mechanics like writing orders. Much of that is based on a bottom-up approach to rules writing. Sounds like a good set to set aside.

    A friend has adapted (roughly) Basic Impetus to the ACW and its plays pretty well. Only one base to a regiment, though.

    May I suggest that commanding at more than two levels (thinking like a general and moving regiments) often results in overly granular mechanics to prevent helicopter God syndrome?

  9. Hi
    I agree with Bob... the rules look old. I remember some rules I bought in the 80´s (I'm a compulsive rule buyer!) with complicated mechanisms for command and control such as described in Rebel Yell
    However, I am of the grand-tactical troupe so maybe I am biased....

  10. This is like the "X Factor" (for those of you outside the UK, its a TV program-and you are not missing anything). Who are the Finalists? Or am I jumping the gun?


  11. 1. Have you tried Volley and Bayonet?
    2. I am a recent convert to steel bases for the reasons you note above.
    3. I too recommend Rebel Yell whiskey. (Is only Scotch Whisky with no e?)
    4 I had some Minfigs blocks and I remember making some of my own from cut up matchsticks and also plastic hair rollers!

  12. 1. Have you tried Volley and Bayonet?
    2. I am a recent convert to steel bases for the reasons you note above.
    3. I too recommend Rebel Yell whiskey. (Is only Scotch Whisky with no e?)
    4 I had some Minfigs blocks and I remember making some of my own from cut up matchsticks and also plastic hair rollers!

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  15. Too much Rebel Yell whiskey perhaps, Lupus?? :o))

    W.r.t Volley and Bayonet, perhaps... I think the representation is too high a level for me - being almost division/corps level???

    I'm reviewing "They Couldn't Shoot an Elephant" at the moment - DG & I will try a little virtual game over the next week to try the rules... next on the list after that will be "Guns at Gettysburg"...