Saturday, October 24, 2009

The search for the perfect set of ACW rules #2... "They Couldn't Hit an Elephant"

By way of brief interlude before the next riveting instalment of Scottish history, let me bring you another episode in DG and I's continued search for a decent set of rules to use when we play American Civil War games....

In the last post I brought you (and summarily discarded) "Rebel Yell" [click here] - this time however, we have a much newer set from the Too Fat Lardies [click here] team...

Price £7 for a soft copy (PDF format), add £5 for hard copy..

Format: A4 coloured glossy paper, typed, black and white drawings, no photo's, contains pull out A4 quick reference sheet..

The Rules Brigade level

The rules are designed (optimally) for 15mm figures (also 10-12mm) though they can cater for 25's with some scale and measurement changes.

Figures 4 to a base for regular infantry - representing 100 men - Cavalry are 2 figures to a base and represent 50 men. Multiply the bases to make a regiment (according to historical numbers) so 3-4 bases make the regiment. A number of regiments then makes the brigade - with brigadier.

Skirmishers/dismounted cavalry are represented by leaving gaps between the bases or fielding specific (wider) bases...

The Lardies rules focus on a couple of key concepts, and this set is by no means different to the rest... firstly they, rely on a system of hidden movement called "blinds" to provide the fog of war at the beginning of the game - put simply, they use a blank card of specific size to represent a number of units until the formation is "spotted" (on a dice throw). These "blinds" have the ability to move multiple times so as to bring the game to a quick start. In these rules the organisational level is the "brigade", so each blind represents a brigade of combined arms... if you've played "Principles of War" rules, then the concept will be known to you...

The other concept is the card driven turn - each brigade commander is given a card, while there are blinds on the table they also are given a card - in addition the C-in-C's get one, and there are also cards that allow customisation of commanders eg. bold, inspirational, gifted, and another card for the Confederates in the early years of the war that allows them an extra move... all movement is card driven, with each side acting on the card they draw.

DG and I played an introductory scenario to try the rules out, and I have to be honest and say that it was quite possibly the most frustrating experience he and I have ever had with a set of rules... so what's the problem?? Well among others, these:

  • The rules are crying out for some written examples of how the various rules actually work... these are noticeable by their absence.
  • A key concept as we know is the cards, but DG and I spent at least two days of emails trying to work out what cards should have been in the deck for the introductory scenario that was documented in the rules! It seems to me that as an introductory scenario, this would have been an obvious inclusion?? (By the by, the introductory scenario is huge - what we needed was a brigade a side, what we got was 3 brigades a side... in the end we cut down the scenario for our trial run...)
  • We never did manage to get to grips with how the blinds did things.. blinds have the ability to "spot" - who does this? Where is it measured from? etc.
  • the rules don't seem to have been proof read very well eg. with the tactical level that the game is set at commanders, both brigade and C-in-C are key - but commanders are referred to as 'commanders' throughout so you have to try and figure out which one is being referred to. There are contradictions in the rules, the one that had us going for a while was two statements, one that blinds could do spotting, and the other that only commanders could do spotting... DG and I came to an agreement, but the rules smacked of being a bit 'rushed' to us...
  • The role of the C-in-C is unclear to me even now - and that after three turns of play.. sphere of control rules (ie. what units the C-in-C can influence) are complex...
  • ...

All in all - purely my opinion (and it's by no means universal, as can be seen from the Lardies huge Yahoo group) but not an enjoyable experience.... onwards and upwards, though, the next one is "Mr Lincoln's War"...


  1. Steve,

    I'm not into the ACW . . . and I don't know any of these rule sets . . . but I am enjoying reading your reviews and comments. Please keep them coming.

    -- Jeff

  2. Hi,

    I just wanted to say that, as I'm doing an ACW campaign on my own blog, I'm following your ACW ruleset-reviews with great interest!

    Keep up the good work,

  3. This is rather typical of the TFL rules. It annoys me too. On the other hand, for about $10.00 USD for a set of rules it doesn't get me as upset as the poor editing and omissions in rules that I've bought that cost $30.00 USD!

    That being said, I don't think that the omissions are insurmountable if you're playing with someone you can cooperate with.

    As for spotting, blinds and commanders, the rules say blinds can spot (just measure from any point on the blind) and while it also says only commanders can spot I think this is to distinguish between troops that are deployed off blinds (they can't spot) and commanders deployed off blinds. Just my two cents, but again, shouldn't be an insurmountable obstacle between friendly players.

  4. I agree with you Ken ... we may return to use these rules if [a] nothing else suits us better and [b] we are prepared to create "local rules" in places ... which we have been known to do from time to time :o)
    My current thoughts are to deploy all commanders immediately and just have their units on blinds. Solves the spotting requirements immediately ... but still leaves the fog of war requirement intact. After all we are trying to hide the units and it's implict that each blind has a commander. Dummy blinds are a little more tricky but I suspect a deployed "virtual" commander for each would solve that too. DG

  5. Hiya Ken - as DG said nothing is insurmountable, but both he and I like a moderately rational and well laid out set of rules to start our friendly discussions from... :o)) What got me was that even the guys on the Yahoo group were not entirely in agreement about how they played each specific... not a problem when among friends but disapointing as I like to understand what the writer was trying to do..! Ah, well... I'm currently reading Mr Lincoln's War (again) with a view to DG and tryig that as part of review no. 3!

  6. I hear you. I'm something of a rules collector and nothing bugs me more than obvious omissions.

    Did you notice that the movement rules in TCHAE say only how far units can move? --they don't tell you whether units can wheel, oblique, move sideways, etc. Again, as someone who's been playing wargames a long time I can figure that out myself I suppose, but it leaves you scratching your head as to how something so basic can be left out.

    On the other hand, I've been searching a long time and I've never found a perfect set of rules. I'll look forward to your Mr. Lincoln's War review. Maybe that's the one!

  7. oops. I've got to retract what I said about TCHAE. The rules do say that a unit can move forwards or sideways a full move and that a change of facing up to 90 degrees is accomplished by a wheel. It just doesn't say that in the movement section (it's in the Tactical Command Phase section).

  8. I suggest you check out Fire and Fury if you get a chance. Well written and abstracted enough for really large battles.

  9. On the couple of occasions I played Fire and Fury I found they produced an enjoyable and interesting game.
    I would suggest trying Rank and File - I know you have visited my blog Steve, so I won't go on about them. Mainly, I would love to hear your opinion on this particular set.
    Good luck with your search.

  10. Yes, Fire & Fury is very good. They are clearly written and complete and will not leave you with any niggling questions.

    Note that the published version is for larger scale games (each unit is a brigade).

    But there is a regimental version in the works, and if you go to their website you can download the "beta" version for free. So no reason not to give it a look.

  11. Hi Steve - Really enjoy your site; especially the AWI with the Minifigs. I am building AWI armies with Minifig and the old Continental line which I've been picking up for years.

    I have 20mm ACW and have always liked my first set of ACW rules - "Rally 'Round the Flag." Simple and straight forward. Published, I believe in 1975 or so.

    Keep up the inspiring work! Kindest regards from Hal Thinglum

  12. I think that wargamers are too kind to each other! Either that or they should mix more outside their own band of enthusiasts.

    What most rules need is someone to say "that is complete rubbish, what were you thinking?"

    The trouble is with rules is that they take so much effort to learn that, unless you are kindly disposed toward them you will just give up and leave it at that.

    Someone prepared to learn the whole thing inside out and then say they hate it is rare. They should really be treasured by the rule writers not just given a kicking by the friends and fans.

    Sorry, I started off meaning to say I am enjoying the thread.