Blücher, Black Powder, FPGA: speedreview and short comparison

After playing a couple of games and running a Jena demo I’d like to publish some thoughts about Blücher, the Sam Mustafa game. I think it’s an excellent game and in some aspects better than Black Powder. It at least equals Sam Mustafa’s earlier, freely available Fast Play Grande Armee. In fact it’s Super Fast Play Grande Armee.I can keep this review relatively short because others, like Nick the Lemming, already extensively described the rule system, and so did John from I will just mention that every unit has a number of dice as strength score (say, a Cuirassier unit has 8 dice and a conscript infantry 5) and that every hit costs a dice: after 4 rounds of combat the Cuirassiers will have just 4 dice left, or less, depending on the outcome. To quote Nick:

 Anyone familiar with Lasalle or any of Sam’s other recent games will recognise the combat mechanics for shooting and hand to hand combat – for shooting, a number of dice equal to the unit’s current elan (strength, amount of casualties they can take, etc, all rolled into one stat) are thrown, with 6s being hits, and with a small assortment of the usual type of factors affecting the totals (if a unit has the skimisher or volley trait, for example, to reflect their generally better skill at such things compared to other troops), as well as a few other factors such as cover.

If any adverse factors afffect shooting, then generally the number of dice you roll are halved. For hand to hand combat, the principle is roughly the same, though other factors add or remove dice rather than halve them, a 4+ is generally required for a hit, and the number of hits is compared to see what the result of combat is – both sides tend to gain fatigue (which lowers their elan) in combat, though one unit will often lose more than the other and be forced to retreat, or if elan is lowered to zero as a result, it will break and be removed from the table. These mechanics are, as is the usual case with Sam’s games, simple but effective, and don’t require a mass of charts or going through a huge list of possible adverse or bonus factors.  

That differs from the Black Powder series.  Black Powder is designed as a dice fest with a lot of rolling, rerolls, subrules per unit and sometimes surprise results. I love it for fun wargames with 6 or more players. In BP, the attacker scores wounds, the defender has saving throws and as a result slowly the unit morale score, a separate stat, goes down.

Thus the break risk gradually increases. But its number of attacking dice generally stays the same during combat, except when special rules say otherwise.Blücher on the other hand is more a quickplay game, tending to a battlefield strategic than a tactical game, with in comparison more general, simplified rules, less dice and units which gradually lose effectivity instead of gradually increasing their break risk.

Movement/how many units you can move (here called ‘Momentum’) depends on a dice roll. The opponent secretly rolls dice. Then the active player moves his unit groups, one by one. Again, I quote Nick:

 At the end of your turn (the game uses an I go – You go mechanic), you roll several dice (usually 3) and hide the result from your opponent by covering them with the cup or whatever you choose to use (a period shako would be perfect if you have one).

When ordering his troops in his turn, your opponent will then use up Momentum; ordering a corps at a time, an individual unit at a time, or an ad-hoc grouping centred on the C in C, costs momentum – and you don’t know how much you will have, since your opponent rolls the dice for you and keeps the result hidden. The costs in momentum add up, and eventually will go higher than the total rolled, at which point the cup is lifted, the dice revealed, and that player’s phase is over. 

The outcome is that players tend to maintain corps integrity, which is good. Blücher players can at least move one corps, often two and sometimes three or four. Just as Black Powder, although BP players often have problems with subcommanders who as result of dicing don’t want to move or act stupidly.

Blücher is more predictable, the player doesn’t know in advance how many units he can move, but can at least move what he thinks is most important. Again, Black Powder is more ‘gamey’ (nothing wrong with good fun) and Blücher more ‘planned’. No unexpected stupidity in Blücher, at least.

Blücher works good with single based units or sabot bases, and perfectly suits my 6mm miniatures.In all of our games we were quickly in battle, no slow maneuvering. New players understood the basics after one or two turns, helped by the free, excellent reference sheets.

In February we prepared a big 1/72 Jena battle scenario and ran two demo-multiplay sessions. Turns took about 10 minutes including instruction/background. Some players disliked the perceived ‘simplicity’, others enjoyed it (opinions differ, as always).

Earlier I played Fast Play Grande Armee, also by Mustafa. FPGA is as a system somewhere in-between BP and Blucher, with simplified shooting and gradual diminishing of strength, like in Blücher, but it’s also system with rerolls, and subcommanders who can act on their own, just like BP.

Great ruleset already. Blücher is simpler and has better artwork than grandfather FPGA, more streamlined, and with a nice campaign module. That’s a definite plus.

However, predecessor FPGA had a nice game mechanic, which randomized the length of every turn, who would start the turn and the number of rerolls. Must say that I enjoyed that section of FPGA a bit more than this streamlined ‘Momentum’-protocol. Gives more ‘thrill’.

Anyway, FPGA is free, you can try for yourself: linkCouldn’t find a specific FPGA review, but found a review of Sam Mustafa’s Grande Armee, the ‘mother’ of FPGA. I will quote the review about the aspects that they have in common:

 Grande Armee is a game for those who enjoy grand tactics and who aren’t Stalinists demanding absolute control over every function a battalion can make. That scares a lot of players off that they can’t form square, column or break into full skirmish. Grande Armee has all of this, you just don’t see it.
Your brigade commanders that you do not see or give orders to are assumed to know what formations are appropriate. You give commands to divisional generals or marshals, depending on your army structure.
That is the big thing about Grande Armee that causes most to frown with disgust at how they cannot micromanage every man.

Turns do not have a specific time equation and have pulses (mini turns in the turn segment)(…) Each turn you roll to see how many command chits (I prefer the term points, but whatever) you have to distribute to your division or corps commanders. Your roll combined with your army general’s command rating are used to determine how many chits/points you may receive and use.
Shooting only exists as a skirmish attack or is considered part of the overall melee assault. May seem like an overall simplification, but one set of dice used to control multiple things saves time and in the end and doesn’t really give you any different results. Rather than roll for shooting with some dice, then melee, and someone taking a morale test, you get it together. If your enemy is a distance away, all you get are skirmish attacks, which can still inflict damage.

These methods of play seem foreign and somehow wrong to the control freak who wants to waste more time rolling more dice to do the same thing in the end. They can’t comprehend that you do not lose stands in combat, have to keep a roster and your opponent will never know your exact unit strength (which is a good thing). They dislike the idea that your artillery isn’t as effective in the mud, which these rules cover. Cavalry evading a charge or being used to prevent enemy skirmishers from being able to carry out attacks within 6″ (because the skirmishers would just be ridden down and so hide behind or in the parent brigade) seems to confuse them with it’s accuracy and simplicity.

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