I Tried 28mm Pike & Shotte, And Cried

Never Play P&S or Black Powder in 28mm Again!

Problems with game scale and balance

I recently played a Pike & Shotte game with friends and I left with a slightly discontent feeling. About the game, not about the afternoon or the friends. We played 28mm on a standard table (1.80×1.20m/6x4t) with A LOT OF beautifully painted P&S figures. My old buddy Fred is an expert painter with a good eye for colour. AD 1680, William III and his Dutch allies vs Louis XIV and his minions. We had three brigades each, that’s about ten units on each side, separated by a river. The French were entrenched on the other border. My cavalry and infantry were queued on the left side of the table, in a cramped space, directly in front of his strong right cav/inf-flank.

To create more maneuvering space, I tried to direct all our Dutch cavalry to my right flank and see if I could move around my opponents’ weak left infantry flank, and then cross the river with my horses outside his shooting range. A swift surprise move William III would like. I hopelessly failed, for gaming reasons I won’t bother you with. The game was instructive and I learned some hard lessons about Black Powder/P&S. But I got the feeling that the table was too small or the scale too big. I tried, I cried, I ran away.
I’ll try to clearly adress each problem so that this blog is also readable for players who don’t know the rulesets. 28mm-fanboys, BEWARE! You play a game that’s not suited for your regular dinner table,
I’m not unhappy with the ruleset, btw. But some rules should be changed, see part II of this blog.

The Game Scale Problem

The Black Powder rulebook, p.4, says: “our game has been developed and played almost exclusively on tabletops at least 6 feet wide and between 10 and 14 feet long. The game works best on large tables and using relatively large forces.”

Blogger Keith Flint (wargamer and Osprey wargame rules writer, Keiths Wargame Blog) observed:

It was an interesting decision for the authors of Black Powder to publish a set of rules designed to work best for big armies and very big wargames rooms. The former would make creating forces daunting for the newcomer, whilst the latter would seemingly exclude the overwhelming majority of wargamers, regardless of their experience or the size of their collections. Fourteen foot tables – you must be joking! But Rick Priestley and Jervis Johnson didn’t get where they are today without having a keen commercial sense. My guess is that they recognised the appeal of a big, bold product with high production values, and knew that wargamers would adapt it to the limitations of their own circumstances.

As a consequence, a standard table is quickly too small, Keith argued. Others agree.

Blogger Auldearn1645 wrote after a small game with a couple of units about the table size:

The 6’x4′ table is very small by Black Powder standards (…) double the number of units and the table will get crowded – not a Black Powder problem, more a 28mm problem.

And BaronvonJ from Baronsblog remarked after a P&S test game:

Cons: Space. Below is diagram of how big the units are vs how I’ve got a few units based up for Victory Without Quarter. A thirteen inch frontage is huge for pike and shot formation. Especially on my 6x 8 foot table, which is a little bigger than most people’s 6 x 4. Even devoid of terrain for this playtest, things were really cramped. No room to manoeuver. This has been a complaint about the Warlord games before.

Below: a typical cramped BP wargame table, courtesy of Warlord.

But is it really, or is it just a feeling? Let’s check. If you try to play P&S on a standard 6×4 table, the standard movement distances are 

  • for infantry: basic movement distance is 6 inch/15cm, 
  • for cavalry 9/22,5cm, light cavalry 12/30cm. 

Depending on a dice roll units units move 1x, 2x or 3x their movement distance. This means that with a statistical easy 3 moves (see below) Pike & Shotte infantry moves18 inch/ 45 cm. That’s a quarter/a third of the standard 4ft/120cm table width. In Black Powder infantry units move even quicker, 12inch/30cm for infantry, 18inch/45cm for cavalry, shooting range as above. That means that a unit can move 30-90cm, three quarters of a table.. 

Standard shooting ranges are: 

  • (bad rifles/standard rifles/light artillery/medium artillery) 
  • 12/18/24/36 inch : 30cm/45cm/60cm/90cm in metrics. 

In the standard rules, units move first and shoot later (and ask questions MUCH later). Units are allowed to move and shoot. Thus infantry with a standard musket can for instance move 30 cm (one movement in BP, two in P&S) and afterwards shoot 18inch/45. In other words, they can simply hit anything within 30 inch/75 cm of their starting position – or even more after a good result (36 inch/90 cm max in P&S, 54 inch/135cm in BP).

Cavalry/infantry balance on a 6×4 table

Problems, in particular with the cav/inf balance, will be worsened because of the disorder rule. Hits are scored on 4,5,6. If an defending unit is hit by shooting and the shooter rolls a 6, the unit is automatically disordered [‘pinned’]. This means that the unit cannot move the next turn but is more difficult to hit (only at 5 or 6).

As a combo, infantry moves very fast over the table and can quickly shoot at and disorder any other units 75-90 cm away from their original starting position, notably cavalry targets. Infantry shoots with two dice. The chance to roll a 6 with two dice is 30,5 percent. This means that on a standard 6×4 table infantry can quickly move in the direction of cavalry and has a fair chance to disorder the cavalry, which can’t move for the full next turn and is less effective in a possible combat. Attacking formed infantry with cavalry is stupid so IF the cavalry is reordered again they are forced away or routed. Outmaneuvering infantry in 28mm scale on a cramped 6×4 table is nearly impossible I suppose.

I had the same experience as blogger Blenheim to Berlin, who wrote: “Often cavalry can be stopped standing disordered in front of units firing at them and as disordered are unable to move.” Will from Will’s Wargame Blog said:

what I don’t like is the move sequence and giving the advantage in firing to the player who moves into range before the stationary player. I had the same problem with BP and used a revised sequence.

Other rules also favour the infantry. Due to a special pike rule (‘pike company’) for instance a P&S foot regiment can be a walking tank. I won’t bother you with the details but successfully attacking the rear is almost as difficult as attacking the front. The unit can move unhindered to all sides while it is protected on all sides and, as said, can shoot a long gaming distance.
I’m not opposed to a relative strong infantry, cavalry was not very strong against infantry and attacking a square was suicide, but in game terms and historically a moving infantry column should have a weak flank and rear. Also the advantage of being protected against cavalry should be counterbalanced by a disadvantage, like immobility and/or less firepower.
Anyway, I think the rules (which are OK) need a tweak if you play it on a standard table and if you want a balanced game.
Scattered around the web I found excellent regarding distance, the command rule and other adaptations. I summarized them in Part II of this blog.

Warfare Miniatures

As I wrote earlier, the BP/P&S rules should be tweaked to suit large 28mm battles on a standard 6×4 (120×180) table. Here I publish a summary of the suggestions.

A blog published a useful small set of rule amendments for Black Powder (useful for P&S as well). The tweaks can be found here. I also found a Pike & Shotte revision, which might be interesting, here. Besides I found several comments scattered around the web to slow down the infantry.

In short, bloggers who play on a 6×4 table advise to:

  • Limit movement. Many bloggers recommend to decrease all ranges with 1/3. I wouldn’t rule out halving them, myself.
  • Change fire and movement phase. In revised rules, published by bloggers and forums (link) players recommend to shoot first and move later.
  • Limit the fire & movement combo. Players advise for instance to allow moving fire just for one or two movement distances, or add (in combination with rule #3 above) a negative modifier for units which want to move after shooting.
  • Allow cavalry to move back disordered when under fire.
  • Play on a smaller scale. 15mm-figs with 6/12/18 cm instead of inches works fine. 6mm as well. P&S/Black Powder’s predecessor Warmaster was designed for 10mm (the BP-game is in fact Warmaster 2.0 IMHO).

I would add from my own experience that some pike rules should be tweaked to prevent the ‘moving tank’ effect and give moving columns a weaker flank or rear.

As a combined result, BP/P&S on a regular table will involve a bit more tactical maneuvering with units and less ‘tally ho-there we go’ dice rolling.

Improved command rules

Lasthussar reviewed BP’s/P&S command roll system. Every commander on the table has a command value (CV) – usually in the range 7 to 9, but 4 to 10 is the total range; the higher the better. This can be modified for local conditions. When giving an order you roll 2d6, the lower, the better.

  • Equal or 1 less – one move
  • 2 less – two moves
  • 3 or more less – 3 moves.

Lasthussar did the numbers, see his blog. The chance for two moves is depending on the command value between 10-15%. The chance for one move is about 25-30%. The chance for THREE moves is just 15% when CV=7, but 28% when CV is 8 and 42% when CV is 9. Lasthussar:

The problem is that this generally makes 2 moves the LEAST likely, which seems odd. You expect

  • 1 move most likely, 3 least, or
  • 3 moves most likely, 1 least likely, or
  • 2 MOST likely.

He modified the rule:

To get 3 moves you must roll 3 less than target AND equal or under half, otherwise it stays as ‘2’

Examples:

  • Command 9- 3 moves on 4 or less
  • Command 8- 3 moves on 4 or less
  • Command 7- 3 moves on 3 or less

This tweak changed the statistical probability so 3 moves is least likely to happen, as would be logical. In combination with the rules above this can also lessen the impact of moving & shooting infantry.

Conclusion

With weaker infantry flanks, curtailed infantry, more mobile cavalry and a scale/table size issues solved the Black Powder/ Pike & Shotte game will have a better balance between infantry and cavalry. I suppose that this will encourage players to move their cavalry more towards the outer flanks to see i they can outmaneuver their opponent and find his weak spot. Games would be more interesting, more combined arms. At least I hope so.

I will do some playtesting and blog about it, of course.

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