8 Feb 2008

Field of Glory Wargame Rules - a Review

The Summary and Overall Review of Field of Glory

Whilst there's not too much rocket science in Field of Glory, the rules overall seem (touch wood) pretty simple to get the hang of and also pretty bomb-proof against cheese and geometry - the two worst game wreckers. The long development process, the input of a few wargaming hacks and the addition of commercial-publishing standard editing and reviewing seem to have been worth the effort in producing something that's tightly written, easy to understand, and adequately covers pretty much all eventualities.

How good is it as "History & Simulation", well, to be honest that's a whole barrel of worms I'm not really someone who is qualified to open, so I won't even go there. What I can say however is that I got a definite sense that a lot of thought has gone into FoG to make sure it's "playable" - and by this I don't just mean "is it clear and simple?", but rather there has been effort to make sure, mathematically and game-mechanics-wise, that the balance between "my troops are better so they should win in this situation" and "but if my opponent gets a bit of luck I might lose..." has been set up to create what feel like the right level of uncertainty - which is after all what creates the excitement in wargames as opposed to chess.

The other element of the "its been designed to have playability" that comes across is that there are actually quite a lot of key decisions to be made at many points in the game (especially concerning what to do with Generals) - although it would also be fair to say that it took me a lot longer to work out what they were, and to realise the impact of my choices than in say DBx sets I've played before.

Does it "grip" you and is there depth? Well, right now I'd say "yes" although I was previously (even as late as the end of last year) definitely pretty skeptical on this.

The big change for me came during the competition at Usk, which was the second competition I'd done. I think the 10 competition games have been a lot, lot more important in getting me to a point at which I started to understand tactics and see the "simple to learn / hard to master" depth in the rules than the 10 or so beta-testing games I played.

Maybe there is just something in playing against strangers who also knew the rules and who were trying to win, as opposed to playing my mate Adam with both of us trying to learn the mechanics and decide if we "liked" the rules which also made a huge difference?

Maybe as well it was having the basic mechanics down pat that allowed us to look beyond them into the game itself, and - probably most importantly - I'm sure that using the same army for 4 games on the bounce against different opponents allowed me to starting to see how the same troops performed in different situations, and think what I could do differently next time to improve things.

Differences to DBx & Warmaster - well, lots. No pips for movement, elements are locked into fairly big units that move by wheeling, and morale (or maybe "waver") tests are back are the biggest 3.

No pip-based command and control really surprised me initially, and as I said earlier, it takes a while to realise that there is any command and control mechanic. But, whilst pips (or for Warmaster players, command rolls) used to represent an abstraction not only of command and control, but also (in my mind) of how the key action in a battle can end up occurring in one small sector of the line (where both sides spend all their pips) whilst the rest is inconclusive (ie they stand there doing nowt), they also have their downsides - certainly in that the ability to do long-distance, multiple moves often has excessive influence on deployment, tactics and the overall outcome in both games, and also there is an inherently odd aspect to the idea of troops standing still for ages without lumbering forward to fight enemy they may only be yards (or inches) from. So, you win some, and lose some on this, but you do get a change.

Elements in big units is again a mixed blessing, and one its hard not to comment on without veering into the "is it historical?" debate - but this time I may dip my toe in these dangerous waters.... If you mentally equate DBx "elements" or Warmaster Units to FoG "Battle Groups" (ie units..), FoG feels like a skirmish and DBx feels like a massive battle (viewed from space!) - and this is easy to do, even though the FoG rules insist/imply that a FoG battlegroup is a collection of smaller sized units (represented by the element bases).

But once you accept the FoG argument and see each element as a sub unit, and each Battle Group as the unit of command and maneuver it does start to make more sense, and I found myself thinking whether DBx (or WMA) rules might even be improved by borrowing from FoG by insisting that for any troops to be deployed and moved they had to in multiple-element brigades of the same troop type. And irrespective of the "historical or not?" debate, its hard to argue against a view that so much geometry and cheese goes immediately out the window once the ability of relatively small formations to move and act independently on the battlefield is severely curtailed.

Morale and waver tests - well, that's a dangerous and bold thing for anyone to reintroduce, especially to anyone who remembers 7th. Initially the biggest mental hurdle for me was the reintroduction of morale tests which seemed to reintroduce a large and highly important random element into the game - but gradually I've learnt to appreciate how correct use of Generals, rear support and various other factors allow you to significantly increase your troops ability to survive them - and also to appreciate that by making a basic 2xD6 score of "7" the usual pass/fail baseline, even being able to add (or cause your enemy to deduct) 1 positive factor means you can make a material difference to the probability of succeeding or failing.

The other good news is that they aren't quite so dramatically bad as in 7th - where you could go from steady to broken in 2 bad dice rolls, both on a single D6 with no modifiers, and the are nowhere near as byzantine as they were in 6th and its predecessors, as there's only 6 or 7 simple factors to remember.

The final thing is that by shifting the way combats are resolved away from pushbacks and into progressive slipping - or restoring - of fighting ability via a simple test has also allowed FoG to remove even more geometry from the game, as there is no need for a slew of special rules about troops being pushed back, or conforming in combat or any of that gubbins. So, whilst I was initially reluctant, I can now see the upsides as well.

Will everyone like these rules - well, certainly not. Will a lot of people like them - I think almost certainly - both coming from a DBx and a GW tradition. Is there anything brain-stoppingly brilliant and innovative in them? Sorry, not really - but there is definitely a fair amount of subtle and well thought out stuff that will make sure its a good "game to play.

Is it historical - well, it looks pretty reasonable to me, but I profess no real in-depth expertise and I have no appetite for an endless argument either so I'll sidestep that one and leave it to you. Either way, right now I'm looking forward to my next game and next competition, and thinking of buying some more troops too.... none of which has happened in a long time for me - so something must be good in there!!

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