Saturday, March 8, 2008

Review: The Complete Brigadier

The Complete Brigadier is, in many ways, a very old-fashioned kind of miniatures wargame covering the black powder era, from 1680 to 1880. It's more reminiscent of Little Wars or Charge! than many newer sets of rules.
It has a ruthless focus on the brigadier's fight, unlike most popular rules of recent vintage which try to cover whole battles.
No, in The Complete Brigadier the objective is immediate. Take that hill, flank that line, defend along this creek, and so on.
The player represents a brigade commander, generally in charge of a four or five battalions of infantry, a battery of guns and an attached regiment of horse. Each figure represents 20 men. The game concerns itself with formations, orders and weapons in direct and explicit ways.
There are no fancy interactive phases or abstract shortcuts.
Brigadiers first write up orders for their units, using specific commands drawn from historically based options, specifying formation, direction and rate of march.
Next, melee battles initiated the turn before are resolved, using a deterministic process that considers morale, numbers, weapons, formation and terrain.
Units then move in accordance with their previously written orders, reacting automatically to unexpected encounters based on historical doctrine. For example, an infantry unit encountering enemy cavalry may form a square.
Then units engage in fire, selecting targets based on a formula that again is based on historical practices. Unlike most games, firing is not generally optional. Unless specifically ordered not to shoot, a unit will fire on targets within range. The results of fire combat are determined by formula without any dice, but taking into account weapons, morale and various other factors.
After resolving all fire units check morale, based on quality, losses and local circumstances, again with no roll of the die involved.
Finally, based on actions taken that turn, units expend some of their limited pool of "stamina." Firing, meleeing and moving at anything faster than a slow walk all cost stamina. As one might expect, it's easier to expend stamina than replenish it, and better troops have more of it than poor troops.
The game includes all sorts of special rules for special cases such as burning buildings, moving on boats, irregular troops, building fieldworks and most anything else one might expect to see affecting a brigade level fight.
Probably the hardest thing for most wargamers to get used to is the lack of any luck element. While the designer lays out his case for the historicity of his approach, the main reason for minimizing the role of luck is to maximize the extent that The Complete Brigadier can be a duel of skill between two brigadiers. The only pure luck element in the entire game is a fate roll for the chances of the brigadier himself getting hit, and if hit, how badly hit. A couple of D6 rolls will determine his fate, although only two consecutive sixes will "seriously wound" the brigadier, resulting in him being "carried from the field by his staff" and replaced by his previously identified second-in-command.
The game includes many clever and entertaining illustrations, a well-organized and well-indexed set of rules, and entire booklet devoted to explaining how to get into miniature gaming with tips for making terrain, painting troops and organizing scenarios. It has references and suggestions for fielding armies throughout the era from 1680 to 1880. It includes five scenarios, all based on battles in North America: Plains of Abraham, 1759; Guilford Courthouse, 1781; Crysler's Farm, 1813; Palo Alto, 1846 and Mill Springs, 1862. Information for troops and weapons from throughout the period are included, however, and there's really no limits on what setting can be used.
While my usual and favorite era for the game is the American Revolution, I've also organized games from the American Civil War, the War of 1812 and the Zulu War of 1879.
The game can be used with any scale figures. Distances are measured in "spaces" which represent 20 yards on the ground. Based on figure scale a space can be anywhere from 3/4-inch (for 9mm figures) to 2 inches (30mm figures). A space is one inch for the most popular scale, 15mm, and also for my preferred scale 20mm.
Unlike many miniatures games, a game master or umpire is not required. The game can be played by just two, although I would highly recommend players play in the the proper spirit of traditional miniatures wargaming, as exemplified by the accounts in Little Wars and Charge! Rules lawyers, Munchkins and people who would rather win than be a proper gentleman or gentle lady are advised to play something else, or at least avail themselves of an umpire.
As a game master I generally only make minor modifications to the rules. I add a small luck element by allowing players to roll for fractional hits instead of rounding up or down as per the rules. This seems a minor concession to player expectations and historical accuracy without changing the game in any significant way. I also generally allow players more leeway with their Follow Me command (when they attach themselves directly to a unit) than a strict interpretation of the rules as written would allow.
Other than that, I play the game by the book and have done so for more than 20 years now. It's been an excellent investment, resulting in many hours of fun for me and my friends.
It's still one of my all-time favorites, despite more than two decades of competition from newer stuff.

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