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"Fate of Battle (LSNC Napoleonics)rules review" Topic

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IronMarshal14 Dec 2013 8:43 p.m. PST

Fate of Battle: Look Sarge No Charts is a fairly new addition to the massive number of Napoleonic wargame rules having been published in 2012 by LMW Works and is available through On Military Matters (where I purchased my copy)among others. The rules system is obviously based on the fairly popular WWII rules Look Sarge No Charts WWII. Six years went into the development of LSNC and an additional two years were devoted to Fate of Battle. The rules were written by HAWKS gaming group members John "Buck" Surdu and Dave Wood with design contributions by Chris Palmer.
I played these rules at Historicon, 2013, the 1814 Battle of Laon scenario featuring Prussians verses Davout's French Corps. The authors ran the game, and that is always very helpful for newbies like me. I must say the rules played exactly as advertised, "Simple but not simplistic." I found the rules to be fun, easy to learn (certainly not always the case with Napoleonics, or other era games for that matter) and they had the right feel.

I actually picked this game on a whim, being a Napoleonics fan, and having scheduled two Napoleon at War games (a rules system that I own but had not played and wanted very much to try). I was looking to get into a Field of Battle 2 game or a Shako II game but none were available when I could schedule it in so I thought I would try the game with the funny sounding name. I was pleasantly surprised.

After the game was over, later in the evening I started to reflect on the rules, there was something about them that kept drawing me back in thought. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the rules. While I liked playing Napoleon at War, Fate of Battle was grabbing more of my thoughts. Fate of Battle gave me that feeling I was looking for when I played Napoleonics. So when I returned home I visited On Military Matters and picked up a copy of the rules.

The soft back book has nice cover art depicting the Russian Guard Cavalry attacking and destroying a French square at Austerlitz and costs $30. USD The book is very well thought out. I consider Sam Mustafa to be maybe the best rules writer out there. His rules are thorough, easy to read, have plenty of examples and diagrams and importantly, explain Sam's thoughts and reasoning for the various rules and abstractions. I can actually read Sam's rules and play the games. In Fate of Battle, Buck Surdu and Dave Wood have accomplished the same excellent results.

The book is very well layed out with a thorough 5 page (yes, 5 pages) Table of Contents and a glossary right after the TOC. There is a short introduction and a section of basic information, basing (each battalion is represented by two bases), sizes, as one might expect, scale (1 inch = 50 yards, time is abstract and varies as the game is card driven),and also a section that goes over the layout of the rules. This layout is consistent throughout the rules and this is very helpful to us ADD gamers.

The scale enables players to control a division. Large battles can be fought as multi-player games.

The game has a unique labeling system that in essence replace big play charts with tiny charts on each unit. So "Look Sarge No Charts" is probably not exactly accurate, but there are none of the usual big unwieldy charts of most systems. For those chart lovers out there, don't be discouraged, the game can be played with charts available through the Look Sarge No Charts Yahoo site. The labeling system is explained on pages 2 and 3.

The rules are broken down into sections. Each section has an introduction, a basic information subsection where the section rules are explained, an example subsection where game examples are given with photographs and labels and direction arrows. After the examples comes the designer notes where the thoughts, reasons and abstractions are explained. This is followed by a subsection of optional rules designed to further enhance play or to help some people design the game more to their own personal tastes.

Section 1 is Activations. Fate of Battle uses a "double blind" game mechanism of cards and dice. Each turn, players roll a D6 for each brigade, division and corps leader. This determines the activation schedule for each brigade. To prevent "gamey" planning, the activation time is determined by turning over a card. There are 6 black and 6 red cards, numbered 1 through 6 and a Joker which ends the turn. Sometimes additional cards are added for the scenario, ie: 1805 French and Austrians, a different suited card may be added that only activates the French player. I found this a great friction provider in the game and I like games that contain friction. Cards keep turning and units keep activating until the Joker is turned. In this way, some brigades may activate twice while others do not. A very clever rules allows the higher commander to swap activation dice with one lower commander during each activation. This allows one to adjust to an overwhelmingly lucky set of circumstances for the other side.

Section 2 is Formations and follows the same format as all of the other sections. As can be expected, infantry formations are Column, line and square, Cavalry is column or line and artillery is limbered and unlimbered. There are special morale rules for fighting in various formations against various formations and the game rewards combined arms attacks with a rock, paper, scissors approach to Napoleonic battle.

Section 3 is Moving. You may change formation, once and only once, at anytime during movement. Types of movement are roads, open terrain, rough terrain including towns, and woods in column or line. There are bonuses for moving in a straight line and/or being in column.

Section 4 is conducting fire. Pretty standard, roll a die add modifiers and compare to defense value of target including modifiers. There are two ranges, short and long. If the attacker number is higher at short range a hit is registered. If at long range a morale check will be needed except artillery which can inflict hits on columns and squares at long range. Each battalion can take three hits. The third hit removes the battalion from the game. The reasoning behind long range firing effecting only morale is thoroughly explained in the designer's notes in this section as is the change from the standard LSNC rules of two hits. The designers felt that with only two hits per battalion, they tended to be too brittle and unlike the actual historical period. The design notes are very interesting and a lot to the rules set. Skirmish fire is handled separately as an optional rule in Section 6.
Section 5 is close combat. Close combat involves a combination of moving and firing. Units move into base to base contact, conduct a melee and this determines who withdrawals. Special dice (player created via downloads from the web site) are used to determine who stands, closes and breaks through. The system creates enough uncertainty to make things very interesting, yet seems to yield historically accurate results. Front, flank and rear are considered as is the defender's condition (terrain, morale, etc.), Again, this is all well explained with copious annotated examples. There are optional rules regarding artillery, unsupported guns, re-occupying evacuated guns, and spiking guns. The optional rules also cover cavalry breakthroughs and blown cavalry (I like this as some games seem to allow cavalry to unrealistically repeatedly charge as though the horses never tire). According to the designer's notes, close combat is meant to be "quick and decisive" and the defender gets to inflict damage as well. The design was meant to "punish frontal assaults without softening up a position with fire first as well as maneuver to the flanks."

Section 6 is the "optional" skirmish fight. For many gamers the skirmish fight is an important part of Napoleonic wargaming. Rules systems seem to approach this with either abstractions, like building in bonuses to firing, or through elaborate skirmish stands moving all over the place. Some even have skirmish capability that inflicts great damage to units. Fate of Battle has an interesting abstraction for skirmish that I think really enhances the game. The designers believed that skirmish is an important part of Napoleonic warfare, but they wanted to "avoid the fiddly manipulation of skirmish companies."
Skirmish bases are small with single figures on them (even some cavalry units have skirmish capability). Some units have more than one skirmisher base. Skirmishers are deployed between turns while the GM/commanders are reshuffling the card deck. Skirmishers may be deployed between 2 and 6 inches from the battalion base. They protect the battalion regardless of the direction of any attack, be it close combat or fire. Skirmish combat is performed by brigades if an enemy formation is within 6 inches of the brigade's battalion bases. The skirmish fight is intricate yet elegant and skirmishers can be driven to cover thus removing their effect on the turn.
Skirmishers effect fire (due to smoke on both sides and the disruptive effect on enemy fire) negatively. Skirmishers may affect melee by impacting the rolls to stand or close. In melee they fall back behind the battalion. Skirmishers may affect unsupported artillery by adding morale pips. The system works very well, and I really like the feel of this abstraction.

Section 7 is (optional) Morale. It was made optional because many gamers do not like morale checks although morale is a big part of combat. Each hit causes a morale pip to be added. And each pip will lead to a morale check before each activation. There is a special die (again downloaded from the web site) for failed morale checks containing OK, pin, retreat, random order or some either or option. Rallying has an interesting twist as well as units need to roll a six and have a black six card drawn. The divisional HQ may trade six sided die to help a unit rally. The authors also supply a chart in the designer's notes that give the percentages of getting a bad morale check. Again an interesting addition.

Section 8 is (optional rule) Fighting During Periods Of Limited Visibility. I have not played this yet, and do not think I will add it in. Movement, LOS and firing are all affected.

Section 9 is (optional) Engineering. I have not used this yet, but see uses for specific scenarios.

Section 10 and 11 are Scenarios for Ebersberg.

Section 12 is the data tables for those who want charts and for scenario design.

I am very pleased with Fate of Battle as a Napoleonic rules set. Buck Surdu and Dave Wood are to be commended for designing a game with an excellent period feel that is workable, and easy to learn. The rules are very well written and the designer's notes add a great deal of clarity and are an interesting read. I highly recommend this rules set.

Scott MacPhee14 Dec 2013 8:46 p.m. PST

Excellent review. I may have to give them a try.

nsolomon9915 Dec 2013 12:29 a.m. PST

Iron Marshal, thanks. What is it about these rules that gives them more of that Napoleonic feel you like? I like period atmosphere as well, hate generic rules sets. What's different about these from other Napoleonic sets of rules you've played? How do they reflect the differences between the amies of the period?Linear tactics vs impulse, etc?

nsolomon9915 Dec 2013 12:33 a.m. PST

Iron Marshal, thanks. What is it about these rules that gives them more of that Napoleonic feel you like? I like period atmosphere as well, hate generic rules sets. What's different about these from other Napoleonic sets of rules you've played?

surdu200515 Dec 2013 5:42 a.m. PST


Thank you very much for posting such a detailed review of the rules. The rules are also supported by a Yahoo group that contains helpful downloads, such as blank labels sheets, filled-in label sheets for selected corps, and roster sheets that can be used instead of the base labels.

The Web page is at: link
The Yahoo Group is at: link

As you say "no charts" is sort of a misnomer. The subtitle should probably say "no chart CARDS." The use of the base labels in the Look, Sarge family of rules has gotten a fair amount of negative comment in OTHER Web discussions and reviews. To some extent it is a religious argument over whether the base labels or big chart cards provide more aesthetic impact.

Your review was quite thorough. In the interest of full disclosure, there are some special six-sided dices used for the game. These dice can be made from blank dice purchased from hobby suppliers or wooden cubes from the craft store. Sheets of labels for the dice can be downloaded from the Web site and the Yahoo group site.

Again, thanks for taking the time to provide such a thorough review. We're happy you enjoyed the game and hope to see you at future conventions.

Dave has been hard at work on a scenario book for the 1814 campaign in France. While the scenarios are of course geared toward Fate of Battle, they will be usable with other rules systems as well. We'll be running a couple of scenarios from this upcoming book at Cold Wars.

Buck Surdu

IronMarshal15 Dec 2013 9:04 a.m. PST

I like the way the skirish rules work. Some allow skirmishers to do a lot of damage, some allow them to float around as though there are no units in their way. The optional skirmish rules give skirmishing an important yet not overwhelming role. There actually is a "skirish battle" that is won or lost via simple die roles and the outcome of that skirmish battle effects the individuale unit battles.From what I have read about Napoleonic warfare, this sounds about right.
Command and control is another plus. I like random activation and fog of war effects in wargames. In actual combat, Mr. Murphy of Murphey's Law always seems to make an appearance. In the interest of keeping games neat and tidy alot of rules writers ignore this and go with the simple I go, you go. In combat things don't work that way. The randomness of activation is what I like about Brent Oman's "Field of Battle" rules. I also like Sam Mustafa's Command point allocation and rolling for movement distances in Grande Armee (a great set of rules for big battles).
I think Buck Surdu and dave Wood have really put together a great set of rules that are very elegant, not gamey, and "simple but not simplistic" as advertized.
To answer the other question as to rules I have played, I have played a lot of them, "From Valmy to Waterloo" very complex, very thorough, and they take a long time to work through things like cavalry charges. Good for alot of people, but my attention span is not long enough for all that minutiae. Napoleon's Battles, a good game, well produced by Avalon Hill, but a little gamey. Age of Eagles, another good game (played once), but I prefer Grand Armee to this and NB for big battles. Shako II I like, but there are a few things I do not care for, the skirish rules and flank shooting come to mind. Field of Battle I like for several reasons, but playing the weaker side ie Austrians is really tough, and it lacks the feel of Fate of Battle. Napoleon at War, good rules, played twice would play again, but I liked Fate of Battle better.
Lasalle is a very good game I have enjoyed playing several times. As said before Sam writes great rules and his rules are very easy to follow and his logic makes sense.
I played several iterations of Empire, ugh, to much work for me, and lots of home rules my club has been trying to develop over the years.
Fate of Battle just seems to put it all together for me. I have been busy making Sabot bases with the lables to play without rebasing my NB based figs. I want to play several more games to see if I continue to like these rules as much as I have liked them the first game and reading through the rules a couple of times.

IronMarshal15 Dec 2013 9:06 a.m. PST

I love Historicon as do my teenage boys, we'll be back, and look forward to playing again. Also looking forward to Dave's book.

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