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"Skirmish games and Donnybrook" Topic

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2,537 hits since 31 Mar 2014
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(Phil Dutre)31 Mar 2014 1:32 p.m. PST

Last week we tried our first game of Donnybrook. It fell flat.

Granted, when I first saw the rulebook, I was pretty impressed. To be fair, the rulebook is impressive. A lot of inspirational photographs, nice scenery, good narratives. I can see the attraction, and I think it is a well-written wargaming book.

When reading the rules, I was a bit less impressed. The rules claim to portray skirmish combat 1660-1760, but there is very little in the rule mechanics that make that particular assumption. The rules are so generic that they would fit most periods. Simple card activation to activate each unit in turn; and different type die rolls to beat a target number to resolve morale, combat etc. Modifiers are kept to a minimum, which is a good thing.

So, I set up two small forces to battle it out with my regular wargaming pal. One force was hidden in a village, the other side had to drive them away.
Gameplay was disappointing. The mechanics are so simple that very few decisions need to be made. You cannot decide what unit to activate the cards do that for you. The whole game revolved about moving your troops asap to the enemy (lack of other things to do or think about), and fight it out. Not much excitement was felt by neither of us.

After a game, we usually have a discussion about what worked in the game and whatnot. We did play skirmish games of that particular size before, so the game should have been to our liking. But then we realized we did experience something similar with another skirmish game we tried a few years ago, that also turned out to be a bummer Lack of a good scenario!

When setting up a skirmish game, I usually make sure all sides have good objectives, that go beyond the simple: "engage and destroy". One side might have to free hostage. Or capture a treasure and bring it back to base. Or escort a wagon across the board. Or blowup the jail. Or … you get the idea. Such setups work even better if more than 2 players are involved.

For our Donnybrook game, due to a busy day at work, I completely neglected a good scenario. I should have known better. The lack of a good scenario was the reason the game felt very bland.

I also realized this is a lesson I picked up many years ago. Skirmish games are memorable because of good scenarios. Good gaming mechanics might help, but the scenario is the most important thing. Otherwise, you just have a glorified randomizer that determines the outcome of the game.

So, a good scenario is the thing, but that does not depend on Donnybrook or any other gaming system. It depends on the game organizer. Lesson learned (yet again).

Looking back, I still think Donnybrook as a gaming engine is very bland and not very exciting. When using exciting scenarios, the game can be made excellent, but that is not a feature to be claimed by Donnybrook. That is player's imagination at work.

In the end, I still like Donnybrook as an excellent book with excellent photographs. But as a gaming engine? Probably not.

Cyrus the Great31 Mar 2014 10:14 p.m. PST

I don't want complicated rules to get in the way of a good scenario. I think Donnybrook does this admirably.

Tin Soldier Man31 Mar 2014 10:16 p.m. PST

It's pretty close to a dumbed down Sharpe Practice in our experience. Unfortunately when they dumbed it down they removed the good bits.

Dexter Ward01 Apr 2014 2:18 a.m. PST

Why not just use Sharp Practice, they work fine for pretty much any Horse & Musket period, and you have plenty of interesting decisions.

The comment about lack of decisions is very true of many skirmish rules; we found it happening a bit with 'Legends of the High Seas'. The rules are OK, but somehow all the decision were obvious and it didn't make for interesting game play. Subsequently I saw someone using Muskets & Tomahawks for Pirate game, and that's another excellent idea.

Patrice01 Apr 2014 5:05 a.m. PST

a good scenario is the thing, but that does not depend on (any) gaming system. It depends on the game organizer
I don't want complicated rules to get in the way of a good scenario
All this is very true IMO.

Mithmee28 May 2014 6:44 p.m. PST

I am thinking about getting these rules since I saw them over on the LoA site when I brought Republic to Empire.

The mechanics are so simple that very few decisions need to be made. You cannot decide what unit to activate the cards do that for you.

Yes it is card driven so throw in a few wild cards that cause something to happen.

Plus when you think about decisions that you need to make in a game – unit movement, do I shoot or move, and combat.

So you really are not making all that many decisions in the game.

I much prefer card driven games then UGO-IGO because each turn is different and you are not sure if your unit will get to move before the enemy gets to it.

I would even consider putting in a melee card so that hand to hand fighting does not happen until it shows up.

This means that you could get several guys into a gang up fight against an opponent's model. It also means that they can do the same.

So an example of a wild card could be the weather maybe it starts to pour and the ground turns to mud or muskets might not fire due to the powder getting wet.

But yes a good scenario is a need along with objectives for both sides plus bonus objectives, which could happen due to the wild card.

But I would bet that these rules are far better than anything that GW is putting out right now.

Mike Welker01 Jan 2021 4:29 p.m. PST

We have really enjoyed Donnybrook. Now to find some good scenarios, while I build up my Williamite forces (oh so slowly, but the goal is 10-15 units within a year).

Crazycoote24 Jan 2021 12:08 p.m. PST

I think the best black powder skirmish rules are Blood and Plunder by Firelock games in the US. They work extremely well, are simple – but have tons of decision making involved.

Don't be fooled by the "pirate theme"…they are actually early colonial rules, and have tons of army lists and factions that have nothing to do with pirates…

They are also very well supported with a ton of expansion materials. Personally, I find only Muskets and Tomahawks comes even close…

Dexter Ward13 Feb 2021 7:00 a.m. PST

Blood and Plunder are good rules, but they are not simple. You need to keep track of how many actions each unit has used as well as command points and fatigue. It gets quite fiddly – and the rules for ships are even more fiddly and interact strangely with the normal activation. Some things like only the attacker fighting in melee are also a bit odd (although it seems to work ok)

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