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"The Holy Grail, Part 6 - Shako 2" Topic

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Madmac6418 Nov 2016 9:37 p.m. PST

Ok….I'm probably jumping into the lion's den with this review. Shako 2 is incredibly popular worldwide and there are some excellent and innovative concepts contained in the rules. There were also a few concepts that I had trouble wrapping my head around. My thoughts can be found here:


So, Shako 2 fans…..why do you like these rules?

Michael Hopper19 Nov 2016 2:34 p.m. PST

I do and I do not like the rules. I have been playing Shako, Advanced Shako and then Shako 2 for 20 years, but also play Lasalle, Age of Eagles and Black Powder when opportunities present themselves.

There is no perfect set of Napoleonic rules.

I cannot even summarize a holistic list of key variables that each Napoleonic player likes or dislikes in any given set of battalion rules because those variables vary from person to person. The emphasis here is "battalion" rules. Age of Eagles is an absolutely superb set of rules for brigade level formations. I acknowledge it is well written, plays well and is a great reflection of superior rule design by Rich H and Bill G. What players need to decide for themselves is whether they want units at the corps, division, brigade or battalion level. I paint battalions so I focus (mostly) on battalion level rule sets. This does not preclude that other systems are not perfect or great. There are quite a few that I would recommend and play willingly, in equal proportion. Each rule set focuses on a combination of simulating the period, simulating a scale (Shako being battalion level), playability at a scale of figures/table space (Shako handing games with 8 units a side of 100 per side equally).

Your comments on your own blog are astute and well put. There are scales, both ground and figure that can be applied. I developed one for scenario based play. Others I correspond with have their own. The problem as you state it, is the author has made the rules abstract for tournament or pick up play, which is not in most ways matching historical orders of battle, historical objectives, historical logistics, which was the author's intent as I understand it, to speed fast play on some movement/combat mechanics. I played a lot of Empire (variants) in the 80s, and liked the level of detail but did not like the playability to get a game done in a decent timeframe. My personal demographics (working, kids, limited set up and take down time and table space) changed as my personal life changed. This made rules such as Shako very attractive for finishing a battle in a decent timeframe. If I was to promote Shako variants it is playability of small, medium and large battles in reasonable timeframes. The sacrifice though is the abstraction of scales, movement, combat while continuing to try and simulate the interaction of artillery, cavalry and infantry for combined arms, a key factor (for me) when playing this period.

Many rules are too abstract for my liking, despite fast play, and artillery is big factor. Artillery can dominate this game too easily without the penalties related to artillery movement and the space required for batteries, limbers, ammunition, resupply etc. However, in fairness to Arty (and Dave/Chris) this is to focus on fast play I would assume.

Town sectors have problems too.

The concept of ADCs is a good one but poorly executed. Some thoughts, such as capturing an ADC adds no value to the game or any result. I.e. without flogging it some ideas were "neat" but not properly thought out on how they impact the flow of the game, ditto for formation commanders not being injured during actions and how this impacts command structure, even temporarily.

Initiative and momentum – well you did comment on such. The initiative goes to the side that is considered the aggressor but this is not clear in the rules. I.e. if both sides have formations that have a 6 and both formations are on attack orders, there is another level of tie break that the side that is the aggressor goes first in a tie. I agree, combat momentum is something that is not included, whether it should be or not I am not sure. It comes down to balance (like Empire) – too much realism sacrifices quick play. The author likely considered the value of such but did not include the concept fearing the speed of play is compromised. I am speculating so don't quote me on this. It comes down to "what is important to the players" – scale, quick play versus realism, combined arms tactics or grand tactical or strategic.

My biggest peeve with the rules, with most rules and scenario design is that in order to have quick play, armies are almost setting up inside maximum artillery range. There really is no exploitation of a hole in a position by a reserve unless the reserve has been ordered to move through a perceived gap turns before the gap appears (or not). The amount of time it takes for order changes (a great idea) is too long for a system such as Shako where unit and formation breakage is bloody compared to many systems. Arty's efforts to design a system that is bloody, not real casualties but loss of unit/formation effectiveness due to abstract casualties impacting the will to fight means formations and units break at a steady rate, a numbers game on attrition in some cases. This is okay as a rule design concept but does not leave room for the grand sweep on or off table of timely reserves. I.e. each concept is there and thought of but they do not work well together.

In summary, and I could flog these rules both ways for hours, I like it because of fast play, battalion level combined arms as I paint battalion level units and love combined arms (force to square, pound with guns, charge etc), love the concept of variable initiative between formations on both sides based on both die roll, initiatives, orders. I like that the rules support small and large battles with reasonable time to complete a battle, and support concepts of tournament play (done in Italy by friends at L'Aquile) as well as pick up games. I do not like abstraction, artillery, inability to react to gaps and activate reserves or change of orders from one area to exploit in a reasonable time, the bloodiness of the unit loss.

It is a great set of rules but it is not perfect nor would I consider it better than all others.

We each pick the poisons we can tolerate when looking for our own Grail.



Madmac6419 Nov 2016 3:26 p.m. PST

Michael…..thank you for your input and eloquence……very well stated and excellent reading.

Desert Fox20 Nov 2016 9:52 a.m. PST

Shako "feels" Napoleonic to me. It is the only Napoleonic ruleset I can play after a long time away from it without having to re-read the rulebook several times. Shako makes sence to me and I feel like I am playing Napoleonics.

my 2 cents worth.

wrgmr123 Nov 2016 12:26 a.m. PST

I've also been playing Shako and Shako 2 for many years. I can say that I'm lucky enough to have Chris Leach in our group. You can find my name in the list of play testers of Shako 2.
Our group has played many games, some small others medium sized, others very large, such as Wagram, Borodino and Ligny. Our group with help from the North Shore Gamers put on Ligny and Waterloo at Enfilade this year.

I consider Michael part of our group, even though he lives in central Canada where we are on the west coast and I respect his opinions greatly. He has very kindly supplied many Shako scenarios to us, for which we are extremely grateful.

I agree with Michael in that Shako is abstracted in many ways, movement, artillery effectiveness, casualties, musketry boundaries and town fighting. However these abstractions are in my opinion necessary as trying to re-create a Napoleonic battlefield in miniature is difficult. Really any battlefield, as we all have this helicopter view.

We can play a game with up to 6 or 7 divisions a side and have it concluded in 3 hours, with a clear outcome.
Wagram was played in 8 hours on a 36' table with just under 7000 figures. Again with a clear outcome.
There are lots of scenarios available, thanks to Michael and Chris.
The look of the game is spectacular.
It feels like a Napoleonic game, rock paper scissors.
Things don't always go as planned, the dice luck factor.
ADC's can get killed on their ride with orders, this has happened many times, causing delays.

The system of MR needs to be explained that modifications can be made. IE: Prussian Landwher in 1813-14 are MR3, they can be modified to a MR4 for melee, but still are removed after 3 casualties.
Musketry is straight ahead, angled fire not allowed.
Guards are virtually impossible to kill off due to their high MR of 6, nor stay staggered due to needing anything but a 6 to remove.
Regiments of Cuirassiers run around like Panzers destroying everything in their path. We've seen this in a number of games.
Divisions in attack that are threatened by cavalry and want to form square, the whole division must form square not just the units threatened.
Battles such as Plancenoit where Landwher battalions kicked Young Guard out of towns are virtually impossible to re-create. YG MR5 +1 for town = 6. Landwehr MR3. If the Landwher do get into melee they must roll high a 5 or 6, the YG must roll a 1 or 2. Not impossible but very unlikely.

This is more a scenario dislike: Any division, no matter how many units are in it count as 1 point towards victory conditions. In a scenario I wrote there are various points for divisions worth: 1 pt for 2 to 3 batt/reg; 2 pts for 4 to 8 batt/reg; 3 pts for 9 to 12 and up batt/reg.
Many scenarios have small cavalry divisions 2 to 3 regiments that gamers will not commit simply because they are easily lost and there goes a victory point.

In our large games, Chris created a strategic movement grid for off table movement, 3 squares deep. Thus divisions could move laterally and move on table at different locations.

Just my 2 cents.

Madmac6423 Nov 2016 12:18 p.m. PST

Thanks Thomas…….excellent points……thank you for commenting.

Madmac6423 Nov 2016 12:20 p.m. PST

Desert Fox…….in my humble opinion, the way a game "feels" when simulating a certain period is probably my number one measure. I like to look back on a game and visualize it playing out. If Shako 2 does that…..that's all you need.

sausagesca24 Nov 2016 11:17 p.m. PST

Thanks for posting the review. Shako 2 is not perfect; even I disagreed with the other chefs in the kitchen about certain rules. But it does do things that few games manage. Most importantly it allows huge games to be played at the battalion level. Does this mean some compromises? Yes, of course. But I would rather that than play with brigades, especially brigades of single stands. Other might find that OK and I have purchased rules that use that approach and they seem very well thought out games. But not my cup of tea.

So again, thanks for the review. I have found the series interesting.

1815Guy11 Nov 2018 1:12 p.m. PST

I keep coming back to these rules, mainly as they are the de facto Naps rules used at my club. I like quite a few things about them, but I do regularly fiddle about with them to try and get rid of some of the irritating ambivalence and gaps in the rules writing. For example, can you form Square in your own Player Phase – thus not as an emergency response?

And how about infantry in line being penalised when receiving a charge from close order battle cavalry? I've always assumed that infantry get a noticeable factor disadvantage in melee in such circumstances,…. but the rules don't actually say that. Yes, really. Check it out in the text.

Infantry have the best odds of winning the engagement by receiving cavalry in line formation and trying to stand and shoot. Ouch!

So rather than re-invent the wheel, is there a commonly agreed set of consolidated errata/mods for Shako II?

I have seen the "Advanced Shako" mods, but imho these are really only a start, and I am sure that other versions must also certainly exist.

Any suggestions would be welcomed. Thanks.

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