Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Polemos Ruse de Guerre: First Impressions

Having played a couple of full games (here and here) and played through a couple of specific bits of the rules, I think that I am in a position to at least give a few initial thoughts on how Polemos: Ruse de Guerre plays.  It is the newest rules in the Polemos "family" of rulesets, but it is a bit different from the others in that series that I am familiar with - perhaps unsurprising since the author, Glenn Pearce, is writing his first Polemos set.

Since it is specifically concerned with the North American wars of the latter half of the C18 and beginning of the C19 (mainly the F&IW, the AWI/American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812), the rules mainly focus on the infantry battle, supported with guns: cavalry is treated quite generically, which seems fair enough for the theatre - there is no division into "light cavalry" and "dragoons" and so on.

A base of infantry can represent anything from a small company to a large battalion.  A base of artillery might represent anything from a single gun to a full battery.  Note that weapon ranges and movement distances are not changed despite the changes in command level.

Like the other Polemos rules, the central command mechanic is the use of "Tempo Points" - broadly speaking, they are roughly equivalent to PIPs in the DBx system, in which a commander uses "tempo points" to do stuff.  There is a bidding process, by which players "bid" tempo points to gain the tempo, so they can do less stuff, but do it faster (but which also enables them to do slightly more stuff than their more stolid opponents).  Ruse de Guerre uses an interesting twist on this though, in which the number of tempo points is quite randomly generated for both sides: each side rolls a die, and the winner gets to choose whether to use the higher or lower roll as the addition to the tempo point pool.  This has important but unexpected effects on the game, more of which later!

Polemos: Ruse de Guerre uses d10s rather than D6s, unlike the other rules in the Polemos stable and also in the DBx family.  This creates more uncertainty in outcomes, as might be expected.

Unusually, the firing phase is at the beginning of the turn: all firing is simultaneous, and all units that wish to fire can do so.  The tempo point command mechanism is only done after all firing.  This is followed by movement, then close combat, then morale (formation and army cohesion and rallying of units).

The combat system is broadly similar to other Polemos games, but a little simpler.  There are fewer factors and so it is easy to remember them without referring to the rulebook.  Like the other Polemos games, absolute attrition is not represented but temporary disorder from combat - units become "shaken", which makes them less effective in combat and easier to destroy, unless they are rallied.  Unlike other Polemos rules, there is only one level of "shaken" and no limit on the amount of suhc disorder a unit can receive in a single turn.  This makes units more vulnerable to the fire of the opposition.  It is also simpler to administer.  The actual mechanism is very simple, roll a D10, modify by a few factors, check how much damage is done, carry out the result.  Mechanically, the close combat system works exactly the same.

The  movement system is also broadly similar to that in other Polemos games, particularly the Napoleonic rules, but made simpler.  The movement rates are more generous compared to other Polemos games and the definitions of what is and what is not allowed are clearer - again, I feel this to be an organic evolution of the ideas in Polemos Napoleonics but with more clarity as a result of long experience.  The interaction of troops with the terrain is mechanically simpler (there are only delays and combat effects, whereas some of the other Polemos sets also use the shaken mechanic for some terrain types too) and well explained. There are none of the formations beloved of (some) Napoleonic gamers, with these being considered to be in the main the business of the unit commanders rather than the army commander.  Personally, I wholeheartedly approve of this, but I know that some gamers really hate not to being able to choose column, line, square or skirmish for their troops themselves.  Regardless of one's feelings on this though, it is probably less important for the North American wars compared to those in Europe, because of the relative unimportance and weakness of the mounted arm.

The rest of the book consists of some guidance on army creation and eight scenarios, covering the span of the rule set from the FIW to the War of 1812.  I have only played the first one scenario, but they all look comprehensive with a nice map to accompany them.

So, a fairly typical Polemos set, but probably the most user-friendly mechanically, since many of the elements which increased complexity in other rulesets in the family has been reduced or omitted.  they give a good fun game, and do not take very long to play: these rules feel much the most streamlined of the Polemos family.  Most armies can be recreated using a relatively small number of bases, but the variable scale allows one to do what one will in this regard.  I do have certain problems with this: a company may have less effect than a battalion but the range of its muskets isn't less.  There is also the objection that where the base is a company, then battalion evolutions are ignored: I leave it to others more knowledgeable to determine how much of a problem with this is, although my sense is that is isn't really that much of an issue in this theatre.  Lots of the fighting seems to have been done by companies, or small groups of companies, as much as by full battalions.  One could use this set for other contemporaneous conflicts, but I think one would need a fuller treatment of cavalry conflict.

One interesting thing about these rules was that there are more ways to shape the tempo in this game, which I was accidentally exposed to in my first two games.  In the first game, the British side won the tempo most often, but also won the roll to decide whether to allow the higher or lower tempo point base from which to bid.  The British side chose high and thus created a "high-tempo environment": commanders could do lots of stuff, rally shaken bases, carry out co-ordinated attacks, and so on.  In the second game, the exact reverse happened: the French generally won the roll to decide whether to use more or fewer tempo points and chose to use fewer: this created a "low-tempo environment" where commanders had to focus on one thing, troops were left un-rallied then destroyed, coordinated attacks and redeployments were made extremely difficult.  Obviously in most games this would balance out to some degree, but it did create a very interesting dynamic, much richer than the simple DBx-style roll for PIPs. As a metaphor, for those interested in baseball, it had something of the difference between a "lively ball / high run" era and a "dead ball / low run" era - more or less the same game, with the same rules, but with very different strategies becoming optimal because of the different conditions.

All-in-all, a very positive first couple of experiences with these rules and I am looking forward to getting them to the table fairly regularly this year.


  1. I will look forward to how your ongoing games either firm up or change your opinion. Two things immediately strike me as areas of interest. firstly going to D10, as some games that use it have results that vary too widely on the one roll. The other is this thing about battalions at the command level not needing to think about various formations, yet it looks like the game can and does operate at the company level. These are not criticisms, just areas of interest for me from a design perspective.

    1. Yes, I will be interested to see how the d10 works out. Instinctively 18-point swings of chance seem big, but we shall see!
      I'll be interested to see how the flexible nature of the base sizes works. Instinctively I am against such things: combat is *not* fractal. Platoons don't fight like companies, which don't fight like battalions, which don't fight like brigades. That said, there is probably a bigger difference between how battalions and brigades fight in general than in how companies and battalions fought *in this specific theatre*. The former has been very common in wargaming, so I am more than happy to give the latter a fair run out. Even the thing about weapon ranges that I mentioned in the blogpost isn't decisive: even today, the effective range of a rifle is considered to be different when it is being fired by an individual and when as part of a section. So maybe the idea that small companies don't shoot as far as full battalions has more merit than may be immediately apparent.