Sunday, April 8, 2012

Black Powder Command Imbalance



I have decided to gve the Black Powder rules a try for my American Civil War minis. If I don't like them, I can use the basing system have for Regimental Fire and Fury. But there are many things I like about Black Powder, so right now it is the system to beat.

1) The number of bases required (4 per BP unit, lots more for F&F) means I can fight on a larger scale.

2) I like the idea of keeping the entire unit on the board until it breaks. It has been fun painting up casualty and shaken markers. I've never had to paint blood before!

3) BP is a very simple system that is easy to learn and teach. Given my gaming conditions these days, that's a big plus. No playtest yet, but I suspect a big battle can be played to completion in an evening.

Both sets of rules make a unit's ability to follow orders a factor of the unit's quality and of its leadership. To me, that is the key element to ACW command, and I could do worse than either BP or F&F in terms of "feel." The F&F system is elegant, while the BP system allows for command blunders and potential heroics among even the worst units. Given my fondness for wild and random events on the battlefield, I gave the edge to BP. However, as one reviewer on Boardgamegeek.com pointed out, the command and control system in BP can lead to some skewed results, with the chances for a unit following three commands being greater than their chances for a less successful move. The reviewer suggested increasing the odds for a "two order" move. I broke the mumbers for each system down as follows:


As you can see, the reviewer had a point. A Stonewall Jackson would urge his troops to 3 order moves most of the time. But even a decent commander (Quality 8) would receive significantly more 3 order moves than 2 order ones. Extending the range of 2 order moves changes the distribution for the average generals so that 1 order moves are most common and 3 order moves are relatively rare. The value of the truly excellent generals, routinely able to coax something extra out of their troops, goes up substantially.

I guess it boils down to a question that some simulation gamers face all the time: how much randomness are you willing to tolerate in your games? I'll try the BP rules as written, but if I find myself in awe at how the McClellan-led militias zip around the battlefield apace with Jackson's Foot Cavalry, I'll make the alternate system a house rule.
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