15. 0 Expanded Musket & Saber Standard Rules Designer's Notes



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15.0 Expanded Musket & Saber Standard Rules Designer's Notes
The following is a much expanded version of the summary presented in the Standard Rules.
Musket & Saber is a remake and merger of the old Napoleon at War and Blue & Gray series, both of which were stepchildren of the original Napoleon at Waterloo game. Much of this new game system will be familiar to players of the old, but there have been both significant changes and significant additions. What follows are case-by-case explanations of the design intent behind the rules.
1.1 The Musket & Saber System
M&S originally was planned as two separate efforts, one for the Napoleonic era, the other for the American Civil War. However, with a few minor exceptions in the CRT and a difference in artillery range, the original series were identical. To quote from the original B&G Designer's Notes:
...Blue & Gray ... started with the premise that Civil War battles were similar in scale and intensity to Napoleonic battles ...[so]... we could lift intact ... the Napoleon at Waterloo game system....Yet ... Civil War battles did differ from Napoleonic battles ... [as] a consequence of the general usage of the [rifled musket] ... This weapon ...[reduced] ... the traditional massed cavalry charge ... to a battlefield relic ...[and] ... reduce[d] the effectiveness of artillery as an offensive weapon...
The first premise, concerning scale and intensity, is broadly correct. Battles in both eras tended to be one- or two-day affrays fought over battlefields rarely more than a half-dozen miles across. Most of the weapons, both shoulder arms and cannon, were single-shot muzzle loaders. Massed formations could be deployed without prohibitive losses, and horsed cavalry armed only with cold steel could attack infantry in the open field. Only direct fire against visible targets was effective. Communications were limited to the speed of a man on horseback.
The second B&G premise, on the effect of the rifled musket, is less accurate. It is true that horsed cavalry receded somewhat in value by mid-century, but not as much as is usually supposed (there were other, purely American reasons at play in the ACW). Artillery, on the other hand, played a demonstrably important role -- on both attack and defense -- not only in the Civil War, but in the two Prussian wars after 1865.
In short, the similarities between the eras far outweigh the differences, so the similarity of the two original series in scale and mechanics was appropriate. M&S quickly became a single system covering not only the battles of Napoleon & Grant, but those of the wars before, after, and in between: in other words, a true 19th-century system.
So why a remake? The original series still have a lot going for them: the right scale, quick set up, and a simple set of rules that make the battles accessible. On the other hand, the same simplicity gives us virtually undifferentiated units: artillery is nothing more than long-ranged infantry, while cavalry is faster, weaker infantry in the Napoleonic games and just plain infantry in the Civil War games. For those desiring a more detailed look at the same subject matter, a plethora of other games and systems have been published in the past decades. But there remains a need for a more detailed game retaining the key design elements of the original series: the move-fight sequence, single-phase combat resolution, a simple set of standard rules (8 pages versus approximately 6 for the originals, allowing for different font sizes), and a diminutive game size allowing set up, play, and repackaging in 2 hours or less.
The key to the new system was fixing the crucial flaw in the originals: the combat system, the heart of any wargame. The original system used what was then standard wargame mechanics: indefatigable single-step units deriving their combat strength primarily from size, an odds-based combat results table yielding mostly one-hex retreats (followed by one-hex advances), with unit elimination generally occurring only at extreme odds. The simplest fix would be to utilize reverse-side printing (in fairness, not an economically viable option for the original designers) to enable a greater variety and articulation of combat results and allowing individual units to weaken. That change alone would have justified a remake, but it would not have solved a much bigger problem.
Musket era warfare was emphatically linear. Battles consisted of collisions between solid lines of musket-armed men and/or sword-armed cavalry, lasting until one side weakened and gave way. Given the finite number of men who could be packed into a given length of line, most of these collisions were between relatively even numbers. Nevertheless, they could be quite bloody, an outcome not produced by the retreat-advance dominated CRT.
Most losses in the original games are caused by surrounding an enemy unit with zones of control, then forcing it to retreat. While this does reward superior positioning and timing of attacks -- which means a good gamer can use the system to achieve success -- it does not present an accurate view of the mechanics of battle. Gamers are forced to adopt tactics both counterintuitive and ahistorical.
For the defender, a solid line often is a liability since it opens up the possibility of advances into adjacent hexes. A properly timed set of attacks would see advances into hexes on either side of a given defender, who then would be surrounded by ZOCs and therefore be eliminated if forced to retreat. A safer, if somewhat weaker position can be created by occupying every other hex along a line (the "island" defense). While the attacker can combine more units against a single defender, the most that will be suffered (except at high odds) is a relatively benign one hex retreat. (This strongpoint-and-gap tactic is more egregious in Blue & Gray, which allows stacking and therefore yields a stack of two units on every other hex.) A rational player will adopt this tactic -- which would horrify his historical counterpart -- except under unusual circumstances.
There are two corollary effects of this tactic. First, the empty hexes between units are invulnerable, since they cannot be attacked themselves. Even if a defender is forced to retreat, the attacker cannot advance into the vacant hex. Secondly, there is no need or utility in placing additional units behind a line to back it up, since they have no ability to assist a retreating unit. Historically, commanders were exceedingly careful to have supports behind a line for exactly this purpose. The erstwhile support units now become available to extend the defender's line, generally much farther than occurred historically.
On the other side of the die, the attacker has two choices. One is to launch attacks all along the line. Rather than causing casualties, unlikely given the CRT, the attacker can hope only to gradually push back the defender. (Once again, B&G suffers more in this regard if the misunderstood and oft-misused Attack Effectiveness -rule is used, as the attacker risks enervating his army through Attacker Retreat results; see the discussion at 11.1 below.) Eventually the defender runs out of room, or must fight for a particular point, and the lines thicken, presenting opportunities for surround-and-destroy combats.
The second, and more usual, attack option is to concentrate as much firepower as possible against a single hex to achieve the high odds necessary to cause unit elimination. This requires concentrations of units (especially artillery) far beyond the coordinating capacity of the command-control of the period. From the point of view of the larger battle, it means most turns will see just a small number of highly concentrated actions rather than a more general engagement.
The above, combined with locking ZOCs, make it relatively easy to block or slow a direct attack. Where historical commanders always feared a broken line, and thickened their armies to prevent it, players of NAW and B&G can hold most lines thinly, stretching their armies and concentrating on just one or two points. Few reserves are needed. Unless one player has much stronger individual units, combats will be restricted to mid-range odds. The resulting game looks more like a rugby scrum than a battle, the opponents slowly pushing back and forth, hoping for a lucky roll or trying to get one extra hex for leverage.
Depending on the game, the duration of the scrum will vary. In most, usually by design (see below), one player eventually accumulates a decided advantage in sheer combat power, number of units, position, and/or length of front. At that point, the momentum of the battle will increase rapidly, like a snowball rolling downhill. The player with the advantage will start destroying units, even just one or two per turn, which accelerates the snowball. This mimics history in the sense that armies collapsed quickly when they did collapse, but for entirely different reasons (the weakening of individual units, loss of morale, etc.).
This essential flaw in the system meant a battle could make a good game only within certain parameters. Straight-up contests between evenly matched armies do not work well since neither side ever really is able to achieve the positional or numerical superiority needed to start the snowball rolling; in those, the scrum would go on and on. Small battles generally are more difficult to portray because the paucity of counters exacerbates the impact of even a small numerical advantage (Quatre Bras in Napoleon's Last Battles is an exception). As a result, the battles portrayed in the series fell into one of three basic categories.
First are set-piece battles. Where the armies are relatively evenly-matched (Austerlitz, Borodino, Ligny, Wagram), it was necessary to begin the game at a point where the armies have been deployed in a disequilibrium, even on only part of the map (usually a crucial part). This creates a mismatch that must be fed in by both players. Where the armies were mismatched, it was necessary to impose substantial movement (i.e. command-control) restrictions on one (Antietam, Chattanooga, Fredericksburg, Hooker vs. Lee, Shiloh, Wilderness).
Second are meeting engagements, where both armies dribble onto the map (Cemetery Hill, Chickamauga , Jena, Marengo, Quatre-Bras). In these, the ebb and flow of battle is caused by succeeding waves of reinforcements, each side gaining the upper hand only to lose it later.
Third are the "rescue" battles, often the most exciting form (Waterloo). In these, a mismatch gradually is redressed by reinforcements as long as the disadvantaged side does not suffer too much damage in the early going.
The various forms can be combined in a single game; for example, Antietam is a (restricted) set piece battle with a small but critical rescuing force. These combinations can be reinforced by ahistorical set up (Chickamauga, Shiloh), manipulated time scale (Cemetery Hill), or a special rule (the atrocious Union "panic" rule in Shiloh). In all cases, the designer was driven to overcome shortcomings in the hex-by-hex outcomes of combat.
Over the years, many modifications and variants have been proposed to address some of these concerns, but they generally amounted to minor additions that did not address the underlying structural problems. It is this task that M&S attempts to do. This has been done, we hope, without adding much complexity. The key points addressed are the weakening of individual units (through losses, disruption, and army morale), the ability to retreat if properly supported, the possibility of catastrophic combat outcomes, and a touch of chaos (Fortunes of War). The scrum has been altered into a more volatile, less controllable mix: defeat can come swiftly, but recovery can be equally swift.
1.2 Game Scale - Hexes

The hex scale of the original (400 meters, approximately 440 yards or a quarter-mile) was acceptable. However, with rigid ZOCs a single unit could occupy a three-quarter mile frontage, one of the reasons the front lines could spread out as far as they did. Decreasing the scale slightly to 352 yards per hex (1/5 mile, 1/3 kilometer) reduces the potential frontage, and allows the presentation of slightly more terrain detail without unduly crimping the battlefields.
1.2 Game Scale - Time

Time scale in the original folios was wildly inconsistent, running anywhere from 45 minutes to four hours per turn, largely due to the need to either allow the combat "snowball" to go far enough or prevent it from going too far. The turns in M&S are fixed at 90-minutes as a reasonable time within which a horse-borne command structure could see enemy activity and issue orders to react to it. The number of turns per day varies slightly with the season. The "extra" turns granted by the Fortunes of War will modify this slightly, but only for a few units.
1.2 Game Scale - Units

The unit scale was one part of the original series to be retained without alteration, the "brigade" being the appropriate unit for a battle game: it was the largest unit that could be seen and controlled by one man on horseback, the essential command & control mechanic of the period, and occupied a frontage equivalent to a single hex.
Using brigades in the Civil War games was easy. As a practical matter, both sides maintained comparable brigade organization and size throughout the war. In general both sides fielded brigades of 3-5 regiments (actually battalions) with a field strength of 1,500-to-2,000 men regardless of army, year, or battle. Early-war brigades generally were a bit larger, late war a bit smaller, but the distinctions are somewhat offset by troop quality. Significant size differentials are handled through the use of the battalion counters, which can represent over- or under-sized units, extra steps, and/or "fresh strength." Overall, with the exception of the largest battles, a standard folio will have one counter (including leaders, markers, etc.) for roughly every thousand men on the battlefield.
The Napoleonic period presented a bit more of a problem as the armies tended to be somewhat larger, so each counter had to represent more men. This issue was solved by taking into account the denser and more rigid Napoleonic formations; more men could be packed into a given space (e.g. a hex). This allows the average men-per-brigade to rise to about 3,000 without altering any other game mechanics. The inclusion of Marengo (one of the smallest of Napoleon's battles) and Leipzig (easily the largest) in the first set of folios stretched the system to its limits. The Marengo units have fewer men on average (barely 1,500 each), handled only in part by making many of them single step. In Leipzig, there was nothing for it but to greatly increase the men-per-counter to about 5,000 (with some going as high as 7,000). This is offset, again only partly, by the increase in map scale.
This is not purely a design trick. Both Civil War and Napoleonic battles rarely covered a front of less than two miles, as a shorter front could be flanked easily even by units moving at marching speed. Smaller armies generally spread out more to cover the necessary frontage, making for a thinner line with fewer reserves (that is, an overall shrinking of the men per yard deployed). For example, the initial deployment at Waterloo consisted of more than 13 men per yard on each side of the front, while at Marengo the main French line along Fontanone Creek was held by only 3.5 men-per-yard, about the same as the Union first line at Shiloh. Since the fighting formations in both periods could utilize only 3-6 men-per-yard, the difference between individual battles and between periods was the depth of reserves behind the line. As a practical matter, Napoleonic units should deteriorate less after a step loss because they possessed the reserves to fill the places of fallen men (see 2.5 below).
At the other extreme, battles rarely expanded beyond a five-mile front as it severely degraded the ability of a single man on horseback to control the battle. Larger armies just got deeper in terms of units held behind the front line as reserves. For example, on the southern face of the Leipzig line on 16 October, Napoleon deployed more than 90,000 men on a 5,000-yard front (18 per yard), just slightly more than the density of Meade's army at Gettysburg. In both cases, the armies had more units than could be deployed on the fronts, but had great depth and therefore could sustain combat on those fronts for extended periods.
[1.2 Game Scale - Units (cont): Just what is a brigade?]
A more important difference between the eras was the inconsistency in the use of the term "brigade." For example, British brigades were comparable to the American (and thin on the ground by European standards); two-to-five battalions with around 2,000 men. Most continental powers used brigades of four -to-six battalions (commonly composed of two multi-battalion regiments). French brigades could field as many as 9 battalions, while the Prussian brigades of 1813-15 commonly had 9 or more. To avoid the need for special rules and/or divergent counter displays, these essential differences between the eras required a rethinking of how units were to be represented by counters: in other words, just what was a "brigade?"
The decision was made to use the term "brigade" in a generic sense, meaning it refers to a number or battalions operating together rather than as a strict hierarchical organization. (Likewise, "battalion" and "squadron" counters portray companies or individuals operating together, rather than a sub-part of a regiment.) Thus, a single hierarchical brigade might have more than one counter (e.g. the Prussians in Leipzig), or several hierarchical brigades might be joined in a single counter (e.g. some of the weakened French and Russian divisions in Leipzig). See 2.4 below for a more detailed description of this rationale and process. In combination with multiple steps and the battalion counters, this decision gives the designer tremendous flexibility in presenting units.
2.1 [Components] Inventory

The design intent is to retain the approximate size of the original folios: 4-pages of exclusive rules, one 17"x22" map, and 100 counters. However, the rigidity of the available components was a huge drawback when portraying large battles; Wagram, Leipzig, and Gettysburg (Cemetery Hill) suffered grievously. In this system, large battles will be presented either as double-sized games (like Leipzig) or as two separate games that can be linked together. On the other hand, smaller battles (Marengo and Shiloh) can use fewer counters and/or smaller maps.
2.2 The Map & Terrain

The only drawback of the maps in the original series was the limited number of terrain types. The worst offender was "Rough" terrain in B&G, which had to serve double duty as hills and actual rough terrain. Woods hexes likewise covered too many variations, with the result that battlefields either were too woody (Shiloh), not woody enough (Marengo), laced with trails to ease movement (Chickamauga), or covered by special rules (Wilderness) depending on the designer's taste. The addition of just a few new types greatly diversifies the ways in which a designer can mold the map to reflect the actual conditions.
2.3 The Counters

The biggest difference between the old and new counters is backprinting, which more than doubles the potential presentation of units. In lieu of either NATO-style symbols (B&G) or silhouettes (NAW),the current unit symbols were adopted to give the games the look of a 19th-century battlefield map. Army colors remain conventional, although standardized to the light-on-dark v. dark-on-light arrangement from B&G (much like team uniforms from televised football games in the black-and-white era).
2.4 Combat Units

As a rule, the more factors on a unit, the greater the unit differentiation obtainable. The original series used either a single value (combat factor in B&G) or two (combat and movement in NAW). In both cases, the combat factor was almost (but not quite) exclusively based on sheer size. The NAW series did vary the movement factors to reflect doctrinal differences, through there was much more to doctrine than simple battlefield speed. Occasionally, unit strengths were manipulated to reflect qualitative differences: the Anglo-Allied & Prussian armies in the Napoleons's Last Battles Quad fit this description, though that appears to be more happy accident than design function (curiously it was coupled with a homogenization of movement allowances).
M&S Combat Factors are a measurement of both firepower (based on the number of men who could occupy the unit frontage rather than the total number of men in the unit) and motivation; unit size is not a factor in firepower, but is built into the step & replacement rules. In essence, combat power is a function of quality, while size is relegated to a unit's endurance in combat.
The separate Morale Rating enables differentiation of combat results when applied to units of varying quality. While the Combat Factor includes morale in the motivational sense, the Morale Rating is morale as "brittleness," determining not so much how well a unit will fight as how it reacts under pressure.
The Movement Allowance includes not only sheer physical ability to cover ground, but also differences in training and doctrine. A separate skirmish rating originally was included, but they tended to be so similar to movement allowances that the rating was dropped in favor of bracketed or unbracketed movement allowances. The separate March Movement rule was created to allow the presentation of clumsy combat units without unduly penalizing their ability to march, where the real-world differences were small (the NAW Austerlitz game had a particular problem in this regard).
[2.4 Combat Units (cont): Army Comparison
Joined with the various unit enhancements and detractions -- leaders, battalions/squadrons, charge factors -- the use of three factors allow a unit's strengths and weaknesses to be manipulated in a variety of ways. This flexibility is enhanced by the ability to use several counters to represent a larger organization, so that doctrinal differences (relatively wide in Napoleonic Europe, as opposed to the virtually identical Civil War opponents) can be built into the counters themselves without having to resort to special rules.
Compare, for example, the Prussian and French armies of the Napoleonic period. In the three examples below, one army is portrayed as a sluggish mass with special units, one as nimble and flexible, and another with disparate units but great staying power. These examples illustrate the ways in which the counters can be used to portray dissimilar organizations, doctrines, and capabilities.
[2.4 Combat Units (cont): Army Comparison -- Prussia 1806
The Prussian army of 1806 had what might be termed the "conventional" organization (and doctrine) for all European armies in the late 18th century. The standard unit was the regiment of roughly 1,600 men, divided into two battalions. The battalion had nine companies, eight of Musketeers, one of Grenadiers. The two Grenadier companies were detached in time of war and merged with the grenadiers of another regiment to form a grenadier battalion. These elite battalions were used to spearhead assaults and form a last-ditch reserve. There also were 24 battalions of Fusiliers providing "light" infantry.
Two regiments generally made up a brigade, occasionally augmented by a fusilier and/or grenadier battalion. More often, the latter units were formed into separate brigades to serve as advance guards or reserves. Two or more brigades formed a division, the largest permanent organization in the field (though not existing as such during peacetime). Tactics were strictly linear, focused on rapid musket fire followed by bayonet and/or cavalry charges.
In game terms, the 1806 Prussian army is best represented by a mass of brigade counters representing the line infantry. These units would be strong (good firepower) but slow (representing the staid drill), with moderate morale and no skirmishing ability. Battalions (occasionally brigades) of grenadiers and fusiliers would be present to act as force enhancers and to provide a skirmishing ability.
[2.4 Combat Units (cont): Army Comparison -- the French under Napoleon
The French system was completely different. A French division consisted of 2 or more regiments; 4 was “standard,” if such a thing could be said to exist, which it didn’t because Napoleon liked to tailor his units to the abilities of his generals. Each regiment, a purely administrative organization, could have from 1 to 6 battalions, usually two or three, officially numbering 900 men, often far fewer. The division also normally had two batteries of artillery, one foot and one horse.
Each division had two or three brigade commanders. Nominally, each controlled one or two regiments, but this seems to be something historians have imposed on the French order of battle rather than actual practice. More likely, each brigadier would form a "column" (a group of battalions, not the dense physical formation) out of whatever battalions were available (though as a practical matter this most likely would be a complete regiment when possible). For example, at Quatre Bras in 1815, there were three French divisions, each composed of two “brigades” of two regiments. One division had 12 battalions, one had 10, and one had 8 or 9 (depending on the source). The first division went forward in 4 columns (probably regimental), the second in 2, and the third in 3. In short, the organization was highly flexible and the commanders capable of utilizing it differently in different circumstances.
In combat, the divisional artillery (reinforced or not by corps and army assets) would form a base of fire for the division, although the horse battery frequently was used to reinforce an assault unit. The individual columns would maneuver rapidly, covered by a cloud of skirmishers, seeking weak points in the enemy line. Aggressiveness was prized, so the first impulse in every case was to attack. A repulse was not considered a defeat, just more data about where the enemy line could be breached.
For game purposes, a French division ideally would be composed of two or three brigade counters -- each fast moving and with full skirmish capability -- and an artillery unit. In the Marengo game, the infantry is properly presented, but the French simply did not have enough artillery to warrant more than a weak counter for each division. In the Leipzig game, counter limitations forced the merger of the artillery with one brigade to form the divisional "base," while the other represents the "maneuver" element of the division.
[2.4 Combat Units (cont): Army Comparison -- Prussia 1813
Yet another different organization is displayed by the 1813 version of the Prussian army, recovered and reorganized after the disasters of 1806. A regiment now had three 800-man battalions, two of them designated Musketeers, the third Fusiliers; in essence, each old regiment had had a battalion of fusiliers added to it to give it an organic skirmishing capability. Musketeers and Fusiliers may be likened to line and light troops respectively, although there was less actual distinction than in other armies. In general, the Fusiliers were the better troops of each regiment. As before, on company in each battalion was called grenadiers, who may or may not have been collected into an assault battalion for the brigade; they no longer were detached as a matter of doctrine.
A brigade was to be formed of three regiments of three battalion, though in 1813 many formations were incomplete (these deficiencies would be remedied by 1815). The number of battalions per brigade could vary from 6 to 10 (the latter assuming a separate grenadier battalion was formed). The brigade nominally had a cavalry regiment and artillery battery attached, but both these were subject to the orders of corps chiefs and may be dispensed with for the moment.
The new organization had been designed to implement a new combat doctrine emphasizing a continuous battle at a single point (later to be called the Schwerpunkt). Like the French organization, the regiments were purely administrative: for combat, all 9 battalions were subject to a Kampftruppenkommandeur who reported to the brigade commander.
The first line of the brigade would be formed by two or all three Fusilier battalions. These would send forward skirmishers (possibly joined by all or part of the corps Jäger (rifle) battalion) until the battle was joined, when the battalions would reunite to form a firing line. This line gradually would be fed and lengthened by most of the Musketeer battalions, which waited behind the firing line, and by the brigade and/or corps batteries. The idea was to wear down the opponent, gradually gaining and sustaining fire superiority over the contested point.
The brigade commander would determine when and where a final assault was to be made to break the opposition. This attack would be made by whatever reserve was at hand. In theory, this would consist of the final Fusilier and/or Musketeer battalions, plus the Grenadier battalion if one had been formed. This reserve also gave the brigade commander a rapid reaction force in case of surprise, or a fall back force in case of disaster at the front. The combat system was quite modern and would last through 1914, though the Prussians of 1813 simply were not good enough (yet) to make it work properly.
In game terms, this Prussian brigade (actually a division in any other army) would be represented by a Fusilier counter with strong combat and skirmish strengths and one or more Musketeer counters with varying strength (many of the musketeers were inexperienced and/or untrained Landwehr, the Prussian militia). These weaker counters could be used as independent units, or stacked with the Fusiliers to absorb losses since units of the same formation may do so. Other counters might include artillery and battalions of Grenadiers, though more likely these would be assets of a higher organization. (The Prussian counters in Leipzig are pale copies of this theoretical structure, both because of counter limitations and because the new organization was incomplete.)
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