Sunday, 25 March 2012

Playtest of General de Brigade

First published in 1998, General de Brigade (GdB) remain a popular set of rules for brigade-level games. Several of our wargaming friends and colleagues use them, so we were keen to try them in the expectation that they might become our standard set for smaller-scale battles; or at the very least provide some useful concepts and rules to incorporate into our developing Shako-ANF rules. For our test of the rules we played a game based on the Battle of Nehrung (see report) using the second edition, published in 1999.

The mechanics of GdB were immediately familiar to us since the rules clearly have been derived from the Quarrie and WRG sets of the 1970s. Anyone who has played such rules will be familiar with a turn sequence that includes: writing of orders for each brigade, declaration of charges, movement of chargers half-way to their objective, defensive fire, testing for determination to charge and willingness to stand, closing to mêlée, all other movement, all other firing, resolution of mêlées and morale consequences of firing and combat. This familiarity meant that the rules were easy to grasp. After only a few turns each of us was comfortably working through the tables and able to take the lead in conducting a game turn.  
Despite this general familiarity with older sets of rules, GdB has numerous advances over them, reflecting developments in wargaming since the popularisation of the hobby some forty-odd years ago. For example, casualties are taken simply as whole figures or half figures, tables are much simpler than the rules of old, the continuing effectiveness of a brigade is taken into account (via morale test) and command and control is structured and limits the players’ ability to utilise the “all-seeing eye”. The inclusion of risks to generals, initiated by a double-six, adds colour and rare, random but important impacts on command and control to further challenge the player. Unfortunately these positives were spoiled by a number of aspects of the rules that we found frustrating, tedious or erroneous.
The first frustration was minor and quite surprising. The quick reference sheet, which was clear and easy to use, did not include the turn sequence. This necessitated constant referral to the rule book. Fortunately, this appears to have been rectified in the ‘deluxe’ edition that was published in 2010.
Another aspect, and one that impacted negatively on playability, was the large number of tests required to determine the result of each combat, viz. morale test to charge, morale test to receive charge and the mêlée itself. These tests, with several modifiers to check each time, slowed the rate of play to the point of becoming tedious. Naturally this problem would be reduced by greater familiarity with the rules, but a more elegant system would improve playability substantially.
More problematic was that, despite the relatively long list of factors for each test, some obvious and important ones were missing. While the presence of nearby friendly units in retreat or rout is taken into account, the battlefield situation of a unit, such as supporting units and security of flanks, is not. In addition the ‘halt’ and ‘falter’ results, which are common for a ‘low level’ failure of morale, rather than being a temporary state before a unit either regains resolution and attacks, or retires away from the enemy, instead lead to units being stuck in place, unable to move forward and blocking supporting troops. This does not seem to reflect the ‘ebb and flow’ that was common on a Napoleonic battlefield where troops would advance, engage in firefight and either attempt to close with the bayonet or retire (or even retreat or rout) if their resolution failed.
Lastly, we found that the weighting in the tests was too far towards the random factor. In each test two six-sided dice are used, while other factors range from -4 to +5. One effect of this was that, while there was a slow loss of combat effectiveness through the accumulation of casualties, units needed to lose well over 30% casualties and often over 50% before they failed morale. This produces non-historic results since, in most Napoleonic battles units lost fewer than 30% casualties and only in a few rare cases did they suffer anything like half of their strength as casualties.
All in all we found GdB to be a fairly workable set of rules. They are easy to learn and relatively easy to use. We completed an enjoyable game which played logically and largely historically. Our conclusion was the same as most other reviewers (and players) of GdB: they are ideal for people who wish to play a small-scale game with large scale units in a relatively short period of time (3–5 hours). However, they are ill-suited to larger scale games—and indeed are not intended for such. For us though, even a brigade-scale game became tedious due to the large number of tests and factors in each test and the problems discussed above.

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