Saturday, 28 April 2012

Shako II and Shako ANF

Having tried, and largely rejected, several sets of rules over the past two years we have now settled on Shako as our preferred, default set—well, sort of!
We will still read and play-test other sets of rules, although we are being increasingly selective about which ones, particularly when it comes to the play-testing. Our aim in doing this has moved from the endless quest for the 'ultimate' set of Napoleonic rules, to seeing if there are any ideas or aspects that we'd like to incorporate into our preferred set; Shako ANF.
We consider the original Shako rules by Arty Conliffe, first published in 1995, to have been a major leap forward in rules for large-scale Napoleonic wargames. We have often mused about why we like Shako so and I have made a list of ten reasons (see text box). In short, Shako was, and remains, an excellent set of rules that are clearly and precisely written and use an elegant system built principally around a single morale rating for each unit. Shako captures the key elements of a Napoleonic battle viz. limitations of command and control, differing troop quality and troop types, characteristics and training of the troops of different nations, strengths and weaknesses of each combat arm, the importance of historical formations and higher order command structure, while keeping the rules relatively short and eminently playable. With Shako ANF we have taken the original Shako rules and added the ‘best bits’ of Shako II (in our opinion) and some of our own rules and edits.

Ten reasons why we like the Shako rules (JF’s list, not in any order).
  1. They work with large battles, which are the ones that I like to do most, but are also okay for smaller ones (down to roughly division level).
  2. They are not stylised, but are not trying to be a detailed simulation either, i.e. they have the playability-accuracy trade-off about right.
  3. They are logical and have adapted some of the 'best bits' of other systems that I know of AND have done it better than anything else we have seen.
  4. They are well written, easy to navigate and have been able to answer nearly everything that we have asked--and when they have not we have often ended up agreeing with Shako (most of the time!), or edited them, or we have written our own rule.
  5. They are 'elegant'. The concept of the "one number" (MR) to determine everything is simply brilliant.
  6. They use troop quality and national characteristics at about the right level. At first I thought this was too little and was thinking of expanding the quality scale to a 12-point one (see post of 30th June 2011 on this blog), but I have rapidly come to agree with Arty's approach on that too.
  7. The influence of quality and luck also seems about right--AND it works (again a change from my original assessment). They are given equal magnitude overall, but are slightly weighted towards quality for average or better troops.
  8. The influence of officer quality is underdone, which is far better than most rules that try to have too big an influence of this on everything from orders to morale to combat to rallying.
  9. We have been able to play games of 12 historical battles, some of them twice, and have achieved directly historical and/or logical and believable results every time.
  10. The games are fun, enjoyable and challenging. One is not having to "fight" with the rules, but can focus on the game, tactics and banter!

Reviews of Shako II, which was published in 2008, suggested that they were largely an aesthetic re‑print that incorporated a few minor clarifications and additions. Sadly, this reflects the oft-encountered problem of reviews of wargmes rules by people who have merely read them, but not in detail and have not play-tested them. Our detailed reading and play-testing of the rules showed that there were many more changes between Shako II and Shako than most of the reviewers would have had us to believe. These include changes to the order in which divisions are selected for action, changes in the transmission of orders, changes to the formation of hasty squares (plus the addition of a ‘hasty line’), the addition of artillery ‘pull-back’ and fire from rifles, the addition of rules for tied mêlées and changes to the rules for rallying units and testing for divisional morale. In all we found twenty-seven aspects that had been changed, added or re-written (see table below).

Table: Changes made in Shako II compared to Shako
Aspect changed
Relevant section & pages
Heavy batteries basing & MR
1.4 p 2; 2.3 p 9
Addition of sappers & engineers
2.0 p 7; 13.5.6 p 91
Skirmisher stands 1 kill only
2.3 p 9; 6.3 p 15
Sequence of play: addition of artillery evade
change to initiative determination
8.5.1 p 35
3.0 p11
Response of divisions on attack to cavalry threat to flank
7.4.3a p 21 (point 3)
Restrictions on attacker manoeuvre prior to contact
7.4.3a p 22 (point 4)
Requirement of cavalry on defend orders to charge if in contact
7.5.1 p 25
Specification of transition from Attack to Defend and from Defend to Attack
7.6 pp 25–26
Transmission of orders; different numbers of ADCs
7.9.1 pp 28–29
Fate of ADCs
7.9.2 p 29
Formation of infantry that fail to form hasty square, but win mêlée and charged again
8.2 p 32 (bottom of page)
More detail on interpenetrations
8.10 p 40
Hasty line formation
8.11.1 p 41
Changes to terrain effects
8.12 p 42
More detail on flank/rear support
8.14 pp 43–47
Artillery ball shot “pullback” stick
9.4.1 pp 51–52
Musketry fire addition of rifles and point blank volley
p 60; p 64
Units defending towns do not suffer failed volley
p 70
Fall backs, breaks & impact on friends moved through
11.4.1 pp 72–74
Mêlée ties
p 74
Changes to divisional morale with addition demoralised and increased chances of negative result
12.0 pp 81–83
Failure to rally
12.1.1 p 81
Addition of rules for plateaus
p 87
Clarification that cossacks use disordered MR in woods
p 87
More detail and/or clarification regarding terrain (e.g. burning town sector, town sector mêlée, streams and combat, field fortification
13.5 pp 88–94
Special rules such as Austrian division mass, French line inf. as skirmishers, French allies using formation change and move.
15.0 pp 95–98
More optional rules; e.g. ammo and optional divisional command rules
16.0 pp 99–100

Several of these changes were excellent and add greatly to the rules, but a large number of them detracted from the original Shako rules. We particularly liked the changes to the order in which divisions are selected for action, changes in the transmission of orders, the addition of artillery ‘pull-back’, fire from rifles, and the revision of rules for tied mêlées. Conversely Shako II completely stuffed-up changes to the formation of hasty squares, and the addition of a ‘hasty line’ is not something that we have adopted (instead opting to allow squares to move, albeit at a very slow rate). The rules for rallying units and testing for divisional morale were also changed for the worse and the rules for breakthrough were made confusing and contradictory.
We have tried to address this in Shako ANF by using Shako as the starting point and only adding the aspects of Shako II that we consider are an improvement. In addition we have added our own ‘superior’ (in our humble opinion) versions of the rules for hasty square and divisional morale, added detailed rules for Cossacks in mélêe and clarified the rules for cavalry obligation to charge when on defend orders and cavalry breakthrough rules. We have also added rules for ‘minor’ elements of a game, viz. skirmishing cavalry, infantry breakthrough (optional), passage of lines (under review), lying down/crouching (under review), casualties to higher-level commanders and movement of the C-in-C. Interestingly, these minor elements have not come into play in any of our games, which is probably why they were not included in the original Shako, nor Shako II?!
Currently Shako ANF is spread over three locations, the original Shako rules, Shako II and the notes of our rules and edits. Clearly this is not satisfactory, particularly since the three of us can forget what rules we are actually playing! We (I) are slowly typing the rules into a single document so that we’ll have them ready for our great game of Borodino in September.


  1. As a member of the ANF myself I wholeheartedly support these comments. My confidence in Shako has now reached the point where at the last game a result seemed odd - I therefore checked Shako again, and sure enough a calculation had not been done correctly. We have now tried several other sets of rules but they are either too stylised or too reminiscent of the old Quarrie rules. I shall be fascinated to read other comments on this blog about Shako and any comparisons with other rules

  2. Selecting a set of rules is a very tricky business! My gaming group plays many different eras and use different rule sets for each era. Once you find a set that you, and your gaming friends, enjoy then I strongly urge you to "stick with it". As you have said, once you learn the nuances of your chosen rule set it allows you to fight the battle instead of endlessly checking the rules.

  3. That's wise counsel James. It's good to be open to trying new rules, or at least looking at them, but one does not want to lose sight of the most important elements of the hobby of playing the games, trying strategy and tactics and enjoy the camaraderie and competition amongst friends! (Not to mention all the background reading, planning and preparing figures for a game).

  4. While not my preferred set, I've played Shako twice, and own both editions of the rules. I'd play them again without hesitation if someone else was setting up the battle. There aren't too many sets I'd say that about!


  5. Peter, we need to seriously plan the ANF visit to the US and/or your visit here so that we can make it happen!

  6. I played Shako from the mid nineties until Shako2 came out. I appreciated the work put into them but didn't like some of the changes for example Divisional moral, skirmish MR..
    It was nice to read your opinions and see I wasn't alone!

  7. Hi:

    I very much enjoy the site and always enjoy seeing clubs play Shako with such gusto. I wonder if you would share your alternative rules/comments with me? I am developing a 'file' of ideas that I would like to keep in my back-pocket just in case....

    We have just finished playing a unit-for unit refight of Borodino for the second time (first was 28mm and then 15mm). I don't know of any rule set that so satisfactorily handled hundreds of units with a game that still has, I believe, sound historical foundations for its mechanics. It was riot.

    Chris Leach

    1. Thanks for "dropping by" Chris. I'll reply in detail in an email.

  8. Hello,
    Thank you for the excellent review. I am wondering -- having never played the original Shako, do you think that I am likely to share many of the issues that you have with Shako II? In other words, should I just buy Shako II, or would it be worthwhile to try to track down a copy of the original?

    Thank you!

  9. Interesting. I played several games of Shako, unmodified, liked them but thought something was missing. I am interested in seeing your changes if it wouldn't be too much trouble.


  10. James, I have read your blog with interest and agree that Shako is a very good set of rules. Is there any chance of seeing your in-house amendments that reflect some of the elements of Shako please 2 ? Regards Julian