Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Another view of Shako

You have read a lot of positive comments from me/us about Shako. In fact Julian was only musing on the weekend as to whether we are in a “Shako bubble” and that it would be good to hear from other wargamers who have used them, especially if they did not like them, to get their feedback.

Well, Vive l'Empereur has come through and has posted a detailed, critical review of the Shako II rules from his experience/perspective. It is great to read his comments. I do have a few responses from my/our opinion and experiences, of course! I do not intend this to be any kind of "battle of the blogs" and had originally tried to publish my comments on Vive l'Empereur's blog. Unfortunately, it did not go as I have come up against the character limit!

So, I am putting them here, as an extension of the discussion.

Ouch! Comparing Shako with DBA. That’s a set that I like a lot being compared with a set at the other end of the spectrum IMHO. I think perhaps we are at a slight advantage as we came to Shako II after using Shako. Shako II added some good ideas and amendments, but also stuffed up in many areas and added a ‘fast play’ feel. We suspect that Arty Conliffe was little involved, but could be wrong. In Shako ANF have taken the approach of using Shako as the basis, adding ‘good bits’ from Shako II, plus our own gems(!!).

To me, Shako are like an “Empire-successor” set; one can see the influence of Empire in several aspects. Commencing a turn with artillery fire is one of these. This makes sense for bombardment. Of course, Shako includes all artillery fire here, but it still seems to work well. The defense of battery fire is covered in the mêlée factors; a stylised approach, but not one that has troubled us.

We have not had a problem with slow movement rate in our battles, some of which (e.g. Eylau and Fuentes de Oñoro) have involved significant movements of troops across the battlefield. The exception to this was when we realised in our Eylau game that l’Estocq would not be able to intervene as he had historically if we had him enter towards the north-east end of the table. Our solution was to have him come on more towards the south-east end. We have considered introducing a ‘march move’, but we reckon that is fraught with problems of troops suddenly ‘appearing’ at another part of the table, so we have dismissed the idea (at least for now).

Personally I like the restriction of infantry changes of face to wheeling. This restricts gamesmanship by wargamers. I have been in too many games, especially in the Empire days, where a unit did an echelon move, wheeled, moved by echelon again and then was on the flank of defenders that had sat and watched it all happen! Besides this, my reading of accounts of Napoleonic battles over 30 year suggests that they did attack more or less straight forward.

I really like the way skirmishers are handled in Shako. They allow for a few ‘pixie tricks’ without being too ridiculous. It is stylised, but less so than merely having a skirmish factor. Shako II reduced the no. of hits that a skirmish base could absorb to one (it was originally three), so that was a really good change!

Fire zone from Shako. I had not really realised that we don't use this by the book!
Vive l'Empereur's comments about infantry fire being restricted to straight ahead really got me thinking, as we have not noticed it as a problem! I think it is a combination of the fact that straight-ahead fire is the most appropriate in many/most cases, because a unit has friends on the flanks and foes more or less in front. We have not noticed it under other circumstances, as we use a volley zone of up to 45º to a flank, while keeping it as a rectangle of unit frontage X range. We just seem to have adopted this change without realising that we had.

I reckon Shako handles towns and fortifications well. These are difficult nuts to crack, which is entirely appropriate--think Borodino, Albuera, Fuentes de Oñoro, Waterloo, Aspern-Essling to name a few.

I think that perhaps Vive l'Empereur may have mis-read a couple of aspects.
• Artillery bouncethrough is modified for reverse slope (-1). This is a significant modifier when the chance to hit is generally 1 in 6 (a ‘6’) or 2 in 6 (a ‘5’ or ‘6’).
• There are options to reduce or remove bouncethrough due to mud, rough terrain and woods that are provided under the terrain rules.

In the end rules are “horses for courses”, with the ‘courses’ being a combination of the scale of game (unit size, figure size, table size, size of game, duration of time to play) and personal preference for a style of rules. For our ‘course’ Shako (morphed into our Shako ANF) is the best we have found, by a long way.

I had thought that Grande Armée were too stylised for us, but I reckon we must give them a go, at least, based on Vive l'Empereur's comments to my original comment under his post on  New Spanish Unit: Estremadura Regiment and his further comments in his review of Shako II.

So, Vive l'Empereur, thanks again for posting this review of Shako II.

How about others of you? What are your preferred rules for Napoleonics? What is it about a particular set of rules that makes them the 'horse' to suit your 'course'? I know that Lee is looking closely and seriously at the best set of rules and overall game system to use with his 6 mm figures. Grande Armée has been suggested to him too. What about others out there?


  1. I'm probably at the same stage as Lee in my Napoleonic project albeit in a different scale (1/72nd plastics) but the 'which rule' question is a minefield! I really like simple rule systems, I don't want to be constantly consulting charts and making grand calculations every time a unit acts in some way. I think a lot must be said regarding the free rules readily available on the internet. Lee is currently working on forces for Steve's Paintingshed Napoleonic rules which look like my kind of system too (think simplified Grande Armee).
    With the current trend (and price!) for glossy hardbacked rule books the free downloads are a great way to try out rules for new projects.

  2. Hello James,

    Thanks for writing your own views too. I dind't forget the reverse slope issue, I just forgot there was a small modifier for it. I'd prefer it that troops behind a reverse slope were considered in a dead zone and immune from targeting, as in some other rule sets. A -1 is extremely favorable in my opinion to the side conducting the bombardment. I'm of the strict opinion that if you cannot see it, you're not going to be wasting ammunition on it when other targets are available. Am I being unreasonable in that thinking?

    If there are rules for mud etc, then my group is guilty of missing it. But then again, how often would one use such a rule anyways? The terrain bounce through issue for me is a little more important then the mud as at least one could creat a modifier if it didn't exist, right? But I will look into it.

    I guess the time scale issue is something only I have an issue with then. For me, 20-30 minutes for a movement phase should allow for quite a bit of manuevering. Your point about moving so as to get around the flank and attack is a good one that is fully permitted in Black Powder. At least that if you could do it, if you didn't start the turn behind the unit's flank line, then you don't get any bonus. Being unable to sidestep, change formation etc within the zone of control prevents much of this from happening.

    In Grande Armee, none of these petty tactical issues even come into play and so saves plenty of time in wondering if you can hit someone in the flank (because they just turn to face you).

    I am curious though, do you think the musketry hitting multiple targets without modifiers makes a lot of sense?

    1. I agree absolutely; all fire should be line of sight only, and it is in Shako. Boucethrough may hit troops in direct line of fire that were not targeted, which seems reasonable to me/us.
      I think the 'spray' effect of a volley on anything in front is reasonable too (a bit like Peter's comments below). It would be rubbish if it caused casualties equally, but since it is casualties only on the closest unit(s) and a possible stagger (disorder) on others it seems reasonable. The crucial thing for us is that it works, as do the rules overall, to produce a good game, reasonable results and something that is manageable large games.
      I'll try to get a copy of Grande Armée from a shop in our capital city or somewhere. They are no longer listed on either the Honour or Scale Creep Miniatures websites!

  3. I think the issue here once again is one of expectations. Shako isn't my favorite set, but it is pretty reasonable one, IMHO. I think the infantry fire rule, although different, isn't so far out. Most troops of the era didn't do very well with aiming their fire, so placing multiple units in the field of fire probably did increase the number of casualties inflicted by the shooting unit by increasing the number and density of targets.

    I also think the movement and wheeling restrictions aren't unreasonable, even if I might not be as restrictive. It's also a rule easily changed if you so desire. The "30 minute turn" is a convention, as it is in almost all most wargames rules, and not to be taken too literally. Most troops didn't do a lot of formation changes and wheeling when at all close to the enemy, and for good reason - the risk of causing disorder attempting such maneuvers in a chaotic, smoky, dangerous environment was considerable. Having said that, my own favorite rules Field of Battle allow quite a lot of leeway, but... it may not be when and where you want it.

    To each their own - there are many fine choices out there for rules, amost with different goals.

    1. Thanks for your input into this discussion Peter. Wargamers and rules is a topic that will never end, but always an interesting one, I reckon. Especially hearing what and why people like about the ones that they use.

      We are spoilt for choice, but the quest for the 'ultimate' set continues...!