Monday, 10 June 2013

Rules Review: Le Feu Sacré an Empire Successor

Le Feu Sacré rules from Too Fat Lardies (or LFS as the author’s prefer to refer to them) were written due to the authors’ frustration with available rules at the time; i.e. the ‘usual’ reason. Le Feu Sacré is, at heart, an Empire ‘successor’ set.

Empire, Scotty Bowden & Charlie Talbox’s rules for Napoleonic wargaming, were a revolutionary set that dragged rules for Napoleonic wargaming from the 'realistic', small scale, two-minutes or so a turn, I go you go rules of the 60s and 70s to more stylised games—which they dubbed a simulation—with brigades or divisions as the unit of most operations, enabling the big Napoleonic battles to be re-enacted on a tabletop. If you have not seen them, ‘do yourself a favour’, grab a copy and read them, or see the excellent review at the Miniatures website. Perhaps even play a game or two. You’ll soon see elements that subsequent rule-sets have adopted or adapted—Napoleon's Battles, Republic to Empire, Shako, the DBx 'stable' and De Bonaparte à Napoleon, to name but a few. You’ll also see why few people play Empire today1!

[1Interestingly Emperors Press have recently released a new version of the rules called Revolution & Empire. I’ve not seen them but, from the limited information on their website, they seem to be equivalent to Empire VI. I’d be interested if anyone has seen, read or, preferably, played a game with them.]
The brilliant aspects of Empire were its insistence that units adhere to higher order formations, restrictive orders and 'coherence' (morale) related to those formations, the introduction of artillery bombardment as a phase and the concept of grand tactical movement. These aspects did away with wargaming 'staples' of the tens or more approach moves, at about two-minutes each, during which units or sub-units freely went in any and all directions with plenty of "if your troops do that mine will do this"! They also moved from the concept of casualties as losses of men to a loss of effectiveness. Trouble was that the elegance of the grand tactical and orders system was not repeated once units came into 'contact' so that games slowed down and scale was lost as players manoeuvred individual battalions and even companies of lights and grenadiers and worked through long, detailed tests. Unfortunately they also did not know when to stop so that, while Empire III was probably the definitive set, they continued until version five, merely adding more complexity and fiddly often stupid rules that should have been optional rules at best (DUB cavalry anyone?!). All this gave even the most devoted player a headache and the sense that cashing in was the chief aim.

Cover of box for Empire III (image from Miniatures website)
Milking the 'franchise': Empire V (image from boardgamegeek)

Le Feu Sacré has taken the key elements from Empire and incorporated them into a card-based game system to streamline and to speed up an Empire-esq game... they have succeeded, but only in part.
The introduction states that the rules focus on command, control and leadership and that the “combat elements are, although historically accurate, deliberately simplified to allow focus on what really determined victory on many Napoleonic battlefields-Leadership, and le feu sacré [the unconquerable will to win or not return]”. It is this philosophy which means that these rules are not the horse for our course as it leads to a game that is too stylised for our liking.
Le Feu Sacré are corps-level rules with divisions/brigades as the 'unit' for strategic movement and battalions/cavalry regiments for tactical action. The rules are based on 15 minutes per move, a ground scale of 1” to 50 yards and a figure scale of 1 to 40 or 50 men. They use card-based movement, a system that was first introduced, as far as I am aware, in Piquet. In the Le Feu Sacré version a separate card is provided for each side’s C-in-C, every divisional officer and independent brigade commander. In addition cards called French Grand Tactical, French Gifted/Bold, Allied Gifted/Bold and Cautious/Poor provide specific move requirements for specific classes of commander.
We liked the basics of this system. Troops of each command complete a turn, subject to their orders, when the appropriate card is turned up. We found it strange though that each active division/brigade completes its entire turn (including all combat) before moving onto the command corresponding to the next card. This leads to some 'interesting' effects; for example when artillery is effectively ‘surprised’ by troops that moved directly towards it from the other side of the table, thanks to the combination of the card mechanics and the deployment of ‘blinds’. More on this later.
A turn in Le Feu Sacré consists of seven phases; Spotting, Tactical Commands, Bombardment, Movement, Combat, Reaction Tests and Grand Tactical Commands. A move is completed once each command has completed its turn. Well, we think that is the case; more on that later in this review too.
All units begin the game on ‘blinds’. They are not revealed unless the owning player does so voluntarily (one or more units), they are successfully ‘spotted’ or they wish to come within 4” of enemy units. Spotting does not require “PIPs”.
The expenditure of “PIPs” from the commanding officer is required when units wish to move tactically or grand tactically. The PIPs are rolled for each turn using an average die +/- a factor depending on the class of the commanding officer. As with all sets that use this system—which was first introduced, to my knowledge, in De Bellis Multitudinus (DBM)—PIPs are expended to move brigades or regiments together, or separate units singly at the rate of 1 or 2 PIPs per ‘action’, depending on what the action is. It is a system to manage command and control, but principally it is about the management of time; i.e. when actions occur and players rarely have sufficient PIPs to complete all of the actions that they wish to undertake.
Bombardment in Le Feu Sacré, as with many other sets, has been inspired by the mechanism developed for Empire and typical of a battle in Napoleonic times. If sustained over several turns it will cause steady attrition from casualties, particularly if units are deployed in depth and close together. However, as mentioned above, the effect of bombardment is reduced and may even be nullified if the enemy units are not successfully spotted.
Movement, Combat and Reaction incorporate basic mechanics that will be familiar to most wargamers. However, as the rules state, “combat in Le Feu Sacré combines many phases found in traditional rules into one. Charging/defending unit moral [sic], volley fire and melee are subsumed into one calculation. [...] the results can be quite dramatic to unit cohesion”. 
This stylised combat system means that there is no small arms fire, which was not at all to our liking. The factors and combat system seemed to be weighted too far in favour of class of troops and the presence of commanders. The impact of an attack on the flank or rear is equal or less than the effect of a general in combat. In our game of Tamames we found several of the results to be crazy rather than “dramatic”. A French chasseur regiment, that had suffered a casualty and was blown was charged in the flank by a fresh regiment of Spanish cavalry and successfully repulsed them (not needing a particularly remarkable result to achieve this). Then it seemed to us that infantry in line were better to stand and receive cavalry rather than attempt to form square, as they had a good chance of failing and being disordered in the latter case!
There is no divisional/brigade morale, so units are attritted more or less at will without a flow-on effect to the larger organisational unit. Morale tests are only carried out if a unit suffers a casualty(ies) from artillery. Reasonable troops can withstand a lot of damage. This is okay, but seemed to happen a lot (i.e. as long as the die rolls were fair to good). Conversely was the situation where troops within 6" of friends who rout will automatically rout if the routers move through them (unless of better class). Bit of a bummer when five of your Spanish infantry battalions, at full strength, rout in one turn; as happened to me!
It could be that the 'extreme' of Spanish vs French was not a good one to use as a play-test, but we did have the version using Shako as a comparison.
The rules are written simply and as briefly as possible, but we found the writing to be  confusing and to contain numerous errors and typos. For example, such a fundamental aspect as the set-up of the deck is not explained in full. Should each side have a separate deck, or are all of the cards supposed to be mixed into a single deck? We chose to take the latter approach.
Furthermore, the authors’ use of ‘move’ and ‘turn’ were not clear and consistent. For example, in defining the time scale of the rules they read “When one entire move has been completed 15 minutes is deemed to have passed” and under the description of the cards “When a commander’s card is turned over, he takes a move. In the case of the C in C, he may choose to give his turn to one of his subordinates,...”. This lax use of terms, plus numerous typos—such as “The commander roles the correct PIP dice according to his abilities”—lead us to wonder how well they were proof-read and/or play-tested (this is Edition Two of these rules).
So, Le Feu Sacré is not for us, did not provide much for us to consider incorporating into our rules—with the exception of the evade rule—and we can't see them being used at the ANF too often. As Julian said when we described them to him, “Life seems too short to bother with wargames rules that don't have infantry fire!” We used Edition Two of the rules but from what I can tell nothing has materially been changed in the third edition, which is understandable given the philosophy of the rules which was quoted above. Are you a devotee of these rules? If so, I’d be interested to hear what it is about them that makes them ‘right’ for you and especially if you think we have misinterpreted any of the mechanisms or specific aspects of the rules.


  1. Good day. I have a question. Did you use the LFS rules or the LFS3 rules. The former were completed in 2002, the latter in 2009. It may effect the way you think of the rules, playing the latest with 7 years of playability adjustments made to them.

    Thank you in advance for your time.

    Oh, and it's Too Fat Lardies, please.

    1. G'day John, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Yes, as I said above, we used Edition Two of the rules (as LFS2 is referred to in the introduction). I have not seen LFS3, but a review of the rules indicated that the key approach and mechanisms were the same. This makes sense to me as it goes to the philosophy of the rules. Is that correct, or are the mechanisms different from what I have outlined in the review?

      (I did write Two Fat Lardies, in the first sentence)



    2. Good day, James.

      While their won't be any straight musketry in LFS, there is enough of a difference in the two versions that would make a player see the game in a new light.

      And just a note on shooting at blinds. Blinds represent "something", the opposing player doesn't know what is under the blind: Is it a full brigade? Or 4 guys on horses scouting? Hence the blinds themselves aren't actually targets and the units represented by the blinds don't become a valid target until it is spotted and the figures deployed on the table.

      And it's Too Fat Lardies, if you please. Not "t" "w" "o", but "t" "o" "o". :-)

      Thank you for your response.

    3. Gee, I am quick aren't I? I read what I wanted to read—scheez! I should know too that it is Too, as I have a login address for the website and all. Bloody hell! Anyway, corrected here now and on the report of our Tamames games (with a link added).

      I/we appreciate the idea of the blinds, which is a good one, except, for us, the idea of a formation 'sneaking' up unchallenged did not feel 'right'. Of course, one often has the situation where artillery get off a few shots that are ineffective, so it could be argued that it represents the same thing. Frankly, if we were going to use the rules regularly I think we'd add a house rule that blinds are automatically revealed at a given range (unless obscured by terrain or weather) of, say, 16" (that's how it is done in "Principles of War", from memory?)

      I/we reckon LFS are a 'good' set, but LFS2 is certainly not the set for us. There has only been one set we have tested that we'd say were an almost complete waste of time (clue: starts with Grand and ends with an artillery formation).

      I'm not sure how much you wish to engage in a 'discussion' here, but could you elaborate on how shooting is now represented under LFS3? You may prefer to post a comment with a link to a more detailed description of the rules?

      Tell you what, either way I'm gonna purchase a set from the website—at £7.00 it is not a particularly "risky" purchase; certainly no Empire-esq price gouging there (ha, ha!). If I like what I read, we may even have another go, so there could be a follow-up review!

    4. I'll be more than happy to discuss this with you, we have proven we can keep a civil discussion (unlike other places on the web) and while I am a rabid fan of the rules, I do understand they're not for every one.

      What the author of LFS did was combine all the things that other rules do separately, especially line fire, melee, bayonet charges, into one single combat, one roll to determine all. For me, skipping the shoots, test morale on both sides, return fire, test morale on both sides, charge, test morale on both sides, is an excellent progress from the minutia of other rule sets. This is not to say that other rules are wrong, but that LFS's mechanisms both fit the time frame I need on table and reflect history correctly. The Rug Doctor put an enormous amount of time in to making a set of rules that took the "book keeping" out of play AND consistently gives an historical outcome.

      Some folks want that amount of detail and I'll be the last person to criticize that choice. For me and what reading I've done, LFS gives an accurate recreation of European combat from 1796-1815 in a time frame I can use and history I can believe.

    5. I can loudly and proudly say that you will only read respectful discussion on this blog and those of the other people whom I like to refer to as our wargaming e-friends. We all pride ourselves on it in a medium where, as you point out, so often anonymity leads to stupidity and outright rudeness. The unwritten rule of these blogs is that if you don't have anything positive or constructive to say, then say nothing. It's a sad indictment that basic civility and mature discussion could be a 'badge of honour' worthy of remark. We live in hope of influencing the rest of the 'community'...!

      Enough of the pontificating, yes?! (ha, ha)

      I did as I said and have purchased/downloaded LFS3. After a quick skim—and I stress 'quick' and 'skim'—I am impressed with aspects like the improved clarity, the numerous combat examples, the addition of skirmisher fire, the fixing of the problem of infantry standing to receive cavalry through the opportunity charge rules—opportunity charging (and fire) was perhaps the best part of the tactical level rules in Empire. I also like and appreciate the improved formatting, without resorting to unnecessary 'eye candy', and the continued ease of accessibility of the rules both in price and delivery as a pdf download.

      To me, and one always relates to what one knows, LFS are like Shako with the use of cards instead of dice for 'initiative', the addition of blinds and PIP dice to remove the 'helicopter' view further, but without tactical firing (except for firefight combats). I reckon we'll give LFS3 a(nother) go when we next do one of our smaller games.

      Thanks again for taking the time to read the review and to comment. I note from your profile that you do not seem to have a blog of your own? Perhaps you might like to start one. I would be interested to be a regular 'visitor' if you did.

      All the best,


    6. I run a geographic specific website, here:

      where anyone is welcome to join and discuss anything wargaming they like. Bashing rulesets isn't allowed, neither is bashing other posters, I take that seriously.

      I can't speak to other versions of LFS, I only came back to gaming in Feb of '12 after a 19 year layoff, so I've only worked with LFS3. I like it, it entertains me in solo games in the garage and I'm running Austerlitz in August from a LFS scenario written and played in 2005.

      Y'all seem like nice folks (I'm located just south of Raleigh, North Carolina) and I game with folks that have been in the hobby a long, long time. Last weekend I ran a game that Ed Mohroman was JEB Stuart, and I've played with Chris Hughes of Sash & Sabre figures and adore Mike Tyson of this area who paints like this:

      Ya, hand painted, and Mike runs the best games, he's a great story teller.

      What I want from a game is historical accuracy (I believe LFS delivers that) and a good story line. The Too Fat Lardies address my gaming needs, because I like rules that follow: Play the period, not the rules. That's what I want, historical tactics are rewarded, ahistorical tactics get hammered and rules lawyers get embarrassed.

    7. Thanks John. From Alexander The Great to James T. Kirk, in miniature is a wide brief indeed! Hopefully you'll get a few visits c/- anyone reading our discussion. I have also added a link under Links: Wargames Blogs above.

    8. Thank you James for the cordial conversation and the link to my website.

    9. Thanks to you for 'dropping by' and for generating an interesting discussion. I hope you'll find some future posts of interest.

  2. Thanks for the review, James. I have wondered about LFS for quite some time. I probably should get a copy some time to at least read through, but I am very happy with Field of Battle (2nd edition) as my primary rules set, and with Shako (and Piquet: Les Grognards) as my second set(s). I suspect some of the abstractions that troubled you might not trouble me as much, but I do think that I would find the lack of small arms fire a bit odd for a rules set using battalions as tactical units. Even Snappy Nappy, where a stand is two THOUSAND men has small arms fire (1" range = 100 yards, IIRC). That doesn't mean it won't work as a game by any means, of course, but it may just lack the certain "flavor" aspects that many of us seek in our rules of choice. Of course Napoleon's Battle's abstracts all but Horse and Corps Artillery fire into the infantry units combat effects, but that makes a bit more sense as there a single unit is an entire brigade.

    As an aside, through my association with Bob Jones, I have had the opportunity to share the dinner table with not only BJ, but Bob Coggins, Jim Getz (several times), and Sam Mustafa. All fascinating people and rules authors. Jim has commented that he regrets being associated with anything after Empire 2, and that when he says that, the die hard adherents of the Empire system view him the disdain reserved for those who recant the One True Faith, LOL! My own tastes in rules have certainly evolved over the years, to be sure!


    1. Certainly worth a go for you I'd say Peter. They also incorporate skirmishers into the characteristics of a unit—an oft used mechanism. I prefer the Shako compromise where skirmishers are represented directly and can perform a few 'pixie tricks' until dispersed, but admit that it is fairly margin stuff at the scale of battalions/regiments as tactical elements and brigades/divisions as the elements of manoeuvre ("grand tactical").

      I guess it is not surprising that Sam 'opted' out of Empire at version two. Give the sets that he has produced since, even the level of added detail in Empire III would have been 'wrong' for him, let alone IV and V.

      Do you know anything of Revolution & Empire?