Charge Pikes! – Trying out a new ECW miniatures ruleset

Yesterday was Frome day, our monthly miniatures session called the Abbeywood Irregulars – first Saturday of the month.  We usually play historical battles, ranging far and wide through time and space, with some alternative history thrown in.

For October 2010 we had two games: several players took another outing to Shepton Mallett, a third recreation (or at least re-creation) of fighting in the 1930s, A Very  British Civil War.  Meanwhile the slightly more serious wargamers, Pete, Colin and myself (and later John), tried out a set of tweaked 15mm English Civil War rules called Charge Pikes!  These were loosely based on Wargames Research Group 1685-1845, as revised by Wesley Rogers, and additional material from Charge Yr Pikes.  We played an encounter skirmish with roughly 3 units each of infantry and cavalry on each side, plus a couple of light guns, also known as ‘leather guns’.  Overall the rules seemed to present a good ‘feel’ for the period, with troop quality and the presence of generals very important.

I much prefer ‘friendly’ wargaming to tournament games.  We still play hard to win, but we don’t go mad for measuring to the millimetre nor for exploiting the rules.  We’re all more interested in ‘how it might have happened’, rather than winning at all costs.  So a lot of our gaming is experimenting with, and improving upon, rule sets.  I can see this ECW set getting a bit of our development treatment, as the framework looks sound, has obviously been lovingly revised by knowledgeable people already.  Play wasn’t too slow, even though we hadn’t developed play aids (we were going straight from A4 printouts of the rules, so were regularly leafing through pages), as evidenced by the fact that we finished a whole game.  By ‘finished’ I mean we got a result (a Royalist victory as it happens), over a game of approximately 20 turns; and we are notorious for not finishing in the time allotted.

Areas to tweak or smooth out were:

  • Musketry – possibly a little too effective, and it wasn’t quite clear how to exploit salvo fire; we’re considering whether 1 or 2 ranks (in terms of stands) of musketeers should be able to fire each round.  If only 1 rank, then we’ll need a slick way of indicating this, especially as we’d want to permit double-rank salvo firing as an option.
  • Some clarification of the charge sequence, particularly in respect of evade moves and pursuit.  We played that if a routing unit was hit again by pursuers the sequence began again, forcing cavalry in particular to carry out lengthy pursuits – I suspect this is OK, because it strongly suggests that generals should arrange to supply supports to pursuers if possible, lest they pursue into dangerous situations (as happened in our battle).
  • Melees involving several units need an example or two, particularly in relation to moving up stands after impact.
  • Movement and combat for unformed units needs to be sorted out.

I found it particularly interesting and very playable that morale checks were pretty easy and straightforward without a great need for reliance on dice.  Generally it was Green or Raw troops that had problems (as you’d expect), while Elite, Crack and Line were OK in most situations if led by a general.  Relatively few situations really required recourse to the morale tables (other than that we were learning them!).  We were helped by having ‘natural born leaders’ (and I quote) as our leaders – two on each side.

The other good point was the influence of troop grades on manoeuvrability.  Green and Raw troops, for example, took 2 full moves to change formation and could only wheel at half speed.  We frequently found that a move that would have been simple in most rule sets was much more realistically difficult with relatively untrained troops in this one.  I think that this will mean that larger armies with poor troops and average leadership will be quite beatable by small well-led experienced ones.

Looking forward already to the next ECW game.

Charge Pikes, Royalist advance

Fig 1: The Royalists advance! A the top of the pic you can just make out the Parliamentary forces marching left to right beyond a muddy stream towards a village out of picture top right.  Royalist cavalry are to the right of the road, dragoons on it in the middle distance, while the infantry in the foreground are moving out of march column into line.  The first infantry unit is supported by a couple of light cannon and is about to march to the left beyond a darker green gully, which forms a steep slope that will protect its right flank.

Charge Pikes 2: Parliamentary forces

Fig 2: Parliamentary forces march towards the village – their cavalry by the bridge at the top are busy dispersing some Clubmen, which was their original objective before the Royalists showed up.  The stream is actually less of an obstacle than it looks – it just halves movement rates and doesn’t prevent charges across, though charging units don’t get impetus benefits.

Charge Pikes: Both sides

Fig 3: Parliamentary forces marching right to left in the foreground with the scouting Royalist cavalry and dragoons in the middle distance and the rest of the Royalists in the far distance.  The final act at the end of the battle was the Royalists smashing an Elite unit of Parliamentary infantry that was attacking from left to right (from the direction of the village) by the wall in this picture, the main body of Royalist infantry having marched to and across the stream just out of picture to the right.  Parliamentarian cavalry, having raced back from dispersing the Clubmen, had marched swiftly along the road to the rear of the Royalist infantry and routed the rearmost (Raw) infantry unit.  But its pursuit made it vulnerable to Royalist reinforcements entering the battlefield down the road (elite cavalry!), and it was routed.  A sister unit that charged a Royalist gun was rendered ineffective by musketry from a crack Royalist infantry unit in support.  The elite Royalist cavalry, supported by the dragoons and anchored by some stalwart fighting from Royalist line infantry, dispersed a second unit of Parliamentarian infantry in a notable charge across the stream.  Parliamentarian losses left them with a single isolated infantry unit in the village and a couple of light guns.  However, they had fought hard and well and were able to negotiate their withdrawal with honours, leaving their guns behind.

At the start of the engagement the Royalist cavalry pictured to the left of the road opportunistically charged a body of Parliamentary cavalry as it was crossing the stream, fortuitously routing it from the field.  As the Royalist cavalry was green, it found itself reluctant to about face in front of a deployed unit of infantry, so opted for a semi-circular march right round the enemy army, debouching eventually through the gap in the hedge on the edge of the wood in the picture.  It then charged towards the village, engaging the aforementioned elite infantry unit, and was beaten off with heavy losses, eventually rallying some distance back and playing no further part in the battle.

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