A Near Run Thing

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A Near Run Thing

The introduction that never was

by Peter Hunt

A Near Run Thing is very much a house set of rules, not intended for sale, and open to any changes you see fit to make.  They are based on the assumption that the player knows a bit about the Napoleonic wars and a bit about wargaming, so I don’t include the obvious bits about organising figures etc.  If they were being made for public consumption they would be set out a bit differently, with a simple set up front and then advanced rules at the back, and I would also put a lot more designer’s notes in, explaining rationales for the way things are.  As it is I’m assuming that you can take in all the detail at one go and apart from a few exceptions I have left out the history (or the interpretation of history) behind the rule mechanisms.  For the same reasons this introduction was not included in the rules.  I include it here on the Society website in case any poor benighted soul wandering in cyberspace comes across them and wonders what the demented thinking behind the rules is.

First the history of the rules:  The “First Edition” of A Near Run Thing had a print run of 30 copies in the mid 1980s.  It was my first attempt to produce a set of realistic, but quick, rules to fight medium sized Napoleonic battles.  My aim was to be able to fight corps sized actions in an evening.  For their time I thought they were pretty good, and pretty avant-garde.   I even had the nerve to charge for them!  If you were well acquainted with the rules you could get the results in the time allotted.  But there was the rub.  A lot of the systems were not really approachable and took time getting used to.  They were not the sort of rules that you could walk straight up to and play well.  Andrzej sent a set to some friends in England for the joy of blind play testing.  Their response was that the rules were “obtuse”.  At the time I was a little nonplussed that my genius was not self-evident.  Looking back on the rules now I am just happy that Andrzej has reasonably polite chums.  However the scales, movement and morale seemed right so no-one got their money back!.

So the search for playability whilst retaining accuracy continued.  Oliver Silsby has the lifelong ambition of playing Borodino on a one to one figure scale in an evening.  His approach was to take the WRG Napoleonic rules and strip them down to the bare essentials.  The result was very bloody, very quick and very “dice dependant”.  Providing the battle was big enough they were good fun because things mostly went according to some kind of historical precedent.  Whilst there were many occasions that a daft result ensued from some melee or firefight, the bad dice would eventually even out.  Thus both sides tended to be affected in equal measure so a game would not turn on one a-historical result.  However as soon as you tried to write out the historical problems the playability went out of the window.

With the advent of DBX Bruce Meyer immediately applied the pip system to Napoleonics.  It worked well for command and control but we could never get the DBX combat system to handle Napoleonic firepower and melees properly.

Oliver came back into the fray having read Donald Featherstone’s Campaigning in the Peninsula which brought in a combat system that seemed to work.  Ollie stripped those rules down again as was his wont.  I started to rebuild them using the pieces that worked from the other sets.  The result was A Near Run Thing “Second Edition,” which had their debut at the Society in 1999.  We played Castiglione in an afternoon with eight guys who had never seen the rules before.  Napoleon got beat, Marmont was man of the match and went on to become Emperor of the French but, apart from this, we had got an historically acceptable result in four hours, the players had been up to speed with the rules by the end of move two, everyone had had a good time and I was a happy bear.  After that a couple of years tweaking has resulted in the revised edition you have before you.

The design parameters of these rules are to be able to play a visually pleasing, historically accurate wargame of a corps sized Napoleonic battle in an evening.  Formations must look right and the rules should benefit those who use historical tactics and penalise those who don’t.  Much is often made of the “scissors, paper, rock” relationship of Napoleonic cavalry, artillery and infantry to each other.  This simple concept is a truism but the real truth of Napoleonic tactics is much more complicated.  Therefore the problem for providing playable, but realistic rules is deciding the balance between historical realism and playability.  I have attempted to do this by following Frank Chadwick’s methodology of having a simple basic system, but bolting on enough “chrome” to deal with the one-off situations.  You learn about these situations by playing the game and thinking about some event: “that result isn’t right”, and by reading the history and thinking about some event: “would the rules allow that to happen?”  Then you tweak.  Hence, the more we play and the more we read the more we tweak.  Well, for now, the tweaking stops here!

The figure scale is derived from the minimum size requirement of a unit to look right in line, column and square.  This to me provides the basic visual requirement for a game to look “Napoleonic”.  Make the scale bigger – say like In the Grand Manner – and you are not going to get the 30-40 units you need for a corps on the table.  Make the scale smaller – say like Volley and Bayonet, the trial DBX Napoleonic rules, or Napoleon’s Battles – and you are talking about using brigade-sized units.  OK, by doing this you can fight Waterloo in a day, but in doing so the British never actually get to form those squares tipped with steel and the Old Guard never actually gets to advance in column.  So you have to decide what you want.  To play Waterloo with A Near Run Thing rules would take at least eight players, a few days and a very big table.  These are options not open to most gamers.  However you could easily break the same battle down into several corps sized actions that would work very well . . . and would look great too!

The ground scale is derived from the figure scale.  The time scale, and the concept of multiple moves that goes with it, is an honest attempt to rationalise the age-old wargamer’s fudge of time.  It is based on WRG 7th Edition systems and on Frank Chadwick’s premise in Command Decision that a unit could do a lot in 20 minutes, but not in every 20 minutes.  Time and distance come together in the restriction on only making two march moves in one turn because otherwise the poor footsloggers would be covering the ground at the pace of Marathon runners.  The terrain restrictions and the rules on passage of lines might seem very liberal to some.  Remember though that we are talking about 20 minute moves and, although the column or line of figures on the table looks pretty solid, they represent units made up of companies and squadrons, platoons and troops, each capable of independent movement and flexibility.  Interpenetration only becomes really problematic in the immediate proximity of the enemy.

The Command and Control system is derived from DBM but fiddled with to reflect brigade and divisional command.  The “+1 for every brigade after the first” ensures that, if everything in the division is in its place, in good order, and in command, then even with the worse dice they can all do something.  The use of the brigade box allows units to operate in different formations, and do different things – move, change formation and recover disorder – all for the same one pip, because I assume that the brigade and unit commanders know what they are doing.  Casualties and dispersal soon make this fall apart – just like the real thing!  The demoralisation effect of a wrecked brigade having a –1, and the extra pips necessary to keep suffering units going forward, or even remain in place, soon soaks up your pips.  On the other hand regrouping gives you a good reason to pull brigades out of the line to recover and fight again, rather than just blow them all away as happens in so may games.

The combat system is much tweaked Featherstone.  What slows most games down is either lots of dice throwing, or lots of tables, or lots of both.  In this system you consult one table and you throw at most one dice for each unit.  Often it is not necessary to throw at all: for instance an average line battalion firing at another line with no special circumstances inflicts one hit . . . quick and simple.

The durability of a unit (i.e. number of hits it can take) is determined by its size and morale and this is more real than the apparent difference in hits.  For instance a veteran unit will usually see off an average unit in a fire-fight.  Average cavalry is effective but brittle whilst an elite cavalry unit can make a real dent in your opponent whilst still remaining effective itself.  Hit points are not entirely a reflection of the number of casualties a unit has suffered.  A better way to regard them is a reflection of the amount of time a unit can endure combat, not forgetting that a lot can happen in 20 minutes, but not in every 20 minutes.  Thus an average infantry battalion in line can stay under sustained, long range fire from an artillery battery for an hour and still function but 20 minutes of close range firefight or melee will usually finish it for the day.  The better and bigger the unit the longer it can take this treatment.  Regrouping units gives you an opportunity to get them back into reasonably good shape so that they can be used offensively or sustain a prolonged defence again.

Thus the grading of troops is important.  Please do not get carried away by over-grading your favourite unit or nation.  The great majority of troops should be “Average”.  The term is not an insult.  Inferior is meant for troops with poor training, and little field experience.  Bad is intended for the worst parts of armies such as the Spanish or Neapolitans, (and before I’m accused of bias I am the proud owner of armies for both those countries) or other units with no redeeming features.  Veteran is intended for Grenadiers of most nations and veterans of many campaigns.  (Thus, for instance, most French units in the Grande Armée in 1806, would be Veteran whilst their Prussian opponents, long service regulars though they be, would be graded as Average because of their lack of combat experience).  Elite is meant for the best of the best - French Old Guard and similar.  Also, be careful with the “Trained Light” classification.  Many so-called Jaegers could not operate in skirmish order whilst some “line” troops could happily skirmish if called upon to do so.  The national characteristics are my own interpretation to give the “flavour” of a particular nation.  If you disagree feel free to change them as you like.  The rationale for using national characteristics is to allow special, historical behaviour without having to over-grade troops.  Thus you can reflect the stubbornness of Russian infantry, or the confidence of British infantry lines to face columns, by using average troops with this national characteristic, rather than having to grade them all as veteran which would then affect all aspects of their performance.

The morale system is based on the premise that troops only need to test when they have to do something out of the ordinary.  For instance troops need to test to charge, but not to counter-charge if they are of the right type and are in the appropriate formation.  Infantry in square will face cavalry, but must test if they want to face them in line.  Likewise an infantry line will happily meet another line, but has to test if it is facing a fearsome column coming at it.  Some of the “morale” tests are not entirely a test of morale.  For instance the test for moving squares is really more to do with training.  But I wasn’t going to have a totally different set of such tests and anyway you can argue that confidence is just as important a factor as training when it comes to doing things under stress on a battlefield and that the reason that most units have a low morale rating is because they are badly trained in the first place.  Personal leadership, demonstrated by attaching brigade and higher generals, gives significant benefits in morale and in mêlée.   But it brings with it command and control penalties, not to mention the personal health risk to the brave general concerned.

Since you will not be present for any traditional “rule reading rituals” before games, the following points may be useful.

The brigade box can be used on any alignment . . . up/down, left/right, or any angle in between.  Put the asterisk over the brigadier’s head and any of his units that are at least partly within the box are in command.  You can only use one alignment per command phase (i.e., you can’t put the box on one alignment to have some units in command and then rotate it to claim some other units in command. It's either/or).  Incidentally, the size of the brigade box is taken from the deployment area of a Prussian regiment in defence and attack given in Nafziger’s Imperial Bayonets.  Fortunately this happens to be roughly the same size as an A5 piece of paper.

Figure basing doesn’t matter as long as it is consistent.  Ideally a 600 man (12 figure) unit should have a front of 180-200 yards, i.e. 4”.  We use 1cm frontage for infantry, 1.3-1.5cm frontage for cavalry and 3-4 cm frontage for artillery.  You need the figures based so that you can form line, column, square and skirmish.  Since everyone asks, my preferred basing for a 12 figure French line battalion would be 2x4 figure bases for the centre companies, 1x2 figure base for the grenadiers and 2x1 figures for the voltigeurs.  This will allow you to form a neat square, form a two company wide column of attack, and throw out a skirmish screen, whilst minimising the number of separate pieces that you have to fumble with moving them across the battlefield.

One important factor in speeding up play is that you do not have to rummage around removing figures or bases when a unit suffers casualties.  To keep track of losses you can use a unit roster to keep track of hits but this means paperwork and slows the game down again.  We use casualty counters in various denominations of hits with poor dead and wounded toys on them.  They are quick, clear and add nicely to the visual effect , but you have to remember to move them with the units.  Casualty caps or little rings seem popular in the States.  These can be put on the toys so that you don’t leave them behind but they don’t look very nice.  You choose.

You need some sort of order of battle so that you know what comes under who and how many hits a brigade can take, e.g.:

Brigade Stilton: 25 hits, demoralised on 13

Yarlsburg Grenadiers: Veteran – 5 hits

Ist. Bn Camembert Rgt: Average, large – 5 hits

2nd Bn Camembert Rgt: Average – 4 hits

3rd Bn Camembert Rgt: Average, small – 3 hits

Gorgonzola Jaegers: Average, Trained Light, Rifles – 4 hits

Battery Brie: Average, 8lbers – 4 hits

I know that preparing OB's can be a bit of a pain for some players, but for me doing the research and coming up with an historical OB is part of the fun.  If this is not your cup of tea, then all that you really need to work out is the total of number of hits in the brigade so you know when it reaches its halfway point.  Anyway, the size, equipment and quality of your units should be self evident if you have the right figures properly painted.

Having seen how long this introduction is you must now realise why I didn’t include it in the rules themselves!  Anyway, enjoy the games and let me know if you have any queries or improvements.

Peter Hunt, September 2001

A Near Run Thing (3rd Edition) - Rules

Quick Reference Sheet

Command Box (print on clear acetate)

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