Monday, January 2, 2012

A Review of the Smooth and Rifled Skirmish Rules

The other day, one of the news items on The Miniatures Page ( concerned a new set of skirmish rules by Lorenzo Sartori called Smooth and Rifled (S&R).  Lorenzo is the designer and developer of several rules systems including one of my favorite ancients rules sets … Impetus.  He is also the man behind the miniature gaming magazine Dadi and Piombo (Dice and Lead).  Because I like Impetus, and I prefer skirmish miniatures games to other levels of play, I decided to check out S&R.  Getting the rules was very easy; because, Lorenzo sells them via his website in a downloadable electronic form.  The cost is about $12.00.  See this link for details: 

On a side note, I really like rules that are available electronically … I can download them to my iPad and don’t need to carry a printed document around.  I also like the fact that you can easily search an electronic document, so if you need to quickly find a rule during the game you can.  I recently picked up March Attack, which is a new set of Napoleonic rules from Crusader Publishing, because they were available for electronic download.  I would probably not have gotten these rules if I had been unable to get them electronically.

Back to S&R … the basic rules cover a period from about 1700 to 1900 AD and can be used with 15mm, 20mm, 28mm or even 40 or 54mm figures.  Being a skirmish game, each figure represents one individual; the ground scale for 28 mm figures is one centimeter is equivalent to two meters, and each turn equals about 10-20 seconds.  So, you can game skirmishes from conflicts like the French and Indian War, American War of Independence, the Napoleonic Wars, the War of 1812, and the US Civil War, plus many others.

What this means is that there are already a lot of good skirmish rules sets out there that cover this period.  For example, Too Fat Lardies publishes Sharp Practice, Iron Ivan has This Very Ground, and  2 Hour Wargames just published Long Rifle … and I have been playing The Sword and the Flame and Brother Against Brother for years.  There are also many Old West gunfight skirmish rules out there such as The Rules With No Name, Legends of the Old West, Gutshot, Six Gun Sound, Desperado, and PKowboys.  So, why would you want to play a skirmish game using S&R when all of these other rules are already available?  Well, let me describe the rules in a little more detail and run through a recent Civil War game we played, and then you can decide for yourself.

First, I need to describe what I consider a skirmish game.  For me, a skirmish game is one where one individually mounted figure represents one person.  Also, the rules must allow for individual figure movement for at least some figures.  For example, I don’t consider Flames of War a skirmish game; because, although the figures on each base represent one individual, they are moved together on that base.  Within my skirmish category, I divide rules into categories that I call immersive, standard and mass battle.  Immersive games are similar to role playing.  These rules are very detailed when it comes to an individual’s characteristics.  They also tend to be more complicated; because, they usually have rules for things like where a shot hits a person’s body; they keep track of ammunition, etc.  Some examples of these types of rules would be The Rules With No Name, Long Rifle or Six Gun Sound.  On the other end of the spectrum would be what I call massed combat skirmish games … The Sword and the Flame or The Alamo supplement for Legends of the Old West are examples of this type.  They assume that most of the models are nameless soldiers in larger units and only a few key leaders are called out for special notation.  Skirmish rules in my standard category, and S&R is an example, fall somewhere in the middle between immersive and massed combat. 

So, for our first game of S&R, we used the newly released US Civil War supplement.  There are currently three free supplements available covering the Civil War, F&IW and the New Zealand Wars.  S&R is a points based system with three game size levels … small (up to 250 points and one unit of about 10-15 figures per side), medium (500 points and one main unit, plus reinforcing troops from one or two supporting units), and large (1000 points and several units per side).  For 28mm figures, table size varies from three feet by three feet for small battles, up to four feet by six feet for large battles). 

We were tempted to jump right in and have a large battle for our first game, but decided to keep things simple for our initial play and use the small game format.  Also to keep the game balanced, we built identical units for both the Union and CSA.  These were trained infantry units made up of one officer, one NCO, one drummer and ten soldiers (a total of 247 points for each unit).  The officers were armed with a sword and revolver, and the NCO and soldiers had rifled muskets with bayonets.  The drummer boys were unarmed.  The rules have suggestions for setting up terrain and several basic scenarios.  We used the first scenario where each side is attempting to take control on a centrally placed objective.

Below  is a picture of the initial setup.  In this scenario, each unit can start up to 30 cm from their table edge.  The Union player decided to keep things simple and mass his forces as near the objective (the 10lb Parrot gun at the angle in the stone wall) as possible.  The Union unit is near the house in the picture.  The CSA player wanted to try a flanking move, so the officer and four soldiers are at the top right and the NCO and the bulk of the Confederate troops are in the top center.

The heart of S&R is the initiative and action point concepts.  Each unit type, and the individuals within it, has a series of three Activation Values.  All the troops involved in this game happen to have the same activation profile of 1/2/3.  This means that the first action taken by this unit costs one AP, the second action costs two AP, and the third action will require the expenditure of three AP.  At the start of each turn, both sides roll initiative (3D6) for each unit in the game.  If the unit has an officer, it can re-roll one of these D6.  The unit with the highest total roll gets to activate first.  Units then activate in descending order based on their initiative roll.  The sum of the three D6 is also the total number of Action Points (APs) that the unit can use for the current turn.  APs are used to move, fire, spot, aim, re-load, fix bayonets and capture objects.  Normally, each individual will conduct actions separately, but if a leader is nearby, then the unit can conduct a group action if ordered to do so.   

So, in our game, the CSA player won the initiative for the first turn with a roll of 13.  He decided to activate the soldiers with the NCO as a group and moved forward in line formation.  This takes one AP for the NCO to issue the order plus one AP for the group move.  However, if a musician is with the leader giving an order, then the AP cost for that order is reduced by one.  In this case, this reduces the cost of the order to zero, so this move only cost the CSA unit one AP.  He then activated again and conducted another move.  This move cost a total of three AP (2-1+2=3).  The CSA unit is now down to nine AP and performed another move for that group’s last activation.  This action cost five AP and left the unit with four AP remaining.  Note that an individual or group are not allowed more than three activations in a turn.  Remember the flanking force …the Confederate officer then ordered his soldiers forward as a group in column for two APs.  Column formations are a little quicker and easier to maneuver.  Another move by the CSA officer’s group was not possible because it would cost four AP and the unit only had two AP left.   The rules allow a unit to bank up to six APs for use in a later turn or for opportunity fire, so the CSA kept two remaining APs for later use. 

I won’t give you all the details of our particular game, but I should address firing, melee and morale tests.  In our game, a standup firefight developed between the Union troops and the CSA forces under the NCO.  When an individual fires, they roll 2D6 and need to equal or exceed a certain number which is determined by the range, movement and cover of the target, movement of the firing soldier, aiming, etc.  You can also group fire, which allows you to add an additional D6 for each additional firing model.  Then, each time the number needed is reached, you score a hit.  For example, if ten soldiers fired as a group, the player would roll 11D6.  If the score needed to hit was seven and the total on all of the dice was 38, then five hits would have been obtained.  Each time a model is hit, a damage die is rolled … on a 1-3 the model is shaken and can’t perform actions until it takes an action to recover.  On a 4-6 the model is killed.

While this firefight was going on, the CSA officer moved around the flank of the Union firing line and then charged into melee with bayonets fixed.  Melee is similar to firing, but each model in the melee gets to roll 3D6 . . . the high score wins the melee and kills his opponent.  The CSA almost pulled it out with this attack, but lost the game on a morale test.   When a unit gets to 30 percent of its morale value it must start making morale tests.  If this test is failed, the game is over.  Here are some more pictures of the battlefield toward the end of the game.

So, what did we think?   This is a fun game that is easy to learn and quick to play.  You have critical decisions on how to use your APs, so the game remains interesting.  Being able to play a 28mm game on a three by three game board is a plus.  I think we will try a battle between some dismounted Union cavalry troopers armed with Sharps carbines and some CSA infantry. 

We are already talking about adding at least two house rules.  First, if a model is Shaken, or is within three centimeters of a model that was killed by fire or in melee, it must immediately take a morale test.  If it fails this test, the figure must make a rout move of eight centimeters away from the enemy.  The second house rule concerns light infantry … troops that were trained to fight in open order.  It seems strange that these types of troops can’t make a group move that allows them to move faster than troops moving in line formation.  So, we allow troops with the new special characteristic of ‘skirmish’ to make group moves of eight centimeters, just like a moving individual.  Also, there are currently no rules for artillery … which maybe does not belong in a skirmish game, but maybe I want to fight an attack on a prepared position that includes a field gun.

We also had some questions concerning certain rules.  For example, the rules don’t tell you what to do if the Initiative Rolls are a tie.  We just rolled again.  We were also unsure what to do when the winner of a melee (which can advance to occupy the ground of the loser) comes in contact with a new model.  We just fought a new melee.