A Review far better than its Subject: "A Crowning Mercy". Written by Ken Portner
"A Crowning Mercy" (ACM) is a set of wargames rules for "refighting battles from the English Civil Wars, 1642-1651". It is written by David Bickley and cost 13.50 GBP. The book is paper back with color photos and graphics, 47 pages, written in what I'll call a "gentlemanly" style. It reminds me of the writing in the Black Powder series of rules written by Rick Priestly (Warlord Games). There is a Table of Contents. The rules are written in numbered paragraph form for ease of reference.
There are also very brief rules for Sieges, a discussion of campaigns (but no rules for a campaign), a page discussing available miniature lines, and rules for Special Characters like Surgeones, Ministers, and Master Gunners.
The rules are written with 25mm/28mm figures in mind. There is no stated figure scale. D6 are used.
There is no stated ground scale.
The author does answer questions posed him via email. You can find his email on his blog.
Units and their Characteristics
Units consist primarily of Regiments of Foote, Regiments of Horse, Dragoons, and Artillery (single guns). There are also provisions for Forlorn Hope, Petardiers, and "Dumb Dyott" (snipers) and "Rabble".
The rules also say that each army needs to have a Baggage Train to be present on the battlefield, but they don't say why, and Baggage Trains are not referred to later in any of the rules and don't play any role in the game.
Figures are mounted on bases 80mm wide by 50mm deep. The number of figures on the base is not important since each base of Foote or Horse has a strength (the rules call it an "Attrition Rating") of 6, meaning it can take 6 kills before it is "Spent" (i.e. eliminated, no longer effective). The author uses 8 infantry figures on a base and 2-3 horse figures on a base.
A Regiment of Foote is composed of at least 3 bases, 1 Pike base and 2 Shotte bases, but can be larger. The rules don't put an upper limit on the size of Regiments of Foote.
The rules say that units of Commanded Shotte are allowed. (This is stated in the section discussing formations instead of in the section discussing unit composition).
Regiments of Horse are composed of between 2 and 4 Troops of Horse. Here the rules are inconsistent. At one point they say a Troop of Horse is made up of a single base, while at another they say a Troop of Horse is represented by 2 or 3 bases of 2 or 3 figures each. (My guess is that the former is correct).
An Artillery "unit" is one gun. There are 3 types: light, field, and siege, plus mortars.
A unit is always in one of three morale states: Firm, Frayed or Fleeing, and these can change during the course of the game. Each unit has a Fighting Effectiveness (FE) rating ( a number between 5 and 9). The FE rating is used in FE checks to determine whether a unit changes status. (Roll 2 D6 and if the result is lower than the FE rating the units passes the check). So, a Firm unit that fails the FE check becomes Frayed. A Fleeing unit that passes the FE check becomes Frayed.
Also, each time a unit fails and FE check it's FE rating is reduced by 1 (4 is the minimum). If the unit passes an FE check it's rating goes up by 1 (but never to its original FE rating-it will always be down at least one after going down one). A unit that has become Fleeing can never get back to Firm. The best it can do is get back to Frayed.
The rules do not provide "army lists" or any guide to overall composition of forces. (e.g. ratio of Foote to Horse, number of artillery pieces). The only stated limitation is that an army can have only four bases of Forlorn Hope.
Regiments of Foote can be in March Order, Battle Order, or Hedgehog. March order is a column of bases, one base wide, three or more deep. Battle Order is a line, with the Pike base(s) in the center and the Shotte bases on the flanks. Alternatively, in Battle Order the Shotte bases can be situated in front of the Pike base(s).
In Hedgehog the Pike base(s) go to the front and the Shotte bases are placed behind at 90 degrees to the Pike's front. This is interesting as the Hedgehog (whether you believe it was used during the wars or not) was intended to provide all around protection from cavalry from the Pikemen, but in the game this formation would still be vulnerable on the flanks. (The rules don't say there's any special benefit from this formation). It's possible the author has a different conception of how the formation worked and what its benefits were.
Regiments of Horse can be in March Order or Battle Order, and these are the same formation as Regiments of Foote. When in Battle Order they can be arranged either in a single line of bases, or if a full Regiment of 4 Troops (which I think is 4 bases) they can be 2 bases wide by 2 bases deep.
The turn sequence is IGO/UGO. First you determine which side has the Initiative and thus can choose to go first or second. Next the side "holding the Initiative" (I actually think it means the side that's acting, not the side that won the Initiative roll-off and thus chose whether to go first or second) issues orders to its units. Next, the acting side rallies Fleeing units. Then the acting side resolves actions (move, fire, fight) with its units. Finally, the army holding the initiative resolves "Fighting Effectiveness" checks—similar to morale tests. The action then switches to the other side which resolves the same phases.
Units move first, then fire, then fight any melees.
Command & Control
Units are supposed to be given a General Order. The General Orders are "Stand Fast!" (hold position), "Form Up!" (change formation), "Advance, March!" (move, charge), "For God and the Cause!" (follow an attached General in a charge), and "Rally on the Colours" (rally or try to recover Fighting Effectiveness).
This General Order is supposed to limit the types of actions the unit can perform. However, the allowed actions correspond exactly with the allowed General Orders, so the system seems redundant. For example, if a unit is given the "Stand Fast!" General Order it appears that it can only perform the "Stand Fast"! unit action. What is the point of the General Orders? Why not simply say that each turn a unit needs an order from a General telling it what to do from the allowed actions? I may be missing something here, but it isn't clear to me from the rules.
The General Orders are issued by a General. Each army has a commander (Lord General) and may have sub-commanders (Lt. Generals). The commander can order any unit. The sub-commander can only order units under his jurisdiction. A general as to be within a certain distance of a unit to issue an order.
The order won't be obeyed unless the issuing commander passes an FE test. (The commanders have their own FE ratings).
Once an order is given to a unit it continues to operate under that order until a new one is given.
The rules don't state any limitation on the number of units a general can order per turn or whether there are any consequences when a general tries to issue an order but fails.
The rules also don't say whether more than one general (e.g. both the commander and a sub-commander) can try to give an order to the same unit in the same turn-i.e. where one fails, can another try? The author told me in an email that this is allowed.
Movement distances are provided for the various unit types in their various formations. It takes an entire turn to change from one formation to another.
Any terrain that isn't simply flat and open is characterized as Difficult Terrain. Units moving into/through Difficult Terrain have a reduction in their movement distance.
The author states that the armies involved in the wars were not professional and thus were nowhere nearly equal to professional armies in terms of maneuver and drill. But that being said , the rules do not say how units are to change direction (Do they wheel? Turn about the middle? Is there any extra movement cost or reduction for these maneuvers), do not say whether units can move obliquely or laterally, and do not say whether a unit can interpenetrate a friendly unit (the rules do say a Fleeing unit can move through friends without effect on either ).
Charging units get a bonus added to their normal move distance. Charging units do not get the bonus if they charge through Difficult Terrain. The rules don't say whether there are any restrictions to charge movement. (i.e. can a charging unit make any turns during the course of its charge? If yes, are there any restrictions to that?).
Shooting is done by base. Each base firing rolls a number of dice. The number depends on what's shooting (e.g. pistols, muskets, artillery) and the range to the target (there are 3 range bands- short, effective, long). Generally, a base can fire at a target up to 45 degrees off its corners.
Regiments of Foote with a 1:1 ratio of Pike bases to Shotte bases roll fewer dice then those with a higher proportion of Shotte to Pike.
Apparently units can be unloaded and cannot fire in this state. I say apparently because it's referred to only obliquely in the rules section talking about Actions a unit can perform (a unit with the Stand Fast! order can fire/reload, reload /fire).
You roll the dice to hit, and then roll the hits for kills. The chances of success on both sets of rolls are affected by the range. There is an option to use Saving Rolls for kills scored.
Charging and Reactions to Charging
Hand to Hand combat occurs when one unit charges another.
The target of the charge may be able to react by either firing or by countercharging, (evade isn't listed as an option) depending on the order it's operating under, its current morale state, and what type of unit is charging it. For example, a unit operating under the Stand Fast! order can shoot or countercharge a charging enemy. A unit operating under the "Advance, March!" order can only countercharge (if otherwise permitted); it can't shoot at the charger. There are multiple combinations of this.
Unfortunately, the way these are spelled out is a bit confusing. There's a list of unit's response to events, but included in this list are some limitations that relate to charging units, not units that are reacting to a charge. Also, some of the reactions allowed are listed in other places in the book (e.g. the rules state that a unit of Foote with the Stand Fast! order can countercharge in an entirely different section of the rules).
Interestingly, a unit of Foote with the Stand Fast! order charged from less than half the charger's charge distance chooses to either Fire at the charger or Fight in the ensuing melee-not both. So if their fire doesn't stop the charge, the Foote will sit there and take it apparently without fighting back.
The rules don't say whether the charge target fires at a charger at short, effective or long range. In an email the author told me this fire takes place at effective range.
Hand to Hand Combat
Once contact is made there can be up to three rounds of combat. In the first round only bases in contact with the enemy fight. In the second round, the first two ranks of a unit fight. In the third round all bases of the unit fight. If by the end of the third round neither unit has fled, the combatants fall back a random distance depending on whether they're Foote or Horse.
The rules don't say what to do when a charging unit contacts the target at an angle so that for example only a corner of the charger is touching the target or if the units are offset, so that only one base is touching the target.
The rules don't say how bases "pile in" after the initial contact. So while all bases in a unit can fight in the third phase of combat, the rules don't tell you how they get into contact with the enemy.
And they need to be in contact with the enemy because that is how you determine how many dice they throw in combat. The number of dice thrown is determined on a base by base basis. You compare the base type with the type it's fighting on a table which lists the number of dice to throw. For example, Foote with Musket throw 3 dice when fighting another base of Foote with Musket, but only 2 dice when fighting a base of Foote with Pike.
The rules don't say what to do when, for example, a base is in contact with more then one type of enemy base. For example, a base of Shotte rolls 2 dice against a base of Pike and 3 against a base of Pike. How many dice does it throw when it's in contact with one of each? And how many dice does it have to allocate to each? The rules leave working these issues out up to the players. I asked the author this question in an email and he confirmed it was his intent that the players decide this for themselves.
The number of dice can also be modified by circumstances. For example, a charging unit gets an extra dice. I think this is one extra dice for the entire unit rather than an extra dice for each base. The rules don't say how this extra dice for the unit gets allocated to the target (i.e. which base takes a hit/kill caused by the extra dice). It looks like each base fighting gets an extra dice for fighting a Frayed enemy unit or fighting against a unit's rear or flank.
Speaking of flanks, it appears that a base is considered fighting on the flank if it's touching the flank of the base it's fighting. There is no requirement that the charging base have started behind the enemy's flank in order to get the bonus. This bonus applies only in the first round of combat and it's only 1 dice, so it actually isn't as devastating as you might think to be charged in the flank or rear.
In any case, once you determine the number of dice to throw (and I guess allocate them if one base is in contact with more than one enemy base) the dice are thrown and each 4-6 hits. Throw the hits and each 4-6 is a kill.
The winner of the Combat round is apparently (the rules don't actually say) the unit that causes the most kills. The loser has to take an FE test. If they fail that they fall back 2". If a unit loses the combat round very badly it will become Frayed. If it loses the round really badly it will Flee.
As noted above, each base can sustain 6 kills before it's "Spent."
With casualties from Fire, for a Regiment of Foote, the first Spent base is a base of Shotte. After the next 6 kills, the unit can only count half the second base's firing dice when shooting. Apparently the Pike base is eliminated last, and for a 3 base unit, that would eliminate the unit. So it doesn't appear that a pike base can be eliminated by Fire combat. The rules don't say how this all works for a Regiment of Foote of more than 3 bases.
The rules don't actually say how casualties in Hand-to-Hand combat are applied. The author told me in an email that unlike casualties for firing, casualties in Hand-to-Hand combat are done base by base.
So , in effect, shooting casualties are all applied to one base whereas casualties in Hand-to-Hand are spread out.
As explained at the beginning, each unit has an FE rating which can go down and up in the course of a game along with its morale status by failing FE tests and passing FE tests to rally.
Units take an FE test in a number of circumstances, some of which have been referred to already.
Winning the Game
When a sub-commander's command has had two of its units Flee the General takes an FE test and if he fails the his entire command Flees. ( Since a unit can recover from Fleeing, it's not clear whether this means the test is taken when two units have Fled, regardless of whether they're both still Fleeing, or whether the test is required only when there are two or more units Fleeing simultaneously.)
The overall commander takes a similar test when one of the subcommander's commands has Fled
1. There is a lot to keep track of. You have to track each unit's morale state, its FE rate as it falls and rises during the game, and you have to keep track of kills per base. (since kills in hand to hand aren't just piled on all on one base). You'll also need markers to denote Shotte bases that aren't loaded and thus can't fire. So that's either a roster on paper or a lot of markers on the table.
2. There are a fair number of details that need to be filled in by the players. This doesn't bother some, but those who prefer rules that are ready to play "out of the box" , so-to-speak, will likely be disappointed.
3. There is nothing particularly new or innovative here. But the rules should provide a relatively quick playing game.
Really, very nice work, Mr. Portner. It sounds like more effort than it was worth but I thank you for sparing some of us the trouble of purchasing them. I agree with a number who put forward Victory Without Quarter as an excellent set of free rules.
Clarence Harrison's "Victory Without Quarter" rules link is here:
Note that there is at least one other rule set called "Victory Without Quarter" although I don't recall who wrote it.
VWQ is simple and fun . . . and the price is right too (even though they aren't quite what I want). -- Jeff of Sax Bearstein
and a special thanks to the noble Jeff for steering us towards that link!