(A totally biased rule review)
Since Neil and I joined the club, in mid 2004, it can’t have escaped notice that we are big fans of rules by the quaintly named ‘Too Fat Lardies’. Now a year or so down the line there has been a recent upsurge of club members also expressing an interest in using rules from our favourite rules writers. So, for those wanting that full fat experience, here is a brief guide to all things Lard.
Essentially, the Too Fat Lardies are several members of the St. Alban’s Wargames club who, being dissatisfied with currently available rule sets, decided to write their own. Despite being an amateur outfit the Lardies proffer an impressive and professional level of service and their product support is excellent. To supplement the rules they offer an ever increasing number of scenario booklets and in addition many free scenarios may be downloaded from their website at http://www.toofatlardies.co.uk/
There is also a very active and friendly Yahoo group, which is as likely to discuss beer and kebabs as wargaming and can be found at: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/Toofatlardies/.
At present the Lardies produce rules ranging from Napoleonics to WWII and although each set is a period specific standalone product there are certain themes common to all. The rules are designed so that the mechanisms, as far as is possible, are relatively invisible; an ethos summed up nicely by the Lardies’ motto, ‘playing the period, not the rules’. Furthermore, they place a strong emphasis on the human element stressing troop quality over weapon types and highlighting command and control issues. Or in their own words, ‘The emphasis is on what Clausewitz described as “friction” on the battlefield, along side the stresses and pressure of command.’ All the Lardies’ rules have simple mechanisms that yield realistic results and above all are jolly good fun. Last but not least most basing systems, within reason, will work with rules by the Lardies.
Before moving on to a description of the various rule sets, a word of warning is perhaps in order. The Lardies themselves freely admit that their rules will not suit everyone, which is only natural I suppose. All the games are scenario based and hence require some work from the hosting player. As someone who likes to design scenarios, I don’t think that this is necessarily a bad thing but recognise that others prefer to just lay down their forces and set to. No points systems here I’m afraid. Secondly, there is a large element of kriegspiel in the rules and rule interpretation can be very loose. If you’re happy just nudging a unit to one side because it makes sense, rather than recoiling exactly one base depth because the rules say so, then you will be fine. Unfortunately, this probably rules out any competition style gaming for those that prefer that type of game.
Now without any further ado, let’s move onto the rules.
I Ain’t Been Shot, Mum!
WWII Company Level Rules by Richard Clarke and Nick Skinner
Drawing heavily upon the principles of Kriegspiel, these are possibly the most unique of the Lardies’ rules and are in fact my own personal favourite rule set. Although originally designed for WWII, supplements are available to extend the rules to the Spanish Civil War, the Arab-Israeli War, the Korean War and the Falklands conflict.
The game is designed for actions involving a supported company where 1 figure represents 1 man. The basic units of the game are infantry sections of 8 – 10 figures whilst the lowest command is the platoon. Although individual men are represented, this is not a skirmish game and has a level of detail commensurate with the player representing the company commander. Hence, the player is not involved with such details as which figure is carrying the section LMG and indeed the rules place less emphasis on hardware than on the morale, training and experience of the troops wielding it. In fact central to the system is the concept of Big Men. Although a force is assumed to have an appropriate allocation of officers and NCOs it is recognised that not all these are necessarily effective under battlefield conditions. Instead each side will have an allocation of Big Men, which represent those officers and NCOs that possess that extra something that allows them to animate the battlefield and motivate troops. It is the player’s use of the available Big Men that allows the troops to overcome the battlefield friction inherent in the system.
So how is battlefield friction represented in the rules? Well first off turns are card driven: each platoon has its own card and takes its turn when its card is dealt. Not all cards are dealt in a game turn so not all units are able to function every turn. Big Men also have cards, so the presence of a Big Man increases the likelihood of a unit operating in a given turn. A sprinkling of ‘National Characteristic’ cards in the deck also allows the distinguishing characteristics of particular forces to be represented.
Secondly, friction is also represented by the concept of initiative dice. Each unit has a number of initiative dice, typically three, which are used for various tasks such as spotting, moving and shooting. For instance a unit might use 1 die to move d6 inches into a fire position and then open up on the enemy with 2d6 worth of fire. The number of available initiative dice is reduced as casualties are taken, with the better troops retaining their dice for longer.
Thirdly units can accumulate ‘suppression points’. When a unit comes under fire hits can be accrued either as kills or suppression points (termed wounds in the rules), the latter representing a degradation of the unit’s ability to function. For example, a unit with 2 ‘suppression points’ would subtract 2 inches from any movement or incur a -2 penalty when firing. These can be removed by a Big Man but if a unit is allowed to accumulate too many ‘suppression points’ it soon becomes combat ineffective. This effectively amounts to an invisible morale system and neatly obviates any need for a formal morale test as such. A unit coming under heavy fire is likely to do nothing more than cower in a ditch unless motivated by a Big Man.
Last but not least is the inclusion of mechanisms to simulate ‘the fog of war’. This is done through the use of what are termed blinds. A blind is simply a template that is placed on the table to represent the general area occupied by the troops. Figures are not placed on the table until successfully spotted. Hence, hidden forces may move about the table represented by blinds. The use of dummy blinds adds further uncertainty as to the location of enemy troops. Furthermore, a defender can consider any major terrain feature as a blind so that an attacker may be initially confronted with what appears to be an empty battlefield. In such situations an attacker may well find he needs to devote most of his initiative dice to effective reconnaissance and spotting.
So there we have it, a simple and elegant system that I believe gives very realistic results and is great fun to play. Of course every one has there own prejudices and preconceptions and exactly what constitutes realism on the tabletop can be endlessly debated but these will do fine for me.
Bag the Hun
Battle of Britain Period Air Combat by Nick Skinner
Having no previous experience of gaming air combat, or indeed any real knowledge of the period, these rules came as something of a revelation. I originally obtained a copy through nothing more than idle curiosity but am now addicted to the game and have developed an abiding interest in the Battle of Britain. Also I now have a collection of over 50 aircraft, a shelf full of books and was even inspired to make my own hex sheet. If nothing else, the latter must demonstrate dedication and stand as a testament to the quality of the game!
So enough of the hyperbole, lets get down to the rules. These are aimed at playing Battle of Britain era dogfights, allowing an evening’s gaming with anything up to about 30 aircraft. Aircraft details for the rest of WWII are also available plus a supplement to convert the system to WWI air combat. Most scales of aircraft can be accommodated and the only real requirement is a suitable hex sheet.
These are perhaps the most abstract of the Lardies’ rules and aim for the feel of aerial combat rather than a strict flight simulation approach. For instance, as in all the Lardies’ rules, the turn sequence is determined by cards but, unlike IABSM, in this case all the cards are played each turn. However, the deck also contains bonus cards for various situations such as altitude advantage or the pilot being an ‘ace’. This does not mean that planes using the bonus cards are flying any faster than the rest but rather seeks to replicate the experience of how an ace with altitude advantage can dominate the fight. A further vagary of the card system is that there are separate cards for moving and firing. This often results in planes lining up for that much sought after perfect shot only to find the target slips away at the last moment. All in all this leads to a fast and furious game that tallies well with contemporary accounts. A pilot may well begin the game as part of a neat formation that quickly degenerates into a whirling mass of duelling aircraft only to find himself suddenly alone as the fight has moved on elsewhere. The usual outcome of a dogfight also seems very realistic with one or two planes being shot down but with many more returning home with various levels of damage.
All this is achieved using very simple mechanisms. There are 6 altitude bands, conveniently denoted by using a d6 placed next to the aircraft and the number of hexes moved is related to the aircraft’s speed. There are a number of basic manoeuvres possible such as sideslips, barrel rolls or Immelmans. Whether or not these are accessible to a particular pilot is dependant upon not only the aircraft’s capabilities but more importantly the quality of the pilot. Each aircraft type has a number of characteristics with its speed and weapon factor influencing its movement and fighting ability, whilst manoeuvrability, size and robustness come into play when being shot at. However, the biggest factor determining a planes performance is undoubtedly the quality of the pilot. These may be sprogs, regulars, veterans or aces. Sprogs are unlikely to manage any fancy flying, whilst aces are the killers of the sky.
Shooting uses the bucket of dice approach, rolling a number of hit dice equal to the planes firing factor plus various modifiers. A nice touch is that a fighter typically has about 18 seconds or so of ammo. Longer bursts of firing add more hit dice to the firing factor but of course leave the firer dangerously low on ammo. The target has a number of saving throws depending upon range, target size and manoeuvrability. The difference between hits and saves determines the level of damage, ranging from cockpit damage or a temporary loss of control through to catastrophic structural failures or exploding aircraft.
Above all, the rules give fun games easily finished on a club night and are usually notable for the amount of laughter around the table. We’ve had some great games with these and I still have fond memories of the Stuka attack on Capt. Geest’s banana convoy.
Le Feu Sacré
Corps level Napoleonic gaming, by Darren Green (aka Dr Daz)
These rules are difficult to describe and yet do justice to the system. None of the various rule concepts, when taken individually, seem particularly out of the ordinary yet when taken together they combine to produce a very elegant game system of subtle complexity. The rules really have to be played to fully appreciate the underlying concepts; nevertheless, I shall try and describe the basics as best I can.
The author’s stated aims for these rules are to create a corps level game that it is possible to complete in 3 hours but where infantry battalions, cavalry regiments and artillery batteries are all represented. Having played quite a few games now, I am happy to report that Dr. Daz has certainly succeeded in his stated aims. Once again the Lardies’ central tenet of command and control plus battlefield friction is to the fore. This is neatly summed up on their website as follows: ‘La Feu Sacre places command and control above musket calibre and march rates. They are aimed at gamers who wish to experience a large scale battle at the battalion level. Players command Corps and Divisions, and manoeuvre by brigade, regiment or battalion. Avoiding the usual omnipresent control that players are so often allowed over the minutiae of battle, La Feu Sacré concentrates on encouraging historically correct grand tactics.
The rules use the familiar TooFatLardies card driven system. The Lardies’ emphasis on battlefield “friction” allows the better, bolder generals to take the initiative, and recover from unexpected reverses, whilst less competent, cautious commanders need to stick to predictable battle plans, or risk coming unstuck.’
As stated above the rules are card driven with each general (essentially the divisional commanders plus the corps commander) having his own card. In addition there are a few extra cards that provide the better commanders with a chance to dominate the battle. Each side has a Bold commander card that allows any commander, designated as bold, to take his turn immediately. Similarly a poor / cautious commander card prevents the next commander, so designated, from taking his turn. Hence poor commanders will struggle with anything but the simplest of plans, whereas a bold commander is capable of seizing the initiative.
Once a card is turned the relevant commander may manoeuvre his division as required to fulfill his orders. To do this he issues orders using command ‘PIPs’, the number of available PIPs depending upon the quality of the commander. It is at this point that the internal organisation of the different armies comes into play. Orders may be issued to brigades or regiments, allowing what DBM players would recognise as a group move, thereby costing less PIP than an equivalent formation consisting of individual battalions. Hence, some armies are more flexible than others simply by dint of their historical organisation.
Fog of war is introduced using a system of blinds. Each division moves about the table as a blind (similar to the movement bases used in Principles of War) and figures are not placed until they have been spotted by the enemy. Dummy blinds may be used to keep the enemy guessing as to the whereabouts of your troops.
Combat is kept very simple. First off skirmishers are not represented; instead each unit has a skirmish rating that is only used in difficult terrain. As the rules are designed to cover the ‘Imperial’ period the author considers that both sides’ skirmishers largely cancel each other out. Secondly there is no musketry. Instead units are moved into the attack, the combat is resolved and one side or the other will fall back shaken or rout. As each turn represents about 15 minutes this makes a lot of sense and an attack can represent a combination of incidents including skirmishing, musketry and bayonet charges. This also speeds up play and ‘real time’ wargaming where the 15 minute turn takes 15 minutes to play should be achievable.
All in all this is a very subtle game and although it deals with small units down to battalion level my experience is that battles are won or lost through the application of grand tactics. If, like me, you can’t persuade your Russian Grenadier division to move from the baseline then no amount of fancy manoeuvring will save you.
Support for these rules can be found through the usual TFL channels but there is also a separate Yahoo list dedicated to LFS at: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/lfslist/
Kiss Me, Hardy!
Napoleonic Naval Warfare by Nick Skinner
These rules are designed to create battles at sea, during the age of Nelson, using 1/1200th scale model ships. However, as in all TFL rules, there are no fixed base sizes and games with different scale models are perfectly feasible. In fact many of my own games have been played with 1/3000th models without any need to alter the rules whatsoever. The rules use simple mechanisms, giving a fast paced game that works equally well for large and small engagements. My last club game used a mere 5 ships in total, yet at the other extreme, I have played the Battle of the Nile solo and easily finished in an evening’s play. The Lardies themselves recently staged a multi player game of Trafalgar, using Kiss Me Hardy!
The simplicity of the system has been achieved by cutting out unnecessary detail and staying focussed on only those details appropriate for the level of play. For instance, there are no sail settings in these rules, The basic premise is that an Admiral doesn’t need to concern himself with individual ship management and can leave details such as sail settings to his captains. In a similar vein it is assumed that a ship’s crew will use the most appropriate type of shot for their particular circumstance; the choice of ball, chain or grape is not the concern of the Admiral. Instead, in these rules, issues such as maintaining the weather gauge are what really concern our Admiral or player.
As we have come to expect from the Lardies, emphasis is placed on the human factor over technology and the quality of a ship’s crew is an important component of the rules. Crews are divided into 3 types: Jolly Jack Tars, Sans Culottes and Land Lubbers. Jolly Jack Tars represent experienced crews that have seen much sea service, whilst at the other extreme; Land Lubbers have spent most of their time confined to port. As a consequence Jolly Jack Tars have high morale, excel in close range gunnery and have boarding parties led by good quality marines. By contrast Land Lubbers have low morale, poor gunnery and may even struggle to maintain line of battle.
Once again the game is card driven, with each squadron having a move card and a fire card. The deck also contains card for such events as a change in the wind, boarding actions or strike tests. The card sequence adds an element of unpredictability and can lead to some tense moments. For instance, your ship may well run along side and grapple the enemy in preparation for boarding but will the boarding card be played before the enemy’s own move card gives him the chance to cut your grapples and move off?
The games movement mechanisms are straightforward and the ship’s attitude to the wind is dealt with in a simple yet effective manner. Each ship has a basic speed expressed in centimetres and a ships movement is this distance moderated by its attitude to the wind. For instance a ship with wind on the bow would subtract 1d6 cm from its move; whilst a ship with wind on the quarter adds 2d6 cm. Turns are simply made around a turning circle, unless crossing the wind when a tack test is required.
Firing is dealt with using the ‘bucket of dice’ method. Each ship has a damage rating related to the size of the ship and a broadside rating expressed as the number of d6 thrown. For example, a 74 gun ship has a broadside of 9 dice and can take 74 damage points. Extra dice may be gained for such things as elite status or rakes. There are 5 range bands ranging from point blank to extreme and each has a different hit number. At point blank range a 2 or more will hit whereas at extreme range only sixes will suffice. The number of hits is subtracted from the ships remaining damage points and there are simple mechanisms to allow for hits to the rigging. There is also a special damage table that allows for the possibility of extreme events such as lost masts, high officer casualties or explosions in the powder magazine.
Most games will be fine using these basics but optional rules are also available to cover boating actions, galleys, fireships, shore batteries and land actions.
All in all these are a fun set to play and we have found them to be eminently suitable for a club environment.
If the Lord Spares Us
First World War in the Middle East, by Nick Skinner and Richard Clarke
At the time of writing, these are the latest offering from the Too Fat Lardies. I must admit that I haven’t played these as yet (a small matter of not yet having any figures!) but they do look interesting and I have high hopes for them.
The scope of the game is brigade level with the smallest tactical unit being the company. Once again there are many features that are common to TFL rules. Troop quality is expressed in terms of a ‘spunk rating’ and the different troops are described using the language of the time (and in some cases not exactly PC!). Troops of the Australian mounted division (termed Diggers) have the best rating followed by British Regulars (Jolly Good Fellows) and then Territorial battalions (Saturday Boys). Troops of the Indian divisions may be Kukri Killers or Havildar Heroes, whereas, the Turks are Mehmetciks, Johnny Turk, Pasha Bashers or Damned Sodomites!
The turns are again card driven with each battalion having its own card. In addition there are various national characteristic cards to add flavour such as the ‘Stiff Upper Lip’ card or the wonderfully named ‘They Don’t Like it Up Em’ card. As in IABSM, not all cards are played each game turn so that not every unit may move each go.
The familiar Blinds and spotting rules are present, whereas firing is vaguely reminiscent of IABSM in that an accumulation of kills and suppression points is the usual outcome. The latter degrades the unit’s ability to move or fire but may be removed by intervention of the battalion HQ or the Brigade commander. The battalion HQ removes suppression by rolling against the unit’s spunk rating, whereas the Brigade commander does this by spending some of his available command PIPs.
The concept of the Brigade HQ is interesting as the HQ must have been previously established, and hence now static, for it to function. It then communicates with the battalion HQ s via a network of signals bases. The HQ has a number of command PIP that can be spent changing orders or removing suppression.
As I said these look very promising and as soon as I acquire some figures I’m sure they will be making an appearance at the club.
The only TFL rule set I do not own are:
Triumph of the Will – These are described as, ‘Concentrating on the revolutionary warfare of the Spartakist Revolution, and the Russian and Spanish Civil Wars, these rules emphasize the importance of willpower amongst your troops. Small numbers of highly motivated troops will outperform hordes of disinterested conscripts in these vicious and unforgiving conflicts.
Armoured trains, the International Brigades – desperate men fighting for their version of the truth are all here in rules that capture the very crusading essence of these political conflicts.’
In the Pipeline:
Regular visitors to the Yahoo group will be aware that we can expect a lot more goodies from the Lardies. Hopefully the future will hold such delights as:
- Charlie Don’t Surf – Vietnam
- They Don’t Like It Up Em (TDLIUE – apparently pronounced TOODALOO) – The Sudan
- Hello Sailor – WWII naval
Well I hope this, not so little, piece has given any interested parties a good taste of Lard but for those for whom it does not appeal I can only hope this calorific excess hasn’t left you with a craving for a nice green salad!