Kolin: Frederick's First Defeat. - June 18 1757
Vol. 1 of the "Battles of the Age of Reason" series by Clash of arms Games.
A review by David Southall
This is the game which is currently set up on my table. It is the first Clash of arms game I have bought and played. The components are superb. The three game maps are suited to the period and the counters are all coloured according to the individual units' regimental facings. They convey the feeling of playing with 1/300th minatures from a distance with the added advantage that the movement and combat details are clearly displayed.
The game is a battalion level representation of an 18th century battle and as such there are detailed rules on formation types and changes. These are overwhelming at first glance to a player who does not have more than a cursory knowledge of "Warfare in the Age of Reason". The first question that springs to mind is whether all this detail is necessary? The players are supposed to be representing the respective commanders-in-chief in a major battle. Would Frederick the Great really be concerned as to when and how each regiment changed from march column into line? Actually information on this point is lacking in the rules booklet. This is due to the designer's intention to allow the player to discover for him/herself the most appropriate way to conduct a battle. Thus the best way to manoeuvre and attack an enemy will only start to become clear after a couple of run throughs of the first scenario.
Command and control is represented by each commander-in-chief having a command range in hexes. A sub-commander outside this range will be out of command and will have to rely in his own initiative to gain it for his units. Units not in command have their combat and movement factors reduced and will not be able to enter close combat with the enemy.
A turn begins with each player rolling 1D10 and adding their C-in-C's initiative to the score. The player who has the higher number will be able to activate one "command", a roughly brigade sized collection of units. A player who scores over twice the opposing player will be able to activate a whole "wing" of units. Once all operations are completed the D10s are re-rolled and the winner will again activate 1 command until all their units have moved.
A "brigade" then follows the turns sub-routine for fire manoeuvre and close combat. Firing is carried out by multiplying the strength of the unit by the national modifier (eg; Prussian Fusiliers multiply by 3 if firng at a target 1 hex distant). This figure is divided into the factor for the terrain in which the enemy is located eg; clear terrain has a divisor of 10. The result is expressed as an odd ratio and the firing table is consulted. The combat results may be anything from no effect to multiple strength point loss and the possibility of disorder and morale failure.
There are a number of dice rolls involved in each fire combat resolution, one to see if a hit is scored - this may involve a re-roll if the result is a "special combat result" - then a check for the possibility of the disordering or the morale failure of the target unit. The target is able to return fire at its attacker as all firing in the fire phase is treated as simultaneous. Firing may also take place during the movement phase (opportunity fire) and the close combat phase (defensive fire).
The movement section is the most difficult to master. Hex sides and hex corners are utilised to cover the many variations of 18th century formations. A unit, if it has enough strength points, can extend into neighbouring hexes (if the unit is cavalry this could be up to 5 hexes wide) and this formation can be wheeled around at various costs in movement points. This is important as a unit is restricted as to how many strength points it can bring to bear in firing. The maximum number of strength points that an infantry unit can bring to bear per hex is 4 if in line. Bearing in mind that a large number of infantry units are 8 or 9 SPs strong, formation extension becomes crucial. These units must expand to 2 hexes to bring their true firepower to bear on the enemy.
The formation change cost in movement points vary, not only according to the nationality, but also according to the position in the hex of the unit prior to the change. To give an example; a Prussian infantry unit in a 1 hex march column (thus facing a hex side) wishes to change to a line formation (facing a hex corner). Assuming the unit is facing north and it wishes to become an east facing line, the cost will be 4 movement points - its entire allocation for the turn. However if it wishes to face west in line, The cost is 1 MP. This is clearly explained but there are many infantry units to be altered each turn, most facing in different directions and in different formations.
It becomes increasingly difficult to quickly see how much a certain formation change will cost in movement points. Could this be the designer's intention? The player is consequently forced to adopt the most simple formations in order to keep control of the battle/not get bored by the tediousness of resolving a dozen formation change costs per move. There are also penalties for the active unit if any of its formation change causes it to pass through a non-clear hex. If so there is possible die roll against disorder. Here again for an easy life the player will keep well away from anything which looks like a tree, stream or house.
Thus these rules on formations are more detailed than any figure gaming rules that I have played or read. Does this make them more evocative of 18th century warfare? Possibly but the problem remains for the solo gamer that there is a lot of checking and re-checking for the present and future MP costs of various manoeuvres. This is not to mention the constant head twisting and re-checking the game sheets against the situation on the board to determine exactly how many MPs must be spent to execute a certain formation change. The gamer is well advised to make his/her own "crib sheets" featuring the different MP costs.
There is a niggling feeling that an average MP cost for all formation changes of a certain type for each side would ease a new player into the game. Thus a Prussian infantry unit would pay 2 MPs to change from 1 hex march column to a 1 hex line facing any direction and an equivalent Austrian unit would pay 3 MPs. As the player becomes familiar with the game then the specific MP cost for the different directional changes of formation can be used.
The rules are well written and clearly explain the designer's intentions. The basic mechanics of the game are easily picked up and the player feels well equipped to go on and explain the enemy variations of 18th century combat. However this simplicity of style means that a few situations have arisen during combat which cannot be satisfactorily resolved by the rule book.
For example; do only the non-phasing units which are specifically targeted and fired at have the ability to return fire during the fire phase? Or may any non-phasing unit fire at the phasing player's units in range? The rules state (page 12);
"(friendly units) ... may fire at any enemy units in range and those enemy units may fire back."
Does this mean that if friendly units do not fire they cannot be fired upon by enemy units? The rule book states that any problems can be resolved by the throwing of a die. This is cop out. Whatever the correct answer to this problem, it will have a dramatic effect on combat. This is a let down to the player after he/she has mastered the detailed manoeuvre and formation rules. A couple of detailed combat descriptions would have resolved such problems without cluttering up the fine rules booklet.
In conclusion this is an excellent study of a little games historical topic. The standard of presentation is high and the rules, although describing a complex series of events, are at least consistent and well written. They ease a player into the game system with as little pain as possible. Rather than spending time wondering what the rules mean, the gamer feels confident enough to punch counters and start launching attacks.