Lion of the North (GMT)

 

Playings; 3 (14 hours), Swedish wins, Lutzen and Breitenfeld.

 

Following on from 2 big selling games, Great Battles of Alexander and SPQR it would be reasonable to expect the crinkles to have been smoothed out from the Great Battles of History system. Not so, Lion of the North boasts one of the most opaque rulebooks around. The system appears to have been put together from the bottom up, plenty of details for variations in firing and melee but lacking in explanation for the big system. Added to this the rules are less than thorough, I kept having to refer to them to check if I was playing it right even after hours of counter pushing.

 

To actually play any game the basic system has to be clearly presented. Lion of the North uses a development of the "how far can you shout?" Prestags leader system. Leader counters are plastered in ratings, including the line command ability that I have still to work out the purpose of. Range allows orders to be given to units within that distance, initiative is the number of orders a general can give. Orders are used to make units fire and/or move and to rally units. The almost invisible strategy rating allows commanders to give the same order to move and fire to an entire line. If the line is continuous, edge to edge units, it can be of any length. If a bunch of units within 2 hexes of each other, all units must be within the general's range. Leaders can either give individual commands or roll to command a line, they cannot change their minds after failing the strategy roll but generals within the range of their overall commander are always able to command lines.

 

Leaders are activated one at a time. Gustavus being well hard gets to go 1st (and again last) or he can delegate 1 other Swede. After that leaders take turns based on their initiative ratings, lowest 1st, alternating between sides when both have leaders of the same initiative. A general can stop then, flipping to finished and move on to the next leader. More likely he will try for a bit more, rolling under his initiative will allow him to issue orders again, to the same units if he wishes. Stop there, if he succeeds the opposing player has a chance to butt in. He may try to activate one of his leaders that has not already gone by rolling under its initiative. If successful the challenging general can issue orders, his opponent becomes finished. If the challenger fails, he is finished and will not be able to issue any orders that turn (but see later), it is not usually worth the risk to challenge. Back to the original leader, if he fails his 2nd activation attempt but rolls 9, a 2nd D10 is rolled. On a 0 or 1 his opponent can activate any leader including one that is already finished. If a 9 is rolled the turn is over for everyone. Yes I have activated the Swedish artilerymaster (initiative 1, going 1st after Gustavus), tried for a 2nd go, rolled 9 then 9 again for a short game turn. Back at the ranch, if the leader succeeds to re-activate he can try once more for a total of 3 in a row. The initial 1-off of Gustavus probably counts towards this 3 total as may (or may not) the re-activation of a used leader on a roll of 0 or 1. If I have got this wrong, I blame the rules for lack of clarity and the absence of any overall example of how a turn is played.

 

All the above is supposed to represent 1/2 hour although it could take up to 1 hour to play. How much a unit can do will depend on how many leaders are within range. A leader can use 1 of his allowable orders to move himself so he can sidle off to give orders to 1 unit then move to another. To order a line the general must begin his order phase within 2 hexes of the line but another general could use up his 1st phase with individual orders then sidle up to a line and hope to command it in a 2nd phase. In Breitenfeld the Imperialists can chivvy most of their Tercios into 1 long line and use successive commanders to keep it going, preferably with Tilly on hand to make the line commands automatic.

 

A leader cannot give commands if he is in an enemy ZOC. This is likely to occur if he has advanced with a line that is now meleeing or firing at short range. It pays to keep leaders just behind units that are adjacent to the enemy. If they cannot give commands then they cannot order units to fire or move. So we have units adjacent to the enemy who will not fire unless another general sidles up and orders them to (presumably the original general is mixing it up with his troops). The leader can instruct leaders within his range to melee if they are already adjacent to the enemy. We are in the realms of time and motion here or how much can you do in 1/2 hour? Some lines will stand around doing nothing all turn, either because they are in a stand-off with the other side or the commander has rushed off to command someone else or do a bit of rallying. With a concentration of commanders, units or lines can be hyperactive. One order will allow a unit or line to fire once, artillery or pistols will not do much damage but by giving infantry units enough orders they can put out a lot of lead. Another unit equally near to the enemy will not fire for 1/2 hour if not so ordered. Partly this is the gamer's fault for not having a leader near that unit.

 

If a unit moves adjacent to the front of another, the non-mover can fire without orders and if fired at a unit will fire back (the unit cannot do both in the same orders phase). If there is nothing to re-act to the unit will not fire. If a unit begins adjacent and shock attacks without firing 1st there will be no re-action, presumably you charge right in without firing 1st. Swedish heavy infantry units can fire salvo, causing a lot of damage, it pays not to fire at them (it only makes them angry).

 

An orders system ought to be of a level that will become 2nd nature on repeated playings. If you were confused by the above then you have got the right idea about Lion of the North. Alas, having worked out the order system or made up your own, the combat mechanisms just do not hack it on the historicity front. Firing comes off best if rather too effective, causing casualties and possibly disrupting units. The Swedish heavy infantry can cause a lot of damage by salvo fire this could vary from 1 to 4 hits (hundred men down) with the die roll. Hexes are 100 yards, units 1,000 or 1,500 men at most. The hex scale gives enough room for 2 units to hang about at extreme range yet still be adjacent in hex terms. Muskets are allowed to fire out to 2 hexes, although I banned this, firing at above 100 yards was not worth the expense (not only do muskets drop in accuracy but the ball loses power and cannot penetrate armour). Blasting away at 50 yards would not be unduly close for muskets but a long shot with pistols. Cavalry usually fire their pistols at other cavalry before melee. A lot of luck is involved but pistols can cause casualties, probably too many, cuirasses were supposed to be pistol proof anyway.

 

Sidling up and pouring some shot into the opponent before closing is recommended unless he clearly outguns you. Artillery can only cause disruptions on a healthy unit, charge of the light brigade attacks on unsupported guns are on. Shock is a separate action from moving and firing although most firing will occur between adjacent hexes, just like shock attacks. Shock is voluntary, units can halt at 50 yards or so and fire away to their hearts content. Most cavalry units are 1 to 4 points strong so could be eliminated by shot, 15 is common for a heavy infantry unit, it will take a lot of good rolls to eliminate this. At this point shock should occur, charging in to physically displace the enemy and break his will to fight. In Lion of the North shock will never cause casualties, the only possible result is disruption, a disrupted unit which is disrupted again will rout.

 

Excepting the Saxons both armies are trained professionals blessed with high moral, making them hard to disrupt and rout. Most melees will result in nothing happening or one or both sides being disrupted. Disruption is no big hassle, except disrupted units drop a little in quality and lose their zones of control. When 2 sides face each other both disrupted, the1st to get a leader up and recover his units gains the advantage. His rallied units now have ZOCs and prevent the opposition rallying and from moving away. Due to the high quality of most units it is hard to disrupt and to rout. Forcing a unit from steady to routed in a single orders phase is unlikely. A unit may face disruption tests because of fire, advancing to contact and melee in a single orders phase, with the exception of Saxons and Croats it is likely to pass all 3. End result is a lot of die rolling for no end result.

 

Lion of the North differentiates between short range fire and shock so all this cannot be explained as units milling around at close range, ineffective fire and orders being ignored. If we order shock that is what we should get, a decisive result in 1 orders phase with a chance of the wrong side reeling back to discourage players from charging right in. I made a few changes before playing Lutzen to hurry up melee, which now almost always results in retreat or rout. Infantry units did fight close up at "push of pike", I have assumed that this would take less than 1 30 minute turn. Lack of ammunition was a factor that curtailed firefights during the English Civil War. Restricting ammo would reduce the casualties caused by shot in Lion of the North. This would require even more markers (low powder, 3L fire) in an already marker heavy game. If the commanders could afford enough powder and arrange for its distribution before the battle, each musketeer could easily carry enough for his needs in apostles and flask. Forget ammo markers and assume powder and apostles are plentiful, neither of which were during the English Civil War.

 

Cavalry tend to bounce off if they do not charge in, which encourages charging. TE and HI units are now less than useful when rallied from rout. It is worth rallying them to prevent the points loss but they should then be left standing around out of harms way.

 

Infantry : Infantry and Cavalry : Infantry shock.

 

A: If 1 side is disrupted by shock or firing before shock and the other is not. The disrupted side moves 1 hex back facing the enemy (attacker only must advance), if unable to unit routs. If non-disrupted side is HI and 2x larger in pike strength, or TE and 1 1/2x or larger in pike strength (count all units involved in the shock on both sides, disrupted or not), retreating side routs. Any cavalry facing LI only, disrupted LI rout. If the retreating unit does not automatically rout, make a disruption test, +1 per pike armed attacker, +2 if strength = or < 1/2 printed strength, (+1 per attacker LI defending only) if it fails it routs.

 

B: If neither side is disrupted. Attacker is automatically disrupted, continue as in A above.

 

C: If both sides are disrupted. If 1 side was disrupted as a result of the current shock attack but the other was disrupted by fire or shock in a previous phase, the units disrupted in this attack (only) are treated as in A, other units may not advance after combat but are otherwise unaffected. If units on both sides were disrupted by this shock attack. Both sides nominate 1 unit and roll a D6 adding the result to the TQ of the chosen unit, lowest result (defender if a tie) is treated as A above.

 

Note 1: Units are easy to rally in Lion of the North. This is fair for small units of musket and cavalry but not for large pike units. Assuming the 1,000 or more men can be got together there is the small matter of getting the pikemen to pick up their pikes which are probably lying behind the advancing enemy line. As a new rule routed HI and TE units may only be rallied to disrupted status, they may never recover to good morale. In addition any HI or TE unit is automatically attack (if attacking) or defence superior (DS3 in fact if defending) to a previously routed HI or TE unit (keep recover markers in place as a reminder). Also previously routed HI and TE units shock at 1/2 of their actual pike strength in any shock combat.

 

Cavalry : Cavalry shock.

 

A: If 1 side only is disrupted (before any post-charge disruptions) and it was the object of a charge or counter-charge it routs (no messing, regardless of whether that unit charged or counter-charged itself). If 1 unit was disrupted but neither side charged or counter-charged, the disrupted unit backs off 2 hexes facing the enemy, no turns or side slipping allowed. If unable to it routs.

 

B: If neither side was disrupted both sides back off 2 hexes as in A. Units that charge are automatically disrupted so B cannot apply where a charge has taken place, go to C. Any units unable to back off 2 hexes are disrupted.

 

C: If both sides are disrupted. If 1 side was disrupted as a result of this shock attack, not including any post-charge disruptions, it routs. Otherwise both sides back off 2 hexes as in A.

 

Note 2: It is possible to have 1 attacker shocking more than 1 defender or more than 1 attacker per defender. This can result in some units on each side being disrupted and others not. Handle disrupted infantry units before cavalry. Where a disrupted unit faces a non-disrupted unit as part of shock, handle all the disrupted units 1st, starting with the infantry unit of lowest TQ. Handle all disrupted units before considering the fate of non-disrupted units. Units that face each other after shock attacks but did not participate in shock that phase are not affected in any way.

 

Note 3: When a unit has to back off it moves directly away from the attacker(s). If attacked from more than 1 hex but still able to back off the unit faces towards any attackers to the front in preference to the flank, flank is preferred to rear. Backing off must be a straight line, the unit checks for disruption if called for by crossing terrain or moving through friendly units (who also check).

 

Zones of Control, Movement and Firing.

 

Artillery are the only units in Lion of the North to lack a ZOC. ZOCs force units to stop movement, prevent recovery from disruption and only overall commanders can exit them. In short they are powerful beasts. The rules as written allow a LI or cavalry unit to move adjacent to the rear of a TE or HI. The larger unit cannot move away or even turn to face. The small unit has pinned the larger and can fire without reply, shock attacking is not advisable. The only way to save the TE or HI is to send another unit to chase away the pinning unit. TE and HI are large units with an excellent pike based defence against cavalry. The appearance of small units nearby should not impede their movement.

 

Units no longer exert ZOCs on hexes occupied by units at least 3 times their strength.

 

HI units are only able to turn in place by wheeling the 2 hex unit. Wheeling is a complex manoeuvre if you wish to keep the line straight. All musketeers had to counter-march to fire by introduction and extroduction. By counter-marching the musket through the pike and counter-marching the pike (to keep the big boys in front) the whole unit has neatly turned about.

 

HI may now turn front to back like TE units.

 

TE units are allowed to fire to front and flank. A look at how a tercio is made up shows that they were designed for all round fire.

 

TE units may fire in any direction, front or rear at 1/2 musket strength, flank at 1/4. TE units may spilt fire, the total musket strength used may never exceed the total available.

 

  

Ellis Simpson; "I have no meaningful experience with Lion of the North because like you, I found the rulebook to be very heavy going. Generally speaking I can pick up on a first read through of a rule book enough of the system to understand what type of game is available. The second, third, fourth and subsequent readings are for filling in detail and during these I will perhaps set up the game or part of the game and try out some mechanics. With Lion of the North my first read through gave me a headache and beyond the leader activation rules (of which I had previous experience) I was completely in the dark. This time I didn't carry on in the normal fashion but went back to the rule book to try and read it through or at least enough of it to form an impression of what was going on. I had probably exhausted myself (mentally) by reading the rule book and had no inclination to set up either of the battles. Probably this was not helped by the fact that both of the battles are rather large and look as if they are going to take some time. If I could be bothered I would set up a small scenario but I can't help feeling that, all other things being equal, this is something that the game company could have much more easily and profitably provided. In short, an introductory scenario would have been more than welcome.

 

Charles Vasey also comments on Lion of the North from the sidelines; "Interested to see someone finally so generous as to buy and play Lion of the North to save the rest of us having to confirm our suspicions. One of the most interesting failures of the classic style of design is to make the number of dice actions mimic the number of key results. Many games involve lots of combats which after one has moved down the front/battleline translate into 10 losses and a 1 hex moved back by the Ruritanians. How much neater to have generated the same result in 1 combat calculation (and well done to 3rd Reich for doing it years ago). Push of pike battles always sound very indecisive for a long time but i reckon pushing as such did not extend beyond 1 turn of most games. So the activity level should be some losses to morale and men from desultory fire before 1 side moves and then a series of decisive clashes form which the units emerge defeated or victorious and then on to the next battle line. More accurate and much quicker, eh?

 

I must admit that I did not exactly buy Lion of the North. Having spent a credit note from Decision on a years S&T, I had some left which rounded off nicely as a copy of the above game. Lion of the North aroused favourable comments when I banded the name around at Romiley. Those well versed in SPQR reported no problems. They probably refrained from studying the rulebook as Ellis had done. It is possible to skim through and note the highlighted system changes then move into SPQR mode for playing. Those of us not owning SPQR or Caesar are thought too poor by GMT to warrant special attention. The 1 action for the whole line system suggested by Charles is mathematically what we want. I have messed with that sort of thing in figures rules and note that if the system is too clean or quick battles devolve to a certain amount of shuffling about and lining up. This is followed by 1 side or the other (sometimes neither) charging in, leading to a swift flurry of die rolling and its all over in double quick time. This is how it should be, once crucial events start there is not time to do much about it. Some gamers actually like counting up numbers and referring to tables, they would not be palmed off with 1 die roll per battleline. I have no idea what proportion of gamers lie in each camp.