Thursday, May 26, 2011

Field of Glory Rules - Purchased!

You may have noticed that the title of this blog is "Wargames Review," but to date, I have reviewed only one wargame (singular), Warhammer Fantasy Battles. Well, I bit the historical bullet a little and bought the Field of Glory rulesset, commonly abbreviated FoG. I bought two books used for about $17.00 US total (inc. shipping). I got the rulebook plus one sourcebook (like an army book, but based more on periods than “an army.” The sourcebook is called “Oath Of Fealty" - it basically covers the earlier medieval period, and you can make about 26 different armys/nations from that period.) - It will arrive within a few days or so and I’m anxious to look it over. FoG has no connection with Warhammer Ancient Battles (the Historical Equivalent of Warhammer Fantasy), but it looked like I would probably like it better.

It’s from historical publisher OSPREY:

I have wondered at times how people decide what wargames to get into... after all, like me, most people don't get a free advanced copy to look over. You can read many things online (thank the Lord for the internet!) in advance, and gather many 2nd and 3rd hand opinions, but eventually you have to take the leap of faith. I'm very interested in history and have been wanting to get into historical gaming for several years now, but A) life did not permit it at times, and B) Warhammer was all I've ever known. I have a family and a full time job, so most of the time any gaming is either me vs. Nathan (my brother-in-law and regular opponent) or me vs. me [AKA, solo gaming, or simulation, whatever term you want to use]. I've literally been to a local game store once to play a game since I started up Warhammer again about 2 years ago. I don't have a mentor or anyone to tell me what rules are best, so I have to research and take my best guess.

All that to say that I was going to share how my thought process worked as I was debating which game system to use, and I focused in mainly on FoG vs. Warhammer Ancient Battles (WaB). Here are excerpts from some thoughts I wrote down:

* * * * *

The rules in FoG are not too similar to Warhammer Fantasy. For one, figures are based as units, not individuals. IE, an infantry “group” might be one base, 60mm wide and 20 or 30mm deep. (The game is set up to accomodate 28mm scale or 15mm - I would only use the 28mm so I'm assuming that for this discussion.) It seems to be not too important how many models are on the base (3 or 4 ish), but the book makes recommendations. You don’t take “wounds” per se, but units lose their morale and become disorganized as they take casualties, until they break. You track those with markers (coins or whatever). So one unit may only show 3-4 models, but it “represents” 50-100 guys fighting. (very unlike Warhammer).

I like that because it will be easier to use cheap proxy models. As long as my opponent agrees with me, the base size is what matters, not the models. I will probably be mounting most of my existing mini’s on 20x20 magnetic bases for Warhammer, and then when I switch to historical, I can just put those on top of a magnetic sheet cut to the correct base size (hypothetically based and painted nicely, but don’t hold your breath on that! I’ve painted one horse in the last 3 months.)

… And the “low level of commitment” is one thing that attracted me. For example, if we’re playing a Viking vs. Saxon game, or Saxon vs. Saxon, my opponent can just borrow my mini’s (the battle masters, knights, Vikings, etc.). Once I have them all based on 20x20 bases (or 25x50 for horses), it shouldn’t take more than 10-20 minutes to load them onto the proper magnetic “group” base. Also (hypotetically) you don’t have to “own” and keep an army to play. I just need enough generic infantry and cavalry models, even a friend who doesn’t play wargames normally could come over and do an evening. Admittedly, you would have to find a friend who is attracted to the concept of a 3+ hour game of this nature, and the first time would be a learning curve.

The “average” game is supposed to be 2 ½ to 3 hours, but I’m sure the first few times will be much more, or a much smaller battle size. Another selling point was that each source book has starter lists or a default army list pre-built for most (all?) of the nations. I know I'll want to customize them eventually, but it will be nice to dive right in the first few times. I've seen some reports online with people doing solo gaming, and FoG seems to accomodate that well, too.

Also, the books are published by a non-games company, Osprey, who is like the #1 producer of period-accurate historical books on things like weapons, uniforms, etc. So each book is a small history lesson in and of itself. If you are playing as “Early Welsh,” you actually learn about the Early Welsh, some history, weapons, historical battles etc. The rules were developed by Slitherine, a video game company.

It seems like in historical gaming you have two trends:

A.) A rules set that is very accurate historically, with distances, maneuvers, etc, but due to the details is not really a “game,” but more of a simulation. This appeals to the old guys who have been doing it since the 70’s. The rules tend to be poorly supported (a small niche company in the UK), have very little web presence, etc.
B.) A rules set that is just trying to be a fun game. Historical accuracy is of little concern. Charges are easy to measure but you don’t worry about things like how drilled the troops are, can they execute a proper wheel, etc.

Warhammer Ancient Battles (WaB) seemed to lean to side B. One online review said it was like “Empire vs. Empire” every game with no magic. Also, the rules are very similar to Warhammer Fantasy. I’m not saying that’s bad by any means, but if I’m going to play a different game, as of right now at least, I want a different system too. Who knows, I may feel very differently in 3 weeks. On another note, WaB seems to be very poorly supported. A new army supplement has not been released in nearly 10 years. They have a web site, but you can ONLY buy the rule book (new) from this web site! They released v.2 of the rules within the last 3 years, but many people say it was basically just a few minor revisions over the old book, and mostly just to make money. Also, it’s full of errors. They had to release many pages of errata and revisions within weeks of the publishing.

Field of Glory (FoG) seems to be (one of) the first to strike a good balance between A and B – but possibly a slight lean toward A. However, I think it overcomes many of the historical roadblocks therein, since it has a great website and forum, is published by a historical publishing company and not a gaming company. I’ve been told there are very few errors and almost no errata needed. Since it is published in this way, it is sometimes sold at Barnes and Noble type bookstores, and I was able to find a plentiful supply on Amazon, Google Books, and eBay (I got mine on Amazon, who had every book in stock new, but I got mine used). It also seems to be very widely accepted which overcomes the “niche” thing somewhat. I’m not saying that makes it a walk in the park; the rules are still very thorough. It’s not for 8 year olds.

I chose to buy the used version because the company has announced that they are currently testing a possible 2nd edition of the rules. I can try version 1, and if I like it, maybe I'll be ready to buy v.2 about the time it comes out. It also is worth noting that a "Field of Glory: Rennisance" version has come out, but I got the original version, which covers BC times through late medieval.

As I said, theese are just my impressions based on 2nd and 3rd hand info; a sharing of why I made a decsion to try it out. I will follow up in a few weeks to share more. We'll see then if I like it or not!!!