Gotthard Heinrici (prev. Graf Strachwitz)
This review is based on my experience that it took me an effort to realise how full of flavour the Musket & Pike system is and that it took time to really appreciate what is done here!
It all started as that I wanted something different in my collection and no surprise that my eye quickly fell on the Musket and Pike series. However, here started my initial doubts as well: I read some info on the geek and was asking myself if this game would suit me as some geeks expressed concerns about bookkeeping and too much chrome charts etc. and I decided to pass. Some time past bye and I spotted Under the Lilly Banners in my local game store and before I knew it was in my bag (after paying for it) and was on the way home.
Initially my worries proved right:
I am not faint of heart and quite an experienced war gamer but my head was spinning a the first couple of times. The rules were clear but the system had so many phases and status markers & charts that it overwhelmed me. There was so much going all the time and the situation is ever changing and I felt I was busy keeping track of every phase and status rather than examining tactical opportunities.
Bookkeeping was the name of the game as far I was concerned: keep track of the different phases with different status markers of different units. It proved difficult for me to keep the overview and decide what to do to beat the enemy. This was what actually frustrated me. I felt the system and mechanics lacked intuition and had simply too much chrome and unfortunately I left the game for what it was.
Over time my intial worries proved wrong:
Now, a few tries later I am realising that I simply kept missing the point of the Musket & Pike era. I am not sure why but I think I just was expecting something different and more straight forward. After I tried again a few weeks ago it started to sink in and now, few plays later I can say that the system is exactly what distinguishes the game from other era’s and makes it really exiting. What I thought was its weakness -too much chrome & markers- is in the fact its biggest strength.
Let me further elaborate:
Again, I am not sure why but after I tried again I suddenly saw the function of the mechanics and the system started to sink in. I simply did not understand the Musket & Pike tactics.
So Initially I faced trouble with its accessibility due to the order of play combined with the charts and markers. I was simply not familiar with it and I had difficulty placing them in the game context (e.g. 4 different type of orders, pre-empting, continuation, intercepting, different markers and tables & charts).
Let me describe what happen a few weeks back as I changed my approach to the game. It was lying on theshelves crying for attention and when I changed my game cabinet I opened the box again and found the Play Book. The Play Book is really superb and decribes the background of the battles with historical comments. This got me so excited that I had to give it another go. Thank God!
I actually believe the play book gives the game the depth in a way that the battles become more three dimensional. Rather than playing a battle with the musket & pike system, you are now doing all over what happened back then!
After reading some pages in the play book I did the following
-I set up the short Mergentheim scenario
-I read the playing order again at the back of the rule book
-I followed the playt hrough of Mergemntheim step by step
After the first round I played the second round myself and third round etc.
The play throughs of Mergentheim really got me going and rather than seeing the initial blockades (charts, phases, markers) I got the hang of it and really got a feel for the tactical combat of this era.
Where I thought it was too much chrome and too much markers, I now can see the function of the various phases and appreciate them in the light of the Musket & Pike era.
So what is to like:
-Quality of the components:
Very good quality maps, counters. I would have appreciated two charts & tables (one for each player).
So overall, GMT did a great job as usual.
The rules are clear and not long (around 25 pages) so no issues here. The system however is another matter as it requires some time and effort to gasp and it will take some practice before you are familiar with the Musket & Pike era tactics.
Superb research, simulating this type of warfare and the incredible feel it represents for the musket and pike era, replay value it deserves a 9+. The Play book really makes the difference as it gives great background information that brings you right at the scene few hundred years back!
I can’t comment on the other volume’s in the series but out of the 5 battles I played three. You will find a bit of everything : from Mergentheim being a smaller affair, to bloody slugfest and classic engagements at Lens and Rocroi (the most impressive for me)
-The game system:
I won't elaborate too much here as it will end up to be a book but the core is the historical feel of musket and pike tactics. The different orders, the leaders, the pre-empting, the continuation, the momentum all come together. It is extremely interesting to see the battlefield develop where ech move can be countered and each confrontation will trigger something else. Chaos that is sometimes controlled and uncontrolled at other times. Once you get into it you forget about anything else except from traying to manage the chaos where all of a sudden the enemy has to flee and you cut through the infantry rears and flanks with your cavalry. But beware that the same might happen to you!
Expect the unexpected, adobt the flexible tactic where unplanned successes can turn into a winning strike and where careful plans fade in a cloud of smoke by a devastating salvo from heavy infantry. Do I need to say more?
The rules actually come together when playing more often and you resolve them much quicker resulting in a action - counteraction with bloody result. Chaotic and bloody encounters with short but intense engagements. I was not there but it seems this represents it in a realistic fashion.
What is to keep in mind when you thinking about the game:
-The game has a steeper learning curve than I expected wehen looking at the rules and is not put on the table and played just like that (well, it was not designed for that anyway). It has many different phases with action and reaction. I initially mistook the phases and markers for too much chrome that bogged the game play but now I can see their function in a better perspective
-The game system requires effort. It will require practice before you really gasp Musket & Pike tactics and can actually come up with a good plan. The best tactic is flexibility and not to plan too far ahead. The more effort, the more rewarding it is to me. If you don’t like it the first time, you have to give it another go and maybe even a third time for the system to sink in (as in my case).
-The game takes time: the first time you play –depending on the scenario- it will take a lot of time to get used to the mechanics so start with a smaller battle. Rocroi absorbes a lot of time but is a SUPERB experience. The more you play the quicker it goes and the shorter the battles.
-It is chart heavy. The initial overwhelming charts (4X A4 pages) might some make them think to pass on the game. However, in my experience it proves more interesting rather than just being chrome.
-It requires some bookkeeping. The different orders and unit status makes the marker density rather high. This combined with the different charts & tables and playing order might overwhelm, however, imo it is not just chrome but a reflection of typical tactics and that gives the game its flavour.
-An interest in Musket and Pike Era is an absolute must as it makes for an easier gateways through te system. If you are interested it is very likely you are more receptive what is done here. I had too much tunnel vison from previous war game experiences. So being open mimnded is the key here!
Musket & Pike in my experience proved to be a game that needs effort and an open mind in order to get rewarding and that my impatience and misunderstanding of the combat in that era proved me initially wrong.
The game flow is really up & down, action – reaction, battlefield chaos of the time and above all giving an insight in the tactical combat of the battles that were fought those days.
The research is great and the Play book offers the historical dimension the game can be placed in and which translates it into a game with a superb historical feel.
The system combined with its historical research and play book make for an amazing historical game that is tense and has great replay value.
This game is certainly not for all war gamers out there but for those who are interested in the era and are looking for a simulation type of game the musket and pike series is a must.
The more you play, the easier and quicker it goes. Learning the best tactics is a real challenge and not obvious at all as the situation changes all the time.
It takes effort but really: the more effort the more rewarding. Those who own Musket & Pike but struggled initially I can advice to give it another try!
- Last edited Tue Jan 23, 2007 1:37 pm (Total Number of Edits: 3)
- Posted Mon Jan 22, 2007 3:38 pm
This is a great game from a great series - it really is worth the time and effort to master.
At first, I too found the record keeping a bit of a drag - pistols on, pistols off, counting the casualties and cross referencing them to see if the threshold has been reached, keeping track of formation and morale status... But by the second game, it all fell into place and played well. Very well.
It was lying on the shelves crying for attention
I guess, this is a pretty common fate of many wargames
I got UtLB because I am interested in the old tactics...
What broke UtLB the neck on my table was the fact, that I fear that it is no game I can "explain" to my opponent. And this is todays primary demand: a game what can be learned just by instructions.
And I am not that much of a solo player. Unfortunately this didn't find it's way to vassal yet.
I think this game has a special appeal if you already have an understanding and love of the era - the rules may need to be worked through, but they do make sense, and result in a game with a special atmosphere.
If someone approached it unaware of what a tercio or harquebusier is, the chrome could well be off-putting.
However...even then, it would be worth persevering as it is definitely worth the journey.
One of the consequences, I found, was I became profoundly disenchanted with existing 18th century rules - The Pike and Shot system reveals their lack of nuance, and their lack of period flavour. Likewise, after Pike and Shot, existing Medieval rules sets often appear lacking, as well.
This is a rules set that could easily be expanded both forwards and backwards in time - it has enormous potential.
Great review HB!
- Last edited Tue Aug 12, 2008 7:57 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Aug 12, 2008 7:56 pm
after paying for it
"Do I need to say more?"
Yes, yes you do. You didn't tell me anything about how the game actually plays. Not a thing.