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Subject: Review and Battle Report of Tin Soldiers in Action rss

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Dale Hurtt
United States
Huachuca City
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I wrote two blog posts on the rules Tin Soldiers in Action. In those posts I ran a test battle using the rules to try and get a feel for them. Although I messed up a few rules and made some injudicious "tweaks", I really came to like the simplicity of the design.

Here are the links to the two blog posts: [url=""]Part One, Battle Report and Rules Explanation[/url] [url=""]Part Two, Battle Conclusion and Discussion[/url]

Here is my rating, with the factors I use for other miniatures rules.

Game Ratings

Using the review system from before, here are the game ratings for Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA).

Drama – do the rules create tension during play?

Yes, largely through the card-based activation mechanism for units. You do not know what order your units will be allowed to act. This creates both a number "missed opportunities" (where your troops have already acted before an enemy unit becomes vulnerable) and rare exploits (such as when you move last in one turn and first in the next, effectively getting a "double move" against the enemy). Also, Commanders play more of a role in these rules than in others, so the loss of a Commander hurts your command and control compared to those rules which have an "automatically replaced commander" rule.

I have yet to play the hidden deployment and scouting rules, so that may add an additional element.

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Drama.

Uncertainty – are there enough elements that introduce uncertainty into the game?

All combat uses chance elements (dice) to add uncertainty. For the Horse and Musket period, you will typically be throwing one die per two figures firing, looking for 6's, and one die per figure in close combat, looking for 5's and 6's. You will not necessarily score hits every turn, especially when using lower figure counts like I was. The Tenacity Test, which is the morale check taken after receiving casualties from firing, further adds to the uncertainty of combat. Being disordered halves your effective combat power and makes you very vulnerable to subsequent morale checks. Further, recovering from disorder limits your response on your following turn.

Command and control is uncertain in terms of when you activate compared to other friendly and enemy units (as indicated above). You will only rarely get perfectly ordered unit activations

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Uncertainty.

Engaging – do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?

Given that some of the elements of command and control are taken out of the player's hands – which units act in which order, for example – it is definitely less engaging than rules in which the player has God-like control. Also, given that the consequences of some conditions, like disorder, have such a large impact in the game that it is almost automatic that you have to address those conditions first. Finally, although there are still strong chance elements in play, the odds of attacks are pretty easy to calculate once you get a hang of the rules, so you often find yourself discarding options because the risk is too high or reacting because the threat is too high. Some people may define these qualities as highly positive and thus rate this differently.

These rules rate 3 out of 5 in Engaging.

Unobtrusiveness – do the rules get in the way?

No. Obtrusive have lots of exceptions for special cases. These rules have few such special cases to worry about.

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Unobtrusiveness.

Heads Up – are the rules playable without frequent reference to a quick reference sheet?

There may be a quick reference sheet in there somewhere. Given that this is a rather thick book that does not have a lay-flat binding and that you don't want to ruin its spine, the authors should probably create a quick reference sheet and post it to Boardgame Geek, where they have their scenario posted.

That said there were only three places I referred to in the rules – the allowable actions, the firing table, and the close combat sequence – and after about turn 2 only one place (the close combat sequence). The basic mechanic of the game – modify the number of dice rolled not the die roll – makes it very easy to remember how to play the game.

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Heads Up.

Appropriately Flavored – do the rules 'feel' like they represent the period or genre being played?

As I stated in the first part, TSIA shares a trait with rules like Black Powder: they are a toolbox and it is intended that you do a little bit of research and work out amongst your fellow gamers how best to represent the units, armies, nationalities, and period. Do not get me wrong, they provide plenty of material to help you do that; you will not have to make up rules to fill in the gaps. But if you are looking for hard and fast army lists for the period these rules span (1680–1914), you will not find that here. Again, depending upon your preferences, this may not be bad thing.

One point I do want to make is that I thought the transition from period to period – late pike and shot, horse and musket, rifle and sabre, and the start of the machine age – was well thought out in the combat rules, making these rules usable through such a rapidly changing 250 years of military history. In this regard, I think the authors did as nice a job as you see with Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargaming. (Some people may not see that as a compliment, but it is.)

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Appropriately Flavored.

Scalable – can the rules be scaled up or down – in terms of figures or number of units played – from a 'normal' game?

This is certainly something that I tested, at least in the downward direction! There are a few basic numbers and ratios to watch out for, such as square capacity, the number of figures that can shoot or close assault, and the physical size of the square itself that will limit just how much you can scale up or down. But "out of the box" there are two scales to the game to start with, plus there is the variation in unit size. So these rules, without any modification at all, handles large variances in the number of figures that will be in play.

As for units, there is not really a lot of unit "maintenance" that the player is concerned with, so I can see there being a pretty good variance in how many units can be handled by a single player. Largely the built-in command range and the number of commanders the player has access to will be the limiting factor on the number of units in play.

Given that the activation mechanism is card-based, I can see that you will have to think how to handle player downtime when your opponent is taking their actions. This can also be an issue with multiple players per side. As the card represents a single command, belonging to a single player, everyone else will be waiting for that one player to finish. But a lot of rules have to deal with this issue, even ones that don't use card activation. There are plenty of suggestions on how to engage multiple people at one time when using these sort of "one person at a time" activation methods.

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Scalable.

Lacks Fiddly Geometry – do the rules require fiddly measurements or angles?

Let's see, all measurements are regulated by a grid, so there are no fiddly measurements. There was only one rule that actually addressed facing (the Axis of Attack) and it was dead simple with clear diagrams, so there were no angles to deal with. Need I say more?

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Fiddly Geometry.

Tournament Tight™ Rules – are the rules clear and comprehensive, or do the players need to 'fill in the blanks'?

Let me start by saying that my preference is towards tighter rules, where everything is spelled out clearly by the author, not looser rules where the author leaves certain mechanics up to the individual players, gentlemen's agreements, and a roll of the die where agreements cannot be found. So a high value means 'tight' and a low value means 'loose'. If you like looser rules, subtract my rating from '6' and that would probably be your rating!

The only reason these rules do not rate a '5' is because of the toolbox approach to defining units, armies, and periods. Otherwise they would have the highest rating. Although I got some rules wrong, I could see that it was my own misreading of the rule (or more likely, my bias on what I expected the rule to say). I find the rules very clear and unambiguous. Using simple, clear mechanics with very few "exception rules" really helps in this regard.

I don't think you could run a tournament with these rules unless the unit selections, army lists, and period flavor were defined for the players. Letting everyone do what they want and relying on points to balance it out does not work. (I am sure that I am going to be told that Europeans do, indeed, use these rules for tournaments!)

These rules rate 4 out of 5 in Tournament Tight™ Rules.

Solo Suitability – do the rules have elements conducive to solo play?

There are no hidden elements to the game so that alone usually grants the rules high solitaire suitability. Having a mechanism to randomize which units act next is usually an element that solo gamers inject into other rules, sometimes with disastrous results. So having that mechanism built in and accounted for is just icing on the cake.

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Solo Suitability.

Component Quality – are the components provided made with quality?

This is a new rating, meant primarily for board games, which addresses the quality of the physical components.

These rules only come printed. This is a hardback book with textbook quality binding. Given the thickness of the book I am not sure it is capable of having a lay-flat binding. The quality of the paper and the legibility of the type screams quality. Maybe over time I will notice something that changes my mind, but my previous purchase of a Partizan Press book does not even come close to the quality of this book. For that reason alone – well, okay, and the fact that I like the rules – the higher purchase price is justified.

These rules rate 5 out of 5 in Component Quality.

There is so much of this book that I did not cover, but for the most part I review rules, not books. These rules are very accessible, in my opinion clear and understandable (moreso when you break out the figures and try them), will lead to near zero disputes, and can provide a decisive game in a reasonable amount of time.

Will everyone like these rules? No! Every rules author must decide where to add detail and where to abstract them away and players will not always agree on where that line should be drawn. If you think that there is "no way" you could play a set of rules that don't have you changing from line to column to square, you probably won't like TSIA. If you think there is "no way" you could play a set of rules that don't care about facing, then you probably hate board games and probably won't like TSIA also.

If you like Neil Thomas and wish he had put his game on a grid, you will like these rules.

Highly Recommended.
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Michael Gandt
38302 Wolfenbüttel
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After reading your rather positive review of the rules I purchased them and we played our first game yesterday. We were playing the Hook's Farm scenario that can be downloaded here.

We had a blast and I can fully second the recommendation of the rules.

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