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Subject: [Roger's Reviews] Saints in Armor: More of a Good Thing rss

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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Saints in Armor
A game for 2 players designed by Brian Asklev & David Ekburg


Introduction

Saints in Armor is the sixth game in the absolutely brilliant Musket & Pike Battle Series from GMT Games.



This series features battles set in the transitionary era of musket and pike warfare. We get to see infantry units armed with pikes with some musketeers amongst their ranks along with wings of cavalry and some artillery. The greatest strength of the series is how command and control are highlighted.

Saints in Armor is set during the Thirty Years War, and has the following battles:
White Mountain, 1620.
Wimpfen, 1622.
Höchst, 1622.
Fleurus, 1622.
Stadtlohn, 1623.
Lutter am Barenbarge, 1626.


The Battle of White Mountain is possibly one of the most famous battles of the conflict. All of these scenarios are relatively early in the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).

Components

Saints in Armor comes in the standard sized GMT box with three full counter sheets, three double sided maps (17x22"), a scenario book with extensive historical notes, the usual Musket & Pike player aids to keep track of game information, a 10-sided die, and a new and welcome addition, three double sided play sheets with the special rules and terrain effect charts for each scenario printed on them.

The map graphics are fabulous and are among the best in the series, right up there with those from Nothing Gained but Glory.

Once more I need to really emphasize the loving attention to detail in this game (and the entire series for that matter). There are no less than a dozen references listed in a bibliography in the back of the play book, along with seven pages of historical notes, two pages of designer notes, and for those who want to dive right into the game, two pages of scenario notes describing the challenges along with some convenient tips about how to play each side.

The games in this series are worth buying as reference works alone!

Rules & Game Play

Saints in Armor includes the latest version of the core game rules, version 6.0. The rule changes are denoted in the text, and are mostly clarifications from previous editions. Changes worth noting are the new anti-suicide clause for light infantry and limbered artillery who are no longer required to move into the front facing hex of heavy infantry unit ("at least we're safe sir!"), wing morale modifiers for trying to change to rally orders, light infantry in close combat, and notes about special units.

Also in the rules are four pages of cumulative and updated errata for the other games in the series. I for one really appreciate this attention to detail because it means I can use the same rulebook for all six of the games in the series.

A complete sequence of play is on the back page of the rule book for easy reference.

While involved, the rules for the game are not excessively complex. The challenge is to remember all the various triggers and opportunities for reaction that come into play at any given moment. The Musket & Pike games in the series are set piece simulations, so the rules are all about managing your opportunities to act and react, and in that respect, this series is among the very best set of wargames to have accomplished this.

The sixth edition rules are 26 pages long and are remarkably clear and concise for a game with this much detail to keep track of. I recommend that new players keep the rule book and a copy of the sequence of play close to hand.

A turn follows this sequence:

d10-1 Initiative is determined.
- The player with the most wings under charge orders goes first, ties go to the side with the best leader.

d10-2 Wings are activated
- Preemption attempts are made to either bypass the currently activated leader, or to stop continuation of a wing that has already gone
- Wing commanders may try to change their order status
- Each unit in the active wing may perform a single action

d10-3 Close combat is declared and resolved, active player first

d10-4 Wings may attempt continuation
- preemption can cancel continuation

d10-5 Rout movement
- run away!

d10-6 Marker removal
- the bookkeeping phase

The Musket & Pike games revolve around command and control of your army's wings. The order status for each wing both constrains what you can do, and when you get to go relative to other wings on the board. Very briefly, the order statuses are:
Charge, Make Ready, Receive Charge, and Rally. More details below.

Each turn, the side with the most units under Charge orders goes first. I like the simplicity of this system, especially as it nicely reflects the ebb and flow of battle. Over the course of a scenario, especially the longer ones, who has the overall initiative will ebb and flow.

There are a series of tie breakers to determine who goes first; simply stated, wings are activated in order of Charge, Make Ready, Receive Charge and Rally. The game includes an ingenious mechanism whereby someone can attempt to preempt a wing that's been activated in order to act first (see below).

If they fail, they get a "No Continue" marker for their troubles, meaning they can have only one activation this turn. Wings that have completed their first activation may attempt to go again up to two more times but are subject to preemption each time; this means, and may the odds be ever in your favour, that your wing could go three times in a row before your opponent can react! Carpe diem!

If preemption is successful, the commander is either bypassed for the moment and has to wait (and will go next, subject to possibly another preemption attempt) or if the wing was attempting continuation their commander is flipped to his finished side and the next commander begins their activation. If you fail a continuation roll, then that commander gets flipped to their finished side.

The game ends either after the number of turns noted in the scenario or at the end of any turn where one side has all their wings under Rally orders, meaning they've surrendered the field. In the former case, victory points are tallied and the difference compared to the scenario's victory conditions. In the latter case, the side that withdrew can do no better than a draw; that said, when a situation becomes untenable on the field, it's perfectly reasonable to withdraw to fight another day, so it fits with the theme.

The musket & pike era of battle relied on commanders being able to control their units, and there is a lot of work required to keep them in formation and reforming them quickly after close combat. Communications in this era were better than in ancient times, which is reflected in how long a chain you can form with your units. The units form a daisy chain - as long as each unit is no further than two hexes from another unit that is itself in command, they can act under that wings orders.

Charge orders mean you must move closer to the enemy, but it's hard to reform and impossible to rally. Make ready is in some ways the most flexible as you can move freely and it's easy to reform, but you can neither move adjacent to an enemy unit nor rally. Receive charge limits your movement to just one hex, but lets you reform and rally. Rally lets you move as long as it's not closer to the enemy and is the easiest status within which to reform and rally.

As each wing is activated, you or your opponent must decide if you wish to preempt with your own wing. The odds of doing so successfully depend in part on both the order status of the wing you wish to preempt with and the wing commander's rating. Wings under Charge preempt the most easily, and units under Rally cannot preempt at all. Assuming your wing gets to go, each unit may take a single specific action, and each unit completes its action before the next one goes; you may perform actions in any order you choose.

Movement is simple, yet has the risk of causing Formation Hits that make them less effective in combat. Moving over unfavourable terrain will cause a unit in good order to become Formation Shaken, and another Formation Hit will make them Formation Broken, which means can't move at all! You can have your unit move in Open Order, but that makes them less effective in close combat on attack and more vulnerable on defense.

Movement is also the primary cause of reaction triggers of various kinds. If you move within four hexes of an enemy cavalry unit, they may attempt to intercept you, and if successful, may then immediately engage in close combat before you continue. Moving a unit adjacent to an enemy triggers possible reaction fire, which can inflict casualty hits. Musketeers and cavalry aren't particularly effective, but heavy infantry will almost always deliver some damage. Artillery can reaction fire if a unit moves within its grazing range.

Close combat is your best chance to kill units outright, but all units involved in close combat suffer a Formation Hit, which means you'll need to get your wing commander performing a lot of reform orders. It is also fraught with risk because all units involved in an attack are affected for good or ill, and if the bonuses aren't in your favour, you could suffer a grave misfortune. Cavalry is particularly effective at charging if given the space to do so, but a point to note here is that cavalry of the era was notoriously hard to control. The combat tables reflect this as it's entirely possible that your cavalry unit will cheerfully pursue the enemy unit right off the board. This gains your opponent no victory points, but also loses you the unit for the remainder of the scenario!

Once all the units of your wing have moved, you can attempt to continue, subject to making a roll and subject to preemption after you roll. If you succeed in your roll, but are preempted, then the wing commander is flipped to his finished side and is done for the turn, and the next wing is activated.

Once every leader is finished, rout movement is resolved, and then the bookkeeping takes place in the marker removal phase, and the next turn begins.

The rules help with the simulation feel with the command limitations for each wing's orders, and the uncertainty attached to trying to change your order status. You may want to go directly from Receive Charge to Charge, but your odds of success are much better if you first make the transition to Make Ready and then have a successful continuation to then move to Charge. Your troops might not always do what you want, and that's simply a reflection of the realities of the era.

The complexity in the system comes from two places. The first are all the various triggers that players need to remember, complicated by each unit eligible for reaction declares individually; you can wait to see the outcome of one reaction movement for a cavalry unit, say, before declaring what the next cavalry unit might do.

There are also a large number of informational counters to be kept track of. Cavalry units only have two pistol shots, and their uses must be marked with a counter. Casualty hits are marked. Morale shaken and formation broken markers can also add to the pile. You might well have a stack of five or six counters for a single unit, although there are markers that combine several elements together to mitigate this.

Involved as all of the above sounds, the game quickly falls into a nice rhythm. You'll realize that you need to stop charging for a moment and rally your units back to good order before pressing your advantage. You'll notice that you're in an excellent defensive position and your enemy will be in some level of formation disarray if they cross that terrain towards your position so you'll be happy to remain in Receive Charge. You'll curse the captain of that cavalry unit as he chases a quarry off board (doesn't count as VP for your opponent, but the unit has left the field).

Conclusions

Scenarios in Saints in Armor (and the rest of the Musket & Pike series) are set pieces simulations with fixed locations for the units involved. Balance is taken care of by adjusting the victory point levels for each battle; for example, the Battle of White Mountain historically was a complete rout, but in game terms this means you'd need to get 156 points to match the historical outcome (which in game terms was 175 points).

Underpinning this very well constructed structure is an astounding amount of research. The scenario notes in the play book are filled with annotations for almost every unit involved in a battle, commentary about how two units may have been combined into one counter for game reasons, and judgment calls about conflicting sources where one case is more persuasive than another. The depth of this research combined with the game system give a very strong sense of verisimilitude to the proceedings; when I play, I certainly get the sense of the challenges and opportunities available to me. Consequently, surrendering the field because because my central wing has collapsed doesn't feel like gaming the system, but rather as the intelligent choice an observant army commander would make. Besides which, surrendering the field might still lose me the game and the best result I can hope for is a draw.

The scenarios in Saints in Armor are all on smaller maps which makes them somewhat more concise, but still far from short. Set aside a lot of time to play a full game. The White Mountain scenario is only 7 turns long, but even at the conservative 20 minutes per turn guideline on the back of the box you're looking at the better part of three hours. It's also the shortest scenario in the box, the others being between 10 and 18 turns long. If ever a game was made for VASSAL play by email, this is it!

One scenario I'd like to highlight is the Wimpfen scenario which is a wonderful slugfest with both sides on the attack and a number of supply wagons including ammunition wagons in the mix. Historically one of the munition wagons went KABOOM! This scenario has rules to simulate that possibility, and let's just say that the results will be spectacular if you can manage it. There's even a "WHOOM!" counter in the mix. Again, loving attention to detail.

If you're an experienced Musket & Pike player, I can unreservedly and heartily recommend Saints in Armor as a fabulous addition to the series. I count it among the best of the Musket & Pike family.

If you're new to Musket & Pike, the Mergentheim scenario from Under the Lily Banners (currently out of print) was specifically designed to help learn the system, but Saints in Armor is perfectly suitable as an entry point. Once you get hooked, you'll be wanting to get all the other games too.


Thank you for reading this latest installment of Roger's Reviews. I've been an avid board gamer all my life and a wargamer for over thirty years. I have a strong preference for well designed games that allow players to focus on trying to make good decisions.

Among my favorites I include Twilight Struggle, the Combat Commander Series, the Musket & Pike Battle Series, Julius Caesar, Maria, EastFront, Here I Stand, Napoleon's Triumph and Unhappy King Charles!

You can subscribe to my reviews at this geeklist: [Roger's Reviews] The Complete Collection and I also encourage you to purchase this very stylish microbadge: mb
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Bob
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Nice job Roger! thumbsup

I recently acquired two games in this series thanks to Zuludawn building up my interest. I'm looking forward to playing each of them. cool
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Steve Carey
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I'm just getting back into MPBS, so the timing of this review is perfect. Very entertaining and informative, simply outstanding Roger!
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Roger Hobden
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I have never tried this system.

It seems very interesting.

Thank you for the review!

EDIT : I will check out if they have this game at my FLGS "Le Valet d'Coeur". Hopefully, these Saints will come marching in to my home in a short while.
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David Ekberg
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leroy43 wrote:
If you're an experienced Musket & Pike player, I can unreservedly and heartily recommend Saints in Armor as a fabulous addition to the series. I count it among the best of the Musket & Pike family.


Thanks, that is great praise. Good to hear that you like the game.
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Aaron Bedard
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This was fantastic.

I've been wrestling with the most recent rulebook, in preparation for some NGBG games on Vassal.

And this review, coupled with the GMT, how to play the Musket & Pike series http://tiny.cc/w9bhrw have been so great in helping me feel like I'm ready to give it a whirl.

Thank you!
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Chris Baylis
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Very good and well written review of a great GMT game. My only quibble is that the 30 Years War lasted roughly 30 years not "230 years"
Quote from review:
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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Chris Baylis wrote:
Very good and well written review of a great GMT game. My only quibble is that the 30 Years War lasted roughly 30 years not "230 years"
Quote from review:

Where did you see that?
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Kris Moulton
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leroy43 wrote:
Chris Baylis wrote:
Very good and well written review of a great GMT game. My only quibble is that the 30 Years War lasted roughly 30 years not "230 years"
Quote from review:

Where did you see that?


I think he's referring to "All of these scenarios are relatively early in the Thirty Years War (1618-1848)."
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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Roger's Reviews: check out my reviews page, right here on BGG!
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krismoulton wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
Chris Baylis wrote:
Very good and well written review of a great GMT game. My only quibble is that the 30 Years War lasted roughly 30 years not "230 years"
Quote from review:

Where did you see that?


I think he's referring to "All of these scenarios are relatively early in the Thirty Years War (1618-1848)."

Well, there was a lot of fighting over those same lands in two centuries that followed.
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