The English Civil War, For King & Parliament, 28mm
This week the plan was to try out the playtest version of For King & Parliament, the English Civil War version of To the Strongest being developed by Simon Millar and Andrew Brentnall. Now, I really like To the Strongest. While I’m not much of an Ancients player, their tape and dice-free system is a breath of fresh air, and I’ve really enjoyed the few games I’ve played using the rules. Well, I’ve had this playtest version of the English Civil War variant for quite a few months now, and I’ve always meant to give them a go. So, Ken Pearce and I agreed to try them out this week, using the scenario provided with them – The Battle of Montgomery.The first thing you notice with Simon’s systems is there’s a grid. Actually, that’s not strictly true. As you’ll see from the photos the grid (a pattern of little green stick-on dots 6″ apart) isn’t very noticeable. It’s like having a grid that only you see – onlookers barely notice it. The fiddly bit, of course, is sticking the damned dots on our terrain mat, but as this was just a playtest we didn’t go for anything more permanent. In fact, as this was a playtest we opted for a fairly small 6×4 foot table, and 6″ (15cm) squares. We worked out we could just fit 24 infantry in there – 8 pike and 16 shot. Normally though, our regiments are twice that size, which would mean we’d need whopping 10″ (25cm) squares to accommodate all the figures. That might come later – for the sake of this playtest we scaled our units down a bit – our foot regiments were all of 24 figures, and our cavalry were in 12’s. We hit a couple of speed bumps along the way. The night before I e-mailed Simon, to ask if he had a draft playsheet. He hadn’t, but instead he sent me an updated version of the playtest rules. These turned out to be roughly twice the size of the older version I had already!¬So, Ken and I didn’t have time to do more than speed-read them before the game. That means we were effectively working off three sets of rules – the original To the Strongest – the older playtest version we’d actually read, and the new one which we sort of dipped into for inspiration! Next, the game was originally going to be a small affair involving just Ken and I. However, the rules generated so much interest it landed up as a six player game – three a side. As if that wasn’t enough several others sat and watched, offering opinions and generally adding to the confusion! Amazingly, the rules managed to cruise over all these speed bumps without coming off the road! As this was a historical scenario the two sides weren’t evenly matched. Ken’s Royalists began on a hill overlooking the Parliamentarian line, while my Parliamentarians started with their backs to the River Camladd. On the Parliamentarian left our two units of cavalry faced four Royalist ones, while in the centre our infantry were also outnumbered (five units to three). On our right and the Royalist left we also had the support of a regiment of Parliamentarian cavalry and another of Royalist dragoons. Off the table and on the far side of the river were our reinforcements – two regiments of Parliamentarian cavalry who were off foraging when the battle began. The battle began with an almighty cavalry clash. At first the Parliamentarians did well. Sir William Fairfax’s regiment held the initial Royalist attack, while on their right Sir William Brereton’s Horse actually defeated and routed their opponents – part of Col. Trevor’s Royalist Horse. Eventually though, it all went wrong. First, the second line of Royalist cavalry outflanked the Parliamentarian left, and attacked Fairfax’s Horse from flank and rear. This involved a fair bit of rules consulting – we weren’t sure about manoeuvering n the flank and rear of a hostile unit – but we eventually figured it out. The result was that Fairfax’s Horse broke and ran. Brereton’s Horse held on for another couple of turns, but essentially the writing was on the wall for the Parliamentarian flank.Things weren’t going much better in the centre. Here the two infantry lines approached to within musket range of each other and began blazing away. this was a pretty vicious and protracted firefight, but by its end Col. Booth’s Foot in the centre of the Parliamentarian line had broken under the pressure. What prevented any further disaster was the poor state of the Royalist foot by now – that and the fact they were now low on ammunition, having used up all their ammo chits. So, that battle wasn’t going very well. Our last real hope was our reinforcements – those two units of Parliamentarian cavalry. After cantering over the Salt Bridge they threw themselves at the weakest portion of the Royalist line – Col. Washington’s dragoons – but amazingly the dragoons held their ground, and actually fought the cavalry to a standstill through a combination of pluck and firepower.So, that was it. We had three units of horse left, trapped between the enemy and the river, and our foot was about to be outflanked and ridden down by the victorious Royalist horse. The best we could really hope for was to escape back over the Salt Bridge into Montgomery. In the real battle the Parliamentarians managed to turn things around and secure a decisive victory over Lord Byron’s royalist force. Alas history didn’t repeat itself! Still, it was a thoroughly enjoyable game, and it could easily have gone the other way. What was impressive was how everyone picked up the basics of the system in a matter of minutes, and despite being a playtest the game flowed very nicely indeed. The strange thing was, while at the start some people were sceptical of the whole concept of a diceless, tapeless game, by the end all of the players and onlookers were thoroughly in tune with the system. So, despite us not heaving a real idea what we were doing, and juggling the basic Ancient rules and two playtest versions, we sort of got the gist of it, and everyone had a blast in the process. Even the fact there were so many onlookers helped, as we could get on with the game, while we turned some of them into rules lawyers, to look up things as we got on with some other part of the game. It worked, and what’s more all of the players and onlookers ended up saying they were impressed by the system, and vowed to give it a go again. So, For King & Parliament is a hit, and will be even more of one once we read the darned rules properly!