Sunday, 19 January 2020

Rules Review - Lasalle

Here is a rules review of Lasalle, published 2009, at time of this review only available as a PDF. 
For more detail on my approach to reviewing rules, please see my Rules Review Page.

Command Level: Divisional Commander
Basic Tactical Unit: Infantry battalion, variable number of cavalry squadrons, or artillery battery.
Figures per unit: Any - units are small if they have four bases and large if they have six bases. Artillery batteries are 3-5 bases frontage.
Ground Scale: Not stated - depends on basing size. Distances are measured in base widths so that existing figure collections can be accommodated.
Time Scale: Not stated, though perhaps 15-30 minutes a turn.

Organisation: 5/5
Lasalle has excellent layout, referencing and organisation. Attractive diagrams illustrate concepts through the rules. Design note boxes helping to clarify the intent of the author as to why certain rules choices have been made. Quite possibly the best presented Napoleonic rule set published to date if still available as a hardback, though presently only a PDF is available.

Mechanics: 5/5
Mechanics are intuitive and simple. You should be able to memorise the combat factors reasonably quickly.  The "true IgoUgo" sequencing is innovative and clever without being an gimmick for the sake of doing something different, and the game flows nicely.

Simulation: 2/5
There are some issues here for Lasalle I think, and unfortunately the first one is significant and likely a game breaker for Napoleonics. The problem of the effectiveness of columns vs line has been well covered here. Arguably it is too easy to use columns more like a Macedonian Pike Phalanx than anything Napoleonic, and enemy is forced to do the same to counter.  Games can end up with two rows of columns butting heads. A related issue is the ease of doing combined assaults from the same direction. As the linked article suggests, there are numerous potential solutions, for example only allow one attacker per facing (as has also now been done with Blackpowder 2). If you houserule these issues then I'd change the simulation rating to at least a 3-4, but as it stands this issue is unsatisfactory.

Another common complaint is that despite the modifiers, large cavalry formations can perhaps run over squares too easily, and cavalry may also not be limited enough by rough terrain. For that matter large units may also be a little overpowered in melee. See here for more discussion and potential solutions, if you feel this is a problem. If this is a problem the magnitude is less than that of the column issue I think.

Skirmishers are very abstracted in Lasalle in a way that speeds play, but also has some limitations. Formed units have a number representing their inherent skirmish ability (represented by a number of skirmish bases), and you gain a bonus against units with lesser skirmish ability. This is a simple and elegant mechanic, though arguably it may not give skirmishers their due importance in Napoleonic warfare at this scale, for example when it comes to harassing formed infantry or artillery. Skirmishers do have a minor effect in reducing effect of canister on their unit - representing their harrassment of the gunners. 

Like many rulesets, the casualty system also doesn't scale linearly with numbers of attackers, but has stepwise reductions at certain critical points which creates quirks. For example three gun batteries end up disproportionately less effective than four gun batteries because of these threshold points. At close range a four gun battery is over twice as likely to break an enemy battery as a three gun battery is, rather than just being proportionally more effective.

So that's some problems, or potential problems, depending on how you interpret history. More positively, something I do very much like about Lasalle is that units largely just fire straight ahead at whatever is in front of them, rather than the "sniping" like target selection you can get with fire arcs in some other rulesets.

Friction: 2/5
Command is very simplistic - if you are within range of your general you move as you want in Lasalle. So it tends to play as a "always move as you wish" sort of ruleset, with uncertainty coming from enemy action rather than vagaries of your own control ability. Officers can also have a role in rallying units and giving bonuses to combats in the advanced rules.

Speed of Play: 3/5
Advises that it plays in 2-3 hours, though in 28mm with 10cm moves for infantry in line (assuming 5cm base widths) and 15cm in column, and no option for multiple moves, games could be quite protracted. Especially so if you are using more than a dozen units. However, units are also automatically removed once they take a limited number of disruption hits (equal to number of bases), which helps speed play. 

Clutter Avoidance: 4/5
You need disruption tokens (three per unit, or up five if a large unit), plus cotton wool puff to show an artillery piece has fired and therefore can't move later that turn. So pretty clean.

Pickup Play Support: 3/5
Lasalle has a helpful series of army lists and game setup procedure in the main rulebook, with victory conditions and terrain all highly specified. The army lists are quite restrictive however, which creates a problem of repetitiveness and limits to replayability. You have an non-variable core force depending on nation and year range, to which you add one or more optional Brigades which are similarly invariable.

Historical Scenario Support: 3/5
Little in the way of official support, but fans have developed quite a number of scenarios which are available here, and see my Battles Index for further resources for Lasalle and other rules.

Overall: 3/5 
While Lasalle was initially met with enthusiam, the simulation problems listed above caused consternation after a time and enthusiasm for it dropped off since the release. However, with a few fairly minor houserules to tweak the problematic simulation issues above (mainly columns), Lasalle still gives a good game and many people enjoy it. It's a shame the excellent organisation and mechanics were hampered by the problems described, and that a good effort at including pickup play army lists also made these somewhat inflexible to the detriment of replayability.

There's a great deal to like in the design of this ruleset. Sadly many rulesets never get past a first edition, and thus the design is unable to mature by taking advantage of wider playtesting, community feedback, and further testing and reflection. The author is a fairly prolific producer of diverse and high quality wargaming rule products. From what I can see these seem to be one-off creative efforts  that warrant his attention for a time before he moves to the next project. Whether Lasalle warrants sufficient attention from the author to see a second edition remains uncertain.

Lastly I'll also observe that the author Sam Mustafa has published "Blucher" in 2015. This is a Brigade level Napoleonic wargame with a well developed campaign system. It also has an option to play with cards rather than miniature figures making it a very accessible introduction to Brigade level Napoleonics. I own and have read but not yet played this ruleset at the time this post was published. However, my brief impression from other reviews of Blucher is that to date it has received more positive and sustained regard than Lasalle.

ADDENDUM:  01.02.2020
Just 10 days after this review was published, news arrived that a second edition is indeed in process, and it sounds like the playtesting group is attempting to address many of the issues discussed above.  For reference I've copied Sam Mustafa's news item about this below:

Lasalle: Second Edition
There has never been a "second edition" of any Honour game. I've always been proud that we test and edit every game ad nauseam, until we get it just right. But there has always been one title in the Honour catalog that I wanted to revisit.

It might seem quaint today, but Lasalle, released in 2009, caused quite a stir at the time. It sold out in five months, won three awards, and met with white-hot fury from more traditional Napoleonics gamers. It was the first tactical Napoleonics game intended to be used more like an Ancients game, in which any army can fight any other. It had an army-building system that used no points. It had an abstracted basing system that didn’t correspond to historical companies or platoons. It did not specify how many “real” minutes were represented by a turn, nor a precise figure-to-man scale. It had a funky “reverse” turn sequence in which movement happens last, so that there is no need for traditional Napoleonic conventions like “opportunity charges” or defensive fire at an approaching enemy, or emergency squares, and so on. It had no written orders or chits, nor in fact much of a command system of any sort.

And it had lots of pretty pictures. That made some guys really angry.

Most of the things that shocked people about Lasalle have since become ubiquitous and aren’t considered strange anymore. But I always wanted to revisit this title and address some issues. This has evolved into a full-blown redesign, so I am pleased to announce that there will be a second edition of Lasalle, most likely finished before the end of 2020.

Some Highlights of the New Lasalle

I will do a podcast about this in the near future, but here is a quick summary of the major changes:

- There is now a command/control system that drives a completely "open" sequence of play in which the number and type of phases that occur is driven by player decisions. No two turns are alike. As you do things that provoke or endanger your opponent, you trigger his ability to "interrupt" you by taking control of the sequence. Momentum passes back and forth unpredictably as the players act and react.

- Skirmishing has been completely reimagined and is unlike any other Napoleonic game. The skirmish screen operates separately from the formed units, without needing to move any figures, other than occasionally "feeding" more troops into it. If your skirmishers get the upper hand you have certain advantages that enable you to suppress enemy fire, baffle your opponent, or control the momentum of the game sequence.

- Movement and combat have been reconsidered to make the former more liberal and fast and the latter more restricted and decisive. We have re-thought the use of formations and relative numbers in combat. You can no longer squeeze both infantry and cavalry against a single defender, for example, nor overwhelm a line by packing columns shoulder-to-shoulder. It is harder to break a square, unless the defender is battered and exhausted.

- The army-building system has been completely reimagined. Each army has a set of "Historical Parameters" to inform you of what was available when, in what theatre, and doing what. But then you decide just how much History you want. Will you permit any army to fight any other, or will you restrict them to their historical opponents? Will you permit armies from different periods to fight one another? Will units appear in periods other than when they historically existed? For example: let’s say that a player in your group wants to create a British force based on Wellington’s army at Waterloo, but including Portuguese caçadores. Personally, I consider it an entirely plausible What If to imagine that Britain persuaded her Portuguese clients to send a couple of brigades to Belgium in 1815. But if your group finds such things to be intolerable violations of the historical record... then you can forbid them.

All of wargaming is a series of “What Ifs” inspired by history. The new Lasalle will lay out the historical limitations but also permit you to improvise to whatever degree you are comfortable with.

It's still Lasalle
As with the original game, you still create a small force of a few brigades and fight a battle in real time, with games lasting 2-3 hours. The figures, bases, and units from first-edition Lasalle will be compatible with the new version.

Second Edition Lasalle is in development and playtesting. Look for more announcements in mid-2020.


  1. Thanks for the review! I agree with your assessment of Mustafa and his game designs. He is quick to capitalize on the latest design thoughts but just as quick to abandon a project and move on.

    1. Thanks Jonathan! I hear rumours a second edition is indeed in production, so we will see.

    2. I suppose I find the opposite irritating. Take Games Workshop for instance - they don't leave their rules alone for more than a year at best. A new Codex or rule books, not to mention some rule adjustment or addition in a White Dwarf, is what contributed to players being annoyed with it all. They're not improving the rules, they're only changing it to milk the players into buying new books.

      The price increases were not enough to drive me away, but the constant "support" of messing with the rules through endless changes just made it frustrating. Sam put out a set of rules and an errata and more or less left it alone. Saying he abandoned it is akin to saying Tolkien abandoned his work by not writing more. At what point is it enough?

    3. Thanks VLE I largely agree with what the point you make. I think GW rules and updates are really there to push the main product, which is an expanding and constantly revised figure line.

      I don't think most people want or need constant changes. However, I think most good rules benefit from at least a second edition, a number years after publication of the first (maybe 5+ years), for the above stated reasons. I.e. to consolidate experience and produce a superior product if the same playability issues are a frequent issue for people.

      As I mentioned rumours have it Sam may doing playtesting for a second edition, in which case great and would prefer that he and his playtesters take all the time they want to produce this. Like I say there's a great deal to like about this ruleset.

  2. A great sum up, I would even mark it as a two, I found it totally unsatisfactory for firefights, and melee, the column problem and the heavy cavalry running over everything, the ineffective fire from artillery also annoyed me.

    I find Sams rules over simplistic to get a game rather than a simulation, I have purchased Lassalle, Might and Reason and Maurice. Yes you get a result but All had major problems, so I have not purchased anymore of his releases, maybe I am getting a little to old and grumpy.


    1. Harsh, but good to hear what others think! :) I have only tried Lasalle of his game inventory, so can't comment on the others, though as noted above Blucher seems to be more positively regarded.

  3. My favourite rulebook, began with it and never looked back.
    I disagree in that cavalry is overpowered since they halve dice when attacking a square, two attackers also halve their dice. Personally I don't like the activation system so the move as you want mechanic is ideal for me.
    My only fripe is that some lists (austrians) are overpowered, but we don't actually use them. The only homerule I added was for crossing bridges in column.

    1. Indeed, much to like in this set of rules, and glad it works for what you want ok. I also found the Austrian large formations stormed over the French without much resistance, so the tweak to give them two rather than four extra dice in hand to hand seems like a good one to me.

    2. Hello Francesc, not sure if you will even see this but can I ask where in the rulebook does it say two attackers halve their dice? My understanding (and evidently that of others) is that provided both columns have more than half their frontage in contact each gets full dice. It would certainly solve a lot of problems if their die were halved, but want about being attacked on the front and flank at the sme time? Cheers.

  4. Also cavalry tends to bleed out after some clashes, retreating to the rear to take no more part in the battle. Infantry is far more useful.

  5. Thanks for the review, Mark. I seem to recall my one battle with this set against you and Paul. A certain amont of luck seemed to characterise that action.

    Your comment in respect of battles degenerating into column vs column aroused my interest. I have an idea that on the Continent that is precisely what happened: the battles became battles between skirmish-covered columns. The British fire discipline is what permitted their linear tactics, and even their lines were covered by thick clouds of skirmishers. So 'Lasalle' might not be so 'unverisimilitudinous' after all. But that is not to assert any different view upon playability.

    1. Cheers Ion, yes I think it is the relative odds that are the problem, e.g. even the Brits are much better to be in a couple of columns rather than chance it in line vs massed column attacks. From my reading lines were still very frequently used on continent, though as you suggest column use also increased dramatically with time/space issues and all the conscripts.

  6. Thanks for review, Mark!
    Hardly ever meet a rule system which doesn’t required some enhancements:( though it might be a bit difficult to agree about home rules because everyone wants tweak different things in a diffirent way:)

    1. Cheers Dmitry, yes absolutely, everyone has their own preference which can be a challenge with house rules! :)

  7. I purchased these when they first came out, but we have never played them being fairly well set in our group's house rules. I like your rating system, very comprehensive.

    1. Thanks for feedback Lawrence! Collecting Napoleonic rulesets seems a pretty common hobby within a hobby! :)

  8. Sounds like a fair and balanced review, I remember it coming out, sounds like the search for the grail continues!
    Best Iain

  9. Nice Review.
    What's the best Napoleonic Rules of battalion level at the moment in your opinion?

    1. Cheers Andrej! I'll have to give what is likely an the annoying answer to your question, that I think the best battalion set of rules depends on balance of preference towards different factors. I know for myself, that changes depending on what I want to do!! Recently I've been using my own quickplay rules a lot, including to test out scenarios that I might play with other rules that take longer to play. That's because recently speed has been a preference. Hopefully the reviews I will add might give a bit of insight into various rulesets and what niche they fill.

    2. Anyway, thank you for the answer. My goal is quick, simple rules for small battles, that implements base Napoleonic tactics - formations etc. It should be a game, not exact simulation. Now I consider Lasalle and Over The Hills

    3. Cheers and good luck and have fun Andrej! Lasalle is certainly worth a go with above mods I think. I haven't tried OTH as saw 35 modifiers to firing on QRS and decided it was likely not for me at the present time.

  10. Chasseur, thanks for the reviews, succinct and clear. I own so many different rulesets for different periods I can never remember which I like best. Whenever I go back to a particular period I end up trying each ruleset out again, very often remembering why I did or did not like a ruleset half way through the game! I quite like Lasalle wth tweaks,it plays quickly isn't full of factors and lists. Maybe I need to get the Napoleonics out for a ame this weekend......

    1. Thanks and glad you find it useful, and that it may have inspired some gaming! Agreed the features of Lasalle you mention are good ones! :)

  11. Thank you for the review, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I would agree on every point. The game just did not feel right when I played it at a convention years back and I had read subsequent complaints about it as well. I do play Blucher and although abstract in scale, it is quite enjoyable. I look forward to Lasalle 2 and future reviews from yourself. Cheers!

  12. Hi Mark
    Are you involved in a club in Christchurch or do you game privately?

    1. Hi Greg, I'm a member of the Christchurch Wargaming Club and game there and privately. Most Napoleonic gaming has happened privately as the opponent who hits me up for games most frequently can't make the club day on Sunday unfortunately.