Sunday, 2 August 2020

321 Fast Play Napoleonic Rules - Version 5.0 update

It's been close to six months since I last updated the 321 Fast Play Napoleonic Rules. After many more games, tests and feedback, I've made the decision to upate them again.  There are a couple of significant changes, but many others represent a return to earlier concepts after experimentation and rejection of shiny new ideas.  The new version can be downloaded from the following page on the site:

As I mention on that page, these rules were originally written just to facilitate a particular Napoleonic niche for my own group. That being simple fast rules for big battles that kept lower level detail and flavour. It seems others out there have found some value in this approach, and consequently I have agreed to keep a record of development and changes.  Thank you to all who have provided feedback and asked helpful questions about unclear aspects. Feedback from people outside my immediate group has been particularly helpful, as they are viewing it with fresh eyes. Video tutorials are something requested that I have not yet managed, though I have done some initial experiments with video setups.

The two major changes in Version 5 are the following:
  1. Defensive fire and test to charge home has been discarded as a separate step and is now factored into melee resolution. This is simpler, faster and more in line with a fast-play philosophy.  This stand and shoot process was originally left in to add flavour similar to other rulesets, but I think it just slowed things down when a simpler process can produce the same tension. 
  2. Good quality units have been somewhat reduced in power and poorer quality units increased, via  a change to disorder chances, and reduction in frequency of break tests. This is because much playtesting has revealed that poorer quality units were rarely chosen given how easy it was to roll over them in actual battlefield conditions (as opposed to theroretical mathematical comparisons). Good units will still beat poor ones on most occasions but at the same time there are no supermen so choose attacks carefully. This also gives poorer quality armies a reasonable chance in point based games, which is more fun from a game perspective. They will still struggle in historical refights without a significant numbers advantage which is as it should be!

Below I have listed the changes to rules from version 4.4 to 5.0. 
There are also some minor changes to wording in places to improve clarity but not alter meaning.

Changes from Version 4.4 to 5.0 (August 2020)

Page 1 Break TestsUnits now only make a single break test in a turn, regardless of how many units in their Division break. Losing a skirmish screen no longer cause a break test (unless it is a full light infantry regiment that is lost). 
The previous rule where multiple break tests could occur is not uncommon in Napoleonic rulesets. However, feedback from multple players has been that these "chain routs" are too random and frustrating from a gameplay perspective. Therefore this been changed back to a less dramatic historical interpretation closer to Version 1 rules. Similarly, players disliked the loss of a skirmish screen causing break tests, despite my persuasion towards this in other rules I like (e.g. General D'Armee), so this has been removed.

Page 1 TerrainClarification added that you cannot move into contact with an obstacle defended by enemy except by charging this.  (Rules clarification)

Page 2 Command: Returned to a simpler and briefer Version 1 rule, except that Army Commanders continue to benefit all Generals in a radius rather than just one. The special orders are also closer to Version 1 of the rules, as this seemed more fun, and they are now listed at the bottom of page 1 (Advance!, Bombard! and Glory!). Additionally, cavalry out of command range may move full speed if they end their move closer to their general. 

Page 2 Limbers: Returned to Version 1 rule so artillery has option to move, unlimber, limber and move, or if horse artillery move and unlimber.

Page 2 Zone of Control: Rule name changed to this from "Near Enemy" as Zone of Control (ZOC) is the most common nomenclature for this effect in wargames rules. Restriction on charging is added so you cannot charge across a ZOC except to contact an enemy causing this ZOC, but cavalry now also get greater freedom of movement if in the ZOC of non-cavalry. 

Page 2 Interpenetration: Exception added that unlimbered artillery cannot pass through other units.
To stop u
nlimbered artillery using friendy units as an unrealistic speed boost!

Page 2 (and 3) Bombard!: Rule changed to allow option of more intensive long range fire at risk of exhausting your artillery.
Change back to an earlier version of this rule because it provided more interesting choices - and was actually used!

Page 2 Glory!: Order Changed so that a General in contact with a stationary unit can roll under either the units morale, or his command rating.  A General in contact still assists a unit in melee.  
Change back to a version 1 style rule. The chance of rallying is decreased, but now a good general as well as a good unit increases the chance to rally. 

Page 3 ChargesAs mentioned above, a key change is that the "stand and shoot" charge reaction is discarded to speed up play and remove some steps and rule complication.  Defensive fire and chargers closing (or not) is factored into the melee resolution. The new mechanism is a simple one, defending infantry and artillery reroll their melee attacks if charged from the front to represent their defensive fire advantage (all attacks if in line, and one otherwise). Additionally, defending artillery discard hits against them if they win or draw, representing the enemy charge faltering and failing to close effectively, and the winning side also discards any hits that would break them.  Factors have been adjusted to give a result similar to previous versions. So for example, charging a fresh line or battery will usually end in failure other things being equal, but is more achievable once the line or battery is disordered. (For reference the odds of a fresh attack column or fresh heavy cavalry frontally charging and overruning a fresh battery of the same morale grade is just under 25%, and worse if they have first taken damage from longer range fire).

Additionally, the "Form Square" rule is changed to "Repel Cavalry". The mechanics are essentially the same, but rather than infantry testing to form square, cavalry rolls to disorder them and there is also a chance to break heavily disordered infantry from this effect alone.  Similarly chargers roll to inflict a disorder hit on retreating skirmishers.  (This change to charger rolling the dice helps maintains the momentum of a players turn and also delays the defensive players option to form square to a more logical point).
A clarification is added that chargers must charge valid targets they contact if following retreating units. Positioning of chargers is clarified so that chargers do not reposition after contact if this would prevent them retreating.

Page 3 Flanking charges: Changed so these are easier to achieve, which is balanced by changes to the Zone of Control rules which help to guard against them. To flank charge now, rather than having to have your front edge behind the enemy front edge, instead your front edge must not be within 45 degrees of straight ahead of the enemy. 
This latter version of determining flank march eligibility is a common one in wargame rules. The reason it was not originally used is because I think "having your front edge behind the opponents front edge" is an easier one to see at a glance and thus it helps speed up play. However, I'm not sure the tradeoff is worth it in this instance. For example it makes it harder for a linear arrangements of units to exploit the  exposed flanks of  an attacker.  This change makes guarding flanks and having reserve lines even more important than it was before.

Page 3 Towns and Fires: Modification so long range artillery also has chance of causing a fire.

Page 4 Shooting and Melee Changes:
  • Modifiers to hit for shooting or melee are reduced to just a few negative factors while the few bonuses are all an extra die or reroll.  (This should be more intutive) 
  • Rolling to disorder with hits is the same format for both shooting and melee  and occurs on a 4+ in most situations, with exceptions to this listed by troop type. (Simpler and cleaner layout)
  • Squares get one die shooting in any direction when shooting (Simplified to speed up play)
  • Clarification to charging on procedure so that units must charge enemy or move full distance (Clarification to how charging on works added).
  • Units winning melee may end their move facing in any direction. (To allow greater exploitation of victory given time scale of a turn of 30 min to one hour).
Page 5 Army Creator: A link to a new and easier to use Google Sheet for Army Creation has been added. 

Page 5 Army Lists: Change to allow just small (2 base), standard (4 base) and large (6 base) units.
For simplicity of army creation, balance, and because it looks better than odd numbers of bases.

Page 5 Spanish Army List: Change of Spanish Cavalry to Raw rather than Recruit morale, except for Royal Guard cavalry.
Change to match new disordering rules, and reading more on performance of Spanish. Probably to be historical you should have no more Competent Generals than Incompetent/Cautious ones also, but likely it's already harsh enough!

Page 5 Austrian Mass: Cavalry roll to hit a mass formation as normal, but it counts as a square for purposes of inflicting disorder and break tests versus cavalry. 
(Changes to match new melee disordering rules)

Page 5 British Line:  Morale bonus changed to shooting attacks in line or square only given changes to shooting and melee (i.e. increased effectiveness of shooting againt veteran/elites in v4, and increased resilience of regulars with new melee disordering rules in v5.).

Page 5 Recruits: Changed so morale drops from regular to raw once they have taken two or more disorder hits (a change to align with new shooting and melee rules).

Page 5 Generals: Rule for Monarch Army Commanders added. They cannot contact units, but may instead rally up to two units within 6” that are more than 18” from the enemy. 
Rule change to stop Monarchs being used quite so heroically/recklessly. Monarchs boost morale but their staff and troops are insistent about keeping them out of danger. Army Commanders that should be classed as Monarchs include Napoleon from 1805 (possibly excluding 1813-14), Alexander I of Russia, Francis I of Austria, and Frederick William III of Prussia. 

Page 5 Rockets: Reduced chance on a misfire to harm nearby unit or self. (Balancing change

Page 5 Russian Line: Bonus resistance againt shooting attacks changed so they will still be outshot by enemy infantry in new rules, while remaining more stoic to infantry and artillery fire than other infantry. (Balancing change

Page 5 Random Army Generator: Removed line specifying General quality, added line specifying morale quality. If a detail is not specified in the random generation then you may choose (e.g. General Quality, or whether you have Cuirasssiers or Dragoons in a Heavy Cavalry Division). On average you will get about three divisions per 500 points, or four Divisions if Spanish. 
Balancing changes made after further testing of this feature.

Page 6 Rivers: Line added specifying that a unit crossing a passable river must spend one turn entering a river and is unable to shoot during this turn, and that rivers count as obstacles if trying to assault units defending the opposite bank. 
Rerunning some historical refights led to this rule change. It makes passable rivers more formidable obstacles to cross in the face of the enemy. Streams (or paltry rivers) should be treated only as rough terrain or ignored if judged to be insignificant. Use reading of historical battle to work out which category of water feature fits best.

Page 6 Victory Objectives: Changed attrition based victory in tournament game to one third of units lost. Generals do not count as units. New rules added for determining marginal victory in drawn games.  A simpler system to use.

Page 6 Reserves: Change to reserve rolls, rather than Defender having -1, they now start rolling turn three whereas Attacker starts rolling turn one. Additionally in an Encounter battle forces starting off table are rounded down rather than up. 
Balancing changes to attacker/defender in scenarios.


  1. Still in my plans to give these rules a whirl by the end of the year, Mark, so I'm happy to see an updated version!

    1. Many thanks Peter, that would be an honour indeed! Likely quite light compared to some of your usual selections, but like I say designed with a particular fastplay niche in mind. :)

  2. Hi Mark -
    I have long argued that no unit ever broke and ran or became disordered just because the skirmish line was driven in. Yes, I reckon all those rule sets are ... mistaken.

    Skirmish lines were pretty volatile anyway, with lots of movement back and forth between the skirmishers in action and the skirmisher supports. Our rule sets tend to treat skirmishers and skirmish line in quite a 'cartoon' fashion - the minor tactics quite subsumed by the scales were are using.

    If you ever find copies of the correspondence between Marshal Davout and his Division commanders, you will get some insight into how the skirmish screen actually functioned (not to mention the 'grande bandee' systems Davout and his generals were developing (I sometimes think Marshal Davout was the most thoroughly professional of all high-level commanders during the course of the Napoleonic wars). At any rate, even if the skirmishing is happening directly to a close order unit's front, I doubt it could actually see very much. Only about a quarter of the skirmishing screen was actually doing any shooting, with a constant stream of guys moving back and forth between the front line and the supports guys returning to in order to replenish, whilst fresh dudes went out to replace them in the line.

    The indication that the skirmishers are no longer there - driven in or voluntarily withdrawn; how is the close-order unit to know? - will be the clearing of the smoke.

    This is, of course assuming that the skirmishing infantry is not integral to the close-order unit in question (e.g. its own voltigeur company).

    I have also long argued that units breaking and running JUST BECAUSE they 'saw' a friendly unit breaking and running, was an almost vanishingly rare phenomenon - unless the 'seeing' unit was actually run over by the routing fellows. It was more likely that the watching unit would catcall the routers for their poltroonery.
    (Yes, I am aware of the Talavera incident in which a whole Spanish formation let fly a tremendous volley at some distant French dragoons, then ran off ('Betrayed!'), but that had nothing to do with 'seeing' friends rout. That had to do with being frightened of their own noise. How many build THAT into their rules?)

    I will accept that the watching unit might become more apprehensive, and if it were to come under immediate attack, might well take a (small) negative in any morale check occasioned by this attack. Personally, I wouldn't bother building in the negative, but it seems reasonable to do so.

    My point, in sum, is that 'seeing a rout' should not (ever) occasion a morale check, but it is reasonable to suppose it might have a temporary negative effect upon morale if a check is indicated for some other reason (e.g. having taken casualties, or surprised).

    For the rest, might I suggest that there is something to be said for maintaining a certain level of player interaction for IGoUGo rule sets. Game mechanics requiring player interaction do come at a price in speed of play, but can have the effect of seeming to be faster moving on account of the increased level of decision making by the 'non-phasing' player. This is just a general comment - not aimed at any specific amendment.


    1. Thank you Ion! Hopefully these change are more to the liking of yourself and others who shared similar opinions. It's a complex issue alright. And yes there do tend to be a few incidents like the Spanish one you mention that stick in people's minds and perhaps have undue influence compared to more usual incidents. Another morale effect I think is quite challenging to duplicate in wargames, is troops panicking and running when enemy appear when they were not expecting this. E.g. Austrians expecting breakfast rather than French in 1809 at Ebelsberg. Typically this seems to need scenario specific rules rather than being accounted for in the general rules.

      Good point about the interaction effects in IGOUGO rules, and yes Davout was the best I think :)

  3. Looks like you have put a lot of thought and work into your in house rules, Mark. We also use a home grown set, authored by Mr Strachan from 1866 et al - in fact, we have a Napoleonic game coming up this Sunday.

    1. Thanks Ross, yes I was admiring your recent Napoleonics game, look forward to seeing your next one :)

  4. I'm really going to have to give these a bit of a crack Mark as your games always look so spectacular. As you know I am partial to GdA however it used to also be ITGM so things do change. Take acre.

    1. Thanks Carlo, yes I like GDA a fair bit, it's just the time when you have many figures on the table that is the problem! :)

  5. Looking good! I really appreciate not only the list of changes but also the logic behind the changes.
    Can't wait to give them a test run.