321 - Fast Play Napoleonic Rules

“The moral is to the physical as three to one” - Napoleon Bonaparte



Perhaps the last thing the world needs is yet another set of Napoleonic wargame rules...  there are already hundreds out there after all! But many wargamers like to tinker and share ideas, hence this post.

I enjoy playing different rules, but I do place a high value on simplicity - meaning if a similar result can be achieved more simply I'm in favour of it. What is consciously left out of a ruleset can be just as important as what is included, and if something can be said or effected with less words then then that is preferable.  With this in mind, I put together the following brief ruleset.

The aim has been to reduce rule mechanisms and non-figure gaming materials (tokens etc which I find unsightly and a bother) to a minimum of complexity needed to create the character of Napoleonic Warfare. This is so very large scale battles can be completed in a day of play, while still using low level units like battalions. A goal is also that new players (and especially more casual players) can just have ALL the rules for free, and that these are as brief as the quick reference sheets from other rulesets at just four pages in length. Of course judgement about what counts as sufficient detail to 'create the character of Napoleonic Warfare' is very subjective, but the notes below should at least give an idea of the design philosophy and mechanics for any interested.

'321' in the title refers to the primacy of psychology highlighted by Napoleon's quote above and the relative worth of units in game (veteran versus regular versus raw). It also references the design principle that these rules should be as easy as 'A-B-C' or  '1-2-3'. It might also reference the mechanic whereby standard units can take three disorder hits but are removed if they take more...


Download the Rules here (as PDF):
321 - Fast Play Napoleonic Rules (v5.1 - PDF)

Download the Army List Creator here:
321 Army List Creator (v5 Google Sheet)
(Note: When file opens, click "File" on top left,  then "Make a copy", and you will have a version you can edit)


Version Updates:
September 2021 - Update from Version 5.0 to 5.1. See here for record of changes.
August 2020 - Update from Version 4.4 to 5.0. See here for record of changes.


Features of the rules include:
  • Only 4 pages of rules, plus 2 optional pages of army lists, special rules, and scenarios.
  • Key unit characteristic is morale - used for shooting, melee and resilience.
  • Traditional I go you go system with four phase turn of Command, Move, Shoot, Melee. 
  • Basic unit is campaign strength regiment, or battalion/squadrons,
  • No counters or casualty markers needed on the table, nor off table record keeping. Position of unit bases and generals keeps track of unit and command status, though if desired tokens could be used to track hits instead.
  • Whatever base size and unit size you have will work. For 28mm I use 1" = 25-50 yards. For 15mm I would probably halve distances for everything.
  • Time scale - one turn assumed to be 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Uses normal six sided dice, eight per side is a good number, though most rolls are 4-5 dice. 

Character of a Napoleonic Battle?

The rules aim to create the general character of Napoleonic battle as described by Clausewitz (On War, Book IV, Chapter II):

"What do we do now usually in a great battle? We place ourselves quietly in great masses arranged contiguous to and behind one another. We deploy relatively only a small portion of the whole, and let it wring itself out in a fire-combat which lasts for several hours, only interrupted now and again... by separate small shocks from charges with the bayonet and cavalry attacks. When this line has gradually exhausted part of its warlike ardour in this manner and there remains nothing more than the cinders, it is withdrawn and replaced by another."


I.e. a large Napoleonic battle should see massed multiple lines, engaging and then being withdrawn and replaced when they become too brittle (casualties, fatigue, stress and panic, fouled muskets, lack of ammunition etc). If attrition exceeded ability to replace the lines, then sometimes Napoleonic battles led to catastrophic routs, but also quite commonly:

"In this manner the battle... burns slowly away like wet powder, and if the veil of night commands it to stop... then an account is taken by each side... out of which there springs the resolution to quit the field or to renew the combat on the morrow."

In absence of otherwise specified victory conditions then breaking one third of the enemy force is taken to be an arbitrary but significant impact, likely to cause the enemy to retreat and allow proclamation of victory (i.e. suitable victory condition for a points based pickup game).


Design Notes

  • Morale is the basic mechanic used for combat. Morale ranges from 2 being Raw, 3 Regular, 4 Veteran, and 5 Elite.  Each base rolls a six sided die to shoot or melee attack, and must roll EQUAL or LOWER than their own morale to hit the enemy. They must then usually roll a 4+ to disorder the enemy. These chances are modified according to circumstance as may be expected, e.g. a square is highly resistant to cavalry but more vulnerable to artillery, and so on. Units BREAK and are removed when the number of disorder hits equals their number of bases. Standard units have four bases.
  • Movement is very unrestricted compared to many rules sets (though see rule options below), for simplicity and on the assumption that given time scale there is ample time for interpenetration by passage of lines or spaces between deployed formations, and any needed reforming. The two main exceptions are that units close to the front of an enemy cannot just sidestep however they want, and nor can units charge through close order friendly units as this would allow units to be used as 'bullet shields' in unhistorical fashion. 
  • Shooting ranges are calculated to allow for a tactical threat zone,  given the high movement and charge ranges involved in the game. Restricting shooting to just one base width (similar to Lasalle) assumes most troops fired at whatever was in front of them in the fog of war, and restricts unhistorical gaminess and time consuming micromanagement of target selection. There is also no traversing fire (as exists in Blackpowder for example) because movement is more restricted than that ruleset and fire impact in a turn greater.
  • Charge declarations, defender reactions and moves to contact are resolved one by one for simplicity, and so that movement of initial chargers may open passage for further charges and mass attack actions in the same turn. The one exception is cavalry opportunity charges, where some limited declaration of attacker charges in advance of the one by one sequence is required in order to prevent such opportunity charges.
  • Infantry 'melee' in the open is assumed to usually involve close range fire and threat and one side breaking before actual hand to hand combat. Other melee is more likely to involve hand to hand combat.  
  • Built up areas offer considerable protection from shooting, but limit effectiveness of fire from the garrison. They offer more limited protection from melee and are likely to change hands frequently if  contested in this way. Strongpoints like fortified manors are more resistant to assault.
  • Cascading catastrophic routs can happen, especially as Brigades become increasingly disordered. Breaking units or lost Generals cause Break Tests for units in the same Brigade.
  • Breaking can represent rout, excessive fatigue or casualties, weapon fouling, lack of ammunition or resupply, orderly withdrawal from the field, or any other circumstance in which a unit is rendered combat ineffective for the remainder of the battle.
  • As is stated above, the basic unit is a regiment. The basic combat grouping under each general is called a Division. A 'Division' may instead be taken to represent a Brigade if each unit is taken to be representing a battalion. On campaign many units were understrength.
  • Cavalry bases could be 50% larger than infantry bases, or break point can be less than the number of bases in the unit. I've been using standard cavalry units of six 5cm square bases because it looks better to have more figures, but treat them as if they have four bases, i.e. they still break when they receive more than three disorder hits.
  • By way of game time comparison, I find these rules play faster than BlackpowderLasalle, or General d'Armee, but slower than for example Morale Napoleon (regiment is basic unit and very brutal combat resolution) and probably Blucher (Brigade is basic unit).  If playing some scenarios (e.g Michael Hopper Scenario books), then reducing turn number and reinforcement times to three quarters may be advisable.
  • In terms of similarities to other rule sets - fire arcs and unit damage are similar to Lasalle. Rallying and freedom of movement (though not the multiple moves) are similar to Blackpowder. Command and skirmishers are similar to General d'Armee. 

Rule Options

  • Interpenetration Disorder: The earliest versions of the rules had close formations passing through each other taking a disorder hit if they failed a morale test. I culled this rule for simplicity  and speed as I did with others I thought were unnecessary. This rule worked ok though so if you prefer more friction from such maneuvers this is an option.  
  • Overhead Fire: My understanding is that firing artillery on hills over friends happened but was rare as troops understandably hated having inaccurate blackpowder fire blasting over their heads. I would suggest permitting it over enemy but not over friends, except in specific historical scenarios where it happened like the Siege of San Sebastián. If you do allow it over friends, I would suggest the enemy must be further from the friends than the friends are from the firing artillery (i.e. there enough dead ground). A chance for disordering your own friendly unit(s), e.g. make morale test at rating +2 or take a disorder hit if fired over, might also be a good idea to dissuade more casual use of such fire.
  • Enfilade fire: Whether a bonus for enfilade (flanking) fire should be given or not is another point of variance among rule writers, depending on their reading of history. It's generally accepted that an ideal flanking shot could do a lot of damage (e.g. into a line), but it is also argued that this is counterbalanced by the greater challenge of targeting a narrow and traversing target, and the limited time this would be available as compared to the time of a turn of 30-60 minutes. There is no bonus for enfilade in these rules, but if you want to include it I would recommend that position of the  firer needs to be the same as that needed for a flank charge (page 3), and if so the target is treated as a massed target (i.e. disordered on 3+). 
  • Support Factors: Many rules have 'support factors' that give bonuses for units that have friends to flank and rear. As for enfilade fire this is another point of variance among rule writers. I have been persuaded that they are largely unnecessary on the basis that a lack of flank support means you expose yourself to concentration of fire and/or devastating flank attack. Similarly a lack of reserves means that if your line is broken, you will have exposed the vulnerable flanks of units to either side of this breakthrough. 
  • Uphill bonus: There is no combat bonus for being uphill, with the exception that enemies attacking up or down a steep slope towards defenders on the other side, should treat this as attacking across rough ground and an obstacle. Steep slopes should be defined as such before the game and are assumed to be gentle otherwise. 
  • Early Austrian/Russian/Prussian Inflexibility:  Suggested options to represent the lack of tactical flexibility of these armies include (1) veteran units cannot change formation and move more than half distance, same as regular units, (2) all units in a brigade must be in the same formation. But more simply (or in addition), just giving lower command ratings for many commanders will help slow them down considerably, and this is what I tend to do for historical refights.
  • Incompetent Army Commanders: Yes the intention of the rules is that they cannot help Brigade units or Generals in any way. They may still be quite busy, with a gourmet feast, their mistress, or having more brandy to steady their nerves...
  • Army Lists and Scenarios: There are many army list and scenario ideas available on other websites, and commercially available rulesets and books. See the links on this page.  However the 321 rules also include optional army lists and scenarios for points based pick-up or tournament style games. The included army lists are  focused towards later Empire era organisations, but are largely flexible enough to account for earlier organisations also.

Concluding Comments...

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and critique - I won't be offended. :)

Also feel free to share and modify non-commercially, provided source is acknowledged. 




321 - Fastplay Napoleonic Rules by Mark Ottley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

46 comments:

  1. We have started playing 321 rules and like them. Still trying to get used to the concepts.
    I noticed that you keep updating them. That's great, but would it be possible to list the changes when you do update them?
    Much appreciated.
    cheers

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    1. Many thanks for the feedback. Good idea and will add a changelog page to this site shortly, so anyone using them can keep track of changes. They have been in quite an experimental format with various tweaks to try out ideas from other rulesets, while aiming to avoid over-complication or things that slow down the action, and keeping them to the 4 pages. Also feel free to e-mail me at e-mail me at mark (dot) ottley (at) gmail (dot) com if you have any questions or other thoughts on them. Cheers.

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  2. Thanks for making these rules available. I thought I should return the compliment, so you may want to check out my own free to download Napoleonic set at:

    Shadow of the Eagles

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  3. The ground scale is this for 15mm or 28mm figures?

    Philip

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    1. Hi Philip, the ground scale in the rules is for 28mm figures, and I would suggest halving distances for 15mm.

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  4. Would it be possible to get a copy of the rules emailed to me please? ( s-claybo@sky.com ) I can't seem to view the full rule set.
    Many thanks,
    Steve

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  5. Hello, I just downloaded last night and reviewing. Quick question, a army general says (4) bases. Can you clarify please?

    Thanks

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    1. Ah you mean table page 5 I assume? Formatting is a little unclear will modify so clear in v4.5 so clearer.The points are per one General base. Thanks.

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  6. Hello, would it be possible to get a copy also? kgpanzer@aol.com

    Cheers
    Anthony

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  7. Hi Mark,
    Thanks for publishing these rules. They look really interesting, and I like the way you've kept skirmishers as an important part of the battle. One small criticism is that they could do with a good editor and layout update. The blocks of text are a little daunting to wade into!
    We play General d'Armee and really like it, but it's difficult to get a game larger than a Corps. So have been looking for something that can speed up the battles and so allow more figures in the table! 😄
    I had a couple of initial questions: how would you scale the rules for 6mm figures? Is it simply everything converted into cm?
    How do you deal with larger battalions? I notice your Austrians and French are often the same size, but the former often had twice as many men in a battalion.
    Also how would you cover multi-Corps per side battles?
    Thanks!
    Ed

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    1. Ed thank you very much for the feedback and questions!  Re layout etc, I think there is a preference thing here, as I'm used to rules like WRG where it is very compact! ;) Appreciate the thought though and will give some thought to whether an expanded version may be helpful.

      I also like General D'Armee, but like you, my group finds it a bit slow for larger battles. It also has no rules for pickup games.
      For 6mm I think using cm would be a good idea, but depending on frontage of units, if a unit in line is around 5-10cm it should be ok.

      Regarding unit size, larger battalions/regiments have six rather than four bases (or take six hits if using different numbers of bases). If you look at my 1809 battle reports you will see many large Austrian battalions. However according to Michael Hopper scenario books, in 1805 Austrian units were smaller due to losses and he recommends standard size units. Hence why they are smaller in those 1805 battle reports.

      For multi-Corps battles, I just use multiple Army (Corps) Commanders, each with their own set of Divisions and they can only affect those Divisions under their command. One Corps per player is a good number. If the Corps are smaller ones (e.g. 1813) then their Divisions are sometimes grouped under a single Army Commander as "Wing" or "Sector" Commander. The Commander in Chief (Le Grande Army Commander),  is just a player who tells the others what to do, and likely also commands the Army Reserve Corps!

      Incidentally the rules are due to be updated in August as it has been about six months since last update.

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    2. Hi Mark,
      Haha, I know the ones. I'm still playing DBM from time to time.
      I do like the compact format, I just wonder if you could get more information into a table compared to s paragraph?! Just an idea. :)
      Our 6mm basing tries to replicate the ground covered. So the largest battalions have a line frontage of 15cm (6base x 2.5cm) and normal sized are 10cm (4 bases). We'll have a go at swapping the the inches for cm and see how it runs. :)
      Thats a nice idea. We have quite a small group, so might have to double hat in a few cases. But actually, most battles (except the very largest) it seems multi Corps were not normally fully engaged. One would be the attacking focus and others would support.
      I have Michael's excellent books, but I've mostly been looking at the 1809 theatre. Thanks for the pointer on 1805!
      Excellent! Are the changes going to be major or just minor points?
      Thanks!
      Ed

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    3. Thank Ed, indeed DBM and its cousins are what I was thinking of :)  DBN using DBX system by Alex T & Bob C is another Napoleonic ruleset I have and must have a crack at, though it is Brigade level so you have to miss out some of the lower level detail.

      I will have a think about the table format, though new bullet point organisation in Version 5.0 on page 4 (all the main combat stuff), may serve a similar function.

      With regards to basing, I think cm should be fine with that. 

      Re revision to version 5.0. two major changes (1) defensive fire and charging home test is removed as a separate step and now just factored into melee - simpler and faster. It had been left in for flavour, similar to General D'Armee and other Napoleonic rules, but actually it just slowed things down and was counter to fast play philosophy. New system required a fair bit of testing and may require more, but works ok I think. Also (2), disordering in melee uses same process as shooting (normally on 4+), rather than morale. Plus quite a few balancing changes, which will be carefully documented as requested by other players. 
      Should have V5.0 up by end of the week. Thanks!

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  8. Hi Mark,
    I know it. But I prefer to see the battalions and still change formations, while having a Corps plus on table (silly of me I know!).
    Interesting to hear you're taking out the pre-charge defensive firing phase and charging home test. I have to say I'm very curious to see how you're including this into the melee without making the game very bloody!
    The disorder point I don't think I fully understand. But it sounds logical.
    Looking forwards to the updated rules.
    Best,
    Ed

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    1. Thank Ed, yes I generally prefer to have all have that detail too!
      Having it without slowing things down too much is the challenge.
      Re defensive fire - yes factors are tweaked, so that for example, artillery will lose and be overrun, or win and ignore casulaties against them, representing the charger failing to close.
      Shouldn't be too long now.

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    2. Hi Mark,
      Ok, I'm itching to see how they play, but I'm still getting version 4.4 showing up from the link above (at least that's what the title says). It might be because I'm on my phone though. I'll try with a computer tomorrow.
      Best,
      Ed

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    3. Thanks Ed, should be ok now. There's been some oddities with Blogger updating to a new version recently.

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    4. Hi Mark,
      Thank you again. A cheeky question. We have been looking to trial the rules, but I was wondering if you could send me the Word version? Your version is so closely formated that we are struggling to read it, and we are wondering if we could spread it out! :D

      Thanks!

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    5. No problem, I don't actually have it in word (it's a google doc), but will paste text into word and send to you. Cheers!

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    6. Ed, I don't seem to have your e-maill, could you please let me know and I'll send you the word doc, thanks!

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    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. Please email me when ready

    Thanks

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  10. Hello, anyway to get a word pad version, I need to change to font also

    thanks
    Anthony

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    Replies
    1. Hi Anthony, have sent you a word version, will need some cleaning up of the format, as I just copied and pasted from Google docs.
      Cheers
      Mark

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  11. Just discovered this. I like the generous movement, the accumulating disorder and all D6s. I am a little confused about who rolls the die sometime. Also, when a unit breaks, a stand is placed by the division CO. I seem to have missed what is done about ths stand later.

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    1. Thanks and useful observation, the base from a broken unit is just a reminder to take morale tests at the end of the melee phase (and then it should be discarded). In practice we usually don't need this reminder. Will add a clarfiying point in next version.

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  12. Further, I see the army lists mention recruit but U have missed where in the rules recruits are mentioned. It wouldn't be the first time I've missed something...

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    1. Hi that is in the list of abilities just below the army list, (listed just above Rifles). Recruits start with Regular morale but it drops to Raw once they take enough casualties.

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    2. Thank you. I hope to run a trial game sometime in June after returning home from rural isolation. Probably Maida.

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    3. Thanks, found it after I posted...
      Most (all?) of the modifiers affect morale (the target number), not the die roll?

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    4. Thanks, and yes that is correct re dice rolls.

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  13. "Re revision to version 5.0. two major changes (1) defensive fire and charging home test is removed as a separate step and now just factored into melee - simpler and faster."

    So, no firing at a charge? Sorry to keep pestering you.

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    Replies
    1. Yes to speed up play the firing is now factored into melee outcomes. So for example artillery charged frontally has a good chance to repel the enemy with heavy losses while taking none in return (or they may be overrun and lost of course). In previous versions closing fire and morale was a separate step which was a bit more time consuming.

      You can also e-mail me at mark (dot) ottley (at) gmail (dot) com.

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  14. Ooh really liking the look of these rules. Hopefully first game next week.

    Any thoughts on an Ottoman list? I already have figures!

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    1. Thanks Pete :) Note update today above (first in a year).
      Nothing for Ottomans yet sorry, something I should probably add at some point!

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    2. Yes I'd love Ottomans. It might provide something my Russians might actually defeat!

      Thanks for the swift response & for the update.

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  15. Had my first game with Pete last Tuesday. really enjoyed playing the rules.

    Just some novice questions:
    1. Counter Charge - Can infantry counter charge infantry?
    2. Counter Charge - Say a line is being charged...When turning to face charges on their flank do they pivot the whole line or is it just line bases turn 90 degrees to face the charges so they look like a column?
    3. Army Lists - For France 'Line Infantry' it has *1 Lt, 2-6 Ln (Rec). Does this mean that that the Ln can only be recruit and not regular?
    4. Shooting - Looks like non disordered bases can shoot. Is this true?
    5. Army Commander - If he does not have his own Division can he be used to use the special abilities (Advance, Bombard, Glory) for one of the other Divisions?
    6. Cavalry Opportunity Charge - Can 2 units do this if the charging unit is between them? In my example:
    e3
    e1 f1 e2

    f1 charges e3 to it's front. Can e1 and e2 declare opportunity charge on f1 when both are facing f1?

    Sorry about these basic questions.

    Thanks

    Philip

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    1. Thanks Peter, glad you enjoyed it. :)
      1. Infantry can't countercharge, only cavalry.
      2. Only cavalry can turn to face in a charge or countercharge and the whole unit pivots to face.
      3. In brackets means you can choose to make any of the units recruit, but they are regular if not.
      4. Yes (making units -1 to hit with shooting if half or more of the bases are disorded is another optional rule, but we decided against using this for sake of simplicity).
      5. Yes he can.
      6. Yes which would be very grim for f1 usually...

      Thansk and note you can also e-mail me at mark (dot) ottley (at) gmail (dot) com

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    2. Thanks Mark for your prompt reply.

      With my games with Pete we are using 15mm figures. Standard infantry and cavalry units have 2 bases and artillery one base. We use tokens to record disorders (same ones we use for ADLG). We use the distances in cm rather than halving the inches.

      We do this since we have smallish armies. First game was 500 points the next one will be 1000 points.

      Philip

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    3. Hi Mark

      Another question. If say a division has had 2 units broken, would each unit in the division need a morale test taken twice at end of the melee phase?

      Thanks

      Philip

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    4. Hi Philip, good question, the intent is that only one test should be taken a turn, regardless of how many units are broken, but will add that to list of things to make clearer thanks.

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