Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: Chosen Men- Osprey Games


One of the latest in the Osprey Wargaming Series is this title by Mark Latham.  He is well known for his work with Warhammer Historical with the “Legends” series.  He also wrote Broken Legions for Osprey.  He is no stranger to writing historical skirmish games. 

Chosen Men focuses on skirmish actions in the Napoleonic Wars.  The Napoleonic Wars is one of those periods that wargamers love.  If we put a single copy of every Napoleonic Wars rulesets onto a scale we would probably easily reach a “ton” of rules.  However, the period is so vast that there is a wide array of games and styles of play within them.  That is probably one of the reasons they have been so enduringly popular… well that and the hats.  We all know wargamers love a good hat!

Nappies (slang for Napoleonic Wargaming) have always been intimidating to me.  In theory, it seems a really fun and interesting period. I mean who hasn’t read a Sharpe book and thought about playing it out on the table?  However, there is just so much out there it is hard to even decide where to begin.  Plus, to an outsider Nappies do not always seem welcoming.  How many models do you need?  What about basing?  How about color schemes, units, formations, etc?  That doesn’t even get into what rules to use! 

Picking up this book made me hopeful that I would finally have a place to start.  I personally wasn’t that interested in the big battles.  Ideally, I wanted to focus on something a bit more local to me in this era.


So, it was with some excitement and hope that I had Chosen Men arrive in the mail.  Does it deliver? 

What I Liked
All units are assumed to be in Skirmish formation by default.  Almost all measuring is done by Unit Leader and he troops stay within 1 inch of each other after that.  This methods streamlines a lot of fiddliness that can occur with these types of games.  LOS is from leader to target unit, movement is move the leader and everyone follows, and the leader is the center of any formation changes.  It is interesting to me that when working on Men of Bronze the formation of the Greek Phalanx posed similar problems as units in Chosen Men and that we decided to solve them using a similar method. 

These rules use the old Warhammer hit/wound/save mechanic that many people hate for modern games.  If I hit, why do I need to try to wound?  I either hit or I don’t!  Why slow the game down with more rolling of dice?  I understand this argument and I am sympathetic.  As the victim of your shooting I like to roll dice too, and want to be able to do something rather than just remove models.  I want to roll dice to keep models.  It is a crude but effective way to keep players doing stuff at all points of the game.  Perhaps the cover save is one step too far, but I prefer that than the attempts I have seen to create a “One Roll” to resolve it all as these tend to bog down in tons of modifiers.  I know I have some quaint ideas about game design.   

I liked the rules for Artillery fire.  Each weapon had a minimum range and a number of accuracy dice.  You decide how many accuracy dice to roll and the result plus the minimum range is the distance the shot traveled and landed.  Any units LOS crosses takes a number of hits.  Then, roll another 2d6 to see how far the shot bounces and any units LOS crosses on the bounce are also hit for lesser damage.  A bit clunky but I thought it was fun and flavorful.  Besides these rules should not have many cannon on the board at any one time.    

What I Did Not Like           
The choices Mark made around what and where to abstract things were interesting to me.  For example, shooting is pretty straight forward and efficient.  The base Melee rules are as well.  However, then there is a great deal of fiddliness around who can fight who and with how many dice after that.  It is weird to me that the number of individual models contacting an opponent matters so much for resolving attacks.  As the rules themselves state, melee is a swirling affair, so does it matter if Private Smith is touching Corporal Henri?  Just assume they are all fighting or helping as it swirls right?  Why do we need to establish a combat order of who strikes first?        

In addition, each weapon is given an “accuracy” rating which is the number needed to hit a target.  Since almost all units (even small scale skirmishing ones) are armed the same would it not just be easier to give each unit a shooting stat?  Now, I need to stat cards, one for my units and one for my unit’s weapons?  I am too old and stupid for that kind of thing.     

I think both of these critiques really stem from a core decision about whether this was a game of units or a game of models.  As written now, it is trying to be both but this leads to a bit of clunkiness in design that makes the rules feel a bit dated.  Then, I saw a “To Hit” chart for combat and it all hit me like a ton of bricks.  The entire design is a Games Workshop style legacy design.  Now it all made sense.   

Meh and Other Uncertainties
The game uses an Alternating Activation method for moving and shooting and then an initiative order system in melee.  Personally, I think they could have had all units completely resolve their orders in their activation including melee and avoided some crunch in the melee rules.

The game also has a “Hold” order that allows you to do some limited reactions to other unit activation such as evade, counter-charge, reaction fire, etc.  Plus, there is an ability to “Pass an Activation” when the opponent has more units than you.  I am not convinced you need reactions in an alternate activation game, but I can see why they are using them here.  They fit the period well.

The game also uses Independent Characters who can issue special orders to their units and provide additional benefits.  I think rules like these are practically mandatory for Horse and Musket warfare since so much of it is taught using the “Great Man of History” approach that the individual personalities and skills of commanders play a big part of how these periods of warfare are taught.  Right or wrong this is the prism many of us have learned to look at these conflicts and the rules should capture that somehow. 

Of course, the game also has some limited army lists with unit upgrades and special rules to try to capture the flavor of some of these units in battle.  I am sure many people will be disappointed that their favorite period of the Napoleonic Wars or force was not covered.  The rules are specifically focused on light units so many of the famous heavy hitters are not present.  Worse, I am sure people will quibble about the points for this or that and want this or that nerfed.  No point system is perfect but as a beginner to Nappies I was pretty happy to see something to guide me with army selection.  I don’t know enough or want to spend a ton of time pre-game to know enough.  Heck, I still get confused on how big a Corps, battalion, regiment, or company is with Nappies.  I will gladly take an army list thank you very much!      

There are interpenetration rules, and they get a bit byzantine with “if this/than that” type rules.  You see this “If This/Than That” kind of rules frequently in Horse and Musket Rules (See my Honours of War review)  as the records show that at the battle of X commander Y was able to do Z.  Then as designers (and players) we all get caught thinking that if they did Z at X then our rules need to be able to do it too!  Sadly, that really bogs down a rules set.  Thankfully, many of these “If This/Than That” rules are somewhat intuitive.  “If This/Than That” just leads to flipping through the rules instead of playing the game. 

Final Thoughts
This game had a Games Workshop feel to it.  It would have fit perfectly in the old Warhammer Historical line, and I have a feeling that is where it originated.  Therefore, if you are familiar with those rulesets you will be familiar with how Chosen Men operates.  You can decide if that is something that fits your taste.    

It is hard not to compare it to The Men Who Would Be Kings about Colonial warfare from the Osprey Series.  They both face some of the same design challenges, but go about them differently.  At their core they have many similarities but you can see where the designers made intentional decisions to abstract or not abstract based on their individual peccadilloes, design ethos, abstraction choices, and preferences.

This was a great place to get my head to start wrapping around Nappies and good entry point for me.  Since I am more interested in smaller sideshow operations in a theatre far from Europe I think these rules will give me a good baseline to get moving. 

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