Summary for the skim reader: Tercios is elegant, fast moving, full of period flavour and great fun to play. Kingdoms provides essential extra rules and army lists for Eastern Europe and the ECW. A free PDF of the basic rules is available at
http://elkraken.es/released/en/. Give it a try.
On 24 February we ran through a quick action using Tercios and its supplement for Eastern Europe and the ECW, Kingdoms. It was an interesting and decisive encounter.
I found the rules much easier to demonstrate than describe. Each unit has a whopping 10 factors on its Stats line, each used for a different situation. 6 of these are 'active' factors and 4 are used by the enemy in different fire and melee situations. Before you walk off in disgust, this is the most complicated element of the rules and the engine of the system is elegant, simple and intuitive. Speed is a basic allowance in inches. Every other active factor represents the number of six sided dice to be thrown against that quality. An increase or decrease in a factor reduces the number of dice to roll: the target number doesn't change, just the number of dice you are rolling. We learned pretty quickly what we needed to roll for each test. It helps to have played Dreadball, which has a similar system.
Each turn begins with the selection of orders for each unit on both sides. The options are Ready, the vanilla order allowing any two actions from a short list including fire at reduced effectiveness; Assault, with increases to speed and melee factors; Run, putting everything into speed; Fire, allowing a salvo at full effect; and Resist, which allows a unit to recover damage. Each card also has a Reaction function that can be taken as an interrupt when enemy either declares an assault on the unit or moves within 3". The reaction on a card can be subtly different from its Order, so for example Musket-armed foot who fire as a reaction to an enemy charge receive a bonus that they wouldn't have got had they fired as an action. However, a unit must pass an order check to react that it might fail, so deciding when to activate a unit can be a tricky challenge.
Players then roll for initiative and one of them selects the first unit to activate. If a unit has suffered no damage this is automatic, but any unit with at least one 'wear' point must pass an Order check. I mentioned above that wear markers can be removed with the Resist order, but one hit always sticks so once damaged, a unit will have to test to obey orders for the rest of the game. The effect of this simple mechanic is pleasing: control and army cohesion become harder to maintain as the action develops.
Movement is very simple but satisfyingly clunky for the formations represented. Measurements for this and for firing are all made from the centre points of the unit. You need to plan your moves carefully as exposed flanks are very vulnerable. I like it that without imposing strict limits on dispositions, the rules work best for the player whose army deploys along historical lines.
Shooting and melee have similar mechanics. The active player rolls a number of dice equal to its relevant modified factor and compares the results to the target's defence factor. Every die that equals or exceeds this factor scores a hit. The target then takes a Courage test and every roll of 5 or 6 saves one hit. Unsaved hits convert to wear markers. A target whose total of wear markers equals its stamina becomes weary and loses effectiveness. If it receives more wear markers than its stamina it must take a break test, needing to roll a 6 to overcome each point over its stamina. In melee, the target unit fights back with the same procedure and the winner is determined by a comparison of the total wear markers inflicted. A melee can result in one side disengaging by retiring 3"; retreating with backs to the enemy; or breaking completely. In both firing and melee, certain circumstances can disorder a unit, with a drop in effectiveness.
Oops. Getting carried away. Review to be continued in next blog.
The other day I bought Tercios, the translation of a Spanish rule set that caught my eye at Warfare in Reading. It is a cracking rules system. The smallest unit is a Foot company or Horse squadron, with frontages being 12cm for large and 8cm for smaller units. Losses are accumulated as 'wear' points and there is no figure removal, so any basing system will work.
Units have various factors that mostly convert to the number of dice rolled to conduct a certain function. Dreadball players will recognise the approach: if, for example, a unit with discipline 4 wants to obey an order, 4 dice are rolled and as long as at least one rolls a 5+, the unit can proceed. Each turn, both players allocate order cards to their units and activate them alternately. Each order card has two possible functions, depending whether it is used for an activation or for a reaction. Certain cards give bonuses to different factors, so charging troops, for example, receive an increase in combat dice.
These rules are carefully considered, elegant and intuitive once you get the hang of the basic concepts. The only aspect that I am not so sure about is the very wide range of qualities that are available to choose from for commander figures. There are so many that I end up confused by all of the nuances and possible combinations. They feel a bit like unnecessary chrome and my solution so far has been to ignore all but the simplest ones. The game plays fine without them and indeed, the free download of the rules from the el kraken website doesn't include them.
This week I have received my copy of the supplement Kingdoms direct from Captain General in Spain. It adds many new options for the ECW and for armies in my beloved East European theatre The book is in Spanish and I have needed to use the dictionary here and there, but having a copy of Tercios in English helps a lot. I love the way the authors tackle the particularities of Eastern European warfare: Gulay-gorod, Tabor, Tatar horsemen, etc. are all represented neatly and without over complicating the rules. I also like the open-ended nature of unit construction: I can make this unit veteran, give that unit muskets, arm these horse with lances and so on.
These rules deserve to be widely known outside Spain. I do hope somebody is writing an English translation of Kingdoms as I am sure they will be a success.
Later this month we will be using Tercios/Kingdoms to replay the first encounter of the 1660 campaign in Ukraine, at Lubar. I am looking forward to seeing how they play in a multi-player game.
I have played wargames for five decades. Recently retired, I have even more time to devote to it. More about me here.