September 30, 2013

First WhifF of Black Powder

A lot of ‘firsts’ this month, it would seem! Couple of weeks ago I’ve gotten the opportunity to get the first taste of ‘Bolt Action’ and last weekend it was its sibling’s turn to try to impress me.

Now, ‘Black Powder’ has been around for quite some time, and a compulsive ruleset hoarder that I am, I have acquired it pretty much as soon as it was released. Since its arrival at my doorstep, it’s been gathering dust on my Ruleset bookshelf until last month, when L. discovered it along with the ‘Raid on St Michel’ mini-campaign booklet from Caliver Books. At first sight, it’s a rather attractive combination and Unlike me, he has the miniatures and terrain suitable for the period and seeing an opportunity to use them, he quickly commandeered both books.

It took an additional couple of months before L. was ready with  his preparations, but last weekend T. and I were summoned to face off in initial clash of the above-mentioned campaign. Once at L’s place, we received our orders; I was to assume command of a vanguard force tasked with a quick capture of a bridge, thus making it possible for the rest of the army to get over the river. Three infantry regiments of various quality, two cavalry regiments, an artillery battery and some light infantry rabble were made available for me to complete the task. T.’s force was nominal – two infantry regiments, small cavalry force (reinforced in the middle of the game) and an artillery battery would try to do their best to stop me in my tracks.

The game

I won’t spend much time on the game itself – it was a small affair and both T. and I knew that its outcome was pretty much a foregone conclusion, mostly due to my superior numbers. At the same time, for the very same reasons, the scenario was a perfect test bed for us getting acquainted with the ruleset, which previous to this game was completely unknown to both of us.


Let’s make a rather long story short… My advance toward the bridge was veeery plodding, in equal parts thanks to ‘Black Powder’s’ rather arbitrary unit activation system and dismal quality of my commander. This gave T. plenty of time to bring up his paltry force into position. After a while both sides faced of each other over the bridge, which caused my commanding officer to enter a comatose condition. Turn after turn, I failed to activate even a single unit. It is therefore hardly surprising that when the dice finally allowed me to act, I sent my best cavalry regiment over the bridge with every intention of smashing into smithereens whatever stood in their path.


Well… off they went, only to be promptly disrupted by a well aimed musket salvo from T.’s militia while still on the bridge. A long delay and couple more disruptions followed, but when I finally reached that pesky regiment barring my way, I had all reason to believe that I would instantly punch my way through their lines. Imagine my surprise when the melee that followed spanned over five (!!!) rounds, before being decided in my favour. While that rather odd clash of arms run its course, L. was generous enough to allow me to push my infantry to the other side of the bridge, even though it was really blocked by my cavalry, still stuck in column formation.


Once my infantry was on the other side of the river, the game was in most respects over and done. T., unable to stop me, ordered a slow retreat for those of his units which were still on the field (that stubborn militia regiment, once defeated, actually ‘vaporised’ into thin air) to the high ground nearby and I was quite satisfied with just the fact that I was finally in possession of the bridge. It was as good time as any to call it a day.

Musings after the battle

Just like in other aspects of life, when it comes to rulesets, sometimes things just “click into place” pretty much from the start. For me “Check Your Six” and “I Aint’ Been Shot Mum” are perfect examples of such rulesets – things just immediately felt right! Then there are rulesets that take a little time to get used to before their potential can be properly appreciated – “Dux Britanniarum” is the most recent experience of this type for me. And then there are rulesets that give you that feeling that something just doesn’t fit. I’m afraid that “Black Powder” may very well be one of those rulesets for me.

Now, let me say this – it is far to early for me to make an authoritative judgement of any kind regarding “Black Powder”. I am yet to read it (once in L’s hands, they are surprisingly hard to reclaim) and we have played only a single game with it (with all misunderstandings and messed up rule interpretations such games are usually plagued with). Furthermore, the scenario we played was rather small and if I understand things correctly, the ruleset is intended for large engagements. In other words, I am hardly in a position where I can dismiss “Black Powder” as a bad ruleset. Quite contrary, I am happy to say that in some respects “Black Powder” is rather likeable. Its core mechanics seem to be simple and based strictly on D6 dice, which makes the ruleset almost instantly playable for most people with basic wargaming experience. Also, it seems to be rather quick – a quality claimed by many rulesets, but provided by far fewer!

At the same time, I can’t disregard the fact that I found some of the rules that are defining for the “feel” of “Black Powder” to be either annoying or worse, not really “anchored” in my perception of black powder era battlefield. Until I actually read the rules and try to grasp designer’s philosophy, I won’t go into further details of that statement. But there is no denying the fact that first “Black Powder” whiff of mine left me rather underwhelmed.

Next game in our campaign is to take place in a couple of weeks. Rest assured that next post about “Black Powder” will be posted shortly afterward.

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