A set of new Napoleonic rules? Ingeniously simple rules? Only eight pages (and that includes the front cover and a quick reference sheet!)? Written by wargames legends Jervis Johnson, Alan Perry and Michael Perry? And continuously supported and updated by them? Hmm, intriguing. Oh, and they’re completely free. Wow, how could I resist?!
Yep, Jervis Johnson and the Perry twins released their free downloadable Valour & Fortitude rules late last year. Of course, I snapped them up straight away. But although I have loads of Napoleonic troops, I don’t have a wargames table. So despite enjoying reading through the rules, I couldn’t actually play a game to test how they worked. Until the other day, that is …
My pal Scott Bowman (owner of Kapiti Hobbies) has a very well-equipped wargames room with three tables and an exquisite set of scratch-built terrain tiles. So with a minimum of arm-twisting, I persuaded Scott to host a Valour & Fortitude game at his place. We roped in a few of our gaming friends (thanks Bryan, Richard and Ste!) to help push the lead round the table, and so last Sunday afternoon we were finally ready to test the rules in earnest.
Our game was very loosely set during the Peninsula War. I say loosely as we included some troop types that were never even in Spain. But this was to be a fun game intended mainly to test the rules, not a serious historical reenactment. In any case, our little group’s overall gaming philosophy has never been particularly restricted to only follow historical orders of battle.
Many years ago I scratch-built a series of small Spanish-style buildings, so our test-game’s Peninsular setting also provided me with the opportunity of taking them out of the back of my cupboard and seeing the light of day!
With four players, we settled on a game with just over 200 points a side. This enabled us all to field a couple of brigades each on our 8’x6′ table. I was able to supply all the 28mm troops we needed, which was to be fought between the French and the Anglo-Portuguese. The above photo shows both the forces set up in our staging area (though in the end we had three artillery bases on each side instead of the five shown in the pic).
I’m not going to give you a detailed battle report here. Rather, I just want to sum up how we found these new rules. But if you do want a battle report, along with seeing and hearing how we handled the rules in real-time action, take a look at Scott’s video.
So, were the Valour & Fortitude rules actually ‘ingeniously simple’ as they are described on the cover? Did they work well? Did they give us an enjoyable game that felt right for the period? Did we like these rules enough to use them again? Would we recommend them?
These are all tough questions to ask after just one game. So bear in mind the following thoughts are very much just my first impressions. But first impressions do count!
Is Valour & Fortitude the ‘ingenious simple’ ruleset as it claims to be?
There were indeed aspects that seemed ingenious to us. One of the most obvious was that unlike many ‘you go, I go’ games, in Valour & Fortitude fire comes before movement. For us, this reversal overturned the way we usually thought about our wargames tactics. We had to think carefully about whether our units would fire and make assaults, or hold off their fire so they could manouevre for longer distances and/or make formation changes.
Another ingenious mechanism is that only one unit can take the lead in firing at an enemy unit, with additional dice added for any other units that can support that fire. This simplified the whole firing process, so that rather than individually sorting out each unit’s firing, we could whip through an entire army’s firing phase very quickly and efficiently.
The same ‘lead unit and supports’ mechanism is also used for melees, and once again simplifies what can sometimes be a very convoluted process in other horse and musket rules.
If a unit accrues hits up to its ‘tenacity’ rating, it is regarded as ‘shaken’, and for every further hit over and above that rating it has to undertake a morale test called a Valour test. When a unit becomes shaken or routs, it also causes a ‘setback’ token to be given to their brigade commander.
Once a brigade commander accrues three setback tokens, his whole brigade is regarded as ‘wavering’. Any subsequent setbacks require the wavering brigade to take a so-called Fortitude test, which could result in the whole brigade being shattered.
It is fair to say that the above Valour and Fortitude tests caused us the most initial confusion. They take a bit to get your head round, but once you get the hang of them, these tests again are remarkably ingenious and simple. Though we did decide that we need to work out a better system than we used for marking the hits, shaken units, setbacks and wavering brigades, but without cluttering Scott’s beautiful terrain with too many unsightly markers and tokens.
So, is Valour & Fortitude ‘ingeniously simple’? I would say yes, despite some initial puzzling through some aspects in our first and only game so far. We thought that with another read-through of the rules after this first experience of using them, everything would become clear. Furthermore, there appear to be lots of nuances that will result in more challenging games once we are more familiar with the basics of how the rules work.
Did the rules work well?
I mentioned above that the writers continuously support and update these rules. So by the time we got to test them, they were up to version 1.5. Being an online ruleset and only a few pages long, keeping your copy updated is simply a matter of downloading the latest version. These updates meant that many of the bugs and clarifications that any new set of rules tends to have were likely to be fixed by the time we tried them out.
We found these rules got us into combat quickly, rather than spending the first hour just moving into contact. Firing and melees were also quick and easy. Our game only lasted a few hours, but we got to a clear conclusion with one side the winner – though it was a toss-up right till the end as to which side would win (for the record, it was the Anglo-Portuguese, of which I was one of the commanders!).
The core rules are supplemented by a number of special unit rules and a set of fate cards, which are included in the various army sheets (also supplied free on the Valour & Fortitude website). So strictly speaking, I guess these rules aren’t really just eight pages long as you also need these army sheets – but they are still pretty concise compared to most other rulesets.
I did read a review somewhere that the one-page quick reference sheet that comes with the rules is a little hard to follow, as it merges tables for things you need to know during different phases of a turn. Little Wars TV have therefore produced a more logically sequenced QRS, but it is based on an earlier version of Valour & Fortitude, and is adapted for smaller games. So I further adapted the Little Wars QRS to match version 1.5 of the rules, and it worked fine for us. You can download my revised QRS below.
Did these rules give us an enjoyable game that felt right for the period?
Well, we definitely enjoyed ourselves. The rules weren’t as frustrating as sometimes new sets can be. It was relatively simple to look up things if required (though we did comment that even such a short set of rules could do with a short alphabetical index of the main points to help find things quickly in the heat of battle).
As for Napoleonic feel, the narrative that developed as our game progressed seemed quite in keeping with our (admittedly non-expert) understanding of the period.
Did we like these rules enough to use them again?
We all agreed that these were an immensely playable set of Napoleonic rules. We just need another game or two to really get them under our belts, and then they should become almost intuitive to play. So, yes, we will definitely play Valour & Fortitude again.
And would we recommend them? I guess that depends on what sort of player you are. I suspect these rules may be a smidgen too ‘ingeniously simple’ for some of the true grognards amongst us. But if you want a simple and enjoyable set of Napoleonic rules that has the right overall feel, that enable you to play a game from go to whoa within a few hours, and that are well-supported by three designers who have immense street-cred in the wargaming community, give Valour & Fortitude a go.
Anyway, even if after trying out these completely free rules you find they’re not your cup of tea, you’ll never regret how much you had to spend on them!