TITLE: Black Powder: Battle with model soldiers in the age of the musket
AUTHOR: Rick Priestly and Jervis Johnson
PUBLISHER: Warlord Games, Ltd.
PUBLICATION DATE: 2009
WEB SITE/SUPPORT FORUM:
PRICE (with date): $50.00 (in 2009)
REVIEWED BY: Mark “Extra Crispy” Severin
PERIOD COVERED: The Horse and Musket Era (roughly 1700-1900)
Black Powder is a hard cover book, 184 pages, full color throughout. The rules themselves run 90 pages, with the balance of the book featuring army lists, period modifications, scenarios and some brief historical articles.
SCOPE: The scope of the game is for each player to command roughly a large division. an “army” is made up of a commander and several brigades.
ARMY SIZE: Black Powder unabashedly calls for large units in 28mm if at all possible. A standard size infantry unit is 24-30 models. An army calling for about 15 units, an army in Black Powder can easily encompass several hundred models.
BASE UNIT: Because it is deliberately vague about scales, Black Powder simply calls the smallest maneuver element a “unit.” Units are grouped into brigades, and several brigades form an army. That said, the basic unit generally represents a battalion.
By design, the game is vague with regard to scale. In part because one may fight a small battle from the AWi or a large one from the ACW using the same rules and measurements. Thus a unit may be a regiment in one game, a brigade in another.
- Recommended Figure Size: 28mm but conversion for 15mm and other scales is covered.
- Table Size: Not stated but the bigger the better.
- Game Length: Most games should be playable in one evening
Black Powder is flexible with regards to basing. Provided all units are roughly based the same the game will work just fine as written. Basing recommendations provided are:
- Infantry: Four figures on a 40x40mm base (or mounted individually at 20x20mm)
- Cavalry: Two figures on a 50x50mm base
- Artillery/Leaders: As required
- Command Phase: The first player moves units starting with Initiative Moves.
- Shooting Phase: The first player shoots with his units.
- Hand-to-hand Combat: Both sides resolve any melee.
- Command Phase: The second player now moves as above.
- Shooting Phase: The second player shoots with his units.
- Hadn-to-hand Combat: As above.
The Orders System:
BP uses a gentlemanly orders system. To issue an order, the player states the order. He then rolls 2D6 and compares this to the leader’s rating. if the roll exceeds the rating the order has failed. If successful the unit so ordered may be able to move once, twice or even three times depending on the die roll. A player may only attempt to give a unit one order per turn. Orders are expected to be “in a straightforward, robust fashion without conditions or vagaries.” Units can engages in melee and firing without orders. They need an order to change formation or charge, however. Rules may require more than one move to complete.
If a player rolls a double six when making a command check, a blunder has occurred. If the overall commander blunders, no other units or commanders may be issued orders that turn. Additionally, the player must consult the blunder table to see what kind of blunder occurred.
Players may also issue brigade orders which apply to an entire brigade. Under such orders, a group of units all move under one order. They must be within 6” of each other and the commander tests as normal. Success allows the entire group to move, failure means none may be given an order this turn.
The test for successful adoption of orders is modified by distance and formation though the list of modifiers is short.
Orders also include rally, “follow me” and initiative (allowing a unit to act on its own).
Movement rates for foot are 12” per move. Given that under the command system a unit may, with a good leader and cooperative dice, move three times on a single order, you can see that infantry can cover a lot of ground on even a 6’ wide table in a single turn!
The movement orders are otherwise quite streamlined. There are few details about wheels, obliques, etc. Interpenetration is allowed, as is man-handling artillery. Formation changes require one complete move (remember, a unit may have up to three in one turn).
Terrain effects are covered in a separate chapter.
Unit Ratings: Units in Black Powder eahc have several ratings. These are:
- Hand-to-hand: The average value is about 6
- Shooting: An average level is about 3
- Morale: An average level is about 4 while 3+ is excellent, and 6+ is awful
- Stamina: The number of casualties needed to make a unit “shaken”
In addition units may have special capabilities/rules, such as “Crack” or “Steady.”
In BP shooting is resolved by unit. A unit rolls one die for each point of shooting rating. This may be modified by formation or unit size. Shooters inflict a hit on a 4+. This hit number may also be modified by terrain, cover, etc. For every hit scored, the target rolls a save against its Morale. If any hits are scored place a casualty marker next to the unit. The unit is automatically disordered. The unit become shaken when it has as many hit markers as its Stamina.
Artillery resolves fire in the same way except that range dictates how many dice are rolled.
The rules go into some detail on shooting. They cover Enfilades, skirmishers, a limited kind of opportunity fire, etc.
In order to bring on a melee, a unit must charge the enemy - which requires a specific order to do so. Once in contact, melee is resolved almost identically to shooting. Each side rolls one die for each point of Hand-to-hand rating. Large units roll more dice, and there are modifiers for cover, formation, flanks etc.
Each side scores hits, the as with shooting, each side attempts to make morale saves. Once hits are counted, a winner may be determined. Each side counts the number of hits they inflicted, then adds in for supporting units and terrain. the higher total wins (ties are a draw). The losers make a break test, while winners have several options. They may change formation or advance, or occupy the ground.
BP uses morale in two ways. First, units save against hits using their morale rating. Second, they must make “break tests” in certain situations (after losing a melee, or taking lots of casualties for example). To perform a break test roll two dice. In general if you roll a 7 or more the unit has passed. The lower the doe roll the worse the result. On a roll of 4 or less the unit breaks and is deemed destroyed.
Note that the rally order does not affect morale directly. A successful rally removes a casualty marker. If the unit is over its Stamina rating it remains “shaken.”
The rule book includes numerous scenarios:
- Freeman’s Farm 1777
- El Perez 1809
- San Miguel
- Crimea River 1854
- Hangman’s Creek 1860s
- Ntombi 1879
- El Teb 1884
There are partial army lists as well as appendices and guides to making ratings of units for the entire Black Powder period.