Hey people, I just finished my first try-out game of Pike&Shotte, Warlord Games’ ruleset for playing historical (or not so historical) battles in the 16th and 17th century. It’s my first dabbling into historical wargaming but I have had an interest in it for a long time given how much of a history buff I am.
For someone who is mainly imprinted on Fantasy and Sci-Fi wargaming, getting into historical wargaming is very exciting. At the same time it can also be a bit frustrating due to multiple reasons. Other than with the sci-fi and fantasy stuff from the big companies out there (GW, Privateer Press and so on) you don’t get everything in one box. Quite the opposite actually as there are literally hundreds of manufacturers of historical miniatures for each and every possible period (that’s another thing I’ll tackle in a bit) which means that you have to do research on essentially everything. On the other hand, this is nothing people who are interested in historical wargaming are afraid of – very much the opposite in fact. You have to be aware though that you just don’t get everything you need in one box or even in one place. Granted, this is a very traditional approach because there are a handful of companies by now which make it much easier to enter the whole thing. Battlefront for instance, who managed to get historical wargaming (back) into toy stores with Flames of War. Taking a very GW route of doing things they seem to do very well for themselves. Then there is Warlord Games of course who chose a more traditional approach by offering a wider range of miniatures (with emphasis on the typically widely-played periods of Ancients, Horse&Musket and World War Two), partly made in-house, partly by other companies like Perry Miniatures and have established rules designers write rules for them.
Still, there are a lot of options to be considered which on one hand give you more freedom in your wargaming and on the other hand make things more complicated. Traditionally there are four things to get together: The period you want to play, the rule set you are going to use for playing it, the miniatures you are going to use (along with choosing what scale to go with) and people to play with of course. Bringing all this together can be an interesting challenge.
In my case it went something like this: After repeated exposure to the insane amount of enthusiasm for wargaming the Meeples and Miniatures podcast inspires in me I wanted to get into historicals. I did paint a bunch of historical miniatures and armies for other people before but never got into the thing myself. On top of this I have had developed this interest in the Thirty Years War which I can not quite explain. It surely was one of the greatest tragedies in European history and a horrible conflict. On the other hand, and as a wargaming period, it has quite a few interesting characteristics. Immense, colourful armies, every major power of that time being involved at some point, an important period of transition in terms of tactics and warfare as a whole and essentially still having armoured soldiers and cavalry whilst already using more modern formations and tactics. On top you this, you also got the very unique dynamic between units of pikemen, musketeers and cavalry.
So when I heard that Warlord Games, a company I had been following for a time already and really liking their plastic miniatures, would come up with a rulebook for that era based on other rule sets by the one and only Rick Priestley I was pumped and just had to get this thing. I also ordered some miniatures already, having decided to go with 10mm scale minis, but they haven’t arrived yet. Warlord are doing very pretty and very, very affordable plastic models for the era in 28mm but I can’t see how I could ever play this game on a regular 6′ by 4′ table or with units even remotely as large as I would like them to be.
So much for the lengthy introduction and my motivations. Let’s get fown to business and take a look at the book itself. Here’s the facts: It is hardback, just over 200 pages, full colour, high quality print and paper and has tons of phantastic-looking pictures of miniatures, miniatures battles and terrain. Eye-candy through and through and in terms of production value it has no problem keeping up with publications by GW or Privateer Press. Not a single page without art least a picture of some miniatures or battle scenes. I spotted no original artwork as such. It is about 90% becautiful pictures of miniatures and 10% really nicely done box art from the boxes Warlord are selling plus a few maps for scenarios or maps of the geopolitical situation of the conflicts that happened within the 200 years the book aims to cover.
The overall structure of the book starts with an introduction to the era and a quick explanation how the different elements of armies operated. After this we get straight to the rules. They are explained in over 80 pages featuring examples, very clear diagrams, this characteristically very clear and easy to read layout and of course lots of pretty pictures. So don’t be discouraged by the number of pages that is the “rules” part. They also include lists of special rules some units have and which you’re encouraged to use to make your own units or for giving veterans or something special flavour.
Speaking of units, the book has ready-made army lists for the most well known factions in various conflicts in the 16th and 17th century. You get a nice introduction into the respective conflict, two or more army lists, the example of how a historical battle from that time is played with these rules and army lists as well as how the battle played out in history and some background info on how to capture the flavor of the period.
The periods that each get one of those chapters are The Italian Wars 1494-1559 (featuring an army list for Italian Imperialists and French), Tudor Warfare in the British Isles (Henry VIII., Elisabeth I. and so on featuring army lists for English Tudor and Late 16th century Irish, the Thirty Years War (featuring army lists for Imperials and Swedes with Saxon allies but also a 17th century Polish army list and 17th century Ottoman Turks which of course means one thing – Battle of Vienna! Awesome. Grandest cavalry charge in all of history as far as I read. Or tons of other things of course.), English Civil Wars, which naturally get the most attention in this section as well (and feature army lists for Royalists and Early Parliament of course but also New Model Army, Covenanters and a Montrose list) as well as the Wars of the Sun King (Louis XIV. in late 17th century featuring an army list for the Grand Alliance of England, Scotland, the Netherlands and Denmark and a list for the French of course). On top of all this there is something I’m sure that many people will love – a four page toolkit for working out points values for your own units starting off with the standard stats of unit types (Foot, Cavalry and Artillery) along with possible modifications of stats and special rules (43 thereof albeit some of them are restricted to a certain unit type) along with how this changes the points value.
The last few pages consist of suggestions on how to use the ruleset for other scales than 28mm (with which in mind the rules were written) and a two-page Quick Reference Sheet. Pike and Shotte is a very “open” or “generic” system if you will. You can easily adapt it for any scale of miniatures or table.
All very nice so far. The rules of the game are essentially the same as the rules of Warlord Games’ Black Powder but with some important changes, especially in regards to how pike units work and several other things. Just like Black Powder, the core rules are very similar to Warmaster as well, using essentially the same orders system. I haven’t played any other games based on Warmaster so far (surprising really given how popular the system is with everybody. There are several bits in the book clarifying how these rules have developed from how the people who wrote Black Powder and Pike&Shotte like to play their games and that people are very welcome to make changes if they feel them necessary. The whole tone of the book is “relaxed” and joking at times. You get the impression that someone is chatting to you about how his games club likes to play this period rather than the book listing what you can and can not do in a very serious manner. This is not meant to be a tournament system. I’m fairly sure that the general mission statement is “here is a fast and fun ruleset which you can use to have big games of many miniatures on large tables and still be able to get the game finished from start to end in one evening”. This may be exactly what many people look for, others might be a bit underwhelmed by the level of complexity.
Now after this let’s have a look at this tiny little try-out game I did to see what the rules were like on the table (as you will most likely know there is often a surprisingly big discrepancy between how rules read and how they play). It was a kind of spontaneous idea and I just grabbed three units and a commander each side, the rulebook and a notepad. Due to my limited collection when it comes to historical miniatures, I just used Warhammer Dark Elves and Empire miniatures. Each side got a batallion of one block of pikemen and two units of musketmen each.In my head it looked something like this of course:
Without much ado I set up the gaming mat, a few trees and the models, about 24″ apart.
Turns work pretty usual, with an I-go-you-go system. I have to admit that after spending most of a year with wargames which have a lot of reaction stuff going on and generally eroding the I-go-you-go I had to get used to this classic system again. 😉 A player’s turn starts by choosing one of his commanders (armies consist of a general commander and a certain number of battalias of which each has a commander of its own and a number of units) and states the order the commander wants to give, as one of my favorite sentences in the book says, “…aloud, in good time, and in a straightforward, robust fashion without condition of vagaries”. This means that you say what the commanded unit is expected to do this turn. This probably is the bit of the rules that might not sit too well with some people due to fear of exploits or something like that. I think that in practice this will hardly ever happen. The game certainly builds on the idea of gentleman pals having a nice social event with some curry and maybe a wine or two which of course is nice. The realities of wargaming can be a bit less nice at times as we all know but I think that this ruling makes for less trouble than people may be led to think at first glance. On the positive side, this rule opens opportunities for getting “into character”, maybe using the language of the time and so on. I, being of the opinion that wargaming should always include a bit of roleplaying, am sure that there is quite a chuckle to be had with this.
Once an order is issued you try to actually get the message to the unit via rolling a check based on the commanders command value which indicates things such as the tactical abilities of the character, his communication with the unit and so on. If the check is passed the order is carried out by the unit as closely as they can. If the check is failed the commander may not issue any further orders this turn and the rest of his battalia has to remain in place.This of course simulates the “fog of war” or “battlefield friction” as some like to call it. Battles are way less clear than they look on the tabletop and messages may be misunderstood, not understood at all, messages may be intercepted, delicious, plump-breasted carrier pigeons may vanish inexplicably and so on. It introduces a certain level of randomness into the game but not much more so than many other rules mechanics. Again, some people will like this (I do at least), others like to have 100% assured control over their units.
After this phase shooting takes place (for units who have the means to do so) and after that it’s Hand to Hand combat, the first player’s phase ends and the other player starts with his orders. So far so good.
So I quickly set up a weirdly low number of models. One word on the size of units – you “buy” whole units of each troop type for the points, not single models. The depth of a unit doesn’t really come into play that much, it’s mostly about the frontage and even on this the specifications are pretty loose. A regular block of pikemen for instance is suggested to have a frontage between 80 and 200mm. The important thing is that the units on each side are about equal sizes. Again, this clearly is not a tournament system and is just as much about the visual spectacle as it is about winning. In the case of this game I went for pretty extreme units – pike blocks of six models, musketeers units of two models each. Worked well enough for my purposes.
The Empire side gets to decide who would go first. Hauptmann Hans Rappel of course chooses to do so himself and orders his pikemen to advance towards the enemy as fast as possible, rolls a glorious command check and the pikemen move a whopping 18″ forward! In the heat of the moment he forgets to give the rest of the battalion the same orders, hastily tries to tell his musketmen to follow the pikemen forward, otherwise they might end up without any support. He fails on the new command check and the Musketmen have to remain in place. This first turn really shows how much the command checks can do for or against you. Not only if the check passes or fails counts but also how well you roll, possibly giving the orderd unit two or even three moves a turn. A note on movement: This happens very free form in this game. No wheeling or anything like that. You measure the distance and if the path is free you just move the unit there and place it at an angle the suits you.
No shooting takes place as the Empire Musketmen have no targets in range. Shooting happens independently of orders. Units always may shoot even if they haven’t been ordered to.
The Dark Elves commander Sinan the Serpent, also eager to get into the fight, orders his pikemen to charge towards the enemy pikemen but fails his check and everybody stays in place. In the shooting phase the Dark Elves repeater crossbowmen (statswise they are musketmen just like the Empire units on the other side) fire at the Empire pikemen and cause three casualties. This works in a very familiar fashion: Roll to hit, the target unit makes their saves, which in this game isn’t only armour but a a morale save which represents several things ranging from the actual armour, the number of men in the unit, the actual morale, the toughness of the members of the unit and so on. There is no casualty removal in the game. Instead you place markers next to the unit which add up over time. When they get too numerous the unit is shaken and has to start rolling break tests.
Starting again with the Empire’s order phase. Hauptmann Rappel orders both his musket units to advance to catch up with the pikemen, fails his command check and nothing else happens his turn.
The Dark Elves commander, being happy with how the last turn of shooting went, decides not to issue any orders and just have his repeater crossbow units continue shooting at the isolated Empire pikemen, cause one more casualty, bringing the Empire Pikemen into a shaken state which goes along with some penalties and any more casualties will result in break tests.
Rappel is starting to fear for his pikemen and decides to issue a “Rally around me” order which removes one casualty marker but he may not issue any other orders this turn. Again, no shooting.
On the Dark Elves side, the Serpent decides that the battle can be decided now and orders his fresh and eager pikemen to charge the enemy at once but once again fails the command check, leaving his pike elves more confused than murderous. The crossbow elves fare better with their shooting, causing another casualty for the Empire pikes, turning them shaken again.
The Empire Hauptmann finally manages to convince his musketmen to advance towards the actual battle whilst rallying his pikemen again, removing the state of “shaken”. In the shooting phase the Empire musketmen finally open fire at the Dark Elves pikemen, cause one casualty point. They also send the Dark Elves pike elves into Disorder with the sudden fusiliade of noise and smoke. Shooting attacks may disorder enemy units with certain results on the to-hit rolls. This comes with similar penalties as the unit being shaken but on top of that, they can not be given any orders until order has been regained at the end of their next turn.
With the only unit he would actually do much with this turn in disorder, the Dark Elves commander again decides not to issue any orders and instead have his crossbow elves do their job again. They cause one casualties each, yet again turn the Empire Pikemen shaken and, with the surplus casualty point, force them to take a break test. The stalwart Empire pikemen hold their ground but still are shaken.
Things look grim for the Empire but they always do. Hauptmann Rappel orders the musketmen units to advance towards the enemy so they would get closer to one of the crossbow elves units which would be easier to break by shooting alone. Again he manages to rally his pikemen as well and barely keep the unit in order. Hopefully the pikemen would last long enough so the musketmen could make their concentrated firepower on one flank come to bear. The command check turns out perfect and the musketmen, until now to the left and right of the pikemen, both move to the right flank to combine their firepower on one of the less tough targets. Promptly the crossbow elves take two casualty markers and are disordered for the next turn.
The Serpent, surprised by this move on the side of the Empire, orders his second crossbow elves unit to immediately move to the left flank and support their comrades but the crossbow elves prefer not to go toe to toe with all this firepower and stay in place. To make up for this they cause the Empire pikemen a casualty marker and they are shaken (yet again). The disordered crossbow elves on the left flank shoot but don’t do much.
Rappel is still dedicated to turn this battle around, putting all his trust in the musketmen and the toughness of his pikemen (who he rallies). Again both units of musketmen fire at the same unit of crossbow elves, causing them anoher “disorderd” result as well as a casualty marker thus turning them “shaken”.
The Serpent can not let this stand and again tries to order his other crossbow unit to reinforce the left flank immediately before he’s off to rally his shaken crossbow unit but alas – he fails his command check. Through the thick smoke of these smelly black powder weapons the humans use the crossbow elves can’t see right and fail to hit anything.
Hauptmann Rappel sees things looking up, all he needs to do is keep the morale of his pikemen in order. Once again he rallies them and restores a bit of morale by intoning an old folk song. Soon he would have to start promising extra schnapps rations to his men to keep the battle line inact.
The musketmen fail to hit though.
At this point the Dark Elves commander BEGS the crossbow elves to reinforce the left flank but they seem to have some kind of hearing problem. Stoicly they keep on shooting at the now shouting and bellowing block of savage pikemen and again cause them to be shaken by adding one casualty marker back to the pile.
Hauptmann Rappel starts the second verse of this really rude folk song about hedgehogs (and again rallies the pikemen). The musketmen once more open fire at the crossbow elves, finally breaking the unit and make the survivors scatter off the battleground.
Sinan the Serpent is getting really upset now. He orders his pikemen to charge the enemy but, unsurprisingly by now, nobody listens to him. Even the remaining crossbow elves fail to deliver on their usual performance this turn.
Hauptmann Rappel must have interpreted the Dark Elves leader’s jumping, shouting and pointing as a sort of a more aggressive strategy now and immediately orders his batallion to form a proper battle line again with one musket unit to each side of the pikemen so they would be able to support each other in case the Dark Elves try charging them. The musket units make place between them and the pikemen “slip” in, moving the Empire battle line to the south and thus making it harder for the remaining crossbow elves to shoot at them. Due to all the moving around the musketmen can not really concentrate on shooting any don’t do any damage this turn.
At this point the Dark Elves commander decides that it is finally time to take matters into his own hands. He decides to personally lead his pike elves into a devastating charge against the Empire’s lines. He passes the command check, gunts “Follow me!”, takes the banner into his own hands and maneuvers his pikemen into the flank of the enemy battle line. A commander can join a unit via this special order which gives him a few penalties, as well as putting him at risk of getting killed in battle, but allows for a very far move even without having to state the route beforehand.
The Dark Elves pikemen attempt to charge the musketmen on the Empire’s left flank. The unit reacts by forming a Hedgehog with the pike unit next to them. This is probably the most characteristic move in battles of this era. The smaller units of musketeers accompanying the larger pike block move close or into the pike unit which forfeits the forward facing and has their men form pike walls to all sides. Especially cavalry was facing serious problems when having to deal with such a Hedgehog. In game terms the pike and musket units merge into one. On top of that they have no flanks or rear any more which otherwise would give enemy attackers a bonus.
During the shooting phase the crossbow elves fail to do anything.
Now, at turn 9, for the first hand-to-hand combat phase!
In this combat the Dark Elves pikemen take one casualty marker while the Empire hedgehog take four. This is not due to insane bonusses attackers get, it was down to luck really. Chances were surprisingly even in this fight actually. I probably should have added the other musketmen to the hedgehog as well to increase the number of attack dice even more.
The Dark Elves win the combat but the Empire soldiers refuse to retreat.
Hauptmann Rappel tries to order the musketmen who are not tied up in combat to move into a better firing position to attack the remaining crossbow elves but is overheard over the noise of battling pikes. Still, the musketmen fire rather successfully, adding one casualty marker to the crossbow elves.
I wasn’t able to find wether or not leaders tied up in combat were allwoed to issue orders or not so I just went with “they can”. Dark Elves commander yells for the crossbowmen to come support their comrades in mêlee but they don’t quite get the message and don’t do much else either.
In hand to hand though, quite a lot of stuff happens. The Dark Elves win combat again, if only slightly this time and finally break the Empire pikemen!
As over the half of Hauptmann Hand Rappel’s battalia is broken he forfeits. The commander is swiftly taken prisoner, probably to teach Sinan the Serpent a thing or two about “how not to be ignored by one’s subordinates”.
Well, that was quite a game. I’m fully aware that this is the absolute Mickey Mouse level of wargaming but it was good enough for learning rules. I did make some mistakes but I think I got the main mechanics within the first two turns. This may look awfully simplistic to some of you but please keep in mind that usually an army in Pike&Shotte consists of about five, six, most likely more battalia with again between four and nine units each and of course with various kinds of infantry, cavalry and artillery. This game is meant for larger scale battles and I think that for those, the ruleset works really well. It definately is fast and I’m not entirely sure if I like this almost completely free form kind of movement but really, if you got thirty units on the table and all of a sudden start wheeling single units by a few degrees one after another… it just takes long. Imagine a Warhammer Fantasy game of 50,000 points. 😉
All in all I’m very pleased with the ruleset and the book. It kind of fills a gap in my collection of wargaming rules to play and it seems like the perfect game to get people who aren’t necessarily into historical wargaming or this era (yet) into it. It’s fast and it allows you to field very large armies. As I said before, I can’t see myself playing this in 28mm on a 6′ by 4′ table simply because of the sheer volume of models on the table at this scale and the way how on a lucky command check a unit of light cavalry can move up to 36″. I have read of people happily playing it this way and if so, that’s great. I just can’t see myself managing it that way. Now for the price of things. The Pike&Shotte rulebook costs £30.00 (you can get it a bit cheaper at some online retailers though). This isn’t exactly cheap BUT it is a darned good quality book full of inspirational pictures and background. If there is a kind of wargames rulebook you just take out from time to time just to leaf through it and enjoy the eyecandy, even if you never play it, this is it. Which of course doesn’t mean that the rules are bad. They, as well as the whole style and intention of the book, may not be for everybody but I think that at the scale they’re supposed to work at they seem to work very well.
My intention is to set up two Thirty Years War armies to get people into playing more easily. The miniatures are ordered and I hope to be able to give you an update on this project soon! In the meantime, why not have a look at the existing galleries? Especially the Space Marines one is getting updated quite often.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the review and small battle report. Maybe it got you interested in this ruleset or the period (maybe both even). It’s always nice to discover new things beyond the regular 40k/WHFB/Warmahordes. Wargaming today is so insanely diverse and I don’t know about you, but I somehow always find something really interesting and endeering about every single facette of it (much to the displeasing of my wallet 😉 ). Let me know what you think or if you have any questions, ideas, requests or painting/modelling commissions of course. See you soon!