20 December 2011

By Fire and Sword rules review part 1

What I think will become the best way of ending this year is to write a detailed multi part review of the huge 400pages hardback rulebook for the Polish made 17th century wargame "Ogniem i Mieczem" or "By Fire and Sword" in English. I received the book from the Polish manufacturer "Wargamer" a couple of days ago, after having contacted them earlier this month with questions about the book and the game, and have been reading it with great interest since then.

The book is in Polish - but - it will be released in English around May in 2012 according to writer Konrad Sosinski. So whatever you read will still be relevant and if you don't read Polish you will still be able to get the idea about how the game works and see if this is something for you.

I myself cannot tell you guys how excited I am. When it comes to historical gaming I've had this unsatisfied need for a game centered around the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth in the 17th century. It's such a great period of history, the commonwealth at its peak - surrounded and constantly under attack by pretty much all of its neighbors. The trilogy on the subject by Henryk Sienkiewicz describing the Cossack uprising, the Swedish invasion and wars with the Ottoman empire. At this time also wars with the Russians, and not to forget the crowning achievement and glory of the Winged Hussars in spearheading a magnificent cavalry charge and breaking the siege of Vienna in 1683 - imagine LoTR: The Two towers final scene when the cavalry finally shows up at the very last moment.

The book is indeed centered around the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth but you also get fully fledged out army lists and unit descriptions for Ukrainian Cossacks, the Ottoman Empire, Tsar Russia, Crimean Khanate and the Kingdom of Sweden.

The contents of this book are so vast and detailed that I have decided to divide it into the following parts:

1) Quality review of the book itself and brief overview of the contents
2) Focus on the rules themselves
3) Armies, nations and scenarios


I will post part 2 and 3 in the days to come.

But before I move on to  the actual review I want to show some of the promotional miniatures that come with the book itself. The blister contains the 4 protagonists from the movie Ogniem i Mieczem which itself is based upon the first part of the Henryk Sienkiewicz trilogy of books about the Polish wars in the mid 17th century.

The rules themselves do not contain any characters, heroes or famous historical personalities (which is somewhat refreshing to be honest) so the best way to use the two mounted characters from the movie is to simply use them as unit commanders.However the homepage for this game says that historical characters (Gustav II Adolf and Stefan Czarnecki come to mind) will be added later.

That is also why my mounted "Michal Wolodyjowski" isn't properly based yet, I plan to either place him in the command of either a unit of Polish dragoons or some light cavalry. Just as I plan to place the miniature of "Jan Skrzetuski" at the head of a banner of Winged hussars. I also realized that I had one Winged Hussar from the Wargamer range - I got it from a friend almost 2 years ago and it was the first 15mm model I ever painted.

"Longinus Podbipieta" doesn't really fit in anywhere so I simply based him alone on a circular small base. And yes that is supposed to be a two handed greatsword, the character is a Lithuanian knight who has sworn a vow of chastity until he beheads 3 enemies in one swoop with his ancestors greatsword just like his ancestor did at the battle of Grunwald/Tannenberg.
The model is obviously sculpted as the "last stand". In the novel Longinus tries to sneak past enemy lines with a message from the Polish-Lithuanian forces currently under siege by Cossack and tatar forces. He gets spotted by tatar guards and although cutting down a score of tatar's he is finally killed by several arrows and put on display in front of the besieged Polish-Lithuanian forces.

So yeah, expect 2012 to be a deeper plunge into 15mm wargaming on this blog as I continue the expansion of my Flames of War: Early War Polish army and start building 2 armies for this new game which covers my favorite era of Polish history.

Quality review of the book itself and brief overview of the contents

The quality of the book is amazing, it is also as thick as two Battlefront books but comes at the price of 1. I think it does beat the Warhammer Historical "Gladiator" which I had previously dubbed the best looking rulebook in my collection. It is a hardback, bound 400pages thick piece of wargaming awesomeness - and could probably be used to stop bullets and in self defense as well judging by the thickness and weight.

The pages are nice and thick, the artwork really damn good. Apart from artwork the book also contains pictures of painted models, battles and re-enactors dressed in 17th century uniforms (and they look the part). You get a real sense of quality and theme flipping the pages, like pieces of history or battle descriptions having parchment backgrounds or look like sealed letters.

Among the few things that stand out immediately is the hobby and introduction section at the very beginning of the book. It actually shows painting methods, talk about the hobby and have this sort of "new to wargaming" segment that goes beyond describing what a D6 dice. A nice touch for beginners. The segment is 28 pages long and also talks about the hobby side of finding gamers, how to pick army and stuff that veteran wargamers probably know already but that might be of help for others.

The second thing that stands out is that the look of how the rules are written is a mix of Games Workshop and Battlefront style. Descriptions are written in plain text, while rule segments are written in italics. Pictures and examples strongly resemble those of Flames of War, while  the army section is very similar to an Games Workshop armybook in that each unit is described in detail with both history, tactical use and stats.

While being a "IGOYOUGO" type of game, a couple of things set it apart from others. Order points, which are issued to troops by their commanders make all kinds of commanders crucial to be able to move and use your units efficiently. The game also makes use of D10 instead of the regular D6 which many are used to. To me that is a great selling point since I much prefer 10% per side than 16% per side when generating results with dice. It also makes for a lot more room on the results table and modifiers that most of the time stay "on the dice" rather than to be added on top of the maximum result.

Models are based grouped together on shared bases. 3 infantry or cavalry per base. Commanders and artillery have their own bases, again I will talk a bit more about detailed rules and basing in the next part. But the book says 1 model on the table is supposed to represent 15-18 soldiers in real life.

It is possible to play the rules in 28mm or 20mm but you will have to adjust the measurements. Everything is in centimeters - you might want to make that into inches if you play larger scale than 15mm as the game is written for.

The book contains all the army lists you will need within itself, and the game is set up to be played on several levels. Level 1 being small skirmish games, Level 2 being on a division level, Level 3 on an army level and the 4th and last level is supposed to be campaign level which got be humongous as Level 2 in itself is already pretty huge. I will talk more about points and army building in later parts.

So if this picked your interest, stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 which will be very interesting and show how this game is similar to other games but also different and smart while doing its own thing.


17 comments:

  1. Predictions for 2012:
    Chance that I will start gaming this period-0%
    Chance that I will buy this book as pure wargamer porn-75%

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  2. Yep, rulebook is definitely one of the best game manuals Ive ever seen. This "introduction" into a wargaming was necessary I think, as wargaming as a hobby is still relatively in its infancy here in Poland, and historical wargaming is even less widespread... So it was necessary to learn potential buyer about painting miniatures, etc.
    Don't forget that rules are accompanied by very large selection of 15 mm models made by Wargamer. Rulebook is new but models were made (and remade, sometimes totally) for 3 or 4 years I think.

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  3. @Inkub, I think it was a good idea to include the extensive hobby section since many other manufacturers sort of take it for granted that you are already up to speed with miniature wargaming.

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  4. I may add that rulebook is also great source of historical knowledge about all armies involved - we took lots of effort to dig through many primary and secondary sources to make armies as much accurate as possible.
    In regards to historical characters - I can assure You that they will not be total killers ;) they are well balanced with positive and negative special rules.

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  5. @Kadrinazi

    I will cover those aspects in part 3, I was really impressed by the national flavor rules that really felt authentic and made proper sense:-)

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  6. The book realy looks great. Looking farward to the next part.

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  7. Looking forward to the rest of your review and thank you for writing it. I did a little feature on this book myself the other week, and will definitely pick up the English version of the book sometime next year if only for a source book on a period I love.

    Most curious how the rules work with 25-28mm and level 1 play. I think their miniature range looks great, but I'm all done with 15mm minis myself.

    Thanks,
    Jason

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  8. Liked the books and film and I love the smaller scales. Personally, I'd probably opt for 10 or 6mm though, for an even more epic feel for the same (lower) price.

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  9. @Luka,

    Oh yes, smaller scale would of course also work just as good. Maybe keep the "centimeters" for smaller scale than 15mm and cut them in half for 6mm.

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  10. Amazing production value! I'm sure I'll pick it up just for the history and spectacle. Thanks for this.

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  11. Great rep Anatoli, looks to be a good looking set of rules. Your right about the period, great eye candy all round.

    Think I'm going to be picking this one up in May. Looking forward to the next instalment of the rep

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  12. Anatoli

    Just stumbled across this review yesterday and I have been intrigued ever since. I was hoping to get some more detail on unit organization and the box sets. I understand that the basic building block unit is the company. Minimum company size is 3 stands for cavalry and 4 stands for infantry. Assuming I have this right, here are my questions:

    1. What is the maximum number of stands allowed in a company?

    2. The box sets come with flags for three different companies correct?

    3. How many unique companies are there in the army lists? Are they actually identified by specific company name and/or flag? If not what resource are you using to create historical companies?

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  13. I'm afraid Your assumption are incorrect. Company is between 2 and 3 stands, only some irregular units may have more stands. Only some cavalry companies/banners use standards, not all of them need them (i.e companies in regiment of reiters do not have standards).
    You can name Your companies/banners as per historical sources but we didn't add such information in rulebook, as it is just impossible - it will have to have double the size to include just few examples ;) But there are plenty of historical examples on our forum, also from time to time we will be publishing free pdf with historical units and their description, first one is already available in Polish:
    http://www.ogniemimieczem.wargamer.pl/index.php?option=com_rokdownloads&view=file&Itemid=63&id=24:podjazdobuchowicza
    If You have more enquiries please write to our English contact email:
    byfireandsword@wargamer.pl
    and I will be more than happy to answer You questions.

    Best regards
    Michał

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  14. 1) A company of cavalry is 1-3 Stands. They may be grouped in "Squadrons" of 6 cavalry stands. Single stand companies cannot acto alone - so they are merged into units of at least 2 stands whenever needed.

    Infantry come in sizes of 2-4 stands, and can also be grouped into squadrons that contain up to 12 stands of infantry.

    2)Yep boxes come with 3 variations of flags, unless it is the command blister or winged hussar box as they each come with 2 flags each.

    3) The book contains army lists for regiments based on historical troop types and numbers.

    Each regiment is made up of 2-10 companies depending on which nation and formation they are part of.

    3) The game operates at a Division level, which requires 3-5 regiments. So you really buy regiments , for instance a regiment of Polish Cavalry. That regiment would contain 2 companies of Cossack style cavalry, 2 companies of Pancerni at the base size. This regiment could then be expanded by additional companies of already mentioned troop types or you could add Winged Hussar units.

    Eeach regiment retains its own character, so it will always be infantry or cavalry regiments. What they actually include in terms of troop variation would depend on their historical counterparts. A dragoon regiment would only contain dragoon companies - while a Ukrainian Cossack regiment would include different types of infantry, war wagons and a small number of supporting cavalry.

    There are division armylists for all nations, and several regiments for each nation to use in their army. The flags assigned to the units in the book and boxed sets are pretty much “stock flags” based on historical sources. You could make internet research into your particular army and regiments you might want to represent with a specific flag without much trouble though.

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  15. Great answers. Just a few more follow-ups if no one minds.

    1. Are there any restrictions on how you build your division? For example could I have a division with just 3 cavalry regiments?

    2. Realistically how many boxes am Iooking at buying to field a reasonably sized division?

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  16. 1) There are some restrictions, the Swedes for instance have 2 divisions in the book. Field and Garrison division. The Field division relies more on speed so it includes more reiter regiments and fewer infantry regiments. While the Garrison could be infantry only if you like.

    Same thing goes for the Polish-Lithuanian divisions, which have a different unit composition depending on whether it is Polish or Lithuanian.

    2) Hard to tell, building a Swedish force their regiments are very small. You could get away with 1 box of infantry per regiment to qualify for the minimal strength regiment. So it could be as little as 3 boxes of Swedish infantry for 1 tiny division.

    A Polish dragoon regiment requires 2 boxes of dragoons to make up the minimal strength. A Polish cavalry regiment requires 2 boxes of Light cavalry or 1 Light cavalry/1 Pancerni box.

    Each regiment has a minimal strength, which you expand upon step by step.

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