Review : By Fire and Sword – Deluge

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TABLETOP GAME REVIEW:

BY FIRE AND SWORD – DELUGE

Written by Anatoli on March 6th, 2015 at Anatoli’s Game Room

My Kickstarter package arrived this week and I’ve spent some time browsing the new rulebook called “Deluge: Northern war 1655-1660”. This new tome is made up of 248 pages and filled to the brim with news. There are new scenarios, new nations to be played, new takes on core-rules, new additional effects, new recon effects and a major overhaul for the Polish-Lithuanian army as well as replacement lists for the Swedes.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the new content but let’s stick with the major rule changes firsts:

The rules for charging have been rewritten to be more clear. Much effort has been put into guiding the player through each step of the charging process with all the different situations and options that may occur. These rules are covered on 4 pages.

Rules for ploughed fields, wheat fields and roads have been added – a much welcome addition (and they play pretty much like the guys at my club have been playing using house  rules.
Rifled weapons fire mode now have a 20cm short range! Better representing the accuracy of these weapons and making them even deadlier than before.

A major change has been written into the “Elite cavalry”, which is now a hybrid formation that if formed like normal cavalry in closed order and moves like cavalry in open order. This will definitely speed up gameplay when using forces that have a ton of Elite Cavalry units, but also reduce the cheesy tactics available up to this point where you could exploit the insane maneuverability of saids units to envelope enemy units with a charge.

A completely new addition is the “Battalion rule” for Pike & Shot formations, in which you get a more coherent mixed arms formations of pikes, muskets and artillery that work together with great defensive bonuses. The Pike & Shot rules from the core rulebook have been re-written in such a way that troops have an easier time to pull off defensive pike walls against charging units with musketeers running behind the pikes. Artillery crews may now also benefit from the protection of pikemen should their  gun be charged. All in all this rule will make Pike & Shot regiments and battles against them much more dynamic and interesting imo. Other additions is that the “Robbers” rule now comes into effect even at skirmish level, making the previously pointless rule play out in a much more direct fashion and impact the game.

Musket regiments may detach a company of musketeers to act as skirmishers with the ability of a free face up “Defend” order and skirmisher rules.

Another new rule clarification in the Deluge talks about withdrawing from battle, and troops being forced off the table in various situations. The most important new addition here is that you are not forced to move units off the table should they be forced to “withdraw” – the unit may stop at the table edge as long as it is outside of 2cm from the enemy unit.

Deluge also provides a fix for the sometimes over the top “flight” of units through friendly units which have a fleeing unit move across half the table. Flight through friendly units is now limited to x1.5 of the original move (30cm for cavalry and 15 for infantry), being forced to move beyond that results in a destroyed unit.

Commanders have also received a major overhaul in the book, they now no longer count as another base from the unit they join, but only provide morale and the additional dice in combat. There are 4 pages talking about various situations where commanders join units, moving with friendly units, flight, combat etc and how it affects your commander. Much of the text explains and builds upon the core rules found in the main rulebook.

And finally medium artillery may get additional crew bases if you have enough guns in your force and the book talks about artillery fortifications which can be used in Division sized games.

Moving on to the new scenarios, additional effects and reconnaissance changes:

bfas - mapDeluge introduces “control markers” which are used in some scenarios to mark the owner of a victory location, but you also use markers to remind yourself about many of the new effects that can be chosen/inflicted upon the opponent.

A big change about the scenarios is that you now have 5 scenarios (instead of playing only Patrol) to choose from if you are playing two forces that have equal FSP strength, and 10 scenarios to pick from if you are unequal in strength! Furthermore the book introduces something called “defensive skirmish force” which has its own limited set of scenarios. There are also some lists that qualify as “small skirmish force” which are army lists below 7FSP and this has impact on tournament gameplay (in a positive way imo as it allows the opponent to always replace his proposed army choice with his smallest army list instead).

Finally, there are also rules for Numerical Superiority, so far there have only been penalties for having the strongest army list, but now you get certain benefits depending by how much you outrank your opponent in FSP value.

The scenarios are variants, new spins or completely new additions.  They now offer a wider selection of tactical choices depending on your force/playing style than the original scenarios did.  Some scenarios that were quickly becoming a pain to play repeatedly have been heavily rewritten, such as capture the crossing and attack on the village (the latter is now divided into two scenarios attack/defend the village). Beyond the 10 skirmish level scenarios there is one more that is not listed as a choice for tournament/competitive games – and that is “The Convoy”. The convoy of the owning player must escape off the table, while the opponent wants to plunder it, the scenario also last 8 instead of 6 turns and requires the defending player to use special army lists specifically written for the scenario and which are provided in the rulebook.

The expanded scenario list is accompanied by a more fleshed out and in depth list of additional effects and reconnaissance benefits. There are now 10 additional effects to pick from. Furthermore the reconnaissance effects are limited in number to the command ability of your commanding officer, regardless of your recon points (for instance a commander with 2 command points can only pick a maximum of two recon effects even if he could afford more). The recon effects are also spread out  so that you can get more effects with a lower recon advantage as well as having the effects divided into “Standard” and “Affecting the enemy”. The latter is limited depending on the opposing FSP strength and limits how much chaos you can wreck in the enemy lines prior to the first turn. I find this to be a welcome addition as well, as it balances the negative and positive effect choices.

Finally, the new armies and skirmish forces:

bfas armiesApart from convoy army lists for the Brandenburg, Swedish, Tartar and Ottoman armies there are a couple of “stray lists” that made it into the book. These are replacement lists for the Muscovite Zasieczna guard, a “Garrison Sortie” for the Ottomans and an Elite Tartar skirmish force for the Crimean Khanate.  We are also presented with a list of alliances, and how you can mix different nationalities at a division level depending on period. This allows you to field such things as a Cossack Regiment (without rabble) in a Polish division of 1667-70 or Brandenburg troops in a Swedish army.

Alliances are presented and restricted with units/regiments for all the available nations in the game released to date (core rulebook + Deluge expansion).

The biggest change to any army is for the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth which has been completely revamped with a much more thematic and period specific division of organisation depending on the year.  These period specific rules affect both skirmish lists and division armies, and the impact of those rules alter such things as the quality of your troops, the quality of leadership, provides limits to regiment sizes and weapon of choice for your cavalry. The Polish-Lithuanian faction specific special rules have new additions to cover partisan warfare and also overhauls any existing faction specific special rule of the core rulebook. Sometimes the changes are minor or just provide clarification, some changes have a bigger impact such as Noble Brothers. At the end of the day, the amount of rules may be huge, but you are only using part of the new rules at any given moment so they are manageable. Their main purpose are to force the Polish-Lithuanian players to play more historically accurate lists and offer more flavor. I don’t think that the new additions will “break” current Polish-Lithuanian collections unless you have “min/maxed” a lot for a power gaming playstyle… Considering that  the Polish-Lithuanian army is for By Fire & Sword what WW2 Germans are for any WW2 ruleset I am happy to see that there are as many options as possible to allow you customize the force depending on theater and opponent to match more historically.

The Swedish army lists have been tweaked mostly, some changes have been made in how and what youc an swap etc but the general army structure remains the same. A third division has been added, which is the “cavalry division”. This force lacks any regular infantry (only includes Dragoons and Reiters) and has almost no artillery support but you can max out on Elite Reiter regiments into it making it a very tough opponent to face in close combat!

The Brandenburg/Prussian army is interesting in that it provides the player with the option to field a very tiny and  cheap division made up of Western style troop formations at a division level, but also allows you to field an infantry heavy division that will make any “Pike & Shot” fan drool.

The Holy Roman Empire provides cheap troops that have very low motivation to participate in the campaign in Poland at skirmish and division level of the game. To make up for this the troops are fairly cheap while the regiments are strong in numbers. This is another option for the fan of “Pike & Shot” armies with the possibility to field crazy amounts of musketeers and artillery.

Finally Transylvania, which I think will be one of the more popular armies (and a reason why I chose not to buy into it at this point since I think everyone at the Kickstarter did). It’s a very interesting force that mixes really good with so-so troops at both skirmish and division level. I really think that their cavalry is awesome. The  drawback is that their regiments are fairly small (especially infantry regiments) and the regiments have low motivation value (30-40% on everything). But if you want me to point out the one new force that truly adds something new to the game it would be this army. It will be very interesting to see how it plays at tournaments and in division battles.

Conclusion:

The Deluge is a well crafted tome, the quality of the binding is perfect. Art and photos are great and the presentation very appealing and though initially overwhelming everything is indeed divided into its own chapters. The new rules and tweaks were in all honesty needed, clarifications made in the Deluge solve many head-scratching moments that we’ve had at my club. My criticism would be that the red text in the “Rules section” at the beginning of the book,in some paragraphs, appears to be “shadowed”. This is a bit hard on the eye, though not impossible to read and does thankfully not occur on all red text.

The Deluge is mainly an “add-on” in that it brings new nations into the game, and not so much an “expansion” since there is little new content for the Muscovites, Cossacks, Ottoman and Crimean Khanate in this book. I was hoping that these nations would receive a few more skirmish lists. As such, I hope that the upcoming “Armies of By Fire & Sword” will add all the PDF’s available in Polish and translate them to English, as well as add new content for the core nations that did not get as much/anything this time around.

The book is still useful to all players, considering the scenario part and the rules section but I can understand if some players feel that they got less applicable content than others. And we are still waiting for the Danish army to be published as a free PDF….

Don’t let this put you off however, the Deluge makes a great game even better all around!

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