Issue Nr 32 of C3i Magazine contains two feature games. Gettysburg, by designer Mark Herman, is getting most of the attention from grognards, including myself. This is a bit of a shame because the other feature game, Battle of Issy 1815, deserves praise too.
In the introduction to the Specific Rules & Set Up for Issy 1815, it notes that, “Issy 1815 is the 44th battle in the Jours de Gloire series.” Now, I have never really been a Napoleonic-era wargamer so I am not familiar with the series, but with 44 games published I would of thought I had heard of it before. I had not; to my eternal shame. The Battle of Issy 1815 by designer Frédéric Bey and published in C3iMagazine Nr 32 (RBM Studio Publications, 2018) shows me that it is possible to make a set of Napoelonic wargame rules in a small package that simultaneously delivers challenging decisions and immersive theme.
Issy 1815 is a small wargame with a 16-page Rule Book (series and battle-specific rules), an 11″x17″ map, a Player Aid card, and ~120 counters. The Jours de Gloire-series rules take up the first 10 pages of the Rule Book. Scales are described in 0.1 Scales:
The games of the series are at the scale of the battalion, the regiment (demi-brigade for the period of the Republic) or the brigade. A strength point represents about 200 infantry or 150 cavalry if each unit represents a regiment and 400 infantry or 300 cavalry if each represents a brigade. A strength point of artillery represents from two to four cannon depending on their calibers.
The scaling is not a hard-and-fast standard. In Issy 1815 each turn is 90 minutes, one hex is ~350 meters, and it uses the battalion scale for infantry (~200 soldiers) and regiment scale for cavalry (~150 horse) (Issy 1815 Specific Rules, 0.1 – Scales).
To represent the Fog of War and command & control challenges of the era, Jours de Gloire calls for placing orders and using a chit-pull mechanism for activation of formations. The combination of these rules immediately create theme and make player decisions important from the start.
In the Orders Phase, players place Received Orders (Ordres Reçus) or No Orders (Sans Ordres) markers. Every Formation or Tactical Group gets one or the other, but the number of Ordres Reçus is limited to the Order Rating of the Commanders-in-Chief. Units with orders have more tactical flexibility while units without orders are much more limited – unless they want to try to use the formation leader’s initiative and try and do more. To do so they have to make a test against the initiative number on the Activation Marker (AM) drawn. Each formation has two AM and the initiative may, or may not be, the same on each. Further, the Die Roll Modifier (DRM) of the Commanders-in-Chief is a negative modifier to the die roll so a strong C-in-C (like Napoleon?) is harder to “override.” Even if one is able to override the lack of orders, in many cases to attack will also require an Engagement Test (ET) against the Engagement Rating of units. The Engagement Rating is an easy, uncomplicated way to portray the training of a unit (morale is covered by the Cohesion Rating which I will discuss later).
Those Activation Markers are important in the Activation Phase. All formations have their AM placed in a cup and drawn out randomly. The player with STRATEGIC INITIATIVE gets to keep one AM out of the cup and starts the turn with that Formation. An activated formation has its order status revealed and then can take actions (artillery fire, movement, shock combat and charges, and rally) depending on the order status or initiative of the formation commander. The draw of AM is repeated until there is only one AM left in the cup, at which point the turn ends! This can lead to interesting situations. In Turn 1 of my first solo game, the main Prussian formation, Steinmetz, did not draw its first AM until the next-to-the-last chit. Thus, the formation had only one Activation Phase and the second was forfeit. Game play-wise this was not a great way to start the battle, but thematically it seemed to represent the inability for the formation to get started at 0300 hrs in the early morning!
The Jours de Gloire-series uses traditional Zones of Control (ZoC) around units but the nice wrinkle is in unit facing. Unlike most wargames where units face a hexside, in Jours de Gloire games units face a hex vertex. Thus, units have two front hexes and four rear hexes. Given the scale of the game, facing has no effect on movement but it does have an effect on combat. This simple change from “standard” creates greater tactical decision space at the very small rules cost of not facing a hexside.
The Jours de Gloire-series does not use a classic Combat Results Table (CRT) for combat resolution. In ARTILLERY FIRE, 1d10 is rolled and modified by a Firer Mod (generally the Strength Point of the unit), a Target Mod (mostly terrain effects or massed/stacked formations or if in square formation), and a Range Mod. If high enough, the Modified Die Roll results in either Rout (retreat), Disorder (counter flipped), or a Cohesion Test (CT). A CT is one of the principle tests in the game. In a CT, a unit rolls 1d10 with any modifiers against their Cohesion Rating. Pass the CT you are fine; fail and it becomes “challenging.” In ARTILLERY FIRE, a failed CT is a Disorder, Rout‘ or even elimination depending on what status the unit started in. Again, the rules deliver a very thematic effect as artillery didn’t necessarily “kill” units but affected their orderliness.
Infantry and cavalry attack using SHOCK COMBAT (cavalry also can do the CAVALRY CHARGE). Much like ARTILLERY FIRE, combat resolution in SHOCK COMBAT uses a 1d10 with modifiers. The list of modifiers is a bit more extensive than with ARTILLERY FIRE but the table on the Player Aid can be stepped through quickly. SHOCK and CHARGE results apply to both the attacker and defender. Possible results are Recoil (one hex back), Disorder, Rout, the Cohesion Test, as well as Pursuit, Counter-shock, or Breakthrough. Again, and in keeping with the era, units are rarely destroyed in combat, but instead tend to “come apart” through a lack of morale or “cohesion.” Yet again, uncomplicated rules giving thematically appropriate combat results.
In the Battle of Issy 1815 Specific Rules, there is a nice extra rule for Light Companies. Basically, each formation has a light company marker. Each turn, the player can place some on their related formation and place others in the activation cup. The light company have no ZoC, no Strength Points, no Movement Points, and do not affect rally attempts by adjacent units. What they can do is, when the player wants, force an adjacent enemy unit to make a Cohesion Test. The markers represent the use of skirmishers (voltiguers) by the parent formation. Yet again, Mr. Bey uses a simple, low rules overhead way to represent a capability in a thematically relevant way.
All of the above has been a long winded way of me saying that Battle of Issy 1815 and the Jours de Gloire-series is a small, relatively rules-lite, wargame that is easy to learn, quick to play, and delivers a highly thematic experience. If you have C3i Magazine Issue Nr 32 and have not tried this game (instead focusing on Gettysburg) take the time to learn and play through Issy. If you have never played a Jours de Gloire game before try to find one and give it a shot, even if you are not a huge Napoleonic warfare fan. Battle of Issy 1815 has been a pleasant surprise to me; I think it could be the same for most wargamers.