ABOUT THE RULES
My work on Shadow of the Eagles started well over two years ago, as a rather different project. The initial idea was to develop a generic set of rules for the Horse and Musket era, that could be adapted as required for specific wars and campaigns. I wanted something simpler than Honours of War (itself relatively straightforward), and perhaps a bit more ‘traditional’. After a good bit of work, and the successful development of a new Seven Years War rule set called Post of Honour, I decided to take up the challenge of developing the rules for the Napoleonic era.
It will therefore come as no surprise that Shadow of the Eagles makes no claim for striking new ideas or radical rules concepts. Even ideas that used to be new but are now common-place are, I’m afraid, largely ignored. So, no ‘command points’, no cards, no fancy random activations. Not even any dice with more than six pips. That’s all part of the idea – creating a set of rules that most gamers will find intuitive and straightforward, making them quick and easy to pick up.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that, in common with most rules these days, no re-basing is likely to be needed. The number of figures on a base and the shape and size of each base is up to players – the only stipulation is that an even number of bases works best (don’t forget, squares have 4 sides!). Apart from this, players just need to decide how big they want their units to be. A good average size for an infantry unit would be 24 figures, with 12 figures for a cavalry unit. I myself favour smaller units of 16 28mm figures for infantry, and 8 figures for cavalry, as this gives me more room on a 6’ x 4’ table. All figure sizes from 6mm to 30mm are catered for.
The basic units are infantry battalions, cavalry regiments and artillery batteries. A ‘classic’ game would involve 10-20 units per side, and so I would call the standard game ‘divisional level’, where the player commands perhaps three to six brigades. This might be considered a fairly large division in Napoleonic terms, as divisions in a Napoleonic army could be as small as 4 units (two brigades each of two units, for example). But of course, our wargames ‘division’ is usually pretending to be a miniature army on an independent mission, and so can be allowed to expand somewhat. Fighting games where a corps-level structure is preferred or required is easily accommodated – a dedicated section of the rules explains how this is done.
The basic structure of Shadow of the Eagles is IGO-UGO, although firing and close combat are simultaneous. Games generally begin with some form of preparatory barrage, handled with quick and basic rules designed not to delay the main event for too long!
At the start of the turn there is a simple initiative roll, mainly designed to give the winner the choice of moving first or second. Next there is the Movement phase, which is fully alternate, although with the usual allowance for things like reactions to enemy charges, including firing and evading. Then it’s the Firing phase, then Close Combat, and finally the Generalship and Rallying phase where generals can be attached or detached from units, and hits may be removed from some units under the correct conditions.
There is no separate morale phase, nor are there any old school ‘morale tests’. Morale may need to be assessed in the movement, firing or close combat phases, but the assessment is simply based on the number of hits received by the unit, taking into account unit quality. Units only have two morale states – ‘weakened’, when their abilities are somewhat reduced, and ‘routed’, when they are no longer fit to fight and are removed.
The mechanisms for each phase are straightforward and fairly traditional, with the overriding aim of being as simple as reasonably possible.
No surprises here – players will find familiar and well-tested concepts. Command and control uses the ‘command radius’ idea, based on an ‘army’ divided into a set of brigades and a small number of independent units. There are 3 classes of general; inept, capable and inspiring. Brigades led by inept generals may occasionally find themselves hesitating to advance, and those led by inspiring generals may likewise sometimes find themselves eagerly moving forward with a double move.
The other main thing to mention in this phase is that skirmishers are represented by figures, rather than being abstracted into a ‘factor’. Players will find they can have entire units acting as skirmishers, or skirmish screens covering individual units - provided that in either case this is historically justifiable.
Once again, the basic concepts here will be familiar. Firing is by D6 dice rolling, with the number of dice to be rolled decided by unit formation – a formed infantry unit in line fires with 4 dice, whilst the same unit in a column of divisions would fire with just 1 die. Each die roll is modified by a number of straightforward factors (there are seven possible modifiers for infantry firing) and a modified roll of 4 or more scores a hit. A ‘regular’ class infantry unit is weakened after taking 4 hits and routed after 7 hits. Like generals, units in Shadow of the Eagles come in 3 classes – inferior, regular and superior.
Close Combat Phase
The rules take into account the historical conclusion that in a charge situation, one side or the other commonly retreated before contact. The ‘charge resolution’ section during the movement phase takes care of this, but when some form of close combat does take place, it is resolved in a single turn. There are no multi-turn ‘melees’ with figures or hits slowly being chipped off.
The process is similar to that for firing – a number of dice are rolled, mainly determined by formation; some modifiers are applied; and hits are taken (or perhaps not taken). The side with more hits loses and falls back, with the possibility of being pursued by its opponents. All the hits a unit has taken so far in the game are used to decide close combats – there is no need to make a separate note of ‘close combat hits’. This aids ease of play and encourages the ‘softening up’ of target units by the cooperation of all arms.
Generalship and Rallying Phase
The main parts of this phase are the attaching and detaching of generals, and the rallying off of hits. Attaching a general brings benefits in close combat and rallying (via modifiers), and is needed if a weakened unit is to advance towards the enemy. Hits can be rallied off if the enemy is far enough away or not perceived to be a threat, or if a general is attached. Thus, damaged units may be pulled out of the line and recover some of their fighting ability.
The fighting in Shadow of the Eagles is designed to be decisive – as mentioned, close combats are resolved in one turn, and firefights tend to be resolved in a couple of turns, usually three at the most. Hence the number of turns is generally quite small – usually 6 to 8 turns will do the job. Winning and losing is decided by the proportion of units each side has lost. Normally, losing half your units means you have lost, but of course this proportion can be adjusted by agreement between players. Introducing objectives, which are judged to have a value in units, also adds nuance.
The book features a ‘Notes to the Rules’ section which provides background and further explanation, and which also serves to cut out some of the explanation from the rules themselves in order to make them more succinct and easier to refer to whilst playing. There are also examples of play given, to further aid clarity.
Overall, I hope players will find the rules a little simpler and easier to play than most of the well-known sets, without compromising period flavour.
The rulebook has no formal army lists and no points system. What is does have is a significant section called ‘Wars and Campaigns’, which can be thought of as a narrative and rather more friendly way of doing what army lists are supposed to do – that is, provide structure and guidance in order to produce armies which are historically plausible.
In this section, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era is divided into 8 periods. The background to each period is briefly outlined, and then the armies of the main protagonists are described. The purpose here is to relate the rules to the circumstances of each particular campaign, so players can have an idea of the quality of their troops and their abilities. For example, did a particular army use ‘assault columns’, or did it still fight exclusively in line? How good were those recently recruited conscripts? How developed were the skirmishing abilities of the army’s infantry units?
Naturally some of my conclusions will be contested by experienced players – but it was necessary to write the section to make the rules fully useful, especially to players new to the period. I have tried to be accurate, but if I am proved wrong in some particular areas, so be it!
The rules are rounded off with three scenarios, and a brief essay giving my personal view of the tactical developments during this fascinating period, including the reasons for those developments. There is finally a brief bibliography designed to point players towards those titles containing the information that wargamers really need – that is, how the armies fought on the battlefield.
THANKS FOR READING. I HOPE THIS OVERVIEW HAS BEEN HELPFUL.