Black Powder Overview – Part 1

Black Powder is a set of rules by Warlord Game, based in the UK.  The game covers the period from 1700 to 1900.  While the style of warfare does change significantly from the beginning to the end of the period covered, there are special rules for adding details for the differences.

This is an overview.  I have not played the game yet and don’t feel it is right to give a full review of the game.  However, since folks inquire from time to time over on TMP as to how the game is played, this overview might give them enough information to decide whether to buy or not.

I will write this overview in 2 parts.  Why?  Simply because I have not read the whole book yet!

The Basics

The book is printed on good quality A4 sized paper and comes hard bound.  The entire book is in color and there is plenty of “eye candy” to provide inspiration for the reader.  The book is sectioned off logically and follows the flow of the game, using the sequence of play as an outline. Speaking of sequence of play, there are only 3 steps.  Order movement, shooting and melee.  The writing style is clearly narrative with a bit of tongue and cheek thrown in.  At 182 pages, the book might seem a bit daunting, especially since it is billed as a simple game.  However, many of these pages have historical sidebars with military anecdotes of various wars.  The book also includes army lists for the various periods.  Finally several historical scenarios come with the book as well.

Command and Movement

During the command and movement phase, players activate generals to issue orders to there units or brigades.  Warmaster players will find the game mechanics here very familiar.  The command rules are not exactly the same however.  Each general has a staff rating from 5 to 10 with 5 being the worst and 10 being the best.  This is the number the player has to roll under to give an order.  Before the dice are rolled, the player gives a general description of what the unit or brigade is supposed to do.  An example would be “The brigade will advance to the ridge and deploy in line”.  The difference between the target number and the die roll is the number of moves that unit or brigade can make to fulfill that order.  If the player rolls exactly the amount needed (difference of 0) that is also 1 move.  The maximum amount of moves that a unit can make is 3. Regardless, these moves are all taken at once.  A unit or brigade can have no more than 1 order per turn.  If a general fails his roll, no orders are given by him for that turn.  His units will not move unless they are entitled to a free move.

Free moves occur when an enemy is within 12″ of a friendly unit.  That friendly unit may make 1 move to close the range or charge.

If double 6’s (“boxcars”) are rolled, a blunder occurs.  The unit or brigade makes a roll on the blunder table. This can result in the unit making an unintended move that could leave a gaping hole in the line.

The command rules are similar to Warmaster in that you make command rolls to give orders.  Commanders can blunder and also miss rolls, thus ending the turn for that commander.  They are different in that with Warmaster, you dole out orders in single moves and perform combat on the spot.  A unit can potentially attack multiple times per turn.  With Black Powder, units may move multiple times but may only shoot and melee once.  The moves are allocated with 1 die roll though the repercussions for missing the roll are the same.  This can result in more chaos in the game…which is GOOD!

Movement and Formation

Movement in Black Powder is performed similar to the DBx series of game.  Measurement is done from the farthest point of the unit to the location that the unit will move to.  This leads to a free form style of movement that should dispense with the need to use turning templates and so forth.  All of the formations you might expect are there.  They are assault column, march column, line, square, skirmish and mixed.  Mixed formation is not order mixed but a mix of skirmish and line.  When a unit changes formation, it may face in any direction but it is rotated around the center front of the unit.  Quite simple and too the point.

A Quick Look at Combat

As I mentioned before, I have not read through the rules completely.  However, I did glance at the combat mechanics.  Basically, each unit gets a number of dice for for melee combat and about half that for shooting.  There is a basic number to hit (I believe 4+) and there are a few situational modifiers to this number.  Each die that comes up 4 or more counts as a hit.  Each unit has a stamina rating.  When that unit takes it’s stamina or more in hits, it becomes shaken.  A roll is required in the break table and the results can range form the unit halts and deploys to the unit routes off the board.  Each hit above the stamina rating is a further penalty to the break roll.  If the unit passes, the excess hits are removed but the unit remains shaken.  Further hits will cause a break test.  Eventually, the unit will skeedadle.  The law of averages dictate this!

In part 2, I will give an in-depth look at the combat mechanics and how break tests are performed.

3 Responses to Black Powder Overview – Part 1

  1. Max Ahn says:

    Nice overview, and thanks for sharing.

    I’ve just received my pre-ordered copy of Black Powder from Amazon, and you’re right that it looks rather daunting for something that’s supposed to be a “simple” rule set! 😉

    I’ll be looking forward to the second part of your overview!

  2. Keith Flint says:

    John, I appreciate you taking the time to compose this post. Forgive me if I disagree on one thing – having had the rules for few days I would say that ‘army lists for the various periods’ are notable by their absence. There are generic ‘template units’, and some examples in the scenarios, but that’s it, it seems to me. I don’t particularly want full blown army lists but some example units from each period or conflict during the 200 years covered would have been helpful.

    Best wishes, Keith.

  3. my blog says:

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    […]Black Powder Overview – Part 1 « John’s Wargame Page[…]…

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