The Road to Yorktown: British Grenadier – A First Impression of the rulebook

When I initially envisioned this review, I had anticipated this would be a comparison between British Grenadier and Black Powder with its Rebellion supplement as a ruleset for wargaming battles in the American War of Independence. These were the two most recommended rulesets on miniature boards such as TMP, with the consensus typically being that British Grenadier is a more authentic ruleset but more complex and takes longer to play, whereas Black Powder is the more accessible (popular) game and quicker to play but also a more generic set of rules. 

But then the COVID 19 Pandemic happened. I’ve ordered Black Powder and its Rebellion supplement, but as of today, Warlord Games (publisher of Black Powder) is currently shut down for shipping out physical orders. I in no way fault Warlord for an act of nature (exacerbated as it might have been by incompetent authorities and careless people in numerous countries, but I digress) but it has put my planned comparison on hold for the foreseeable future.

However, I was able to get a hold of the deluxe edition of British Grenadier from On Military Matters. I would like to give a special thanks to Dennis at On Military Matters, who was prompt, communicative, and shipped the order in a timely manner. 

So instead of a comparative review, I thought I would leave my first impressions of the rules. I have yet to take to the tabletop to play out a game with fully painted figures, but I have messed around with the rules by proxy. 

The book is beautifully bound and very well illustrated. The set I received included a beautifully crafted player sheet. 

The book is informative and the rules for the most part are well written and seem to emphasize a historical basis. Certain mechanics often include first hand accounts to illustrate the basis for said mechanic. As someone who is interested in the period, I think this was a great way to go about mechanic justification. For example, on page 66, for rules concerning the firing artillery overhead of friendly infantry, Continental Private Joseph Martin’s account is quoted about acting as an artillery covering party and how the uphill Continental artillery fired over the heads of Martin and his comrades at the Battle of Monmouth. 

The rule system is derived from the Napoleonic system General de Brigade though it is far more than just an AWI sticker slapped on a Napoleonic format. At its heart, British Grenadier’s raison d’etre is the concept of a disruption point system. Disruption Points (DP) represent the friction of war, and represent the manifestations of the difficulties of leading formations of troops in rough terrain and under fire. Incurred by either movement or combat, DPs can be rallied off but require a unit not to move in that turn. Additionally, a unit cannot take casualties unless it has incurred 3 DPs. This requires commanders to either take time to rally off DPs or to risk casualties to keep momentum in attacks going. I think this is a very realistic system, but I have yet to try it out against another player. 

Additionally, the AWI setting and scholarship has lent to the rules’s focus on the use of open and skirmish order. Like Loose Files and American Scramble, in British Grenadier, certain troops can march and fight in open order and skirmish order. Far from the shoulder-to-shoulder depictions of artistic license and Hollywood, it was a common place practice (especially in the British Army) to use open order (with spaces between each file of soldiers). This was a tactic necessitated by the heavily wooded and less developed terrain of North America. This is reflected in the rules with an emphasis on this type of fighting. 

This was a ruleset written to accurately reflect combat of the period and it shows. 

However, there are several surprising flaws with the book. Like most rulesets, there are certain sections that could benefit from clarifying language. I personally found the section about line infantry formations confusing, as several types of columns and squares are illustrated but not line infantry in close order. Information about close order line formations is present but in the section under open order infantry and there are no accompanying illustrations. Your experience may differ, but it took a careful rereading of this section for me to how to understand these line infantry formations are depicted in games.

 Yet what was the most surprising negative for me was a major omission involving one of the game’s key mechanics. DPs are a key mechanic in the game. And a common way DPs are incurred is by a poor movement result, with a movement roll of a 1 or 2 (2 only for better units such as elite units on an AvD dice) incurring a DP for the unit. This, however, is omitted in the Deluxe Edition of the rules. (I had to look up a separate Errata sheet published on the General de Brigade website for the correction). While the reasons for such errors and omissions of this nature are understandable, what makes this particular exclusion puzzling is that this was not a mistake made in the original publication of the rules and that somehow this important tidbit was deleted in the process of making the Deluxe Edition. Furthermore, this omission was repeated on the playsheet included with the book. 

That said, the existence of the Errata sheet covers most of the similar types of miscues I encountered in the book. 

Additionally, the books include some historical scenarios – Sainte Foy from the Seven Years War/French & Indian War, Bunker Hill, Freeman’s Farm, and the Battle of Chippawa from the War of 1812. The inclusion of non-AWI scenarios is a positive bonus which is meant to demonstrate the flexibility of the rules for gaming conflicts outside of the scope of the AWI. However, the original rules included Guilford Courthouse, which was dropped for the Deluxe Edition. A new version of Guilford Courthouse, as well as additional scenarios, are available in supplementary scenario books. 

To surmise, these are a ruleset that set out to capture battles as they were fought in the AWI. I still have yet to play a full game to give my full opinion, but overall I would say my first impressions are mostly positive.

The Road to Yorktown: War-gaming the American War of Independence

Battle of Guilford Courthouse – 15 March 1781 by H. Charles McBarron. The Continentals of the Maryland Brigade prepare to stand against the British Brigade of Guards while William Washington’s Continental Dragoons charge in the background. Major General Nathanael Greene is depicted in the left background. It is one of my favorite depictions of the period.

I’ve recently decided to try my hand at war-gaming the American War of Independence. I’ve always been fascinated with the period, but I must admit that in history and in war gaming it is a relatively new period for me so to speak. As an amateur historian, my field of expertise is the American Civil War. As a wargamer, most of my gaming experience has been limited to pike and shot blocks and heavy cavalry charges of 17th century eastern European warfare in By Fire and Sword. This is not to say that I am completely out of my league here. Several books on the American War of Independence grace my shelf, including Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life, David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing, and the newly released Rick Atkinson’s The British are Coming. 

I have decided to document my journey through the war-gaming the American War of Independence (AWI). Now I know I am not the first to run such a blog. Several great blogs exist on war-gaming in the AWI, such as Tarleton’s Quarter and Der Alte Fritz Journal. However, I decided to come in with the perspective of someone is totally new to war-gaming the period. This is also going to a major switch for me because I am switching scales. By Fire and Sword and Flames of War are wargames based in 15mm scale, I have decided I want to switch to 28mm for AWI. This is not to say that there are not 15mm options for the AWI. There are many 15mm manufacturers of AWI miniatures (particularly the excellent Peter Pig). However, I want to try a new scale with this new period of warfare. There are numerous manufacturers of 28mm miniatures for the American War of Independence: Perry Miniatures, Foundry (also sculpted by Alan Perry), Eureka Miniatures, and Fife and Drum miniatures are just a few I am considering at the moment. 

So where does one start when starting to war-game in this period? That’s a good question. I would say that it depends on you personally. For myself, I like to start by getting familiar with the campaigns, units, and leaders as much as possible. Authenticity and verisimilitude are important for me. Some might start by picking miniatures, since I already have done a little bit of research in this regard. Some might start by picking a campaign. I have a few in mind (the 1777 Saratoga  Campaign, the 1779-81 Southern campaigns, and the 1777-78 Philadelphia campaigns), but that is in its own time for me. I’d rather start with a rule set, and then pick my scenarios and miniatures for those scenarios from there.

I’ve been doing some research and I’ve seen two rule sets highly recommended – British Grenadier and Black Powder with the Rebellion supplement. I’ve played Black Powder before, but not with the Rebellion supplement. I was playing Napoleonics on a relatively small board (an 1815 Waterloo campaign battle of a Dutch-Belgian division versus a French division) which was a fun game but I was left with the impression that it was suited for a larger table than what I played on. British Grenadier I have not played, but it is a modification from General de Brigade for Napoleonics  that I have seen great reviews for. I’ll be looking into both of these rule sets before I make a decision. 

In the meanwhile, watch this space.