In a change from my usual go-to genres and periods, I’ve been given the opportunity to try out Steve Danes Furioso rules from Alternate Armies. Pegged as a simple system at heart, they look like a fairly fast play set with plenty of historical flavour. It’s time to take a proper good look.
I received an A4 staple bound copy of the rules but a pdf is also available. Focusing on substance over style, which is in no way a negative, they’re a handy format for the table. Laying flat and well laid out, there are plenty of images and easy-to-read tables. Some may find the black and white nature a bit too traditional in the age of flashy full colour glossy pages. I however, found it refreshing to read a set of rules that actually let the rules do the talking.
A bit of history
Ostensibly aimed at the European conflicts of the 16th century, I’m sure some will be able to wiggle slightly to either side of this. My personal knowledge of the period is a touch rusty so I thoroughly enjoyed the accessible snippets of battles and wars that are scattered throughout. Aimed as a big battle game, there’s no set scale. For 25/28mm figures all measurements are to be read in inches with 15mm, or smaller, this being changed to centimetres. Simple and straightforward. As much as I love the thought of being able to field a sweeping battlefield of garish pikemen in 28mm, I have to accept that this is unlikely. Given the grand scale nature I’d be leaning towards 10 or 15mm figures. Obviously, Alternate Armies has you covered here with a range ideally suited for the rules.
We’re given the basic run down of the game after a brief intro and a sensible contents page (why do some omit things like this?). Essentially, the game runs off of d6. A roll of a five or more is a success. Anything less is a fail. Any modifiers you encounter will only change the number of dice you roll. That certainly seems simple enough for even me to keep track of.
During the course of play, opponents will take turns to activate units by means of initiative. Each player rolls a dice for each unit and this is its initiative. Units will be activated in order, dispensing with the more common IGUGO or alternating activations. That means you may see your opponent activate a few units in succession before you. Prepare wisely but be ready to see your plans go up in smoke when you encounter the enemy across the field!
Furioso, as stated above, is a unit-based game. Units are made up of elements, or stands, with the rules clearly identifying what you need for each type (regardless of scale). For instance, ranked infantry in 15mm should have 3 or 4 figures on a 40x20mm stand. The army lists at the back of the book, of which there are over a dozen, then break down how many stands you need per unit. In keeping with the period, and adding that historical flavour I mentioned, units aren’t always simply just rectangular blocks. The units in Furioso can take advantage of some of the weird and wonderful formations like the Spanish Tercio.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail
After agreeing a points values, the game provides a fairly novel means of determining terrain and set-up. Whilst it still boils down to dice rolls, it’s not simply a case of each side rolling and checking who rolled highest. Instead each side will take nine dice and use these to roll off against the other side in four different steps – terrain, path, approach, and events. This sounds a lot more complex than it actually is. For each step take a number of dice from your pool of nine, roll, and compare against your opponent; highest wins. Say you really want to control the terrain placement? Well that means you might use three or more dice to try and guarantee your success.
The terrain test dictates terrain set up. The path test is table edge, with the approach test allowing you to advance your starting line. The events test is where things get truly spicy. The winner of the event test can choose one of the pre-battle event tables for their opponent to roll on. These range from inconveniences through to assassinations of your general! The flip side though is that not all of these are strictly negatives. Some, which may alter your initial strategy, can provide benefits in the game. Perhaps your army has stopped for a blessing before the battle and their prayers have led to a steely resolve. You may have even foreseen a good omen in the sky and your troops now feel lucky…
You can’t win a battle without some fighting!
Movement and shooting are both fairly straightforward and clearly explained. The move factor is set by the scale you are using so there’s no heavy calculation work. Combine your unit’s move factor and initiative and that’s your total in either cm or inches i.e. a move factor of four and initiative of 2 would give you a move of 6 cm/inches.
For shooting, you’ll check the range of your weapon (again set in cm or inches dependent on your chosen scale) and see if it’s short or maximum. For short range, roll 2d6 per stand and for maximum, roll 1d6. As stated earlier, you’re looking for fives and sixes as each of these scores a hit. The defender gets a chance to save for each hit and is also looking for fives or sixes. Modifiers, as before, such as terrain or built defenses might give additional dice to thwart the firepower of the attacker. Each unsaved hit is a casualty, four casualties and you remove a stand. Obviously there are extra effects and rules for the varied gun types and artillery but the simple resolution is fast and keeps things moving. There’s no need to be trawling through tables here.
Up close and personal
Close combat follows the same general principles and dice rolling as shooting but with more special rules and specific scenarios. Furioso deals with things like unenthusiastic combat where skirmishers would not attack formed pike or even the disruption caused by doppelsoldner – specialist close combat troops attached to pike units.
Furiosi maintains a simple core alongside building upon or adding into that means the rules are always easy to follow. There’s an honest sense of consideration about how units interact rather than simply chucking some additional rules for flavour. The end result are core mechanics which you can pick up in one quick read through with everything else falling into place.
Without going into too much detail here, there are comprehensive morale rules which come into effect with certain triggers such as casualties or loss of leadership. The effects range from disordered units to the suffering of more casualties reflecting men breaking and leaving the field of battle. Whilst some might argue about the ‘realism’ of this I feel that the abstraction fits well with the faster play nature of the rules and doesn’t detract from the enjoyment to be had.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the inclusion of the hazard effect. During the course of the game, should you roll four 1’s at the same time for any reason, the unit in question has suffered from some unforeseen hazard. It should be noted however, that a hazard can only occur once per turn; so if your opponent gets one first, you’re in luck.
Depending on the unit type (infantry, cavalry, artillery etc.) to have triggered the hazard you roll a d6 and consult the appropriate table. It’s fair to say that these can be pretty nasty and throw the biggest of spanners into the works. Fortunately, rolling four 1s should be rare but I like these added touches immensely. There’s a real chaotic story feel to these events which is very much in keeping with the theme. In essence, being almost bolted on, it would be simple to ignore this particular aspect of the rules if it is maybe a touch too random for your style of play.
Is it fun?
I’m not the owner of renaissance armies although I did have a fantasy Empire force many moons ago. Perhaps it’s because of this that I’ve always had the idea at the back of my mind to revisit this period. The rules are fairly straightforward to pick up and in a couple of test runs with some stand-ins I didn’t encounter any bother. I’d have liked to have seen some scenario ideas pitched here but it’s not too hard to come up with variable victory conditions for when you are no longer content with simply bashing up your opponent. Worth noting that Alternative Armies has a free download section to alleviate this somewhat with suggested scenarios.
For some this may not be your cup of tea trying to recreate sweeping battles of the time with accuracy and detail that pleases them. That’s definitely not my bag though and for me this is a great club game. You can be set up and concluded in a few hours with plenty of time to chat. I can’t comment on the specifics of the flavour and historical flair but I thought it ‘felt’ right.
If you already have figures then this is an inexpensive rule set that will be worth checking out. For those interested in starting a project in the period like me? If a rule set has me pouring over figure options and looking into additional source material then it must definitely be doing something right!
As always, I’d be keen to hear from anyone else who’s tried these by commenting below. You can also join in the discussion over at our Facebook Page. For more chat about Alternative Armies varied rules, check out their gaming group page here.