Wednesday, January 11, 2012

John Company

This the "physical component" part of the review of John Company and the Conquest of India: A Miniatures Game System for Warfare on the Sub-Continent, 1750-1860. I ordered it from The Virtual Armchair General and got it within three days of ordering. I'm intending to do an introductory gameplay review later.
It's 196 pages, glossy cover, plus four separate cardstock sheets with firing tables and the like. An overview of the contents:
  • Army organization and troop characteristics
  • Command and control, brigadiers and generals
  • Sequence of play
    • Check command radius
    • Draw from Orders deck
    • Place orders
    • Declare charges and pursuits
    • Initiate charges
    • Other units move and fire
    • Resolve confrontations and close combat
  • Definition of orders
  • Rating generals
  • Resolve levels and tests
  • Rally
  • Movement
  • Skirmishers
  • Difficult ground
  • Confrontation and close combat
  • Small arms and artillery fire
  • Events
  • Optional rules
    • Stamina and fatigue
    • Artillery bombardment
    • Sappers
    • General confusion
    • Night fighting
    • Chain of command
    • Unpredictable terrain
    • Ammunition
    • Weather (including temperature and rainfall zones within India)
  • Designers' Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Army profiles
    • British / HEIC
    • Sepoys (before and during the Mutiny)
    • Afghans
    • Marathas
    • Sikh Khalsa
  • Four introductory scenarios
  • Timeline of the HEIC's battles, 1751-1858
  • Sources for miniatures
  • Uniform guides
  • Counters and card decks
You can also get the counters and card decks separately, if you don't want to copy and cut your own.
The design philosophy is summed up: "the players have a distinctly limited control of their units...Watch for your units to 'think' and act for themselves, reacting to the battle as they perceive it". Generals have limited abilities to give and communicate orders, and your troops need to check their Resolve to determine whether they obey orders or not.
The game was written with 25mm figures in mind, with 1" = 100ft and 1 turn = 15 minutes; distances can be scaled down if you prefer 15mm or 6mm. The bases sizes are 3/4" square for 25mm infantry, 1/2" squares for 15mm or 6mm figures; there's no specific number of miniatures per base. The maps given for the sample scenarios are 5ft x 8ft.
Counting up the units for one fictional scenario, the Brits have 6 infantry regiments, each of 12-15 bases of miniatures; 4 cavalry units with 6-10 bases; 3 batteries with 6 gun crew each; and a sapper unit with 4 bases. The Sikhs have a brigade of regulars, including 5 infantry pultans of 16 bases each, a cuirassier regiment with 8 bases, 3 artillery batteries with 9 crew each, plus a unit of 2 sappers. The Sikhs also have a brigade of irregular cavalry, with 4 units of horse at 12 bases and 3 light guns. Totals: Brit 14 units with 83 bases of infantry, 31 cavalry, 18 gun crews; Sikhs 14 units including 82 infantry bases, 56 horse, 30 gun crews. The Battle of Assaye is rather larger, with 332 bases of Marathas vs 120 Brits.
I bought it as a resource rather than a game, and it works adequately for that. The army lists don't give you the feel for detail that you would get with an army list for Field of Glory or De Bellis Multitudinous; however, there's only so much variation possible in the cavalry and infantry of the period (not like Thirty Years War when infantry might be arquebusiers, pikes, swordsmen, halbards and more, with significantly different capabilities), so it may not need more detail. It was nice to see temperature and rainfall charts that related to an actual map of India.
One thing which bothers me about it is the layout and design for the book; I'm finding it hard to read. I used to sell services which included layout and design, and I suspect that if I handed this to one of our layout people, they'd put the body of the text in two columns, make the font a bit smaller, and adjust the white space to make it more readable. (On the other hand, I charged $300 an hour for my layout people, which may account for why this product didn't get that tweaking). The table of contents is particularly exasperating; it's not set up as a a hierarchical list, the way I did above, but rather as a description by page, regardless of whether they should be grouped together or not. A typical entry would be
"Charge!"; RATING GENERALS; General's Attributes pg 35
where "Charge" belongs to the ORDERS section from page 28. The artwork for the counters and card decks is quite grainy, sometimes hard to read. Punctuation is a bit idiosyncratic. On the good side, there are a lot of illustrations, taken from paintings of things like Hodson's Horse skirmishing during the Mutiny, or a portait of Tipu Sultan; they're a nice touch.
The game is intended for multiple players, typically 4-6 although you could have more; it is recommended that each player handle 50-100 bases. From the design philosophy, it sounds as if it should be okay for solo play. I'll give it a try and report.

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