La Bataille Reglement XXX Rules:

 Not for the Faint of Heart … But Are They For Anyone?

Written by Mike Willner

Introduction:

Like many of my fellow multi-decade wargamers (I’m in decade number five!), I’ve watched the evolution of the La Bataille system (La Bat to the grognard cognoscenti) with a mixture of fascination, incredulity, and dread.

Image via BGG: Miguel Ángel Sánchez Galán (Tormenta)

I can recall playing the original Marshall Enterprises version of Wagram in the early 80’s, and can recall the cool expanse of maps, detailed colorful counters, and a feeling of hovering over an actual battlefield. My subsequent attempts to keep up with the La Bat system(s) over the years were tentative and usually ended with a messy map of cockeyed counters, a welter of rules swirling in my head, and a feeling that this just wasn’t worth it.

Being an avid wargamer / collector over the years I accumulated almost a dozen La Bat games (including the most recent release – La Bataille de Ligny). So I figured it was high time to really, truly, finally master the rules and the system, play the game, and add this system to the several high-complexity tactical pre-20th century systems I consider part of my core gaming repertoire (which includes MMP Line of Battle, COA Battles from the Age of Reason, and others).

 

This, then, is my story ….

 

Rules and Games:
This is not really a review of any particular game in the system, but rather a high-level impression of Reglements de l’an XXX – the series rule system (well, one of them) that under pins they many games in the system. You’d think it would be a simple matter of just picking up a copy of the game, pulling out the “Series Rules” booklet, and learning that.

 

You’d be wrong.

 

The first thing to understand is that the La Bat system spans 4+ decades, has been published by at least three major game companies (Marshall Enterprises, Game Designers Workshop, Clash of Arms), and covers 40+ Napoleonic battles. There’s a devoted following, and the series has evolved considerably over the years. So, when I wanted to “learn the game” I was confronted with a confusing array of options. I’ll summarize them as best I can (and I’m sure Ed Wimble of COA or someone will correct the errors I’m bound to make):

 

The Original: The rules from the original publications by Marshall Enterprises in the 70’s and 80’s.

Rules in the Box: For many years the rules in the box were a hybrid of the current series rules and the game-specific rules, with variations over the years.

 

Regulations XXII: COA began publishing “The Regulations” which were a separate series rule set, and many of the “Rules in the Box” are based on Reg XXII.

 

Regulations XXX: The most recent Regs, considered the fullest, most complete, detailed and complex evolution of the rules.

 

Regulations de Marie Louise (ML): A somewhat simplified, stripped down version of the Regulations. This is intended for those wanting a faster, simpler game.

 

La Bataille Premier ME: Published by Martial Enterprises (the current incarnation of Marshall Enterprises), targeting large, multi-player experiences for the monster, multi-map battles.

 

Series V Rules: The most recent incarnation of the rules that, similar to the Premier, are intended for streamlined play, larger games, etc.

Whew. So, like I said, where to start?

 

After much waffling and a few false starts I decided to go for the gusto and learn the Regulations XXX. First, it seemed more up my alley in terms of tactical detail. Second, and maybe more important, the La Bat website (www.labataille.us) provides free downloads of Reg XXX (as well as most other versions), and all the games are supported with downloadable copies of the game-specific rules tailored for use with ML or Reg XXX. I’ll say here that La Bat is very well supported by this web site (as well as www.labataille.me for Martial Enterprises offerings), as well as an active and responsive Consimworld forum.

 

So, Reg XXX in hand, I pulled out a reasonably manageable one-map La Bat game (La Bataille d’Auerstadt) and set to the task of learning to play.  The following will be my take on the Reg XXX overlay of the game, not a review of Auerstadt (which was fun).

 

The Player’s Role

The game puts the player in the role of Army Commander, responsible for directing the operations of formations ranging in size from Corps to Brigade. If there are multiple players per side, the players will assume roles one level down, be it Corps or Division (depending on the size of the army and year of organization). And therein lies the rub.

 

The combat units in the game range in size from regiments and battalions  (sometimes companies) of infantry, batteries of guns, regiments of cavalry. Each movement, facing, formation decision requires some attention. So, moving a division, much less a corps, can be exhausting and overwhelming. And, given the interactive nature of the game turn (you can trigger all kinds of opportunity actions for your opponent) it can become quite involved. Army and Corps commanders wouldn’t usually be involved in the low-level tactical decisions that the game system requires.

 

Conclusion: the player’s role becomes confused because they are required to make decisions at a grand tactical level (army and corps commanders directing broad movements of large formations) and tactical (division / brigade commanders directing the disposition of regiments and battalions). I think the ideal would be for the player to command a division-level formation.

 

Decision Space

Players will be called upon to make decisions on several levels:

Image BGG user: ken ellis. playtest map, this is the mysterious background for so many of my recent photos posted to the geek!

playtest map, this is the mysterious background for so many of my recent photos posted to the geek!

Formation activation: In Reg XXX, players must allocate Command Points (CPs) to allow formations to move and attack effectively.  Usually there are not CPs available to place the entire army in motion, so the player will need to decide which formations are more important or more urgently need the full range of actions.

 

Divisional deployment: Divisions are the basic formation that unifies several regiments into a cohesive fighting group. The player will need to think about how each division deploys its units, maintains command range, sets up front line and reserve regiments, positions artillery, selects terrain for rapid advance or strong defense.

 

Regimental tactics: Lower level units (regiments, battalions, and sometimes even companies) have several possible formations: line, extended line, column, square, march and road columns, skirmish, etc. There is a LOT of thinking to do about where and how to use each unit, and a lot of rules governing all aspects of these formations.

BGG User: Peter Johnson (Hedgehog1)

Cavalry command: Ah yes,  the cavalry. Most 18th and 19th century tactical games have complex cavalry games, and Reg XXX is no exception … it may even set the standard for complexity. With charges, counter charges, opportunity charges, pursuit, exhaustion, all kinds of bonuses and penalties, there is a LOT to learn. And, beyond that, use of cavalry on the Napoleonic battlefield is very much an art. Far from being the “mini-Panzer Divisions” of some less-sophisticated games, cavalry in Reg XXX is tricky. A well-timed cavalry charge can be decisive, but the units and formations can be fragile, finicky, uncooperative, and hard to command.

 

Intelligence

Players have pretty complete intelligence on the battlefield … no hidden units. However, the front of the counters only have basic information on unit size and movement potential. Details of fire power, morale, special bonuses, etc. are on the reverse side of the units, hidden from the enemy. I could imagine some simple hidden movement rules where generic unit and some dummies represent the entire formation until spotted, and the unit only deploys when spotted (a la Rising Eagles: Austerlitz 1805). But this would be a house rule.

 

Its worth mentioning that several versions of the rules (not Reg XXX, though) include a time limit on formation movement. Once you activate a formation you get 10 minutes to complete your activities. This rule really forces  you to focus on the important aspects of your move and eliminates a lot of the fiddling and fussing in which some players engage. I’d suggest adopting some aspect of time limits for Reg XXX, otherwise players just get too much time to analyze and think.

 

Sequence of Play

First, I should note that each set of La Bat rules have a somewhat different turn sequence, changing some mechanics and keeping others the same. This is a reason, at least in my mind, to select one rule set and learn it well … otherwise you’ll be in a constant state of confusion with variants and versions swimming around your head and ruining your games.

 

There is one integrated game turn for both players; that is, both players complete the activities in each phase together (sometimes at the same time, sometimes governed by chit pull or other prioritization mechanisms). Players have to keep this in mind, as there is not going to be the big-push Moment most IGOUGO game provide. In summary:

 

Command Segment:

Command Points are generated and parceled out to formations to create Maneuver Units (MUs), some cavalry units may get to seize initiative. For each MU created (usually a formation) a chit selected. Both side’s MU chits go into a cup, along with some standard event chits that drive things like reinforcement arrival, leader movement, etc.

 

Maneuver Segment:

Chits are pulled one at a time from the cup and resolved. If it’s an MU chit, that MU can move, declare assaults (but not resolve them yet, that’s a later phase). Cavalry charges and melees ARE resolved in this phase, however. Event chits will trigger artillery fire for both sides. Chits are pulled until the cup is empty.

Image BGG Usertac ope (tac_ope_tokyo)

Fire Segment:

Both sides execute infantry fire (range of one hex mostly, with skirmishers have range 2 hexes) and Artillery fire (can be up to 14 hexes). It’s worth mentioning the artillery bounce-through rule, as inexperienced players will be devastated by this: if your artillery fire has more range past the unit you target then you draw a line past the target unit. Any units touched by the line undergo artillery fire as well! You can imagine a poorly deployed formation getting mowed down by artillery that keeps hitting unit after unit … it happened to me more than once before I learned the wisdom of Napoleonic divisional formations that checkerboard’ed to avoid such things.

 

Combat is resolved on a D66 table (i.e. a dark and a light D6, one the 10s the other the 1s, so rolling a dark-die 4 and a light-die 3 is a 43), and normally result in step losses.  Units start with a strength point level and it is gradually reduced, a step or two at a time. Units will lose capability and finally the “will to fight” as they are whittled down. It’s possible for leaders to get wounded or killed.  Needless to say, there is a staggering array of modifier for morale, formation, terrain, etc. that impact how effective fire combat will be … mastering these is much of what Reg XXX is about. Since losses can trigger morale checks, you may find your formations getting shaky or even starting to melt away under effective cannonade and musketry.

 

Assault Segment:

This is where infantry close combat is resolved. Remember, you declared and committed assaults back in the Maneuver Segment, so lots could have changed … units run off by fire, smashed by cavalry, etc. Keeping this sequence in mind is important when declaring Assaults.
Reg XXX has a very cool mechanic called “Commitment”. This is where units deployed behind front-line units can plunge into the fray to change the odds and even turn the tide. Units have to be properly deployed and positioned to utilize Commitments movement, but it really does encourage proper Napoleonic-era thinking about brigade and divisional deployment.

 

Of course, there are all kinds of morale and strength modifiers based on formation, terrain, etc. to account for. The D66 table results for melee include Disorder, Rout, Surrender, as well as step losses. Assault results tend to be decisive and dramatic. You’ll frequently be dismayed to see your formations shatter and flee when brought forward to clash. Maintaining reserves, controlling the operational tempo, and clever timing are all rewarded in Reg XXX.

 

Reorganization Segment:
All manner of recovery, rally, resetting, etc. Fires spread, and units with Administrative March orders are executed (persistent orders that allow a formation to move towards an objective like a town or bridge without consuming a CP each turn). Push forward the turn marker (three 20 minute turns per hour), and you’re ready to do it all again!

 

Logistics

There is not a lot of “supply” type logistics. Most notable is the fact that artillery requires ammunition. Artillery train units, represented by actual units on the board, provide ammo. Importantly, the trains only provide a certain number of shots, so it’s possible to exhaust your supply … “what the hell” pot shots are no longer freebies, but can actually run you out of ammo and leave you helpless when the fight gets hot. Some scenarios provide for restocking artillery trains, some don’t, and restocking is a pain even when available. This forces a mind-set change on the typical wargamer.

 

Morale is a factor at the unit and formation level. Each unit has a Morale Factor, expressed as a D66 number between 11 and 66. The lower the better, since you have to roll your Morale Factor or higher to pass a Morale check. Units will check for all kinds of things, like after taking losses, assaulting and charging, standing to assaults and charges, rallying, etc. Guard and elite units have very low Morale Factors in the 14 – 16 range that make them very reliable. Militia and Landwehr type units have Morale Factors in the 34 – 40 range, making them frustrating and fickle … very faithful to history.

 

Formations have morale levels based on the number of battalions lost. As your formation loses more units a global modifier is applied to all your units’ Morale Factor (worsening them). So, all Morale Checks get harder and harder for the whole formation as formations take more and more losses. At a certain point, units become too unreliable to attack with, refuse to rally, etc.

 

Play Time

Long.

 

Your first few games will be REALLY Long, as there will be constant lengthy rule-checking sessions that will halt play. Once you get a feel for the system, get the modifiers under your belt, and get familiar with the most common terrain and formation related movement costs and benefits it moves faster. But make no mistake about it, if you’re playing a large-ish game with full Reg XXX, the game will tend to bog down. Rule expertise, time limits, and multiple players per side will mitigate this to some extent.

 

Solitaire Playability:
Reg XXX is very well suited for solitaire play. The chit pull system of the Maneuver segment introduces plenty of uncertainty, and the D66 resolution system allows for a very wide range of possible results, with wide room to swing.  Since the specific strengths of each unit are already on the hidden reverse of each unit, its easier to obscure the details of capability from yourself, and once in a while surprise yourself (“Geez, who know that unit was so tough in melee?!!? I would never have assaulted if I knew that!”.

 

I recommend starting with smaller, one-map games or scenarios (which most of the published games include). If you have a place to leave it set up and a good long while (months / year) I think playing one of the larger battles (Borodino, Ligny) would be fun. The game is pretty easy to put down and pick up … if there are still chits in the cup you just pull the next chit when you restart; the sequencing of fire and assault combat is well-defined, so you can leave off half way through and pick it up easily.

Conclusion:

Reg XXX is 54-pages of dense, complex, nuanced rules that sometimes require painfully careful reading and parsing. Game play requires a comprehensive understanding of a dizzying array of options, modifiers, exceptions, and qualifiers.

 

The game turns are integrated, very interactive, and present the players with frequent complex decisions. Reactions, opportunity fire and charges, commitment movement, cavalry maneuvers, all produce a absorbing and engaging play experience that requires sustained concentration.

Oh, and there’s the chrome … did I mention the chrome? British unit Prone, French Guard Assault, all manner of special cavalry unit capabilities, march and combat peculiarities of each nation qualified by the year of the battle. Whew. It’s a lot to absorb and I’m willing to bet every player, every game has several of those “Damn, I could have had my infantry go prone on the reverse slope and avoid that artillery” moments.

 

Having played my share of complex 18th / 19th century tactical board games, I will concur with the self-proclaimed caveat of the publishers that Reg XXX  provide the “full flavor of [of Napoleonic combat], but they will take a longer time investment to learn.”

 

In the end, having spent probably 30 hours learning the rules and playing learning games, I can say that I’m glad I did. The system is exquisite

 

If you’re any kind of monster game player with a high tolerance for complexity you’ll appreciate the depth and richness of the rules. My suggestion is to dive in, learn the Reg XXX rules, struggle through a small game or three, and then set up a battle you like (or want to learn about). Your effort and time will be well rewarded.

 

However, I don’t recommend beginners, casual gamers, or those used to abstract games attempt to learn Reg XXX (Gasp! What?!? That’s right, I’m not making a blanket recommendation!) Unless you have the peculiarity of enjoying the struggle, and get satisfaction from puzzling through complex decision trees during attacks and charges, you will waste your valuable gaming time and ultimately give up.

 

So, in the end, I expect to enjoy my hard-earned Reg XXX knowledge and share it over lengthy monster games of La Bat with my grognard buddies.

7 thoughts on “La Bataille Reglement XXX Rules:

  1. Fantastic article, Mike.

    I’ve become more and more curious about the La Bataille system and have hovered over the “Add to cart” button for the 2nd edition of COA’s Quatre Bras several times.

    I’m a relatively new wargamer (1–2 years), though, so I’ve been concerned about getting in over my head. I’m not scared off by the complexity so much as the time commitment to get comfortable with the rules.

    1. You can download the “Marie-Louise” (M-L) rules at labataille.us and start with those. If you’ve heard of ASL and the ASL “Starter Kits”, then I’d very well compare M-L to the ASL Starter Kits in that you’ll learn the same core rules, just not all of them at this time. But, you’ll learn enough that you’ll have a fairly rich game. You can always bump up to RegsXXX if you’re still enjoying it.

      I started recently to go through the 5th edition rules (aka “Series V”) and what I found was it was another version of M-L; same corps rules stuff but it had different chrome than what M-L chose to leave out as well as some fairly substantial differences in the turn sequence. Unfortunately, I found that I was asking a *lot* of questions on CSW as well as there seemed to be lots of holes that I was falling through. So I’ve recently turned to RegsXXX and am going through a small game of Vauchamps (more in a sec on that) and yes, I’m rules diving quite a bit but I’m finding my answers in the rules (which are quite comprehensive) so I think that was the choice to go with.

      “Vauchamps”. ATO Mag put out a mini-La Bat game. Same great quality artwork and an interesting situation with the surprise French counter-attack. It’s a small footprint game (two half-mapsheets that are connected end to end to make it a long, “skinny” map) and low counter density. It comes with a set of rules which are basically the Premiere rules and you could certainly go with those or you could apply Regs to it (there is a game-specific Regs set of rules available on the labat.us site mentioned above). You’ll have to provide a few information counters but it’s very workable. I’m actually currently upgrading the VASSAL module for Vauchamps in order to make it Regs “compliant”.

      I think this series of games would really shine with team play- you have a corps/army commander and teams of division commanders on each side and you could restrict their interaction unless they were within a certain distance (or something). I wouldn’t mind seeing a written “orders system” added for team play as well; that would be the cats tits right there.

  2. At first I thought this review was going to pan the Regs rules, but I was happy to see that the author likes them. The decision scale is absolutely a quirk of the rules as he pointed out. Players are commanding corps and armies but they can decide what formations a rifle company will deploy into.

    In spite of this, the chit pull and command systems do create command friction and reward players who use their chain of command to create larger corps-sized MU’s that can coordinate their divisions more easily. It is a steep learning curve, but the rules can be learned with some practice. In the end, they offer a great narrative of a Napoleonic battle with hundreds of exciting moments. They are also excellent for solo gaming if you have the space to leave the game set up.

    I too have been frustrated with the constant tweaking of the rule systems and new versions. I detest the timed turns because I don’t feel that keeping the turns timed represents any sort of historical simulation. It just rewards a player who is quicker with tweezers or has fewer commands in an activated MU. As a result, I only play the Regs and I wait for the Regs Exclusive Rules to come out for new LaBat games before I try to play them.

    Excellent review!

  3. In layman’s terms how do you calculate the proportional losses of artillery vis-à-vis fire and melee values? I’m fairly math challenged so simple explanation is fine. Thanks!

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