Home Forums Nordic Weasel Games Historical First Game of Shako to Coalscuttle!

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    Avatar photoTony S

    There is a subset of our group that is fascinated with 19th century European warfare (along with a lot of other things of course) but over the years, despite owning a lot of the period specific rules, and trying some of the more generic sets that seek to cover 1815 to 1900 or so, we just never really found a set of rules that appealed to our collective biases.   I stumbled across Neil Thomas’ 19th Century Warfare book, and convinced/whined/browbeat my friends into reading it and then trying it.   Even better, as it was new period for our group, we were able to try a new scale – 10mm from Pendraken.

    Long story short – we loved them!

    However, after playing quite a few games set in the 1859 Second Italian War of Liberation and losing every single one, the Austrian player was getting a trifle depressed.  The rules reflect the dreadful nature of the Austrian command, and the inertia thereof, (we used the optional command rules)  and give the French the advantage of “furia francese”, or the ability to charge anything they see.  Quite historically accurate, but not a terribly fair game.  We began discussing various methods to try and balance the game, or at least give the Austrian side somewhat of a chance, but didn’t reach any consensus.

    However, I rummaged through my rules collection, and once again convinced/whined/browbeat my friends into trying another set of rules, this time Shako to Coalscuttle.  We’d played a few other Nordic Weasel games that were well received, (No End in Sight, Scum of the Earth and Hammer of Democracy for the record) so it wasn’t too difficult to rope them in, although given the fact that we hadn’t found any good set of rules for this period (save for Thomas’ of course) I think they were humouring me, and they didn’t have high hopes for StCS.  I didn’t play, as I was the only one who had read the rules, so I volunteered to be the gamesmaster and general all round rules explainer.

    That said, let’s pop in a few images.  I took some photos before I got too involved in the battle to snap more.

    The left wing of the Austrian army.  The infantry in the front are skirmishers.  We turn the guns around to represent being limbered.  I did point out that the rules don’t seem to mention limbering.  Or I missed the reference more likely.  I did change the rules actually for artillery.  I allowed them to use the “quick time” roll, just like light infantry and cavalry, and to use the cavalry movement for the second move.  Having guns move only 4″ in this period seemed odd.  They were quite mobile, much more so than Napoleonic times.  Guns were lighter, and horse teams were larger.  The ACW and FPW saw some very aggressive use of artillery.  (Although not allowing the Prussians in 1866 to use quick time for their artillery might be a good period exception).  Obviously we decided to use optional two stands for artillery units rule.

    Right wing of the Austrians.  Figures are 10mm Pendraken, fields are Hotz and the buildings are 6mm Total Battle Miniatures.  I’m rather happy with the way the buildings turned out. And of course Pendraken figures are simply awesome!  The fields I rated as “sparse” terrain, although I was tempted to rate the entire battlefield as “sparse” as the Italian countryside was densely covered with hedges and streams that broke up sight lines and made advancing difficult.  The idea was actually an optional rule in Neil Thomas’ book that I was thinking of shamelessly stealing, but ultimately decided that only the fields were sparse going.  Forests and towns were dense terrain.  There was a forest that saw a fierce battle between the light troops, but naturally I took no photos of that.  We put the stands into a 2×2 formation for “advancing” formation, rather than the single stand column, on the basis we liked the look of it better.  For the record, we did the same things in Thomas’ rules.  The long thin column looked too much like some sort of a march formation we felt.

    The French player, who actually does have an entire army that I also managed not to take pictures of, boldly advances his cavalry seeking to outflank the sluggish Austrians.   The French had better generalship and were rated as “disciplined” so got an automatic “shock” die.   I gave the Austrians a couple of extra units to compensate.

    Oops.  A couple of turns later reveals that the bold flanking action by the French has not gone as planned.  The red kind of explosion things are craft store beady dohickeys we used as disarray markers.  The Austrians responded quickly to the French cavalry movement and moved his reserves that way, helped by a lot of shock dice to quick time his cavalry.  The French tried to charge the Austrian infantry but the kaiserliches rolled a “six” and so the French charge was stopped, and then shot to pieces.  The other French horse also charged the first Austrian cavalry, but despite the charge advantage managed to roll really, really badly.

    As for the rest of the photoless battle, the French foot charged the town, and managed to maul and evict the Austrian infantry seen in the last photo, only to be evicted in turn by a counter attack by some reserve Austrian infantry.  In the centre the French attacked somewhat in piecemeal, and took heavy losses to Austrian firepower, although the French artillery made a good showing.  (I gave them a rifled battery, as they were experimenting with rifled muzzleloaders during this war).  Seeing his centre shattered, and the Austrian horse closing in on his flank, the French commander surrendered the field.

    Some rules questions cropped up.  Apologies if I missed them in the rules.

    1.  How do formation changes work?  The rules explain HOW to change formation, but didn’t quite explain the consequences of such a change.  Can units change formation and then move as  that formation, or does the formation change take the entire move?  I’ll take the blame for all the interpretations as I was the referee, so I decided that a formation change took the entire move (ie formation change OR move) but they could then fire without penalty.  In retrospect, I think I was wrong.  I think troops should be able to change formation, and then move as per that new formation – or not, if they wish to fire.  I was worried that troops could form into an advancing formation and then charge, but since the sequence of play has shock actions occurring before movement, that can’t happen.
    2. Towns.  How the heck do they work?  I called them dense terrain, so a shock action was needed to move into them.   I also allowed troops to disperse in them, as a garrison.  I figured a town is somewhat of a linear obstacle, in its own special four sided way.  The town in our game was also divided into three separate sections that only held one unit at a time, so to clear the town required three different charge, move  and/or melee actions.  Dispersed troops in the town also had no flanks, like an infantry square.
    3. I assumed that there is no overt artillery limbering per se in the rules, because there’s no mention of that.  One player was confused by that.  I figured since you can’t fire after moving, or even  just turning for guns, limbering is subsumed into that, and there is no need to waste time marking artillery with a limber  Even with my house rule of allowing artillery a quick time action, it still works.  And on a personal note, as I hate painting and modelling limbers, I wholeheartedly approve of such a philosophy Ivan!

    So, bottom line, did we like the rules, bearing in mind that we really like the Thomas rules, albeit with some increasing misgivings?

    A resounding YES was the answer.  Both players – and myself – really liked them,  They might be a bit more “gamey” than the more “historical” Thomas rules, but that’s not a criticism of the Nordic rules at all!  Playing 1866 Piedmontese, or Crimean War Russians would be an exercise in frustration for the Thomas rules, whereas in “Shako to Coal Scuttle” they would be a lot of fun!  There is definitely a historical period feel to the rules, at least in our opinion, but it also gives a fun, better balanced game.

    Some of the things we really liked about Nordic Weasel’s rules:

    1.  The command system.  Simple, but effective and introduces some fog of war (which we really prefer in the rules we play).
    2. I liked the “sparse” terrain rules.  Larger units have more difficulty in moving through, and also introduces somewhat of a random movement allowance.  (Something I also like).
    3. Everyone loved the firing table that collapsed lots of effects into one simple toss of the dice.
    4. Loved the whole charge/halt fire/hand to hand sequence.  Adds some nice detail for very little rules dirt.  It just felt right – and was fun.
    5. Very few modifiers – which is a difficult thing to find in rules.  It’s very easy to add lots and lots of modifiers; anyone can write rules like that.  But it slows play down horribly. (Ever seen the Quick Reference BOOK for “From Valmy to Waterloo” – yes BOOK.  Dreadfully slow, and for little effect really).
    6. It promises fast play, and it certainly delivers.  We played on a 4×3 foot playing area, which I am finding is increasingly my preference for all my games.  It’s nice to have a non playing area to hold troops and dice, and other unsightly gaming impedimenta.

    So, multiple thumbs up from us Ivan!   Very clever and clean design.  I think it is sadly overlooked, and deserves a better and larger audience.  Needless to say, we’re going to be using these going forward.  We didn’t think they be better than Neil Thomas’…but they are, in our collective humble opinions.  I know at least one player bought the rules immediately, which is certainly a good sign!


    Avatar photoNorm S

    Nice write up, enjoyed looking at your army. Agree that 4′ x 3′ and 10mm make for a very useful marriage

    Avatar photoSteve Johnson

    Lovely looking game and agree that the Pendraken figures are lovely. I highly recommend having a look at Bloody Big Battles for this period, as they are a great set of rules. Even being the Austrian player (which I like) you have a chance of ‘winning’ if you can hold out long enough etc to stop the Prussian steam roller. Well worth checking out IMHO.

    Avatar photonigel Tullett

    This system is totally overlooked, now using them for 1813 Napoleonic, 1860 Italian wars of unification and ACw . Just love the combat system, one thing we did change was to reconfirm each 6 kill base off, 123 becomes a point of disarray 456 a kill, we found in Napoleonic the extra die fore close order target was blowing away units so slowed down just a bit.

    The other thing we played was to reduce the number of fire dice down for poor troops – Second rate etc. This gave trained experienced troops a difference over poor which we felt needed to be reflected other than reducing thier disarray level. This also tended to deduce the odds of a good unit being forced right the way back due to 1’s thrown against it.

    in ACW played the no charge combat rule unless charging  defences etc very clever and logical.

    Excellent games and Thomas C19 now retired…


    Avatar photoTony S

    I really like those ideas Nigel!  We did notice that units were reduced in bases rather quickly, as it is just as likely that a unit would lose a base as get a point of disarray.  I suppose one could even slightly modify the 123 disarray, 456 kill with a -1 for better troops, or +1 for poor troops.  Just changing the level of disarray that forces a unit to fall back, as suggested in the rules, didn’t seem like enough, as most of our units died rather than ran away.

    Reducing firepower for poorly trained troops is also a great idea, especially for periods like the Crimean War Russians.




    Avatar photonigel Tullett

    One thing which is totally realistic and I haven’t seen under other systems in a manageable way (and I have played a good few systems) is the way that units can get forced back  in a fire fight or due to artillery hits and as the level of disarray builds and the inability to clear them there are natural breaks in combat. Disengagement is what I am getting at as damage is inflicted.There are too many systems where units stand and die or the game is dragging due to morale tests. Disarray is an excellent way of representing the battle fatigue of units and the army as a whole, and as the battle heats up its harder to stop units pulling back and steady them  and get them back into the fight.

    The reinforcement rule us well worth a try..cleaver idea.

    The system really leads itself to period adjustments and reflecting historical superior command structures.

    The first game we played which was a 1813 Napoleonic almost was the last due to the very heavy kills base strength 6 plus 1 close order target, but my fellow gamer had the excellent idea for the reconfirm kill and by reducing the base ave unit strength t0 4 we now have excellent games, realistic, fun and enjoyable and no hardly need to refer to the rules.

    No need for full colour marketing publications either,system is a bargain…..

    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    Glad you lot had a great time and I appreciate all the kind words.

    A few observations above that I just wanted to confirm:
    You can no doubt tell that Neil Thomas was a heavy inspiration. In a lot of ways “From Shako” was the result of that, merged with my own ideas about combat dice from developing FiveCore.

    My observation at the time was that being a little bit more “gamey” tended to get people more involved in the game.
    I figured if units can get worn down and you’re limited in your command abilities, then the game play can be a bit more dramatic and it’ll work out great.

    Combat is fairly deadly at the moment. The idea of rolling to confirm kills is a great idea and one I may keep around, if we ever get to do a second edition.
    It probably does need toning down slightly though the 1914 inclined gamer might enjoy them as they are!

    On the questions:

    1 The intention is that you make the formation change, then act as per the new formation. So you could form up and move off.
    The timing of the phases means you must charge before you can change formation, so if that’s the goal you have to be in the right formation on the prior turn.

    2 I’ve gone back and forth with how they’re meant to work. Your system seems as good as any.
    I think splitting the town into multiple sections might actually solve most of the trouble I kept bumping into.

    3 Yeah, there’s two models I hate to buy: Limbers and trucks. So I abstracted them out of the game.

    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    Also, if a few of you want to pick this one up on the cheap (not that it wasn’t already quite cheap) You can get it for five bucks for a couple days.


    Avatar photonigel Tullett

    Shock actions

    Can I check how shock action on light troops is intended to play.

    Does a shock action played on for example a unit of Jägers allow it to move once, then move again only or move once and for the shock action fire, I suppose may be confused with the fact that units that move can’t fire, but by playing the shock that’s their “move” so may able to fire, I.e move once the fire where as other units normally either move only or fire only.


    Avatar photoIvan Sorensen

    Sorry for the wait!

    For shock actions, “Units may perform only the Shock action and cannot perform any regular action.”

    That’s intended to also prohibit firing.

    Avatar photonigel Tullett

    Thanks – so a light inf unit can get a quick time action move once  as shock action then move normally?

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