Unit Types in Muskets and Tomahawks

Hi! This is Tyler, writing to you today because Floppy forgot to duck. I’ll be continuing my discussion of Muskets and Tomahawks with a look at the types of forces you can build, and how they look and feel on the tabletop.

First, an update on Flop’s health. He’s through surgery now, and recovering well. I even saw him struggle his way through his first post-op beer on Friday night. It seemed to make him feel a bit better, but it’s tough to read his mood because most of his face is a bruise.

It’s also Floppy’s birthday today. Sadly, the injury pretty much means he won’t be doing anything fun. But here’s wishing him a happy birthday, and a swift recovery. He’s hoping to be painting again soon. But it doesn’t pay to rush things, and I’ve got plenty to write about, so let’s delve a little deeper on Muskets and Tomahawks.

Deciding Who You Are and How You’ll Play

Now, you might presume that I’m about to go in-depth on the various nations you can play in the game, but that wouldn’t actually tell you all that much. You see, the colour of your flag in Muskets and Tomahawks will govern some part of what troops you can and can’t take, but it’s not actually the most important aspect of list design. Instead, what you really need to choose is what “type” of force you want. So that’s where we’ll focus.

Force type in Muskets and Tomahawks comes down to a choice between:

Now, in practice your list will almost never be purely made up of only one of the troop types. But if any type makes up more than half of the figures in your force, that’s what you count as. And that’s purely based on numbers, not on points percentage.

The most obvious reason why your type of force matters comes up pre-game, when you dice to see what your and your opponent’s objectives will be. As you might expect, different types of forces are more likely to get different missions. A majority Indian force is more likely to be raiding, because that more closely represents their style of warfare, and that’s what they were so often hired to do during the European settlers’ conflicts. Militia, obviously, are more likely to be defending their homes. Regulars or Provincials are more likely to be seeking out and destroying the enemy. And so on. Understanding the type of mission you’re more likely to play and planning your force to meet is an important consideration.

But I believe that force type is even more important than it first seems. Muskets and Tomahawks has a number of different systems working together “under the hood” of the rules. And they aren’t always obvious, because it all works together so smoothly that games progress with a quick, natural feel. It’s only when you stop and think about it that you realise that the game how cleverly evoking the feel of the various troop types to tell a story.

FullSizeRenderFrench Regulars defend a homestead, with artillery support 

Fighting in Uniform for King and Country

I’m going to go ahead and lump Regulars and Provincials together under one subhead. You see, Provincials are troops raised for the American colonies, who fight in the style of European Regulars. Whereas Regulars are either European troops who have come by boat, or in the case of the Continental Regulars, an American equivalent. Now, I say this with a degree of ignorance; I haven’t used or even faced off against Provincials, so I don’t know for certain that there isn’t more to them than just “discount Regulars”. It’s possible that there’s some subtle difference that will emerge on the table. I wouldn’t put it past the authors of Muskets and Tomahawks, they’ve surprised and impressed me that way before.

But for now, let’s consider the two types as fairly similar. So, how to describe your uniformed troops? As you might expect, these troops do well marching around in neat lines in the open. Individual shooting is poor, but when they all fire together as a volley it’s much better. They move slow, but they’re hard to stop without concentrated fire. Regulars especially will usually ignore all but the most heavy casualties.

If you play a Regular or Provincial force, expect to see more mobile opponents run circles around you, to an extent. And you’ll see them fade back into the wilderness when you start to inflict casualties, so that you can’t finish units off. You can counter these weaknesses with your strengths. If the enemy won’t come to you, then let them slip away. March arrogantly onto the objective and stay there, so that they have to come to you or lose. You can of course take a few units of light troops to support you on the flanks and to march into thick forest when there’s no other choice. But if you overspend on light supports, you’ll end up weakening the solid uniformed lines that are your core.

The French, British, Germans and American revolutionaries all have access to Regular troops. The French and British have access to Provincials. There are a multitude of ways to upgrade your line troops. You can make them just a bit tougher and more active by upgrading them to grenadiers. British generals can upgrade them to marksmen. American revolutionaries have fewer upgrade options, but can have larger units.

The only force without access to Regulars or Provincials are the Native American Nations, for obvious reasons.

Creeping about in the Trees

Irregular troops are any Europeans who fight in loose order, moving a bit more quickly, but without the stolid dependability of the Regulars. Typically their morale will be a bit more easily shaken. On the table these units creep forward through forests, or dart about very quickly in the open. When they get hit they usually fall back, but then bounce forward again soon after, until they win or die.

This troop type can represent your French Canadian settlers who have had a lot of cultural exchange with the Native Americans, and have taken on a bit of their way of fighting, travelling and living. Or it could be British or German light troops in uniform, but trained to fight in loose order. It can even represent the hardy frontiersmen among the American revolutionaries who fought by ambush and guerrilla tactics.

Irregulars are extremely customisable. You can take small, cheap units, or large ones with frightening amounts of firepower. There are versions with more solid morale, or less. Some can have rifles instead of muskets, for slower fire but greater accuracy. All of them are more mobile than regular troops, and some can be upgraded to be more mobile still. The French even have access to units of Marines who can either be light troops or regulars, decided at the start of the game.

FullSizeRender (1)A large unit of French irregulars. These could easily pass for British
American Frontiersmen, if you took out the blue hats.

At Home in the Woods

Native American troops of different nations were allied to either side of the French Indian War (hence the name). Some also fought in the American Revolution, again on both sides of the conflict. And there are a number of wars between Native Nations and the European settlers, conflicts too often forgotten in my opinion.

Indian troops often act a lot like Irregulars on the tabletop, but there are subtle differences. Indians are much more dangerous in close combat. Indians are more likely than some other troops to recoil from enemy fire, but less likely than most to rout completely. Indians perform better in rough terrain than out of it, as you would expect. Both because they get bonuses there, and also in practice because the shorter sight lines let them get closer, where they can use those tomahawks and knives.

When used as allies or mercenaries in a European force, they often fulfill one of two roles; either as accurate back-table snipers, or as a fragile but devastating melee unit, which usually works once to great effect and then shatters. Essentially a hand grenade.

When you take a purely Indian force, you get a greater variety of upgrades, and your troops can fulfill more roles. They all still fight in the Indian style, of course. But pure Indian forces have access both to upgrades and downgrades, so that you can build variety into your force for different purposes.

FullSizeRender (3)This force includes Indians, Regulars and Irregulars, but the majority
are Indian, so that’s the “type” for the objective roll.

Defending the Farmstead

Militia are a bit of an odd creature. They don’t shoot very well, they don’t fight very well in close combat, and they aren’t very mobile. Up until recently, I had largely thought of these as poor quality, “filler” troops. But a recent game taught me that I hadn’t been giving them enough credit. While it’s true that they are less likely to kill their opponents, militia aren’t really any easier to kill. Every one of them is a warm body, ready to absorb a musket shot or a blade. And that may sound obvious, but what surprised me was their morale.

Maybe it’s because they’re defending their homes, but the snaggle-toothed rednecks just will not run away! Throughout the entire game, I was faced with a dilemma between shooting at the massive militia unit, knowing that they would refuse to run if I did kill a few of them, versus shooting at the much more dangerous, better units in my opponent’s force. But ignoring the militia left them free to fire volley after badly aimed volley at me, and eventually even the worse shots have to hit some time. And all the while, they were sitting their defending the village I wanted to burn. So credit to the militia, they surprised me.

The Odds and Sods

Mixed forces, are, obviously, any force that isn’t majority one type. What they’ll look like and how they’ll play will come down to what they’re a mix of, naturally.

There are also some unit types who don’t get to make up full forces. Artillery and cavalry are minor support arms, often not taken at all, and never taken in great numbers. That’s a result of history, of course. In game, these units can be very useful, but in a very specific role. Artillery knock down building faster than anything in the game, and can provide a decent bit of firepower in one area. But of course they’re very slow to move, and very vulnerable to return fire. Cavalry, on the other hand, have a huge amount of mobility in the open, but struggle in close terrain. And cavalry’s low numbers mean that they aren’t overwhelming when they get to wherever those fast horses are taking them. Typically they outflank the enemy and then dismount to fight, or they stay on their horses and spend the game running down damaged units in the open.

With artillery and cavalry both rather expensive, you usually see only one unit of either type on the table, if any at all. That suits the conflicts Muskets and Tomahawks covers. Though it is technically possible to have higher numbers of these very specialised troops. I am tempted to see what a force with three large cavalry units could do. I imagine it will either be glorious or horrible, but definitely nowhere in the middle.

FullSizeRender (2)Two officers to lead a Highlander force, my latest project.

Gather the Men and March Out

So there you have it, my thoughts on the various types of army you can take in Muskets and Tomahawks. I think the authors have done a fantastic job of balancing the game so that every troop type or mix of types feels fun and challenging. Every type of force has strengths and weaknesses that mesh well, so that you never feel powerless, but also never feel totally in control and unbeatable. It’s a key part of why both players always seem to enjoy the game, whatever the result ends up being. And every game feels like it’s told an exciting story, which is something I value very highly in wargaming.

Next week I hope to bring you a battle report from a Muskets and Tomahawks game at the League of Ancients wargames club, here in Melbourne, Australia. I’ll be teaching a couple of new players the game, so it should help demonstrate how easy it is to get started.

Until then,

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We meet every Monday night at the Auburn Bowls club in Hawthorn East, Victoria, from 6pm onwards.

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