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Le Feu Sacre III, We Track Down the Author

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With news that Le Feu Sacre III is about to head for the printers, we challenged the Lard Island New’s most experienced hack, Sam Shade, to track down Darren, the rules’ illusive author, in order to get a preview of what we could look forward to and his thoughts on the hobby generally.

It was in after midnight when I found the small Speakeasy on the East side of St.Evenage.  On first glance the joint seemed to be in darkness, the only light coming from the Ford Cortina that was still burning after a normal Wednesday evening in the Hell-hole that the Doc called home.  I knocked twice and money exchanged hands before I was led into the small bar that was nearly empty.  At the counter a lonely figure gazed at the now empty bottle that stood along side a nearly drained glass.  I knew it was my man; the shabby sabretache that hung at his side and the worn Pelise had both confirmed it without need for words.   It seemed that my timing was perfect, if there was ever an opportunity to get the man talking, this was it.  “Barman, another bottle of the same”.

The whisky was rough, even for an old hack like me, but Darren was ready to sing like a canary by the time his glass was full.  So, I gave it to him with both barrels.  Why, I asked, was Le Feu Sacre heading for a third edition, surely the last version was popular enough?

“You’re right, certainly Le Feu Sacre has been making a bit of a name for itself over the past four years since we published the second edition.  We reached the point where the hard copies were all sold out and whilst it made sense to reprint them as they were, we felt that it was an opportunity to take things further, especially with the developments that had happened over the last few years.”

“Due to my desire to game the campaigns of Suvarov we had produced some additional rules to cover the earlier part of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.  The first edition of LFS was very much about the latter part of the period, and now we had the opportunity to expand the rules to cover the entire period, from 1792 to 1815.  We floated this on the Yahoo Group and the answer was a resounding ‘Yes!’, so that’s what we’ve done.”

The joint was empty now, but for me and the Doc, but the barman seemed happy to keep pouring the shots, so I pressed on.  So, what’s changed?

“Well, most of the changes have come in to accommodate the revolutionary period. To do this, we have used ideas that will be familiar to players of our ACW rules, They Couldn’t hit an Elephant. Units can have characteristics, such as being Stoic, having Élan, or being Brittle.  This affects their behaviour and allow the players much more flexibility (if they choose to use it) in fielding forces that really reflect historical units.  There are also more options as to how skirmishing is dealt with, I’ve paid attention to grand tactical formations and drill, along with options for commanders directing battalions.”

“Several areas are simplified, for example fighting in built up areas, and there are subtle tweaks to some of the factors just to streamline proceedings, but anyone who has played LFS before will find it an almost seamless change to go from the old version of the rules to the new one.”

“I’ve also taken the opportunity to change my writing style, from the pretty terse and functional wording of the originals, into a more descriptive and narrative format, I hope that will make it easier to use, especially as we have also changed the format to and I’ve tightened up on definitions and examples to make the rules clearer.  All in all the rules are significantly expanded due to covering a much wider time-span and are generally just better presented”.

I nodded, it was clear that this guy was ready to spill the beans.  So, has anything remained the same, or is it all new?

“Well after all I have just said has changed, I probably need to say that a lot hasn’t changed! The basic mechanisms and goals- fast flowing, emphasis on command and control and the impact of friction are all there.  The historical feel, something that people have always commented on is still very much to the fore, we have just attempted to add to that rather than change it.  Evolution rather than revolution probably best describes what we have achieved here.”

Okay, so what size battles would you say that the rules worked best for?

“Good question.  The “sweet spot” is to play an average size (French in 1812 excepted) Corps of 16 to 30 battalions with supporting cavalry & artillery, which will give you a game where you can achieve a decisive result in about three hours, so a normal club evening game.  That said, we have pushed it up to over fifty battalions per side on our refights  where we use a 1:100 figure scale instead of 1:50. This will be fine for a whole day’s gaming, we’ve done Austerlitz, Eylau, and Wagram at Lard Island Games Days or around the shows and they have been fantastic fun to play.”

“Saying that the rules can expand to take on larger battles, one of the Yahoo group regulars, Bob Hewson in Hungary produced some amendments to play smaller games of just twelve battalions a side or less.  Amazingly enough entitled “mini-LFS”. So the system is pretty robust to being mucked around with.”

I’d been to SELWG and I’d seen the game there – 15mm figures to the fore, so I had to ask, what scale figures did he recommend?

“Well, to my mind anything from 15mm down to 6mm is ideal, indeed some of the 6mm games that I have seen recently around the shows are very impressive.  My collection is 15mm, Rich reckons I should sell it and go smaller, but I have too much time and effort, not to mention blood sweat and tears, invested in my 15mm stuff to change now.”

“28mm is possible, but I would have to say you’d need a big table and you’d need to make some changes to measurements.  There are some great Brigade and Divisional level rule sets out there that I think are better suited to the larger figures, or why not really do it properly and go with Sharp Practice?!”

So, did the Doc think that Napoleonic gaming was having a renaissance?

“I’m not entirely convinced that it’s ever been away!  Actually what I think has changed is that there are a lot of people who would like to play Napoleonics, but have been put off by either rules or a small number of gamers who get very worked up about “their” period.  Have a read on the various wargames fora, Napoleonic gamers can be a pretty abrasive bunch sometimes!  I think that many of these potential punters have been tempted back by a plethora of fantastic new figures and products like Sharpe Practice that have given them an entrée to the period and now they are looking to expand into the larger battles of the period”

“It’s still the “one true period” in my book; no horse & musket period is as balanced with regards the three arms, actually even Rich agrees with that, and just because you don’t see loads of Napoleonic demo games doesn’t mean that we’re not playing it at our clubs & homes.”

I could see the bartender was waiting now.  Only an inch was left in the bottle and soon the early morning sun would be rising over the tower blocks of St.Evenage.  It was now or never.  How, I asked as I poured him the last of the whisky, do your rules differ from all the others that are out there?

“Historically accurate, more enjoyable, faster, cheaper, the make the player more handsome and you have better sex.”

Wow, these were big claims!  Then he laughed.

“No, seriously, I’ll answer by explaining why Le Feu Sacre was written. I wanted a game which gave me the challenges that a Napoleonic commander had. That meant combined arms attack and defence added to a representation of real life friction in the command and control mechanism. So for me the game has to be above Division level and needs to be Corps level to allow for historical inclusion of favourite troop types, heavy artillery and cavalry, beyond the odd light regiment. To fit on a normal size table, that ruled out 1:20 figure scales and several popular rule sets.  That said, I wanted it to stay at the battalion level so you kept some “feel” for the period.  Once I had decided that this lead me to the conclusion that we were looking at twenty to thirty battalions per side.”

“Then I knew that I wanted to play and finish these games in a normal club evening, so two to three hours. And of course, because I am as much an historian as I am a wargamer, the results had to be historically credible. This drove the combat mechanisms and “result oriented” focus to the rules. In particular, the simplified treatment of skirmishers, and the merging of musketry into combat calculations. This one, above all, marks LFS out as different. As a Corps commander, I’m concerned about whether my unit attacks and defeats the opponents, not if they choose to stop at fifty yards away to fire, or whether they use fire by rank, platoon or whatever. I think that in the most part I’ve succeeded. So if you want to play that type of wargame, where you are really faced with the same levels of problems and decision making of your historical counterpart then I think you’ll like Le Feu Sacre.”

So when will the rules be available?

“The final artwork is being done now, and the proof reading is under way.  The plan is to have the rules with the printer within the next ten days and then on the shelves in November”.

As I left the bar and walked among the tired, grimy streets I knew that Darren was right, I would enjoy Le Feu Sacre, and so would many other gamers who were looking to bring a bit of history to their tabletops.

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