Coat of arms of the duchy of Normandy

Units in the Shields & Swords II series have two components: their unit type and their combat class. There are technically eight unit types – veterans, infantry, infantry with range (crossbowmen), levies, levies with range (longbows), heavy horse, light horse, and light horse with range (mounted archers) – though two of them, the crossbows and the mounted archers, have yet to make an appearance in either The Grunwald Swords or House of Normandy. The unit classes determine what cool stuff the units can do: whether they can go into shield wall, whether they can fire, whether they can turn exchanges into retreats. It also determines its relative effectiveness against other unit types, via the Unit Type Modifier Matrix. It’s through these that the system abstracts types of armaments, discipline, and training.

The mysterious crossbowman and mounted archer

The combat classes allow for a higher level of granularity within the broad unit types. Technically, the classes could range from “AA” down to “F”, but in practice, almost all units are going to fall under “A”, “B”, or “C”. In one of the S&S one games I had a handful of “AA” units, and I’ll use a “D”-class unit when I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel – “D” being the bottom because if it is modified downward twice (the most any unit can be), it ends up being an “F”. But generally I stick with “A”, “B”, and “C”, because that’s usually enough to represent the relative quality and aggressiveness of the forces represented. Generally, “A” units are your elite, high-quality men and “B” units are your average/competent armies. “C” units are green or undependable, and need strong leadership – in game terms, Bonus + Combat – or a strong position – in game terms, high ground – to push them to achieving glory on the battlefield.

Because discipline, skill, and seasoning are also represented by the unit’s type, combat classes tend to be banded within a given unit type. To put it another way, you’re not going to see a lot of “C”-class veterans, or a lot of “A”-class levies. Now, as it happens, there are actually seven such “A” levies that appear in the Lincoln battle in House of Normandy, but after taking a step reduction these units become “C”-classers. These represented fierce but brittle units that shriveled up and fell apart at the first sign of trouble. The “A” side represents the highly aggressive and fearsome initial charge, while the “C” side represents their collapse (aided by a modification to the Wing Integrity rules).

It’s also helped along by that dramatic shift from “A” to “C”, which is pretty rare. Usually the reduced-strength combat class will just be one letter down from the full-strength combat class – an “A” becomes a “B”, or a “B” a “C” – or will stay the same (“A”/“A” or “B”/“B” units). The latter case of course represents particularly elite units. Some folks might have a problem with this, or argue that the units haven’t been “reduced” at all. After all, something like that just wouldn’t do in a WW2 game, now would it? But those games tend to be odds-based, with the unit’s ability to defend abstracted via one or more factors on the counter. But S&S II doesn’t use the combat class to determine the unit’s ability to defend; the combat classes don’t really “matter” for the defending unit at all. Only the defender’s unit type effects the attacker’s die roll. Because of that, it makes sense to have particularly powerful units that have the same exact combat class front and back. And that unit is in fact less able to defend itself, and has to be more careful in how it conducts its attacks, for the simple reason that another step-loss will eliminate it, and the CRT for S&S II often makes an exchange result fairly likely.

Of course, given the period there’s a certain amount of “fudge factoring” involved. With S&S II, it’s not a case where I can pull out an order of battle and decide that this regiment should have this, and that regiment should have that. We just don’t have that kind of detail. Often we just have some very rough and not-entirely-reliable numbers, and off-hand comments in this chronicle or that one that give us a general idea of the types of forces and how well they fought. So I tend to look at one chunk of an army at a time, and I determine how many should be “A”, how many “B”, how many will regress when they take a step-loss and how many will stay the same, using that mix, in aggregate, to roughly simulate a particular formation and what it may have looked like. I also tend to follow some general rules about the mix of Unit Types. For example, there’s generally more levies than veterans, but the exact ratio of veterans-to-levies, or of “A” units to “B” units to “C” units is going to vary depending on what I’m trying to represent, and what works well in playtesting.

I wish I could say that this is highly scientific and mathematical. Certainly with some of my other designs I’ve gone that rout. When I was designing scenarios for High Speed Hover Tank, I had assigned point values to each Tank that took into account that model’s speed, armor class, chassis, and weaponry, as well as whether that Tank entered as a reinforcement, and used those values to help the initial balance of the scenarios, which was then refined in playtesting. Because of the high random factor in that game – one bad roll followed by one bad card draw can literally wipe out all your tanks if you’re not careful – it could sometimes be difficult to tell if a scenario was inherently unbalanced. The random factor is much reduced in S&S II, and so it’s easier to determine if something about the scenario is wonky or not. So, there’s no need for me to go "full nerd" on it to determine how many “A” units and how many “B” units; I can just go with my gut feeling.

1 comment

  • That’s a nice insight into S&S II. Thank you for sharing!

    Erik W

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