Saturday, April 2, 2011

Piquet Ramblings 3: Chipping away at your morale.

Frederick ran from his headquarters in terror. All around him, his soldiers were routing, their eyes wide with fear. Suddenly, a horseman galloped out of the smoke with an extra horse.

Frederick recognized the old marshal. "Dessau?"

"Mount up, you young fool! The Hungarians are upon us!"

Frederick hopped upon the Dessauer's spare mount. Through the night and into the next day, the pair rode to put distance between themselves and Frederick's latest disaster. Frederick marvelled at the Old Dessauer's endurance in the saddle. It was hard to believe the old bastard had been campaigning for 45 years.

They finally came to a small estate and stopped for some much-needed rest. As Frederick settled down behind a bottle of red wine, the Old Dessauer sat in front of the fireplace, warming his boots in front of the licking flames. They sat for a while until Frederick broke the silence.

"My plan was sound. My infantry failed me."

The Dessauer turned his head and stared through Frederick, "Your cavalry was destroyed by the Austrians. You pushed them forward and they were overwhelmed. It's no surprise that the infantry was shaken."

"But the infantry was in the center. The cavalry were under a separate commander on the right."

The old veteran shook his head and growled, "The infantry was in the center. That is true. But they saw your cavalry crushed and routed from the field. Do you think this had no influence on their morale? Do you think because they serve a different general that this rout would have no effect on them? This is not a game. These are men."

Frederick mulled this over as he drank his wine. He was not finished, "But why DID the infantry run? I acknowledge that those infantry regiments had routed earlier in the morning, but they were rallied and in good order!"

The Old Dessauer creaked out of his chair and walked close to Frederick. He leaned into the young general and whispered in his ear, "You rallied them. That is true. Do you think that they forgot the fear they felt earlier in the day? Did they forget their flight? Do you think the destruction of our cavalry bolstered their courage? They are men, Highness, not game pieces, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you will become a general."

When I first started to play Piquet, most of my attention was focused on the card sequence decks and the impetus initiative process. I overlooked the morale system and assumed it was just some quantitative measure of the army's endurance. "Army A has 30 morale chips, so when Army A suffers 30 losses, something bad happens." While this is true, the morale chip system actually has a few other aspects that I find interesting.


Your morale chips are normally determined by cards you draw from the Army Characterization Deck (ACD) before the battle begins. Morale chips can also be established by a particular scenario. The player draws a number of ACD cards based on the size of his army. A better army might draw more ACD cards. For example 1862 Confederates draw an ACD card for every 3 units. 1862 Union draws an ACD card for every 4 units. Elite and Guard units count as two units for ACD draws. A 10 unit Confederate army with 2 elite units would draw the same number of ACD cards (4) as a 16 unit Union army.

The ACD cards can give you a variety of effects. There are 36 cards that give you from 2-10 morale chips each. Then there are 16 cards that each benefit your army's Movement ( add a Movement card), or Command (add a Leadership card or an Opportunity Pip), or Combat (Add a Melee or Reload card, or Morale (bonuses to Morale checks). 4 Stratagem cards can give you 1 of 24 possible sneaky battlefield surprises from a Hidden Ditch to a Flank March to a Stirring Speech.

So, it should be apparent that the ACD deck means that the same army can be very different from battle to battle depending on which ACD cards are drawn. One army might have a lot of morale chips and a guide that can show them a secret path through the woods (Strategem) while its opponent might have less morale chips but an extra Cavalry Move in Open card and UP1 die for Regular Infantry morale.

The one requirement is that you have to get at least as many morale chips as you have units in your army. If you don't meet this minimum total, you have to give up your special ACD cards and and replace them from the ACD deck until the army morale chip total meets the minimum.

Okay, so I pulled my Army Characterization Deck cards for my Early French Hundred Years War army. I have 18 units in my army and my army list gives me an ACD card divisor of 4. In the Early French HYW army, my men-at arms are Elite if they remain mounted, so against my better judgement, I leave two units of knights mounted and hope for the best. The two Elite units boost my unit total to 20 and allow me to draw 5 ACD cards.

I draw an 8 morale chip, a 4 morale chip, a 3 morale chip, an "Add a Brilliant Leader card", and an "Extra Artillery Move" card. This gives me 15 morale chips, 3 less than my unit total. My Early French army needs good leadership to overcome the impulsive nature of its men-at-arms and no artillery units, so I discard the "Artillery Move" ACD card and draw a 9 morale chip card to replace it. Awesome result! A total of 24 morale chips. This levy of early French HYW troops must be well-led and motivated indeed!


Okay, so my army has 24 morale chips. Once I finish a turn in which I have a unit routed, routing, or destroyed, the Major Morale Check card is inserted into my Sequence Deck for the remainder of the game. When I draw this card, I compare the total of my destroyed and routed units with my opponent's total. If I have more losses, I have to take a morale test versus the net difference. My Army CinC can take this test (usually with a d20) for the entire army and has a good chance of passing it as long as I can pay a morale chip for the test. Even if he fails the test, I can then have sub-commanders pay morale chips to take a similar test. By passing this test, they are protecting their units from the Major Morale Check.

If my army has no morale chips left, I can't pay for my leaders to assume the Major Morale Checks and units have to test using their own morale dice. This is typically going to be a d4,d6, or d8 depending on the quality of the unit. Considering that this roll might be versus a 3 or better, units can quickly become disordered or rout as a result of these failures. Running out of morale chips means that my units no longer look to their leaders to motivate them. Every unit now is out to take care of itself. And when it comes to my armies, that usually means running away.

So now that I know what lies at the end of the battle for my brave French knights and their spearmen and various levies they dragged to the battlefield with them, the question is: How do I get to the dreaded status of "NO MORALE CHIPS"?


I lose a morale chip for each stand loss my 4-stand units take during the battle. I also lose a morale chip each time they lose a melee, rout, or disorder from a failed morale check. So, if my French pavisier unit is in melee, and loses the melee die roll 8-2 ( a difference of 6=6 hits), it loses 2 of its 4 stands (3 hits per stand) in melee, loses the melee, and routs unrallyable (because it was tripled). From this melee alone, I lost 2 morale chips for the stands, 1 morale chip for the melee loss, and 1 morale chip for the rout. A total of 4 morale chips ripped from my total of 24.

You can also spend morale chips to rally your units. When an Officer Check card is drawn from your Sequence Deck, you can spend a morale chip to attempt to rally a routed or disordered unit. Unfortunately, you have to pay the morale chip even if the rally is unsuccessful. The obvious problem is that if you no longer have any morale chips, you can't rally your units anymore. Not fun.

Most of this probably seems pretty familiar and the system seems to basically just measure the exhaustion of the army's morale. You lose morale chips as you suffer setbacks and when your army has suffered enough damage, it won't rally and eventually will break down on a Major Morale Check. There are quite a few sets of wargame rules with systems like this, but the next aspect of the morale chip system is what I like to call "Morale Ascendancy"...okay, I don't call it that. I'm not a complete dipshit, but that basically is what happens SO HERE IT IS:


In some rulesets, you take morale checks every time certain things happen: A unit loses a combat, a unit is within 12" of a slain commander, a unit is within 12" of a routing unit, etc. In Piquet, YOU decide when your opponent takes a morale test. In fact, you are challenging your opponent's morale. If you caused any hits (not even stand losses) on an enemy unit in shooting or melee, you can challenge the target's morale. This called a Tactical Morale Challenge. The target rolls its morale die (usually a d6) vs. a challenge die the size of which is determined by how much damage you caused on the target.

Cavalry can make a similar morale challenge called a Cavalry Morale Challenge where they can challenge the morale of a unit that enters their general charge zone. Heavier cavalry roll a higher challenge die. Your heavy knights can basically scare the shit out of low morale units that are ordered to approach them. "You want us to get closer to the giant armored bastards on horses!?!"

What makes this cool is that to issue a morale challenge, you have to SPEND a morale chip. If you win the challenge and disorder or rout the target, your opponent also gives up a morale chip, so that's a wash, but if you lose the challenge, your target is fine and you're down 1 precious chip. This means that players will be judicious about when they will challenge morale. Players are less likely to waste morale chips (and gaming time) on challenges they are unlikely to win. Morale challenges will happen where it matters the most, but a player always has the option to gamble and roll the dice on a close challenge if it matters to him.

A player can also spend a morale chip to get one re-roll of a morale check. So, if you get totally boned on a challenge like his d6 vs your d12 and you roll a "1", you can say, "That's bullshit." and roll your d12 again. But it will cost you.

It also means that an army with NO MORALE CHIPS can't challenge its opponent's morale. If the English have been kicking the ass of my French all game long, is an English unit going to suddenly fail morale when it suffers a setback from some missile fire? If they have the French down to NO MORALE CHIPS, it should be pretty clear to the participants that one good French crossbow volley is not going to turn the tide.


This brings up another interesting aspect of the benefits of reducing your opponent to NO MORALE CHIPS. When your opponent would have to normally pay morale chips, but he can't because he has none, you GAIN morale chips. So as your troops merrily hammer away at your poor battered opponent, their morale actually improves. It's as if they can see the impact and feel the momentum as the battle swings in their favor.

Here's an example.

I'm leading in morale chips 5-2. One of my French knight units wins a melee, kills 1 stand and routs its English opponent. The English player has to give up 3 morale chips, but can only pay 2, so I gain 1 morale chip. 6-0. An English longbow unit fires and causes a 1 stand loss (-1 MC), but can't challenge my morale because they have no chips. My French confidently brush off the setback. 5-0. I fire a Genoese crossbow unit and cause a 1 stand loss to a longbow unit. The English again can't pay the chip, so I gain 1. 6-0. I then gamble on a morale challenge with my new morale chip and challenge the longbow unit. 5-0. It fails the challenge, it can't re-roll the check because it has NO MORALE CHIPS and routs (-1 MC), the English can't pay the morale chip, and I get it back. 6-0. Even worse for the English player, with NO MORALE CHIPS, his longbow unit can't be rallied and will rout off the table.

Finally, one of the least common uses for a morale chip is to buy down your opponent's initiative. The common complaint about Piquet is that you have to watch while your opponent uses all of his impetus. The buy down allows you to spend morale chips to reduce the amount of Initiative your opponent won by, but since you don't get those morale chips back, this is definitely a decision to be made only in the most desperate circumstances. Or it's a great way to finish off your opponent by reducing his impetus when you've opened up a big lead in morale chips. I always forget to do this.

Okay, so I hope I've been able to explain a few of the interesting aspects of Piquet's morale chip system.

1. It treats the army as a whole and casualties suffered on one side of the battlefield impact the whole army, not just the poor bastards who survived them.
2. It streamlines the morale check system and lets the challenging player decide when and where morale checks are made.
3. Once you have your opponent on the ropes, your army gains in confidence and is better able to ignore setbacks.

Some supplements, like Hallowed Ground Grand Tactical scale, even allow you to transfer morale chips to subordinate commands. In these games, the morale chips are treated like an abstract form of reinforcements, artillery batteries, extra ammunition that the CinC can move from command to command as needed.

In the end, the morale chips give you a quantitative measurement of an army's fighting endurance that is divorced from the numerical strength of the armies.