The Waving Flag: Tackling The Quirks Of The ADLG Mega Table

Monday 15 November 2021

Tackling The Quirks Of The ADLG Mega Table

As is my wont I decided to do some homework in an attempt to memorise more of the combat factors from Art de la Guerre (ADLG) version 4.  I have always struggled to remember them during a game and this is slowing me down.

But first a slight digression.  I've had a long standing interest in the way language and logic are used in wargames rules because they can greatly simplify, or really complicate, matters.  In 2013 I wrote a post entitled "Why Are Wargames Rules Complex?" in which I said:

"... the space restrictions of a quick reference sheet, and when rules are tabulated in the body of the rules, places a heavy emphasis on logical consistency, brevity and clarity.  These three are very hard to achieve but are crucial in assisting readers to quickly assimilate the mass of detail required to play the game."

I generalised and developed this post and the resultant piece was published in Miniature Wargames, 368, 38-39.  There's a pdf available from the articles page if you'd like to read more.

So back to ADLG V4.  My experience is that it reads really well & looks very straightforward but looks can be deceiving.  In use, ADLG has all sorts of gremlins "under the hood" and learning by rote seems the only option.  I'm sure I'm not alone in this view.

What follows is a short(ish) description of my attempt to hammer the combat factors into my head and the quirks I encountered along the way.  Those of a nervous disposition may want to look away now.

Tackling the mega table
Previously, I have tabulated things for ADLG V3 into play and process sheets but I promised myself that I wouldn't do this with ADLG V4.  My current aim is to to play with just the play sheet if at all possible.  Having said that I do find the process of breaking down the ADLG rules and tables a good way of memorising them.

There are lots of different ways to summarises rules, and I tried one way with my process sheets for V3, so this time what I thought I'd try a different approach and produce a full lookup table but just for the combat factors, exceptions & special cases; not to use in game play but as a learning exercise.

Now a lookup table is not just a matter of copying and then expanding a table from the rules into a spreadsheet (I wish).  Data rules must be followed not least because rows and columns must be unique for the lookup to work.

Any form of reverse engineering, like devising a lookup table, tends to uncover all sorts of quirks and inconsistencies.  Now that I've done this with the mega table of the title (page 22), and the rules from pages 12-16, I understand why I find them so hard to memorise.

Protection & Cohesion
To me the table on page 22 is on the brink of "collapse".  The table is an enlarged version of that in V3.  I don't think it will survive another upgrade without a proper re-design.

One option is separating the cohesion & protection columns from the combat factors and putting them in their own, very simple, tables:

The protection factors clearly belong in the shooting section.  Likewise the combat factors belong in the melee section.  Small tables like these are easily accommodated in any design.

I uncovered a shooting factor for Artillery tucked away in the combat factor column and absent from both the shooting factor tables on page 58 and the play sheet.  Having to remember to look in at least two places is a real bind and not good design.  The same flaw is in V3.

Combat Factors
In creating the lookup table I separated combat factors from tactical bonuses (1st round & permanent) and how units cancel certain of their opposition's special abilities (impact etc).  As I did this I came across the following:

  • The hierarchy on page 12 is a bit dodgy.  There aren't five attributes but seven.  Density (Light or heavy troops) and Class (Foot & mounted) are top level attributes and are used throughout the rules and the table on page 22 (for brevity).

  • The default combat factor is zero unless stated otherwise.  Nothing wrong with this I suppose except I can't find it anywhere in the rules.  Failure to state such a basic assumption somewhere is sloppy.

  • The majority of the factors are based on the troop category of the opponent (LI, Cv, Kn etc) except for Levies.  Levies are a troop type in the HI category.  The outcome is that the lookups can't use categories but must be written in such a way as to handle a single exception for Levies.

  • Some of the factors have been shortened in a clumsy way mixing basic factors with bonuses.  For example "+2 vs LMI in open terrain or vs LH otherwise +1 vs all" is better written as "+2 vs LH otherwise +1. +1 bonus vs LMI in open terrain".  The latter is more consistent with the way the other factors are written and it drops the redundant "vs all".

  • For nearly all units you read across a row and apply the factor(s) to the unit.  That is except for Artillery & Scythed Chariots.  Here the factors apply to all the unit's opponents and therefore to all rows in the table except one you're reading!  Obviously done to save space but switching like this a major hassle and a barrier to learning.

  • Tactical bonuses and impact cancellation abilities are common and almost all are written using a mixture of categories (LMI, Cv etc) and types (Javelinmen, Medium Spear etc).  This was not an issue with the lookup table but they need to be read with care.  However, one of the impact cancellation abilities uses "Impetuous swordsmen" to group medium & heavy foot types by weapon and across categories (MI & HI).  This grouping is only used once and doubtless arose as the writers struggled for brevity but it would be better re-written using just categories & types.

As a result of this exercise I'm now certainly better at working out combat factors because I know what to look out for.  All I have to remember is that if it's not listed it's zero unless it's against artillery or scythed chariots.  I'll also be on the look out for bonuses be they permanent or first round only.

If you'd like to see the final lookup table get in touch using the contact form in the footer but you must have a Google account to use all its features.  It uses functions that only work in Google Docs (and not in in Excel).

Having done it myself many times, I appreciate that laying out a set of rules in play sheets or tables is a hard task, and brevity is everything, but design clarity comes from consistency in approach both in the text and in the layout.  With this in mind the ADLG "mega table" could certainly use a more than a little TLC next time round.

Resources & links


Cyrus said...

Interesting post and analysis Martin, very handy for occasional ADLG players like me.

Vexillia said...

This weekend I revisited the lookup table to see if I could redesign the mega table from the rules.

The end result is that the spreadsheet has changed quite a bit and has a few corrections. It also has an attempt at a re-drafted table. Almost an exercise in futility but definitely an exercise in exception handling.

I may do a regular post about this when I get a bit more time.

Vexillia said...

The post about the re-drafted mega table is now online.

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