The Army in Review: Army Factions

There’s something about the armies at the turn of the 18th century which has always drawn me in. When ‘Raise the Black‘ was still in early stages of development, I was beside myself to see that we would be able to field these professional armies in Blood & Plunder. I grabbed a very early set of the rules to playtest, and have been getting to grips with the Army factions ever since. Because they all play very similarly, it makes sense to cover them all at once. Figuratively, the recruiting sergeant is at the door – the shilling you’ve took and you’ve kissed the book, oh poor Johnny what’ll happen to ya?

Off to be a soldier to go fighting for a king…

Also, a special shout-out to Dexter Heide living up there in The Plunder Den for supplying photos of his redcoats, made from the new plastic Soldiers kit. The man is on top of his hobby game, and his channel is a great resource for terrain builds. You’ll be able to see his handiwork (including these soldiers) at Adepticon later this month.

“With a scarlet coat and a fine cocked hat, and a musket on your shoulder…”

The history behind these factions can be as simple or as detailed as you like it. The brief version is that the Nine Years War (1688-1697) and the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) could be considered the first true “World Wars.” Although primarily fought in Europe, the imperialist nature of the European nations meant that the fighting spilled into their colonies in North and South America, Asia, and even along the coasts of Africa.

Attempts had been made in the past to send European troops to the colonies – usually ending in disaster or ignominy. The men who Cromwell sent to secure Jamaica were found a few years later to be almost entirely ununiformed, unpaid, demoralized, and so depleted by local illnesses that the entire contingent was written off as a footnote. The story was much the same for most other European troops sent to fight abroad in the New World.

By the turn of the 18th century however, the ‘newness’ of these New World colonies had worn off, and they were now established parts of a vast network of global wealth. There were populations in place to support large numbers of standing troops, and even to pay them. In cases such as the Compagnies de la Marine, the local population could even supply it’s own men to the army.

Faction Special Rules

The French, English, Spanish and Portuguese-Brazil all have army factions united by two common rules:

It’s my opinion that these rules should have been presented with their order reversed. The second rule is the more important one, and it feeds into the Platoon Action rule.

The ability to drop a unit action for a Command Point gives the Army Factions one of the best command & control options in the game. This is limited to only once per turn, although the wording can be easily misread (clarified by the designers). When I built my French Commander for last year’s Summer of Plunder, I built him with this rule in mind – he can hand out Cold Blooded and Inspiring like they’re candy.

The other rule is the Platoon Action. When I first saw these factions in preview material, I was overly enamored with this rule. I’ve had to adjust that assessment. It’s not a bad rule, but much like my dating profile, it looks better on paper.

The major drawback is that it only applies to Expertly Drilled, which means locking you into expensive troops – 5pts and up. That means a small force. You can probably just cover the force with Command Points using whatever commander you normally would (plus 8pts for an Officer if you’re Untested). Also, unlike the Naval version of this rule – you do not want to Shoot with it. Your units all have Expertly Drilled, and that won’t trigger if you’re shooting with a Command Point.

What this rule does well, is allow you to go really cheap on your Commander. A 0pt Commander can give up 1 order from his own unit, to hand out a Command Point to everyone in the army including his own unit (as long as he didn’t have 3 actions on the card). This makes the 0pt Commander a truly viable option for your Army faction. For added bonus, you can toss on a very thematic Musician or the new Drummer Boy, to give your commander Inspiring when he issues Rally orders.

In appropriately named ‘Army Scale‘ games, this rule is also what allows you to make tidy blocks of Musketeers and Grenadiers and march them around in parade formation. Each “army” becomes a regiment on the table.

Other Army Rules
Two of the Army Factions have additional rules. The Spanish are allowed an extra Support choice in the army, which really helps with such a small force. The Portuguese give everyone Drilled, and can hand their Milicianos Indios muskets at no cost. However, the Portuguese list is less of an ‘Army’ list, and more a militia list that borrows the rules.

Commander in Chief

As pointed out above, the Army Factions will do just fine with a 0pt Commander and a Drummer Boy. It’s like eating a Big Mac on the way to the gym: it’s cheap, it’s dirty, and it gets the job done. It also just feels so wrong.

Being ‘Raise the Black’ content, all of these factions share the 0/10/20 Commander options, where you choose from a list of Commander Traits. Obviously, the further you stray from the 0pt option, the more you need to be able to justify it. Unless you really need a combination of 2 rules to bring your plan together, I don’t advise playing with the 20pt commander. The same is true of the Named Commanders. Still, here’s some advice for rules to stick on your Commanders, and two Named Characters worth considering.
To be up front, I advise against taking Inspiring on a 10pt Army Commander; just use a 0pt commander and a Drummer Boy.

Strict (British / Unaligned) – this somewhat offsets handing out a Shoot order with your Commander instead of using a Heart or Spade. I’m not overly enamored with any of the British or Unaligned options for Army commanders, to be honest.

Vendetta (British) – If you can choose your opponent’s nationality, then Vendetta is great. If not, then I would skip this rule for the simple fact that if you pick French and don’t play a Frenchman, you’ve wasted it.

Cold Blooded (French) – similar to Strict, this gives benefits for shooting out of sequence. Unlike Strict, there’s no drawback to using it, and it automatically applies to the Commander’s unit. Expertly Drilled and Ruthless go together like Ball and Shot, so this is a solid rule.

Expert Ambushers (French) – just a good rule for French commanders. Less for the crawling while prone, and more for the bubble of Hard Chargers. If you already have Hard Charges, skip this.

Guerilla Commander (French/Spanish) – This is an “always on” rule, which doesn’t require a trigger. It does force you to choose between using Expertly Drilled or Skirmisher when shooting on your Hearts and Spades though. What I like it for, is “double charging.” French and Spanish soldiers are good in melee, and the French in particular do not want to stay there. Instead of ordering a general Charge with your Commander, let your units charge in on a Heart or Spade, and then bounce out of combat. Then, give the order with your Commander to charge back in. For the Spanish, this tactic works great with the Hidalgo and Reformado attached to your units.

Tactician (Unaligned) – When most of your units are relying on very specific cards, being able to drop and redraw one can be a huge a boon.

James Moore (British) – in a very large game, you might take James Moore. He’s got Cold Blooded, which as we noted, is superior to Strict. He also brings his own Inspiring, so he’s expensive but at least he doesn’t need to add a Musician or Drummer.

Daniel d’Augur de Subercase (French) obviously French with a name like that. He’s spendy. However, he comes with Motivated. There’s a silly gimmick where you can potentially give 3 units 2 actions each. He needs either a Standard Bearer, Grizzled Veteran, or to declare one order as ‘Rally’ to do this but: You can use his 2 command points for a Platoon Action – give 2 units actions with Motivated, then Rally his own unit with a separate point, then give 1 more unit extra actions with Motivated. Is it a good strategy? Probably not. Is it hilarious? Depends on your sense of humor – but I think that it is.

‘Socket’ to Em: Equipment

I want to take a quick aside to talk about a piece of equipment available in ‘Raise the Black’, because it applies to Soldiers more than anyone else: the socket bayonet.

In a far off war, in a far off land…

You can play soldiers very aggressively if they are equipped with socket bayonets. Move in to the enemy charge range, and you have the choice of either attacking in melee, or standing there shooting them to pieces with your elites while daring them to counter-charge onto your bayonets.

Plug bayonets are similar, but you have to commit to the charge once they’re plugged in, since you can’t shoot through them.

Keep this in mind when we’re discussing options to downgrade between bayonets, or to switch them for other things; such as Thrown Weapons.

Unit: Regular Soldiers

Every Army faction has some variety of ‘Regular Soldier’ in the Core slot. The French get the Fusiliers, the British their Regulars, and the Spanish and Portuguese get… European Regulars. All of these come with a suite of identical special rules, plus some sort of National Rule.

These are the rules for European Regulars, Battle Hardened is their specialty

The rules Fast Reload, Expertly Drilled, and Unwavering are standard. These aren’t amazing rules, but they put in work.

Expertly Drilled is a tricky one. You give up your entire activation to use this rule – which is where it comes in handy that your Commander can order the whole damn army to do whatever else it needs to. Having said that: I love this rule. On Soldiers, even activating on a Spade just to inflict the extra Resolve check on someone with a volley, is great. When it comes to outbound shooting, this is the great equalizer with the fact that you have fewer models than the guy shooting back. Odds being what they are, this is worth something along the lines of 4 more shots when talking about applying fatigue.

Fast Reload is a popular rule, although it does not combo with Expertly Drilled since Dedicated Actions preclude suite-activated abilities (pg. 42 of the Core Rulebook)

Unwavering is not like Tough – it only triggers when you’re Shaken, but it does pop at the start of your turn and it can give you back control of the unit if you’re “lucky” enough to be sitting at exactly 3 Fatigue.

British Regulars: BrawlersBrawlers is a popular rule that makes the redcoats good in a fight, whether they’ve charged or not. It’s Ball & Shot for your knuckles. The Regulars also get slightly superior stats to the equivalently-costed Europeans. They have -1 Resolve, and also exchange +1 Fight for -1 Shoot Save, which is big.

French Fusiliers: Hard ChargersHard Chargers might as well be the French National rule at this point, it’s so common on their troops. Still, I find it the better “Fight” rule compared to Brawlers. They’ve got pretty much the same “bang for buck” as the European Regulars, with the same Resolve. They do have -1 Shoot Save but +1 Fight Save, compared to the Europeans. If I had to choose, I’d take the better Shoot Save, so the French win out here.

If you’re going to include any of the ‘Regulars’ in your list, it’s tempting to go the extra mile and upgrade them to Veteran. On a unit this expensive, the extra 1pt per model could maybe buy you an additional guy – but in exchange you’re getting the simplicity of either a 2-action Expertly Drilled shot for the -1 bonus, or 3 actions on your low cards.

Soldados Reformados: Ruthless – Uniquely, this unit is 1 point cheaper than their European counterparts, for the same stats and equipment. All they give up is Unwaivering – probably the weakest rule of the “standard suite.” Ruthless is the interesting rule here. Firstly, Fatigue Management is key to maintaining Ruthless, and the Spanish have just been handed a commander who can Rally the entire army with Inspiring, for 4pts. They’re also able to get the -1 To Hit bonus even when firing from a Command Point. When not firing from the Command, Ruthless stacks with Expertly Drilled and can make the Reformados the most accurate ‘Soldier Unit’ in the game. Not to mention that the interplay between forcing additional Resolve Tests from Expertly Drilled helping to trigger Ruthless is a match made in heaven. In my opinion, this unit is the gold standard for Soldiers in any faction.

To face the foreign soldier

The Locals

Unless you’re playing a large game, you probably aren’t using Regulars as your bread-and-butter. You’re going to want to fill out the list with some kind of local troops. Every faction has the option of taking a 5-6pt unit as Core. For the British, taking Provincials moves their Regulars to Special. For the French, it’s an “either/or” choice. For the Spanish, they get to choose between either a 5pt or 6pt option. The Portuguese are kind of stuck, because they can’t get Expertly Drilled on anyone except their European Regulars.

British Provincials: 5 points – They’re 2 points cheaper than Regulars, but give up their Bayonets and have +1 to both their Fight Save and Shoot Save. Importantly, they keep Fast Reload. They have the option to upgrade from Drilled to Expertly Drilled for +4 Points. This allows them to benefit from the Platoon Action rule. In my opinion, Expert isn’t worth it. A unit of 8 Provincials with Plug Bayonets and Expertly Drilled is just -1pt per model compared to British Regulars, and the Regulars are the superior unit. Better to swap them for Elusive to get the better Shoot Save. Because I play aggressively, I prefer the 3pt Thrown Weapon to the 4pt Plug Bayonets – however, Socket Bayonets are the best if you can afford them. Just limit yourself to one choice, or else you’re back to a situation where you should just take Regulars.

Compagnies Franches de la Marine: 6 points – A more difficult choice. They’re only 1 point cheaper at the outset, with 1 worse Shoot Save. They also lose Fast Reload for Scouts instead, which hurts. I prefer dropping them to Thrown Weapons and going with Elusive, but there are better factions to use if you’re building around a core of the Compagnies.

Soldados de Avanzada: 5 points – If you’re Spanish, these guys lock you out of taking Reformados, so you probably won’t take this unit. The biggest knock against this unit is that it comes with Poorly Equipped which costs 3pts to remedy, but it also has a worse Shoot, and no Bayonets. They can get Elusive, which could be good. It’s not a bad unit, but it made the mistake of showing up in a faction with a better unit, and then demanding you pick between the two.

But how will ya fare when there’s lead in the air?

Out with a Bang

The last type of unit we’ll look at are the Grenadiers. These units need a stern talking to, because they’re a mess. They’re an excellent unit, but the rules are written in such a way that you might not notice it at first glance.

When it comes to stats, they are exactly the same as your Regulars, except that no stat is “worse” than a 6. This means that they all Grenadiers have identical stats, excepting the Resolve 4 for the English. The Spanish have Ruthless, the French have Hard Chargers, and possibly under the influence of an Englishman, the British get both Brawlers and Tough.

The unit also has some of the weirdest upgrade options in the game. In lay terms, you can have either Plug Bayonets and Explosives for -4 points, Socket Bayonets and no Explosives for -4 points, or Socket Bayonets and Explosives for full-rate.

Downgrade the unit from Veteran to Trained, and they are strictly better Regulars. Cheaper even, if you don’t give them their explosives or if you downgrade them to plug bayonets. If you’re playing British Army with Regulars, you’ll probably include Grenadiers for every 3rd unit unless you want Natives or Cavalry. The Spanish start with an extra Support choice, and you couldn’t go far wrong spending it on Granaderos.

Support Units

The remaining support units vary more widely. The British and French both get the choice of North or South American Natives, Militia, and their version of ‘Indian Fighters’. The Spanish get their excellent Cavalry, plus South American Natives and the new militia options.

My opinion is that the real draw of playing the Army Factions is getting professional soldiers as Core. While there’s nothing wrong with swapping to Provincials and adding in irregular units like Natives or Militia – the truth is that there are probably better factions out there with the same unit choices. For example, the new Canadian Militia list has a good mix of Compagnies and Natives. Unless your battle plan involves using the “Action for Command” mechanic, you’re probably better off fielding a different force. Stick to Army only when you want to lean heavily into the idea of professional soldiers.

Sample Lists

Below are some examples of Force Builder Army Lists made from each of the factions.

150pt British Line Company (Army Scale)
This list is an example of how you can use the Army Faction to create individual companies for Army Scale games. With 2 of the new plastic Soldiers kits, you can put together a legal 150pt list. To keep everything “at size,” the Regulars have been downgraded to plug bayonets. The “command stand” is the small 3-man unit, with two of them upgraded to be the Standard and Drummer.

200pt Spanish ‘Guerilla Warfare’
This is a list that I would consider playing somewhat competitively. It uses the Spanish Army rule for an extra ‘Support’ unit, to include half the force as “stripped” Granaderos. An Experienced Commander with Guerilla Commander for the Skirmishers, and then the Reformado and new Hidalgo fighting men to order the bounce-charges, this list should be able to pack a punch.

250pt French ‘Suber Silly’ Subercase
For larger games here is a French list that tries to squeeze Subercase and his “3x Motivated” shenanigans into a single force. Three units of Fusiliers and a “stripped” unit of Grenadiers will be on the receiving end of those orders, while Subercase uses Hidden to lurk in the back with the Braves. The Braves also get a Grizzled Veteran to handle the crucial mid-maelstrom rally.

Oh poor Johnny what’ll happen to ya?

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