Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Contemptible Little Armies Review

I had picked up a copy of this at Fall-in!, and after much consideration, here's my review of Contemptible Little Armies with two disclaimers.
  1. I am a Brigade Games homer. Most of their products are awesome and this book is a joint venture between Brigade and Rattrap Productions. That being said, if I order something on their website, I pay the same price everyone else does.
  2. I have not actually played these rules! I know that's a big sticking point for some people. I do have it in my top 5 things I'd like to do in January, but as I've alluded to in previous posts, the last few months have been crazy.
Contemptable Little Armies, 3rd Edition. $25.00 48 pages

First off, I picked up my copy from Brigade at a show special of twenty bucks. It must be the grumpy old man wanting to come out, but despite all its glossy pages and color pictures, even $20 seems steep for 48 pages of rules. I'm still happy with mimeographed pages with an oak tag cover that had been stolen from an elementary school's supply closet, but that's just me.

The rules focus on 25/28mm figures, although most scales could be played with some conversion. The majority of the information covers Western Front fighting, although basic stats are given to Russian, Turkish, and Chinese forces.
  • Initiative/Movement : The rules have the "attacker" going first by moving one unit and alternating with the defender until all units are moved. This does allow some flexibility and adjustment of tactics, although orders will be covered later. With movement each unit rolls dice to determine their maximum move for the turn. Regular infantry move 2d6 inches in good going, and only 1d6 in difficult. This makes those mad charges across No-Man's Land even more deadly. The good news for the stalled chargers is that normal weapon ranges rarely exceed 24 inches, so there is some room for maneuvering, cover, etc.
  • Firing: Firing continues the tradition of "I-go-you-go" that started with Movement. Firing is resolved in a particular order starting with all anti-aircraft fire "I-go-you-go", followed by aircraft, heavy machine guns, all the way through the list to flamethrowers. All firing is simultaneous for that segment of the fire phase, so if your infantryman was hit by artillery fire, he can't fire back, since that goes before he does, but if he's hit during the infantry weapon segment, he does get one final shot. Coming from the school of Legions of Steel, Gnome Wars, and *gasp* Games Workshop, it took me a second to grasp a unit Tactial Rating. It's definitely not a weapon skill. The higher the Tactial Rating, the more spread out your unit can deploy, and the harder it is to be hit and killed by others! This does make considerable sense: even with modern weapons, it's easier to hit guys forced to march shoulder to shoulder to keep morale than it is a highly trained group of independent soldiers, or even irregulars moving with no predictability. Casualties are determined using the same Tactical Rating, although modifiers are used for the attacking player's weapons, terrain, etc.
  • Close Combat: is a simple dice-off, with minimal bonuses. The only change that threw me off from my Gnome Wars experience is if a figure is outnumbered (max is 2:1), they choose the first figure to fight at regular modifiers. If they survive, they then fight the second fig, that fig getting a +2. Sort of the reverse to the Gnome Wars rules.
  • Morale: Ridiculously easy, as it should be. Outside of a short list of exceptions, if your unit takes so many casualties in a turn, they'll need to make a morale check based on that units Morale Rating. Pass and everything's peachy. First failure, they get a marker and nothing else happens, a second failure and they can't advance towards the enemy. A third and they rout. Again, there are exceptions to rolling morale and ways to remove the morale failure tokens, which leads us to....

  • Officers (Command and Control) - Each unit is given specific orders in the beginning of the game. A unit is assumed to fulfil there duties (raid the convoy, hold the pass, attack the enemy's right flank until they hit a trench) unless discussed otherwise. The author claims the "I-go-you-go" system should counteract some meta-gaming when orders omit specific movement or attack instructions. A few games should prove that right or wrong. Commanders can fight as normal men, but also change orders of the units, call in defensive artillery fire, or rally one morale marker off of a unit during the turn. Staff officers may also rally units, but also be used as a "pass" during initiative, forcing your opponent to move an additional unit before your move. Neat concepts that force enrich your tactics.
  • On-Table Units - They do go over each troop type and the weapons they can carry, Grenades. Snipers, Field Artillery, Specialized Artillery, Ammo Types (gas!), Vehicles, ranging from cars with light machines guns mounted on it to a healthy selection of tanks. I do like the fact that there is a remote chance that light weapons fire could disable a tank
  • Aircraft and Anti-aircraft: As in the war, the use of aircraft, even ground attack planes, is high-risk, but questionable reward, depending on the situation.
  • Point Values: While there are lists of troop types with the Tactical and Morale Rating, you can customize your units towards your scenario and still make it work. The system does allow for a lot of flexibility with stock point cost (tactical rating + morale rating) plus per-figure upgrades (lewis gun, flamethrower, cavalry, etc).
  • Scenarios and Deployment: The rules cover scenarios in mass generalities: The Prepared Attack, Meeting Engagement, and Fighting Retreat. It does a nice job in further detailing the use of orders for each unit and goes over recommended point totals for "balanced" play. To be honest, I'm more entranced by the color pictures in this section than the rules.
In spite of my grumbling about the price, I'm very satisfied with CLA. This has been my reading companion during breakfast and lunch, and I'm itching to give it a try... just after the other *must do* games get completed.

Outside of my initial enlightenment about Tactical Rating, everything was easy to comprehend. I did notice some sections were written a bit of awkward language, but nothing that requires hair-pulling or legal translator.

For more specific regional fighting, they have released three sourcebooks: Part I: Main European Fronts 1914-18, Part 2: East Africa and the Middle East, and Part 3: Back of Beyond (Army Lists for Central Asia: 1919-26)


  1. How about a review of the Gnome Wars rules?

    By the way some good things happening with the Teddy bears and Toy Soldiers.

    Thanks for the review.



  2. Helen,
    I'm either incredibly efficient, or you're just late to the party:


  3. Juts late to the party Eric, thank you.

    How Eric, what do you think of Gnome Kelly (AKA Ned Kelly) the Irish bush-ranger who wore home-made armour alongside his brothers and fought it out with the police. Think of Irish ingenuity in the latest armour! I'm part Irish by the way.