Happy new year! I started 2022 with a solo game of Baroque. The rules aim to depict battles between 1550 and 1700, which makes the name a bit more accurate than calling the period ‘renaissance’, I guess. Today we’ll have a closer look at the rules.
Baroque, written by Lorenzo Satori, was published by Dadi&Piombo in 2016. The rules are based on the popular Impetus rules for Ancient to Medieval warfare. Baroque was published shortly before Impetus II was released and therefore can be viewed as a sort of link between the first and second iteration of Impetus.
I ordered the book at release directly from the publisher, it arrived a few weeks later, and we gave it a test game right away. In my mind, I filed it under ‘yup, works’, and that was it for a bunch of years. Since then, the rules sat on the shelf for a few years. In between we played some Pike&Shotte, and of course Twilight of Divine Right and In Deo Veritas from 2019 on.
So on December 31st I set up a game to start 2022 right and revisit those rules.
The rule book is full colour, ring-bound(!), and printed on proper thick paper, so even at just 53 pages it looks thicker than your usual 53-page rule book. Throughout the book you get nice photos of 28mm figures of mostly Thirty Years War, ECW and some slightly later figures.
The chapters of the book cover troops, army building, command structure, some rules for setting up terrain, and then we go on to the regular trifecta or Movement, Firing and Melee. After that there’s some pages dedicated to special characteristics, some army lists (TYW Catholics, TYW Swedes, ECW Royalists and Parlamentarians, and then we get some Ottomans, Imperialists and Polish for the later 17th century). On the publishers’ website you can find many more army lists to download.
Clearly the author is very experienced at writing rules, even for people who enjoy competitive play. Everything is very clearly pointed out, often supported by diagrams and the excellent QRS. The layout is very clear and even though sometimes the odd special rule is elsewhere than I would have expected it, this is a very well written rule book.
This is one of the strong points of the Impetus family of rules – each unit is one base. You don’t have to bother with formations or stuff liket hat. This allows for little vignettes on your unit bases, you can depict actual formations, and so on. and last but not least it’s pretty convenient.
The game gives us enough differentiation between troop types and formations to depict all the important bits of the period. Infantry is classified as purely Pike Block, Early or Late Tercio, Pike & Musket ‘regiment’/’battalion’/etc., Irregular Foot Warbands or Skirmishers. Mounted troops classify as either Dragoons (mounted infantry), Trotter (charge at the trot, discharge pistols, attack), Gallopers (shock cavalry), Reiters (Arquebusiers in earlier periods, may be Massed and use the Caracole tactic), Sipahi (Eastern armoured cavaly with missile weapons) or Light Cavalry. There is light, medium and heavy artillery as well as small and siege mortars.
Each army consists of 3-4 commands, each of them features a handful of units, led by a commander. Typically that’ll be a cavalry wing, infantry centre or infantry reserve. During a game turn each command may activate once.
For each activation the players state which command they would like to activate and they roll for initiative. The player who wins the roll becomes the Active Player and may activate their command, meaning each of the units in that command may move/act in some way.
Each unit has a base movement value in Baroque Units, BU, which is half a unit’s frontage. This makes the game entirely scale- and basing agnostic. There are basing suggestions for various figure sizes in the book, but in general all combat units have the same frontage. In my case infantry units have a frontage of 100mm and cavalry have a frontage of 80mm, so I’m playing with a BU of 50mm. Nice and metric. 😉
Units may make multiple moves, but after the second and each subsequent move they have to roll a Discipline test which gets increasingly hard (to impossible) with each move they make. If a unit fails their Discipline roll the unit gets Disordered and their activation stops. So there is a certain poker element to activating units. Each unit plays through their full activation including firing or melee before the next unit of the command is activated. In this regard each unit may activate each turn, but the order in which they do and how much exactly they can do varies from turn to turn.
On top of that each unit may carry out one Reaction during the game turn. This is more than mere charge reactions, but also includes things like Opportunity Fire and Opportunity Charges if they catch an enemy unit idly walking in front of them (or failing their discipline roll).
So down-time is minimal between players only activating a command at a time and the other player being able to react to almost every single move a player makes.
Firing And Melee
Firing or Declaring a charge will usually end a unit’s activation. Fire ranges are a bit longer than what I’m used to from other 17th century battle rules – technically muskets may fire up to 200mm (based on my BU of 50mm), which struck me as odd, especially since cannon are barely able to fire any further, but in practice musket fire in Baroque happens at between 50 and 100mm.
Any combat, be it ranged or close-up, is based on VBU. This leads us on a little detour into…
Movement (in BU, Fast and Slow are modificators) is self-explanatory, and next we have the most important stat: VBU, Basic Unit Value. The jumbled letters must stem from it being translated from Italian, I assume. It was the same in Impetus. VBU is a unit’s fighting ability. If a unit takes losses, their VBU is reduced permanently, lettig the world know that they’re getting closer to routing, but also reducing the damage they can dish out as well. I(mpetus) is a little charge bonus, D(iscipline) tells us how well trained the troops are and how likely they are to be able to carry out multiple maneuvers at once, VD is even worse than itchy pants – it’s the amount of hits the morale takes if the unit is exhausted or routed (Value of Demoralisation).
For Firing and Melee though VBU is the main thing. The usual sequence is that the active player declares their intention to fire or charge, the inactive player may declare a reaction. When/if the active unit gets to fire they roll a number of six-sided dice (D6) equal to their current VBU. In Melee both units fight, ie both players roll dice. In either case each result of 6 OR double-5s will count as a hit. The procedure of working out whether or not the target unit actually takes losses and the amount thereof could be worded a bit more simple, I think. The QRS in the back of the book (or as free download from the website) really helps.
Winning and Losing
Each command and the whole army have a Break Point, calculated based on the total of VDs (hee hee) of the units in the command and army. Of course this may be modified freely by the scenario played and so on. The basic rules are pretty interesting though, because a command’s (and the whole army’s) score will be reduced by the unit’s VD score as soon as the unit is at less than half of their initial VBU. If the unit is destroyed double the unit’s VD is deducted from the army’s and the command’s score. I’ll get into this more via the example of the test game in a bit. Either way, this is a very interesting mechanism which will have you not only want to keep your units in fighting shape, but also will make you want to withdraw damaged units from the table rather than see them destroyed entirely.
One word on the army lists – yes, this game uses them. With points and all of that. You can also purchase commanders of various quality with points as well as upgrades for your army.
The army lists include army specific upgrades to depict certain specialities (Swedish units up to 1634 being able to field more Well Trained Shooters, French using furious charges and so on) as well as limits on certain units.
Baroque might be the most suited for ‘pick up games’ or even ‘competitive play’ out of the 17th century battle games I played so far. That’s not to say that’s any worse for playing very much scenario-based game of course.
Right, there’s been enough talk. It’s time for the test game:
Battle of Schlossmühle (1629)
This is an entirely fictional skirmish between a Protestant detachment and a detachement of a larger army of the Catholic League.
It’s October, and safe and warm winter camps are everybody’s top priority. Both detachments meet between a village and a fortified monastery, both nice places to winter in. Problem is that the Protestant force was a bit faster and claimed the area for their own camp already. The Catholic commander is dead set on not bivouacking out until spring though and will kick the heretics out.
I nicked this scenario from Stephen’s Blanagan blog, which is one of the blogs you should have a look at regularly, because there’s some really, really good stuff on there.
The Protestants (defenders, blue) start at the Northern edge of the table, the Leaguist army (attackers, red) at the opposite edge. At the beginning of the game I rolled for each unit on the table whether or not they are fatigued due to the march. The attacker is allowed to ignore two ‘fatigued’ results. They also get two slightly stronger units, but they have to beat the defenders within 10 turns, otherwise the defenders win.
There are no baggage trains in this scenario.
The small stream at the centre is almost dried up, so it can be crossed at any point, but will require units an additional BU to cross.
Catholic League (Average Command Structure)
Command 1 – General Lieutenant Virago di Virolotti, C-in-C, Poor Commander
4x Late Tercio (2 of them Veterans, getting VBU 8 instead of 7)
1x Schützen Skirmishers
1x Light Artillery
Command 2 – Graf Paradeiser, Reliable Commander
2x Reiters Cavalry
Command 3 – Albrecht von Schweynigl, Poor Commander
2x Reiters Cavalry
563 points, VDT (determining the break point) 22
Protestants (Average Command Structure)
Command 1 – Graf Thomas von Trestorff, C-in-C, Poor Commander
4x Late Tercio (2 of them Fatigued, thus using the stats for Green Late Tercios)
1x Schützen Skirmishers
1x Light Artillery
Command 2 – Gen.Lt. Streiff, Reliable Commander
2x Reiters Cavalry
Command 3 – Graf von Solingen, Poor Commander
2x Reiters Cavalry
563 points, VDT 22
Knowing that time is limited, Gen.Lt. di Virolotti drives on the infantry centre towards the small stream. The skirmishers and the light cannon crew advance right up to the stream, the massive tercios lumbering on behind them.
Protestant commander Trestorff won’t have the enemy cannon take position at the stream and sends skirmishers to take care of it. The game’s first exchange of fire catches the cannon crew off guard and they get Disordered.
Even if a unit doesn’t take any permanent damage, being fired at will likely Disorder them, which comes with all sorts of disadvantages.
Meanwhile the Protestant infantry also carefully advances towards the stream to be in position to attack anybody daring to cross the stream. Cavalry on both sides get into position as well as Leaguist infantry officers try their best to keep the tercios in formation and to get them at the enemy as fast as possible.
Disaster strikes! The skirmishers hit a powder keg and most of the cannon and crew blow up!
Inspired by this feat, the Catholic skirmishers advance across the stream to support cavalry commander Paradeiser’s attack at the right flank.
…as at the centre the first of the Veteran tercios (von Lorenz-Dittlbach) dip their toes into the water. Instant Disorder, the protestant skirmishers hold their position to get some shots in at that behemoth of a formation and delay them further. The main goal of the Protestant side is to delay and win time.
The catholic skirmishers arrive, open fire, and even do some permanent damage to the enemy cavalry. If the Brandenburgian infantry tercio in the back there stay disordered, Paradeiser’s attack across the stream might work beautifully.
Here’s an overview of th next turn:
Leaguist infantry advances as qick as possible, the centre veteran tercio being hindered by the stream and enemy skirmisher fire. To their left another tercio are quicker to advance, infazed by protestant artillery fire. Protestant infantry and cavalry moved up slowly to counter any attacks across the stream. Catholic cavalry stand by, awaiting the infantry to commence their attack in force. In the right you can see how the formerly disordered protestant tercio got themselves together and ran off the meddlesome catholic skirmishers. Bad for the catholic side, who now have to put their plans to attack at the right to rest again, especially with an enemy tercio covering the flank now, and their own tercios getting bogged down.
Time is ticking away and doesn’t allow for a coordinated attack across the stream. Tercio Hochner cross the stream, relying on the veterans to their right to make short work of the skirmishers and support the attack soon. They are met with fierce defensive fire by the protestant tercio (fatigued from the long march, but keen not to spend the winter in some field).
The moment of the attack has come, and Schweynigl sends the first cavalry squadron across the stream as well.
Unfortunately they get beaten terribly and retreat back behind the stream, barely avoiding getting caught by the pursuing enemy cavalry.
Schweynigl leads the next charge himself, as does his protestant counter-part (and more competent commander) Streiff.
Despite the protestant cavalry’s best efforts and mutual support, eventually one of their squadrons is routed, the other one retreats as well. It’s looking good for the catholic side at the left flank, as the enemy cavalry wing almost crumbles. Their commander, Streiff, being Reliable though, helps keeping the last squadron in the game though.
Finally veteran tercio von Lorenz-Dittlbacher make it across the stream and disperse those annoying skirmishers. Only to be greeted by formidable musketry by two tercios.
The fierce volleys almost rout the veteran tercio instantly. Their colonel decides that they’ve done enough and they leave the field in what little order and dignity they have left without further enemy interference.
This is where the voluntary retreat comes into play. In this position the tercio would have been routed in no time, so I decided to have them just pack up and go home. The unit is off the table (and thank god the enemy didn’t manage to Opportunity Charge or Opportunity Fire as a reaction before the unit left), but the unit’s VD score is deducted from the overall army break point once rather than two times the VD, which would be the case if the unit got routed/destroyed. These rules encourage you not to have units fight to the last man, which I like a lot.
Eventually tercio Hochner rout the Saxon tercio and punch a hole into enemy lines!
At the other end of the battle protestant infantry start pestering Paradeiser’s cavalry (still unwilling to commence the potentially suicidal attack without infantry support) with surprisingly effective musket fire.
At the catholic left flank, Schweynigl’s men prepare for yet another attack against Streiff’s shaken remaining squadron.
They clash once more…
…and laughing in the face of the odds, Streiff’s protestant cavalry batters Schweynigl’s, who rout.
Now Streif crosses the stream, the last remaining cavalry squadron (still in bad shape from that very first charge) realize that the day is lost and leave the battlefield along with Graf von Schweynigl.
The Catholic left cavarly wing is gone, both armies are near their break point. Gen.Let.Virago di Virolotti decides to lead the remaining veteran tercio across the stream himself. This drastically reduces his command range and leaves the fourth tercio behind, but they were very reluctant to do anything right from the start anyway. Spanish soldiers, led by an Italian officer. A winning formula.
Unfortunately the centre of the battle seems to be cursed. Despite superior numbers and training the Spaniards are beaten back. What’s worse is that Gen.Lt. di Virolotti is wounded in the melee and out of the battle!
In true Spanish fashion, the men are unimpressed by the loss of their commander and fight on, but without any real support (Tercio Hochner to their left is exhausted and sluggish after the initial breakthrough) they get ground up and eventually have to retrat.
Graf von Paradeiser’s cavalry wing never really got out of the gate either. Instead the pesky enemy infantry keeps chipping away at the cavalry until they’re exhausted as well.
This ends the game at turn#8, with a final score of Protestant VDT 8 and the Catholic League’s VDT at 0.
It’s a Protestant Victory!
Aftermath and Conclusions
There is no battle aftermath phase in these rules, so the game ends here.
Baroque plays really well, and gives players a constant stream of decisions to make, often on a risk-reward basis. Add to this the minimal down-time on either player’s side, and you got a very entertaining and swift set of rules. The classification of units makes sense and gives enough variety to make people who are familiar with warfare in the 17th century happy.
Managing Disorder is a vital part of this game, as it should be when commanding 17th century armies. The trecherous bit being that units can act if disordered, but once they meet the enemy and stil are disordered, they’ll crumble. Whereas a nice and big tercio in good order will be able to withstand a lot of punishment.
What concerned me a bit initially was the potential musketry ranges, but in practice units either fired at point blank or short range. Not the least because first fire in this game gives a massive bonus to shooting. That’s what veteran tercio Lorenz-Dittlbacher fell victim to after the river crossing. Two First Fire salvos from two tercios almost routed a veteran tercio. Of course the dice had a lot to do with that as well.
Whether or not the scenario was very balanced doesn’t concern me all too much. In my experience defenders have an advantage in these solo tryout games anyway. First, if one isn’t familiar with the rules, it’s harder to set up a useful attack. Second, between leafing through the rulebook and trying to think of reactions and so on I don’t have the mental capacities of actually putting a very clever plan into place.
In general, I think that Baroque isn’t a too solo friendly game. Your mileage may vary on this one, but with the focus on zero-downtime playability a solo player may get a bit overwhelmed with decisions to make for both sides. I’m sure it plays great though with 2 or more players.
I’d love to give those rules another go with slightly later Pike&Musket formations. That should make the infantry more active. With the limitations to tercio movement – all of which very much make sense of course – the catholic infantry centre was a bit hampered right from the start I felt.
Once I’m more familiar with the rules I’ll find more space to make use of period-specific special rules and different scenarios, and I think that then things will get really good.
The printed version of the book is available from the publisher or Frontline Games or Battlefield Berlin (GER), North Star or Caliver in the UK or The Griffon’s Lair in the US for around EUR 30,00. Or on Amazon. The PDF version of Baroque can be bought on Wargames Vault. The rules are available in English or Italian.
I hope that you enjoyed this review and battle report and found it useful!