A few weeks ago, when I was talking about the Men of Iron Series on Facebook, I was asked by a fellow Wargamers Group member on Facebook if I was interested in learning about a variant he designed for this great series. I expressed interest and found the idea interesting enough to ask him to write up a short introduction and explanation of his Variant. Let me introduce you to Francisco Gradaille and his Chit-Pull Variant for GMT Games’ Men of Iron Series.
Richard H. Berg’s Men of Iron Series, which began in 1998 with Simon Says from BSO Games and ended with Arquebus: The Battles for Northern Italy 1495-1544 in 2017, is one of his most well known and successful game systems. The game is the standard for all Medieval wargames regarding the use of cavalry, the scale of the game and the turn system. It’s fast, not very hard to learn and a good simulation of the conflicts represented, which is Medieval battles from around the 11th Century to the advent of black powder as the main weapon in the 16th Century.
This Chit-Pull Variant for GMT’s Men of Iron Series was originally created as a way to make the game able to handle more than two players. As all the leaders will have their chance to be activated, a group of players can divide the battles among them and control one part of the army easily. It also made the game more solitaire friendly. It already is a game suitable for solo play, but with this variant the temptation to favor one side over the other is greatly diminished.
When explaining the rules I’m assuming a good grasp of the original version, so I’ll be using the same names and expressions.
The Variant Rules
The Variant implementation is really simple. The structure of the game is already based on a sequence of battle activations and that is essentially what a Chit-Pull System does.
You won’t need to add many new counters (or none), as you can use markers of any kind or just add a sticker to any spare counters you might have lying around.
All the rules of the game remain the same except this change to the activation system:
First you need to be able to duplicate all the leader counters and get an extra one for the Overall Commander if it acts also as a Battle Leader. You can do this by using the ones provided with the game and just mark the presence of a leader with a homemade marker, or make a custom one for each leader.
All leader counters will go into a cup. An extra counter for the Overall Commander of each faction will also be added.
After this, the game begins. One player will draw a counter from the cup, and the leader that appears will have the chance to be activated. That will happen if a 10 sided die roll is equal to or lower than the leader’s Command Rating. Basically the same kind of activation roll that the original rules use.
If the leader is activated it will play normally and after it’s done with its action another counter will be drawn.
If the counter drawn is that of the Overall Commander, then the player has the option of activating any battle (even the ones that had already been activated by a previous chit draw or the ones that don’t have a leader), activating the standard or activating the army. That’s similar as in the original rules when the player gets a free activation.
Seizure counters that were used to cancel activations work in the same way. A player can choose to try to negate an activation of a leader using one of them, the process that appears in the original rules.
And that’s all. Nothing complicated.
A Variant of the Variant – Event Chits
I’ve found that adding an extra option to the game gives a bit more chaos and makes the sessions more dynamic and uncertain. Adding some Event Chits to the cup is an easy way to spice up the game. There are two kind of events that could be added:
- General Events. A collection of chits that can affect one or both sides. Some examples would be adding a -2 to the next activation roll, a rain chit (it could halve movement and render black powder weapons useless), a no activation chit that makes the next chit drawn unable to activate, etc. This is limited only by the players’ imagination and willingness to add more randomness to their games.
- Scenario Events. Some scenarios add an event that will happen on a particular turn or that has a chance to happen. Instead of checking at the beginning of every turn, you can add a chit with the Event and the chance that it happens to the cup. You can even add it in a particular turn and take it away from the cup in another.
Pros and Cons
What are the pros and cons of this variant? I will cite some of them, but the main fact is that this variant takes away from the player one important decision: which leader is going to be the next to try to activate. It then changes that a failure to activate a leader isn’t punished as in the original rules with a free activation to the opposing side.
- Speed. A significant reduction of the playtime.
- Solo/multiplayer friendliness. Almost all Chit-Pull systems work well for solo play and this is not an exception. Also, now more than 2 players can play and the experience is a positive one. A match of 2vs2 or 3vs3 is possible and can improve the chances of playing this game on a game night with a large group. You can add the rule of no talking except between turns. That’s, obviously, intra team as opponent taunting is very desirable.
- It’s less a historical simulation and more a what-if game. In some scenarios, there are leaders that very rarely have the chance of being activated. That sits well with what happened historically but the player that tries to do something with them will probably be playing something not very “gamey”. With this variant, that artillery that you never used can now try to destroy a frontal charge of the Mounted Men-at-Arms without jeopardizing your chances at winning the game.
- One of the main decisions of the game is taken away from the player. It changes the balance of the tactical choices from which units are going to be used to what you will be doing with them. And that’s a fundamental change.
- It’s less a historical simulation and goes a step towards a game. What can be considered a pro, can also be considered a con.
- It adds a pinch of chaos. That’s what happens when you don’t know the order in which your units will be activated. Some battles can get in the way of others and your enemy could act with all their forces before you have the chance to do anything. It also could be, for certain players, a pro instead of a con as you could argue that that is what happened historically in conflicts of that time.
I’ve played all the scenarios that appear in the series at least once, and most of the ones from Arquebus four or five times. 9 out of 10 of my games are solo. After developing this system I never play with the original rules and always use the variant. I also use the variant when playing with friends, and I’ve found that it is easier to explain to novice players and makes their first game a more friendly experience. I feel a little bad modifying something that the great of the greats R. Berg created, emotionally feels like I’m doing something wrong. But what I’ve found is that it helps to play this spectacular series more times, and I hope that this compensates a bit for the disrespect.
Who I Am
Francisco Gradaille, Paco, is a mathematician from Barcelona that works as the CIO for an investment firm. He played chess in his young age, with moderate success. In the little spare time that his cats, kids, wife and ultra-running training leaves him, he plays wargames. He also is the DM of a role playing group that has been together for most of the last 25 years (wife included).
Regarding wargames and rules, he is always tinkering with the system trying to make them more soloable or fixing their shortcomings if there is any. He prefers games from before the 20th century and, with the American Civil War being one of his favorite conflicts, his current project involves testing a rules variant for the old American Civil War Series from Clash of Arms.
Thank you for this article on your interesting Men of Iron Series Variant and for the additional options that included Event Chits as well. We have played the system a few times and really enjoy its simplicity and its various interesting rules that model well the Medieval combat covered. We look forward to your future variants as well as your upcoming design efforts.