Full Impetus – Review

Impetus RulebookMy rather long endeavor with Basic Impetus has lead to purchase of full rules and few extras over a year ago. Little later I did amend the set with Extra Impetus 4, which, considering my era of preference is essential. EI 1-3 are not so, but let’s say that those were my modest contribution to the developer. Of course, I know that second edition of Impetus is coming out sometime in future, and some of the concepts are bound to change. I will probably get the next edition as well, but we shall see when it materializes. Initial plan for the release is somewhere 2015/2016 as far as I have understood it. Of course I may well be wrong but the best place to check the progress and eventual availability is the Impetus forum and Impetus website.

I. Rulebook

Impetus rulebook is ring binded, 50 page, colorful good quality product. Rulebook contains some basic army lists which are refined in supplements called Extra Impetus. Book includes index on the front and reference charts at the back. Rules are divided in chapters, each dealing with specific concept. Rulebook has ample examples of play, and available extras have further tutorials.

While Basic Impetus rules are very clear, Impetus rulebook does have few issues regarding the chapter title and the fact that the precise detail you’re looking is actually under different one. I certainly hope that Lorenzo will consider having the next edition proofread by someone who has no experience on the game whatsoever because it would help to make the rulebook more clear. Logical structure is remarkably important.

II. Setting Things Up

You can either set up game by having historical battle where one can ignore the fine details of the point system – except to confirm that opposing forces are indeed completely disproportional. Alternatively you can use the point system to create armies that are more or less balanced (whatever that means in practice). Using the point system here, like in many other games requires a quite bit of effort, especially if you happen to be the kind that attempts to optimize everything. If not, building an army is not terribly complicated and neither method prevents you from having fun.

That said, there are instances such as Republican Romans that are rigid and have very limited practical options unless the allotted points are above 400 when more options become available. Therefore, there is a rule to divide the minimum and maximum requirements for smaller scale battles. Some other armies on the other hand, such as Carthage rely on whatever is available and therefore can field very different armies at any given time.

Setting the landscape can also be done historically, or alternatively in good understanding with opponent, or if all else fails, by following rules that will give players more or less balanced starting positions. All the options that include attempt to balance things out, move the game somewhat away from historical interest, and more towards tournament play, but since tournament play is a big thing for some, it is probably good to know that the options are there.

Quantity of terrain is usually rather limited. Only few major pieces, which is probably accurate, but which also may rob the major advantage from some of the forest/hill tribes. Besides of that, for majority of ancient armies, rather empty table is good.

Once done, each side places their forces one command at the time until everyone is on the table.

III. The Flow of Things

Once lines drawn up, and fight is about to start, players designate which command they wish to activate and roll dice. Higher roller needs to move the command first. While it is most of the cases an advantage, there are moments you’d wish to move second. Because player is forced to move in certain order, it can create most curious situations and provoke gamble. There are many decisions that one has to go through – moving forward is pretty simple affair, but carrying out maneuvers, or pulling formed units back can be risky and complex. Eventually however, both sides end up in positions where players think that they do have the best opportunities to gain advantage over the enemy.

As anyone who has played Basic Impetus knows that the key figure in Impetus is VBU. What BI players may not know, it is closely seconded by discipline (a side note, and minor detail. In my opinion, discipline should be numerical value instead of letter that is translated to numerical value anyways). Those two values make a world difference in Impetus. VBU tells you how long your precious unit will stay in fight, and how good it is doing it’s job of jabbing, slashing, beating or shooting. Discipline on the other hand, will allow you to move about faster, recover, respond and fight better than opposition.

Every unit, including those that are armed with ranged weapons use the VBU to figure out how big a bucket of dice they roll in a fight.

Each double 5 or 6 rolled is a ‘hit’. Each hit is resolved in curious and brilliant system that will cause an avalanche when failing starts. Hits are deducted from Unit’s VBU, and then die is rolled. If DR is less, or equal to the result of previous deduction, unit is only disordered. Disorder upon disorder becomes a loss. If higher, unit takes as many losses as the value is exceeded and is disordered. Unit can accumulate as many losses as the VBU, but while the VBU reduces, so does the unit’s capability to perform. Legion with VBU of 6 and Impetus bonus of 2, having 4 losses will only fight with 2 dice while when fresh it would be fighting with 8 at the first round of melee. This means that every fight is a gamble, where inferior unit has some change to disrupt the enemy.

If unit is capable of using ranged fire, they tend to be rather weak and in many cases not suitable for close combat. There are quite big distinction between various ranged weapons, something that has stirred up conversation about the added complexity. However, I tend to think that ranged combat is the area where real differences should be.

For close quarter shock combat, there is little distinction between those using swords, axes, spears or clubs etc. Fresh units have additional VBU boost called Impetus bonus and at times the bonus can be quite high. That said, it is very easy to loose the bonus, and hence poorly planned attack for example under enemy fire may well foul your strike. Melee is not sophisticated one-to-one fight, but it is about shock and there is generally little difference what weapon is used in close quarters. Exceptions are long spears/pikes that negate cavalry impetus bonus.

Melee can continue for some time, and units may end up moving back and forth when winner pursues looser, and another round of melee is fought. It is interesting mechanic that adds another layer of tension in the game. Because fights may be prolonged from turn to turn, well placed unit, wrong assumptions and bit of luck may turn the whole battle around. Typical example is somewhat fatal assumption that light infantry in good place can easily be overrun by heavy foot. FP hits the FL head on thinking of quick victory. Then it occurs that the FL puts up a good fight and simply refuses to die. Standstill continues, and FP – crucially held by inferior FL is away from the hot spot of the battle.

Discipline then. Probably the most important single value in the full game because it allows you to position your troops where it needs to be to gain maximum advantage. Of course having high discipline troops will most likely mean that opposition will have lower, and that gives a bit better odds in combat. However, the true value is when you combine independent command of high discipline cavalry. They can, quite at will choose where engagements are fought and when.

It is possible to have multiple moves in Impetus. Player may, after a move roll a die against the discipline and check if the unit is disordered after the move and will have to stop. Each subsequent move phase is of course more difficult to achieve than the previous one, but unit with good discipline is easily able to have three moves, while poor one struggles with two. Of course, better the discipline, easier it is to rally the lines back in order. It is perhaps fair to say that disorder is the prelude to disaster in Impetus.

Victory in Impetus depends on the army break point. Each lost unit or command counts against the break point. when half of the total is lost, whole army breaks and battle is over. Interestingly, each command is treated separately, and commands may break individually. When command breaks, the whole value of the command is counted against the army break point. Therefore, if player has multiple commands, and they are large but vulnerable and composed from high value troops, it may happen that whole army breaks when one command does so.

IV. Conclusion

Impetus is quite different than the basic version of the same. It is more complex, has finer nuances and some features that one would desire to have in BI, such as evasion with light cavalry and perhaps even opportunity. It does have drawbacks, rules are not as clear as they could be, and some concepts should be streamlined. Perhaps Impetus attempts to stretch a bit too large chunk of the history even if ultimately the methods of war changed relatively little during the covered period.

Perhaps army command should be treated somehow more elaborately, albeit I always thought Impetus as battle resolution system more than simulation of command structure. Something that could be used to resolve the battles in Hannibal, Rome vs. Carthage.

In case of ancient warfare it is not exactly clear how good control commander of the forces would have had, besides of the initial plan, and troop positions. I’d expect it to be quite bit less than in seven year war naval actions in which case player would only have minimal control to watch how the battle evolves around and hope for the best. One could perhaps feel the agony of Admiral Byng at the coast of Minorca when things turned sour. 

It is evident that at the eve of 2nd edition, there are number of clarifications and amendments that should be incorporated to the basic set – such as Roman Line Relief from the EI4 etc. However, with all the shortcomings, Impetus is fun and when BI is counted in, it sees more table time than any other system in my bookshelf.

It may not be surprise that I like Impetus. I have played BI a lot, and albeit I have tried, there has been no better alternative for very quick ancients game that is interesting, fun and has a minimal bookkeeping, setup times etc. Under normal circumstances, BI game takes less than an hour, and full game lands easily under three hour mark. I have always thought that the best game is not the one that is theoretically most comprehensive, but the one that gets most table time.

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