When I first started looking around the web to see what popular rulesets were available for AWI (American War for Independence) gaming, I found several blogs of AWI gamers who play with British Grenadier rules. In particular, I ended up reading a ton of posts on Giles Allison's blog, Tarleton's Quarter, and BG! are the rules he uses.
Partizan Press has a set of Napoleonics rules called General de Brigade, and British Grenadier! is based on the same rules set, but with rules that represent the peculiarities of the war. They recently re-released the game with a new deluxe edition, which a friend recently gave to me as a birthday gift. I've had a few days to read through and digest the book, so this is a review based on reading the book, but not on having played it yet. (My armies are almost ready for a small game and I will organize a game as soon as they are ready.)
As far as I know, there aren't any good US sources for the rules yet, and copies of the orginal edition sell for far too much on Amazon, so if you want a copy of these rules, you may have to go right to the source for them: http://www.caliverbooks.com/Partizan%20Press/partizan_BG.shtml
Appearance/Presentation: This may be the least important thing in a rulebook, but it is also the first thing you notice. I am not overstating it when I say that this is one of the most beautifully done rulebooks I have ever seen. All of the pages are in color with the Betsy Ross flag decorating the borders throughout the book. Each chapter starts with a painting of a soldier, while the rest of the book is illustrated with page after page of photos of painted miniatures in action. According to the inside cover, it includes photos by the Perry Brothers and by Giles Allison.
It seems like there are a lot of great looking books coming out for historicals these days. I was in the Michigan Toy Soldier Company store the other day and was flipping through a copy of Warhammer Historicals: The Great War (WWI rules similar to Warhammer 40K) and Hail Caesar! (Ancients from Warlord Games with the same basic rules as Black Powder) If historical gaming is dying like some old-timers claim, it is sure going out with a bang. Every new rulebook I see seems to be filled with eye-candy. Even so, this book is better than the others I have seen.
The book is filled with quotes from Generals and soldiers from the war that really get you in to the era and the mindset of warfare in the period. I think that was a really nice touch. It was nice being able to read the words of Banastre Tarleton or Baron Von Steuben on the nature of 18th century warfare.
The authors also do an excellent job of explaining the reason the rules are the way they are. As I enjoy writing and tinkering with rules myself, it is nice for the author to take a moment occasionally and say, "this rule may seem weird, but....."
Scale: BG! is written for 25/28mm but includes information for playing at any scale from 6mm to 54mm. For 15mm, it usually includes the measurements next to the 25mm measurement in brackets, so it would be particularly easy to adapt if you are playing in that scale. For example under the command rules, it lists the command range for changing orders of a Commander-in-Chief as 12" [25cms].
One figure in the game usually represents 20 men, though the author suggests moving that scale down to represent smaller battles (like the ones in the South that I have been collecting for). He does not suggest reducing the scale any lower than 5 to 1.
Basing: The suggested 28mm basing for the game is either 4 or 6 guys per stand with an 18mm frontage per figure. The author recommends a depth of 50mm for the stands, but says the game is completely playable with less depth on the stands. That said, I don't actually see any reason the game can not be played on bases with different sizes, as long as the figures are consistent between the different armies. Personally, I have been basing all my men on metal washers with plans to use magnetic movement trays cut to the base size for whatever game I am playing. I was going to make a bunch of 40mm by 40mm and 40mm trays to use with black powder since I like how they look 4 to a base, and I think I will try these rules with that same basing.
If you want, it seems you could even play this with individually based miniatures. The game would normally use casualty counters to represent a dead figure on the base until there is enough to remove an entire base. Figures are counted individually (not by base) for firing purposes and close combat, so it really makes sense to try the game individually base and just remove the dead guy like you would in a game of Warhammer Fantasy or other "Skirmish level" games.
Commanders: I haven't been playing historicals long, but it seems that the standard seemis to pretty similar to this. Commanders are able to ride around the battlefield pretty freely, issuing commands to units and helping to rally them. They are only really endangered when part of a unit. As part of a unit, any roll of boxcars to attack them can kill the commander.
Movement: One of the first historical games I got to play in was a game of The Flame and the Sword, and one of the things that left a really bad taste in my mouth was rolling dice to see how far my unit moved. Turn after turn, my units moved 2-3 inches. That said, I understand why some historical rulesets like random movement. Sometimes in battles a unit did not arrive when you wanted them to arrive and you had to deal with that.
BG! has random movement, but does something that I think is both brilliant and frustrating to fix the problem of a unit moving only 2" because your dice crap out. For Elite and Line troops, they use "average dice."
These are dice that have no 1s or 6's and replaces them with another 3 and 4. So, the Elite and Line troops are more predictable, while it is the Militias and Levys that tend to either run wildly off or drag their feet. The frustrating part of this is that few hobby stores in the US have ever heard of Average dice. It is apparently something common in British rulesets, but rarely used here in the states. Temporarily, I am taking some old crap dice I have and using sharpy to write 3 and 4 on the 1 and 6 facings. I could just say "remember that 1 and 6s equal 3s and 4s, but since I want to play this with other people who haven't used average dice before, it would be nice to have a reminder written on the dice.
"The soldiers must be told, that under [threat of being attacked by cavalry], their safety depends wholly on their courage; the cavalry only being dreaded when the infantry cease to resist them.
-Baron Von Steuben, 1777
A lot of mini games I have played make it so you always want to charge. They give a combat bonus to the charging unit as if the charger almost always has the advantage. This game does a good job of making it so that you want to think twice about that instinct. Fire a few volleys in to the unit first, see if you can panic them a little first, before you charge in. A long charge can be suicide as the defending unit may empty a nice volley in to you on the way and you are the one going in to combat a little shaken up.
In particular, I think the system does a really good job with cavalry. Cavalry is good for harassing a unit that is already disrupted, but will die quickly to any unit in good order. Charging in to a well-ordered unit of bayonets would be suicide for the cavalry and it seems like it work that way in the game. The rules also give the cavalry the ability to, once-per-game, counter-charge a unit that is charging a different unit, basically cutting off a charge. So, if that unit of Militia is about to charge in to your artillery, you can have your Dragoons cut them off.
Firing: Firing is handed using a chart and rolling 2 dice with modifiers. Compare your total rolled with the number of figures in the unit firing and you get a number of casualties caused. Pretty simple but effective. I am not a big fan of charts, but it seems to work pretty easily.
One of my only big complaints with the rules so far is in the firing section. Rifles only have 2" more range than the 12" range of muskets. Now, I realize that giving them the range difference they had historically may not be as good for gaming, but they should at least have an 18" max range if the musket has 12". Easily fixed with a house rule thankfully.
Close Combat: Each unit in the combat rolls two dice and modifies the total. Compare totals and look at another chart for the results.
Disruption Points: One of the key features of the rules is Disruption Points, representing how disordered and shaken the unit gets while under fire, attack, etc.. A unit can have a maximum of 3 DPs on it and each DP causes negatives to attack rolls, morale checks, etc.. If the unit doesn't already have DPs, the first casualties inflicted on the unit are DPs before figures are removed. DPs can be recovered with help from commanders, as well as by standing still for a round. As the author points out, this means that a unit can take a volley that hits home but does no casualties. This fits for the Revolution, where many battles took place where neither side lost many men but there was still a decisive victor. Also, it fits for musket-fire which was inaccurate, but had a much deeper psychological effect on the men receiving the volley. (For this reason, I often think of casualties as including the men who just run off after receiving a volley.)
Personally, the DP system is my favorite part of these rules. It is an intuitive and simple way to represent how disordered the troop has become.
Scenarios: The game includes scenarios for the Battle for Freeman's Farm (part of the Saratoga Campaign) and for the Battle of Bunker (Breed's) Hill. The scenarios are well written and are great inspiration for writing your own scenarios. It also includes two additional scenarios. It includes the Battle of Sainte Foy from the Seven Years War/French-Indian War with notes on how to use the rules for that conflict. It also includes the battle of Chippewa from the War of 1812 with tips on using the rules for that war.
Reference Cards: Conveniently, the system includes two copied of a durable reference card with all the charts needed while playing the game, one for each side. This is extremely useful as the game includes a lot of charts.
Overall: I was working on my own rules for gaming AWI and will still work on those rules, but I have a feeling that after playing this game a few times, I will not feel the need for my own rules any more. These rules cover most of what I wanted to see included in rules for this war. I am not fond of games that use a lot of charts, but I am sure that once I am used to the system, this won't be as much of a problem. Strategically, the game seems like it would offer a lot of challenge and have a bit of a learning curve, but the rules do seem to be fairly intuitive.
Beautifully illustrated book
Simple game mechanics that are well-explained
A lot of thought has seem to have been put in to how to accurately represent AWI warfare without getting bogged down in rules for the sake of accuracy.
Players take turns declaring their charges, moving, shooting, etc., rather than the "I go, you go" mechanic where one player does all of his actions while the other player sits around waiting.
Lots of charts
Rifles don't have much more range than muskets