Review of ‘Kiss Me, Hardy’ – Too Fat Lardies.

£7 pdf download, approx 50 pages.

I had been browsing for a set of Napoleonic Naval wargame rules for some time, and following a trip to Portsmouth, and HMS Victory I started to seriously look out a set. Many sets free on the ‘net appeared to by highly complex, with a large amount of book-keeping necessary.  I knew of KMH, and in answer to a question on TMP I was told they were a easy playing set, something a friend confirmed, so I took the plunge and ‘pay-pal’ed the ‘Too Fat Lardies’, having heard good things in general about their systems.

The pdf arrives by email immediately on payment, obviously automated turn-round as I paid late at night.  You can save this as you would any download, and I put it in 3 different locations in of case computer failure.  I also printed and comb-bound a set for actual use. It is approx 50 pages A4, including colour cover, index, and ‘turning circles’ on the last two pages, plus a blank ship record sheet.  The rules are cleanly laid out, and simple to read.  However they lack a QR sheet- the 3 tables or so you need are in the appropriate chapters, so easy to find but inconvenient that the Fire modifiers and Special Damage table are 4 pages apart.  However after just 3 games both I and my 13 year old son were able to remember the fire mods.  The Special Damage can easily be printed off again for reference.  You will require six sided dice (lots- getting a rake you can easily throw 20+ dice, and 10 dice is not uncommon) plus  percentile dice. A d20 is used at the very start of the game for determining crew quality.

Ship crews are classed in two ways- by National Characteristic and experience.  There are ‘Jolly Jack Tars’ (British and American), ‘Sans Culottes’ (France, Holland etc) and ‘Land Lubbers’ (e.g. Spain, Turkey).  These are then sub divided into ‘Elite’, ‘Average’ and ‘Poor’.  A d20 is used to determine which of these competences the crew is.  Jolly Jack Tars are more likely to be Elite, Landlubbers are more likely to be Poor.  It should be noted that all Elites (or averages or poors) are not equal.  The abilities of each experience class is tied to the type, thus a Poor Jolly Jack Tar crew is possibly the equal of a Landlubber Elite crew (No JJT is ever classed as ‘cowardly lubbers’, where some SC and LL crews can be).  Thus even though ships are identical with in a class- all ‘74s are the same for instance- they will play different according to nationality. 

The game is ‘card driven’, in common with many other Lardie rules- each squadron has two cards, one for movement and one for firing, and as these are drawn the appropriate squadron acts, though Fire may be reserved.  There are also events cards that can be added- possible change of wind etc, as well as compulsory cards for other events- boarding actions, fire fighting.  Going through the entire pack is one turn.  This add a certain tension- one player hoping for a fire card, the other praying that they can move before the broadside rakes them!

Movement is simple.  Each type of ship has a ‘basic speed’ eg 3rd rates 12 cm, to which you add or subtract d6s depending on angle of wind relative to the ship (+2d6 for’ quarter’, d6 for ‘astern’, -d6 for ‘bow quarter’) with a 90’ ‘dead zone’ on the bow.  You may also set the sail which effectively subtracts d6s from this.  Turning is done by graduated turning circles- larger ships and poorer crews using larger circles.  It takes about 20-30 seconds to move each ship, though that does not include ‘what’ll I do time’ for indecisive captains!

Firing is by ‘Gunnery factors’, which are dependent on the initial number of guns – ‘74s have 9.  These are added to and subtracted from depending on various factors- Jolly Jack Tars get more at close range, Sans Culottes more at longer ranges.  1 die is thrown per factor, with the number required decreasing as range closes.   Each hit will either subtract hull points, with gunnery factors disappearing as the hull does, or rigging, slowing the ship.  At the same time a d10 is thrown, and if the result is equal or less than the number of hits then ‘special damage’ is done, from extra points to losing masts or setting the ship on fire.  Each ‘broadside’ takes about 30-40 seconds to resolve, a little longer if you do ‘special damage’.

Boarding actions are also a ‘hand full of dice’ system, with the highest total winning that deck- lose all your decks and the ship is taken as a prize.

There are also sections on land batteries, shallow water/sounding, fire ships, galleys, bomb ships and chains, as well as a simple land combat system for landing troops- the rules encourage you to think of scenarios outside the normal ‘line of battle’.

Games are easy to play, and the basis of the rules quick to pick up- my children (13 and 11) both had the basics memorised in the course of their first game.  Because of the randomness of the card system, and being able to hold the ‘fire card’, you are not sat waiting for long stretches while your opponent moves all of his ships.  In addition, you can not rely on the ships being where you want when your ‘Fire card’ is drawn, so there is a element of unpredictability, whilst still rewarding forward planning.  TFL have as a slogan for their rules “Play the period, not the rules”, and I did feel as though I was playing the period- there is enough unpredictability to stop it feeling mechanistic, whilst not so much that planning is pointless- you may not get the shot you wanted, but good tactics will usually be rewarded.

However my criticisms of the rules also come from the “Play the period, not the rules” mindset.  The rules feel like they need another couple of pages- not in one section, but to accommodate ‘missing paragraphs’: paragraphs that would more fully explain the rules.  For instance it is not EXPLICITLY stated that ships must move the rolled distance in full, a point that should be borne in mind when most other (land) wargames allow partial movement- a beginner could not realise that a wind-driven ship has little choice.  In addition the ‘Sail setting’ rule is unclear, though it appears from the Yahoo group the normal interpretation is each sale setting less than full takes one dice off the roll (i.e. sail -2, on wind astern, normally basic+1d6, becomes basic-1d6).  Likewise there are grey areas in the damage (is rigging damage from hull damage based on damage per attack, or cumulative) and boarding (do you have to gain entry to each deck, or just the top). 

Another small irritation is the fact that while they provide turning circles for the ships, they do not provide a set of cards for you to print off- a minor point perhaps, as it is not too difficult to make your own, but it would have been a professional touch, plus they would have caught the error in the rules which tells you to make two cards for steering damage under different names!

These are minor quibbles, and could be easily fixed with a minor rewrite that makes certain rules a little more clear- the ongoing examples of Lt Hugh Jarse demonstrate major rule points.  They are quick to pick up, and I taught 4 friends to play easily, and within half a hour of me starting the explanation we had already managed 2 turns with 5 squadrons of 3 ‘74s between us.  While some purists may sneer at the simple mechanics, I find they represent action under sail well enough, and allow me to concentrate on the game, not the rules- a good set for those who want to be a Captain, not an accountant, and be able to play with the minimum of fuss.  They fulfil the Lardies statement- “Play the period, not the rules”

Presentation 7/10:- Cleanly laid out but you do have to print it yourself. Lacks a centralised QR.

Mechanics 8/10:-        Nice and simple, though some rules outside of the main ‘Fire and Move’ feel a bit ‘afterthoughtish’

Clarity 7/10:-  Again, the main parts are easy to pick up, but there are parts that can be read two ways, or not made fully clear, and some parts feel tacked on afterwards.  The Lardies are always helpful on the Yahoo group.

Playability 9/10:       Aside from the ambiguity in some rules, they are a nice, clean quick set that is fun to play. Easy to learn, and pass the “would play again” test.

Overall- 8/10:  Worth buying, enjoyable easy playing game, but some omissions let it down.  I would buy other TFL rules based on this experience.

The TFL site and shop here

Resources I have made : cards and ship sheets