I have been playtesting with various players in the last few days and am happy with the results so far.
The low morale Pikes turned out to be a great reminder for all players about the under-used rally ability. The change also nicely stutters the start of each campaign battle or at least gives Commanders something interesting to think about.
The removal of long-range grapeshot came with a bonus. Namely, the addition of long-range cannon fire, starting at range 2. It might seem obvious, but I was stung more than once with this and my opponent managed to rack up multiple locked hits unexpectedly. Damage may have been greatly reduced for range 2 targets, but now the cannon fire keeps going for quite a ways. I also liked that battles were not overly focused on the cannons. That was a very welcome change.
With the controversial SF penalty for falling back, it has been a mixed bag, but overall far more positive by far. My battles have definitely felt more intense and exciting.
The downside is that it can sometimes be anti-climatic if your opponent retreats their weaker units and leaves you with the objective prize. However, this can be a realistic outcome sometimes. Regardless, the battles now have a more conclusive feeling to them. The victor gets to savor the win more, the losing commander gets to bitterly watch his keep (or whatever) be overrun and taken. It sets the stage for a more intense next battle, where the Commander that lost, really wants be the victor the next time around. I like this.
That said, I just had a fantastic battle with Rotamouche where I was a bit stronger (or luckier) and overtook the area around his keep, but just barely. His deeply injured commander had to retreat and leave the fighting to his remaining units which also fell back, but just a bit. I had the dilemma of going for a keep kill (not easy with injured units) or trying to finish him off. Since I was already surrounding his keep (and his Commander was far away, behind a small army of troops) I decided to start wearing down the Keep. Well, this also had the effect of wearing my troops down and then Rotamouche counter-attacked when our sides were somewhat equal again. I thought victory was mine but now I am not sure what will happen next. We are still fighting (at time of writing this), and if he manages to push me away from his keep will he have enough to take over my keep? I am quite pleased with our seesaw battle. This was exactly what I was hoping for with the SF fallback penalty. A spectacular and intense battle all around one of the keeps. Previously, I almost never had first battles this good, as one side would usually fallback at the slightest hint of unfavorable adverse conditions. I feel the Campaign battle experience is now as I had originally hoped (when I had originally created the campaign). They are now utterly perfect.
I’ve also noticed that more battles now go to completion. There is certainly a lot more commitment to battles now. So all in all, I feel that grapeshot change, the pike morale and the SF fallback penalty – are three ideal tweaks for our aging game. I think 2018 will be a great year for Musket Smoke battles.