The Viking Legal Team in Action

The Viking Legal Team in Action
Snorri is unhappy about your bar tab - VERY unhappy...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" Thoughts: clarifications and small additions

Some clarifications on the Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" rules, derived from play or the design notes,  followed by some thoughts and optional rules I've tried or will try out.

These are clarifications and confirmations of the RAW, based upon what is/isn't written and actual playing. Anything in italics is what I feel is a logical interpretation based upon gaming conventions and common sense.

Basing and Spacing.  The rules ask for Units to be 4-6" frontage.  As, figure size and number is left to the player(s) there is no prescribed depth.  My Units are all of two 60mm wide bases [WRG/DBx style].  In light of this and that interpenetration is only allowed by / thru Skirmishers, I permit my Units to move thru any space 60mm wide in a column of two bases, counting the change into "column of two bases" as a facing change.

Line of Sight [there are no LOS rules].  Measured from Unit's front center point.  It is blocked by any intervening Units, hills, woods, buildings, etc. that are scaled to figure height or higher.  Units may see into and out of woods, but not through two sides of a wood.

Units must have line of sight to shoot or charge enemy Units at the time of the shooting or charge.

Cover and LoS.  For a Unit to get the cover bonus from enemy shooting they must be entirely within the woods or town.  For them to get the Shieldwall bonus from shooting they must be fired upon their front or flank facing, not the rear.

Shooting.  May shoot into HtH.   Must have line of sight to a full facing [front, flank or rear] of the targeted Unit.

"Contact".  Contact is made by moving along the shortest line from the Charging Unit to the center of the Target Unit's side that is not already in a contact, maximizing the length / amount of the contact with all available movement.  It may be made to any Target Unit's facing that can be legally reached per the charge movement rules.  If no enemy Unit is in frontal contact  at the end of the enemy movement phase, the target Unit may [but does not have to] face a contacting enemy Unit(s).  This IS "free movement".  I'd restrict it to full 90 or 180 degree facing changes lest it become too 'gamey'.

"Closing the Door".  Also, once a Charging Unit makes the full legal contact described above, it stops moving.  The charging Unit does not conform to full edge/edge contact.  There is no "closing the door" with free additional movement as in so many other rules.   I assume the men are filling any gaps with fighters.

Inflicting Hits.  There is no dividing of the Hits a Unit inflicts upon multiple Units that may be attacking it [one enemy Unit may attack each facing; front, both flanks and rear].  Therefore, Units only fight melee combats to their front facing, and may only use their melee dice attacking a single enemy Unit engaging their front facing.  

Suggested Options from p.17, large final paragraph.  As NT has a focus on Dark Age Britain, he mentions some options for Continental Europe:  
  • Shock Cavalry.  They add +2 to HtH Hit rolls.  Could also be used as Alexander's Companians, et al.
  • Rabble Infantry.  Warband that only get d6 on HtH Hit rolls.
Implied Options from the Ancient Rules of preceding chapter:
  • Classical Infantry.  Take half Hits if armoured, get +2 on HtH Hit rolls.
  • Classical Bowmen.  Shoot and HtH with unmodified d6.  Could also be concentrated Gothic, Lombard or Viking archers.
  • Skirmishers w' Bows v. Javelins.  If your skirmishers are bow or sling armed, they fight RAW.  If you wish to differentiate Javelin armed give them a 9" range but then they melee d6-1 representing the use of a shield, improving their performance against other skirmishers.

Some ideas and small changes that add some play variety without significantly changing the RAW.

Variable Move Rates.  There is a predictable "gameyness" to always having the same amount of movement each turn.  I suggest and have used the following several times now.  

A Unit is declared and it's movement intent is stated, e.g. moving to a point, charging, etc.  It then rolls the below dice total and fulfills the intent it as fully as possible:
  • Infantry roll 2d6-1 [average 6" move],
  • Skirmishers and Warband roll 2d6+2 [average 9" move]
  • Cavalry roll 3d6+2 [average 12" move].
This worked well and occasionally broke up the IGO-UGO turn sequence by a Unit taking less or more turns to achieve something.  Or the opportunity disappeared!

Elite / Stubborn troops = 18 Casualties before routing.
Levy /Nervous troops etc = 12 Casualties then routing.

Skirmishing Horse Archers & Light Javelin Cavalry.  These shoot as skirmishers above, 12" for bows and slings and 9" for javelins but archers should melee at 1d6-2 and javelins at 1d6-1.  They still cannot move and shoot, however, note below.

Unshielded and Unprepared.  Note that there is no moving and shooting in the game!  The movement of shooters to throw the javelin or close for an effective bow shot is abstracted by lengthening their range.  To compensate for this somewhat, allow double casualties if the shooting is against the rear facing of a Target Unit.

Armored Javelin Cavalry can be given the above shooting ability but fight HtH with the full d6 value.  

They were probably used in Dark Age Britain, and would have been household followers with expensive luxuries like full shields, helmets or even some leather and metal armor. They would also represent trained Roman heavy cavalry types, Persians, etc. As the horses are unarmoured, they get no defensive bonus, the armor of the rider is assumed to make the rider more willing to fight effectively in HtH.

Shooting limits.  The Pike and Shot rules limit all shooting with an additional d6 rolled during shooting, and if it is a 1-2 they are "out of ammo" for the game.  

This seems a reasonable limit to put upon anyone who has to carry something as large as a javelin, which were also 'expensive' and heavy.  I don't think it necessary for true horse archers like Huns, Alans, etc, which also makes them more dangerous.  

One could use it and say that they have to leave the board for more arrows, etc. or go to a supply point for a full turn, etc.  In the short span of time and small scale of these scenarios, it seems unnecessary to have re-supply, however.

Throwing Weapons.  Many Dark Age fighters used a throwing weapon they hurled as a precursor to melee.  These were darts, francisca throwing axes, pilum, heavy javelins, etc.  This can be easily simulated by letting them throw ONCE a game in their first melee with a bonus d3 HtH dice.

Force Morale.  The 1HW rules provide for forces of 3, 4 or 6 Units per side, with 6 considered the "standard".  This conveniently comes to rolling a d6 each time a friendly Unit is destroyed, attempting to roll higher than the number of friendly Units destroyed to keeping fighting - if you roll equal or less your force routs and the game ends.  

In a campaign game, you may want to allow the opposing side to get one last free attack in as they rout.  

Note that this will also shorten the game length!  If you don't want to shorten it as much, roll TWO d6 and if EITHER rolls higher than the number of Units lost, your force keeps fighting.  For particularly desperate or stubborn forces, perhaps even 3d6 could be rolled and if ANY pass you keep fighting.  Easy to play around with!

For campaigns or more "period flavor", I am considering fun ways to gain a bonus point or two on the die roll, like winning a pre-game challenge, praying to God [or 'the gods'], fatigue from force marching to an objective, etc.

Personalities.  Leaders, Heroes, Banners and Priests.  For every three Units in a force, a player may have a suitable personality figure, such as a Barbarian Hero, trained Leader like a Centurion, Legate, etc, either of which may choose to be accompanied by a Banner that costs as one of the allowed Personalities, or a Christian Priest.  

All function only as a bonus to a Unit, but may switch Units at the end of all movement to another Unit within 6".  While attached, they suffer the same fate as a Unit, including routing from casualties.  
  • A Leader gives a 2" bonus to movement and +1 Hit in HtH.
  • A Hero gives a 1" bonus to movement and +2 Hits in HtH. If accompanied by a Banner [counting as one of the allowed Personalities] Leaders and Heroes may rally d2 Casualties off a Unit if the Unit neither moves, shoots nor fights HtH for a turn.
  • Christian Priest may be fielded, who has no move or HtH bonuses, but rallies d3 Casualties off [an improved Banner] since he has a suitable holy relic, standard, great exhortations, etc.
Initiative - roll off at start, or decide per scenario giving Initiative to red or blue, whoever seems to be the attacker. The Initiative Side goes first each turn.  Roll off at start of each turn with +3 for Initiative Side.  If the Initiative side loses the roll, Initiative changes to the other side and they go first.  Note this allows the side seizing initiative to go twice in a row as the turn order changes, which could be a critical moment in a game.
Additional variable.  Subtract '1' from the dice roll for each Unit that has routed.

Hope these provide some useful insights and some variety to the game.  I'm also considering some bigger options, but definitely want to playtest them first.  

Note that it is _always_ tricky to tweak rules unless you are a real master game designer.  Tweaking a simple set of rules like these is MORE difficult as they've already been very carefully balanced by the designer, Neil Thomas.  So "go forth with fear and trembling" you rule tweakers!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

What Next? More NT, AD6, DBA 3.0, "Kings of War"?

Do this!  Do that!  No, the other set of rules!

Well, this series of posts generated hundreds of visits, and several questions.  It was interesting for me to do it, altho it required a lot of work!  Next time, I will take one pic at the end of each turn, only taking extra pics when a specific rule interpretation needs to be demonstrated.  This will make it easier for all of us to follow along!

Next up, I already have a second play of the 1HW rules, with a different scenario, #7 Flank Attack [played it twice] - can post that batrep also.  Some more options:

  1. "Kings of War" playtest with the same battles as above to show the differences btw the 1HW and KoW rules RAW.  They are very similar in most mechanics.
  2. Neil Thomas "Ancient and Medieval Rules" which are just a shade more complicated - not much - but a bit different and oriented "as written" for 15mm figs and measuring in metric.
  3. "DBA 3.0" was posted in review earlier with a promised playtest - should get to that battle report, shouldn't I?
  4. Finally, "Ancients D6" by John Acar and Andrew Damon is another free fast-play set of rules in the 1 Hour and 50-100 figures play range.  They are of the same approx. scale as DBA and are found here:
Any of these choices would be useful to someone trying to figure out which set of rules to get or use. While the KoW rules are not presented for historical armies, and would require a little thought and guidance to use for an historical period, I think they are the best written and most complete rules of the bunch thus far.  And it is actually FUN to adapt troop types from their lists to their historical counterparts.  So if you want my QUICK AND SHORT opinion, download the free rules from Mantic games website, especially if you know the troop types of your historical period / location.

If you are a true newbie, then I very much recommend both the above NT books as great intro to the gaming hobby.  Hmmm, perhaps the next review should be the NT "Ancient and Medieval Wargaming" book?  The natural comparisons to NTA&M is probably DBA 3.0 and "Ancients D6" as they are both a bit bigger in scale and lean heavily towards 15mm figures or smaller in base size and ranges.

Anyway, chime in on what you'd like to see - "Vote early, vote often"!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Part 3: Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" Battle Report

This is the exciting finale!  The victory conditions should be remembered at this point - no North Welsh on this side of the river.  The bridgehead must be crushed!  I've tried to update all three posts as well as answer the questions that came in, and hopefully the batrep makes sense.  It takes longer than I thought to do and I will change my method for next time so it can go up more quickly.  Anyway, back to the fray!

Below - appears to be the end of Turn 8.  Inf1 has advanced into Wb4.  As only one Unit may contact per facing, this will cancel the engagement with the Skirmishers.  This is also the problem with not closing the door - there's a wide open front physically that the rules say you can't double-up on.  Something has to be interpreted, so this was mine.  Inf2 and Inf3 are positioning themselves to extend the line and contain the bridgehead.  Wb3 - which has casualties from Cav1 - has contacted Inf3 and Wb5 is racing to the right flank, but being opposed by Inf1 [Inf1 & 2 crossed paths].  Cav1 heads back to the pub, top of pic.

End of Turn 9 I think.  The slog in the middle continues, with the shieldwalls trading blows with the Warband Units.  I may have forgotten to halve the casualties, or lost track of what's happening in the pics.  The Infantry Units seem to have a lot of casualties for one turn, the max a Warband can inflict upon their front is 4 [d6 rolling '6' + 2 x 1/2].

One of my favorite figures is a heroic yelling fellow presently the commander of the unit below.  "Come and get some of this ya sheep grabbers!"

End of Turn 10.  Warband 5 made a flank contact on Inf3 [with another Unit close by, this felt a bit cheesy - perhaps some sort of "Barkered" rule is needed...]  Casualties piled up and it broke.  Inf3 is probably feeling lonely at this point with no middle to the line. The SW have fought hard, but don't have enough push at this point to finish off the damaged Warband Units.

End of Turn 11.  Inf1 broke Wb4, but was then broken by Wb3 who rolled the max.  Inf3 is now very lonely out there!  The Skirmish Unit won't be much help, altho it can hide in the woods, which would be a wise choice at this point!

End of Turn 12.  Sk1 isn't very smart - or is it?  The opposing Skirmishers could easily put them over the top with shooting, so retreating from the wood and trying to support the retreat path of Inf3 is perhaps a great idea!   Inf3 is holding out against Wb5, but trading casualties won't be enough at this point, with another Warband in the middle.

Looks like Turn 13 below.  The Skirmishers were routed by long-range shooting from their opposites, and the Warband 4 flanked Inf2, ending their day early. The hillmen are over the bridge!!

Hope this batrep was useful for all.  I found the rules quite simple, but a little more definition about contact would have been useful.  I'm thinking very carefully about clarifications and some changes, will post them next.  I feel that the spirit of the RAW should be adhered to - simplicity first, avoiding the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Part 2: Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" Battle Report

The Rules.
The rules come in a series of nine, from ancients to WWII.  The second set are the Dark Ages rules.  NT chose Britain as a focus, and as with all the rules picked four representative unit types, in this case: Infantry [shieldwall-using sub-Romans], Skirmish [bow, jav, etc light infantry], Warband [ferocious attackers with a glass jaw] and Cavalry [somewhat weak skirmishing cavalry, similar to ancient cavalry].  

There is no morale system.  All units have 15 points of casualties they can take and then they are destroyed.  

The turn sequence for each side in one IGO-UGO Turn is: 
  1. Move [includes moves to contact, aka Charges], 
  2. Shooting
  3. Hand-to-Hand
  4. Eliminate Units.
Move.  Infantry 6", Skirmish & Warband 9", Cavalry 12".  Turns on the Unit center of any amount permitted at the beginning and end of the move.  Charges are just a move to contact, with up to a 45 degree turn at the start, none at the end.  Simple, and pretty much forces you to think a turn ahead with your charges.  There's no detailed explanation of contact - I have interpreted it as minimally as possible, ergo once a Unit makes legal contact, that Unit freezes.  There's no "closing of the door".

Shooting.  Skirmish only, 1d6-2, 12" range, 45 degrees off front, one target.  May not move and shoot.  Woods and shieldwall halve their casualties.  Note that 1d6-2 with no minimum means that Skirmish shooting inflicts zero casualties 1/3 of the time.

Terrain is a simple yes/no - Woods are only passable by Skirmish, the rest by everyone except for obvious things like rivers and marsh that no one can pass.

Interpenetration is only Skirmish passing thru anyone and vice-versa.

Hand-to-Hand.  Each side attacks during their player turn only.   A Unit rolls a dice and that many casualty points are inflicted.  Dice are: Skirmish at 1d6-2, Infantry and Cavalry at 1d6, and Warband attack at 1d6+2 - which makes a huge difference!  Warband can eliminate a Unit in two turns rolling well.  It takes at least three turns for Cav and Infantry to eliminate a Unit, while a Skirmish Unit might never do it rolling poorly [there's no minimum casualty inflicted, so if you roll a 1-2 you just impress the enemy with your gyrations, it seems].  Simple math, interesting results!  

Units may only be attacked by one unit per facing: front, rear, either flank.  Units defending an obstacle like hillside, woods, town or riverbank, or in a shieldwall [Infantry], take half casualties. Units may turn to face a flank/rear attack if not simultaneously engaged on another facing.   HtH ends with one side being eliminated.

That's pretty much it!

The Scenario.
There's thirty excellent choices here, from pitched battles, to rivers, to flank attacks, to delaying actions, pretty much any military situation.  These divide into five groups of six, so you can roll randomly with a d6 and just get to it.  Every one is a 3' x 3' board, and has 3-6 units per side.  There's also a random force generator for the entire gamut of periods, and short sections on campaigns and solo play.  Pretty impressive!

This scenario is #5 Bridgehead.  Basically, the Blue side has successfully taken a bridge with an advance force, and is getting reinforced up the road, while Red reacts from random location: from the left flank [A: 1-2/d6] the center road [B: 3-4/d6] or right flank [C: 5-6/d6].  Red is allowed to choose three forces of two units to dice their entry point on turns 1, 3, & 5.  Blue gets a steady stream of reinforcements, one chosen unit each turn from 2-6.Victory goes to the side that clears a bridgehead within 12" of the bridge on the North side of the river.  
And my interpretation of the battlefield:

In this playing, the Red defenders are Strathclyde Welsh riding their ponies and with Roman remnant Infantry using shieldwall and one Unit of Skirmish bow, Sk1:

The Blue side is North Welsh hillmen, all Warband w'a single skirmishing bow unit, SkA:

The Battle.
The battle opened up with the North Welsh hillmen [NW] in position with a Warband Unit [Wb1] w'in 6" of the bridge, representing the advance guard's sneaky seizure of the old Roman crossing at dawn.  I deployed them near the river to try and prevent being outflanked.  No Strathclyde Welsh [SW] are on the board, they're all wandering around looking for the reported incursion.  

On Turn 1 [T1] the SW enter their "response force", the teulu or family of the local warlord - two Cavalry Units [Cav1 & 2].   The random entry roll results in them entering at Point A, just the other side of the wood.  As they cannot enter the woods, they maneuver around it.  A Unit's turns are on the center point at the begin and/or end of the move.
The first cavalry Unit moves 12" in from the entry point at an angle and then turns 90 degrees to face the enemy Wb1.  The second cav unit follows, ending by turning at an angle that allows them to clear the wood next turn.  Wb1 turns to meet the threat but stays out of the 12" charge range which is the same as movement distance, there's no "charge bonus".  Below pic is the end of T1.
T2 begins.  Cav1 is outside of 12" move/charge range.  It may be bold but also foolish to advance alone, giving Wb1 the first blow with it's 9" move.  Why not await the help of the second cavalry and also try to maneuver Wb1 into a "hammer and anvil" where at least one of the cavalry units gets on a flank?

So instead, Cav1 moves 12" over, remaining >9" away, turning at the start and end of the move.  Note that turning on the center means the center moves 12" but the Unit's ends usually move a bit farther, gaining some ground, demonstrated in the above pic where the center has moved the measured 12" indicated and the second half of the unit is in original spot.  There's no restriction on the size of the turn, so Units can turn 180 if desired.

End of T2. The cavalry are trying to maximize the position advantage of two faster Units.  Note that with a 9" move, Wb1 isn't much slower!  Wb1 has re-positioned itself closer - threatening first contact w'Cav2 - but with its left flank secured by the wood, and the reinforcing Wb2 racing to protect its right flank.  It's actual front is 9" in where the turn dice is - the model bridge doesn't hold stands well!  I didn't give the 3" road bonus since the bridge has steps, and appears to be slick with dampness and mold.

Top of T3.  The SW Cav Units engage Wb1 - on the front Cav2.  Cav1 isn't allowed to also contact the front - only one unit may contact another on each facing, front/rear and each flank.  As the unit is engaged and has an open flank, I feel it's OK to engage the open flank with a measured move as shown.  The Hand to Hand [HtH] results in a total of nine to Wb1 thanks to the doubled casualties from the flank attack.  

Marching down the road are SW reinforcement units, an Infantry and a Skirmish Unit.  They rolled a '4' [red dice] and came in at Point B on the road, getting a 3" bonus from it but they can't get the road bonus if they contact enemy - it's assumed they're in march column.

Bottom of T3.  Wb2 charges over the bridge and hits Cav1, rolling a '3' +2 causing 5 Casualties [cas].  Note, there's no rules regarding conforming to the facing of a contacted Unit, nor from what angle one is permitted to strike the front / flank / rear.  Wb1 rolls a '5', with it's bonus of +2 it inflicts 7 cas on Cv2!  There's no rule saying if any casualties go on a flanking / rear attacking Unit, so I assume that a Unit engaged to the front will fight to the front only.  In the above case, the melee becomes two 1-on-1 fights since Wb2 attacked Cv1 on the front which takes priority - the flank attack is over.
Above is the end of T3, with the Cav Units trying to confine the Warband to the bridge as the SW reinforcements come down the road from the left.  With abuse like this, these Cav won't last long!  Note that Cavalry in the DA set of rules has reverted to the tactics and strength of ancient cavalry - it's basically a support unit.

End of T4 above.  The reinforcing Infantry Unit is in the center, ready to plug the gap when the first Cav Unit breaks.  The Skirmish Unit [SK1] is maneuvering towards the hemlock wood, where only it is allowed to enter.  Threatening a flank is about the most useful thing a Skirmish Unit can do, with 1d6-2 in both Shooting and HtH.  Cav1 - despite being the local lord's personal teulu, is consistently rolling some weak numbers - this time a '1'!  One Wb2 warrior now has a sprained pinky - "MEDIC TO FRONT!".  Both Cav and Wb1 are nearly spent.  And more Warbands are crossing the bridge!  Wb3 has taken up position behind Wb1, and Wb4 is halfway across.

Top of T5, as I demo the Sk1 move. It has 9" and must clear the corner of Cv2, so cuts the angle as close as possible then makes a >90 degree turn left for a clear outflanking position as shown in below pic.  

Cv2 breaks Wb1 with a hot roll, putting it to 18 casualties, well over the 15 limit.  You can see the advantage of first contact when casualties are only inflicted on one's own turn - with both units nearly spent, the Cav2 Unit broke the Wb1 and took no casualties back - I've no prob with this as my explanation is that they broke and ran and took casualties on the run, while the Cav are too spent to chase them.  

Inf1 has moved behind Cv2, which will definitely break as it is at 12 casualties.  Reinforcing are Inf2 & 3 are moving in from the left they rolled a '1' to enter from the same board point as the cavalry did.  This is not the most convenient spot due to the impenetrable woods!

Bottom end of T5 below, during the NW player turn, as Wb3 charges into combat against Cv2.  Wb3 had little choice but to advance - holding back would just result in their missing an attack round - plus they will break Cav2 on any roll, the lowest they can get is 3 cas!

Wb3 routs Cv2.  There's little progress on the right against Cv1 by Wb2.  They're clearly having a break, catching their breath while hurling the occasional spit and insult. Below is start of T6. NW Inf reinforcements moving, Wb 5 crossing and SkA preparing to shoot in support. Cav2 routs up, Wb1 routs down across the river.

Aha!  The SW commander IS taking a break.  Apparently, he's having a Manhatten!
Too much alcohol is bad for your performance - Cv1 has inflicted some casualties but is at 13 and will definitely break next turn.  Hopefully, he won't spill anything or break the tumbler as he rides off - Roman glass is hard to get these days!  

Turn 6 starts with the SW attacking.  Inf1 hits the front and Sk1 hits the flank of Wb3, causing significant casualties.  

Bottom of T6.  The only NW Unit that could enter the woods is stuck on the other side of the river.  It rolled a '3' and did 1 casualty from shooting against the Sk1 unit. Note that there's no rule against shooting into a melee.  I don't really have a problem with this in such a small-scale game, about 1/20 and 100-200 men per unit. Wb4 is in replacement position, with Wb 5 behind.  The advantage to the North Welsh situation is that they are close to their reinforcements - the disadvantage is that they are in a pretty tight space.  

Top of T7.  Wb3 routs across the river - they've had enough!

Bottom T7 below.  Wb4 advances to touch the front of Sk1.  Again, no explanation about how contact is done, so 'a touch is a touch' in these rules.  Cv1 rides off into the sunset with 15 casualties exactly, having made an impact but not done a lot of damage to Wb2.  There may be some spillage from the Strathclyde Welsh Gen's Manhatten, but such is the hell of war.  Wb4 rolls hot and inflicts 8 cas to Sk1, while SkA also rolls well and does two more for total of eight this turn and ten altogether.  Sk1 is nearly spent, dodging warband in the trees must be fatiguing!  

Next post - the dramatic finish in Part 3!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Part 1: Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" Battle Report

On Gaming and Rules
It is with a lot of excitement that I finally set myself down to give NT rules a try.  I have to admit that as a complex thinker I generally have liked fairly nuanced wargames, with medium to high complexity and lots of variables taken into account.  This is despite a lot of affection for the classic The Sword and the Flame system by Larry Brom.  

My ancient game interests have included WRG 7th Ancients and Shock of Impact from way back, Medieval Warfare by Terry Gore, Warhammer Ancient Battles [aka WAB] and some Warmaster Ancients from a decade ago, and the Hail Caesar / Pike and Shotte types now.  Read a number of others along the way, including some classics like Universal Soldier, which I still own and is supposedly the inspiration for WAB.  Actual play time was mostly spent on Medieval Warfare and DBA2.0 & 2.2.

But over the last few years, I have found myself more and more stuck with regards to available energy, time and scheduling with the guys.  I paint, plan and prepare, reading some quite complex rules for hours and hours, and then when it finally comes to the game it's quite disappointing.  Mostly poring over the rules trying to figure them out.  

Warhammer Fantasy 6 & 7 were extremely bad, with lots of us getting motivated to spend a lot of cash and get crazy preparing, then not having much fun gaming as most battles went to whoever knew the rules best - a clash of legalities rather than arms.  WAB in the original rulebook was just fine, but quickly succumbed to the "more special rules is more realistic" way of thinking, and in no time at all cheesy armies were all over the tournament scene and friendly games at people's homes.  I still think the basic set can be used successfully for an historical battle, but it's been supplanted by a far superior system [see below].  Warhammer Fantasy 8 was supposed to solve this, but it still didn't.  The special rules and their interactions kept confusing everything.

Now, I've gotten a lot more clarity and focus to my gaming, and a good grip on the reality of what I can and want to do.  I love tactical problems, I love painting and creatively basing figs and the end result, and I love the story element first and the competitive element second.  So a strong narrative is better than a "win regardless" mentality, with lots and lots of rules.  I want to enjoy the entire hobby from start to finish, from planning a project to playing it out on the table.

The Kings of War approach
Enter Mantic's Kings of War rules, which are a free download here:
They significantly shifted my gaming paradigm.  

I discovered that someone could not only write an excellent set of rules that covered everything in a "typical fantasy world", but also made them playable and in this case - FREE!  Plus the fact that they are really the set of rules that Warhammer Fantasy _should_ be [written by Alessio Cavatore] just made it sweeter.  It didn't take much to not only translate the human units to historical units, but many of the non-human units also work just as they are - Shadow Elves are basically fast-moving and ferocious barbarians, Goblins are basically forest barbarians, etc.  Enough point system particulars and nuance to keep any reasonable gamer happy.  I've even figured lists for Renaissance armies out of it, again only using the RAW army units!  

The KoW rules make sense in the reading and are obvious after a little playtime.  All the special rules take up two pages and are easy to reference.  Since none are overbearing, they nuance but do not dominate the game, nor does one have to buy lots of other books to know them or the armies - all the armies are free downloads also!

I used the rules on several occasions to throw some Feudal English battles, Stephen and Matilda era, and they were well received.  The gaming group is very experienced and likes detailed rules, so I also threw in a Fat Lardies Game, Dux Britannica.  We found it tedious with clunky mechanics.  They did work but were very intrusive on play, one got the feeling that you were playing the mechanics not the battle.  The campaign system looks good.  I've also thrown SAGA games with them, as many as eight people at once.  They really enjoyed it, but it took them a while to get the hang of the battle boards and again the game system is very intrusive on play.  Altho they give great "feel" the mechanics are a bit clunky.  The group preferred KoW by a long shot.  

All of this time and energy spent on various rules systems left me recognizing that I wasn't really playing much, and that I found most of the rules - interesting as they were - too much of a drain on available resources of time and energy.  The figures and terrain I had in plenty, but the way to play was lacking.  So I was ready and open-minded for a change to the situation.

Neil Thomas, One-Hour Wargames [1HW]
NT could easily have just presented the short rules to us in his book with a brief historical explanation.  But as his desire is to share perspective as well as play games, he has chosen to explain the design concepts behind the rules  This means that they are more easily understood and appreciated for their own merits, as well as making them easier to adjust more effectively for those who want a scenario-specific or a little more differentiation.  This puts the gamer in the Game Designer's seat, and better prepared to do it, as well!  For those who do not do much in the way of game design and find it a bit intimidating, this is a real blessing.  For a review and links to more reviews of the book, go here:

Also, for a nice batrep with pics go here:

The rules work around bare-bones parameters, with mechanics representing the fat part of the bell curve, not the exceptional, of a military period.  So in the Dark Age rules, only Skirmish Units can enter woods.  In the Medieval rules, NO Unit can enter woods.  Explanations are presented for all the mechanics and decisions, and NT encourages players to think of ways to best represent troop types and historical events, so you aren't "locked in" to the designer's decisions.

Turn sequence is IGO-UGO and uses an accrued "fatigue/casualty" mechanic where a game "Unit" is destroyed at 15 casualty points.  There's no way to rally them off.  There are always four Unit types in each set of rules, with an explanation of what they are and what they represent historically.  Terrain uses a simple can/can't enter, with most troop types only permitted in open terrain.  Both Shooting and Hand to Hand have each Unit rolling 1d6 with superior Units getting +2 to the die roll, and poor Units -2.  So in DA warfare, Warband melee at d6+2, Infantry at the d6 roll, and Skirmishers at d6-2 [which is also how Skirmishers shoot].  This puts only Warband able to knock out a Unit in two turns, but averaging out at 3-4 and Infantry at 4-5.  Skirmish can melee, but they take 6-8 turns to knock out a fresh Unit.  But on a flank they're as good as a Warband, and with their ability to enter rough terrain - it can happen with good tactical play.

All the rules are on only three pages - that's three SMALL pages!  
 Yes, these are ALL the rules, friends!  Couldn't leave off p.3, it's 33% of the rules!
The question is, how do they play out?  My 33 years of miniatures gaming want to know!

I resisted the temptation of changing anything before playing it RAW [Rules As Written].  A few of my bright ideas brought on secondary problems upon deeper analysis.  In any event, it's clear from his explanations that NT knows what he's written better than I do, and I should at least try them RAW.  So that I set out to do!  I picked the Dark Ages b/c I've plenty of stands ready to go, all based on 60mm frontages for the DBA / WRG standard.  I've played many of the figures in DBA and KoW, and basically they're based to the "wargame standard".

Thirty Scenarios!
In addition to providing nine sets of rules from Ancients to WWII, NT provides variable troop lists for each period, based upon armies of 3, 4 and 6 Units, providing six army variants each for d6 randomization. The max Units needed for each army in any given period are ten, and of course you are encouraged to "use what you have" also.  NT also provides information on campaigns and solo gaming.

The thirty scenarios represent classic scenarios and variations.  While some may have less "feel" for a given period than others, and scale becomes an issue with some of them also, they are generally speaking completely usable in every one of the periods and their rules with perhaps a little tweaking here and there.  For my game, I picked a Dark Age Britain classic, "Bridgehead" since most DA battles I'm told occurred at a bridge or a ford, and the "Sub-Roman Brits" made their defense a top priority.  Having picked what I felt was a classic tactical situation, I put it onto the table.

Here, I go with the spirit of the rules and present all of it for someone who is a new or aspiring gamer, and I hope that some of the explanations help you out!

Scenario #3 "Bridgehead", total description on left, diagram on right.  

I feel like the below battlefield I set up is very faithful to it.
Wargaming for beginners.  Both armies parading on the 3' x 3' board.  A detailed list of approximate expense for such a setup follows:
  • Big tan furry felt - about $5 from somewhere
  • Fish tank bridge - about $5 from pet shop
  • Roads - photocopied from paper castle book - about $10, color copy $1
  • "Field of grain" is a door mat, cut up from Home Depot, about $10
  • Pegasus River - bought on sale for $17, one box suits this layout, but get two!
  • Spanish moss bag thereof - couple bucks?  dirt cheap and looks great for wild scrub brush
  • Three hemlock trees at $4 ea by Lemax [annoyingly, their business model of a "collectible" company means they periodically stop making something...if you like it, buy as many as you want now!] , total $12 [and they come with storage plastic!]
  • Green felt piece - comes in bag of many different color sheets, most colors usable for gaming, say $2
  • Styrafoam hill - unknown when / where got it, say $10 to be safe
  • Total thus far = About $70
The field and brush are just for looks.  The Roman road gives purpose to the scenario.  The black dice show the 3 x 3 foot squares, nine in all, that make up the battlefield.

More stuff that's handy or essential for this game:
  • Neil Thomas book - $20 with postage, about.
  • Chessex dice [used to mark fatigue/casualties] - about $5
  • Little tape measure, and some wood rulers, too - nearly free!
  • Total for "stuff" is under $100

Strathclyde Welsh Defenders.  Three units of 12 "Infantry" with Shieldwall ability, two units of 5 "Cavalry" and a unit of 6 "Skirmishers".

All infantry are actually Gothic spearmen and archers, cavalry are all Picts except the armored fellow, but all are Old Glory of Calumet, PA, USA.  Special prize to whoever guesses where the head on the staff [banner] comes from!  Six archer figs are mixed in with the spearmen to bring them up to the 36 needed.  Basically we're talking about:

  • Bag of ten Pict cavalry,
  • Bag of 30 Gothic infantry,
  • Bag of 30 Gothic archers,
  • Total figs about $100 [$60 with OG Army Membership]
  • Total stuff  = $200 thus far

Encroaching Northern Welsh hillmen - five units of 12 Warband, one unit of 6 Skirmishers [bow].  All Old Glory Welsh from Medieval range.  They have long spears and longbows, technically.  But not today!  I have to admit that there is an element of "a warband is a warband is a warband" to my way of thinking.  I've a bunch of Dark Ages specific stuff, but this is what I used today.  Old Glory figures were:

  • Two bags of 30 Welsh Spearmen [60 figs] @ $70
  • One bag of Welsh Archers [30 figs] @ $35.
  • Grand total of STUFF - $300
  • Number of figs to paint = 66 Welsh and 42 [Gothic] foot, ten cavalry.
I actually thought this was a cheaper hobby than that!  I have to say that altho I'm not a master painter, I really do like the way these Old Glory came out, and with the Old Glory Army Membership Discount, the figure price would be only $120 U.S., which is a great price for 150 foot and 10 cavalry.  They do need some cleaning and prep, but paint up easily, have lots of varied poses, and with a little painting experience easily look good on the table. 

My fast painting method is to white prime, block paint in paint light tones, then use the 'miracle dip' to shade and darken them down a bit.  If I'm really loving the figs, I'll paint up a light tone for highlights, then dip.  If there's a lot of white in the figs then I may spray with glossy enamel to lessen the dip's darkening effect.  

So for perhaps as low as $200 you can have a pretty nice table and some small-ish armies that look good.  If you used a painting service like Fernando in Sri Lanka, add about $200 to the total price for shipping and painting costs.

OK, now to the deployment and battle - stay tuned for P.2

Friday, November 21, 2014

Neil Thomas "One - Hour Wargames" Reviews

Neil Thomas has done the modern wargamer a real service - he's put enjoyable, historical wargaming back into the "practical" from the "ideal and theoretical".  So the most important part of the books title is the sub-title:

"Practical Tabletop Battles for Those with Limited Time and Space".

And he isn't kidding.  He not only brings forward nine periods for a wargamer's consideration, but provides nine complete sets of rules all under three pages long on 8"x6" pages, AND then provides 30 scenarios within which those armies can have an interesting game on a 3'x3' table, in about an hour.

Take a long, hard look at your gaming activity.  How many times have you started out a project lured into it by ADD, shiny things in a magazine or at the gaming shop, or by your ADD gaming buddies?  And they don't get anywhere.  You get the newest rules craze, only to find that it requires nearly all your spare time just to read it and get a grasp of it.  Then you are nearly always victimized on the table by the people who have lots more free time and who read and master the rules so you've little chance of winning, or even being very competitive!  You lose interest.  The first regiment or two of troops sit forlorn on your hobby desk, partially cleaned and primed, a monument to discouragement.  Then the next craze happens, and you wash, rinse, repeat.

Eventually, the desk and closet are full of half-finished projects that you thought would be loads of fun and great, only to realize that it wasn't the case.  The games are more like reading legal contracts than being a general, and victory goes to the best rules lawyer.

This book is basically the cure for this cold hard reality.

You can teach the rules to children and adults, you only need a max of ten 1-base units per side, and you can play at lunch or any 1-hour break on any table that is about three feet square.  If your regular gaming pals aren't available, or refuse to play simple games b/c they "aren't realistic enough", you can play with nearly anyone, even your wife may like it.

No, these rules do not reflect every detail of every conflict.  So elephants, scythed chariots and flaming pigs are not found in the ancient - medieval rules, nor is air support and 1000 equipment variations provided in the WWI-WWII rules.  These things so beloved of certain gamers, are left to the discretion of the players.

But what he has done is provide the most minimal starting point that is completely playable and quite "realistic".  Note that realism here has the sense of putting the player in the commander's position with those concerns and observations and little else.  This is more "realistic" than tons of charts and rules b/c real commanders didn't sit at desks with tons of charts and rules - they had staff for such of that as they needed.  So you are free to consider the essential aspects of warfare, like troop capabilities, terrain, and the situation at hand [the scenario].

Overall, I find it very liberating, and a game-changer for me.  Pun intended!

A detailed review that is very well done is here:

and here is the Amazon UK page with a number of reviews and more:

and here is a 6mm Napoleonic project for the horse and musket rules in 1HW:
Cambronne's Reply

Here is only a brief review but the comments are worth perusing:
Bob Cordery Review
You can tell from the comments that many either don't read it carefully or bother to try and understand it.  They simply decide that the artillery rules for such and such period don't reflect historical reality [as they see it], and then want to modify them without play or pass them by completely.  This then results in artillery being used by the gamer in an unhistorical way.  This bothers them not at all b/c at least the rules are "realistic", or at least as they see reality.  It's quite fascinating, really.

When I got my copy from On Military Matters, I meant to peruse it a bit before bed.  Big mistake!  It was so good I read most of the 150+ pages until I couldn't keep my eyes open.  It gave me new hope for both solo and opposed wargaming at home.  I immediately thought of a few little variations that would add a bit more color to the specifics of my army periods.  And the explanations of design concepts are great!  The only thing one needs to do is obey the first commandment of game design:  THOU SHALT PLAY THE RULES AS WRITTEN [RAW] A COUPLE TIMES BEFORE RUINING IT WITH HALF-BAKED CHANGES!  I will admit that a couple of my bright ideas resulted in much more complexity and change than I originally wanted.  It did give me both greater understanding and appreciation for the IGO-UGO turn sequence.

Disagreement.  Mr. Thomas says Warhammer Ancient Battles is "an absolutely outstanding ruleset" [p.134].  This may be my only serious disagreement with him in his book.  Personally, I'd say that as a rules design WAB has several serious flaws in the original design.  The most critical is that it fails the test of design focus.  It has the complexity and sub-rules for a skirmish game, but it is expected to be played as a unit game.  So instead of playing like a unit-based game, it gets bogged down in what is essentially a huge skirmish game where figures mostly move in blocks called units.  Also, it's basic design is always tampered with for the sake of either historical detail [WAB] or more variety [WHF8].  The end product is an abject failure, IMHO.  

When WHF8 came out, I tried it several times with two friends, one a lawyer, one a retired chemist, and me with history degree and professional legal experience as well.  We were constantly getting bogged down trying to interpret core and special rules.  After several attempts, all we could say was that 8th Edition was a big improvement, but still a failure as a playable game that rewards good tactics over rules lawyering and purchase / knowledge of an obscene amount of rule books.  Ah well.

If I had to say the best rules design out there I know of today for Fantasy, Ancient and Medieval wargaming, it'd probably be Mantica's "Kings of War".  The design is pretty much perfect, and hey, the rules are free for you to read, play and dispute as you will:
Think "what Warhammer would be like if it wasn't run by a figures company intent on forcing you to buy new figures to compete with your buds" and you're on the right track.  In fact, it is written by former GW staff who moved on to brighter things.

Anyway, if you master the rules in 1HW, then Mantic's free rules will provide you with lots of ideas to tweak your units since it has a very similar design.  Happy gaming!