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".
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 , 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 $75
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 "other stuff" is about $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