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Thursday, December 14, 2017

AMW v. OHW showdown!

in this corner, "Ancient & Medieval Wargaming" coming in at 276pp and $40. In the far Corner, "One-Hour Wargames" weighing in at 157pp and $20!

Who will win? 

Neil Thomas, of course!

OK, well, this is not so much a showdown as a bit of a comparison of the two rulesets, especially their combat mechanics. Got the idea from checking out some posts at the AMW yahoogroup, where some chatter about the two games came up. 

I recommended OHW for a large group if one was pressed for time, and AMW if you like more mechanics and aren't in a hurry. So how do the two sets compare?


  1. Cost and weight - double
  2. Rulesets=4: Biblical, Classical, Dark Ages, Medieval
  3. Mechanics - old-school mechanistic with 10-15 army lists per set.
  4. Scenarios - one, "wipe him out" with one twist.
  5. Terrain - very little explanation, more like guideline.
  6. Explanation of design, period, etc - plenty, nice work.
  7. Playing time - 2-3 hours depending on player experience.
  1. Cost and weight - half
  2. Rulesets=9: Ancient, Dark Age, Medieval, Pike and Shot, Horse and Musket, Rifle and Saber, American Civil War, Machine Age, WWII.
  3. Mechanics - modern, very streamlined, very carefully thought out.
  4. Troop types - always 4 per set, but some easily crossover, so more like 6-8.
  5. Scenarios - 30 [!], which pretty much make the rules worth it by themselves.
  6. Terrain - laid out in every scenario, with clear explanations of it.
  7. Explanation of design, period, etc - a bit less but still generous - also nice work.
  8. Play time: yep, about an hour. Half that for experienced players who know when their licked and want to have another go!

The combat mechanics for AMW are mutli-step with extra variables:
  1. check chart, see how many dice per stand your Unit gets against the opposing Unit. Usually this is 1:1, but several circumstances give you 2:1 on the first turn, and a few give you 2:1 or 3:1 all the time [fighting a flank and a heavy unit v. a light unit].
  2. Roll that many dice for a 4+
  3. Opponent gets saves v. Hits [always, everyone has at least Light Armor!].
  4. Failed saves become Hits. If the total hits adds up to a factor of 4, a base is lost.
  5. If shooting, Hits in woods are halved. If in melee in woods, use different procedure [very simple, but different].
  6. the unit checks morale for losing each base from shooting or melee at the end of the turn, so you need to mark that the unit owes a morale check.
  7. If you fail the morale check [3+, 4+ or 5+] you lose another base.
  8. The unit fights until the last base is removed.
In effect, these are all 16-Hit Units, and every 4th Hit is a possibility of losing another 4 Hits if you fail morale. I do like the morale / quality aspect; it adds morale into the equation, an important military dimension.

I have a few problems with the model. First, it is very static and makes lots of assumptions, e.g. that Light Units will fight toe-to-toe against a heavy unit. I don't think they would, they'd dance around just out of range, perhaps dash off if they got too close. I don't like that every unit has an armor save - many units wore none, so what is it - true grit? It involves constant computation of dice - pretty demanding on the brain. The positives are that the feel is very mechanistic and logical "you hit, he saves, you damage, he may check morale - if fail, more people run off". I like that there's a Quality to the Units, Elite, Average & Levy.

The combat mechanics for OHW are much shorter:

  1. Roll a die for your troop type - it is then sometimes modified by +2 or -2.
  2. Modify the resulting Hits v. terrain, armor, or flank/rear. it is halved, quartered or doubled, rounding up any fraction.
  3. Units are removed at 15 Hits.
Needless to say, the OHW mechanics are much less nuanced. Interestingly, it doesn't really matter much. In that sense, it is like comparing DBx rules: AMW is DBM, and OHW is like DBA. There is more streamlining and generalization in OHW, but with 30 scenarios, it's almost like every scenario is a new game. I figured out that the possible combinations of forces and rules are in the area of 10,000! Per the title, is usually playable in well under an hour by experienced players, and often new players.

I want to especially emphasize the value of the 30 scenarios. Yes, there are a couple of open battle scenarios, 1 & 2 of the 30. All the rest have an interesting twist based around timing of entry, location of entry, terrain [rivers are important in several], unequal forces [sometimes due to reinforcements arriving later, sometimes they are a 6-4 unit game - interestingly, most of the 6-4 unit games have the smaller force attacking an encumbered larger force! This is perfect for, say, Germans v. Russians WWII, British v. Americans AWI, Confederates v. Union, etc. But each scenario provides a good 3-5 plays where each game is something new, and it is constantly helping you to grow tactically. In essence, there's at about 30 games to play in the OHW book, per game rule set, and deciphering the tricks of fighting each side in the scenario is an enjoyable exercise.

In any event, how much longer does AMW take than playing a battle with my OHW rules? Well, I played them a couple times, and the move distances are slower and the combat is slower to resolve. So about an hour for 6 units each using a OHW scenario. Then I wondered how long JUST the combat mechanics took, so I played my version of OHW to get a time down, then played again but used the AMW combat mechanics - this was easy to do, and the only significant change was simultaneous melee and more dice...lots more dice. And that's what the AARs are below.

Good old Scenario 21: Twin Objectives, from OHW. I chose this b/c I've never played it with medievals, and figured it was about time. I didn't have much hope for the defenders...

Defending Welsh have an Archer, [on hill], a Men at Arms [in camp], a Cavalry and a mounted Skirmisher, e.g. Light Cavalry [these are the same as Skirmishers in the Ancient and DA sets, but they've a 12" move and can't enter woods]. Attacking Anglo-Normans have [from left] 2 Levy [attacking the hill], an Archer, a Men at Arms, then three knights.

Turn 1. English dash forward. They work their numbers against the hill, outflanking the Welsh Archers. The knights move into easy charge range, so the Welsh Cavalry charge in to get the first hit, while the Light Cavalry cross over behind and shoot, putting some solid Hits on one of the knights, a total of 4. The Knights respond by...missing?? Welsh Archers dump a volley on the  Levy, getting 3 Hits for 3 dice! Early game definitely going Welsh!

Turn 2. However, the Levy make up for it by rolling all hits, wiping out the Archers - wow!

Turn 2. English Archers hit the LC for 2 while the MaA advance, clearly intent on raiding the camp. This also serves to cover the left flank of the Knights from the Welsh LC, who reposition to hit the other knight. Meanwhile, the Welsh Cavalry only get a Hit while BOTH English knights only manage to get in 3 Hits - clearly need combat lessons from the Levy!

Turn 3. The English wipe out the Welsh Teulu, so the LC charge in and finish off a knight - barely. Rest of the force is barreling down on the camp, intent on loot!

Turn 4. Welsh LC miss. English Knights - don't! Camp is in trouble - Teulu brace for impact!

Turn 5. English knights charge in against camp to little effect. Archers get close to have Line of Sight [4"] and support them. Welsh LC die, unsurprisingly, while Teulu only get 1 Hit.

Turn 6. English are tightening the vise. The Teulu need to roll hot to make an impact, but they are not, alas. Second Knight gets ready to join the fun.

Turn 7. Knights charge in and finish off the Teulu, who dash off with the loot in their pockets.
Decisive result in 6 turns, total of 30 Minutes. I think next time I'd put the bowmen in the camp, and the MaA on the hill. Also, I forgot that the "lightly wooded hill" does give a terrain bonus in melee like any other hill, so the Levy would only fight with 2 dice each. I don't think it would've changed the final result, but the Archers may have knocked out a Levy, anyway.

Ancient and Medieval Wargames.
AMW only has one scenario, a pitched battle where whoever eliminates 6/8 of the Units wins. The only twist is that for each [non-light] Infantry that you exit off his baseline, he has to remove two of his. This doesn't really interest me, it's just too "wargaming as usual". Instead, I am re-playing scenario 21. All the other factors are pretty equal, altho the official move rates are a bit slower, so the only real difference is the combat mechanics. Let's see how much longer it takes...

Below, a Frankish army takes on a Late Roman Army, as they work to seize a strategic hilltop [left] and the Roman camp [top]. 

The Romans have an Average Archer, an elite Cavalry, an Average Light Cavalry and an Average Spearman. Setup is similar to previously: the Archers are on the rough hill to bottom left, the Spearmen are guarding the camp, with the Cavalry and Light Cavalry to the right, respectively. The Franks have three Average spearmen [one heavy], levy Archers, 3 Elite Noble Cavalry [e.g. knights]. They set the two Spear against the hill, and the Archers and heavy Spearmen against the camp, and the three knights against the Roman cavalry.

Play proceeds very similar to last game. Archers put a couple hits against the Frankish spearmen, and the Roman Cavalry beat up on one Frankish.

The spearmen close in, and the Roman archers manage only a few hits.

Turn 2. The Roman cavalry has a solid lead - the Franks failed a morale check and lost a second stand. Romans passed theirs - hoorah for civilization!

Turn 2. Roman Archers caused some casualties and the spearmen failed one check. Still not much hope, but they knew it was a fight against the odds from the start!

Turn 3. Romans win against one Frankish cavalry, but the other has them dead to rights, while the third crushes the light cavalry [the ratio is 3 dice per stand every round, to a 4-stand Unit should get 5-6 Hits each round, and the unit only has 16. Throw in morale failures and light units don't last long].

Turn 3. Archers fighting well. They may eliminate one spearman - just one more Hit!

Turn 4. Cavalry cleaned out, the Auxiliary Spearmen in the camp stand alone. Off-camera, the Archers go down, taking a couple hits and failing morale. Ah well...

Turn 5. Dogpile on the Rabbit! Dogpile on the Rabbit! Dogpile on the Rabbit! 

And on top of being heavily outnumbered, the Romans are also rolling badly.


ta-daah! I hope the barbarians are proud of themselves.
Tactically, not really much difference. This scenario is pretty tough and the defense is very limited in both the setup and the forces involved. Interestingly, it seems that the OHW mechanical model was closely derived from this mechanic: 15 v. 16 Hits, takes several turns to be broken in melee, etc. The main difference is just that AMW takes longer. Move distances are about 2/3, and altho you melee twice a turn [once each player's turn] the dice move so slowly that it took three units about 6 turns to wipe out the unfortunate Romans guarding the camp. Time was 45 minutes or so, about 50% longer. As the tactics are about the same, I don't see any reason to use AMW unless one just likes more mechanistic feel.

Couldn't resist having another go with different set up. The Romans bolted their LC out into the open where it was a lot more effective, tearing up the Archers, threatening the rear of the Spearmen attacking the hill, etc.

A few turns later, the Franks are already hot-dogging their way into the camp.

For some reason, I didn't take more pics. The result was the same. I think the defenders in a melee game need to have more of an advantage for a chance to win this one.

Overall, AMW is a good set of rules. But I feel that the one scenario will make games repetitive. Since most of the popular armies have similar options if not identical lists, players will have a tendency to pick similar forces and "slide towards the mean". It also means that the burden of developing new scenarios is on the players / host. While that is great for some, others don't have much talent for it, and few have a lot of experience. Also, ancient thru medieval battles are among the worst documented; good luck trying to break down a battle into a playable game! Having gamed for 36 years, I can honestly say that while I enjoy the entire process, hostingis only second in difficulty to writing a set of playable rules.

I think that at the end of the day, "One-Hour Wargames' is the superior set. While the rules have less "feel" [and the usual problem of all NT's rule sets - they are incomplete, with core, essential mechanics having been left out, like how to contact, Line of Sight, etc] the stripped-down aspect of the rules is an aid to enjoying the real point of the game - mission tactics to accomplish success in the scenario, and the player's decisions to get there. This is not just a lot more interesting, but it takes a superior tactical mind to play and win OHW scenarios consistently. 

Furthermore, the offering of not just 3, or 6, or 10, but 30!! scenarios for which the game is designed to play is a pretty amazing deal. While it is true that not every single scenario gives both sides an equal chance at winning with every set of rules [some favor a melee game, others favor a shooting game] as the game takes so little time one can always switch sides and try to do better than the opponent did.

Finally, you can easily get almost anyone, a bright child or an adult friend who likes games, to try a One-Hour Wargames battle. It is just as easy to play with a spartan, "toy-soldier" style of table and miniatures or a very realistic table with lots of incidental terrain and realistically painted and based historical miniatures.

The typical old school / GW-style game is focused on lots and lots of differentiation [some of which is patently a-historical] whether it is troop types, weapons, armor [*sigh*, among the worst offenders] or - most tediously - lots of little factors involved with movement across terrain, and building from army lists. And the scenarios are usually the "kill them all" type, b/c the real art of these games is in list-building to beat up your usual opponents

Flames of War has brought this to WWII gaming, to its detriment, and I find myself unable to muster much interest in it - I'd almost rather not play at all. AMW - as written - is more like an old-school "lots of factors / mechanics list-building" type of set. While I think it is easy enough for an experienced player to avoid these traps, it would almost be easier to just get Warhammer Ancient Battles if you are into that sort of thing.

So to me, the winner, hands down, is "One-Hour Wargames"!


  1. Alex, great comparison of the two systems. Thanks.

    1. Thanks! It's a lot of work, but I think it's worth it. Helps me think about it.

  2. Very interesting! Thanks for the side by side review.

  3. Great article! I am a big fan of OHW and your page. Personally, I think Neil owe you a pair of beers! :-)


    1. Hey Cesar - more like a cast of Scotch at this point!

  4. Just want to encourage people to become Followers - I've two, and if two more jumped in I'd DOUBLE my Follower count, woo-hoo!

    Also, if any of you are at TMP, Post about this blog post - our resident TMP'er Queen Catherine has been shut down for commenting that the long ranting political posts are just there to push up the post count. Bill really knows how to twist a pig's ear and make him squeal. It's sick, but it makes his business worth more.

    Also, that Tango's like he posts 40 times a day or something. I wonder how much Bill pays him? Or maybe Tango's on house arrest and has nothing else to do?

    Sick man.


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