The Viking Legal Team in Action

The Viking Legal Team in Action
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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!


  1. I read One Hour Wargames about a month ago (like you in one sitting!). I played Kings of War with a friend for the first time last week. And, like you, I was struck by the simularities. I agree with your last paragraph absolutely!

    While I agree with your first commandment, and try to follow it, I have broken it so many times in the past, I tend to think of it as a guideline now :-)

  2. I - yes I, too - have sinned this way. :( Actually, a lot of the commandments tend to go that way - becoming guidelines, that is.

    OK, so to come clean I was thinking about ways to change it before I played it. But I can't help that! I have every intent of playing the RAW a few times. I have even dug my 25mm Dark Ages from the garage to prepare a batrep or two.

    THEN I'm going to mess it all up with my changes! ;)

    1. I thought of changes immediately too, thought of playing the scenrios with different rules, then went back to using modified rules from the game, then left it all alone. Last night my daughter (8) experessed an interest inplaying with my ancient figures. Straight One Hour wargames came to mind, not the least as she is struggling with maths and the rules really help with repetition of basic addition. So I may get four wins over the next week or so - playing wargames with my daughter, helping her out with maths, playing a game non-solo AND not breaking the commandment. But now I have written that down it sounds like a plan, and plans and children don't mix very well!

    2. I hate to push my own blog, but I just have to make an exception as only a few days after I wrote this, the plan met my child and worked. It worked so well I wrote about it:

    3. Shaun, great stuff! great post and I'm adding yours to my blog list, and passed your blog to a couple other places. Great blog, and I hope that Nadia gives you a hard time until the re-match!

  3. "let the wookie win". :)

    I'm working on some very simple changes. But I will play it RAW first. A couple may be of use to you. My son is 5, he'll still want to stomp or shoot them with something physically. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but not with my figs!

  4. Take a long, hard look at your gaming activity. . . . 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.

    The story of my gaming life. This is why, when I picked up One-Hour Wargames, I dived back into the historical minis hobby after a 2-year absence – during which time I only played RPGs, because, well, I actually played them.

  5. preach brother, preach!
    yeah, I am getting to the point where I don't care how good the game / mins are, if I am not playing them, or about to play them, or seriously embarking on a project TO play them, I'm outta there!
    I've now played 1HW rules three times, the same DA Rules and scenario. I think they deliver quite well, altho they DO need some rules definitions. With all respect to NT, of course. So I'm stealing some of the simple game fine tuning from KoW and will deal with these rules issues in the next couple of posts.
    Happy with the game overall, however.


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