EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Monday, April 12, 2010

BWMS 3rd game: WITH MACDUFF (or how not to write rules)

The 3rd run through of the game used the most recent edition of my own "With MacDuff to the Frontier" rules.In light of what followed, I feel that some background information might help.

These rules started life a little over 15 years ago as a set of Victorian Colonial rules and were being modified for the F&IW when the Courier picked them up and published them in '97. They represent my first steps towards what is now considered Old School rules. At the time I was increasingly tired of complex and competition oriented rules and had been re-reading Charge! in particular and so several ideas were lifted directly from there though some were more modern, influenced by magazine articles (one called "Sin Bin's and Stragglers" or something like that was one).  I had some great games with these rules and they were one of my favorites, unfortunately I hit a snag. Many of the games we played were drawn from CS Grant's Scenarios for Wargames.  When we played Sudan or NW Frontier games using 12 man British companies and 20 man "Native" tribes as a "unit" the rules worked well and the Friday night games were generally finished in 4-5 hours. By 1999 I had 2 sets of almost the same rules (Colonial & F&IW) and was mostly using them for War of 1812 and 1860's games with small regiments as the unit. These games were good but often took 6 to 8 hours to reach a conclusion. Occasionally  I had time and energy for an all day Saturday game but not often. I decided I needed to do 2 things,  harmonize the small differences between the rules to make it easier to switch back and forth and find a way to shorten the games. So far so good but life is not a vacuum and several other factors changed and I went from playing regular games with a small group to playing significantly fewer games but with a wider exposure to other gamers. The end result was despite bold declarations to the contrary my commitment to the Old Schoolishness waned and I started worrying more again about consistency of detail and process, and I lacked the opportunity to play test changes properly.

I also, I think, mis-identified the solution to making a shorter game, I tried to make the turns faster instead of making them more decisive. The result was a long stream of tinkering and endless versions until even I got tired of it and eventually I became fascinated with Joe Morschauser and wrote a simple set of rules for battles which worked really well for short sharp games. They worked so well that I started tinkering with them as well ! Once I had finally gotten them properly to the point of non-exciting I came back to MacDuff last fall and wrote what was hopefully a final solution. A test game during my Game of the Week project (see scenario 45)  felt successful and greatly pleased me. So, I had high hopes for last week's game, the 1st MacDuff game since then.

The game proceeded smoothly and displayed various features I had wanted and produced a see- saw battle but after an hour or so I realized that the rules had committed the chief sin that a set of rules can commit, not historical inaccuracy, no much worse, I WAS BORED!  Shock! and horror! After 11 turns I called it a draw and fell back to regroup. Was this the final nail in MacDuff's coffin?

Turn 6, The US 2nd Dragoons are falling back in disorder from the cavalry melee but will rally, return to the fray on turn 8, break the GGBG  and on turn 10 will charge the Buffs and, these having chosen to stand and fire rather than form square, will break them.  By turn 11 the battered dragoons will face a gun and the tattered remnants of the Tigers.  

Over night, I calmed down and analysed the situation. There were several minor issues but the real culprit was that the game lacked drama and tended towards inconclusive results. I contemplated various things that had been removed from the rules in the past and various new ideas that had been tried and rejected and thought about the other rules, In the end while there many other valid things that I could do, the main thing would be to  remove some of the restrictions in movement and restore the deadliness of combat to something like its original levels. Having an unexpected extra day off, I decided to remove the 3rd game from the series, set up a 4th game, reloaded the camera with fresh batteries and went at it again.

The next post will cover the 4th game and then I will post a summary of my thoughts on the 3 sets of rules as they were experienced during the replays.


  1. Ross,

    Should you ever make it back out here (and I hope that you do), I will get you to autograph the various MacDuff rules that I have.

    I will await your next few posts.

    -- Jeff

  2. 2010 looks pretty much shot Jeff, nut I'm setting my sights on 2011, hopefully riding the rails from coast to coast.