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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Double Jeopardy in Wargames

Sometimes, I hate admitting someone has a point. Especially when I still disagree in many ways with what they have actually said! However,  I find myself in this situation.

For the last 15 years or so, I have eschewed morale tests as much as possible although the pesky little buggers keep trying to insert themselves and periodically succeed. My beef with them is threefold, it is an extra step to be taken, it holds the combat results hostage and it is hard to design a simple test which is nuanced yet robust and reliable. Reliable in the sense that it will only rarely deliver unusual but reasonable outcomes and never unreasonable ones.

When I decided to drop the previous Melee rules which resolved closer range shooting and charges in a 1 step process, I felt that I needed to add a morale test back in. The intent is that better troops are more likely to win or at least to put up and a hard fight and that troops which are poorly disciplined or which had taken a real pounding are liable to break and flee but that all troops are liable to be forced to retreat without being broken. As I continued to run test situations, it became clear that the new process was resulting in more stalemates and more panics than intended and fewer less drastic retreats and that the morale test too often worked against melee results with units taking a beating in melee and then rolling a 6 and standing while another unit that lost by a narrow margin  and had every morale advantage, still rolled a 1 and retreated precipitously. On the surface there is nothing wrong with either of these two scenarios but the over all effect felt wrong. I began experimenting with various modifications to the morale test.

At this point, issue 23 of Battlegames magazine arrived and as I was reading Neil Thomas's sample set of simple rules, a vague memory floated up of the previous issue where one of the problems he brought up was that of Double Jeopardy where a unit was rewarded or penalized twice for the same thing. Now at the time I disagreed with what he said and having finally dug out the article and re-read it, I still do disagree with his particular points to some degree (for instance Elite troops may be more effective in combat than Conscripts for reasons other than Morale so they may deserve bonuses in each for different reasons depending on how the rules are structured especially if they aren't multiple morale states). However, without having gone back to look at the details of his argument, the basic idea of double jeopardy had resurfaced and needed to be dealt with.

My initial reaction was that, yes, I want Militia, for example, to be less likely to win the melee and if they lose I want them to be likely to break and run than disciplined troop so they should be penalized in both cases and having a separate morale test seems to be a route to achieve this. My second thought was well, what does the melee represent? According to what I've written in various versions, it represents both physical and psychological or morale factors. Oops!  In effect the melee rule was using morale to help determine the winner and loser but the morale test was being used not only to determine the severity of the loss but was allowed to also overturn  the earlier decision and accidently worked to ensure that good quality units nearly always fight until destroyed which was not the intent. Either the whole process needed to be re-examined and tweaked with possibly several different morale tests depending on the situation, or I needed to go back to my earlier one step process where I could more reliably tweak the process to get the result I wanted.

I decided to do the latter which had worked well for nearly 7 years in various slightly tweaked versions. Some limited testing seems to confirm that it still works, with poor quality troops being more likely to lose than good ones but not guaranteed to,  a unit of militia might beat the odds or an elite unit fumble. If they do lose, poor quality or badly battered troops will do so more severely but with a chance to rally. The system is not perfect but it is reasonably nuanced, its simple, its reliable and, its one step rather than two. An updated draft should be available by the end of the week.

It seems that while I disagree with some points, Neil's discussion of rules and especially on double jeopardy has helped bring me back on track. Thank you Neil.


  1. One of the things that I like about posts like this one, Ross, is that they help me clarify my thinking about my own rules.

    Thanks again.

    -- Jeff

  2. I too have been grappling with writing some rules (Ancients) and have recently went down the melee and then morale rule. Last week I combined them back. I did this after realising many other rules I looked at didn't 'double jeoparday' while I was. I didn't have a name for it, which I do now. My investigation was more the lack of overlaps in the modifiers between melee and morale. But the way you have explained it makes far more sense. And it clicked for me reading your article. It really helped solidify where I am going with my rules. And will help in the future as I'm looking at a ww2 set as well. Completely different to the ancients set, currently separate rolls but now I know why it makes more sense there now. Thanks very much for posting this.

  3. Shaun, Glad to hear that your are having a go at writing rules, an enjoyable part of the hobby in its own right.

  4. Ross, good post. I enjoyed Neil Thomas's article as well - it seems to be refrain of old schoolers that back of an envelope rules are best. They certainly play faster, always a concern in this time strapped world.