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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

H&M squared - concepts and issues

Thoughts on a gridded Horse & Musket Wargame 

This game is being designed for my use for early to mid 19thC wars in America and India  but is adaptable to the 18thC  and to wars in other places. It is not a coherent set of rules but essentially notes on my current thoughts for adapting Bob Corderey's  Chessboard game.

My aim is to have a game which suggests a flavour of early 19thC warfare without trying to visibly reproduce it in detail at a constant scale, in effect to show the results of the opposing general's choices rather than the showing in detail the means by which those choices were executed.

It is hoped that the game will provide a challenge to play by requiring both decisions and the effects of chance, reward adherence to general military principles and period tactics and may be played in a fairly short time in a small space with limited resources but be scaleable to create a larger spectacle.

The use of the grid simplifies mechanics and makes the game more easily scalable.

Key Concepts:

Ground Scale & Grid. This is not rigid but as a guide if translating historical actions into game scenarios, a square is roughly 100 yards across but this may be halved or doubled. Large battles may be handled by expanding the number of squares in the grid,  or by taking the essential features of the battle and boiling it down into a game scenario as opposed to a recreation of the real event. Since the grid restricts granularity, ranges and movement are designed for effect not as a strict scaling. A basic grid is considered to be 8x8 squares, 6x6 is probably the smallest feasible grid while the maximum is limited only by the availability of space, playing time and troops and terrain. My own grid is intended to be made of 10x12 6" squares with the option of quartering each square to produce a 20 x 24 grid if using specialized terrain or smaller figures. I will also have a portable grid of up to 16 x 16 3" squares.  .

Time Scale.  This is not constant but over all a small 3 to 4 hour historical battle should take 8 to 12 game turns and take 1 to 3 hours to play.

Unit scale. A game unit is the number of miniatures that will fit in a square. A unit is whole and indivisible, in effect,  a playing piece. Individual casualties are not tracked, either a unit is fully functioning, functioning  with reduced effect or it is removed. The latter does not imply 100% casualties but we do not bother to track whether the unit has suffered heavy casualties, whether it broke ranks and ran away or retreated under orders, we only know that it is no longer available as a viable asset for the general. Such things could be considered in some manner between games if running a  campaign.  

It is convenient if the figures are mounted on a  base but not necessary. Since the unit is only considered as a whole, the number of figures is irrelevant apart from looks. In theory, units do not even need to even be of a constant scale though the visual effect is enhanced if they are.  The number of men represented by a unit will vary with the ground scale but the default is  300 infantry deployed in close order in 2 ranks but may be as few 50 skirmishers if using 1 square = 50 yards or 600 infantry if using 1 square = 200 yards. The game rules are not adjusted with the figure scale but ranges etc are stretched or compressed so that the principles and feel remain. At the basic scale, a small battalion will be 1 unit and a large one 2 units. The two wings of a large battalion will be treated as separate units though a player may wish to keep them together as much as possible.

Command. The effect of generals is shown in 3 ways. An Initiative roll reflects the ability of one general to impose his will on the enemy. Activation dice are thrown to see how effective a general is at overcoming friction to get his units to act as ordered. The morale effect of commnaders is reflected by the ability of a general to increase  the close combat ability  of his troops.  

I have used initiative rolls and some form of activation or command control roll for decades now as a way to increase friction but I am slowly starting to feel that using both  is too much randomn friction, a form of double jeopardy ( a player going first and getting very poor initiative rolls is much the same as not moving at all), and that the major friction should come from combat results and the enemy's actions. The initiative roll is the easiest to make, being a single roll per turn and is an opposed die roll which is good in game enjoyment terms but in many ways it usurps  the players right to beat his opponent by getting inside his reaction circle, to cease the initiative by play rather than chance. The activation dice are more work and it is not possible to tie them to any real event that is being modeled except to say that things rarely happen exactly how and when the general commands.

For now I am going to leave both rules in place but will make a note that players may opt out of the initiative roll if either player decides they don't want to use it.

Shooting and close combat. This is one of the areas where scale  and feel clash. Essentially early 19thC combat can be divided into 2 categories. Indecisive ranged combat and decisive close range combat. The latter may be close range fire fights or be bayonet and saber charges and usually some mix of the 2. Emotionally we like to see the details, we want to unleash that volley and charge but from the general's point of view, that stuff is beyond his control and it goes on a level below the time and ground scale of the game. In practice for a short simple game a close combat resolution that usually gives a reasonable over all effect while not guaranteeing anything works.  Shooting needs to be represented but the effect should be to weaken and disrupt the enemy. At this time, close action was usually required to destroy the enemy's ability to fight. An exception might be made for concentrated artillery fire, but that it was rare to have high enough concentrations to render target units completely ineffective,

Movement. Movement is very problematic. On most battlefields, a man walking vigourously and without constraint, could walk across the battle in 1 or 2 turns and yet armies spend hours maneuvering across the same terrain. For some reason really jerky move nothing or cross the table movement doesn't seem to feel right so again its a case of falling back on what works to get the right effect.

Next post translating concepts into rules.



  1. Ross Mac,

    Due to pressure of work, I will not be able to write a long comment at the moment, but I must say how much I am enjoying reading your thoughts. I suspect that there will be some divergence as you version of the rules develop to meets your specific requirements, but I also suspect that we will continue to learn from each others developments.

    All the best,


  2. Bob, I expect that you are right on the first count and I hope you are right on the 2nd.