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

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Morschauser's Children

Yesterday I frittered away an hour or so drafting rules and while the Vicar was looking quite hungry, the results aren't quite ready. It did lead to some pondering on the similarities and differences between 3 sets of rules that have took inspiration from Morschauser. Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame, my Morschauser Meets MacDuff  (MMM) and my current set Hearts of Tin (HofT) (which has a lot of other things stirred in).

The key question is how much of what I liked about Bob's game had to do with the grid and how much came from other things?

The Grid. The grid was definitely important, One thing I noticed was that while playing with the grid, I ceased thinking in terms of distances and scales. The feeling, in a vague sort of sense was that things that were in adjacent squares were happening in 1 time & distance scale while far away things were happening in a different one. This is an effect i have often tried to achieve and failed. I don't understand exactly how this illusion works but  when I was playing with rules yesterday the effect was noticeable even while I worked on a transferable set. Is this related to my impression of playing "a game" while simultaneously feeling free to image more than what is being shown?

Scope  Bob has wisely avoided saying exactly what a unit represents. Morschauser called his units companies implying a skirmish game but proceeded to talk about refighting historical  battles. I have tried breaking free of the tyranny of constant scale but it keeps rearing its head, never to the advantage of the game. It seems to me that the more structured and abstract the game is, the easier it is to adapt the illusion.

Initiative. This is a non-Morschauser element that both Bob and I brought in. As such it seems neutral.

Activation & Movement. This is another non-Morschauser element but which one which differs between the sets. Bob uses activation dice to determine how many units may act. I experimented with the idea after a pre-DBA release article in Slingshot but decided that I couldn't relate it to anything so went other routes including a "command control" or activation chart that limited or forced what Brigades could do and variable movement dice. The latter have been problematic and occasionally onerous in larger games but were a simple way of making things less predictable. Once you have accepted a Grid, its hard to object to activation dice and they are an effective way of reducing predictability. Dicing for moves definitely doesn't translate well to grids unless using very small ones  where units move multiple squares/hexes which somewhat lessens the benefits of the grid, making it just an on table ruler.

Combat.     In Morschauser's game, each stand was a unit, rolled 1 die and took 1 hit. Bob has maintained that initially I did as well, with an optional rule for units of the same regiment to co-ordinate. One of the changes in Hoft was a change to the battalion as unit with the stands being incremental measures of combat and morale. In part this reflected my inability to decide whether I wanted to use single figures or multi-figure bases and if the latter, what configuration. The grid lifts all that as everything in a square or hex becomes a unit regardless of whether singles, 1 base or 2 etc, as long as it fits in the grid.

The intervening state between multi-element units and single hit units is Morschauser roster which I initially adapted and adopted. In MMM I allowed units 4 dice and let them take 4 hits. This meant a lot of markers but averaged things out and prolonged the game. This is a key point as at the time, I was working with the assumption that a 4-5 hour game was standard with a 1-2 hour game being too short but a 6 hour one just fine. In the current state of affairs, a 4 hour game seems like a major effort, 2-3 hours seems fine and a 1 hour game often handy. Thats a change in me but it calls for a change in the game.

Oddly, while the single hit destruction from shooting bothered me a bit when calling each stand of 40mm troops a unit but not when using the RCW troops or using 6 toy soldiers as a unit. Perception? Situation?  Skirmish vs Battle? musket era vs rifles and mg's?

When it comes to melee the destruction doesn't bother me although Morschauser's "someone must die" approach still doesn't sit well. Bob and I developed slightly different ways to handle this but the differences are in the details more than in the principles.

Terrain. This is not an issue with the 20mm game as terrain fits into 3" squares which also hold 1 of my stands.  It has been an issue for my 40mm troops with or without a grid. The essential issue is that 1 house takes up a reasonable area for a village but doesn't look like one,  a group of smaller houses looks good but takes up too much room and if solid, there is no where for the troops. For a long time my mind has had a vision of town blocks with a space where the defenders can be placed but when measuring range by stand, that presents problems, the grid sweeps that away if the grid is large enough. At the same time, the more squares, the more complex the game can be through situation rather then rules but the larger the grid squares the fewer fit on a table. This might be solved through a multi-square town base with move-able houses. This could be still be used with the measured rather than gridded games since that is where I got the idea from (A Courier article by Larry Brom).

Conclusions?  Nothing more than that I need to clean my table top off and lay out a game.


  1. Not to mention Rough Wooing's Morschauser roots...

  2. Ross Mac,

    Yet another break from NSS (these breaks are vital if I am not going to go mad reading and correcting the gibberish my students have written; not their fault as one of the four speaks Magyar as his first language and has only been in the UK for less than five years and another is a French-speaking Ivorian who only came to the UK two years ago ... And neither gets any in-class language support because they have better English Language qualifications than their native English-speaking fellow students).

    The break has given me a chance to read your latest blog entry, and it has yet again given me something to think about. Once the NSS is behind me (hopefully later this week) I will write up my thoughts as a blog entry. In the meantime I look forward to your next blog entries.

    All the best,


  3. "I need to clean my table top off and lay out a game."

    Couldn't agree more - the proof of the game is in the playing!

  4. I'm really enjoying the interchange and the developing rules between you and Bob...very great food for thoughts!