Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Universal Soldiers

He's 42mm, he's 22mm,
he fights with missiles and with spears.

(With apologies to Buffy Ste Marie though in my defence HG Wells, does suggest in Little Wars that that playing with toys soldiers is better than sending real ones in to blow things up. and apologies to RAFM who have a set of ancient/medieval/renaissance rules called Universal Soldier)

During the 1980's I started working on a set of wargame rules which appeared in Wargames Illustrated Issue 23 July 1989.  (The one with the Foundry Guillotine on the cover.)  In the introduction I argued that despite the difficulties, there was merit in having a common basis for wargame rules in terms of time and distance scales and mechanisms regardless of which campaigns were being covered. Some might think this would blur the differences but I think it actually highlights them. For example if you play one set where  infantry moved 6" and bows fired 24" and then play another with different time and ground scales so that infantry also move 6" but cannon fire 24", then to a casual player who has not contemplated the theory behind the rules, cannon and bows are pretty much the same thing. The same is true if Chippewa and Waterloo use the same number of figures, the difference becomes less apparent.

There was more to the rules than that and I found it interesting when rereading the article to note that many of my stated design aims still stand. Its also interesting  to consider that while I have met several people who tried MacDuff as published in the Courier in 1997 (some more than once!) I  have yet to meet or hear from anyone who tried these rules (apart from  my long suffering wargame opponent who had to move to Saskatchewan to escape the constant changes).  I don't think I ever did all the versions  but we did play a 15thC and a WWII  version. I was probably influenced by Don Featherstone who seems to have done something similar as did Joe Morschauser although at the time I hadn't heard of him yet. Its bit heretical in some circles these days but I think the main differences over the years of history are in the development of weapons and organization. Minor unit tactics make some difference but I think  they are over shadowed by the bigger issues of human psychology, and a shared physical world. To put it an other way, drawing cards or rolling for activation dice, play sequences and so on are just game mechanisms. Changing the mechanism may change the feel but it doesn't necessarily reflect the history behind it.

Yes all right, the point is, I'm thinking about doing the same thing again. As it is I keep updating Gathering of Hosts and Hearts of Tin and various other experiments to "share best practices". It would save both effort and confusion to write a core set and then bolt on the applicable extra rules, troop and weapon types etc.. This is especially true if I am going to play various small games in many periods this winter. Using the same core mechanisms such as adding or subtracting numbers of dice as modifiers vs adding to or subtracting from the score of the dice  just makes life easier when switching back.

 I'm happy with the current Pips command rules since requiring an attached leader for group moves makes it easy to tweak the flexibility of various armies by varying both Generals and intermediate commanders. I'm also happy with the abstract hit/morale and shooting rules.

I'm waffling slightly on sequence of play and contact vs proximity melee. The actual melee roles etc are fine but while the recent test with no melee phase and adjacent area melee worked ok, it felt slightly wrong even with rifle era troops. I used Morschauser's 3" melee zone for years on a non-gridded tables, but it never felt right for cavalry and spear troops. I think I'll be happier with contact melee even with a grid. The only real issue would be for someone whose bases filled a grid completely but I'll let them worry abut that..

That leads to the question of movement and zones of control. The distances are fine and the wide historical time span is not an issue. The problem is that this is the bit where grid/no grid makes a difference. The questions are basically how easy is it for a close order unit to turn and reform as opposed to wheeling and how much of a threat is a unit which is neither ahead nor beside a unit. Strictly speaking this is not just a grid issue, its the difference between 1 stand units and multi stand or mass of individuals units. Its also where 90% of the fiddliness of off-grid games comes in.

Once I settle that, the core rules are pretty much in existence as are some of the period specifics  as its mostly a question of re arranging the existing Hearts of Tin rules and drawing from the Gathering of Hosts and Square Brigadier. No new ideas are being introduced. Not yet anyway!


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  2. Hmm...
    I'll be interested to see how this goes (as the long suffering opponent of record). IIRC, many, many people played with variants of those rules (for instance we did do the multiplayer Austerlitz game), but how many used the set in the magazine is an open question. I'll actually have to look them up to see if I recall using them.


    1. I was thinking of people who didn't know me.

      But yes there were some good games. Another Dal one I remember was the Bridge Head Breakout French Revolution game with a mix of Blue, White Green and Red uniforms with Bicornes all around and players who didn't all know each other. I seem to recall attacking artillery opening on troops crossing over the bridge the wrong way only to find out they were friends retreating not enemies attacking!

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    1. Oops sorry, I thought I had added the name rather than just the Issue number. It was Wargames Illustrated.