There has been a lot of buzz on the Blogosphere about Neil Thomas' One Hour Wargames. I've been increasingly in favour of simple wargames over the last two decades and have been a fan of scenarios for a decade or so before that so I liked the book's concept and have been curious about the implementation.
|Game 1 set to go.|
someone is trying to communicate can get distorted by how
they present it or by our reaction to the tone and I admit that he managed to get my back up with his assertion that the sorts of wargame that I have been playing for over forty years along with hundreds of my friends and acquaintances, as well as by thousands of people that I don't know personally, are impractical because some people live in circumstances where they would have to use a bit of creativity and effort to play. Now during those over 40 years I have lived in barracks, in apartments, flats, mobile homes, and small houses and have never had great difficulty finding a way to play a conventional wargame. I have played on surfaces as small as a card or kitchen table to as large as 6 ft x 10 ft at home, not to 6 ft x 20 ft at conventions. I have played on temporary or shared surfaces as well as having been fortunate enough to have a dedicated table for many of tbe last 20 years. I've even played on a homemade folding board in the bar car on an overnight train trip using 15mm figures.
I admit that during the times that I was living aboard a destroyer at sea I was too busy to bother trying to find a place to play but this book would not have helped and I'm sure its of little help to the homeless and many other people in society so his claim that his game is the one that can suit "everyone" really doesn't hold up any better than his claims that other games are not practical.
OK enough on that, there is certainly room in the world for yet another small gaming system.
|A card table game using 1/72nd figures from 2 years ago.|
The first part of the book is a slim primer for beginners and does an adequate job though I've seen better. It did strike me as a bit odd that when he mentioned 1:72nd plastic figures, the only manufacturer he could come up with was Airfix. Really? Airfix, much beloved but who have released 1 new set in what 30 years? However, as I went through the other resources, books, rules, figure manufacturers, etc., I noted that they were, with the possible exception of WWII history books, exclusively British. So, basically, One Hour Wargames for very British Wargamers, I'm not sure if this indicates ignorance of the rest of the wargaming world or disdain for it but it does help explain some of the short comings.
On to the 2nd part, the rules. I like simple rules but I am not in agreement that "Simplicity is at least guaranteed to produce enjoyment". Some of my most enjoyable games have been played with simple rules but so have some of my least enjoyable. I like some of the ideas behind the rules but have issues with some of the period specific choices partly because I feel they detract from the player's options and partly because I disagree about their appropriateness for that period.
My first hurdle, a very small one, was that while a shared army list works fine for the many periods of symmetrical warfare where both sides used similar tactics and weapons, it works less well for asymmetrical warfare. For example, he begins with an acceptable survey of Persians, Greeks, Romans, Gauls etc and claims the rules are good for almost everything from 500BC to AD 100. The lists however give every army whether Greek, Gaul, Roman, Carthaginian or Persian the possibility of being 1/3 massed archers even though of these armies only the Persians typically used such troops. I pity the poor novice who goes shopping for a Parthian army to use against the Romans and can only find cataphracts and horse archers, neither of which are covered. It might have been better to give each army a basic unit type, archers for Persians, Warbands (from the dark age list) for the Gauls and Infantry for everyone else, and substitute a different universal unit type, perhaps elite infantry to fill the 4th spot or else just replace the archers and specify that the rules and list were just for Greek, Roman and Carthaginian wars.
My second hurdle may be due to having played too many different games and having introduced too many novice gamers to the hobby but some simple illustrations of manoeuvres would have been useful.
I admit that I'm not a fan of the spin around the center turns. In life and in wargames, a wheel is easy, that's why even poorly trained troops and novice gamers can manage it. Wheeling about the center is hard in real life which is why its usually confined to marching bands and demonstration teams. On the table I soon had two questions relating to turns. Since units may not move through other units and since the arc of the outer edge of a unit that pivots about the center will extend past where the flank was, was the intention that units too close to another unit cannot turn? or is the slight interpenetration excused? I decided to do the latter.
The next arose because units which are charging may only turn before moving, not after. So does this mean that as long as a corner is in contact the units fight or does a unit have to manoeuvre to be exactly parallel before moving and if so how m6ch of the frontage has to contact given that only 1 unit can contact each face? It struck me that a valid delaying tactic might be to twist your unit back and forth so the enemy couldn't quite line up perpendicular so I decided that upon contact I would align the units and place them face to face for simplicity.
The third hurdle was period specific again, in the early periods no unit may retreat from melee. If skirmishers get caught, too bad, they should have manoeuvreed to keep out of harm's way. Fair enough. The Saxons at least would have been happier if the Norman cavalry hadn't been able to do the repeated charge thing. Both hurdles cleared without changes.
The fourth one I haven't had a chance to try out yet. In the ACW period there are no charges by anyone, nor is there a close range. Since it is fire or move I see no way to avoid all battles being fire fights carried out at extreme range which is not at all typical. I haven't tried the ACW rules yet so it may be one of those "suck it up" things if the result works.
|In 2012 I played Platea, from Grant's Ancient Wargaming, scaled down to 30" x 36" using 25mm figures. |
OK onto the scenarios. A lot of the scenarios are stripped down versions of already published ones, especially those by Grant and Asquith. Given that I have at least 200 published scenarios in various books, magazines and rule sets, including some of my own, these stripped down ones are less appealing than they might be to someone without the resources and experience. I have found that many existing published scenarios scale down well to small tables without changes and to my eye, these maps are a little bit too empty, probably to avoid the sin of having to make an effort to make terrain, but it was time to put them to the test.
I decided to start with one of Thomas' original scenarios and chose Pitched Battle Number 2. Having just rebased my Turanians I decided to pit them against my Midlanders using the Medieval rules. The Turanians rolled 3 knights (clibinari etc), 1 archer and 2 levies while the Midlish rolled 3 knights, 2 levies and 1 men at arms. Since the Midlish normally rely heavily on archers, I had to scramble to find enough spearmen but managed it. Each unit was 2 of mine giving a 120mm frontage. Each side began with each side holding 1 objective but needing to control both. The first game lasted a little over 10 minutes and 3.5 turns out of a possible 15. The Turanians had 4 units still on board. ***OOPS, I just discovered an error in how I resolved melee, I rolled too many dice ! That resolves my issues with the medieval rules. ***
|The end of the first game.|
At first I didn't see what other tactics that the Midlish could have used given their lack of missile troops but eventually I figured it out and reset the table. A unit of Midlish knights was detailed to ride down the Turian archers if they dared to advance into range. The armoured foot, best able to stand a volley, were on the vulnerable flank. The thinking was that the infantry would wear down if not defeat the Turanian cavalry leaving the knights to mop them up and then ride over the levies. It didn't go quite like planned
but the game lasted an extra turn and ended up with a 1/2 strength Midlish man-at-arms unit in possession of the field.
|Game 2, Turn 2.|
The next day I reset using the same forces but with my own Gathering of Hosts rules where each stand is a unit. This time the game lasted 5 turns and nearly 1/2 hour with the advantage switching back and forth but the Midlish finally managed a narrow victory.
In none of the games did the victory conditions come into play since 1/3 of a game was plenty of time to rout or destroy the enemy. (Playing the rules correctly solves this issue but although my rules are slightly more complex they are faster and more decisive so the issue remains for me.
|Game 3 finished with the Turanians hitting their break point just before the Midlish hit their's|
At this point I have no idea how to make the game last longer other than by adding a chatty friend and a supply of beer and pretzels but I'm going to choose a less straight forward scenario and change periods. A report on that will follow.