Thursday, October 15, 2015

Half Hour Wargames (Amended]

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.
Sometimes, what 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.


  1. I bought Neil's book on Kindle - first thing I learned is that there is no replacement (in a wargaming context) for a good old paper book. I don't particularly care for Neil's fixed 8-a-side formula games - not as a given, anyway - and I regularly find that his presentation style is defensive of what he is proposing, to such an extent that it sometimes gets in the way - broadly I am very much in favour of the playability he promotes so strongly - I have a lifetime of enforced "realism" to recover from - and I think he does not need to be quite so evangelistic.

    However, as another push in support of the worth of simple games I approve of his efforts. His book is also a good source of ideas - partly of ideas capable of being borrowed intact, and partly because, once you've established the principle that the whole nature of miniatures wargaming is up for grabs here, it sparks further ideas of one's own.

    If he is preaching to us, the already converted, we might take exception to his occasional choice of terminology, but that is true of evangelists everywhere.

    1. I think I would have been happier if I had found anything new in the book but having said that, the ideas are gathered in one place so useful for many. (a point I was saving for my conclusion),

      Preference comes into it, I like rules to be simple but I like to usually have choices and room to manouvre, exceptions being made for things like storming a redoubt. Having only played 1 period abd 1 army selection is not nearly enough to draw any general conclusions.

  2. I have felt the rules as given do the job that the author intended and there is a proportion of gamers that are just looking for some fun and an easy way to get through a game in a short time without making too many demands on the rules - for people outside that group though, the rules probably raise too many eyebrows.

    I find the rules interesting from the perspective of how far you can strip back a system and it still deliver a wargame, but for my own fast play needs, play it is not rewarding in the wargame sense.

    I am using the rule engine tonight in an ACW face to face game, but I have written some hex rules for my Kallistra terrain and introduced a morale rule .... basically at the end of a player turn, each unit that took casualties that turn must take a test. Roll 3 x D6, if the number is MORE THAN the current of number the unit has then all is fine, if not, the unit falls back 1 hex and takes two extra casualties.

    The advantage is that it puts a restraining hand on elites like Zouaves defending woods etc and stops a clearly knackered unit fighting to the last moment in defiance of what is going on around it, which in turn brings some tension and therefore interest.

    I think the more the period in question is a favourite for you, the less forgiving you will feel towards these light rules. So for me, the WWII rules don't do a very good job at reflecting WWII, for example, anti-tank guns can move and so behave more like vehicles with guns - but I do think you can add 1 page of tinkering to the rules and get something that you can enjoy, while keeping the basic engine.

    The interesting thing about using hexes is that the pivot rule doesn't matter, since I have 1 unit per hex, it can pivot as much as it likes with any interference from neighbours. I have a full write up on my blog of my recent ACW game using hexes with a historically based scenario. (see Battlefields and warriors blog).

    1. You're probably right. With the ancient section that I commented on, the rules appeared ok, it was the application to 600 years and various cultures that I objected to, It would have been like suggesting the horse and musket rules for everything from 1600 to 1939.

      I did have a quick peek of your game when the post went up but wanted to hold off a closer read until I had done my exploration.

  3. Ross Mac,

    Wow! A very detailed review of the book that seems to be the current vogue amongst a sizeable number of wargamers.

    I was very enthusiastic about the basic rules because of their intrinsic simplicity and adaptability, and have enjoyed using them ... but after not having wargamed for over a month, I am not sure if I will use them in preference to my own Portable Wargame or Memoir of Battle rules when I manage to fight my next battle.

    All the best,


    1. Only 1/2 way through the review Bob!

      I haven't played enough of the periods and scenarios to reach a conclusion yet but a 1914 version game today did made a better game.

  4. Neil's book is nice and I do have a copy. I have played some of the scenarios and enjoyed the linked die rolling to create a string of battles. But, this whole concept of an easy beginner game and introduction to the hobby was written better way back in 1962 with Joseph Morchauser's, "How to Play Wargames in Miniature."

    1. My thoughts exactly, it might be interesting to try some of the scenarios with Joe's rules played straight up.

  5. I think the slights you mention (intended or otherwise) will pass over a newcomer's head. As an introductory set, these rules are just a shade above my own "Bang Yer Dead" rules. I found the rules a little stifling in their limit of 6 units and by not allowing artillery in Pike and Shot games. But being a tinkerer by nature, it didn't stop me. I wish I had a book like this many moons ago. I had sent my Nephew a set of 1/72 Napoleonic figures, French and British, with guns and all the trimmings. I included a colourful Bruce Quarie book that had rules and an overview of many periods. I visited him in Montreal hoping for a game and to my chagrin the figures and book were neatly stowed away on a shoebox in his closet. He was deeply immersed in BattleMasters and Hero Quest. He said the rules I sent were "too hard to understand". He was right. I eventually got him to play historical wargames with a refight of Guadalcanal on a gridded ping pong table using Barry J. Carter's Naval Wargaming book and 1/700 planes and 1/1200 ships.

    1. I admit that Quarie would not have been among my choices for a starter, esp for a young gamer. Buck Surdu's Big Battle for Small Hands is a good start as are some of the old standards, but Thomas's book could work well as an intro if a bit dull compared to Battle masters etc . Battlecry would be an excellent intro if you can find a copy as wpould Memoir, challanging game, easy to learn, everything you need in one box and challanging games despite very simple rules.

  6. On another blog (sorry, I can't recall which), an ancients game using the OHW rules was characterized as very dull. On the other hand, the author stated the rules really came into their own with an 18th C battle.

    Best regards,


    1. Having done some comparisons, I think I inadvertently starting with the worst combination of periods and units with all melee troops and no armour units just evaporated. Still the later perids do seem a bit better.

  7. An interesting start Ross... I read the rules and discarded them almost immediately as not matching my understanding of warfare in the period being represented, and the ACW rules were a case in point (if units never closed to bayonet why did the Confederates have a rebel yell?? :o)) ) What is good - are the scenario's (simple they may be to start but they get more interesting), and the randomised force generators, which are infinitely tinker'able.. looking forward to the next espisode

    1. Steve, I had the same reaction on both points but having set out to do a blog review decided I need to give both a fair shake. 2nd scenario played with 2 rules sets and was at least better than the first go. Just typing it up now.

  8. Good review, Ross. I said some rather unkind things about OHW on my own blog, and young Kinch called me out on perhaps asking more of them than they aim to deliver. Not having a large library of scenarios as you do, I think I will keep the book primarily as a resource for scenarios, which I suck at thinking up.
    I had not really thought about the Anglocentric nature of the book. Good catch.

    1. I think it woukd be easy to dress up the scenarios for a larger table and different rules without losing the essence. Steve The Wargamer did just that on s recent post on his blog.