Thursday, 25 December 2014

One Hour Wargames

As I posted the other day, I got a copy of Neil Thomas' 'One Hour Wargames' for Christmas. I have been quite excited about getting this after reading various posts elsewhere on the 'net. I was prepared for it being nothing new; the rules contained in it are simplistic in the extreme, and many of the scenarios are based on or similar to those in the Charles S. Grant book that I already have. But I felt the book was worth getting and reading just because sometimes inspiration for games and rules can come from the smallest throwaway comment, and it's always interesting to see the design process which goes on behind rules, even if the rules themselves are not to ones taste. In addition the book is being discussed elsewhere, so there is already a community of people playing with the concepts in it, thus doing some of the work for me, if work was required.

So what do I think of the book so far? I've read the introductory section, and the rules and period notes; I still have most of the scenarios to pick through. The introduction could have been written in 1974; I'm not sure it entirely applies to wargaming as I'm experiencing it now, but it's quaint, and I'm happy to read someone else's opinions. It also sets up the reason for the book; small games in a short time-frame.

The notes for each historical section are interesting, despite being brief. The author has concentrated on nine periods, each with a set of rules - Ancient, Dark Ages, Medieval, Pike and Shot, Horse and Musket, Rifle and Sabre, American Civil War, Machine Age and World War II. Some of these are focused on particular aspects of the era; the Dark Ages section is pretty much focused on Britain, for example. This focus is because for each period he has a set of rules and for each set of rules he restricts the games to having four troop types only. So his Ancient rules have Infantry (by which he means heavy infantry), Skirmishers, Archers and Cavalry. The idea is to give a flavour of each era without bogging it down in too much detail.

Each set has roughly the same mechanisms. The games are alternate move and a player can move all of their units; there are no command and control considerations. Units move, then eligible units shoot, then units in close combat roll to hit their opponents. In some eras some or all units can move and shoot. In others units only move or shoot. Combat is a D6 roll to determine how many hits are inflicted n the enemy unit. This can be adjusted by +2 or -2 depending on unit type and, sometimes, target type, then halved or doubled for certain tactical situations. Hits don't degrade a unit's ability to fight or move, but when a unit takes 15 hits or more it is removed.

The book contains 30 scenarios, designed to be played on a 3' x 3' board using about 6 units with a 4-6" frontage. Obviously you can scale that to fit your own figures and play area, scaling the rules appropriately. I would like to have seen perhaps a paragraph on doing this, but it's not hard to work out for yourself. The rules and scenarios could have been better written, perhaps, by using an arbitrary measuring unit like DBA 3.0's Base Width, then defining unit sizes, moves, ranges and board sizes in terms of this unit. However it's a minor quibble.

Anyway, having read the rules and the first few scenarios, I decided to set up a game. I went for Scenario 5 - Take The High Ground. Here's the terrain. The hill, wood and road are significant. Everything else is garnish.

One army sets up a couple of units on the hill, and is expecting the rest of its force as reinforcements at the top of the picture. The attacking army enters at the start of the game from the bottom of the picture. The objective is to control the hill at the end of the game.

I decided that I fancied using my Great Northern War Risk figures. This is an awkward choice because it fits partially into two periods covered by the book - Horse and Musket and Pike and Shot. I opted for the latter, because the rules looked a little bit more interesting.

The Pike and Shot era has four units types - Infantry (with musket and pike, naturally), Swordsmen (infantry with a melee capability only), Reiters (cavalry using pistol-shooting as a tactic) and Cavalry (cavalry that charge to contact). I decided to fit my armies to the rules rather than change the rules to fit the armies. After all, this was a test of the game, not my capacity for rewriting it.  The book has both armies randomly generated from tables. Any Infantry gained would obviously be infantry units. That was easy. I decided that Sworsdmen would be Cossacks, depicted as mounted, but possibly fighting on foot with sword, axe and short-range musketry. I did make one change for the other two troop types, deciding that all Reiters and Cavalry generated for the Russians would count as Reiters only, whilst the Swedes would count everything as Cavalry. Thus the Russian horse would be more ponderous than their Swedish counterparts, with the plus that they had a ranged-capability, representing dragoons or similar.

Armies in the book are generally of six (yes, just six) units. As generated I got:

Swedish - Four Infantry, one Swordsmen (Cossacks), one Cavalry
Russian - Four Infantry, two Reiters.

I randomly determined that the Swedes were defending, and diced for which units started on the hill - an Infantry and the Cossacks.

The Russians march on to the table. Ranges in One Hour Wargames are quite generous, so the shooting started straight away. In the Pike and Shot rules a unit which shoots (Infantry and Reiters only) must roll a D6 - on a 1-2 they are out of ammunition, and cannot shoot for the rest of the game. However these unit types cannot charge into melee until they are out of ammunition. It's an odd rule, but works in a way.

The Swedish reinforcements arrived, with their cavalry making a run for the opposite flank of the hill. Cavalry move quite quickly. I was using a 2' x 2' playing area rather than the stipulated 3' x 3', but just dropped all distances by a third. In the case of the 8" and 10" moves of Swordsmen and Reiters I just made them both 6", and assumed it wouldn't be an issue. It wasn't.

The Russians close up on the hill. The marker on the one unit shows that it's already out of ammunition.

On the other flank the Russian cavalry attempts to delay the Swedish reinforcements. Their range is also generous, representing horsemen riding forward in small groups to harass the enemy with pistol fire.

The Swedes took the initiative, with the Cossacks attacking off the hill before they were cut down by Russian musketry.

On the Russian right the woods were getting in the way. Only Swordsmen can enter woods in the Pike and Shot rules

The Cossacks attack!

Once a melee begins it only ends when one unit is eliminated; there's no rules for breaking off, falling back or anything like that.

Both Russian infantry units attacking the hill were out of ammunition now, so charged in.

On the other flank the Russian cavalry and Swedish infantry were closing. But without their firepower the Russians were going to be at a disadvantage fighting the pike-armed Swedes in close combat.

The battle for the hill continued. The rules are all about attrition really.

The Swedish cavalry was working around the flank, but came under fire from the Russian's reserve infantry unit.

In danger of being whittled down by musketry, the Swedish cavalry charge. Because that's what you do when you have a horse under you.

Meanwhile, two Russian infantry units break and run.

The Russian right forms a line as the Swedes move more units towards the hill.

The Cossacks swing into the extreme end of the line.

Meanwhile the Swedish cavalry break and run. The cavalry get a plus in melee, but against infantry they are penalised against the pikes.

The Cossacks also run; they took a lot of hits in their earlier combat, and this second attack was one too many.

Russian infantry turns to meet a fresh Swedish attack. The Swedes are now very much on the offensive, and the attacking Russians on the back-foot.

More Russians rout. And we're only just halfway into the game.

Russian cavalry breaks. They are now down to their last couple of units, and the Swedes still hold the hill.

A last Russian advance ...

 ... routs one Swedish infantry unit.

But it's not enough.

The final Russian unit routs, ten turns into a fifteen turn game.

The game played out OK, if a little fast for a scenario designed to last fifteen turns. But I did have some issues with arcs of fire and whether they were blocked by other units or terrain, whether you could fire on units in close combat and whether certain contacts were flank contacts or not.

I decided to give the scenario another go, but with the rules for a different period. Enter my 6mm ACW figures.

The ACW set is a little strange in that there's no close combat; all combat is shooting. To be honest for this scenario it made for a dull game, with two lines blazing away at long range, and the defenders being swept off the hill long before any reinforcements came up. And what was the point of their being on a hill anyway? It confers no combat bonus or advantage of any kind in this set.

The game settled into a long firefight and I gave up on it before the end, mostly because I got interrupted and forgot whose turn it was when I got back.

And another issue. In this set infantry can enter woods. And when two opposing units enter woods they can still only shoot at each other. But at what range? How do woods block lines of fire? The rules don't say.

Don't get me wrong. I think there's some interesting ideas in the rules given on One Hour Wargames. And any set of rules with designer's notes is worth the effort, because seeing how a person's mind works is always an insight. But I'm not convinced that the two sets I tried work as written; they need extra explanation (even a single page before the sets with some basic concepts would have helped).

The scenarios, however, look excellent. The maps are a little short on terrain, but that's not an insurmountable obstacle, but otherwise they mostly offer interesting tactical situations, and should provide a range of great games. It's just that I might try them with other rules.


  1. Interesting review and play tests. One thing that might have added a bit of interest to the ACW version: taking up a rear slope position. Is this historical? Not really, but it might have been informative, all the same.

    1. The problem is that the range is quite generous, and there are no range bands. So there's really no reason to close up on an enemy; units sit at full range just shooting each other.

      Reverse slopes aren't really an ACW thing. I did take to hiding units behind the hill though :)

  2. I have only tried out the medieval rules and it felt fine. I agree that 4 pages of rules rather than 3 would have helped eliminate a lot of questions but that's life. The scenarios seems great. As you do, I am also not sure how well the rule mechanisms work for post 1600 but luckily have no inclination to try - I think I would turn to other simple rules if I wanted to play the scenarios with more modern troops.

    1. I haven't tried any of the first three sets yet, but will probably give them a go; I enjoyed your Medieval report, and there's a good Dark Ages one elsewhere on the 'net.


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