Experimenting with a different card-activated unit activation system

Over the years I have tried all sorts of card-driven unit activation systems and in the main I have felt that they worked well. One of the main benefits that I have found is that they are a simple but effective way of limiting how many units a player can active at one particular moment during a battle … which for a solo wargamer such as myself is preferable to the standard ‘I activate all of my units and then you activate all of yours’.

Yesterday I began experimenting with a method that I had not previously tried, and the results look interesting. I took two packs of ordinary playing cards and took out all the Red and Black 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s, and two Jokers. I then allocated the colour Red to one side and Black to the other before shuffling the playing cards and laying them face down.

The mechanism was designed to work as follows:

  1. The top playing card is turned over. Whichever side’s colour comes up can activate the number of units indicated by the number on the playing card (e.g. a Red 5 means that the Red side could activate five units).
  2. Once the units have been activated, the playing card is discarded, and the next playing card is turned over … and so on until a Joker is turned over.
  3. If a Joker is turned over, all the playing cards – including the discarded ones – are re-shuffled and the top playing card is turned over.

The first run-through of the mechanism until a Joker was turned over produced the following results:

  • Black 4, Black 3, Black 4, Red 2, Red 5, Red 6, Black 3, Red 6, Black 6, Black 5, Red 2, Red 3, Black 3, Black 2, Black 2, Joker

Black achieved 32 ‘activations’ from 9 cards (an average of 3.55 ‘activations’ per card) and Red achieved 24 ‘activations’ from 6 cards (an average of 4.00 ‘activations’ per card).

The next run-though produced these results:

  • Black 3, Red 4, Black 4, Black 4, Red 3, Black 4, Red 6, Red 5, Red 3, Black 2, Black 3, Red 2, Red 6, Black 6, Black 2, Black 5, Red 3, Red 5, Black 3, Black 6, Red 3, Red 5, Black 2, Red 2, Black 6, Black 5, Red 4, Red 2, Red 2, Joker

Black achieved 55 ‘activations’ from 14 cards (an average of 3.92 ‘activations’ per card) and Red achieved 45 ‘activations’ from 15 cards (an average of 3.00 ‘activations’ per card).

The third run-through produced the following results:

  • Red 4, Red 3, Black 5, Red 5, Red 6, Black 3, Black 2, Red 6, Joker

Black achieved 10 ‘activations’ from 3 cards (an average of 3.33 ‘activations’ per card) and Red achieved 24 ‘activations’ from 5 cards (an average of 4.80 ‘activations’ per card).

The overall results were that Black achieved a total of 97 ‘activations’ from 26 cards (an average of 3.73 ‘activations’ per card) and Red achieved a total of 93 ‘activations’ from 26 cards (an average of 3.57 ‘activations’ per card). This compared quite well with my estimated average number of ‘activations’ per card, which is 4.00.

The only concern that I had was that some of the ‘strings’ of ‘activations’ (i.e. incidences of several playing cards of the same colour being turned over one after the other) might produce occasionally unbalanced results. I therefore removed all the 2s and 6s as well as one of the Jokers.

The first run-though of the amended pack of cards produced the following results:

  • Black 5, Red 4, Black 5, Black 4, Black 3, Red 3, Red 5, Black 3, Black 5, Black 4, Red 4, Black 3, Red 5, Black 5, Red 3, Red 3, Red 5, Red 4, Black 3, Black 4, Joker

Black achieved 44 ‘activations’ from 11 cards (an average of 4.00 ‘activations’ per card) and Red achieved 36 ‘activations’ from 9 cards (an average of 4.00 ‘activations’ per card). This exactly corresponded with my estimated average number of ‘activations’ per card, which is 4.00.

The longest ‘string’ was Red’s 15 ‘activations’ from 4 playing cards (Red 3, Red 3, Red 5, Red 4). On two occasions Black had 12 ‘activations’ from 3 playing cards (Black 5, Black 4, Black 3 and Black 3, Black 5, Black 4).

This set of results was encouraging, so I did a further run-through, which produced these results:

  • Red 3, Black 5, Black 4, Red 5, Red 4, Red 4, Black 5, Black 3, Black 4, Black 3, Black 4, Red 4, Black 3, Black 3, Red 3, Red 3, Red 5, Black 5, Black 4, Red 3, Red 5, Red 5, Black 5, Red 4, Joker

Black achieved 48 ‘activations’ from 12 cards (an average of 4.00 ‘activations’ per card) and Red achieved 48 ‘activations’ from 12 cards (an average of 4.00 ‘activations’ per card). Again this exactly corresponded with my estimated average number of ‘activations’ per card, which was 4.00.

The longest ‘string’ was Black’s 19 ‘activations’ from 5 playing cards (Black 5, Black 3, Black 4, Black 3, Black 4). On two occasions Red had 13 ‘activations’ from 3 playing cards (Red 5, Red 4, Red 4 and Red 3, Red 5, Red 5,).

I now want to test this theoretical card-driven activation system in a wargame … which will mean that I will have to push some toys around on the tabletop.


One though struck me whilst I was writing this bog entry. Using this system it would be quite easy to factor in things like the presence of a superior general, better communications, or even better quality units by changing the selection of the values of the playing cards in each pack. For example, an ‘excellent’ general might have cards worth 4, 5, and 6 (which should produce an average of 5 ‘activations’ per card) whereas a ‘poor’ general might only rate cards worth 2, 3, and 4 (which should produce an average of 3 ‘activations’ per card).

An alternative might be to give one side more cards than the other. For example Red might have four cards of each value whereas Black has six. This should mean that Black has more ‘activations’ than Red during the course of a wargame.


Out of the Shed: Even more HO-scale plastic model buildings

Whilst re-arranging the storage of some of the items that I had removed from the now-defunct shed, I found some more HO-scale plastic model buildings. These included two log cabins (which were almost identical to the ones I have just built from the kits I found in the shed), three small churches/chapels, and five very small chalet-style houses.

I bought the chalet-style houses and the church/chapel with the red roof and spire in Austria in 1965. They were sold ready-made as a set, and I used them in many of my earliest wargames. Since then they have been in storage and have moved house with me at least four times. Looking at them now they look just as good as they did when I bought them forty-nine years ago … and I am determined to try to find a reason to use them in a wargame as soon as I can.


Morale: Believing you can win … and thinking you are losing

I watched the third day of the cricket Test Match between England and India yesterday … and saw a prime example of morale at work. By the start of the third session of the day you could almost feel the English side’s belief that they were going to win … and the Indian side’s increasing feeling that they were going to lose.

This is not to say that the English team were outstandingly more skilled or lucky than the Indian side, but their belief in their ability to win seemed to motivate them all to make that little bit more effort. The converse of this was the fact that the Indians didn’t appear to have any desperate desire to win and seemed to make mistakes that they would not normally have done.

The question that has been forming in my mind as a result of watching this match is:
CAN THIS BE MORALE EFFECT BE MODELLED ON THE TABLETOP?
Traditionally morale has been modelled in a negative way. For example, a set of wargame rules will state that when a unit suffers x% losses, it must take a morale test … and if they suffer further casualties they will have take another morale test. In the end the chances are that the unit will refuse to continue to fight and may even cease to exist as a coherent body of men.

I may be wrong (I frequently am!) but I cannot think of a set of wargame rules that give any kind of bonus to a unit that has just forced an enemy unit to retreat or that has caused considerable and visible casualties to an enemy unit. In both cases you would expect the unit that has inflicted these sorts of effects upon the enemy to be highly motivated and to fight with greater vigour – and effectiveness – for the immediate future.

On a personal level I am not a great lover of morale rules, preferring to rely upon the personal morale of the individual players to determine how units react on the tabletop.

I can cite an example of this. Some years ago Channel 4 attempted to make Kriegsspiel into a spectator sport. Unfortunately it did not work very well and only lasted for a single, short series of three programmes … but it did illustrate the effect of a commander’s personal morale on the outcome of a battle.

The first battle featured in the series was a re-fight of the Battle of Naseby, and I remember that at one stage both commanders were convinced that they were losing the battle, and began to make plans to retreat … and then one of them realised that the enemy army was in a worse state than his army was, and he began to push his troops forward … which precipitated an even faster enemy collapse. He believed that he was winning … and he did; his opponent thought that he was being beaten … and he was.


I began writing this blog entry just after 9.00am this morning … but have only just been able to complete it and upload it now (1.50pm) thanks to a constant stream of interruptions to our Internet access. Apparently the fault they ‘cured’ yesterday is still dogging the digital cable network in our area. It should be fixed later today. I will believe that when it happens!


Interrupted Internet

For some time our Internet access has been a bit flaky, and over the past week I have had to reset our modem more frequently than I should. The problem became much worse yesterday, and just before 3.00pm we completely lost our connection to the Internet.

Trying to report the loss of service was problematic because the service provider expects you to do it online! Sue managed to access the appropriate webpage using her iPhone and the G3 mobile ‘phone network, and discovered that the problem was affecting all the service’s users in our area. Not only was our Internet service interrupted but our cable TV service was also restricted.

The service provider eventually restored our Internet access just after 6.00pm, but the cable TV service is not expected to be fully restored until Monday morning. We can watch most of the channels that are included in our ‘package’, but cannot access the ‘catch up’ service … and there are several programmes that I want to watch.

If this problem persists, we will have to consider changing our service provider … but I doubt that a new one will be much better, and they will certainly not be any cheaper.


Some recent acquisitions

Earlier this week I met up with David Crook … and swapped a small part of my unpainted lead mountain for some painted figures that he wanted to dispose of.

The figures I have acquired include:

  • Two units of Turkish Infantry

  • Two Turkish Machine Guns
  • Two units of German Asia Corps Infantry

  • Two German Asia Corps Machine Guns and a Trench Mortar
  • A unit of British Infantry

They are all painted to a good standard, and only need re-basing before I can use them.

As I was getting them out of the box that they came in I was struck by the number of uses I could put these figures to. The addition of some artillery and cavalry will turn them into very useful small armies for the First World War Middle Eastern campaigns … and my thoughts also turned to a possible re-staging of the famous Madasahatta Campaign of my more youthful years!


Nuggets from the lead mountain

I have now been through the entire contents of the toolbox that was full of painted and unpainted figures, and removed everything that I think may be of use.

Part of the results of my efforts can be seen below in the form of plastic bags containing various figures.

Please click on the image to enlarge it.

The bags contain the following figures (from right to left):

  • Douglas Miniatures Crimean War figures
  • Rose Miniatures American Civil War figures
  • Hinton Hunt Crimean War and American Civil War figures
  • Two bags of assorted Peter Laing figures.

The above figures are in addition to all the painted figures that I have also removed from the toolbox.

One thing does concern me; despite all the ‘mining’ I have done of my lead mountain, I still have an almost full toolbox of unpainted figures!


One thing that I do need help with is the identity of the following figures.

I found them in the lead mountain and have no idea who manufactured them. Any suggestions or information would be gratefully received.


Out of the Shed: Some more HO-scale plastic model buildings

When I sorted out the crate containing my collection of HO-scale plastic model buildings, I found three unmade kits. I have now had the opportunity to construct those models, and they have been added to the collection.

The buildings are a typical Northern European suburban house and two log cabins. The latter buildings are of a type found in parts of the Alps, the heavily forested areas of Central Europe, and in some parts of Scandinavia.

I don’t know if or when I will use these new additions to my collection, but I am pleased that they are now able to take their rightful place in it.