The Solo Wargaming Guide and One-Hour Wargames

Most of my wargaming is done solo. That does not mean that I don’t enjoy fighting tabletop battles against human opponents, but due to my particular circumstances I tend to do that every couple of months, and during the interim I fight solo wargames.

I am always on the lookout for solo wargaming ideas, and during a recent trawl through the Internet I discovered THE SOLO WARGAMING GUIDE by William Silvester (published by Precis Intermedia in 2013 [ISBN 978 1 938270 13 0])

The book’s contents include:

  • Introduction
  • The Campaign Level
    • Solo Campaign Mobilization Rules
    • Time and Transportation
    • Weather
    • Logistics and Attrition
    • Morale
    • Alliances
    • Revolts
    • Sieges
    • Mutinies
  • Sea Campaigns
  • The Personal Touch
  • Fact, Fiction, & Fantasy
    • Fantasy
  • Sample Campaign
  • The Tactical Level
    • Terrain and Placement
    • Weather
    • Commander’s Competency
    • The Battle
    • Concealment
    • Ambushes
    • Laying Minefields
  • Air Warfare
    • Paratroopers
    • Landing Gliders
  • Solo Boardgames
  • Appendix

I ordered a copy of Neil Thomas’s ONE-HOUR WARGAMES: PRACTICAL TABLETOP BATTLES FOR THOSE WITH LIMITED TIME AND SPACE (published by Pen and Sword Military in 2014 [ISBN 978 1 473822 90 0]) when I first heard that it was going to be published, and it arrived several days ago.

Thomas’s book essentially falls into two parts. The first part gives some basic information and very simple rules for each of the following wargaming periods:

  • Ancient
  • Dark Age
  • Medieval
  • Pike and Shot
  • Horse and Musket
  • Rifle and Sabre
  • American Civil War
  • Machine Age
  • Second World War

The second part of the book contains thirty scenarios for small tabletop battles that should take about an hour to set up and fight. There are also chapters that cover Wargame Campaigns and Solo Wargaming.

I have read THE SOLO WARGAMING GUIDE and found it very useful, and I am about halfway through ONE-HOUR WARGAMES: PRACTICAL TABLETOP BATTLES FOR THOSE WITH LIMITED TIME AND SPACE. The rules in the latter book are simple – possibly too simple for some wargamers’ tastes – but I think that they should prove fun to use, especially if they cover a period that one does not usually wargame. The scenarios appear to be very useful, and I have already spotted a couple that I might well try out in the not too distant future.


36 Comments on “The Solo Wargaming Guide and One-Hour Wargames”

  1. arthur1815 says:

    I agree with you about the rules in Thmas's OHW, particularly his rigid restriction to exactly four troop types. This results in some anomalies: an ECW army cannot have any artillery or dragoons because Thomas has included a 'Swordsmen' category, which is only applicable to much earlier Renaissance armies; in the ACW, he has created 'Zouaves' as a sort of elite infantry, which I doubt they really were.
    Then, there is his usual disregard of the relationship between unit frontage and weapon range, so a battalion in line, armed with matchlocks or flintlocks, has an effective musketry range at least twice its front. Artillery of the same period, however, can only shoot four times as far as infantry – though its range is greater than the proposed width of the wargame table!
    The virtue of these rules is that they are so simple that a novice could easily follow them, and that it would be easy to tinker with them, by importing the H&M artillery rules into the Pike&Shot rules for ECW or TYW, for example. Perhaps that is Thomas's 'cunning plan': publish rules so simple that users will soon become dissatisfied because the rules don't match their interpretation of history and wish to adapt them, so they will read more on the period tactics and create their own amendments/house rules – and then they're hooked!

    Bob, you really must publish your own book of Portable Wargames…

    Best wishes,

  2. jhnptrqn says:

    Thank you for your review of these books; now I'll have to buy both.

  3. Arthur1815,

    The rules are very, very simple … and possible too simplistic for my taste. (I like simple rules, but not at the expense of a small degree of historical accuracy.)

    Zouaves as elite troops? Possible those in the French Army were, but not in the armies of either side during the ACW.

    My revised version of THE PORTABLE WARGAME will appear in due course – I hope! – and I will try to have them ready before Christmas.

    All the best,


  4. Jhnptrqn,

    I hope that you find both books useful. I certainly have.

    All the best,


  5. nobby says:

    In my quest to be a war gamer I have bought both of these books.
    It has been very difficult, and expensive, to find books and rulesets that are easy for a beginner to understand. Out of all the books and rules that I have bought the four that I have settled on as being most useful to me are the two reviewed here by Bob along with Stuart Asquith's Solo Wargaming, and the Lion Rampart ruleset.
    I'm not expecting to need Neil Thomas' rules but the scenarios are excellent. Stuart Asquith's book is clearly and concisely written. All of a sudden I could understand how solo wargaming could work. Wm. Silvester's campaign suggestions are what I aspire to achieve as I progress with this hobby. Lion Rampart I can understand because there has been plenty of explanation on the internet, and a play tester for the rules was kind enough to give me a game. I am just off to finish the bases on my second retinue and should be playing tomorrow.
    I'm looking forward to getting things down to a smallish gridded table. I favour ease of access as well as ease of understanding so await with the Portable Wargaming rules with anticipation. If they do not suit medieval it will be time to start my Guns of Batasi inspired colonial and post colonial imagi-nation.

  6. Nobby,

    I am very pleased to see that you found both the books I reviwed useful.

    It is a long time since I read Stuart Asquith's book, but from what I can remember it contained lots of good ideas … as did Donald Featherstone's book about solo wargaming.

    LION RAMPANT sound very interesting, even if it isn't a period I would normally wargame.

    All the best,


  7. nobby says:

    Is it heresy to say that I have several of Donald Featherstone's books, old and reprint, and find them less useful than many others?
    I guess that as I move on the will become easy to understand but even the solo and beginner's books I found difficult.
    Battle by Charles Grant was the first thing I'd read that made it clear how and why wargame rules are derived. Unfortunately, I'd already spent a lot on books by the time I discovered Battle as a free pdf.
    I wonder if should blog this? There may be others out there who can ill afford to waste as much as I have :0)

  8. Nobby,

    Donald Featherstone's books were what I grew up with … along with CHARGE and BATTLE. They were of variable quality, but they were all that was available at the time.

    Is it heresy to say that you don't think highly of them? In some people's eyes it would be … but not to everyone. Your opinion might well be useful to a novice wargamer, and I can see no reason why you should not write about it on a blog.

    All the best,


  9. barry carter says:

    A thought on ECW artillery:
    One problem is that many ECW wargamers use this arm in a decidedly unhistoric way, for example often forming Napoleonic style grand batteries and using the guns to dominate the battlefield.
    When you look at the artillery ratios during the ECW it is really very low and many of the guns seem to have been of very small calibre.
    Perhaps the Thomas decision to leave artillery behind is a simple solution to this problem.

  10. Very interesting comments, I wrote a light review about One-Hour Wargames in my blog, adding some special rules for expand the quality of the troops.

  11. Jim Duncan says:

    I have the One-Hour Wargames book in my collection.

    I don't think I will be using the rules as such but I will more than likely borrow the scenarios and play games using Neil Thomas' full Napoleonic rules.

    I would hope to get some gaming done soon.

  12. Fitz-Badger says:

    I read the solo book and found it a mixed bag of the same old stuff I've seen in various places for years/decades and a few useful tidbits here and there. The structure of the book is kind of odd; especially the way they try to differentiate different bits, like “campaign notes” vs rules, etc. But that's ore of a book design quirk.

    I have the one hour book on order.

    Probably the books I have gotten the most actual use out of over the years are the 2 Grant scenario books (the programmed one and the other one). I also spent many enjoyable moments perusing some of Featherstone's works (a favorite being his solo book) and Tony Bath's setting up a campaign book. Fun to read and fuel dreams with, but I never made much actual gaming use of them.

  13. M'mmm… its looking close to the time for me to expand my war games library.

    I think it is not unreasonable to accept ACW Zouave units as elite – especially the ones that kept their uniforms for more than a few months. I have read as how they tended to think of themselves as something special, and were apt to behave according. I'd also be inclined to treat US Regulars, and the Iron Brigade up to 1 July 1863 as elite as well. On the Confederate side, it is hard to single out units or formations for such classification. I would accept the Stonewall Brigade as such, and Richard Taylor's Louisiana Brigade as well (with a special mention for its Special Battalion: the Louisiana Tigers). If Shelby Foote is to be believed, Pat Cleburne's and Bedford Forrest's formations in the Army of Tennessee were pretty crack, and all.

    On the matter of musketry/arquebusier range extending twice and more times battalion frontage, there may be certain justifications for this, depending upon period. I am reminded of the musketry ranges of our first Napoleonic battles, which, at 12″ were nearly five times (!) battalion frontage. Once I knew more I had problems with this, but the reasons had to do with a kind of historical-aesthetic sense, rather than how it affected the game. One might have assumed the existence of battalion guns or non-depicted integral skirmishers to justify that range, though we didn't even ask the question at the time.

    That gunnery ranges aren't all that much longer than the musketry is not so unreasonable. We all know cannon ranges were far in excess of the sort of ranges cannon were used in battle. Napoleonic effective ranges appear to have been up to maybe 800 yards for your standard field artillery – a little further for the heavier 12pr ordnance.

    Against that, musketry at up to 300 yards range was pretty common (following the practice of Frederick the Great in his later years), except among British and British trained infantry. Not that anyone expected to do much physical damage at that range, rather it seems that it was hoped a degree of psychological damage might be enough to do the business. That does not take into account skirmishing companies or battalion guns.

    I don't know what Mr Thomas's design philosophy is or was, but from what I've read here, I'd be inclined to 'suck it and see' before looking into amendments.

  14. Gonsalvo says:

    RE: “Zouaves” as elite infantry, I think you can safely regard this as simply a shorthand for “elite infantry units”, whatever dress they might be in.

    As far as explaining the concepts behind wargaming clearly, I think it is hard to beat Joe Morschauser's “How to play Wargames in Miniature”. It was my introduction to the hobby, and despite never playing a game with his rules, the basic principles and mechanisms of wargaming were very clear (and inspiring) to a 13 year old boy.

  15. I have both these books and enjoyed reading both of them.

    I like Neil Thomas writing style. Although his rules are a bit on the simple side in all his books, which means I wouldn't use them often for periods I game regularly, they are very handy for those periods I dip into just now and again. You can be playing in around 10 minutes, which is very useful.

  16. Barry Carter,

    I see your point and must admit that it makes sense. I have seen the ECW 'grand battery' tactic used in wargames, and it did seem much more effective than the slow-firing artillery of the period would have been.

    All the best,


  17. Slorm Captain,

    I look forward to reading you blog entry, and I will be especially interested in the additional rules for troop quality that you have added.

    All the best,


  18. Jim Duncan,

    I will certainly be using the scenarios from Thomas's book … when I manage to do some wargaming again!

    All the best,


  19. Robert (Bob)Cordery, you and your comments will be welcome in my blog!
    (And all the other too!)

  20. Fitz-Badger,

    I agree that THE SOLO WARGAMING GUIDE does have an odd and somewhat quirky layout. Nevertheless, I found some parts of it very interesting and it did give me some ideas to work on.

    Charles Grant's scenario books have always been a useful resource for wargamers, and Tony Bath's book about campaigns got so much use that mine eventually fell apart! Apart from Morschauser which has become my main source of inspiration, Featherstone's books are the ones I return to whenever my enthusiasm wanes … although CHARGE! also deserves an honourable mention in that regard as well.

    All the best,


  21. Archduke Piccolo,

    We could spend many enjoyable hours discussing the various merits of different ACW units, and I would certainly agree the the U.S. Regulars, the Stonewall Brigade, and the Iron Brigade are amongst the best. As to Zouave units … well some were very good but others were not, however much they may thought they were. I suspect that this is a topic upon which we are going to have to agree to disagree.

    Your point about the difference between long and effective ranges for cannon and muskets is well made.

    As to Neil Thomas's design philosophy … well I think that the emphases are upon simple, fast, and fun … and that is certainly something that I agree with.

    All the best,


  22. Gonsalvo,

    If Thomas is using the term 'Zouave' as shorthand for 'elite' it makes perfect sense.

    I totally agree about Joseph Morschauser's book; it has become my major source of inspiration and ideas over the past five or six years.

    All the best,


  23. Alan Charlesworth,

    I agree that both books are an enjoyable read and excellent additions to any wargamer's library.

    I can see myself using the scenarios in Neil Thomas's book more often than his rules.

    All the best,


  24. Slorm Chaplain,

    First an apology. My predictive text changed Chaplain to Captain without me noticing.

    Secondly, I look forward to reading your blog … just as soon as I can get a decent wifi connection. (I am currently using a very slow 3G connection!)

    All the best,


  25. Blaxkleric says:

    Well these reviews certainly caught my attention, so I ordered both and they've now promptly arrived and look gvfm. Many thanks for the reviews. Much appreciated as I wouldn't have given either a look ordinarily (being too obsessed buying Osprey titles for just the odd uniform plate) 🙂

  26. Blaxxkleric,

    I am very pleased to read that you found my reviews helpful, and that you bought the books. I will try to visit your blog as soon as I have the opportunity to do so.

    All the best,


  27. barry carter says:

    I have now had a chance to go through One-Hour Wargames and think that once anyone can accept the obvious simplicity of the rules, they will then find that they have in their hands an effective series of quick play rules.
    Read the authors thoughts on dealing with Reiter – shocking in its application of common sense – and all is revealed!

  28. Barry Carter,

    I agree that they are commendably simple; I just wonder if they are too simple for some wargamers' tastes.

    All the best,


  29. jhnptrqn says:

    I was wondering if you could tell me how many figures make up a unit in the ECW game from “One Hour Rules? I want to get to work on my Peter Laing figures while waiting for my copy, which still isn't available in the States. Thank you, John

  30. Jhnptrqn,

    With the exception of the World War II rules, 'wargamers should decide for themselves how many figures constitute a given unit'.

    Units are represented by bases with figures on them, with Infantry and Cavalry having bases with frontages of 4 to 6 inches and Artillery on bases that are 2 to 3 inches wide.

    Possibly not what you wanted to read … but it does mean that you can use almost any scale of figure with these rules.

    All the best,


  31. jhnptrqn says:

    Bob, thank you for the information, I will have to plan around that.

  32. Jhnptrqn,

    More than pleased to have been of help.

    Good luck with your project.

    All the best,


  33. I think that some of the comments show that the commentators have neither read the book nor understood the concepts. As there is no ground scale given, and all the units are only called “units” not battalions, divisions or anything else, the comment on range v. frontage is misleading.

    If one opines that musket fire's “effectively maximum” is 100 yards, then the ground scale is 12″=100y. This makes a 6″ frontage for a “unit” the defining paradigm for what the Game Unit represents according to the gamer. In the case of the tricorne or napoleonic era, a Game Unit is then 50y wide so one would probably use several such Game Units to represent a battalion.

    There is no figure scale associated with the rules, either. You could put a row of 5 x 40mm figs, 10 x 25mm figs, 20 15mm figs or 30 x 10mm figs, etc.

    So it is important not to get bogged down in terminology that is used as a matter of convenience, and seek out the design purpose. As others have mentioned, using “Zoave” as a term for elite infantry is quite justifiable in history. If yours performed badly, don't classify them as Zoave. Also, the reason behind the effectiveness of all the artillery types is effectively covered.

    I heartily encourage anyone interested in game design to get One-Hour Wargames, read it, and play the Rules As Written before they change things. Understanding should come before alteration, one might say.

    To further that goal, I'm writing up a detailed analysis of a dark ages game at my blog, should help newbies or veterans alike appreciate the book and rules on their own merits.

  34. ECW 40mm Project,

    Thanks very much for your comments. My general impression is that most of the comments made before yours were not that out of kilter with what you wrote. I tried the rules as written and found them perfectly workable … and an excellent introduction to wargaming as well as being ideal for fast wargames. My own individual preference is for something slightly more complex, but this does not detract from their excellence. I also thought that the scenarios section was very good, and presented plenty of ideas for both solo and face-to-face battles.

    All the best,


  35. Steve says:

    Simplest way to include ordinance in ECW is to represent a gun base (perhaps two or three guns per base) as standard infantry… with X2 extended range: fire effect at -2, and 0 at very short range. This stops them being too powerful, but the additional range makes them very useful too.

  36. Steve,

    Thanks for the suggestion. It makes sense to me … but I am no expert on the period.

    All the best,


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