Table Top Battles: Now available again

One of the major influences on my wargaming in recent years was my purchase – at Warfare 2008 – of a copy of Mike and Joyce Smith’s TABLE TOP BATTLES – TABLE TOP WARGAMING WITH MINIATURES.

This morning I received an email from Leon Smith – who is Mike and Joyce Smith’s nephew – that informed me that there has been another print run of the rules, and that they are available again via Caliver Books. It appears that they are not listed yet on the Caliver Books website, but that they can be ordered from them. The contact details for Caliver Books are:
Caliver Books
100 Baker Road
NG16 2DP
+44 (0)1159 382111

My ‘guiding principles’ for writing wargames rules

When I wrote yesterday’s blog entry about the origins of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules, it set me thinking about the various inputs – for example, wargame rules written by other people and late-night discussions at COW (the Conference of Wargamers) – that have influenced their development.

I did try to draw up a ‘family tree’ that showed how my PORTABLE WARGAME rules were ‘descended’ from ‘Return to New Stanhall’ via SCWaRes, the RED SQUARE games, TABLE TOP BATTLES, and Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Frontier’ wargames rules … but the diagram showed so many inter-relationships that it ended up looking like a spider’s web and being almost impossible to follow.

What did emerge was a list of ‘guiding principles rules’ that I use as a guide when I write wargame rules. These are:

  • Fred T Jane’s ‘Reality’ or ‘Primary Rule of Wargaming’
  • Golf’s ‘Spirit of the Game’
  • Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Dice’ rule
  • My own ‘Discard rule’

By sticking to these basic guiding principles, I find that I can write wargame rules that satisfy my needs, and that I hope satisfy the needs of others.

Fred T Jane’s ‘Reality’ or ‘Primary Rule of Wargaming’
This states that:

‘Nothing can be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war.’

It is the first rule that is quoted in Fred T Jane’s NAVAL WAR GAME rules, and he considered that it should be the guiding principle when dealing with any disputes that might arise during a game. That is as true today as it was when he wrote it in 1898.

Golf’s ‘Spirit of the Game’
This is adapted from ‘The Rules of Golf’, as published by the Royal and Ancient (R&A) Limited. It states that:

‘Wargames are played, for the most part, without the supervision of an umpire. The game relies on the integrity of the individual players to show consideration for other players and to abide by the rules. All players should conduct themselves in a disciplined manner, demonstrating courtesy and sportsmanship at all times, irrespective of how competitive they may be. This is the spirit of the wargame.’

I consider that this rule should be made into a banner and hung up where it can be seen by everyone attending a wargames club or show, and that people who cannot or will not abide by it should be treated as pariahs (Rant over!).

Whilst this is not a true ‘guiding principle’ when it comes to the process of designing and developing wargames rules, I always have it in mind as this is the spirit in which I want my wargames to be fought. I used to have this statement at the beginning of all my wargames rules (along with Fred T Jane’s ‘Primary Rule of Wargaming’) … and I think that I might well include both in all my future ones.

Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Dice’ rule
Joseph Morschauser had a simple rule for adjudicating events that were not covered by a specific rule. It states:

‘Let the dice decide!’

Simply put, if two players cannot resolve a situation that arises during a wargame to their mutual satisfaction, then they should each throw a dice, and the winner’s ‘solution’ prevails. Morschauser considered that time spent arguing about what should happen was time wasted, and that the important thing was to get on with the wargame and argue afterwards.

My own ‘Discard rule’
I have heard other members of Wargame Developments refer to this as ‘Cordery’s Rule of Wargame Design’. It states that:

’If players consistently ignore a rule because it does not make sense or hinders the flow of the wargame, then the rule should be discarded. If players do not notice that it has gone, then it probably should not have been there in the first place.’

This has stood me in good stead over the years, and has enabled me to ‘strip out’ lots of unnecessary rules and verbiage.

These are my ‘guiding principles’ for writing wargames rules. I wonder if other writers and developers of wargame rules have similar ‘guiding principles’?

Nugget 130 … A particularly good issue

In preparation for yesterday’s blog entry, I read through NUGGET No.130 … and realised that it contained an article that had important ramifications for my subsequent wargame designs. The article was written by Ian Drury and was a report about a session he had run at the previous COW (Conference of Wargamers). The report – which was entitled ‘Return to New Stanhall’ – described his game about an opposed landing in the South Pacific during the Second World War, and included a complete set of rules.

During the following year I developed Ian’s rules into a set of Colonial wargames rules called SCWaRes (Simple Colonial Wargames Rules) that used a gridded playing surface. I demonstrated SCWaRes at a subsequent COW, and I began to be convinced that this was they way forward for my future wargame designs.

A photograph of my very first play-test of the rules that eventually became SCWaRes.

A photograph of one of the battles fought as part of the Mirkat Campaign. The rules used were the final version of SCWaRes.

Over the next few years I continued to develop my ideas, influenced by Ian Drury and Richard Brook’s RED SQUARES rules (e.g. REDCOATS AND DERVISHES) and by Mike & Joyce Smith’s TABLE TOP BATTLES: TABLE TOP WARGAMING WITH MINIATURES. The end result of this process was WHEN EMPIRES CLASH!

The next major ‘leap forward’ was my re-discovery of Joseph Morschauser’s book, HOW TO PLAY WAR GAMES IN MINIATURE. The illustrations of Morschauser’s battles fought on a gridded battlefield spurred me on to research further into his wargame designs … and these researches were incorporated into John Curry’s re-print of Morschauser’s book and subsequently to my latest opus THE PORTABLE WARGAME rules.

And to think that all this began thirteen years ago!

To use 2D6 or a D12? That is the question!

One of the comments I have received as feedback about my latest set of wargames rules has given me pause for thought with regard to the type of dice that I have been using.

I used a D12 in my design because it is what I have been using recently, and this was prompted by its use in TABLE TOP BATTLES – the generic rules from which I have gained so much inspiration since I bought them.

Now when I write rules I like to keep things as simple as possible, and this includes the numbers and types of dice that are used during the game. I hate rules where I have to throw a D6 for this, a D8 for that, and a D12 for something else. Until recently my preferred option was to use the good old D6, but the move to using a D12 seemed to make little difference … until now.

The comment was made with regard to the number of squares of troops that can be activated by a Commander during a turn. The D12 gives 12 possibilities, each with an equal chance. The use of 2D6 gives 11 possibilities, but with unequal chances of each possibility occurring. Thinking about it, the latter makes much more sense and should produce a more ‘balanced’ battle, whereas the former produces a battle where events can wildly swing backwards and forwards in favour of one side or the other.

Having thought about this long and hard today, I have decided to replace the D12 with the use of 2D6 in the next draft to see what will happen. I suspect that the battles will become far more even than the one featured in the first play-test, but until it has been play-tested I will not be sure.

A short breather …

Having found the two sets of painted and based 15mm Peter Laing figures in my shed, I thought that I would take a short but necessary breather from operational-level wargames design and see if I can use any of them with my modified version of the TABLE TOP BATTLES wargames rules.

I checked the size of the bases the figures are on and was very pleasantly surprised to find that they fit quite well into the 5cm squares. This means that I could use some of the Chaco War figures – which are paint conversions from Peter Laing’s range of WWI British and Russian figures – for my currently moribund Laurania campaign. This would be a diversion from my current plans, but …

Operational-level Wargame Design 5: Why use combat values for units? How will combat be resolved?

Numbers, Predictions and War

The choice of what method to use to resolve combat is – in my opinion – the most important decision a wargames designer can make. Get this wrong, and however good the rest of the rules mechanisms used may be, the design will fail.

The problem is that combat is not an easily quantifiable event because it ultimately depends upon human interaction, a notoriously difficult thing to model. There are people who have spent a considerable amount of time and effort trying to achieve this seemingly impossible goal, and the writings of one of these – Colonel Trevor Dupuy – occupy a place on the top shelf of my bookcase of wargaming books.

The three main books he wrote about combat are:


In the first of these books Colonel Dupuy explains how he and his colleagues at HERO (the Historical Evaluation and Research Organisation) developed the concept of QJMA – the Quantified Judgement Method of Analysis of Historical Combat data. They analysed the data relating to over one hundred battles and developed a very long and complicated formula that produced results that, when the specific data was added, accorded with the actual results of the battles they had studied. They appeared to have identified a mathematical model that could be used to predict the outcomes of battles.

The second book takes the theory forward, and compares the methodology – now referred to as QJM (the Quantified Judgement Method) – with other theories of combat.

The book begins with what Dupuy termed ‘The Timeless Verities of Combat’. These are:

  • Offensive action is essential to positive combat results.
  • Defensive strength is greater than offensive strength.
  • Defensive posture is necessary when successful offense is impossible.
  • Flank or rear attack is more likely to succeed than frontal attack.
  • Initiative permits application of preponderant combat power.
  • Defenders’ chances of success are directly proportional to fortification strength.
  • An attacker willing to pay the price can always penetrate the strongest defences.
  • Successful defence requires depth and reserves.
  • Superior combat power always wins.
  • Surprise substantially enhances combat power.
  • Firepower kills, disrupts, suppresses, and causes dispersion.
  • Combat activities are always slower, less productive, and less efficient than anticipated.
  • Combat is too complex to be described in a single, simple aphorism.

The book also describes the QJM Combat Power Formula in considerable detail, although the description begins with Clausewitz’s Law of Numbers and shows how QJM relates to it. Put simply they both boil down to:

P = N x V x Qwhere:

    P = Power (In QJM this is termed Combat Power)
    N = Numbers (In QJM this is termed Force Strength)
    V = Variables (In QJM this is termed Environmental and Operational Factors)
    Q = Quality (In QJM this is termed Combat Effectiveness Value)

By comparing the Combat Power of both sides in a combat, the results of that combat should be predictable. It is thinking behind this basic formula that I will be using to develop my own combat resolution system.

It is worth noting that the Combat Effectiveness Value used in Colonel Dupuy’s work seems to show that certain nations produce more effective soldiers than others. For example, in his third book the use of QJM demonstrates that during World Wars I and II German soldiers were 1.2 times more effective that British, French, and American soldiers, and up to 3.0 times more effective than Russians. It also shows that during the Arab-Israeli Wars Israeli soldiers were at least 2.0 times more effective than their Arab opponents. Some commentators have cited this as showing that Colonel Dupuy can only get his formulae to work by ‘fudging’ the data; others have sought to examine how and why this apparent ‘national superiority’ has come about.

Applying the concepts behind QJM

Taking concepts behind the QJM Combat Power Formula as a starting point I have chosen a very simple method of combat resolution that combines the following factors:

  • A numerical value for each type of unit based upon its training, equipment, and experience.
  • Numerical values that represent transient effects on combat (e.g. terrain, surprise).
  • An element of chance (i.e. the use of a dice).

When the Combat Power of both sides are compared, a result is generated using a system that is not very dissimilar for that used in Phil Barker’s DBA and TABLE TOP BATTLES by Mike and Joyce Smith.

The numerical values I have chosen for each type of unit are:

    1: Basic combat value for all units
    +0: Poor quality General*
    +0: Poor quality infantry and cavalry
    +1: Average quality General*
    +1: Conscript infantry and cavalry
    +1: Transport
    +2: Good quality General*
    +2: Equipped with light AFVs
    +2: Regular infantry and cavalry
    +2: Artillery
    +3: Exceptional quality General*
    +3: Equipped with medium AFVs
    +3: Elite infantry
    +4: Equipped with heavy AFVs
    +5: Equipped with very heavy AFVs

Note: The starred (*) additons to the basic combat value only apply to command units.

Therefore an inexperienced (conscript) Russian Rifle Regiment will have a combat value of 2 (basic combat value plus 1 for being conscript infantry) whereas an elite German Panzer Grenadier unit will have a combat value of 4 (basic combat value plus 4 for being elite infantry).

The numerical values I have chosen for each transient effect on combat are:

  • Add the command stand’s combat value: If a unit’s division, corps, and/or army command stand is in an adjacent hex, add the command stand’s combat value.
  • +1: If the firing stand is artillery firing at a target that is in an adjacent square.
  • -2: If the target stand is in defence works, inside a wood, or inside a built-up area.

The element of chance is represent by the use of:

  • A D12 (for the Germans).
  • A D10 (for the Russians and Axis allies).

The choice of different dice has been made in light of the work done by Colonel Dupuy to show that the soldiers of different nations have different Combat Effectiveness Values.

Resolving Combat

When combat occurs, both sides take the combat value of the unit that is involved in the combat, add the numerical values of any relevant transient effects and the dice score that they throw, and this give that unit’s Combat Power. These are then compared, and a result is generated.

The combat results are:

  • If the attacking unit’s Combat Power is lower than the defending unit’s Combat Power, the combat has been ineffective.
  • If the attacking unit’s and defending unit’s Combat Powers are equal, each unit throws a D12 or D10 (as appropriate) and the unit with the lowest score stays in its current position and reduces its combat value by one.
  • If the defending unit’s Combat Power is less than the attacking unit’s Combat Power but more than half of the attacking unit’s Combat Power, the defending unit stays in its current position and reduces its combat value by one.
  • If the defending unit’s Combat Power is less than half of the attacking unit’s Combat Power, but more than a quarter of the attacking unit’s Combat Power, the defending unit reduces its combat value by two.
  • If the defending unit’s Combat Power is less than a quarter of the attacking unit’s Combat Power, the defending unit reduces its combat value by two and withdraws until it is at least one hex away from an enemy unit.

Note: If a unit has to withdraw more than four hexes to comply with a combat result or it is prevented from doing so because of an obstacle or enemy unit, the withdrawing unit is deemed to have been destroyed.

The combat resolution system will need vigorous play-testing, but as it is built upon a reasonably sound body of theory and previous experience I hope that any modifications will be minimal.

Operational-level Wargame Design 1: Why hexes? – A few extra comments

Having re-read what I wrote in my last blog entry, I realised that I had not made it clear how close the decision between using squares and hexes was.

I do like squares, and have used them before in game designs, most notably when I wrote SCWARES (Simple Colonial Wargames Rules). My discovery in the National Archives of the rules for the 1956 BRITSH ARMY WAR GAME – which are now available from John Curry – further reinforced my belief in the use of squares, as did my purchase last year of TABLE TOP BATTLES by Mike and Joyce Smith.

Had I not owned a large amount of Hexon II terrain, I would have gone for squares, but the thought of having to start building and storing a second terrain system from scratch – and my knowledge of what my wife would have said about it – made the pragmatic choice to go with hexes inevitable.

Mind you, if I ever have enough time and storage space …

A time for reflection

Having finally had a few hours of time to myself, I have been able to think about what project or projects I want to proceed with next.

I have now boiled it down to the following:

  • Doing some further work on SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES in preparation for the Conference of Wargamers in early July. This will involve making some additional playing pieces so that the French III Corps can be deployed on the battlefield as well as activation cards for Marshal Canrobert, who commanded the III Corps.
  • Unpacking my collection of Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm Napoleonic figures from their storage boxes and organising them into units. Once that is done, and any damage they may have suffered is repaired, I will varnish and base them.
  • Finishing the redraft of my much-modified version of the TABLE TOP BATTLES rules by Mike and Joyce Smith so that they can be used to re-fight land battles from the mid-twentieth century. The rules are intended to enable me to fight an operational-level Eastern Front campaign using my existing collection of 20mm MEGABLITZ figures and model vehicles. The individual figure and vehicle bases will represent regiments, and the working title for the rules is OPERATIVNAIA ISKUSSTVA (‘Operational Art’ in Russian).

Going places … and coming back!

I have just returned from two ‘back-to-back’ cruises on P&O’s Oriana. The first cruise lasted thee days and visited Zeebrugge and Cherbourg (it was supposed to go to Le Havre, but the French dock workers were on strike and we were diverted to an alternate port).

We have visited Zeebrugge many times, but on this occasion the weather was not to good when we disembarked so all my wife and I did was travel into Blankenberge on the shuttle bus. We had a very pleasant walk along the seafront, bought some Belgian chocolate, and one or two other things (including some very nice 1:100th scale model tanks made by SIKU).

Luckily for us the diversion to Cherbourg did not stop my wife and I from joining an excursion to the British landing beaches in Normandy. It started with a visit to the Pegasus Bridge Museum, where I took loads of pictures and bought quite a few bits and pieces. These included a 6th Airborne Division baseball cap for my father (who served with 53rd [Worcester Yeomanry] Air-landing Light Regiment, Royal Artillery, the division’s artillery regiment) and a couple of pre-painted model aircraft (a 1:150th scale Messerschmitt Bf109 E3 painted in Rumanian colours and a 1:140th scale MiG-3 in all-white camouflage, both made by SKY PILOT) for myself.

The second cruise went to Madeira, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote, and Vigo. The weather was not too bad considering the time of year, and the ‘sea days’ between Southampton and Madeira on the way out and Lanzarote (via Vigo) and Southampton on the way back gave me time to do some reading. The latter included:

  • CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith

As one would expect, the former is a very detailed, scholarly work that draws heavily upon the Russian military archives that are slowly being made accessible to historians. The latter is a murder story set at the end of the Stalinist era, and captures the feeling of a time when the slightest suspicion of disloyalty could condemn individuals and their families to imprisonment or execution.

The ‘sea days’ also gave me time to think about my next wargaming projects and to begin work on a set of operational-level World War II wargames rules that draw heavily upon the MEGABLITZ rules written by Tim Gow, the various rules created by Richard Brooks and Ian Drury that are collectively known as the RED SQUARE rules, and TABLE TOP BATTLES by Mike and Joyce Smith.

But more of that later …

And now for something completely different …

After spending so much time and effort of late preparing for Cruiser 2009 and Salute 2009, and with COW 2009* not taking place until July, I can now think about doing some work on one or two of my other wargaming ‘projects’.

I am not yet sure which project will get my attention first. I still intend to fight at least one more battle from the Lauranian Border War using the TABLE TOP BATTLES rules, and I also want to try out the naval wargame rules in the book. Doing the latter will require at least four suitable ship models to be built, and building them from scratch should not be too difficult or time consuming. It would also give me the opportunity to explain the processes I use.

I am also very taken with the idea of re-fighting the War of the Pacific, particularly as I own what is currently the definitive uniform guide for the three warring armies (UNIFORMES DE LA GUERRA DEL PACIFICO 1879 – 1884). The land and sea battles that were fought were all quite small, and could easily be re-created using the TABLE TOP BATTLES rules. Although there are no figure ranges available for the Bolivians, Chileans, and Peruvians, the uniforms are very similar to the French, German, and US uniforms of the period, and could be reproduced with a reasonable degree of accuracy using paint ‘conversions’.

The Eastern Front has fascinated me for a very long time, and now that I have two sets of suitable solo rules to use – my own mid-20th century variant of TABLE TOP BATTLES and RED FLAGS AND IRON CROSSES (TARRED AND FEATHERSTONED) – I am very tempted to start expanding my Russian and Axis forces.

In addition to all of the above, I also want to re-fight the Bay of Pigs incident, re-build my Spanish Civil War armies, inject some life into the presently stagnant colonial campaign I started some years ago, and build up some small armies for the post-World War I Wars of Independence that took place around the edge of the Baltic Sea.

So many potential projects; where should I start?

*For those of you who don’t know, COW is the Conference of Wargamers, which is the Wargame Developments annual conference. It takes place at a local authority-owned country house in Northamptonshire from early Friday evening until late Sunday afternoon.