Working towards a set of ‘universal’ wargames rules

Whilst I was on my recent cruise I had time to give quite a lot of thought to the rules I have been using in the Zubia-based mini-campaigns I have fought since Christmas … and have come to the conclusion that I am on the verge of putting together a set of simple, fast-play wargames rules that will be adaptable to a variety of different historical periods.

The ‘universal’ wargames rules that are evolving are based upon the work I had previously done when I wrote the following:


They also draw heavily upon the work of Joseph Morschauser and Richard Borg.

In a nutshell the rules can be summarised as follows:

  • Units have initial strength values of 4 (infantry), 3 (cavalry), and 2 (artillery);
  • Units retain an undiminished ability to fight (i.e. they throw the same number of combat dice) until they are destroyed (i.e. their strength value is reduced to 0);
  • When one side’s remaining strength value is reduced to 50% of the combined strength value they began the battle with, they cannot continue to advance from their existing positions, although they may withdraw and continue to defend themselves; when both sides are reduced to 50% of the combined strength value they began the battle with, the battle ends;
  • A card-driven unit activation system is used;
  • Unit movement is restricted by the terrain the unit is moving through and whether or not it is engaging in combat during its current activation;
  • One combat resolution system for both fire and close combat;
  • The combat resolution system uses standard D6 dice, with the number of dice thrown depending upon the range at which the combat is taking place;
  • The combat resolution system uses pairs of dice to determine ‘hits’ on enemy units (i.e. 1 + 1 = ‘hit’ on an enemy artillery unit; 2 + 2 or 3 + 3 = ‘hit’ on an enemy cavalry unit; 4 + 4 or 5 + 5 or 6 + 6 = ‘hit’ on an enemy infantry unit; enemy units in cover require these scores plus an additional pair to be ‘hit’)

I had initially decided to use special D6 dice similar to those used in Richard Borg’s BATTLE CRY and MEMOIR ’44 rules, but I found that my attempts to do so were flawed (i.e. the dice seemed to end up unbalanced) so I reverted to a simpler system based on the one used in my ITCHY & SCRATCHY rules. (The original idea for this combat resolution system came from Archduke Piccolo [see my blog entry of 14th September 2013 and his blog entry of 13th September 2013].)

These rules have now been set down on paper, but require some more play-testing before I make them more widely available. In the meantime I want to complete varnishing and basing my collection of Del Prado pre-painted 25/28mm-scale Napoleonic figures before the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo in June.


My birthday celebrations

First of all I would like to thank everyone who sent me birthday greetings … including Google!

The first thing that I do most mornings after getting up, feeding the cat, and making my wife a cup of tea is to read my emails … and the long list of them from friends and regular blog readers who wanted to wish me a happy birthday was a great way to start the day. (The cat joined in the celebrations by bolting down its breakfast and then ‘revisiting’ it all over the carpet outside our home office. It certainly brought me back down to earth with a bit of a bang.)

My personal celebrations began on Friday when Sue and I went out for lunch in the Mark Masons’ Hall Carvery Restaurant, St James’s, with some friends. We sat by the window in the beautifully decorated restaurant, overlooking St James’s Street and the entrance to St James’s Palace. The food was excellent (an hors d’oeuvres trolley, followed by a selection of roast meats with all the trimmings, a dessert trolley or cheese selection, and tea or coffee to finish up with) and including wine it cost just over £33.00 each. The quality of the food was more than matched by the company, and the three hours we spent over lunch seemed to zip past and was a great way to begin my celebrations.

After reading my emails on Saturday morning, Sue and I went to Café Rouge in Bluewater for a full English breakfast, followed by a bit of light retail therapy. We got home just after 1.00pm, had a drink, and then I opened my birthday cards and presents. The latter included INLAND WATER TRANSPORT IN MESOPOTAMIA by Lieutenant Colonel L J Hall (Originally published in 1919; re-published by The Naval & Military Press Limited in association with FIREPOWER, The Royal Artillery Museum, Woolwich (ISBN 1 84342 952 7]). This was sent to me by my old friends and fellow wargamer, Tony Hawkins.

After lunch I sorted out some of my Prussian 25/28mm-scale Napoleonic wargames figures so that I will be able to begin basing them later this week, after which I began preparing for my birthday celebration mini-campaign. The idea for this was stolen wholesale from the campaign section of the PLAN B: RUSSIA 1941 wargame rules on the NUMBERS, WARGAMES AND ARSING ABOUT blog that is written by Old Trousers. The campaign works very simply, and uses a linear system that links together scenarios from Neil Thomas’s ONE-HOUR WARGAMES.

For the sake of simplicity – and because Old Trousers has done all the preliminary work for me – I am also setting my mini-campaign in Russia in 1941. I will be using my own draft modern (i.e. World War II) rules to fight the battles, although they are currently just a mishmash of my PORTABLE WARGAME: MODERN rules and my MEMOIR OF MODERN BATTLE (MOMBAT) rules … with a few bits added.

Just after 8.00pm Sue and I went to the Saray Restaurant in Welling for my birthday dinner. The restaurant describes itself as being ‘Mediterranean’, but the food has a very strong Turkish element to it … which is something that I like. The food and service was excellent … and the experience was made all the better by the discovery that the restaurant was owned by the family of a young man that used to teach. The young man – whose name is Metin – even organised for my dessert to be delivered to our table with a lit candle in my baklava whilst ‘Happy Birthday’ was played over the restaurant’s sound system.

The perfect end to a perfect day.

4-3-2 becomes 3-2-1

During the two recent play-test battles that I have fought, I used what has become my standard Strength Values for Infantry, Cavalry, and Artillery units … 4, 3, and 2 respectively. This is also the number of figures I used to represent each type of Unit in earlier battles.

On these two occasions I used Units that had three Infantry, two Cavalry, or two Artillery figures, and each ‘hit’ was marked on a Unit using small, transparent Roman Blind rings. I soon realised that I did not need as many figures in a Unit as it had Strength Value (which is what I had previously done); what I needed was one less figure than the Unit’s Strength Value.

This can best be illustrated thus:

An Infantry Unit (Strength Value = 4).

An Infantry Unit after one ‘hit’ (Strength Value = 3).

An Infantry Unit after two ‘hits’ (Strength Value = 2).

An Infantry Unit after three ‘hits’ (Strength Value = 1).
The next hit will not need to be marked as the Unit’s Strength Value will be reduced to 0 and the Unit will be removed.

The upshot of this is the fact that I can reduce the number of figures I need to represent Units from the former 4-3-2 ratios I previously used to 3-2-1. (I must admit that for aesthetic reasons the sight of a single figure crewing a piece of artillery does jar somewhat … but I suppose that there is no reason why I could not increase the Strength Value of Artillery Units to 3, thus ensuring that Artillery Units will always have two figures.)

This is certainly something that I need to think about and – if possible – to play-test further.

Shades of Morschauser

Despite all my good intentions, I was not able to mount a large play-test of the latest draft of my heavily revised PORTABLE WARGAME: COLONIAL rules yesterday … but I did manage a small skirmish!

It so happened that I found my green 3-inch square gridded felt cloth whilst looking for something else (isn’t that always the way?) and remembered that when Joseph Morschauser had written his original ‘Frontier’ rules, he had used 54mm-scale figures and a 3-inch squared grid. My collection of 54mm-scale Britains American Civil War figures was to hand … so I decided to use them. The resulting battle was a bit different from the one I had planned to fight, but nonetheless it was great fun!

ScenarioTwo small forces of Union and Confederate troops are scouting ahead of the main bodies of their armies. The countryside they are traversing is flat and featureless, and both sides are expecting to run into enemy Units during their reconnaissance.

The Union and Confederate forces are each comprised of four Infantry Units, a Cavalry Unit, and Artillery Unit, and a Command Unit. This means that both sides have a Strength Value of 24 and an Exhaustion Point of 12.

The Union side has been allocated Black as its Unit Activation Card suit colour, and the Confederates have been allocated Red.

The BattleBoth sides advanced with their Cavalry Unit covering one flank and their Artillery Unit the other. Both the Union and Confederate Artillery Units engaged the enemy’s Cavalry Units, and eventually destroyed them, although in the case of the Union Artillery this only happened as a result of the depleted Confederate Cavalry charging them and engaging them in Close Combat.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 3, Red 4, Red 2, Black 3, Black 3, Red 4, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Union side threw two of its Infantry Units forward, and they engaged the Confederate line with musketry. In reply, two of the Confederates Infantry Units fired back and then charged forward to engage the Union troops in Close Combat. In both instances both sides suffered casualties but the Confederate troops were forced to withdraw.

The Confederate Artillery Unit also fired at the closest of the Union Infantry Units, but missed their target.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Union troops were unable to make much progress before the Confederates launched a number of further Infantry attacks using musketry followed by Close Combat …

… not all of which were successful.

When the Union troops copied the Confederate example their choice of tactic proved to be costly, and ended up with one of their Infantry Units being destroyed.

At this point the number of Union casualties reached the Exhaustion Point, and the Union troops were no longer permitted to carry out any further offensive actions.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Red 4, Black 4. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Union troops continued to suffer casualties …

… but eventually they were able to extricate themselves from the battle and withdraw …

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 3, Black 3, Red 3. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The final Unit Activation Card turned over was Black 4. This allowed the Union troops to withdraw.

… leaving the victorious Confederates in possession of the battlefield.

Lessons learntThe main object of this play-test was to see if the revised Close Combat system worked … and it does.

A by-product of this particular play-test was the fact that I now realise that it is quite possible to use the rules with much larger scale figures than I originally intended to use them with (my plan was to use them with 15mm and 20mm-scale figures) … and that playing wargames with traditional toy soldiers can be great fun. As I have quite a collection of them, I can foresee using them in PORTABLE WARGAME battles as well as in FUNNY LITTLE WARS wargames.

Changes to the latest draft of the Portable Wargame rules

I have been doing some thinking about the section of the rules that deal with Close Combat, and have done some minor but important re-drafting. It now reads as follows:


  • If opposing Units are in orthogonally adjacent grid squares, they are in Close Combat Range.
  • A Unit cannot move past an enemy Unit within Close Combat Range without engaging in Close Combat.
  • If a Unit is blocked part way through its movement by a Close Combat situation, it cannot move any further.
  • Close Combat is conducted after an activated Unit has done everything else (i.e. moved and/or fired); it can never take place at any other point during a Unit’s activation.
  • The Unit that is initiating the Close Combat is the Attacker; the Unit they are attacking is the Defender.
  • To determine if the Close Combat has been effective, the Attacker rolls a D6 die for his Unit and at the same time the Defender rolls a different coloured D6 die for his Unit; the D6 die roll scores are compared with the relevant rows in the ‘Die scores required to hit an enemy Unit’ column in the Close Combat section of the Unit Data Table.
  • If the Attacker is facing the rear or flank of the Defender, the Defender’s D6 die roll score is reduced by 1.
  • A Unit that is hit reduces its Strength Value by 1.
  • In addition, the side with the lower die roll score must retreat 1 grid square immediately, and if they are unable to do so, they automatically reduce their Strength Value by a further 1.
  • If both the Attacker’s and the Defender’s die roll scores are equal, the Close Combat immediately continues for a further round (or – if necessary – rounds) until the Attacker or the Defender prevails (i.e. one side is completely destroyed or is forced to retreat).

The changes ensure that:

  • The Close Combat mechanism takes into account the advantage an Attacker would enjoy if they attack an enemy Unit in the flank or rear and
  • There is a definite result to each Close Combat (i.e. one side loses and is forced to retreat or stands fast but suffers greater casualties or is totally destroyed).

I hope to play-test these changes later this week or at some time over next weekend.

Making them pay!: A play-test of the revised Colonial version of The Portable Wargame rules

Having written a new and revised draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME: COLONIAL rules, I decided that they needed play-testing. As the weather outside yesterday was terrible (it had been raining all night, and it continued to rain well into the evening), it seemed like an ideal day to do it … so I did.

ScenarioThe tax collectors are having more trouble extracting money from the tribes in Southern Zubia, and after one of them was beaten so badly that they died, the local Governor decided that the most troublesome tribes needed teaching a lesson. He therefore sent a small but heavily armed column out into the desert to find the tribal encampments and to ensure that the overdue tax was levied … along with a bit extra to pay for the trouble the tribes had caused.

As the column advanced deeper and deeper into the desert, they became aware that they were being shadowed. As a result they were fully prepared for an attack, and when the tribesmen came into sight, the column deployed to meet the threat.

The Zubian column comprised 8 units:

  • 4 Infantry Units
  • 1 Cavalry Unit
  • 1 Machine Gun Unit
  • 1 Rifled Field Artillery Unit
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 26 and an Exhaustion Point of 13.

The Tribal forces comprised:

  • 6 Infantry Units armed with hand-held weapons
  • 4 Infantry Units armed with smooth-bore muskets
  • 1 Smooth-bore Artillery Unit
  • 2 Cavalry Units
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 39 and an Exhaustion Point of 20.

The BattleThe Zubian troops advanced to meet the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

Both sides moved forward, with the Tribal cavalry trying to work around onto the Zubian column’s flank. The Zubian Artillery Unit fired at the Tribal Infantry Unit immediately in front of them, and caused the first casualties of the battle.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Black 2, Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 4, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Tribal Cavalry Units finally moved forward to engage the Zubian column’s flank, and whilst the battle continued elsewhere – without much effect – there were a series of close combats between the Tribal Cavalry Units and the Zubian Machine Gun Unit, as a result of which both sides sustained casualties.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 3, Black 2, Black 2, Red 2, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

Circumstances and chance seemed to favour the Zubians who, despite the loss of their Machine Gun Unit …

… managed to advance and pour a deadly volley of rifle fire into the line of Tribal Infantry Units.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Red 2, Red 4, Black 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

As so often happens, things now swung in favour of the other side, and the Tribal forces were able to charge forward and engage the Zubian troops in a number of close combats. As a result the casualties on both sides began to mount. (The Zubians had lost 8 of their initial total Strength Value of 26 and the Tribal forces had lost 16 from their initial total Strength Value of 39.)

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 3, Black 3, Black 3, Black 3, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The course of the battle moved towards its climax. The Zubians lost their Field Artillery Unit …

… but in achieving this minor victory the Tribal forces reached and passed their Exhaustion Point.

The Zubians were able to exploit this, and inflicted further casualties on the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 2, Black 3, Black 3, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

At this point it was obvious that the Tribal forces were beaten, but that the Zubians were only a hairsbreadth away from reaching their Exhaustion Point. As a result, both sides fell back to lick their wounds. The Tribal forces did so in the knowledge that the dreaded tax collectors had not been able to enforce their demands, and the Zubians were well aware that although they may have won the battle, they had not achieved their main objective.

Lessons learntAs expected, the rules work fairly well and produced a fun battle that did not take too long to fight. The combat results were reasonable, and the Unit Activation Cards ensured that there was a degree of uncertainty as to what was going to happen as events unfolded.

I think that the clear casualty markers (they are plastic Roman Blind rings) are less intrusive that the normal white ones, and make it very easy to keep a tally of the Units that have suffered casualties. I do need to have a better method of recording each side’s overall losses, and I am thinking about buying a cheap cribbage board to fulfil that function.

One aspect of the rules that I think does require a minor change relates to flank and rear attacks. At present the tactical advantage this should give to an attacker is not factored into the rules, but it would be fairly simple to do so. I have therefore made a note of this and will make the necessary changes to the next draft of the rules.

"The farther back you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see."

The way things are going at the moment with regard to my work on the ‘new’ version of THE PORTABLE WARGAME rules, this quote from Winston Churchill seems to make a lot of sense.

I began work on a ‘new’ version of the rules just after I returned from our recent cruise, but for some reason I seem to keep getting to a certain point in the drafting process … and then finding that what I have written is over-complex and no longer simple. After three attempts to get it right, I decided to take a step back and to look at the original first draft of the rules.

These were heavily based on Joseph Morschauser’s ‘Frontier’, ‘Modern’, and ‘Musket’ rules, and re-reading them has helped me to ‘look farther back’ and – as a result – to ‘see farther forward’. I am going to take a break from my efforts to write a ‘new’ version of the rules for a couple of days, but I am sure that when I return to this task, I will find it a much easier to complete.