Saturday, 13 May 2017

Wargame Rules - Introduction

I have been wargaming for almost fifty years, and for most of that time have searched for that Holy Grail of Wargaming – the perfect wargame rules.   Eleven years ago I found them.   Or at least I found my version of them.

For the first thirty years or so I worked my way through a series of wargame rules, all of them the best, or at least most popular, of their time.   “Charge, or how to play wargames” was the first, it was also my introduction to wargaming.   WRG “Wargames Rules 1685-1845” came next and lasted about ten years.   Then came “In The Grand Manner” which lasted another ten or fifteen years, though there were a lot of “house rules” to tide them over.   My last commercial rules were “Le Feu Sacre”.   I have dabbled with others, but they were the main influence.

I have always gone through the same sequence with rules.   First they are hard to master, then they are fun to use, finally they disappoint when the flaws become obvious through a lot of play.   My solution had always been to write “house rules”, but they often produced more unexpected problems than they solved.

So for our new project I would write my own rules.   Jan and I decided that we would restrict our wargaming to just the two of us so the rules did not have to be comprehensive.  In fact they need only be a series of prompt sheets.

I was reasonably happy with our current rules, which were “Le Feu Sacre”.   However they were designed for single corps or division sized games with infantry battalions and cavalry squadrons. They also had 12 figure battalions as the basic formation, which did not fit with the figures I had on my shelves.   And they used a lot more artillery units than I had available.   And, of course, I wanted to fight multi corps battles with brigades.   However I liked a lot of the game systems in “Le Feu Sacre” and would keep them in my new wargames rules which I would write myself.

I wanted a set of rules that would be easy to use and would provide a fast and fun wargame.

I wanted all nationalities to have an equal chance of winning a battle.   No point in using all of my armies if one or more were destined to lose every game.   The Spanish might have a poor field army, but they would have a lot of guerrilla bands who would cause attrition casualties.

I wanted the rules to rely to a large extent on luck.   Casualties would be hard to inflict (need a good dice throw) but would have an immediate, long lasting and critical effect on morale and combat effectiveness.

Most important the rules would have to fit well with the new campaign.   It was important that each game should last 12 moves, so that each move would be one campaign hour.

It was also important that the table movement rates would cover the same distance on the table as the campaign movement rates did on the map.  

The campaign included all of the major participants in the Napoleonic Wars, so it was important that the wargame rules would allow some sort of national strengths and weakeness.   I wanted a French corps to “feel” French, and a Spanish corps to “feel” Spanish.

Finally it was important that wargame casualties would transfer to the campaign.

In short the wargame rules must support campaign rules.   They were not designed to destroy the other side in one battle.   My campaigns were designed to last for three to five battles, consequently the wargame rules must allow the defeated side the abiliy to recover to fight again, even if it might take two or three campaign days to do so.

The rules have now stood the test of time.   We have used them three or four times a week over the past ten years.  I have amended them in the light of game play.  This has proved effective because I fully understand the consequences of each rule change.   Special rules, for example guerrillas, have changed drastically.   But the basic rules have remained the same.  

You could use any commercial rules with this comprehensive wargames system, but I would strongly recommend writing your own wargame rules.  It is the only way that you can get exactly the type of game you enjoy playing.  There are no compromises to make them acceptable to the majority.   Most important because you have written them you can easily change them as necessary.

If interested you will find my wargame rules here

Next time we will have a look at how the rules are designed to meet the requirements of the campaign and also to provide the type of wargames we like to play.


irishserb said...

In my own campaigns, the length of a given battle has always been variable, with some battles lasting much longer or much less than expected to arrive at a conclusion. So, I am curious, have you had games where the battle needed to last more than 12 moves to arrive at a conclusion, or were the battle is decided in notably less than 12 moves? If so, how are those managed?

The idea that you are able to structure all of the battles into the 12 moves is fascinating to me, as my approach to the campaign was sort of from the opposite side of things. It never occurred to me that you could make a campaign work that way, without potentially sacrificing a lot at the tactical/table top level.

I have a campaign minimum turn segment for campaign management. The battles can last an undefined number of tactical movements, that simply spans the campaign segments if need be, with units in battle to that spot on the map through as many strategic turn segments as the battle might last.

I hope that you don't mind the question. You seem to have succeeded in resolving problems or questions in ways that I could not. It seems like you built the tabletop rules to fit within the framework of the campaign rules; where I built the campaign around the framework of the table top rules. Maybe a mischaracterization, but that is the impression that I have.

JWH said...

As a matter of interest, and if you can remember, what exacty caused you to abandon the first rulesets you used (Charge!, WRG, In the Grand Manner)?

All the best


thistlebarrow said...


It is a very long time since I used Charge, or indeed WRG and Grand Manner. But I can remember why I stopped using them. With a commercial set of rules you eventually reach the stage where the shortcomings of the rules start to affect your enjoyment of the game. This may be because the rule writer had not anticipated such an outcome, or it may be that the player has misunderstood the meaning of that rule. If you are playing against regular opponents such a weakeness in the rules usually results in them, or perhaps yourself, taking advantage of it. For example I can remember with Grand Manner that with good timing cavalry could charge across the frontage of artillery and hit adjacent infantry without the guns being able to fire.

My reaction to this type of fault has been to write a “house rule”. For example allow the guns to fire at any stage of the move to prevent the above. However these amendements often result in unanticipated problems elsewhere.

So you go through the sequence of buying new rules. Spending (in my case) a considerable amount of time learning them. Enjoying the resulting games until the weakeness becomes apparent. Writing “house rules”. Eventually buying the next “best” rules on the market.

The advantage of writing your own rules is that when you discover the weakeness you know whether it is an oversight on your own part, or a unanticipated weakeness. In either case you can amend in in the full knowledge of how that amendment will affect other parts of the rules.

Or at least that has been my experience. I am not sure that others have found the same problem, but I would be surprised if not. Otherwise everyone would still be using the first set of rules they found satisfactory.

Hope that makes sense?



thistlebarrow said...

Hi Irishserb

Thanks for your comments

Having a variable length of time for the wargame is not really a problem, but making each wargame move the same as one campaign hour makes it easier to coordinate the campaign and tabletop.

I decided in the relationship at the planning stage and it never occurred to me that it might be a problem. I have used it for about 10 years, and it has never created a problem.

Some wargames last less than 12 hours, particularly if both armies are both deployed and within contact distance. A very few last more, and those are resolved by fighting a second day of battle. A few are at a critical balance at the end of move 12, and we then allow one more move to decide the outcome.

It is quite difficult to explain in a few sentences how this all works, so I will devote next week’s blog to explaining the battle sequence and its relationship to the campaign map is more detail.



JWH said...


Yes, that is very clear, thanks very much. What were the specific points that did for Charge! and WRG 1685-1845 (just out of curiosity)?

I am looking forward to the next instalments of this - I know that sorting out the interface between campaign and tactical rules was the thing that needed most attention in my own long-running Napoleonic campaign.

All the best


thistlebarrow said...

Hi John

Charge was the first rules we used, and I really knew nothing about wargaming at all. My first figures were Airfix and Hinton Hunt Napoleonic, and I thought that it would be best to use specific Napoleonic period rules. I got an early Don Featherstone book from the library (I think “Wargames”) and used the rules from that.

We really fell for WRG. We thought that the long list of plus and minus made them more realistic! I can’t remember which rules replaced them, but they lasted about ten years. I think we changed when long lists went out of fashion.

Strange how times change. My current rules are more similar to Charge than WRG or Grand Manner.