Sunday 24 November 2013

In Praise of House Rules

A recent post on TMP suggesting that it would be good idea to write a set of Napoleonic wargame rules by allowing everyone to suggest a rule, then vote on whether it be accepted or not.   It seemed to me a most unusual approach to rule writing, and one almost certain to fail.  

However it made me consider my own experience of wargame rules over a period of almost 50 years, and how I eventually solved the problem

When I read the posts on TMP about the latest commercial wargame rules I am reminded of teenagers and sex.   It’s as if they have discovered something new which no one else had experienced before.   But of course sex, like Napoleonic wargame rules, has been around for a long time.  

I can well understand this view, because I can well remember my own first experience of wargame rules.    My first experience was “Charge or how to play wargames”.   Then WRG horse and musket (I forget the full title).   This was followed by In “The Grand Manner” and finally “LFS”.   All excellent rules.   All very different in design.    All eventually discarded.

My own experience, though I am sure I am not alone, is that the more I play a commercial set of rules the more I become disillusioned with them.   This is not the fault of the rule writer, it is that I want something different from the rules than they are designed to provide.   I believe that this is the reason there has never been a “universal” set of Napoleonic wargame rules, accepted across the hobby.

Over the years I tried to adapt each of my current favourite commercial rules.   It never worked for long.   When I changed a rule because I disliked the outcome it often led to further unexpected problems.

My solution was to go back to basics and write my own rules to provide the sort of game I like to play.   The result has stood the test of time, and been used in countless wargames, for the past six years.   It will not suit everyone; indeed it may not suit anyone else.   The more personalised the rules are the less then are likely to be appeal to anyone else.

I am fortunate to have a permanent wargames table, and a wife who also likes to wargame.   We are both retired and wargaming is an important part of our life.   We game most days, at least five days a week.   We prefer to game for an hour or two, rather than game a whole battle in one go.   All of my wargames are driven by a PBEM campaign, and last for 12 moves (each move being one hour in the campaign”.

As part of an overall reorganisation of my wargaming prior to retirement I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and listed what I wanted to achieve.   Obviously anyone else attempting this exercise will have a different list.  So there is not much point in my telling you my particular list.

The important aspects to me were they must reflect Napoleonic warfare as I understand it.   They must be short and simple to remember.   They must have an element of chance.   They must be fun to play.

This has worked for me.   We have played hundreds of wargames since I wrote the rules.   We still enjoy the games.   We still feel that the rules work well.   We have tried countless, complicated battles provided by the campaign and all of them have worked.

We do make minor adjustments to the rules from time to time.  We will often simply roll the dice again rather than change the rules.      But I now fully understand the consequences of making a change, and what the knock on effect is likely to be.

This is not an advert for my rules, but if you would like to read them you will find them here

To write your own rules you need to have a good understanding of the period, and what you want to get out of the wargame experience.  So it is not likely to be attractive to new players.   But it does not take long to discover what you want from a wargame.   Once you have done so I strongly recommend you to write your own.

It would be interesting to hear from other wargamers who have tried, and perhaps failed.


  1. Possibly the sanest words to be spoken about wargaming rules in a long time

  2. I like the analogy and would say that like teenage sex, wargame rules are more talked about than played.

    I have been playing the one set of Napoleonic rules now for sometime and have been very happy with them, but that is probably more a comment on my personality - loyal to a fault.

    Interesting topic as the hobby is challenged by the diversity of rules and scales within individual periods.

  3. Thanks for the comments

    I think Sun of York has it just right when he says "wargame rules are more talked about than played".

    There is nothing wrong with being loyal to a set of rules. But some people take the whole thing so seriously.

    The more I wargame the more I come to realise that its all about luck, like most GAMES.

    With all of the various rules I have played over the years if I roll a 1 I lose, if I roll a 6 I win.

    The important thing is to enjoy it. Otherwise what is the point of all those hours spent painting little model soldiers.


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