Sunday 16 June 2024

Infantry Rules for Army Level Wargames

Typical Army Level Wargame

I don’t get nearly as many comments on this blog as I would like, but a recent one from Archduke Piccolo caused me to reconsider one element of our current wargame rules.   The blog commented on was about hills in wargames, but the comment was about skirmishers in different levels of wargame.   For example how to represent them on the table at brigade level, division level, corps level and army level wargames.

My own wargames are currently army level, with three corps per side.   The above photo will illustrate what I mean.   All games are a maximum of 12 moves, to coordinate with the campaign 12 hour day.  I have written the rules to allow for fast and fun games, but also I want to reward historical tactics.  I also want to achieve a clear winner within this relatively short number of moves.   And most important I want a large element of luck, because my wife is my regular opponent and having gamed together for more than 50 years we can anticipate what each other will do in almost any wargame situation.

The campaign includes all of the major Napoleonic armies, and many of the minor ones.  I wanted to give an element of national strengths and weakness, for example the British were well known for their effective volley fire and the Russians for their stubborn fighting style.   Equally important I wanted to avoid making any one brigade too powerful, for example British Riflemen or French Imperial Guard.   I wanted to ensure that whilst elite formations had an advantage; it was not so great that they would always win.   And at the same time historical poor performers, such as the Spanish, should also have a chance to win.  

To this end I created an order of battle which gave infantry brigade’s three combat abilities.    These are skirmish, firefight and melee.   Each brigade is graded A, B or C in each of these functions.  

A British rifle brigade would be class A skirmishers, B class melee and C class firefight.  

A French guard brigade would be C class skirmishers, A class melee and B class firefight. 

A Spanish line brigade would be C class skirmishers, B class melee and C class firefight.

Each corps has four brigades, and most have at least one class A brigade in one of the three combat types.  The exception is the Spanish, who are lucky to have more than one B class.   They always have to rely on a good defensive position, such as a village, woods or hill.

This allows the player to decide which brigade is most suitable for which task.   And even more important which brigade is weak, and must not be exposed too much.

The distance of a brigade from the enemy will determine what type of combat takes place.   If 2 to 4” it will be a skirmish combat.   0 to 2” will be musket volley.   Base contact will be melee.   A rifle brigade would pick skirmish combat; a British line brigade would prefer musket and a Spanish brigade would have to try for melee.

However it is not always possible to ensure the type of combat you want.  The move sequence is determined by drawing a poker chip from a bag, each corps has a chip.   Your rifle brigade may halt at 3”, but if the Spanish chip is before them in the next round, the Spanish brigade can charge into contact and decide the outcome by hand to hand combat.   The brigade which charges into contact gets a plus one for impact, which gives them a slight advantage.

It all sounds complicated, but it’s really quite simple and fast flowing.  The element of luck, in the form of the 1D6 and drawing a chip for who goes first, is what makes the whole game so unpredictable and enjoyable.  

I suspect that for most wargamers our reliance on the dice would be unacceptable.   I went through many different types of rules over the 54 years I have been Wargaming.   All tried to reward historical tactics.    The early ones were very simple, and then came very complicated followed by moderate complexity.   All were enjoyable, at least to start with, but lost their appeal through frequent play when the shortcomings became obvious.   Most, if not all, did not have a time limit on the wargame.   This resulted in very long games with the complicated rules, which were often abandoned due to loss of interest.

We are very happy with our current rules.   Having written them myself, and only having to keep both of us happy, I can change them at will.   So when the failings become obvious I can just tweek the rules to overcome the problem.   Will not work for everyone, but works well for us.


  1. thistlebarrow -
    The 'extended' musketry range of skirmish-capable troops is a feature several commercial rule sets, which handle them in much the same way that you have. I don't recall, however anything quite like the way you have categorised three types of combat, rating them according to 'National (and it seems troop type) Characteristics'. You don't state, but I would guess a British infantry brigade would be C-skirmish, B-melee, A-firefight c.f French Line B-skirmish, B/A melee (column), B-firefight.

    One imagines that your battles with your regular opponent have become as much cooperative affairs as competitive (I have long maintained that real battles have an element of cooperation between the contending armies). Semi-solo, sort of thing. For solo play I think one needs that extra element of ... let's call it 'uncertainty', rather than that frivolity, 'luck'.

    I am very tempted to give your revised rule set a bit of a go myself!

    1. Hi Ion

      Thanks for your comment

      I have tried to keep an element of national characteristics, but at the same time give both a plus and a minus to each brigade. The British were the most difficult, because their veteran brigades really were class B, volley B and skirmish B. Whilst a French veteran brigade would be class B, volley c and skirmish B.

      I even it by having one Portuguese brigade in each corps. These are class C, volley C and skirmish C. There is also one Spanish corps in Wellington's army. These are almost all class C like the Portuguese.

      So even though the British infantry are superior to the French, one third of their army are distinctly inferior (in combat and morale terms)

      The advantage of this type of combat and morale assessment is that you can mix and match to suit your own preferences (or perhaps prejudices would be more appropriate).



  2. Thank you for explaining the Corps activation system. I'd assumed until now that your rules were IGOUGO.

    1. Hi Martin

      I have used IGOUGO rules in the past, but I got this idea from Le Feu Sacre rules. I really like the undertainity of which side will "go" first, because it can make a huge difference. And when I most need for one corps to move first Jan's chip always seems to come up first.

      It can be particularly frustrating when attacking. I always seem to have to move my cavalry within charge range of her defending cavalry. If she moves first next time, she can charge my cavalry, which gives her a plus 1 for impact in the melee rules!

      It can be annoying, but I do like the possibility of these small setbacks.



  3. Thistlebarrow,

    For some reason I've not received any notifications about your recent blog posts. No idea why ... but I suspect that it might be due some sort of service update. I've deleted the old link and reinstalled it ... and now it seems to be working.

    I enjoyed this post because I find other wargame designer's design notes very helpful when it comes to understanding how their rules work.

    Let's hope service has now returned to normal!

    All the best,


    1. Hi Bob

      Lovely to hear from you again.

      Sorry to hear that you have not recived notifications about my posts. I have not done anything at my end which might affect it. Hope you have managed to sort it out. I normally post on this blog each Sunday, so if it has not appeared at your end something is probably wrong.

      Glad you enjoy the designer's notes. I try to do the same when I do an update on the 1813 campaign on this blog. On the 1813 campaign I keep it in a simple, diary entry style. It is really just a basic history of the campaign. The battle reports are also as basic as possible, whilst still making sense (I hope)

      best regards



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