Friday, 14 April 2017

Wargames Rules

At various time there have been questions on this blog about rules used for particular games. In the vast majority of cases the answer has been that they are home grown, generally written by me. Ever since I first started wargaming I have been a writer of rules and over the years my ideas have ranged from super complex to the ultra-simple sets. The current iteration of rules meets somewhere in the middle and are written to suit the type of games that our group plays, that is large multi-player games involving eight or more players and 30-50 units a side.
The current iteration focuses on the period 1700-1870, but with a few modifications I have made them stretch back to encompass the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War, and stretch forward to take in the Russo-Japanese War, WWI and the Spanish Civil War. I don't concern myself with ground scale or figure scale. It is all about what looks right on the table and delivers an enjoyable game that captures the spirit of the period.
Some of the concepts behind the rules are very old, some very new and the whole set is really of number of components scavenged from many sources over the decades and modified to suit. For ready access for the group I play with, and for anyone else who wishes to make use of them, the rules and their associated support information is made available for free through the Free Stuff page on this blog.
I have no intention of releasing these commercially and request that if anyone dose download them that they are not posted elsewhere for sub-distribution. That said, the rules are maintained in their storage location as a living document. As changes are made they are published to the folder and a brief description of the change is recorded in a revision record near the front of the document.

My background is aviation publishing and I have applied some of the principles used in that medium to this publication. What this means is that there is a basic rule book supported by a series of Quick Reference Handbooks (QRHs). Each of these QRHs is specific to an historical period, ACW, Napoleonic, Carlist Wars, etc and contains the basic information required to play a game in the form of checklists that contain a specific logic that leads you though a game turn. Each checklist contains the basic information you need to complete task (e.g. the firing checklist starts by telling you to pick a firing unit, specifies the criteria for a valid target – is it in range, arc of fire, shooting through a gap, etc - then tells you the number of dice you need to roll and the score required to hit, then what the target needs roll to save, what the result is and then asks if more units firing go to the top of the checklist, if not go to the next checklist. The back page of the QRH contains a selection of notes that are specific to the historical period represented.
At the core of the rules are two key elements: Order and Activation. Everything else, firing, close attacks, initiative, etc, simply bolts on and can be changed with some ease if needed.
Looking at order first, units can be in one of five states of order:
Good Order – where the unit has taken no losses or has suffered up to (and including) three hit points.
Disorder - a temporary state where a unit has crossed disordering terrain or similar. It is still classed as in Good Order, but in some activation tests and in all close attack calculations a minus factor may count. This clears automatically the turn after unit has crossed the obstacle, cleared the disordering terrain or the activity that caused the disorder has ceased.
Silenced – a state for artillery units only that is forced on them either by an activation result or weight of fire.
Disrupted – where a unit had taken four or five hit points, has suffered an adverse Activation result or has suffered a loss in a close attack.
Shaken – where a unit has taken six hit points has suffered an adverse Activation test result or has suffered a severe loss in a close attack.
It is worth noting here that the rules have been designed to work with units of three stands, usually with five or six figures on a stand. This can be extended to four stands without too many difficulties, but more than that and units can inflict terrible losses very quickly. In our Napoleonic games, for example, our armies are organised in battalions of six stands of four figures each and the fire from six stands can be crippling and distorts the game. Since we don't want to rebase our extensive armies we get around the problem of excessive losses by allowing the unit two free hits. They carry these until they take a third hit and then the counting of actual hits begins.
Activation represents two things in one – control and morale. It works on the premise that as long as units are in good order and under the control of their leaders they will pretty much act as you (the general) wishes – sometimes they will move a little slower than you want and sometimes they can move a little quicker. However, when units get knocked about a bit and are ruled disrupted they become less reliable and when badly knocked around they become shaken and are very difficult to manage. Shaken units are likely to quit the field if pushed.
Initiative allows for a change of who goes first in a turn to vary. The initiative process has been a bit contentious over the years and we have tried to work out different systems, but it is almost impossible to define the criteria that might lead to a change and usually just comes down to a modified die roll. For me a change of initiative should be a rare event and this system seems to capture that. In some of our games initiative remains with one side the entire game, but conversely we have had games where it has changed almost every turn. When it does change it can give you a real advantage if you are ready to exploit it. As a game organiser you can manipulate the initiative a little by stating that a particular side has the initiative at the start of the game, rather than allowing each side roll equally.
What we have found over the few years we have been using this system is that we can get a decisive result even with very large games in a single session – typically we start play at 10:30 AM and under thus system we get a clear result by 3:00 PM (including a break for lunch), whereas in different times we would finish at 5:00 PM and still have to determine the result by discussion or by “military probability” as a dear old departed friend of ours would say.
It also became evident that the rules are quite easily adapted to almost every period that we play simply by modifying a few factors (altering rates of fire, additional modifiers for pikes in the ECW, re-roll misses for British musketry in 1914, and so on) and by forcing players to use historical tactics – e.g. in the War of Spanish Succession infantry can only be in one of two formations – line or march column…any other formation makes them disrupted.
When you read through the main rule book there are probably things that don’t make sense because some knowledge has been assumed – as a group we have been playing together for more than 30 years and some things are just intuitive to us. Feel free to ask any questions through these pages


  1. Mark, I plan to download your rules and give them a careful reading. Like you, rules' writing is another facet of the hobby that I very much enjoy.

    1. I often find that thinking up rules ststems helps pass the time when stuck in traffic. When I look at other sets of rules I always look and see if there is some aspect I can add to mine. I will be interested to hear your thoughts.