Friday 11 March 2022

Planning for Paraguayan War Games Using Snakes and Ladders Campaign Systems

With the Great Paraguayan War project nearing completion thoughts are turning to how to game this war, when gaming starts again. I’m not one for refights of actual battles, preferring to create a scenario that has a basis in history. I have also been known to base a scenario on an actual battle from a different historical period. For the first games for this war I want to run a sort of campaign.

Wargames campaigns have always had a fascination for me. Perhaps it is because the Donald Featherstone book “Wargames Campaigns” was one of the first wargames books I owned (and I still flick trough it nostalgically today - nearly 50 years after I got it). I have designed numerous campaign systems - hex based, square based, area based and across a multitude of eras. A number of these have been presented here on these pages. Some have been full campaigns and some just a series of linked games - in this latter category the one that comes readily to mind is the French in Egypt series played back in late-2018 and early-2019. Yet oddly for all of this I have played very few and those I have played in have fizzled out, but that hasn’t curbed my enthusiasm for them and recently I have latched onto the concept of Snakes and Ladders systems. 

Now the idea is far from new and a number of wargame sites have featured articles on it in recent times (Steven’s BalaganA Grab Bag of GamesGrid Based Games to mention three that come to mind immediately) and I have used the idea independently in the past as a tool for determining arrivals on the table. While the system does not provide the ability to manoeuvre freely it does provide potential for variance of force and attrition. 

So what is my twist on the concept? Well all I wanted was to create a mechanism for a series of linked games. I wanted rash actions in one game to have repercussions in another. In my version of the game the armies involved are divided into commands:

Paraguayan force

  • First Brigade - three infantry battalions, two cavalry regiments
  • Second Brigade - three infantry battalions, one battery
  • Third Brigade - two infantry battalions, two cavalry regiments, one battery
  • Fourth Brigade - two infantry battalions, one cavalry regiment, one battery
  • A fortified position
Allied Forces

  • First Brazilian Infantry Brigade - five infantry battalions, one battery
  • Second Brazilian Infantry Brigade - four infantry battalions, two batteries
  • Brazilian Cavalry Brigade - two cavalry regiments
  • First Argentine Infantry Division - two infantry brigades (2 battalions each), one battery 
  • Second Argentine Infantry Division - two infantry brigades (2 battalions each)
  • Argentine Cavalry Brigade - two cavalry regiments
  • Uruguayan Brigade - three infantry battalions, one battery
  • Naval support 

Both sides play the Snakes and Ladders game alternately (each side rolls 1xD6 to determine who goes first) by rolling 1xD6 and moving through the grid according to the score and and directions indicated in the squares.

The game board has five possible battles: one small action in which the players will get to use two  brigades (only one of which can be Brazilian on the Allied side); one moderate sized action in which they get to use three commands (one each of Brazilian, Argentine and Uruguayan), one of which must be a command that has been fought in a previous action (if one had has been fought); two large actions in which they get to use four commands (one each of Brazilian, Argentine and Uruguayan, plus one other) and one of which must be a command that has been fought in a previous action (if one had has been fought); and the final action is all in, in which all troops fight. The campaign is won or lost on the final game.

Battles are deemed one of three types: encounter, battle in position or battle in a prepared position. When a battle box is entered during play 1xD6 determines the type of action and in a battle in position of or a battle in a prepared position the player who enters the square is said to be the attacker and the other the defender. The player entering the square also rolls 1xD10 (re-rolling any 10s) using the score to determine the table plans as numbered below. These maps provide a broad outline for the table where dark green areas are impenetrable jungle, light green are smaller more open areas of timber or palms, the large black box with a cross is a mission, groups of three black blocks are villages, broad blue blocks are rivers,  narrow blue line streams and then swamp areas. All rivers are fordable to infantry and cavalry as major obstacles, and impassable to artillery. Streams are fordable by all troops. Swamps are impassable to all troops.

Deployment options are defined by the type of action. In all cases both sides roll 1xD6 and the higher score then picks the side they will deploy on. The deployment areas are:

  • Encounter battle: 300 mm in from the edge and 600 mm away from the ends.
  • Battle in position: Defender deploys first in an area up one third of the way into the table but 600mm clear of the ends. The attacker will move into the table at any point along his table edge.
  • Battle in a Prepared Position: Defender deploys first in an area up to half their force up to half way in the centre third of the table, while the remaining force must be no further than 300mm in from the table edge and clear of the table ends by 600mm. If the Paraguayans are the defenders they can deploy their fortification unit and up to 1000mm of connecting trenches anywhere within their deployment area. If the allies are the defenders they may deploy up to 600mm of temporary fortifications (abatis, chevaux de frise, or similar obstructions). The attacker will move into the table at any point along his table edge.

Naval Support

In maps 1 and 5 the allies can use their Naval Support option. Naval support is always assumed to be on the river section marked with the red dot on the map. Naval Support is assumed to be off table and counts as two heavy batteries with all ranges measured from the corner point of the table. Note that this may well be behind a Paraguayan deployment position.

Off table reserve and flanking movements. 

Attacking forces are permitted to deploy up to half of their force off table either as a flanking march or a reserve. All off table troops have to dice to come onto the table requiring a 5 or 6 on their first attempt, and a 4,5 or 6 on any subsequent attempt. They can have up to three attempts to come onto the table and troops that fail to arrive after three attempts, are ruled lost and will not arrive. 

Off table reserves can attempt to come onto the table from the beginning of the second turn. The player does not have to declare where the reserves are coming on until their first attempt to dice for it.

Flanking marches can attempt to come onto the table from the beginning of turn three if attempting to arrive short of the halfway point, or turn four of attempting to arrive beyond the halfway mark. A player bring on a flanking force does not have to declare where he moving to until he makes the first attempt to arrive.

Attrition and reinforcements

Each time there is a battle and a unit takes losses, the losses are carried forward by a simple mechanism . In my rules units take losses in six steps. Losses of 1,2 or 3 do not affect order, but by accumulating 4 and 5 casualties order begins to break down and they are ruled disrupted, and when six casualties are accumulated the unit is shaken and very fragile. So my simple attrition mechanism is that any unit that takes losses of 4 or more in a battle reduces one unit size, so that large units become standard, standard become  small and small  become tiny. Tiny units remain tiny.

On the playing board are two special events:

  • Reinforced! - when a player lands in this square he has received reinforcements and can bring one of his brigades (selected by the opposing player) back up to full strength.
  • Desertion! - when a player lands on this square one of his brigades (selected by the opposing player) suffers from desertion and all of the units in the brigade drop one strength level to a minimum of ‘tiny’.

I envisage this system also being used for American Civil War and Napoleonic campaigns.


    1. The 'chutes & Ladder set of mechanics looks cool. Sometimes simpler is better. Looking forward to the AAR's.

      1. Thanks Joe. I kind of like the idea of making people think before they sacrifice that brigade because they may need it in the next game.

    2. Obviously a lot of thought has gone into preparing for the Great Paraguayan campaign, as usual, Mark. I hope we get to see it in action sometime soon!

      1. This idea has been floating around for a while now. I too am keen to get some games in again…getting withdrawal symptoms.

    3. This all looks very well thought out Mark and I hope you are able to kick things off soon, as I'm sure it will generate some interesting battles, narrative etc:).

      1. It should make players think a bit more strategically. I hope we can start again soon too, but I suspect we are still another month away at least.

    4. Mark, your campaign mechanisms are well thought-out and interesting. Will be watching to see how this plays out.

      1. Thanks Jonathan. I am looking forward to using this in anger. I wan5 to try to dissuade players from deliberately sacrificing units to gain some sort of game advantage.

    5. Great idea mark. i have seen something similar before for the Peninsular War but your implementation has a bit more depth without being overly complicated. We tried an 1813 campaign a few years ago but it ground to a halt after three games. It does add a different dimension to gaming when you know there are consequences for later games.

      1. I think making the final game the key the decider. My concern is that people will not commit to earlier fights.

    6. This all looks very interesting Mark…
      And it’s a great way of getting the toys on the table…
      I’m looking forward to seeing it develop

      All the best. Aly

      1. I think this has some real potential. It may even allow for some conditional branching…”if the battle is in a fortified position and the position is carried, then go to…”