Saturday, October 3, 2015

Neil Thomas One Hour Wargames (OHW) AWI Brawl

Goodness it's been busy at the office!  The Papal Visit, a Hurricane, and a Nor'Easter!  Not much time for gaming at all lately, so I thought that would be a perfect opportunity to try out Neil Thomas' "ONE HOUR WARGAMES" rules, since I literally had about an hour to myself over the last few weeks and the rules promise a quick, simple, practical game.

I decided to play a "Horse & Musket" battle with my 15mm American War for Independence troops.  I took 3 x 10 sided dice and rolled for the scenario [there are a whopping 30 scenarios to play in the back of OHW!), getting Scenario #16 in the OHW book "Blundering into Contact."  I thought this would be literally perfect for a Battle of Saratoga, Freeman's Farm or Bemis Heights scenario, where battles seemed to develop as a result of a strong reconnaissance of the enemy position.
Continentals in the foreground.  British in the background.  Note the multiple forests the British would have to negotiate through.

Quite a polyglot of units who probably never saw the same battlefield together...

Green Mountain Boys still based for Guns of Liberty from "The Hubbardton Project"

Mr Thomas also refreshingly has a force generator in the back of the book where you can determine the composition of your force ahead of the game.  The British received 4 "regular" infantry units (let's call them "Battalions"), 1 "skirmisher" unit (my prized Light Bobs), and a section of light Artillery.  So this battle actually IS shaping up to look like Saratoga!
My South Wales Borderers.  Forward 24th!  Still unflocked!

Light Bobs.  I added some individually based troops around the lights on both sides.  Also the "skirmisher" units are based on narrow stands.

Royal Artillery section.

minifigs brits

British side.  Note the tough terrain they had to get past to get everyone to the hill.

Morgan's Riflemen!

Massachusetts troops (left) and Marylanders (right) advance to contact!

The Continentals drew 3 "regular" (I use the term loosely) infantry units (let's call them Regiments), 2 "skirmisher" units (I made 1 a unit of riflemen), and a section of light artillery.

The scenario specific rule to this battle was that both sides must travel at 9 inches per turn and are not allowed to fire until the objective in the center of the table has been captured, at which point both sides move at 6" and fire normally.

I deviated from the terrain setup and added a generous amount of woods to one side, and instead of a village in the center, a small hill dominates the map and makes a fitting, "upstate New Yorkish" objective for this engagement.
Plotting my next move...

Continentals advancing

British assembled for battle!

Note the 2 British units on the hill and the Lights

Here they come lads!

Green Mountain Boys next to the Pennsylvanians 

Lights!  The blue dice are their casualties so far

The British units on the hill start to evaporate under heavy American fire.

11th Mass and Maryland Infantry side by side preparing to assault the hill.

Pennsylvania Line

Royal Artillery!

As in real life at Saratoga, the British drew the short straw and started on the side with much more terrain to negotiate.  Unfortunately for them, they only had 1 unit of lights who were authorized to enter the forests, so the regulars got into the fight piecemeal, and I can feel the ghost of "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne lording over me at the table.  Interpenetration is a no-go so you must manage traffic.  No easy task when units arrive "stacked up" and not able to easily deploy. 

The Americans had no such trouble since they had a clear view of the hill with no major woods to circumvent.  The British went for the throat and sent 2 battalions and the light artillery section straight up to the hill along with the lights. Courageous Massachusetts troops were waiting for them at the bottom of the other side.  The Americans got the first volleys off and they were brutal, scoring, almost to a Regiment, a "6" for each volley.

As an interesting aside here, I really like how these games go.  Horse and Musket battles are never a sure bet and the side who breaks first after trading series of volleys is the loser in real life.  In OHW, to fire you simply roll a 1D6 and the result on the pip is the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy from your volley.  Certain units have modifiers to that roll based on their capabilities so it's possible that even after a "cannonade" or volley the enemy may not receive any meaningful casualties.  Things go they way you imagine they would in a "stand up fight" between 2 trained armies.

Units are eliminated after a specific number of hits.  All games last 15 turns.  This one was effectively "over" in 10.

As the battle developed, the British got the worst of things and many units evaporated after trying to weather volley after volley from American units.  Not easy at all as the Americans were able to mass their forces against the hill while the British needed to bring up battalions in successive waves. 

First the light bobs disappeared, then the more solid British lines atop the hill.  By turn 10, a single remaining British Battalion attempted to extricate itself in good order from the hilltop, only to be cut down by the Marylanders.

Thoughts on OHW and Lessons Learned
These were terrific little rules.   Makes me want to try out the other periods in the book (ancients, pike & shot, ACW, World War I, and World War II. If you don't own OHW, I recommend you buy them.  Besides their gaming value, they make an excellent book.  They feature 30 scenarios to use, as well as rules for most periods you could want to game! 

Be advised that these are not a "staple" set of rules you will want to use all the time, but they're definitely worth trying out every now and then for a good, satisfying game.  The game was over so fast it got me thinking about trying out an actual historical scenario like Freeman's Farm or Brandywine with them to see how that would go.  I have Neil Thomas' rules from his "Introduction to Wargaming" and also his Napoleonic rules, both of which I really enjoy playing.

A thought on tactics - managing unit movement is important.  To turn, units wheel at the center so they'll need lots of room.

Your Artillery has tremendous range and there is absolutely no reason to bring it along with you, provided you can keep a fire lane open.

skirmishers are good "throw away" units to be used harassing the enemy.

Units who can get all their "stuff" to fire each turn will have an advantage, although you cannot move and fire.  You've been warned!  The British moved much more than they fired, and the opposite was true for the Continentals.  The only way to win is to reduce the enemy force.  You can only do this by shooting!


  1. "To turn, units wheel at the center so they'll need lots of room."

    This is the biggest problem in the rules; in being brief they skip useful stuff like what happens when units get in the way of each other (as well as how arcs of fire are blocked - or not - and what actually counts as a 'flank attack'). Obviously it's assumed that people will work it out for themselves, but I'm sure all of that information is in Neil Thomas's head, should he choose to share it.

    For the record, when using those rules I allow units to overlap friendly units when they pivot, so long as they end their move not overlapping them.

    Mind you, I've rewritten the combat system and added all sorts of stuff to the core rules, but that's the fun of the book really :)

    1. Thanks for commenting, Kaptain Kobold!
      You're right, the rules leave much to the imagination. I figured that since these rules were ultra-simple, I would always use the most simple solution for them and keep the movement problems prohibiting interpenetration.

      I tried to deconflict fires much like Shako with "flank lines" for firing units. Like I mentioned, I cannot imagine these rules as a "staple" set for an experienced wargamer, however it is nice to just move units around a tabletop without much fuss or bother on occasion. In this instance, I have had very little free time of late, so what better rules to try out than a set that says you can finish a game in an hour!

      So funny you mentioned your modifications, because the whole time I played these rules (solo) I thought to myself "I would add this feature" or "this would be better if..." and I think they have much potential for modification.

      Some modifications I'd like to incorporate are more on the unit side than the core rules. For instance, I'd like to give skirmishers less than their allotted number of hits in the core rules - and possibly add a "shock troops" characteristic (Grenadier battalions) that gives them more hits. Units with distinct heritages would retain those by either being more or less "lethal".
      Morgan's Riflemen at Freeman's Farm could be given a +1 or +2 to their firing, but can only receive roughly half of the hits of a normal unit. In this way, they're fragile and break much more quickly, but are much more dangerous to the British (picking off officers and RA gunners immediately comes to mind).

  2. Nice post Steve - lovely looking figures there. AWI and the 7YW is something I think I could really get into with a few likeminded chums. One day maybe.

    Interesting to hear your take on the rules, which reflect my own thoughts though I have rad them only not tried them out. Would love to see what mods people do to sharpen them for each period and make them a little less generic. I think your playing with the resiliency of type units types makes a lot of sense.

  3. Thanks Paul! It was a cracking good game and true to its word delivered a game in under an hour!

    To be honest, the complaints about the rules being too generic per period (so it feels like 1 big game no matter what era) are absolutely true. I think this can be changed with modifications to the units, and not necessarily the rules themselves.

    What I appreciate most about Mr Thomas' games are that he includes really good and in-depth explanations as to why he chooses the conventions in his rules. I've read them and I like his logic alot - so I try to keep the rules as close to his original intent as possible. I think the units can be changed enough to keep a period flavor.

    I think these rules (and his more formal rules in his Intro To Wargaming and Napoleonics books) are great for Horse and Musket battles. Also - the yahoo group has free conversions to other periods as well like 18th Century, Fantasy, and ultra-modern.

    1. His 19th Century Wargaming is also very good. The problem is that after explaining away his abstractions very logically and smoothly, you kind of feel like you ended up with another bland game. Sometimes perhaps the balance is finding that little bit more that adds a lot, rather than taking more out.

      Your approach sounds like a very good one (and your infantry examples have clear parallels to Light, Heavy and Guard Cavalry units too) and obviously keeping the rules the same for each period has a lot of advantages. The only drawback may be a little bit of bookkeeping, which is clearly not insurmuntable

    2. I've never played the "19th Century Wargaming" but have played the Napoleonics rules, which are decent. Hard to win as the the attacker, though. You technically could get the same game with Black Powder (same scale) but both games feel very different. I can't put my finger on why. (stand count, in one and not the other perhaps).
      I will say of Neil Thomas' rules that I appreciate their "old school" flavor and that most of your game will be spent maneuvering, since the rules are only a few pages and there aren't that many things to look up! They remind me of Rick Sims' "Rank & File, another excellent Horse & Musket rules set where the true period flavor comes from the unit attributes, and less from the rules mechanics.

    3. I'll have to look those up. I suppose DBA is another prime example of unit type giving the detail too.

  4. Nice post Steven. You sound like you really enjoyed yourself. Good skills.

    1. Thanks Paul - it was a good time. Can't wait to play again.