Monday, November 28, 2016

Neil Thomas: Simplicity In Practice PART I Fighting Retreat at El Perez

Reading over various folks' blog posts about rules and in light of this past month's quest to find a "staple" set of horse & musket rules, I came across a "relatively" obscure set of rules that Mr Neil Thomas wrote for "Battlegames Magazine" in 2010.  I bought the back issue ($3.75 on Wargames Vault) and discovered a very interesting, challenging, and engaging set of Horse and Musket rules that seem to bridge his "Introduction to Wargaming" rules with his "One Hour Wargame" rules.  Given the name, I don't need to tell you how simple they are - but simplicity aside, they are a joy to play.

Basically, if you felt that OHW was too simple, or that his I2W were too involved, then these might be for you.

They hone a simple, universal sequence of play that will be familiar to any Horse & Musket enthusiast:  Move, Shoot, Melee.

Units shoot based strictly off their type.  So "Close Order Infantry" have a "To Hit" value they must achieve, as does Light Infantry, Artillery, and various types of Cavalry get to shoot too (not effectively mind you, but it's still fun to shoot with your units).

Scoring hits on a unit triggers another roll for "demoralization" points.  (score 3 hits on a unit, firer rolls 1D6 looking for a 3+ on a 1D6 to cause a single demoralization point.  If you only scored 1 hit on a unit, you'd roll a 5+ on a 1D6 to cause a demoralization point.)  Units are eliminated when they receive 4 DPs.  It's a very nice system that would seem at home playing SYW, AWI, ACW, and Napoleonics.

I played the "Fighting Retreat from El Perez" Peninsula scenario in Black Powder last night before bed with my 10mm troops.  Like many of Neil's rules, these seem to favor the defender, but in retrospect, I probably didn't make some good choices, either.

French Brigades massing for the assault through El Perez to get to the British covering force.  note the Cavalry Brigade in the lower right of the picture

Long British columns completing their passage of lines

French at the Petitos Garrison, Blocking the British/Portuguese force

British Columns

French Battalions move out
 It's important to note here there is absolutely no distinction between column or line.  I simply put the French troops in column to get them through the town.  On their first "normal" move after the difficult terrain, I placed them back in line at no cost to them.

Portuguese leading the way on the retreat back to Torres Vedras

Traffic Jam

Rifles forward deployed
 At this point, the British heavy dragoons launch a pre-emptive charge because they're impetuous Cavalry and that's what they do!  They are repulsed by French Heavy Cavalry in the first serious clash of the battle.  Losers of melee automatically retreat with 2 Demoralization Points.

KGL Cavalry in the lower-center swing into action to assist on the right flank.  The Thin Red Line awaits the French onslaught

The French Cavalry attack and harry the British unceasingly.
 One thing I'll note is you get additional dice as melee advantage.  NO MODIFIERS!!  That's a big plus for some of the guys I game with.  So you could, potentially roll 6 or 8 dice in your melee attack with the right supports and leadership involvement.  It also has the added benefit of making your battlefield "look" napoleonic.

British Dragoons are defeated and evaporate

Meanwhile the KGL Cavalry rides to the rescue in their inaugural game!

Pour it into em lads!  The Rifles earn their pay

The stalwart defenders of the Petitos Garrison.  Even now as I write this, they have not yet been dislodged.

Portuguese massing for an attack on Petitos!
That's where the action stopped last night.  After a crazy Sunday I just had to hit the hay.  But you can see what a proper game of Simplicity in Practice looks like.  Since this is a Black Powder scenario, I'm keen to play this again with Black Powder rules and see how they fare.

So some of the things I like about this game?  Well, it meets my Top 3 for sure.  Uncomplicated, Basing Agnostic, and it plays with a few or alot of units.  there are tons of units on the table right now.  So many so that I could technically have other folks play as well.

It plays fast!  No kidding.  You have a solid decision in your games and there isn't much ambiguity (except those things which Mr Thomas left out - like what is the "To Hit" score for Melees?  Which I just assumed were the same as the "To Hit" roll for shooting).

I like the fact that this game would be comfortable in virtually any era, and you could add the requisite period modifications to make it feel right.  These rules have just the right amount of detail, texture, D6 dice rolling, and fire and maneuver to make this middle aged grognard feel at home.

The cons?  Well they definitely seem to favor the defender that much is evident to me.  Most (all) of my Neil Thomas games where the French attack the British end with the French leaving the field, which may be correct in most aspects of Peninsular Warfare, but since there are absolutely no special rules or shooting advantages given to the Brits in these rules, I have to think that any defender would be at an advantage, especially in terrain.  (case in point look at the Petitos Garrison - the Portuguese have not been able to dislodge the French yet).

Okay I'm off to play a few turns tonight.  More to follow.  Check out the "AMW Group" on Yahoogroups for a fan-produced set of Simplicity in Practice variants, and buy the Wargames Vault supplement.  In the preceding issue, Neil Thomas writes about the virtues of simplicity in wargames design.

I still like Black Powder best as the most sensible compromise with what I'm looking for in a Horse, Musket, Rifle, and Sabre game, but I do like the possibilities these rules open up for some truly big battles!


  1. Ohhh, now I read this with great interest :)

    1. Darren,
      You'd be all over these rules. They'd work well in a Grand Tactical perspective with the concept of "demoralization points" which could be easily translated into other factors. These are very nice rules and you cannot beat the price.

  2. So, that's what you were up to in the gentleman's gaming parlor? The table looks quite pleasing, with so many attractive formations. Excellent write up!

    I've been day dreaming of Naps as of late. Maybe it's due to YouTube and all of the documentaries uploaded onto it?! :-) It will be interesting to see the rules comparison outcome for this fight. I really out to put BP on my rules wishlist.

    1. No, yesterday was a crazy day for me lots of running around. Really this was in the evening but I had to try these rules out after reading about them. They're very good and give a satisfying game without too much "fluff.:

      Yes you should definitely invest in Black Powder. They are a fantastic set of rules, despite what some of the snobby gaming crowd say out there. They have a solid set of systems in them and allow you to carry out any plan you want, provided you can get the orders.

  3. What is the supplement on Wargame Vault to which you refer, please?

    1. Hi Ben, in the first paragraph i linked to it on wargames vault. Click on where it says "3.75 on wargames vault" and it should take you right there.

      Also if the link doesnt work simply go to wargames vault and type "simplicity in practice neil thomas" in the search and it should come right up.

  4. " You have a solid decision in your games and there isn't much ambiguity (except those things which Mr Thomas left out - like what is the "To Hit" score for Melees? Which I just assumed were the same as the "To Hit" roll for shooting)."

    Ah! This kind of answers my question on the second part of your game. There *is* no To Hit roll in melees; you actually add up the scores of all of the dice rolled, and the highest score wins the melee. But if you have four dice and I have six (one advantage) the odds of your score beating mine is very low. Actually rolling the dice looking for hits, with the side scoring the most winning, makes things a little more even and a lot less predictable.

    1. I will have to play it the proper way to see if it makes a big difference. The French did not fare well attacking the British line, at least on the French right. The French left they scored a minor breakthrough but this game is like many other Neil Thomas games where the attacker has a very rough time of it.

      Using the Firing values to calculate the results of melee took a little bit more time than say adding up all the dice, but there were a few upsets even when the defender had the advantage.

      All things considered, I'll play these again.

  5. A lovely looking game and good report. I use SiP practice quite a lot myself - always gives a good game. And very easy to play around with the factors to give you the exact game you want.

    1. Thank you sir. I enjoyed it very much and will certainly play it again!