Saturday, August 8, 2020

Simple Wargame #2: One Hour Wargames "Horse & Musket" Rules

Hot on the heels of the first simple wargaming post, I bring you this AAR of 2 x quick little Seven Years War dust-ups using the "Horse & Musket" rules from Mr Neil Thomas' "One Hour Wargames." I rolled for the force composition and for the scenario (1D3 + 1D10) and the scenario rolled up was #20 "Fighting Retreat" which I have never played before.

Let me get something out of the way up front. The Neil Thomas 1HW rules are some of the simplest of the simplest, which is why i initially rated them "Most Simple" in my rating scheme. There is not much meat on the bones of the Rules As Written (RAW) and the rules are all about allowing you to focus on your tactical decisions as a commander, and get to playing the wonderful pack of scenarios that accompany them.

This is why I initially disliked them - because they were devoid of much detail.  It wasn't until lately that I started to see that as a strength.

As my friend Alex likes to point out, there is also alot missing from the OHW rules.  They are however, rock solid rules in that you can build upon them and add the amount of detail that suits your taste.  

Most of the world knows about these rules by now, so I intend on commenting on what was missing and to a greater extent, what I would personally add if modifying them.  This is all about figuring out what we like, and so an investigation into the One Hour Wargame rules as the MOST simple, will really help me identify what it is I want/need in a simple rules set.

Fighting Retreat!
THe Austrians have raided deep into Prussian occupied territory (Silesia, perhaps?). They are returning home with a Prussian force under Von Schwerin hot on their heels. The Austrian force consists of a Light Cavalry Squadron the "St Joseph Dragoons," 2 Infantry Battalions of the Der Kaiser Regiment, and a Battery of field guns (4 x units).

Austrians have crossed the river completely on turn 2 - the hill is the objective

The Prussians have 4 Infantry Battalions, 1 Battery of Guns, and a Battalion of Light Troops, ostensibly for scouting and maintaining contact with the Austrian rear guard. The Austrians must reach and hold the ridgeline across the river by the end of turn 15. The Prussians must capture the ridge. As the action starts, Von Schwerin spies the Austrians at their most vulnerable - the midst of a river crossing during their retrograde. He has them right where he wants them. (The Austrians must clear all units of the River by the end of turn 2 or or those units are destroyed automatically). Von Schwerin orders the attack to commence. The Plans? The Austrians will mount an active defense and force the Prussians to deploy and fight well before the ridgeline. The Cavalry will be especially useful in that regard, and the Austrian commander fully intends on using them to launch spoiling attacks against the Prussians. Time is only against the Prussians as the Austrian commander has a clear line of march directly to the ridge.

Opposed crossing!  Austrian artillery fires on the Prussian light battalion 

Trying to scatter the Prussian lights with the Dragoons
The Prussians throw everything they have across the river to deploy north of it, including the skirmish battalion, who move a gratifying 9 inches.  The Austrians immediately charge the skirmishers to drive them off, but quick thinking and solid training sees the lights hunkering down, dispersed and so the Cavalry damage is mitigated.  Prussian artillery deploys and an artillery duel opens immediately as both sides fire upon one another.  On the Prussian right, the main infantry column fans out and marches at the quick to reach the ridge.
Meanwhile the main Prussian infantry column deploys to assault the ridge

The Austrian Dragoons launch charge after powerful charge (causing D6+2 hits) in an effort to spoil the Prussian plans.  The Prussian battery and skirmishers continue their fire and an infantry battalion deploys to also see off the threat.  The Austrian plan is working on their right but what about the left?  The tough Prussian infantry is now in musket range and begins to fire on the Austrian battalion facing them.  This seems like a simple math equation now, but the Austrians have some tricks up their sleeve.  
Photo of the battle developing.  A main assault is preparing to go in against the hill on the Prussian right, while Austrian cavalry and artillery wreak havoc on the Prussian lights on the left!

16 hits and the light battalion is history
In one of the most glorious actions I've ever seen in a wargame, the St Joseph Dragoon commander notes an opportunity and takes matters into his own, impetuous hands! The dragoons charge across the battlefield into the flank of an exposed Prussian Infantry Battalion that has a mere 6 hits on it. D6+2 hits, doubled due to a flank attack, and the dice roll of "5" (5+2 = 7 doubled to 14) sees the annihilation of a Prussian infantry battalion!

Charging into glory, the Austrian Dragoons annihilate a Prussian infantry battalion with a powerful flank attack!
The game just got much more interesting and the Austrians on the ridgeline cheer as the men in the blue coats run off. They are only facing 2 battalions on their left now. Still though, there is a formidable Prussian force coming towards the ridge, with 2 x infantry battalions from the main column, and 1 x infantry battalion from the left column. A murderous firefight erupts along the line, but numbers were telling and the Austrians finally were driven off on turn 14, with a single turn remaining for them.

endgame on turn 15 as a Prussian Battalion occupies the hill.  Prussian victory!

I played this a second time with the Austrians attempting a different plan.  Rather than a stand-up rearguard fight, the Austrians charged directly for the hill in to occupy it and offer a 4 x unit resistance.  This plan saw the total destruction of the Austrians in 12 turns, rather than 14, and so an aggressive defense certainly paid off in the first game.  Had luck prevailed and Prussian rolling been bad, the Austrians could have pulled off a win!  Such is war.

What Was Missing?
There is a trade off with simple rules - situations develop during the game that are not covered in the explanation of how to play.  That happened numerous times during my two games and it illustrates a great point about simple rules.  What you give up in the rules themselves can manifest itself on the table.  This isn't a huge deal for me playing solo, but using these rules for, say, a huge MEGAGAME you would want your explanations to be tight.

A few situations developed that were not covered that I will discuss here:

Firing into melee.  This is usually a given in most rules but it's worth mentioning here that I allowed it because I was playing the RAW and it wasn't forbidden. At least I dont think it was forbidden.  You could interpret the "limited engagement" rule as also pertaining to shooting, but I did not.  Used in concert with the long range of the artillery and the charging power of the cavalry makes this a VERY potent combined arms feature and it saw the utter destruction of the Prussian skirmishers without having many hits on them, hence why I'm mentioning that it should be arranged prior to the game.  With movement and charging coming before shooting, you could 

Sidestep Movement.  There were no rules covering a unit moving by its flank but maintaining its facing to the front.  Since the OHW rules are really loose and generous with movement, I simply allowed movement by the flank since you can pivot before and after movement.

Bridge Crossing.  I used 4 inch wide infantry battalions but in some cases they stopped directly OVER the bridge maintaining their frontage.  I just kept them on the bridge as-is but it looked goofy with the flanks of the battalion hanging out in the water.

Marshland Line of Sight.  Many marshes are not flat, open affairs.  They have dead trees, live trees, high grass, etc.  There is a prominent marsh in Scenario #20 along the river bank.  If the marsh blocks line of sight, it forces the artillery to cross the river.  Artillery has a 4 foot range so it ranges the entire table.  If the marsh blocks LOS, you have to deploy your guns closer to the ridge.  I played as it blocking, since it was a significant enough terrain feature to be placed in these terrain-minimalist scenarios.

Victory Conditions.  The scenario's victory condition is pretty obvious that you have to be the sole occupant of the hill by the end of turn 15.  My question is - if you knock out the final Austrian unit on the hill during your shooting on turn 15, and you're the last unit on the table, you can't move and so you're stuck NOT on the hill when turn 15 ends.  Did you win?

The Questions!
The moment you've all been waiting for - the Simplicity Questions!

How Long did the game take to play?
One hour and 17 minutes for 2 x games.

What was the scenario?
Scenario #20 fighting retreat.

What happened?  
I addressed this in the battle report above but there were some extraordinary events, mostly centered around the glorious charges of the St Joseph's Dragoons, who annihilated a seemingly strong Prussian Line Battalion that left its flank exposed causing 14 hits!  Probably a fitting end for that unit that carelessly let itself be flanked in melee.  The endgame for Game #2 also saw a beautifully orchestrated Prussian volley consisting of 2 infantry battalions and the artillery which destroyed an Austrian Battalion.  

Who Won?  Why?
The Prussians won both games and I feel that was because the Austrians start with only 4 units.  I would love to see the defender win this one and I'd like to play it again.  If you are careless in managing your resources, you can lose as the attacker, but you have the 2 x extra units so you can afford to take some losses.

Did You Enjoy the Game?  
Yes they were both fun and perfect for some "lunchbreak" gaming.  I enjoyed trying to solve the problems of the scenario.  Still though, there was something missing in terms of detail that I would have liked to have seen.  I attribute this to 25 years of wargaming and certain expectations that arise from my gaming.  These rules are, admittedly, a minimalist set of rules which deliver exactly what they promise.  I'll cover those below.

Advanced Questions

HOw many consultations occurred with the rules?
Literally 1.  I double checked the melee rules for doubled hits against flanks!

Details and Chrome that's Missing  (In my humble opinion)

I've never been a fan of the single die roll attrition point shooting.  I feel like it's "blah." I much prefer Kaptain Kobold et al's multiple dice method with "To Hit" scores as this feels much more familiar like a "proper" wargame :)  There has been extensive research done on this topic by many wargamers already.

Initiative & Turn Sequence
The problem raised above about shooting into melee could be easily solved with tweaking the initiative and the turn sequence.  Allowing any unit to carry out 1 single "Action" (move, charge, shoot) allows you to sequence these things to occur whenever you would like, making it more historical by allowing an attacker to "soften up" a target with artillery before going in with the cold steel.

Regarding initiative, the turn sequence is very predictable (as intended by Mr Thomas).  Alex and I developed a cool feature whereby you have to win the initiative roll by 2 to "keep" or "win" the initiative.  It adds a nice little element of tension and some uncertainty to the game.

A defining characteristic of 18th Century Warfare and possibly 17th Century Warfare was that of "shock troops" like Grenadiers.  These elite troopers were not daunted by the enemy (Nec Asperra Terrent!) and their sole job was to go in with the bayonet.  I understand Mr Thomas' intent on forbidding the charge but in the case of Grenadiers and other elite troopers, I feel like it is a necessary component of this era.  I'd allow shock troops to charge into melee.

I personally like a bit of restriction in my games and feel like an orders process would be better whereby commanders allocate orders based on a die roll to their units.  Rolling well gives you more battlefield opportunities to move units, and rolling poorly reflects command friction that often plagued even the best of units on the battlefield.

THis is a tough one.  Alex has successfully made the case that OHW is an extremely tactical-level game where units could even be thought to represent companies as a result of range of the weapons.  I personally like Battalions and higher (Brigade or 18th Century Regiment for Grand Tactical) and so the question about formations is an interesting one.  In the interest of making the rules simple are you losing a crucial element of detail?  Mr Thomas allows squares for napoleonic games but there is no other mention.  As a gamer, I like making the consideration that I should have my battalions in column to move as that would look more appropriate but is it really important?  I haven't figured that out yet.  For grand tactical games where I'm a Corps Commander it's certainly not a consideration, but if I'm the brigade commander holding the woods at Quatre Bras, my reinforcements should be moving up in column.

Rallying off hits is another important consideration that's not in the rules.  Understandably so because it would add another line to a purposely minimalist set of rules and one could easily make the argument that the timeframe of the battle is so limited that rallying is simply not going to happen.  But rallying off a small number of hits (1 or 2 max) would really add to the narrative of a unit holding on amidst unbelievable odds.  Alex and I tested this concept with EAGLES CHEAPER THAN BRAIN CELLS and one of my French Brigades holding a town held out against an entire Austrian Corps by being forced back almost to the point of annihilation, rallying, then returning to the fight.  This is the stuff of legends and battle reports, and it helps with the storyline of the battle.  I think it's a crucial aspect to forming that narrative, which is one of my most important aspects to my gaming - the narrative and storyline of the battle.

So that's it for my battle #2.  Already working on the third battle!  Also happy to report that I tallied up and analyzed ALL of the comments on the last 2 x posts and am going to prepare some feedback for everyone regarding what i've come up with and reflect everyone's comments and thoughts.  This has been a very fun and gratifying project.  Mr Neil Thomas' "Simplicity in Practice" is next on the list!  Stay tuned!


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  2. Hi Steve, a couple of lovely games and in one respect they illustrate the good value of short and simple rules (they go hand in hand) in that they still accomplish quite a bit, such as your cavalry charge to an open flank and the ability to move over a bridge as a ‘unit’ rather than as a unit that is either in line or column.

    But in other respects they can fall short of some of the meatiness that some of us want and have come to expect. So our unit going over a bridge needs to be in column, so that it is right and it looks right and then this has an impact on the other side as the unit is not in the best formation to fight (even though it may have charged into contact over the bridge!) and so we must get back into line, can we do that in time before the enemy counter-attacks us = game tension. But of course, a boardgame does exactly that with the same counter representing the force, so maybe it is just a mindset thing and doesn’t actually matter, which is perhaps what NT is trying to impress upon us.

    I like the NT scenarios because they remind me of Teasers. I have thought his two and a bit pages of rules quite clever, but they would have been more-so had they gone to 4 - 5 pages to cover some of the things we want, like formation or morale, which are basics to most systems. I think if that had been the case more of us would be happy to settle with them ....... but then that misses the point of what these rules were meant to be / do.

    I also find with the rules that you start to fill in some of the gaps with your own gamer knowledge, so perhaps they are not really 2 page rules after all!

    One of the big things I find about the rules is that you can easily fall into a lack of care for the unit. Once it gets close to its removal status of 15 hits, the unit is put under all sorts of pressure to get the last bit of use out of it, before it expires, yet in reality, it would be less effective by that stage and the player should want to pull it out of the line before it gets lost.

    The good thing about the rules as you say they are solid and each of us can add our bits to bring them nearer to our version of reality.

    You will have seen in other correspondence that I have sent you that I am seeing two sorts of simple. Simple generic and simple meaty. They are on a sliding scale and no doubt each of us inhabit a different point on that scale of where we place ‘our own simple’

    looking forward to Simplicity in Practice as I have heard them spoken of, but never seen a copy.

    1. "Simple Generic" and "Simple Meaty?" I need to think about this dichotomy a bit...

    2. Norm,
      Level of experience certainly affects our expectations from our rules. I've laid out what I thought was missing from OHW. Not sure how much of the list above I'd be willing to compromise on and I need to think about that next.
      So many people dismiss OHW but the fact of the matter is the omissions were intentional and many of the things we're all talking about are discussed in the notes. I feel like the rules are perfectly hackable and ready for our additions!

      I agree with your thoughts about simple generic and simple meaty. There are definitely buckets that these various rules can fit in. OHW is absolutely simple generic.

      As for some of your other comments, as evidenced by the blog comments since I started this project, the definition of simple is quite varied.

  3. Great writeup and action.
    Can also see where you have applied hacks to what is a rules framework.
    Charging and rallying strikes me as useful for some games and less so for others - the strength of these simple rules perhaps.
    I am reminded of 'Muskets and Mayhem' (remember those) during your commentary.
    That was all turn sequence based, but it would be useful to compare scenarios with the two sets.

    1. Cheers, Darren. You always liked those rules :)

      The OHW are too simple as they are, but can be customized to no end.

  4. Great to see your SYW troops out on the table, Steve. Looks like Old Glory figures, to me.

    As for OHW, years ago I conducted an experiment using the same ECW battle across three rulesets. OHW was one of the rules examined. Of the three, OHW produced the least satisfying experience. Like you, I did not care for the DR Result = # Hits mechanism. Not sure I have played OHW since. I have used the scenarios many times.

    For your comparison, if you will be receiving inputs from other readers, perhaps consolidating your questions into a simple matrix might allow for more effective and more direct comparisons. That way, responses can fit into a uniform format and allow comparisons at a glance.

    1. Thank you, Jonathan! Yes OG and minifigs mixed in there. My 10mm SYW on single bases continues apace and I have many more bags of these 15mm SYW OG guys to finish...

      On terms of OHW it's funny - I keep coming back to them even though I know I will be missing things (see above). It's almost as if I never "bought in" to why Mr Thomas produced them being so minimalist to the degree that they are. The scenarios are challenging and I enjoy them but the rules need some chrome to take them to the next level.

      Regarding the project responses, I've been thinking about the best way to show the information. (I wont call it data right now). From the first post comments, blog posts, and email, I've amassed over 50 points of feedback which I've jotted down. I also have the questions which are meant to support a categorization of the rules played.

      I'm still thinking about the best way to show what I've learned so far in as streamlined a way as possible.

  5. "That happened numerous times during my two games and it illustrates a great point about simple rules. What you give up in the rules themselves can manifest itself on the table. "

    The problem is that there's a difference between 'simple rules' and 'short rules'. A game is not simple because you leave out a load of stuff in order to fit it on one page. If you give a modifier for attacking a flank, for example, then you have to define what constitutes a flank attack. I like writing simple rules, but even so they usually come out to six pages or more, because I take the time to explain thing. 'Simple' to my mind means that once you understand those things then you can play the game from memory.

    1. Fits my definition of “simple” too.

    2. "'Simple' to my mind means that once you understand those things then you can play the game from memory."

      I concur and all of my games these days require just the QRS to play, which means I can concnetrate on the game, with only the odd reference to the rulebook.

    3. KKobold,
      Your point illustrates why I'm doing this project. We all like and enjoy simple rules but the definitions of what makes them simple vary as widely as our tastes. I'm not sure there ever could be a nice, "simple" definition of simple wargaming.(see what I did there?)

      Mr Thomas explains perfectly well his rationale behind why he left all of those other mechanics out and it wasnt to keep the rules down to one page. The interest in making them "simple" or rather - leaving certain mechanics out to remove "complexity" leaves the player wanting and on their own to figure some things out for themselves. Your example of flanks is a good one. My point was things were left out to reduce the complexity, not to make the rules shorter, but some of that complexity is going to be needed to model the various complicated things going on on our tabletops.

  6. I tried OHW a few years ago and for me, they were too simple and left too much that was unresolved IMHO. However the scenarios are a great resource and worth the price of the book alone. His other books, such as Ancient & Medieval Warfare and 19thC wargaming are excellent and much more thought out, with few areas that are unclear.

    1. Steve,
      I have all of his books except 19th Century Wargaming. I've always enjoyed his 4 x base rules and they always give a good game.

  7. Great battle accounts, and they remind me why I like OHW so much. Lots of stuff "happens" unlike more pedestrian sets.

    As you probably know, I prefer the six hit and multiple combat dice variant. The main bit of chrome I've added is that units become disordered at half strength (drop a combat dice) , and they can rally a hit off if the roll one dice higher than the current number of hits (using the six hit version). They can't rally in a melee though.

    1. Thanks Martin,
      One of the strengths I'm finding with these more simple rules are they let you focus on the narrative and storyline.

      Yes I also prefer a similar variant to OHW as there is just something more satisfying about it than the standard roll for # of hits and subtract from 15.

      I play Alex's variants for WW2 and Dark Ages and they use ver similar mechanics to yours. In these rules, the units fight with 3 x dice and their To Hit is based on their fighting strength from the rules (D6+2 hits on 3, D6 hits on 4, etc) and units are KO when they receive their 7th hit.

      There is some neat added chrome for flavor which really added to the excitement in Alex's games like rallying, digging in, making a unit "ready" enabling it to fire during an opponent's turn in the WW2 rules, etc.

  8. I’ve actually never played any OHW (maybe hard to believe but true) so cant really comment on how the rules play. From what I’ve heard / read on the internet OHW are too simple for my tastes and games are too short. I usually want to play for 2-3 hours. 😀
    You did a good job summarizing the game and discussing what you thought was missing.

    1. Thanks Stew! I'm enjoying this little project maybe too much:)

  9. Good report! And really interesting reading all the comments and thoughts from other gamers about simple wargaming, and rule systems.

    1. Thank you Erik! I'm learning a lot that's for sure.

    2. About learning, I wrote down the hex-conversions I've played with for Eagles (as a reply to the Flank Attack). Afterwards I felt an urge to redo it a bit, but that would also require that I build bigger hex-tables since I have shorter movement rates. Unfortunately, I haven't time for that right now.

    3. Thanks Erik I'm heading there now to look.

  10. My experience of OHW is that a one off game can be quite dull and bland but a series of games played as a mini campaign is where OHW shines. That is when taking that hill or blocking the enemy advance really starts to matter.

    1. Paul they're rules where you could play a full campaign in an afternoon! You cant beat that!

  11. The others have said it all - but I enjoyed that read very much... just some observations from my games using the rules - like you I'm not a fan of rosters so I track hits using dice - 15 is an awkward number so I use two dice, one colour to track singles, and the other (a different colour) to track "6's".. saves having to move multiple dice... the other feature was along the lines of command friction you mentioned - both sides throw a number of dice equal to the number of units and then allocate the command dice according to tactical requirement - high dice go first - then both sides move at the same time determined by the dice... equal dice, dice off to decide who goes first... adds a little frisson of risk, "do I move them first, or will that unit react quicker?" etc. Good for solo play... let the the side that doesn't win the initiative allocate dice first, that the initiative winner can wee where he needs to respond...

    1. Steve that sounds really cool. I especially like allocating the dice by number based on where your priorities are. I need to check your rules out a bit more closely. We roll for command points and the result of that roll tells you how many unite you can activate in that turn. Your commander automatically bestows 1 x order, so you'll always be able to activate at least 2 units.

      We've also played around with the ability to "save" and order and this allows the defender bring charges to fire at the charger.

    2. Like you say the rules are very "tinker-able".. some idea's on the dice allocation thing here, this was for the ACW rules but as an activation method I use it across all of the periods =>

    3. Thank you Steve! I've noted over the years that you play quite a bit of games like these so I very much appreciate your opinion. Going to take a look at your activation method now!

  12. Thank you, I'm enjoying your discussion of simple rules, looking forward to 'Simplicity in Practise'. I had a good game with this scenario, also in a SYW setting, using a version of Bob Cordery's 'Portable Napoleonic' rules. My defending Prussians made a fight of it at the river crossings, to good effect! ( 'The Ragged Soldier' blog, April 2020, I called it 'Heiligtumshugel' )