Sunday, August 16, 2020

Simple Wargame #3: Simplicity in Practice Rules

 Simple Wargaming - Simplicity in Practice

No rest for the weary as I find myself in the enviable position of having "too many games" to write about!

I've already played 4 total games in this little experiment so far, with Mr Neil Thomas' "Simplicity in Practice" being the third.  I played the same scenario from One Hour Wargames' "Fighting Retreat" #20 that was featured last week.  This is a nail biter of a scenario and one that lends itself to testing multiple aspects of a rules set, with fire, maneuver and assault coming into play.  On the backfoot, the defending player (red) will really need to use his resources smartly and actively to stave off a blue victory.  Likewise, the attacker enjoys a +2 unit advantage, but cannot "dilly dally" in getting to the enemy quickly to take the hill.  The red player can naturally intervene to thwart the attackers plans, and is advised to do so!

"Simplicity in Practice" is an extremely appropriate rules set for this experiment from the namesake alone, and a set of rules I have always enjoyed (and only played solo).  These rules come from issue 23 of "Battlegames Magazine" published in what I believe was 2010, and are available for download for the tidy sum of $3.75 from Wargame Vault.  (take it from me, pick this up to read his logic behind the rules, and while you're at it, pick up issue 22 as well where Mr Thomas introduces this project).

Mr. Thomas set out to prove that a "simple" and more minimal set of rules could be historically sound and did not necessarily need to be simplistic. He publishes first his design objectives and paramters in the previous edition, and then his rules in issue 23 (along with the justifying notes he is so famous for in his books). I think he achieved his aim!  There is much abstracted in SiP, but not nearly as much as there is in One Hour Wargames, and those wargamers looking for more "Texture" or "detail" or "meat" would be well served to give this hidden gem a try.  (there are also plenty of variants in the "Ancients & Medieval" Neil Thomas group on Groups.IO you can download for free, but I highly recommend purchasing the PDF so you can read Mr Thomas' thoughtful logic behind his decisions).

Spoiler alert - I like these rules alot although I do think many factors have to come together to pull a successful attack off.  Out of all of the SiP games I've played, including a big Peninsula one a number of years ago, the defender always won.

Fighting Retreat....Again!

Same old story - an Austrian raid into Silesia.  A Prussian counter stroke and Von Scwherin is getting tired of the routine and taking the same old hill.

 In SiP the movement is in centimeters and the units move more slowly than in One Hour Wargames.  Both sides will have this going against them, as the Austrians race for the hill, and the Prussians race to cross the river and deploy to capture the hill.

Austrians clear the river with the Prussians hot on their heels!

Prussian Left on turn 2 striking for the bridge at high speed!  

Prussian Lights painted by Phil Kearnan - the Infantry Battalion behind them was painted by yours truly
This time I planned the Prussian crossing much better, trying to anticipate the turns, leaving space behind the turning battalions, and also planning where the attacks should "go in" , hence turning all 3 battalions at the precise location they'd need to go straight at the Austrians. It actually shaved a turn of fiddling around in front of the hill like last time I played this.

Prussian River Crossing - with Precision!

Note the Austrian line forming up ahead.  The Cavalry can shoot!

Like usual, the Austrians attempt to use their cavalry as a battering ram again to spoil the Prussian attacks however these rules give you incentive to have supports within 10cm!  The Prussians supporting their Light Battalion contribute to the combat.  So much so that the Austrian Dragoons are sent packing with 2 Demoralization points! (units are knocked out once they reach 4 DPs). 

The Austrians are almost at the hill.

Action on the left heating up!  The skirmishers are harassing the Austrian gunners

The melee / assault combat is handled in a very tidy manner whereby the sum total of all dice is calculated, and advantages are tacked on with extra dice for both defender and attacker. While the Dragoons should have swept the Light Battalion easily, they had a Prussian "Close Order Infantry" (COI) unit behind them, and the Dragoons attacked already with 1 Demoralization Point. That is 4 x extra dice for the lights and it successfully checks the Dragoons!

Turn 9 and Von Schwerin's noose is tightening around the Austrians!

The Austrian "last stand" is shaping up. They've moved everyone back to the hill 

The final battle for the hill!

A protracted firefight breaks out along the line and while the Prussians can spare the bodies, they cannot spare any time.  The game ends with the hill contested and an Austrian Battalion still atop, with 2 x Prussian Battalions.  Von Schwerin's men fall back to reorganize. 

What Happened?
Well this was an Austrian Victory (2 x times over using SiP).  There are a few things that happened which contributed to the Prussian loss.

Turning costs half movement for COI and so my Prussian Infantry Brigade on the right with 3 Battalions took a long time to get itself into position to attack the hill.  Like in all of the other games, the Austrians reached the hill with their battalions on time.  The Prussian manuevering took time to set up an attack on the hill.  With a 15 turn time limit, they were hard pressed to get moving and Von Schwerin was not pleased.

All of these maneuvers cost the Prussians dearly in terms of time.  The final assaults against the hill see the Prussians eliminate an Austrian Battalion for the cost of one of their own, however the Austrians still contest the hill at the end of the game!  Perhaps one more turn?  Or 4 more turns, more appropriately.  I wonder if the battlefield was reduced to accomodate the shorter SiP movement rates, the result may have been different?  I continued playing and the Prussians knocked out the final Austrian battalion on turn 18.  and so it took literally 3 more turns past turn 15 to "win."

How did the game play?
I have to say that I did not feel as if anything was missing from this game.  The rules presented me with everything I needed to know in order to play, and after about 3 turns I was playing from memory again.  I know from reading other blogs, that there are probably things missing from the rules (NT's signature on all his rules is to leave some things out...), but I found them to play very smoothly and to have a different feeling than both OHW and his 4 base rules from his other books.  readers of this blog know how much I enjoy NT's 4 x base rules and his WWII rules from "Wargaming: An Introduction", "Napoleonic Wargaming", and "Ancient & Medieval Wargaming."

These rules have plenty of dice rolling (opportunities, not buckets), and present a great challenge to a commander.  I thoroughly enjoyed "planning" the Prussian advance against the hill, and the Austrian race to get there first.  I had to figure out the best possible places and times to turn the battalions, and also set up fire support properly - your artillery is a great asset but it's easy to overlook it since your Close Order Infantry are very powerful.

The Questions!
OKay onto the Simplicity Questions!

How Long did the game take to play?
1 hour almost on the button for 1 game.

What was the scenario?
Scenario #20 fighting retreat....Redux!

What happened?  
This is addressed in the battle report above but if I had to sum it up in one (run-on) sentence?  The Austrians slowly retreated to the hill, harassing the advancing Prussians while the Prussians tried in vain to deploy as quick as they could to assault the hill, resulting in a Prussian loss.

Who Won?  Why?
The Austrians won because the hill was still contested at games' end.  I attribute this to slower movement and the 50% reduction (in centimeters!) of movement when turning. Realistic?  Yes, I believe so, but some thought would have to be put into the time limit if trying to use the One Hour Wargames scenarios.  Perhaps 18 turns or a random roll to end the game after 15.  Either way, your movement in SiP is 4" per Close Order Infantry unit, with OHW scenarios built for units with 6" movement.  You lose 2" per turn and so for scenarios with a time limit or restriction, the turns might have to be adjusted to compensate?

Did You Enjoy the Game?  
Yes.  I am a bit biased because SiP calls for single-based units stands and I love single-based units.  This game had the perfect amount of simplicity (it had better with a name like Simplicity in Practice!) and texture.  More "meat on the bones" than One Hour Wargames, but not too much complexity where I'm flipping through rules (impossible because the rules are all on one page).  I have to think more about why the defender has always lost in my games, but that could be my lack of skill and intelligence rather than a defect in the rules.  I'm anxious to hear everyone's thoughts on that.  I know there are ample AARs on SiP out there.

Advanced Questions
HOw many consultations occurred with the rules?
Early on I had to check for the melee modifiers and process a few times but eventually had them memorized.

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

Leadership / Orders
SiP is ripe for tinkering.  I would love to see leadership on the table with maybe the ability to rally or even "push" units to move further.  You could potentially add in command and control to these rules and have some kind of an orders-based system, like we did with EAGLES CHEAPER THAN BRAIN CELLS.

Could be that it's beyond the scope of the rules, but the ability to rally off  "demoralisation points" would be appreciated and might see the attacker have more of a fighting chance to win.  

FInal Thoughts
SiP really hits a sweet spot for me and is always a fun game.  It's easily overlooked because it's not "on the shelf" with its sister wargame rules, being somewhat hidden in Battlegames Magazine.  The nature of firing and melee make it a bit more unpredictable (how DP's are scored and the melee modifiers are genius in my humble opinion).  

The defender always winning thing "irks" me a bit and I want to get to the bottom of why that always happens.  I believe the rules impart just the right amount of Horse and Musket "period flavor" to be really somewhere in between NOrm's "simple simple" and "simple meaty" description.  I hope you can tell they've scored high with me, and I will play more SiP this coming year.

Okay, next up is the one you've all been waiting for, and one of my absolute favorites - the ever popular rules you've never heard of unless you've read my blog - "EAGLES CHEAPER THAN BRAIN CELLS" Napoleonic Grand Tactical rules, which Alex and I co-developed and available for a price you can't refuse (the click of a mouse - see above).  Worth mentioning here that we have worked on bringing it into the 18th Century and I've played a few games of EAGLES with SYW troops.  Those gave excellent games and I'm tinkering with them to do an AWI variant as well.  

The engine "was" based on the One Hour Wargames model but modified with lots of chrome to where you are getting a really solid grand tactical rules set that gives a very exciting, tense, memorable and enjoyable game, and still delivers very satisfying results.


  1. SiP is excellent for XVIII century battles. I don't think it works so well for Napoleonics, but some tinkering may go a long way

    1. Hi Lorenzo! My first game of SiP was played using my Napoleonics because I didn't have enough 18th Century stuff painted! The AMW group has a Napoleonic version I think with some period specific rules. I'll look into it.

  2. This tinkering is really great to see - and I must pick up the magazine. SiP looks superb for a lot of stuff right now.
    I think I also have most of the NT variants downloaded from the yahoo group too.
    Setting up Saratoga between other things too = so will get a game of HtL in soon.
    Have also been re-basing older plastic Naps for Blucher - though I may well try 'Eagles...' first .

    1. Cheers, Darren. If you have stuff based for Blucher than you're good to go to play "Eagles" as the basing is the same (EAGLES uses 3 x 3 "or" 4" x 2" brigade bases like Volley and Bayonet). Our games were almost all played on my Volley and Bayonet sabots.

      Can't wait for HtL Saratoga! I was not able to manage a game this weekend but I'm prepping the next huge batch of 10mm SYW stuff to paint.

    2. PS Darren - the small arms firing concept in "EAGLES" with ranged attacks at 1 or 2 BW range was inspired by "Blucher" and the same with the melee combat using the remaining strength points. So like normal OHW, units will always shoot with 3 dice, but in close assault combat, units fight with their remaining SPs. I absolutely love that feature of Blucher and so incorporated something like it into EAGLES.

    3. Sounds really good Steve. Yes, I had been glancing through the rules. They do echo your point in terms of less being 'more'.
      Just as good a game, in less time than more complex rules - but perhaps with even better fun factor and more plausible results.

  3. Thanks Steve, I hadn’t realised that Sip was so accessible, for whatever reason, I thought it was a mythical article only available via one of the Yahoo groups, so that is good, as is the the fact that they seem to sit in a sweeter spot than OHW. What is it about them that makes them less successful for napoleonics?

    Your 10mm SYW stuff sounds like it is making great strides.

    1. Norm, I had googled it when I first heard of the rules and the issue of "Battlegames" came up. For less than $4 I figured it would be a worthwhile purchase. That said, you can pick up all of the variants for free on the AMW group in "Groups.IO" - you just wouldn't get the famous "Neil Thomas Rationale" behind them.

      I wonder if Napoleonic players dislike them because they don't have formations, attack columns, etc. I know Nap players enjoy the "rock paper scissors" aspect of forcing units into square with cavalry, obliterating the squares with artillery, then moving in infantry for the kill.

      Most of those details are abstracted into the melee "modifiers" (which are actually dice additions - I love that concept).

      It's worth mentioning that my first game of SiP was the "Fighting Stand at El Perez" Peninsula game from the Black Powder first edition rules. I played the melee all wrong, but it was still a fun game.

      My only beef with SiP is the defender seems to win all the time, at least for me, but I'm not discouraged. It's a fun rules set.

      I am going to post a progress report on my 10mm stuff. The "simplicity" project has really been a boon to my project planning and I'm going full speed ahead with the 10mm SYW project and 10mm Napoleonic project.

  4. Thank you for posting this. Although I have both magazines and the book I have never tried any of the games. After reading your blog I am inspired to do so. They sound fun and exciting.

    1. Hi Mark,
      You definitely owe it to yourself to give them a spin - to get your $7 worth out of them! :)
      FWIW, I have found them to be a fun and clean set of rules.

  5. Another excellently presented rules trial, Steve. SiP, with more meat than OHW, sounds interesting to me. the price seems right to give these a close inspection myself. I enjoyed your close up, in-game, figure photos.

    1. Thank you, Jonathan! I would think you'd dig the single BMU.
      I'm interested to hear your take on them.

    2. Yes. Single element BMU is a big plus in my book.

    3. At this very moment I'm debating whether or not to rebase my Napoleonic 10mm forces on single, 4" x 2" stands as I just really like the look.

      True I wont be able to make formations anymore, but I think each unit as a little diorama is neat looking. Expect a post on this soon.

    4. All of my 15/18mm projects use single element BMUs. If formation change is required in the rules, I simply use a marker. Same solution for tracking casualties or unit cohesion. Fewer stands to move and no more jumbled formations.

    5. Steve, I prefer the look and easy handling of a single base, but I wonder whether for Napoleonics a single long base is just going to give a look that is too linear for a period that seems to use quite a bit of column or mixed order. I know the status can be marked, but I am just wondering whether visually, the ‘look’ becomes one of 7YW rather than napoleonic. I have just been trying with two bases per unit, so that I can get column (block) and line. I think going to 4 bases is just too fiddly unless sabots are used.

    6. Thinking further - perhaps 3 line single bases might help visually with the column / line thing. It’s funny, in a boardgame, that single counter has to represent everything and we don’t worry about what it can’t do :-)

    7. Norm, consider the footprint of a Napoleonic line v attack column. The footprint (base size) would look very similar if not indistinguishable between the two since attack columns marched at deployment distance so that each column could deploy into line if needed or situation warranted. If you use two stands in tandem to denote an attack column, unit depth is exaggerated greatly.

    8. Jonathan, yes, I think that is true, but properly spaced, columns should not distort army frontage, whilst for most games, the extra depth probably won’t have an impact on play, especially as all bases in our games are pretty much too deep anyway (scaling is off in the same way that vertical scaling is). My observation was more about what the eye sees, does one actually need to see columns ...... to be able to see columns? That is probably a different thing for each of us, depending on how we perceive / translate etc and is there a cross over between a figure base looking like a unit or acting like a game marker, as a boardgamer I am OK with the latter, but probably not everyone is (though the highly successful Volley & Bayonet easily crossed that line and that was pretty much universally popular).

      If I were using my hex terrain, where occupancy was limited to just one unit, then it could do either column or line and would not upset anything around it, in fact spacing would always be accurate by default, but the visual of the column, when in column (2 bases), might look better to the eye. (Though even my column is too wide to cross a bridge in column! - which can equally offend the eye :-) ).

    9. @ Norm - with the direction I'm feeling this project is taking me, then the figures are really game markers vrs the units themselves. I plan on posting something on this soon with my basing "dilemma" creeping in again. I plan on basing my French in deep, massed columns on a 4x2 base with a frontage of 15 figures in 3 x tanks (45 figures total). My more linear armies will be in long lines of 20 figure but only 2 x deep so as to exaggerate the line. Theyll dwarf the mass of the troops in column by up to 3/4 inches on both sides of the stand, yet both will occupy the same frontage with the base footprint. It's sad but my 10mm naps are now just highly decorated, expensive game markers representing an infantry battalion/brigade etc.

    10. @ Jonathan I've seen the Nap units on narrow rectangular bases, 4 to 6 stands worth, and the effect is pleasing and almost any formation can be made. I think if I was going to play only tactical games this would be fine, but most of my Nap games the units are brigades, hence I can easily justify the BMU.

      With mentioning that all this stated with Volley and Bayonet, Grande Armee, and Blucher, and they've ruined me forever!

  6. A nice AAR and at last know where to find the rules that I've heard mention of many times. I may investigate at a future date but have my plate full with other things.

    My favourite rules for 18thC warfare are Honours of War by Keith Flint. I may be biased as he is a friend of mine and I helped play test them. I think they fall into the simple meaty category as after a few Turns you only need the QRS to play, but maybe that's my experience tinting my view.

    Certainly the SiP rules seems to capture the importance of manouevre in the SYW as I know from bitter experience, if you get your deployment wrong, it can be hard to get your units in the right place in time to win the battle. Oh and placing artillery first makes a big difference!

    As for the winner always being the defender, IIRC we had that problem with Sam Mustafa's Maurice rules. After a few games they all seemd to have the same outcome. A shame really as the campaign section and ideas behind them were excellent.

    1. Hi Steve thanks for commenting! I'm glad you know where to locate the rules now - that's why I mentioned they are somewhat "buried" out there but still able to be purchased.

      I have played Honours of War and found them to be a very historically solid set of rules that are firmly in the "simple-meaty" category. I liked how there were things out of my control as the commander.

      Perhaps I should have added HoW to my list of simple games to play and rate? They certainly check all the blocks.

      With SiP, I believe the challenges, tactical problems, and capabilities associated with 18th Century conflict are highlighted magnificently. By planning where my maneuvers would take place in game 2, I was able to avoid the embarrassing "traffic jam" of Prussian units trying to get out of each other's way. Not very Prussian at all!

      I'm going to try it with a few other scenarios, see how those play out and why the defending side keeps winning in all of my battles. Perhaps some tinkering is in order?

    2. Ideally one would play the same, or several scenarios, a few times with each set of rules to see how they pan out, to avoid those oneoff unusual occurances that might colour the outcome. Time is of course the big factor here.

    3. You said it Steve. Ive been doing just that on a smaller scale, with no more than 6 units on a side.

  7. Nice presentation of the rules which I’ve never heard of, so I walked away with more knowledge. The two biggest things that jump out at me from reading are the defending always winning and the 1 hour game time. Maybe the game length can be increased with more units, but to me 1 hour is too short for a miniature war game. I feel like you’d spend more time setting up and tearing down. You could of course just play two or more games.
    Defense always winning can sometimes be mitigated by increasing the attacking units, getting that 3:1 ratio. Sometimes...😀
    I’m enjoying reading along with your experiences. 😀

    1. Stew if you learned something from reading any incoherent babbling of mine then mission accomplished.

      I'm going to fiddle around with SiP. There are a bunch of Blog-reps out there on SiP's shortcomings, especially as the wizardry of the "maths" are concerned. Apparently even with just one modifier in the RAW the person with that modifier has a huge chance of winning the combat. Still though, there is much to be gleaned from the design notes and philosophy.

      Glad you're enjoying this little quest of mine!