Before I go much further, I should state that my hands have moved many troops around the table over the last 25 years, painted hundreds of uniforms on troops spread across hundreds of years, and turned the pages of scores of rulebooks to serve both my gaming interests and the gaming interests of my friends. I've collected thousands of dollars worth of miniatures and amassed a collection that won't be painted or maybe even touched until my children are grown. I've put my nose to the grindstone to quickly churn out battalions worth of armor or infantry to host some memorable and epic mega-games which my closest friends took part in (Aspern-Essling 1809, Tassa Junction 1973, Ponyri Station 1943 among some of my favorites), and even hosted the Ponyri Station Firestorm Campaign game which I had dreamed of for years. It's been a wild ride.
|Tassa Junction 1973 Christmas MEGA GAME 2018 played with Battlefront's Team Yankee - very much a fun and satisfying wargame, but not a simple wargame. L to R Ken, me, Alex, and Dave|
Why, then, would I be writing about the allure of more simple wargaming? The reasons are mostly obvious - busy job, two young children, house, strapped for time, etc. But what about the other side of the question? What is it about simple wargaming that makes it so appealing to people? What is it about simple wargaming that makes it appealing to me? So memorable? I've played in some truly outstanding games that weren't what I would call simple. I've also played in some really great games that were so simple rules-wise I was instead answering questions about where the best place to put my Anti Tank guns or armored reserve in, without muddling with mechanics of rules.
Simple mechanics and rules, simple victory conditions, manageable amounts of units, and even some grid based movement were features of many of the games I've been thinking about.
|Aspern-Essling 1809 - the 2019 Christmas MEGAGAME played with Norm's Eagles at Quatre Bras. Much closer to what I'm looking for - maybe not the epitome of simple, but definitely the same flavor or color of what I'm writing about.|
To start an answer to that question, you probably have to look at the reasons why people game with historical or non historical miniatures in the first place, but that's not why I'm writing here. I want to get to the bottom of "simple" wargaming, find some simple but effective rules, and simplify things in my own gaming universe.
What Makes a Wargame Simple?
It sounds so obvious but the business of simulating war, even in a recreational game, is a complex affair. Anyone can write a set of game rules, but to make those rules period evocative, effective, and practical all at the same time is another thing altogether. So what makes a set of wargame rules simple?
Well I think they should have a basic turn sequence. The mechanics of combat should be simple - or easy to do requiring little mental gymnastics and as little reference to the rules as possible. The rules should play quickly - 1 hour to 2 hours. They ideally should be able to be played from a Quick Reference Sheet or memory. Did I mention I also like grids and hexes?
What's this all about, anyways?
If you smelled a project coming on, you would be right. I'm on the hunt to figure out what it is about simple wargaming rules that make them so great, memorable, and attractive to me, and maybe even replace some of the rules in my stable with more simple games that I can pick up, set up quickly, and play. I even penciled in some goals for myself this morning:
- Determine what the allure is behind simple wargaming rules.
- Find simple, effective, wargaming rules for various eras that I enjoy.
- Paint and base figures in support of those rules.
- Incorporate hexes or grids to the greatest extent possible.
I have a plan.
The goals are ambitious to be sure, but they're do-able. I also have a cunning plan. I've written down a list of rules that at first glance seem to have what I'm looking for in my miniature wargames (see rant above). I'm going to play each of those games and apply a series of questions to the results, posting the After Action Reports here for you all to laugh at me while I stumble through this half-baked idea.
First, I've organized the rules below. I've taken these rules from various blogs out there and some are commercially available. If you have others that you feel ought to be included, please chime in and add. If you're interested in the origins of any of these rules and you can't find them, ask in the comments. I'm even opening this up to everyone out there to participate in with me. "The ask" of you will be below...
This is my list. There are many others like it but this list is mine. It encompasses rules I've read, played, downloaded and never played, or have read about in other people's blogs. These are rules I will play as part of this project, and then analyze once I've played. I've organized it in the following fashion: NAME - COMPLEXITY in terms of most simple, simple, and least simple of my simple selections - finally OPEN or GRIDDED. Here goes.
One Hour Wargames - MOST SIMPLE - Open
Hold the Line - SIMPLE - Hex
Bryan L's AWI Hold the Line Conversions - SIMPLE - Hex
Glorious Morning AWI - SIMPLE - Hex
Simplicity in Hexes - SIMPLE - Hex
The Portable Wargame ACW / WWII - SIMPLE - Hex
Plan B WWII - SIMPLE - Hex
Alex's Neil Thomas OHW Mod Rules (Dark Ages / WWII) - SIMPLE - Open
Commands & Colors Napoleonics/Ancients/Tricorne/Battlecry ACW - LEAST SIMPLE - Hex
Bryan L's ACW Rules Mashup - LEAST SIMPLE - Hex
Norm's Stable of Rules (WWII, ACW, Napoleonic) - LEAST SIMPLE - Hex
Simplicity in Practice / LEAST SIMPLE - Hex
Again, if I've missed something you feel would be in the spirit of this experiment please let me know and I will add to the list.
Now to the fun part - if you want to join in this weird experiment, I have a series of questions that I will be using to analyze these rules as part of the After Action Reports I'll write. If you want to play, simply pick one of these rules and play a game. Then take my questions and post an After Action Report (AAR) answering the questions below. You can post it to your blog if you have one, or email it to me and I'll post it here. This is going to be fun.
How long did the game take to play?
What was the scenario?
What happened? Anything extraordinary? (troops holding out amidst terrible odds? Savage attacks that tore through the enemy line? A straight string of rolling 6s or 1s?)
Who won and why?
Did you enjoy the game? Why?
After reading the rules, how many consultations occurred with the rules during the game?
Was the scenario created for you or did you create it?
Did any troops perform remarkably good or bad? Was it luck or part of the mechanics?
What were the victory conditions in your game?
If the game was or was not enjoyable (it has to be one or the other!) was it due to the mechanics? the outcome? tension?
I've noticed that usually people tend to like games for their systems, the outcome, or the troop behavior. By that I mean:
Systems: The bolts of the game and its mechanics - how the game works.
Outcome: They win. Or they believe the winner was historically plausible with the given set of circumstances.
Troop Behavior: arguably part of the system but maybe not. The experiences of their troops during the game and their activity that is outside of the control of the commander form the narrative in the player's mind about what's happening in the battle. EG The troops could not pass a quality check and hence did not change their formation. Or the platoon failed its "Last Stand" check and left the table, contributing to the company's failing its morale and ending the battle.
Okay that was a long-winded post with barely any pictures but bear with me because I think I'm on to something here. I'm going to play these rules and see what it is I like or that I dislike about them. Stay tuned, and if you're interested, jump in and we'll figure this out!