Sunday, 23 June 2019

Oh Simple things, where have you gone?

A wonderfully descriptive line from Keane’s - Somewhere Only We Know (see link in the Resource Section), might have come to mind when I recently dipped back into some rule books from yesteryear.

Two books, nostalgically important to me for different reasons, were sourced from the internet. The first Napoleonic Wargaming by Charles Grant (1974) in hardback and the second being Don Featherstone’s Battles with Model Soldiers (1970), which is in e-format for the Kindle.

One might suppose from this blog title that rose tinted glasses have transported me back to a ‘better’ wargaming time, but to be clear, I have not found this to be true and acquiring the titles has simply left me with a sentiment that wargaming has always been good and is very good today.

So this is just a rambling post that looks at those books in their 1970’s setting and how they read now, over 45 years later, set against a new generation of rules, that are equally sensitive to the value of playability and the joy of miniatures armies.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

I look at the books with different eyes in 2019, but their importance to my own wargaming history in the 70’ is undiminished. They pressed the right buttons for this teenager all those years ago and kickstarted a life long passion for this hobby. This was all pre-internet when the fabric of hobby support typically relied upon a few magazines in the UK and one fanzine in particular, Featherstone’s Wargamer’s Newsletter. So these sort of wargame books, when they came along, were cornerstone items to the hobbyist of that era.

Considering their age, their prose is not as stilted as I recall, though the Grant book has a slight sense of that old fashioned BBC voice to it, but of course, that generation needed to be sufficiently ‘of the right stuff’ to get into print. By contrast, today, anyone can self publish or have an internet voice. To be fair, one our most modern and popular rule sets, Black Powder, seems to do quite well from its own dabble in a fake  ‘gentleman’s prose’, which sometimes annoys me and at other times delights. This for example, concerning the Advanced Rules, just leaves me smiling every time I read it .. ‘they require a good working knowledge of the game and are therefore best digested at leisure in company with a good strong cup of tea’. What a fun sentiment.

Both books, typical of similar publications of their time, try very hard to construct rules set around strict parameters that centre on a precise application of ground scale, vertical scale, time scale, the pace that a soldier would march to and a proper representation of weapon ranges and their effect. There are pages of these real world influences being explained, which then get knitted into inter-related rules that preserve this ‘truth’ of real war performance. It seems important for the authors to demonstrate the integrity of their rules as properly reflecting the battlefield.

This seems a natural approach as those early wargame writers were typically men with a military background or an appreciation of the same, but perhaps more importantly, to the Airfix generation who had been brought up on box after box of 1/72 soft plastic soldiers, it was important to elevate the serious business of the wargame from the world of the ‘toy soldier’, which of course was reinforced by those moving from soft plastic to metal miniatures, something that of itself required a bit of money and gave the subject a note of seriousness.

While the exact pace of a soldier marching or the frontage a single man occupied was readily known and mattered, it is interesting to compare that design imperative to a more modern approach of ‘designing for effect’ an abstract way of just getting the feel of the thing right, without having to strictly underpin the design with real world constraints.

A good example of this can be seen in Grant’s Napoleonic wargaming. When it comes to shaking out a column into line, the main body uses the standard movement allowance so that each base can be measured out into their new position. The flank companies have further to travel travel to get into position and are given a higher movement allowance so that they can be measured into their new positions. Trade that off against the way Black Powder does exactly the same thing. They simply just have a formation ‘move’ in which the command base stays in position and the remaining bases are simply lifted and re-configured around the command base to show the new formation, making a very easy transition from column into line for example. The bottom line is that the effect is exactly the same, but the modern authors have not felt tied to copying actual military manoeuvres to get the same result. The evolution of such rule thinking is interesting on several levels, none of which matter really, it worked then and it works now, we have just got used perhaps to an easier route to reach the destination.

If we look at the intention behind the two books, Featherstone’s Battles with Model Soldiers was meant to be an absolute introduction to wargaming and as such, his rules here are even lighter than his other volumes. The book really does what it is supposed to do and holds your hand through a basic learning process. These days, rules without realising it, can make assumptions of the gamer having existing gaming knowledge and something that boasts to have just a few pages of rules, would indeed happily be a little longer, if only everything was explained in absolute fullness, to the satisfaction of a newbie, as Featherstone has done here in his conversational style.

In that regard, I admire his discipline, he must have been bursting to add more things in for a fuller gaming experience, but didn’t, sticking instead to his ‘starter book’ guns, something that Neil Thomas, a more modern rules author, has also managed to do with his fast play One Hour Wargames book, which has seemingly been ruthlessly cut to core mechanics.

Featherstone has given us an ACW scenario that is repeated three times, each time adding something new into the mix. It is played across a mostly open table, with a wall in the middle and a small woods out on either flank. It is in effect a symmetrical table, giving neither side advantage. In the opening version of the scenario, both sides get two infantry units each, then in the second scenario, one unit of cavalry is added to each side and in the final repeat of the scenario, each player gets an artillery piece a leader and simultaneous movement with written orders are introduced.
An iPad adaption of the battlefield

There is a blow by blow account of how the turns play out, with some serious hand holding, but one has to cast their mind back to that time when the explosion in wargaming was happening and there was a big potential ‘first time’ gamer audience, who needed plenty of help and it was something that clearly worked for me, as general wargame principles become embedded, making moving on to more sophisticated works much easier.

Grant on the other hand, in his book, is writing (much as Featherstone has also done in other works) to an audience that is already versed in the mechanics of wargaming and I loved every page of this, as he sets out to explain the napoleonic period and gives rules along the way that meet those descriptions. This was the age of the mostly black and white illustrated book, but there were some coloured plates in his book and as I revisit them now, one in particular I have clear memories of ... ‘the sight to stir every wargamer - hussars in full cry’
Hussars in full cry!

Grant’s book gently meanders through the various aspects of napoleonic warfare, adding rules along the way and justifying them in the text, then at the end of the book, all those rules are summarised into one place. The casualties on the musketry fire table are fixed, based on figure numbers firing, set against the range. As a randomiser, two differently coloured dice are rolled, one representing negative and the other positive. If there is a difference in their rolls, then the number of casualties is adjusted by either +1 or -1 as appropriate. I have always liked these sort of ‘old school’ arrangements and the use of Average Dice (not used here) and ‘bounce sticks’ to represent the travel of artillery shot is something I could easily slip back into.

The rules are pretty comprehensive, covering morale, line of sight and orders, plus the chrome type rules for things like shrapnel, canister and recalling charging cavalry and so they are quite comparable to what we are using today in that regard.

Interestingly, today, if I were to reach for two modern books that encompassed the same areas of influence as the two Grant / Featherstone books. I would take Neil Thomas’ One Hour Wargames or perhaps more specifically, step up to his Napoleonic Wargaming volume to do the job that the Featherstone book did, while probably going for Warlord Games’ Black Powder rules for the type of game that Grant espoused. This self selected pile of four books leaves me feeling that today, we have more in common with the 1970’s wargame scene and the thinking by those that set the hobby foundations, than we might generally assume in our ‘newer is better’ imaginings.

Where there are differences, it is largely to do with the modern sets taking a more relaxed approach to how formations move and how movement, weapon ranges and the representation of time only loosely relate to each other. Rather than highlighting that a man may need 24” of space when working out the battalion frontage and that the ordinary infantry step was 75 paces, each of 30 inches, per minute, as Grant does, the Black Powder style has instead changed to an abstraction of exactitude, in which things just need to look and feel right. I like that looseness, but I have also enjoyed dipping back into the older volumes and seeing how precision was examined, explained and put into game terms, no doubt so that the player had a satisfying sense that things were being done right! In truth it was probably a necessary design step to get us to where we are today.

As to the title of this post - Oh Simple things, where have you gone? Seemingly, they have not gone anywhere really!  It is more likely that diminishing grey cells, the lost capability to stand before a wargames table for four hours and the necessity of how long the family dining table can be commandeered, increasingly dictate the type and density of game rules that I lean towards these days.
The 12mm game

Anyway, it was of course necessary that I set up the Featherstone basic scenario. No doubt, it would have been one of my earliest, if not the earliest ‘official’ scenario that I ever used, taking my Airfix figures off the floor and onto a table .... for that more grown up game, you understand! It is also more than possible that I had my WWI Germans standing in for one of the armies, because I had four boxes of them! That sort of thing didn’t seem to matter so much then, not to me anyway, well it wouldn’t would it? I mean, my woodland was made from cotton wool sprayed with diluted green poster paint! (Oh simple things, where have you gone?).

As the scenario only has four units per side, in 12mm, I can put this onto a pinboard sized playing area and use half measurements. However, rather than following the course of that game, I thought it perhaps more interesting to have the e-ink take a single mechanic (fire) and highlight the differences between the four books mentioned so far.
Perry 28mm showing off :-)

So for the purpose of these examples, we have each regiment formed of 18 figures in two rows of 9, on a frontage of 6 inches (150mm). Their weapon is the rifled musket and both sides will be regular troops without any additional attributes and are set at 8” apart. Seemingly, the Confederates are posher than anything I had back in the day, with a casualty stand that show they already have 5 casualties (or hits!).

Featherstone’s Battles with Model Soldiers.
By the time we get to the third setting of his scenario, the rules are delivering simultaneous fire and written orders for movement. The sequence of play is Move, Fire and Melee and units may not fire if the have already moved that turn. Maximum range for the rifled musket is 24”, set against an infantry movement allowance of 12”. The author assumes 25mm figures on what I always thought was an unhelpfully sized 8’ x 5’ table! I recall, thanks to understanding parents, putting four 2’ x 4’ boards across the family dining table on lazy Sunday afternoons to get my close approximation.

His units comprise of 20 figures, so we will pretend our units have 20 figures each. For every 5 figures, the firer gets 1D6 Fire Dice, so our fresh Union regiment gets 4 fire dice (the Confederate unit would get 3 having already lost 5 men). The dice are rolled and each pip inflicts a casualty (one figure) on the enemy unit. Our shooting is at medium range, which reduces each dice score down by 2 (note, cover, if they were behind that wall, would further reduce each dice by 1 pip).  The Union roll 6, 4, 3 and 2. each dice is reduced by 2 for the range, so the modified result is 4, 2, 1 and 0. So they inflict 7 casualties on the enemy regiment, who remove that many figures. Growing casualties will effect how many future Fire Dice a unit gets.

Surprisingly perhaps, morale checks are only taken after melee fighting, not when suffering casualties from fire. The morale mechanic is intriguing and wonderfully simple. Each side adds up how many figures are left in their respective unit and multiplies that figure by a D6 result. The loser breaks and runs away.

Grant’s Napoleonic Wargaming.
We are typically dealing with smoothbore musket here, as we temporarily step outside the ACW arena, but accepting that, we can still make comparisons with the other rules. A unit can declare that it will move up to 3” after firing, but by doing so, fires on a weaker fire chart. Maximum smoothbore range is 15”, set against an infantry movement allowance of 6”.

There are several fire charts for differing situations. We shall use the one that allows line infantry their ‘first fire’ which is slightly more effective. At 8” (the 5” - 10” range band), with 16 - 20 men, the fire will cause a fixed 4 casualties. We throw two different coloured dice to get a randomiser that may adjust the casualty score up or down by 1. Red (negative) die roll is 5, Blue (positive) die roll is also 5, so they cancel each other out and the 4 casualties are not modified in any way and so 4 figures are removed from the enemy unit.

Here, morale is more sophisticated and must be tested whenever suffering fire for the first time, whenever taking losses and when it is charging or being charged. In any case, a unit reduced to 50% of original strength, automatically retires from the field. There are 15 different modifiers in the test, so there is some depth here and the final score will determine how the testing unit behaves.

Neil Thomas’ One Hour Wargames.
The ACW rules are but 2 pages long and so this is a good modern attempt at doing what the Featherstone introductory rules did. Infantry can fire up to 12”, set against an infantry movement allowance of 6”. The sequence of play is Move then Fire, the author does not allow melee due to the tactical dominance of firepower in this era. Units that move cannot fire in the same turn. With an absence of melee, this ordering of movement before firing makes it harder to physically take ground. Mr. Thomas, thoughtfully, would like us to play our game in a user friendly 3’ x 3’ space.

The number of figures in a unit does not matter, it is the unit itself that has a fire factor allowance, which is the score of a single D6. This is halved if the target is in cover and increased by +2 if the firer is elite. Over a number of turns, units accumulate hits and units are removed from play once accumulating 15 hits. The system does not feature morale. It is an example of a rule system being pared back as far as possible for simplicity and is an interesting study for that alone.

Whether one feels they go too far will be down to individual preference and need. The Confederates fire, they already have losses, but that doesn’t effect their fire. They roll a D6 and score a 2. A marker is placed with the target unit to show that they have absorbed two hits, so we know they can absorb 13 more before being removed from play.

As a unit takes increasing hits, its performance is not diminished and since there are no morale rules, it can always do whatever the player wants. Unfortunately, this leads to units that are desperately close to their 15 hit level, being used for attack in an almost uncaring way, squeezing the last bit of value out of them before they disappear. I have adopted my own simple morale rules, so that this moment is more likely to be avoided.

Warlord Games. Black Powder.
The sequence of play is Move, Fire and Melee. The maximum range for a rifled musket is 24” and that is set against a standard movement allowance for infantry of 12”, but importantly in a single turn, a unit, depending how successful it is when rolling for command, might even be allowed to move 3 times in the same movement window, so potentially it could travel 36” over open ground in one go ...... or fail its command and not move at all!

There is a counter-balance to this, in that if a unit moves to contact, the defender does get a chance to interrupt the attacker and make defensive fire, so that a unit cannot just charge into contact over long distances with certain impunity to enemy fire. The rule book is quite sumptuous, but unfortunately (for me) emphasises a big table, in the realms of 12’ x 6’, in consequence, to use these nice rules in home settings, players can find themselves scaling back, by for example using half inches or centimetres instead of inches to get to a more familiar table size.

The Glory Hallelujah ACW supplement has a rule that states if a unit moves more than once (12”) in a turn, it cannot also fire, which is an effective rule for this system, that could enjoy wider application than just with the ACW period and I am partly surprised that it did not make the second edition as a standard rule change.

Our Confederates are average 1863 troops and there is a stats page that shows their abilities, which for firing, is typically 3D6 fire dice and they will hit on 4+. Today they roll 4, 4 and 2, so have inflicted 2 hits. The defenders can now re-roll those two hits and try to turn them into saves (reflecting their own morale), they need a 4+ on each to cancel them. They roll 6 and 1, so this cancels one of the hits. The final outcome is that 1 hit marker is placed with the target.

Two important factors for BP are that when firing, a roll of a raw ‘6’ will always inflict a disorder result, even if the defenders save against THAT roll and when a unit absorbs a number of hits equal to its Stamina, it will become shaken and for most units this Stamina level is around just 3 hits. Once Shaken, units start to roll on the Break Table when getting further casualties, which has a variety of outcomes, made worse by disorder and higher levels of casualty. Rolling on the Break Table can be a moment to hold your breath and wish for lucky dice, as units can leave the field. I like that emotional connection to a game.

It is interesting to see that the old school rules have some common core themes. Individual figures are important because their numbers determine the firepower of the unit and measure it’s losses, it is a good alternative to a unit dragging hit markers around with it. Play is simultaneous due to player actions being determined by written orders for individual units and the rules promote their accuracy / simulation credentials by showing the process of how the rules directly fall from an understanding of figure ratio, ground scale, time scale, weapon range, marching rates and other things such as known musket accuracy at 100 paces etc.

In contrast, the modern rules concentrate more on process, without needing justification as to why the process is a particularly accurate portrayal of the subject, rather, they are content that results simply ‘feel’ credible and that the change to separate player turns (away from simultaneous phases) ensures smoother flow of play and makes for a more solo friendly experience.

Goodness knows what Mr. Grant would make of his French Line being able to move 12” or 24” or 36” or not be able to move at all in the one turn on the whim of the dice (Command Roll). This total lack of deliberate and tight control over exactly what a unit can do on the field of battle, would no doubt unnerve his due diligence on the realistic capability as to what a man and his unit can do in a two minute bound of time.

Most notably, since the 70’s we generally seem to have moved from hard data performance based rules to softer command and control, activation, impulse based rules, freed up by a more liberal application as to how activity versus time is represented. But process aside, it strikes me that game outcomes and player engagement are probably similar to how they have always been. The getting there may be different, but things are still about moving, firing, charging and running away, as they always have been.

In 1970, wargaming was a just a game and in 2019, it still is!


Keane, Somewhere Only We Know. Video Link


  1. Excellent post.
    We do seem to have got to the stage where 'lack' of command control is the order of the day, something which earlier writers would have considered unworkable.
    I think the next big question that gamers will ask is: does that get us closer to the actual battlefield? If it does, that's fine; perhaps battlefield chaos is actually closer to a simulation than we'd like to believe. That said, it might not always give for a decent game.

    1. I have always felt that the better games are those that put the gentle hand of restraint on a gamer's shoulder. A bit of chaos and the wresting of control from the player would seemingly be a desirable thing, but I know some don't like it.

  2. A very interesting post Norm. I missed out on these books first time round, but over the past few years have picked up copies for my library. I have found them to be very informative reads but to be honest, I'm not sure I would enjoy them as games. I find today's more abstracted games tick the boxes for me, so that I can concentrate on what I want to do. Still both books have interesting ideas in them and are well worth getting hold of if you can at reasonable prices.

  3. Thanks Steve, I find it interesting to look back over my shoulder at what was, but am happier with what is :-)

  4. This is an interesting and useful post, Norm, with a topic conjuring up as many thoughts and questions as answers. The nuggets you dig up in your post could be expanded into an entire treatise as we reflect upon the perceived rosy days of yesteryear, I think. Reminds me of "compare and contrast" assignments in school. "Old School" vs "Modern" wargaming, anyone?

    "(A) better wargaming time" is in the eyes of the beholder, for sure. The early advocates of recreational wargaming were pioneers, no doubt about that. These pioneers were in the hobby's infancy before designers and gamers were consumed by the "playability" vs "realism" argument of their game designs.

    I would not classify Grant's "Napoleonic Wargaming" as "simple" in the same manner I would not classify Bruce Quarrie's rules found in his classic "Napoleonic Wargaming in Miniature" as simple. Where does Jeffrey's Napoleonic Rules having Variable Length Bounds fit?

    These gentlemen seem firmly in the Design for Process camp where every possible factor was considered and added into the combat engine. No model parsimony or Occam's Razor here. Abstraction was limited since illuminating the process in order to explain the model seemed paramount. Perhaps throwing everything into the model lent credibility to the "seriousness" of the undertaking? Simultaneous fire and written orders? No thank you!

    Wargame rules are in constant evolution as we stand upon the shoulders of those going before. Some abstraction finds its way into Combat Engine model building as we become better at modeling the effects of a dynamic process.

    My final question focuses on the nature of the current drive toward abstraction. Are improvements in modeling techniques and understanding allowing for this abstraction as more parsimonious models are developed or is this direction due to decreases in process understanding and negligence?

    To me, "we've come a long way, baby!"

  5. Nice to read your thoughts Norm, I own quite a lot of older Wargame books as like many they have the power to immediately take me back to those innocent days, but I have to say I rarely read them choosing instead to study the photos. I have to say modern rules are generally better but I just don’t know why we need quite so many different sets....?

  6. Thanks Jonathan, good points. Thinking about the design for process camp and simultaneous movement fire, also has me thinking about the boardgame ‘Panzer’, which back in the day was initially published by Yaquinto Games. It was a hard data design and quite solo unfriendly due to its simultaneous aspects. Fast forward to today and the new version published by GMT still has the hard data wired in, but the sequence has become interactive and GMT insisted on some steam lining. We can also look at games like Avalon Hill’s Tobruk (1975) that was also very detail based, so perhaps we can generally look on both sides of the camp, boardgames and miniatures, and see a ‘process’ based mindset coming out of that 60’s / 70’s era.

    But I am wondering whether it would be fair to say that as gamers, we were then also more likely to be ‘minded’ towards process and that we had a good knowledge of our history, weapon types, unit types and capability etc and that in some respects, there was an inter-relationship between gamer knowledge and process and perhaps we were more sympathetic to seeking process.

    Is today’s gamer more ‘game’ orientated instead? to the extent that process itself is a turn-off and has less meaning to a gamer generation that has less enthusiasm for that detail. I note that perhaps the most popular modern figures tactical game is Bolt Action. It gives a very aesthetic experience, but guns are grouped as generalities as medium, light, heavy, super heavy etc, as is the armour - but for me, I know the front, rear, side armour of a churchill / Panzer IV / T-34 and the rough velocity of it’s gun and the effects of HVAP and APDS rounds and I want to see those vehicles properly represented in rules, so when a M10 tank destroyer fires at a Panzer IV at 800 yards, I have an understanding what is being represented, I can visualise the action and I have a rough expectation of result. To distill this down a strength 8 gun is firing at strength 7 armour and the gamer is just matching values, for me is just like chewing toffee with the wrapper still on. so I guess for WWII tactical I am still process orientated. I don’t want to see a Katyusha Rocket Launcher on a table representing 500 yards, targeting a squad ‘over there’, as it is an artillery area suppressive system with a range of 5000 yards.

    But give me a naval based game, which is very much a secondary interest to me, with a low level of knowledge on my part and all I really want is a credible game with flavour! And I don’t have the insight or knowledge to know whether the system is doing something wrong or not. I just know torpedoes are bad!

    Perhaps there are just generally more of us in the second group now and so I think you question about a drive to abstraction is probably on the money. The interesting thing is how does one validate that something has the right ‘feel’, if one does not have knowledge of the underpinning principles of what is being modelled and yet we seem happy to do so, perhaps because ‘feel’ only needs to feed and be fed off pre-conceptions, whether they are right or wrong. A very individual thing for sure.

    I suppose the simple question ‘do you like your game’, reply, ‘yes, I like my game’ is perhaps all that really matters in the end and perhaps the best part of wargaming in 2019 is that there really is something for everybody.

  7. Matt, I wonder whether there is a ‘movement’ for each of us to start settling on particular systems that can serve us well, rather than the jumping around from system to system that certainly I used to do. It is the same with boardgames, I used to buy widely and never get a good thing going with any one particular game, these days, I am much more selective, even though the choice and volume of new stuff is probably greater.

    1. I am definitely leaning in that direction, I like the mechanics and simplicity of bolt action and have found my adaptation to ACW has worked well for our local games here. I fully expect my future AWI project will be using a similar adaptation and then future games which will remain nameless may be the same as well. In fact you’ve now set me thinking why not my ancient games as well ? I now have some thinking to do.

  8. BWMS was my 1st wargame book and Grant's Nap. Wargaming my 4th (Charge! and Littlewars arrived in the same package as my 2nd & 3rd). Then WRG 3rd edition Ancients came out and I fell down that rabbit hole!

    I still have all 4 books and revisit all but only rarely Grant's book and continue to find practical wisdom.I esp appreciate that both Charge! and Littlewars have benefitted from the viewpoint of men who had exeperienced battle (in HGW's case friends not himself) .

    Grant's insistance on scale etc haunted me for years until I realized from reading his accounts of various historical refights that he would throw scale out the window at the 1st sign of it being inconvenient and that he ignored ground, time and figure scales as imoractical for historical refights. (I think it was in his Fontenoy book that he discussed the subject of the need to compromise but I no longer have my copy to verify that)

    Anyway, I'm glad new wargamers don't have to go back nearly 50 years to find a guide into the hobby even though they remain valid. I do wish more of them would encourage new wargamers to experiment, do research and adjust their rules to suit themselves as Featherstone in particular did rather than today's tend towards treating published rules as the bible.

  9. Hi Ross, a bunch of us have no doubt travelled the same path (though 3rd Edition WRG Ancients gives you some bragging rights :-) ) and we are where we are, for the better, I think, after a half century of refinement of rule ideas, but I will always tip my hat to those that started all of this.

    I perhaps should have mentioned Tunstall's 'Discovering Wargames', another early source of inspiration for me, but like the other books, was of its time and based in that exactness of march rates, frontage, performance etc that the other authors use.

    I first came across these books, by accident, in an ordinary small book shop in an ordinary small town, I don't think (not in the UK) that we will see the likes of that again.

    Some current systems rely on the commercial success of producing follow on modules, the consequence of which removes the need of the player doing their own research or tweaking their systems. Indeed the reliance and trend to points for lists and the building of points based 'killer forces' further diminishes the necessity of research and the role of historically based actions.

  10. Great thought-provoking post, Norm.

    Sam Mustafa gives very good commentary on differences, problems and inconsistencies (contradictions?) in "old school" gaming scale versus reality in the beginning of his "Might and Reason" SYW rules. ("A Note on Game Scales" p 4-5).

    My .02? Just like historiography, game rules are very much a product of the societies and cultures they serve. No one has time for anything anymore, and it seems many like to mostly dispense with and abstract the columns, charts, tables, and tests to get to the heart of the matter more quickly. Your modern gamer still likes adjudicating fire, melee, and morale, but they also tend to prize not being able to control their forces as they want to (Command and Control? Fog of War?) To me it seems that not as many people care about the trip anymore, just the destination.

    I for one do prize rules that are timely. I love (LOVE) playing Fire and Fury ACW but I rarely have the time for a full game of it which is why you will rarely see me (us) play it. I've decided to save games like Fire and Fury / Age of Eagles for conventions when I have 6 to 8 hours to dedicate to a wargame.

    The reality for me is that I can probably spare 3 to 4 hours (4 is a stretch) on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. My rules choices (Age of Eagles versus Commands and Colors: Napoleonics, Black Powder, or Neil Thomas' Napoleonic Wargaming) will very much be dictated by the amount of time my guests and I have to play.

    With time as a driver, you tend to be attracted to rules like Black Powder that get you to the action more quickly.

  11. Thanks Steve, I suppose we at least have choice, though the current mass market systems are probably mainly addressing and serving the time strapped gamer and perhaps in that regard, choice is somewhat focussed.

    On the boardgame side of things, choice is very diverse, but print runs are short, so the game that might really suit you, might not be available for long, there is a small window of opportunity, though I note some of the miniature systems have a similar issue, I believe some of the popular Mustafa rules, although fairly new, are not available at the moment.

    I have travelled a road of trying to hold too many systems in my head and that is something that I think the gamer in general is trying to conquer. I quite like rules that are slick, but I need to know / believe that regardless of how the designer has chosen to represent the game, that what is going on under the bonnet is based on fact / knowledge / grasp of the subject. Looking back at these older books and seeing the authors trying to stress the relationship between their rules and real world warfare, by discussing such things as march rates and the percentage of musket balls that can hit a barn door at 100 yards etc, has been quite satisfying.

    I recently bought a boardgame on an 18th century battle, that used an 'innovative system'. Unfortunately for me, the units started to behave with a fluidity more like panzer groups rather than with the movement restrictions that was a feature of linear warfare of the time. Yet, it had fans who 'loved the system' and scored it highly on BoardGameGeek, which seems to highlight an audience that just wants an entertaining game over correct detail / flavour etc and if that audience exists, game companies will feed it it, with ever increasing 'interesting systems' that are in fact divorced from the subject.

  12. A very interesting and thought provoking read (along with all the comments). It highlights the evolution of rules built upon those early rules. Written by those wargaming pioneers who were starting from a blank page and often detailed the logic behind their rules, especially with what I have read of Charles Grant.

  13. Thanks Peter, the 'blank page' is a good point and I have really enjoyed the comments that have flowed from this post.

  14. Great post Norm. I have been lucky enough to obtain all the wargaming books published in the period when wargaming was really taking off. My particular favourites are the books by Charles Wesencraft who was ahead of his time in the use of bases and rules. Its very noticeable that the current spate of wargames rules have gone back to simple mechanisms and fun. It doesnt mean they dont 'feel' right as regards the period being fought but they do make the games enjoyable. I still re read the classic books regularly. I think theres a certain amount of reassurance in picking through the books that I grew up with.

    1. I am with you, Robbie. Wesencraft is a favorite and ahead of his time as you say. Morschauser is among those I count as pioneers too.

  15. Thanks Robbie, you are right about that. My dipping back has been both a pleasant nostalgic reminder and has given me a renewed appreciation of what those authors were doing.

  16. Hi Norm, once again you have written an article that really connects with me and my love for this hobby of ours. We are clearly of the same generation (I'm 61), as are many of our fellow bloggers who look back fondly at those early days of wargaming, and we share so many of the same memories, influences, inspirations etc. Finding such a book in a local library, as in my case, must have got many of us started on this path, I know I was lucky enough to find many such books in my library. Since reading this superb piece a couple of nights ago it's been buzzing around my head and I have been thinking about how best to comment.

    I don't have many of those early books left now, I would say that the most inspirational for me was Charles Grants 'The War Game' with all of those magnificent Spencer Smith plastics. The man certainly liked to do his homework, I recall him describing spending a morning down on Dover beach with a dustbin lid in one hand and a long pole in the other going through the pike manoeuvres of a Alexandrian Phalangite!

    Looking back Norm some of those rule sets could be incredibly complex as you say, my experience of the old 'Newbury ACW being an example. I must have spent weeks trying to get to grips with them, I even took them on holiday on the Norfolk Broads for a week and spent hours reading them but came home none the wiser. On the other hand Johnny Reb II almost instantly clicked for me and I know I learned most of those rules tables and charts by memory over some intensive years of gaming them with a couple of friends. If I did ACW today I would go back to JR II for sure.

    Anyway Norm, many thanks for taking the time to write this post, I have found it extremely thought provoking and really feel it's about time I got down to writing a similar piece describing my early introduction to the hobby.

  17. Thanks Lee, the library / bookshop no doubt gave many of us a 'leg up' onto this hobby ladder. I seem to recall that quite a few of the 'stapled down booklet' type rules were quite dense and complex (I think Newbury ancient and medieval were my blocker), but I am left wondering whether a lack of a questioning mindset and gaming experience in those days just left us with the confidence to plough on and play the game as we 'thought' the rules author was giving it to us.

    A few times recently, I have looked at some older games and all sorts of questions have popped up in my head ... things that I feel matter and might stop my game for not having the right answer, so why that now?

    Last year, I got hold of a boardgame from 1980 that I had loved and played a lot back then, so getting a chance to buy an old copy was really exciting, my rose tinted glasses were on fire! but I set it it all up and was immediately stuck because of rules and map issues, I just couldn't figure how I used to play this all the time without question / issue. The game was packed away! It was the same game, so something with me had changed! In part, I think then, there was no-one to ask, you just cracked on for good or bad and just assumed that you had worked it out properly - today, you can go online and ask the author or the community and expect a reply within 12 hours! :-)

  18. Does anyone else have a hard time writing comments in response to Norm’s post? It can’t just be me. It’s hard bc posts like these are so thought provoking, entertaining, resounding, that as I read along I see so many ideas that I want to mention in my response that I get overwhelmed!
    There is too much good stuff! 😀
    What an excellent post Norm and I really enjoyed reading it. I didn’t start wargaming until the 2000s and was only a toddler in the 70s so I don’t have the same nostalgia for these books but do appreciate that these laid the ground work for wargames and enjoyed reading your thoughts about them and the roots of mechanics.
    Norm, you need a podcast.
    I also thought that comparing the systems on a single example really inspired and I read it twice just bc I think it illustrates the point so very well.
    Nicely done my friend. 😀

    1. Yep. I am in the same boat. Blogger format makes it difficult to respond with lengthy comments. With such a small comment box, I find myself losing my place and some times repeating myself as my reply scrolls out of the tiny window. Still, better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all!

    2. Stew, thanks for the kind words, I enjoyed writing the post.

  19. Great post Norm! It's taken me a while to put together what I want to say. I'm a little later than you and my first exposure to wargaming proper was WRG which always seemed like you could plan out exactly what was going to happen, more like a chess game,I like the fog of war mechanisms you get in blackpowder and Tts, the black powder series also encourage house rules. Would Terence Wise's " Introduction to Battle Gaming" from 1969 also fit in with these two books? I've got a copy that you are welcome to if you want it, email me your address to and I'll pop it in the post to you.
    Best Iain

    1. Iain - arrived, thank you so much. norm.

  20. Thanks Iain, I hit WRG with Ancients 5th edition going into 6th, WWII infantry and armour 1925 - 1950 and Phil Barker's Horse and musket rules 1685 - 1845. All seemed to be a staple at the time, being the main rules for tournament if I recall. They do have a charm of their own and John Curry is bringing some of these titles back into print. Like your good self, I like the Black Powder arrangement and have just picked up the second edition.

    Thanks for the kind offer for me to read your Terry Wise rules. I have e-mailed you my address. Cheers Norm

  21. Norm, you have really excelled with this post. I needed to read and re-read which is why I’m a bit late with my comment. I guess we’re pretty much same generation so what you wrote identifies 100 percent with me and my fellow local gamers who are all roughly the same age. We play AoE napoleonics and F&F ACW but there were also the days of Quarrie, WRG, et al. The game has evolved - in my opinion - in the right direction towards a more abstract command-based concept. What concerns me, however, is the lack of historical knowledge many gamers (especially younger ones) seem to have. Ironically enough, nowadays there is so much research material available at our fingertips and yet it appears to me that the love and curiosity of historical research has ebbed. This is not based on any scientific research and obviously anyone is free to disagree - just my personal gut feeling backed by a few casual conversations.

  22. Thanks Mike, yes, I agree. In many respects we might be the generation that has our feet in both camps ... able to enjoy the current abstraction / command based systems, while still having a good appreciation of what lays behind such mechanics.

    A modern set might heavily rely on flavour or 'feel', but if you don't actually have the knowledge / experience / exposure to the military history of that era to know what that flavour should really look like, how can one discern whether the game actually delivers anything more than the game?

    1. Maybe it’s one of the reasons fantasy gaming is so much popular these days......

  23. or the new popular games that come in a box, massively backed by Kickstarter and pretty much everything including backstory is provided.

    Interestingly, at the wargame show I went to last week, there was a wide mix of game types, but crucially, everyone seemed to genuinely be enjoying their game and the opportunity to share it and I doubt it gets better than that. On those table that were doing an historical game, from what I could tell, uniforms were correct and the battles were based on real events, with a story for the visitor to understand, so in that regard, the visible evidence is that a lot of people do set an importance on correct detail.

    I was buying some 1/2400 rig and sail ships from Tumbling Dice and the chap in front of me was having quite a detailed conversation in 'how to get it right', which of course, when it was my turn, had me doing the same, so maybe there are more of us who still want it right or even satisfied with broadly right, but just want an easier or more friendly way of getting there. Having fewer figures to paint and store certainly seems one way the modern gamer might be doing that.

  24. My life of wargaming started with being shown by my mother (!) Charles Grant "The War Game" at the library we went to when I was about 12. I never understood the 'rules' he described but it had it's impact. Bruce Quarrie books for WWII were next and the rest is now history (pun intended).

  25. These authors have lit so many fires and it's really rather nice that all these years later, we can now reflect back and recognise the importance of those 'discoveries'.

  26. Don't know why, but I missed this post when you put it up and am only reading it now. Like others have said, it's a great post and brought back a ton of happy memories. I thought your observation about the different approaches then and now to the line/column deployment was significant.

  27. Thanks Ellis, I like returning to this post from time to time, just so I can kit the Keane video in the resource section :-)



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