Sunday, 2 August 2020

Simple Battles No.1 - Fight for the Bridge.

Steve, over on his blog ‘Sound Officers Call’ (link below in the resource section) has started what is to become a series of posts on the subject of the ‘simple game’ and what that actually means.

Confederate cavalry move towards the bridge

He is tabulating some thoughts on the subject by testing some rules against games and he has asked blog readers to respond to a list of questions following their own gaming of a ‘simple’ ruleset, so that he can feed all of the experiences into his evaluation.

So, in the spirit of pursuing the simple game, I have put a game on using just 6 units per side (in the Neil Thomas tradition), but using the Perry Firepower rules. I will do a brief AAR’s with some photo support and then go on to answer Steve’s questions with further detail.

The scenario that I have put together is generic enough that it can be tested against several rule sets, giving a better benchmark of outcomes.

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

The basics of the Bridge scenario - this will be a meeting engagement, with both armies starting off the table. Sides will dice to see whether they are the Red or Blue army and then will dice to see who is player 1. A player can bring 1D3 units on each turn, testing each turn until all of their units are in play. The commander counts as a unit.

The waterway is set at the centre of the table and has a single bridge. The river is quite deep, but can be crossed in places by infantry and cavalry. First they must stop when contacting the river and then in any subsequent turn whenever they attempt to cross it, each unit must roll a die. On a 1-2 the water is too deep, move the entire unit 4” in either direction along the bank and try again on the next turn (it is the enemy player who decides whether the unit moves left or right, but it cannot be forced to leave the table or an illegal position). On a 3-4, the unit enters the water, but it is deep and they end their movement in the water, next turn they can advance normally. On a 5-6, the unit can properly cross the river to the other side and beyond, but it’s movement allowance is halved.

All units can and artillery must use the bridge to cross the waterway. Movement is at normal rate.

At the end of play, the player who has units closest to both ends of the bridge wins, anything else is a draw.

The game will last for 7 turns. At the conclusion of the 7th turn, roll a D6, on a result of 4+ another turn will be played (max 8 turns).

Each player gets 4 regular infantry regiments with rifled muskets, a regular cavalry regiment and an artillery battery (12 pdr smoothbore).


The game sets up, sides are rolled for and the Union are the Red army, with the Confederates being Blue army. The Union win the dice-off to go first.

Opening turns

The Union get lucky and get 3 arrivals to the battlefield (the Confederates will get just 1!). Their cavalry move at speed up the road towards the bridge, while two infantry regiments flank each side of the road. Movement allowances are random and again the Union do well.

The Confederates obviously bring on their cavalry, along the road as their single arrival.

The Union cavalry maintain their momentum and charge over the bridge, into the Confederate cavalry, driving them off. 

Mid game

The Union are the first to get all of their brigade onto the table (they are the fastest with the mostest!).

The recovered Confederate cavalry counter-charge the Union cavalry and in turn, send them reeling backwards, but both cavalry units have taken significant casualties and are close to exhaustion.

Union artillery move into position on Long Ridge.

As the infantry units start to get closer to each other, long range musket fire opens up.

The cavalry on both sides are starting to pull back, allowing the infantry to take over the struggle at the bridge. 

Taking casualties

The Confederates are getting the worst of the musketry exchange and things are not looking good. One regiment is in retreat, whilst a second is lost to the Zouaves.

Though late in the day, the final Confederate regiment arrives, advancing towards the Chapel.

In a desperate move, Confederate cavalry charge the advancing Union infantry column at the bridge, but they are too brittle to prevail and are seen off (removed from play).

End game

The Union find a place to cross the river, near the Chapel, it is deep but fordable. A fresh Confederate regiment flings itself up the road at the Union regiment that the cavalry just tangled with and their charge is spectacularly successful, forcing the Union back with severe losses. Slowly things are moving the Confederate way, with the Union finding it difficult to keep within occupation distance of the bridge.

The Zouaves (below) attempt to cross the creek, but it is too deep and they move further downstream, but the cavalry do find a shallow spot and cross over to the Confederate side of the waterway (note by failing the test to cross, the Confederate player has instructed the Union player to move the Zouaves 4" away from the bridge).

As a last ditch attempt to control the bridge, the Confederate infantry again charge the Union on the bridge, who just collapse with high casualties, the effect of being charged three times no doubt!

This Confederate attack puts them on the bridge and closer to both ends of the bridge than any other unit can claim. This is the final turn and would normally be a win, scored in the last moments of the game ....... but! Under the rules, a die roll is made to see if an extra turn is played, and it is.

Extra Time!

This allows the Union Zouaves and cavalry to compromise either end of the bridge. The Confederate on the bridge can now only control their own end, as the Zouaves can claim to be closer to the other end and so the Union manage to claw back a loss to a draw. A tight game indeed.    

Post-Battle Questions

Basic Questions:

How long did the game take to play? I was doing recording and photographing, but I would say a little over an hour of actual game time.

What was the scenario? As described above, a bit of a symmetrical battlefield with random arrival times and random movement mixing it up a bit.


What happened?  Anything extraordinary?  This is a bucket of dice system with saves only if in cover. Infantry roll 9 dice in attack and twice 5 hits were scored on enemy regiments, which is a big old punch! and puts those troops on notice that they may not be around for much longer. One of the Confederate regiments held their ground against the odds by passing all of their morale checks following taking casualties. This discouraged a Union regiment from attempting to cross the creek.

Who won and why? It was a draw ... snatched from a Confederate victory. This was all about unit locality v’s the bridge (objective), random movement and failed morale checks after taking casualties both fed into how easy / hard it was to take / hold the objective.

Did you enjoy the game? Why? Yes, it looked nice and had a bit of the old school joy about it. Things seemed to matter locally, but not enough to kill the game at any stage. The objective was clear. The uncertainty of arrival and random movement allowances mixed it up and made the game more dynamic. The game did not need constant rule referencing.

Advanced Questions:

After reading the rules, how many consultations occurred with the rules during the game? To start with, just a few, but they were the silly things caused by knowing / reading too many other rule sets, such as ‘at what point of the sequence do leaders move’. These were very easy to find and after the first turn I didn't need the rules again.

Was the scenario created for you or did you create it? I created it, but took some elements from recent games that I thought worked well, such as random arrival of forces.

Did any troops perform remarkably good or bad? On turn one, the maximum of three Union units arrived, plus they got very good random movement scores. The Confederate infantry unit conducting the last two charges on the bridge did very well, inflicting heavy casualties.

Was it luck or part of the mechanics? Mainly luck based because of dice mechanisms, but the dice should even out over the course of a game. This did make the game very solo friendly.

What were the victory conditions in your game? Very simple objective based. Perhaps I should have included the destruction of enemy regiments as I think that makes players take better care of them as they start to max out on the number of hits that they can absorb.

If the game was or was not enjoyable (it has to be one or the other!) was it due to the mechanics? Enjoyable. The mechanics are easy to hold to memory, making it easier to concentrate on the tactics and play. There is an absence of exception rules and some common principles play across the rules, so infantry and cavalry charge in the same way and move in the same way (as do artillery), with the same movement restrictions (stop when you meet an obstacle).

The outcome?  A draw, but it was all down to the last couple of dice rolls, which is always a good sign.

Tension? Yes, in the first part of the game, the Confederates had it hard, but they came back and so this uncertainly is good. A downward spiral for one side is not inevitable and conclusive once it starts. You take morale checks after receiving casualties, which if failed causes the unit to break. A couple of times I found myself really drawn into those moments when they became fairly critical and getting good dice matter. 

Did you like the game because of (a) the system (b) the outcome (c ) the troop behaviour. 

System: Yes, because the rules are simple, but not too simplistic. They are a step up from One Hour Wargames because they include command, morale and a mixed sequence of play based on actions rather than say a strict order of fire then move etc. I like simple rules, but am often left feeling that just an extra couple of pages of text would disproportionately help the rules. Here I wished there had been some extra detail for mounting / dismounting cavalry and would like to see heavily hit units (i.e. they are about to disappear) suffer a penalty when they attack - though simple rules are usually robust enough to easily house rule.

Outcome:  Mostly it was the scenario and situation rather than the rules that made working for the outcome enjoyable. The area that the rules did impact upon is the maths that a unit will generally be able to survive in combat for 2, perhaps 3 turns and then it is ‘done in’. This works with the 7 turn type scenario and encourages a player to think about reserves and fresh units. It also reflects ACW warfare with regiments cycling through the fresh to spent stages.

Troop Behaviour: This was generally fine. The commander brought focus to his part of the field by helping with movement and morale test die rolls within 6" radius. The ‘churn’ of units did help give it a period feel, going from fresh to exhausted in quick order. Troops are rather generic, so for example I couldn’t have smoothbore muskets, which I would have liked to have thrown in there and you would have to house rule for an elite type unit such as the Iron Brigade. The saves given for cover make units appreciate cover whenever they can find it and can make them reluctant to leave it and resume the advance, so combat is more likely to be settled by the firefight rather than the charge. Units do not benefit from ‘friends’ being close by, so there is no benefit to attacking in column of lines, which I would prefer to see in there.

Conclusion. Overall, I thought the game a success. It was the right level of play, game time and simulation for the mood I was in and the size of force involved. I am glad I put the effort into setting up and playing and would be happy to play the same scenario again with these rules. A bigger force, even on my small table (for 28mm) can be justified by the system, to make more use of the flanks and to help represent the advantage of having fresh reserves, even just two extra infantry regiments per side would work. It is still probably a tad on the light side for me, but so easy and accessible that they make a good go to set of rules and gets you past that feeling that you need to invest in a rules read before you play. It certainly reduces the barrier to getting a game going. They would make good convention rules.

Resource Section.

Steve’s ‘simple wargaming’ blog post LINK

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is a bit more snippet based than here. Link.


  1. Thank you for posting this, Norm! What a great roll up of your battle and you put much thought into answering the questions! Also,
    you highlighted a rules set that I have much interest in.

    I hope you dont mind if I link to this post from my blog? I played Commands and Colors Ancients today for the first time, and hope to do a write up of it tomorrow (Monday).

    I like how your battle report focused on the action, the decisions made in the game, and the behavior of the troops in contact, and that you didnt seem to be mired in excessive detail or overbearing mechanics.

    Again, thank you very much for posting this!

    1. Thanks Steve, yes links are fine. The whole thing interests me and is something that I do think about, but your post somewhat formalises things.

      I have some other things going on which can feed into this thinking, for example I am just embarking on the new GMT boardgame tri-pack based around 'Men at Arms'. they describe the system as easy, though it is initially an awkward read .... but it opens the door to 20 battles, with several set in the Wars of Roses period, so in that respect it is the fact of streamlining the number of rules owned rather than the content of individual sets that brings the ease. I will plod on and explore these sort of things a bit more.

  2. Very handsome table layout, Norm. Six units per side is not a lot. I am not convinced that a half-dozen units each provides a large enough sample size to make solid inferences on a game system. “Simple” is in the eyes of the beholder, I think, and it will be interesting to see individual perspectives on this concept. Steve list Commands & Colors as “Least Simple.” Once a game or two are in the books, the mechanisms are dead simple and play is very fast.

    Enjoyable BatRep! Thank you.

    1. Hi Jonathan,
      I listed Commands and Colors as least simple on the list because of the amount of special rules that lie throughout which must be known or looked up in order to ensure you're doing things correctly, especially if you only play them once or twice per year.

      They were least simple among my list, as compared to the other rules on my list.
      I'm looking to categorize what makes a rule set simple, and what the appeal is for some. I would not argue that CC Ancients is quite fast (we played 2 x games yesterday in 3 hours!) But I probably would not call them "dead simple" because there are many important rules that must be observed in order to be played correctly throughout. They did, however, make my list of simple rules and are part of my trials.

    2. Hi Steve. I have played CC Ancients a lot. When you can play the game from memory without even the need for a QRS, that seems simple to me. With a few more games under your belt or with regular play, your position on CCA may change.

  3. Thanks Jonathan. it is interesting to note that these rules are part of a game set that provide six units per side, yet once under way, there is a clear feeling that a few more units would be welcome, I think the system actually hungers for that.

    Army size v playing space v desire to want to paint large armies v the interest in multiple periods is going to produce trade offs. My current Pocket Armies project that envisages 12 unit armies to draw say 8 - 10 armies from for gaming may or may not become fulfilling, but it is a compromise that seems to square the above tensions, we shall see in time.

    1. A dozen BMUs per side is really the sweet spot for fun, manageable, and interesting games. As for Size vs Space vs Painting Desire vs Multiple Periods, are you suggesting we CAN'T have it all? Heresy!

  4. A lovely looking game and a nice size too for something that took around an hour or so. Your comments on the rules and post game thoughts very useful as always.

    I find that around 12 units per side gives a great game, which equates to a Brigade or Battalion (depending upon period etc) plus some supports. I know you have a similar view too.

    I will check out Steve's Blog and I like the idea behind this, but not sure if I have the time to contribute due to planning a WWII campaign at present.

  5. Thanks Steve, an enjoyable game. I think Steve has lifted the lid on an interesting topic.

  6. Echo Jonathan's comment on the tabletop, very nice! An interesting game report and your thoughts as you worked your way through the questions.

  7. Hi Peter, I’m sure Steve’s post is going to start some interesting conversations and some refection.

  8. Splendid game and report, I am getting to like Firepower as a rule set. They seem really suitable to add to without spoiling the fast play element.
    I was planning a SCW game with a river mid table for next week so this is very timely and I shall steal your scenario and river crossing mechanism unashamedly 🙂

  9. Thanks Phil, The Firepower rules are growing on me as an alternative to OHW. It would be nice to see the scenario play out on your table.

  10. Very nice looking game and your usual clear and concise write up, interesting to find the right spot for the description simple as evidenced by your comments lively debate!
    Best Iain

  11. Thanks Iain, I think the topic, generated by Steve, will be of wide interest, just one of those things were probably everyone has a view on the point at which simple meets satisfying.

  12. Great looking game Norm and an enjoyable morning coffee read as usual. A visual treat too, the casualty markers I like a lot.

    1. Thanks Lee. The casualty markers are from 1st Corps.

  13. Most excellent write up - the only thing that seems a little strange to me is the river crossing rule - nothing wrong with the test for deep water etc. just that the opponent decides which way you move - why I wonder?

  14. Thanks Steve. I wanted to reflect the importance of the bridge by making the creek hard to cross and a more uncertain thing. I tend to feel that easy water crossings largely take away the central role of a bridge. Additionally, my rational was that having attempted to cross and failed, the unit has in effect taken an action and allowing them to choose a direction of movement was a) giving them a flexible second action that was too effective and b) the penalty of the enemy moving you, rolls into the penalty of failing to cross i.e. a fail really is a fail and not something to be cushioned by giving a free movement of advantage.

    It actually added something into the scenario here as the Zouaves already in a good place on their side of the bridge, attempted to cross to the enemy side of the bridge and failed and in doing so ended up further away from the bridge .... perhaps they should have taken the decision to stay put and hold on to what they had :-)

    The Union troops that invested time to cross the creek in front of the chapel took a risk, as they were already quite far from the bridge and a failed attempt would most likely have pushed them further away - ouch! But they got fairly lucky, though still ended up playing an irrelevant role in the battle, other than compelling the last Confederate reinforcement to also come on near the chapel to counter them.

  15. Great scenario Norm and I really like seeing your ACW stuff on the table. It’s all so very pretty!

    I really liked the rules for crossing the river. Might have to steal that one for future use. 😀

  16. Thanks Stew, it gave an entertaining game and should grace the table again at some point.

  17. Like your previous "simple" game example, this was a great report and the scenario, rules and numbers involved add to the attraction - a one hour wargame with lots of tension and action - whats not to like here - often, less is more, as they say!

  18. Thanks Keith, agreed, I think more of this kind of thing will be appearing on the table and under my ‘Pocket Armies’ project, it will allow me to collect into the wider range of periods that interest me, with even a realistic prospect that ‘whole armies’! Will get painted :-)

  19. Great looking game - love the Zouaves, Norm. Nice run down of the rules too!

  20. Thanks Dean, the Zouaves are now my ‘posh’ units :-)

  21. A great write up Norm, a as you said Simple but very effective game. The older I get the more the Simple rules appeal to me.

  22. Thanks Ray, A truth that I think many of us share.



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