Saturday 20 May 2017

Free ACW hex based rules

Two Flags - One Nation. These are my own hex based ACW rules. They have existed as a set of home-brew rules for 10 years and more and have morphed through a variety of versions.


This year I have re-visited the rules and taken them back to their original hex based roots, adding some changes that I have enjoyed in my more recent rule dabblings, in particular Eagles at Quatre Bras.

This post (edited to update notes to the Sept 2017 version) replicates the design notes from the rules, while the rules themselves (including two scenarios) are now available as a free download (copyright reserved) in the resource section of this post.

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

Design Notes.

Two Flags - One Nation. This 2017 Edition updates my home brew ACW hex based rules, which are now well over 10 years old. Much remains familiar, but they have picked up some new mechanics from my more recent rule designs, in particular my napoleonic rules (Eagles at Quatre Bras), as I attempt to merge several aspects of the two sets together.  

The first scenario ever designed for the original system was McPherson Ridge, which has always given a good game and so here, once again, it makes an appearance, as it has proven to be a good bench mark in measuring the effects of new ideas and rule tweaks. A second scenario, the fictional 'Action at Mill Creek', has also been included, as a sort of starter scenario that also offers a useful generic Random Events Table.

Core design principles have been to favour fun over simulation, but with results and a flow of play reflecting the way that official accounts of battle often read. The complexity should sit at the lower end of the spectrum, using easily implemented abstraction based mechanics. The game aims to be solo friendly, playable in a single session and to deliver play into a compact space to meet the gaming and storage limitations that many gamers have at home.

To help reduce the learning curve to play, I have set the rules out in a way that follows the sequence of play. All of the game charts fit onto three sheets of paper, so once the gamer gets into their stride, the game is fairly easily managed.

Capability - The use of 'unit capability' is central to the system. Units are initially rated on their training and experience (raw, seasoned, veteran) and this gives a basic capability rating for the unit. This rating is used for what are essentially morale type tests and also for doing certain activities such as changing formation or preparing to charge or receive a charge and so it is a mechanism for managing unit performance more than simply determining morale alone. 

On the question of elite units, I did not want to include a fourth category because the 2D6 system for testing capability has a bell curve that would give a 4th category far more advantage that I wanted to show. After considering several ways of dealing with elites (most making them too powerful), I settled on a system that basically have them being the same as veteran, but each unit starts the game with 3 x d6 in their bank, so to speak. Whenever a die roll is made on behalf of the unit (firing, charging or Capability tests etc), the elite unit can choose to replace one of the die rolled with a re-roll using one of their die from their bank. This is subtle enough to give them an edge, but not turn them into super troops. 

During play, units will accrue Heavy Casualty markers, either directly though combat or other rigours of war. As casualty levels increase on a unit, this will directly feed in to their ability to pass Capability Tests and so a units performance steadily decreases due to the attrition of action and the importance of having fresh troops in reserve becomes emphasised. There is a tipping point at around four heavy casualties. Once units go beyond that, they can degrade rather rapidly, firstly losing offensive capability and then simply losing cohesion as a whole.

The disadvantage of using such a device is that this testing makes for additional die rolling and some may not like that aspect, however, as players get into the mid game and casualties accrue, the nuances of capability and the immediate situation (bringing modifiers), the fatigue of combat and the staying power of units, come together to bring some nice narrative into the game, which can turn on a series of intense moments that feel important to both sides. I have looked at ways of taking some of the dice rolls out, but where I did this, a more generic and anticipated outcome resulted.

Movement - Limited movement allowances are useful when using a smaller playing space. It helps define a centre and wings without units dashing across to influence other parts of the battlefield that from a command perspective would not be within their immediate sphere of influence. 

Cavalry are not given the speed boost turn after turn that many game sets allow. I tend to view cavalry as being an arm that has short bursts of high energy movement, such as the charge or seeking to occupy an objective, but that this is separate from the 'normal' levels of movement that all 'legged' units are subject to in reality.

Units in march column and limbered artillery will get around the battlefield faster, but they are very vulnerable to attack and in most cases within our small battlefield, they will likely shake out into a combat formation at an early opportunity. Reinforcements will probably arrive in this formation.

Restrictions have also been placed upon how frequently units can charge (see Passage of time below) as those things that have hearts and lungs need to take more breathers between moments of intense activity than wargamers might ordinarily allow.

Passage of time - Although the system uses a turn based structure, a Game Clock is also running and several game functions run off this clock. The starting time of the battle will be stated, say at  1100 hours and probably an end time will be given, say 1245 hours. At the end of each turn, the clock is randomly advanced by 2 x D6 plus 8 minutes. So the game is played and moved along by time and the turn sequence sits within that mechanic.

This 'time' running in the background will manage such things like when reinforcements arrive or special rule events (such as at 1130 hours the fog lifts etc), but importantly the clock is also used for some in-game functions such as disorder. So for example, following a charge, one side may get a result like 'The unit stays in place, it suffers 1 Heavy Casualty marker and is disordered for 15 minutes'.  Units are also restricted by time as to how often they can charge, as after conducting a charge, they need a short period of rest before charging again. Infantry cannot charge again for 20 minutes and cavalry need 30 minutes between charges. They can do other things, they just can't be charging around the battlefield all the time. The randomness of the advancing clock brings in some nice uncertainties in all of these things.

So say in our game we are running through the Sequence of Play for the third time (which of course is hard not to think of as turn 3). The Game Clock by now might be 1142 hours. If a unit got a 'disorder for 15 minutes' result, then it would remain disordered until the Game Clock had moved beyond 1157 hours, which could happen on what effectively would be turn 4 or turn 5, depending on how the clock randomly advanced, removing certainty from the players.

Casualties and the rigours of war - The accumulation of hits makes Capability Tests harder to pass. During the Retreat Phase, those units that have accrued 5 or more Heavy Casualties must test to see whether they are forced to fall back a hex and take an extra Heavy Casualty. Units that accrue 8  Heavy Casualties have become totally non-effective and are removed from play. By mid game, it certainly feels good to have a few fresh units to be able to call on. Units cannot get rid of their casualties, so attrition becomes increasingly significant through the game.

Rout is featured in the rules, but is fairly hard to bring about as it only comes out of the worst result on the Close Combat Table. However, the Retreat Phase, that sees units testing that have 5 or more Heavy Casualties also feeds into the system of units breaking down, gaining extra Heavy Casualties with each failure until they reach that magical figure of 8 Heavy Casualties and are removed from play. So in this game units degrading beyond the point of returning to battle is actually being created from two different directions, with the Rout sub-system and the enforced Retreat sub-system are working together. Once units start to retreat or rout involuntarily, don’t expect to see them back in the front line, it will be as much as you can hope for to prevent them leaving the table.

Command limitations - The command radius is there to encourage the player to keep the elements of a brigade together and allow them to support another regiment of the same brigade. A brigade's artillery is not bound by the command radius, allowing them to give fire support further away from the brigade and to be effective in fixed positions for longer. 

The loss of a Brigade Commander has a temporary effect on the capability of the formation by disordering them, hopefully balancing the effect of loss without being too punitive. I have taken the view that command structures offer an efficient transition of command to the next ranking officer relatively quickly. 

The optional rules allow for the generic commanders to test before play to see whether they gain any personal attributes that will influence their performance. I have kept the odds of gaining such attributes low, but hope that when they do arise, they provide a believable character.

Divisional Commander - The player themselves for the most part has the role of Divisional Commander, so representing oneself and staff officers on the table is best done in an abstract way. Basically in a players own Command and Control Phase, they simply pick up the Divisional Leader base and attach it to a unit of their choice. There is a short list of activities that the leader can assist that unit with during the turn, for example allowing a regiment to support a charging regiment from another brigade or to turn a retreat into a controlled retreat so that the retreating unit does not suffer further casualty markers during the retreat. Once the Divisional Commander helps with an activity it is removed from the board until the next turn. Think of it as the commander giving particular focus to a single part of the battlefield that turn and using their personal energy or that of his staff officers to see that something gets done. 

This in part helps the player see themselves as being separate from what is going on at the tactical level. Quite a few of the sub-routines in the game loosen a players control of unit management and this is a deliberate effect. To be clear, the Divisional Commander is a notional game piece, so does not actually put units into command. 

Half hearted! - In places, the Capability Test is tempered a little so that it does not produce the more extreme results of simple fail or pass. So for example when attempting to charge, a failed test will not stop the charge, but the charge becomes a half hearted attack, reducing the number of attack dice. If a unit fails when testing to change formation (during the movement phase), it will still change formation, but will then not be able to move in the same phase. This sort of thing can affect a unit that shakes out of march column into line, but then can't move up until the next turn, or perhaps artillery that wants to limber / unlimber and move in the same turn, can’t. 

Fire and Charging - Fire will generally inflict casualties and may cause a unit to fall back and disorder. It requires charging into contact to get other more significant effects. Both can lead to the removal of enemy units by advancing Heavy Casualty scores to their maximum per unit of 8, but extra weight is given to units that 'get into' the enemy by charging and taking ground. Note that charging is simply representing the last 50 - 200 yard dash, with one side generally breaking away without necessarily getting into actual man-to-man fighting.  

Charging units can suffer casualties both on the way in, from defensive fire and then when they attack, any result of '1' on the attack dice will actually harm the attackers, as successfully taking ground does sadly come at a price. The scenario should adequately reward the taking of ground and putting tight time limits on scenario length will bring aggressive manoeuvring into sharper focus.

Since a charging unit has to initially test to see whether they launch a full or half hearted attack and then may have to test again if they suffer one or more hits on the way in and then in the execution of  rolling attack dice, any result of ‘1’ inflicts a hit on the attacker, then charging is never a certain thing and once again certainty and control is taken away from the player and that thing of push-backs, counter-attacks, breaking off attacks and repeated assaults all become a natural flow of play.

The rigours of charge also put a brake on a player using units that have been badly shot up to attack in a sort of last act of desperation, when in reality the unit would have already lost its offensive capability, making the availability of reserves and fresh units important and also marking a point in time when a formation should be switching over to a defensive stance.

Ganging up - Hexes by their nature make it quite easy for more than one unit to gang up against a single unit and this is not generally a good reflection of how units deployed, particularly with regards to what is going on immediately around them. So, in the game, units generally attack one-on-one. A unit can only be attacked once per phase. The reality of out numbering the enemy locally is dealt with by allowing units to the rear of another unit support a charge to contact and also by having units being assaulted over different phases. For example in the Artillery Phase a unit could be fired on by artillery. In the following General Fire Phase it could then be fired upon by a regiment and then in the Charge Phase, another regiment could charge, with a supporting behind it if present. These multiple waves or phases of attack are preferable in my view than a single ganging up approach and the units mentioned can only do these things if they themselves are not engaged or otherwise penalised.

Terrain Chart - There isn't one! The effects of terrain on combat and movement is summarised under the Terms and References section. Essentially difficult terrain will hinder movement and the movement mechanic takes care of that, while the degree of cover is considered differently when fired upon than it is when charged. Protection against small arms fire comes from more substantial cover, while a wider range of cover type can hinder a charge. The small arms fire process has the cover factor built into it, so that units in cover simply suffer a maximum of 1 hit when fired upon and two hits when close assaulted. Further, artillery does not have any regard for cover. The way this works creates nuances within the battlefield, so that even the smallest battlefields can produce interest in terms of the impact of the terrain.

Optional Rules - There are just a few optional rules that may add interest. We have brigades testing cohesion each time they lose one of their regiments. Tiny, large and elite units having some adjustments and Leader Attributes bring a chance that a leader may be thought of in such terms as Inspirational, Exhausted, or even Lucky etc - though in my last game, my lucky leader got shot in the opening moves!

The charge process gives the attackers extra bonus dice for some situations, such as attacking disordered units, but because any ‘1’ rolled on the attack dice hurts the attacker, there is an optional rule that needs the bonus dice to be a different colour, so that 1’s rolled on them can be readily ignored - though this does have an effect of smoothing out the chaos of attack. 

As I prefer the chaos and frustration that the attacker experiences when 1’s come up on the charge dice, the rule to negate them exists in the optional section. It is helpful to see dice modifiers as part of the story-telling, here representing something akin to combat intensity, so the more dice you get to roll when charging, the higher the intensity of attack and with it the higher chance of casualties to both sides. Likewise, when an attacker loses 3 dice for making a half - hearted attack, there is less opportunity for hits (to either side) to result, so we are seeing a lowering of the combat intensity as the attackers start to stall or hesitate and lose momentum.


Complexity - It is the intention that when possible, the game should avoid complexity and keeping the total rules down to 18 pages reflects that, though some of the ways of doing things might mean that the gamer is frequently referencing the rulebook until things become a little more second nature. The rules have been set out so that they follow the sequence of play, so following that page by page will help. 

When something is not covered, just try to do what you feel is most realistic, particularly from the view that troops are not supermen and that battlefield manoeuvres can be fraught when under the stress of action, often it will probably be more realistic to not let a unit do something than say it can just because it is not covered in the rules. 

Thanks for downloading and having a look at these rules. If you use them and find them useful, please consider adding a comment to my blog and making a donation to your favoured charity.

The rules download is for personal use only and all copyright is reserved by Norm Smith.


Downloadable free rules for Two Flags - One Nation. This is a DropBox link (thank you DropBox) and if you do not wish to have a DropBox account you can close down the opening invitation that you are bound to get and then just click on the direct download option. The rules are for personal use only and copyright is reserved. LINK

The McPherson Ridge Scenario included in the rules has previously been used here with the One Hour Wargame rules by Neil Thomas. The reader may find that account interesting. LINK

COMMANDERS, my sister website is less article based and will cover the progress of these rules. The site also has a little more about hexes. LINK