Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Jacob’s Hill - American Civil War

While browsing through the One-Hour Wargames book by Neil Thomas for a suitable scenario to use as a test bed for various rule sets and periods, I came across Scenario 17 - Encounter.

This is a very uncomplicated plain battlefield with a hill in the centre. Reconnaissance has revealed the hill and both Red and Blue armies are marching to the objective to secure it. Both forces have 6 units each, with one unit on each side starting within 6” of their respective baselines and the rest coming on as reinforcements, but their arrival is randomly generated over the course of several turns and this underpins the dynamic and chaotic nature of the scenario.

This is a meeting engagement and victory is dependent upon sole control of the hill.

For the first outing, I will be using my 28mm ACW figures, my own ‘Two Flags - One Nation’ rules and a 3½´ x 3½´ table.

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

The One Hour Wargames book has been widely discussed on many blogs, including here, where it has its own subject tab in the right margin of this blog. Essentially it is a book of very short rules covering several periods, together with a collection of 30 scenarios.

Note this schematic is my own device, copied from
the black and white version in the book.

Scenario 17 (Encounter) gives us a mirror battlefield, so both sides face the same terrain layout (i.e. just the hill in the centre of the board). It also gives us 6 units per side, so it makes a good ‘benchmarking’ scenario for examining various rules. It does however mix it up a bit because the armies are randomly selected and built from a ‘unit availability’ matrix and so we start with a die roll for each side and get quite an interesting difference in troop types for todays game.

Red Army (Union)

Infantry x 4, artillery x 1 and Zouaves x 1

The book is actually just using the title ‘Zouave’ to represent elite troops, so that is how we will treat this particular unit …. regardless of what uniform is worn! Though of course, we shall be using the splendid looking Perry Zouaves, after all there is no reason for them to be kept in barracks, when they can be marching in style on the tabletop. Under my own rules, they will be referred to as Superior.

Blue Army (Confederate)

Infantry x 3, artillery x 2 and cavalry x 1.

In the scenario each side has one unit set up with 6” from their own baseline.

One thing to note about the scenario maps in this book ….. they are very sparse. Neil Thomas is only giving us the terrain that is key to the battle, nothing superfluous is added, nothing to distract. However, for the sake of aesthetics, it is nice to dress the table a little, so we will add a field, some rough boggy ground and some trees, just for visual interest, they will not exist for game purposes ….. yet you can bet your bottom dollar that I will try and occupy the non-existing field and conform to its boundaries!

One Hour Wargame scenarios always last for 15 turns, with the Thomas rules always allowing units to either move or fire, not both, which as happens is also true of my rules, so perhaps with 15 turns as a useful guide, today we shall say that we have 12 turns and see how that goes. We need encouragement to throw the troops in as they arrive on the table rather than allow them to build up before an attack and there is no better way to do that than have a tight time-table. Anyway, the scenario objective is to be in sole control of the hill, so we will just see how that plays out with the Two Flags - One Nation rules, which are ‘attrition of unit’ based. 

Fresh units have good offensive capability and then as the unit gets 3 - 4 Heavy Casualties, performance dips and once 5 Heavy Casualties are reached, reliability becomes a bigger ask. At 8 Heavy Casualties, they are removed from play - routed / dispersed. 

In the scenario, you can choose which unit is the one that is allowed to set up first, so with most rules it would make sense for the Confederate to deploy their cavalry for a fast grab of the hill …. However, in my rules, the cavalry generally move the same speed as infantry, but can do a one off ‘fast move’. They have lungs not engines, I have never been sympathetic to rules allowing cavalry a move boost turn after turn. Still, the Confederates will deploy their horse first, perhaps because they just should!

I have changed the scenario to allow Blue Army to go first, simply to acknowledge that their lead element is cavalry.

The immediate problem that this scenario creates for several rule sets is that the Thomas rules don’t use command and control (or morale for that matter) and so for those sets that do, there will be a difficulty bringing units on in such a haphazard way, while trying to move forwards to fight, creating a rather ‘spread out’ force that might be difficult to command. 

Perhaps as a standard rule we should at least say that all troops that enter play will be in command on the turn that they enter and perhaps even consider for some rule sets the introduction of more than one commander.

Above - at start table’ plus the turn 1 reinforcement. The force nearest the camera are Confederate.

Each turn, there is a 50% chance that a side will get one of their reinforcing units arriving - this is going to matter, so we have a little bit of Lady Luck to contend with.

Toys - Figures 28mm Perry, hill by Last Valley, field by The Tree Fellas, rough ground - a resin by Coritani with my embellishments added, cloth by Geek Villain, trees various.

Opening action.

At start, both sides successfully get one reinforcement, each chooses an infantry unit. The cavalry reach the hill, dismount and go into skirmish line, but they are chased off by a determined Union infantry charge. On their left, the Union charge against the 40th Mississippi is repulsed.

The Union have better luck getting their reinforcements onto the table and soon their overwhelming numbers cause the Confederates to pull back away from Jacob’s Hill.

Above - The Union have received four out of their six units, the Confederates have just two in play. As the Union consolidate Jacob’s Hill, they bring their gun battery up and place it in the centre of their defence.

The Confederates at last gain another reinforcement and they choose artillery, so that they can get some fire quickly against the hill, but before they can even unlimber, Union artillery causes them heavy casualties and disorder, forcing them to stay limbered and pull back.

Though things appear to be looking good for the Union, the 40th Mississippi on the Confederate right have steadily been dealing out deadly effective fire, pretty much seeing off one regiment. 

Above - the Zouaves move up into the gap and prepare to assault the weakened 40th, but over just two turns, the 40th deal out murderous fire and the Zouaves fall back and to the shock of the Union commander, start to rout.

Turn 7

The Confederate cavalry, now re-mounted, make an ill-advised charge against a Union regiment. To start with the attack is half-hearted (failed charge capability test) and a determined pre-charge volley by the relatively fresh defenders, drive off the cavalry.

The ill-advised cavalry charge!

The cavalry (on the left) have retreated and put themselves out of command, to rectify that, they move to the right, but as they do so, their gun battery, takes heavy losses from the Union artillery on the hill. In panic, they limber up and pull out, crashing through the cavalry, causing further disorder - what a mess!

What a mess!

The Confederate 2nd battery arrives and over two turns badly mauls the Union artillery on the hill, who are forced to pull out and flee.

Perhaps surprisingly, the tide is slowly turning in the Confederates favour. The last two Confederate infantry regiments have at last reached the battlefield. One stabilises the left and the other moves up to join 40th Mississippi, who by now are really racking up casualties, but tenaciously stay in position.

Above - with two infantry units and an artillery unit routing from the field, the Union have lost their offensive capability. Only two Union regiments are fresh enough to stay in the fight. One is just approaching the base of the hill, urged on by their commander waving his hat and the other regiment on their right now faces a fresh Confederate regiment and two gun batteries.

It will be an unequal fight and it is time to concede the field. On the Confederate right, their cavalry has managed to stay intact and they are now ready to pursue the fleeing Yankee regiments - victory will be beyond dispute and the game is called at the end of turn 11.

The Confederates were very tardy getting to the battlefield, but the 40th Mississippi, stood its ground and inflicted great harm on the Union. On another day, the 40th might likely have buckled early with less lucky dice. But it remains the case that until the 2nd Confederate gun battery got into place, it was the 40th that saved the day for the Confederates. 


Well the contest for the hill between two forces throwing newly arrived troops at it, certainly works well and can witness some dynamic action. The tight time-table discourages a player from amassing forces before assaulting. 

One of the casualties of that in my rules is that units don’t really get a chance to assault with supports to their rear, which would help the attack (as happens in several rules including Black Powder).

The attriting of forces works well to highlight the importance of bringing fresh troops to the fight … though our Zouaves rather disappointed in that regard! As their ranks were quickly shot to pieces.

An interesting part of the action was when Confederate cavalry frontally charged into a fresh Union infantry regiment and was promptly repulsed with heavy casualties. The rules are designed to discourage such acts to prevent the over-use of the cavalry charge against fresh formed infantry and it was good to see here that the mechanics cowed the cavalry and reminded this player …. not to do it!  

The thing that was really striking about this outing was that such a good game, with plenty of twists, fell from just 6 units per side and really the full armies were not all on the table until past the halfway point of play. 

This game has re-emphasised for me how the ‘small battle’ pretty much meets my needs entirely in terms of collection, game space, playing time and no desire to paint huge armies.

My own rules continue to evolve and todays exercise and situation revealed areas to strengthen. Firstly, units that pass a Capability Test can both change formation at the start of their movement and still move, those that fail, change formation, but don’t move. There is an exception for artillery, which can attempt (test) to change formation at the end of movement to represent unlimbering, failure keeps them limbered. That exception is now being extended to cavalry so that they can move and then attempt a dismount, to take up an effective skirmish position.

Secondly the rules do not prevent units using ‘fast / double move’ (like extended movement) as part of charge movement. This loophole has now been closed down.

Finally, the fast / double bonus move can now enter difficult terrain, but pays the additional costs to do so (double). This came to light when the cavalry needed to fast move onto the hill, which I considered to be difficult terrain - though the scenario does not demand this.

What next for Jacob’s Hill? or should I say Scenario 17 - Encounter. Well, I had thought that I might re-run it with Black Powder for ACW or travel forwards in time to Hill 234.2, mid war, WWII with my own ‘Into Action’ or Dave Brown’s ‘O’ Group. 

A ‘compressed’ Black Powder game would be fine, with the command rules adding chaos. For a WWII game, I think I would need to actually add that extra terrain in, because in One Hour Wargame rules, tanks only fire at 12´´ range, while any other rules I use would almost certainly have longer fire ranges and all of that open expanse would just become a killing ground, with little tactical satisfaction to be gained. This is just one of the more obvious examples of external rules not always getting the best out of OHW scenarios, which are intended for the Neil Thomas provided rules.

Stop - Press, Perry Miniatures have just put up links for a download to their new easy play Napoleonic rules. These have me quite interested and its hard not to have them jump the queue, so perhaps an Epic scale (13.5mm), napoleonic scrap for ‘Windmill Hill’ might be on the cards!

Anyway, either way, more to come for these small table, small force affairs!

Resource Section.

My sister webspace COMMANDERS is being re-configured to showcase various figure and boardgame systems that I am enjoying and give a flavour of where current ongoing projects are up to. Link.


  1. Excellent batrep, Norm, as usual. The "encounter" scenario I've found the side bringing in forces later has an advantage in that they have fresh units, and the units atop or around the hill have already been engaged in fighting. So in that case, not always good to get all your troops committed right away. There is another scenario in OHW like this with a town in the center and both sides stumbling towards it.
    This has me really excited to play TFON! If you play Hill 234, my vote is for "Into Battle" :)

    1. Hi Steve, thanks. Hill 234 does hold promise. In the Encounter game, as play goes on, you do find yourself holding breath while rolling to see if you get your reinforcements - and then you fail and you say ‘Oh no, not again’, so it does draw you into play.

      Interesting thought of being late to the party. If the hill actually had defensive value, that might perhaps make one want to be the first to secure it. All good :-)

  2. Nice report Norm, I have OHW but not done anything with them yet, so a very interesting read for me.

    1. Hi Donnie, I think the scenarios are the best part of the package, though I am fascinated to see how far you can strip a set of rules back and still preserve the wargame element and OHW is exactly an exercise in that. Whether it is too stripped back or a sweet spot will be a different consideration for each of us.

      I tend to think it is easier to be more forgiving of a set that is a secondary interest, so for example I am a keen rivet counter for WWII, so find his WWII section too weak, but I don’t mind the earlier stuff so much. Not sure there are many places that one can find a wargame that sets up, plays and takes down in an hour though … so there is always that :-)

  3. Thanks Norm , great to see the ACW collection on the table. You have also encouraged me to seek out Neil’s book if nothing else to check out the scenarios as I am always on the look out for ideas ๐Ÿ‘

    1. Hi Matt, the scenario section is a great resource, worth the cover price of the book alone.

  4. Nice one Norm, a great little battle. Looking forward to seeing it done with Into Battle!



  5. Thanks Jay, ‘Into Battle’ is on the front burner …… but so is everything else :-)

  6. Norm, a pleasure to see these rules and your beautiful troops back out on the gaming table. It has been a very, very long time since I last had these out out for a spin. So long, in fact, that I do not recall the special case of artillery moving and then taking a CT to unlimber. At the start of a move, can artillery still take CT, limber (is passed) and move?

  7. Thanks Jonathan, yes. In that respect, they would be the same as any other unit type, i.e. at the start of a turn you can always formation change, the test is just to see whether you can move as well, but artillery has a special case of being able to move (for sure) and then at the end testing to unlimber, so they are ready to fire in the next turn.

    It’s odd that when constructing the rules, I have never really seen the ‘theoretical’ need for cav to dismount at the end of movement as in practice I have only ever used them in the McPherson Ridge scenario, where they start dismounted in ambush and yet of course that is a primary need, only made obvious to me in this game, when the cav need to ride and grab, It just goes to show, playtest, playtest, playtest!

    1. Playtesting is paramount! Having six or seven players watching every move you make in umpiring a remote game is a sure fire test of the rules and understanding too.

  8. Great report, Norm! Balancing OHW scenarios with different rule sets can be a challenge to get right, but this one seems to have been quite successful, with tension and an unexpected ending - well, I can't speak for anyone else, but I was surprised by the Union's reversal of fortune.

    Piggybacking on your comment above, about the defensive value of the hill (or lack thereof) - the fact that terrain effects change depending on which period of OHW rules you are using means it's possible to get a variety of challenges from the same scenarios, using NT's stripped down rules.

    By way of example, a Medieval army would do well to race their men-at-arms to the hill top (1/4 damage in melee when their armor and hill bonus are factored), while in an ACW game, neither side has any advantage taking the hill first and instead risk exposing their units to withering fire.

    Skimpy though the rules may be, OHW taken as a whole package punches above its weight.

    Of course, whether or not the stripped down rules work for you or not depends a good deal upon what you want from a game in the period. As you noted, as written, they tend to work better for secondary interests. Tweaking tends to be required for a period of primary interest.

    A bit of a rambling comment here, so I'll just tack on, congratulations on 1 million views!

  9. Hi John, thanks. I've not really thought about the compatibility of 1HWG scenarios with other systems until this particular game raised some points - but then it is a cleverly testing scenario and certainly rules that are designed around armies starting off in the field, deployed ready for 'battle' may be stressed at the lack of early units on the table and their arrival in dribs and drabs - and that I found fascinating as the scenario does cover some real life type situations - so really our rules should be able to cope and it says much for the flexibility of NT rules.

    One thing for sure, his basics are so sound that it is very easy to build extras into them. For the ACW, I have a morale rule in which each time the unit suffers casualties it tests for retreat by rolling against its current casualty level. This can help 'dig out' elite units that have got themselves ensconced in say a town and otherwise are going nowhere until fully worn away and that might take two fully fresh units to do that.

  10. Excellent report Norm. I have just starting using the OHW rules and scenarios and am very impressed. Simple rules that can easily be learnt - as you say very stripped down but have the essentials to play a good game. Already I am thinking of add ons like your morale rule above.

    1. Thanks Ben, The book is a treasure trove, I just wish that in recent years we had seen a bit more of Neil Thomas, he strikes me as our modern day Don Featherstone. I have his Ancient / Medieval and Napoleonic volumes, both are worth owning if you can find them.

  11. A good looking tabletop, adding those additional terrain for looks certainly helps visually. An enjoyable game to play by the sounds of it, and as mentioned in previous comments the period can change the approach taken by armies. An interesting note on how other rules would play with the gradual build up of troops.

  12. Thanks Peter, his philosophy of a stripped down table terrain wise, does give commander focus to the important terrain, but by nature, I think we like the table to be a bit prettied-up, but it amuses me that once I do that, I find it really difficult to ignore the added ‘pretend’ terrain, so perhaps Neil Thomas’ determination not to include it it is simply another of his well observed design features.

  13. Great report Norm. As you know, I think think the OHW scenarios are fabulous and can form the basis for endless games across periods using various rules. For 'command' type systems (like my own ACW rules' I rule that units scheduled to enter are in command for that turn.

    1. Good AAR Norm, and has got me thinking.

      I have been using the OHW book as a source of scenarios rather than actually using the rules in it, though I will give the ACW set a try as I do have plenty of figures painted and based for it and Norm's ACW rules too. Up till now I've mainly been using the Portable Wargame rules.

    2. Hi Dave, I think anything that helps remove barriers to getting games to the table has to get the thumbs up and OHW scenarios does do that in spades. It is a shame that he seems to have gone quiet on the authoring front, though his stand alone Ancient / Medieval and Napoleon titles are worth owning and they set scenarios at 8 units per side.

  14. Thanks Martin, 30 scenarios in one place of very playable situations is a great resource and of real interest is that the author gives a paragraph to each one that describes what ‘inspired’ the basis of the scenario.

  15. Come on, man. Everybody knows that the blue force should be the Union! You got them confused! ;-) You make a good case for small armies in a small space. This makes 28mm more financially sound. Still, those units are small… I haven’t quite resolved the gap between my liking beautiful miniatures (painted by others) to play generic scenarios and my liking vast amounts of miniatures (also painted by others) to play many different historical scenarios…

    1. Hi, Yes, I had to get my head around that one …. The reason was, I only have one Zouave unit and that is a Union unit, so when the ‘reds’ rolled for a Zouave unit, ‘unfortunately’ they had to be Union :-)

      I know exactly what you mean re figure scale. I am currently working on a post that uses the Warlord Games Epic Napoleonics, I am still using smallish frontages, but I think your observations nicely frames the distinctions between the table in this post and the next.

  16. An excellent post of the pros and cons of the OHW scenarios Norm. Over the years I've found some have worked better than others, using broadly the same rules throughout. It's only at the end of each one can you tell what might need tweaking here and there to make them work better for your chosen period and rules.

    However as I think we all agree, they are a superb resource of scenarios and a book everyone should own just for that reason alone.

    As always great to see a 'small' game giving so much fun and action and of course your table and figures look superb.

  17. Thanks Steve, agree with all of that and I have had some hugely entertaining games from the book, a wargame classic for sure.

    Enjoy your Cotswolds visit this weekend.

  18. A most entertaining read Norm and a timely reminder that the scenarios were the reason I bought OHW too and must really remember to use them more. I like your take on cavalry movement, something to consider especially when playing on small areas.

    1. Thanks Phil, I have a napoleonic game on the table at the moment and cavalry have their regular movement fixed at 50% above infantry and it just feels a little strange, but of course on the small table they won’t always be using it.

  19. You had me at American Civil War. You lost me when you called the Union the red force and the confederate the blue…. It should be blue vs gray. ๐Ÿ˜€๐Ÿ˜
    You had me back at the pretty pictures of ACW troops in action. Nicely done. You have a good collection. ๐Ÿ˜€
    I liked the mix of units in the scenario but not the deployment. Instead of coming in one at a time I’d rather units grouped together in 2s or 3s.

  20. Hi Stew, the scenario is generic, so is meant to be a fit across all ages across all of the rule sets supplied in OHW, and while it tells a good tale of units being thrown into action as they arrive, it doesn’t feel a good fit for every period. It does work VERY well with the OHW rules that they provide, but I think it can stress other sets as well as our own inclination to want to wait until enough troops are on hand to assault.

    I am using a set of rules today that sort of fight by the brigade, so would need to come onto the table as a brigade and so I abandoned the scenario in favour of one that came with this new set.

    Red and Blue armies are so British / French ….. I do have some blue and grey dice though :-)

  21. Always a joy to see an ACW tussle Norm and always interesting to see how you adapt to the smaller space while retaining 28mm figures. I don't have the One Hour book myself, but I know Phil does and rates the scenarios.

  22. Hi David, It is the book that keeps on giving.

  23. That really did seem to be an exciting game Norm and once again proves your point that a small game with a few units on a 2 x 2 table (or whatever) can still provide a lot of fun! Obviously, some luck attended the 40th Miss. but that happens sometimes and adds flavour and enjoyment to the contest. The figures look very nice too, by the way!

  24. Thanks Keith, for a while, the 40th took on a life of their own and added much to the game. Yes, I think there can be wargame fun in pretty much whatever we look at.

  25. Nice game, figures, and table Norm. The 40th really held their own. Shame about that reckless cavalry charge though! Oh, and like the idea of a small scenario with ‘neutral’ terrain identical for both sides.

  26. Hi Mike, I first came across ‘mirror’ terrain in a Featherstone book. I have no idea why I let the cavalry charge happen!

  27. Hi Norm, this is indeed going to be a two coffee (or more) read :) Cursory read through last night on the phone but will sit and enjoy it on the trusty old laptop later ! I see a lot of guys using these epics for battle while slowly working through the painting which makes perfect sense.

  28. Hi Lee, the laptop read will give a chance for more coffee :-)

    yes, I have very much moved away from the notion that you must sit and paint two armies before you can get your first game to the table.


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