So, when I tested out Neil Thomas' rules Wargaming Nineteenth Century Europe 1815–1878 (WNCE) I needed to use smaller units so I would, frankly, not have to have so many bases. I could get started quicker. When someone asked on a forum how to convert another set of rules to a grid I thought I would elaborate on my response to him in this article.
It is all about ratiosIf you want to keep the flavor of a game intact – the way that the rule's author intended – you really need to understand that there are a few ratios that are critical. One if the ratio of a unit's frontage to the distance it can shoot. So many rules with flexible basing requirements fail to mention this. If you halve a unit's frontage, but keep the shooting range and angle of fire the same, you have doubled the firepower density of the game. You will find that it plays much bloodier and therefore faster. Other rules in the game might be thrown off by this. An example would be that if you get 'X' number of hits in a turn you have to take a special morale check. If achieving 'X' hits is considered exceptional, doubling the firepower will make this more common and thus you would be taking more checks than would be considered normal within the course of a single game.
Unit FrontageI was not only converting WNCE to a grid, but I was changing from a four base unit to a single base unit, so I really needed to look at the unit as a whole. I needed to look at the unit frontage for the base rules and compare it to what I was going to use. Neil's recommendations for basing 15mm figures is 40mm wide bases with four bases to the unit. However, units are arranged in formations of two ranks of two bases each. (There are some exceptions to this, of course, which I will cover later.)
Given that three inches is 76.2 millimeters, the two formations are roughly the same size in width and depth. (Why 3" bases? It all began when I was ordering from Litko and instead of selecting 50 bases I selected 500... I was wondering why they were so expensive!) Rather than do complex math I decided to call it even; one of my bases if the equivalent footprint of a 15mm infantry unit in Line formation (or a cavalry unit) in the base rules.
Base Widths and Unit WidthsThe first time I encountered rules using "base widths"(BW) as a unit of measurement was the Polemos rules system. (They also have "base depths", or BD measurements which are essentially 1/2 a BW.) DBA 3 famously went to BW measurements and upset more than a few people. So what is BW measurement? Quite simply it is changing all of the measurements in the rules from a set number of centimeters and inches to increments of whatever the width of your bases are. In this case, because I am using the distance of a unit's frontage, it would more properly be called Unit Widths (UW).
By converting all measurements to UW, we can maintain the ratios of unit frontage to shooting distance and movement distance. Here is what the converted movement distances would be, in UWs.
|Unit||Terrain||Deduction per Turn|
|Open||Woods or Town||Crossing Streams||Road|
|Infantry (Loose Order)||1 1/2||1||1||2||1/2|
|Infantry (Close Order)||1||1/2||1/2||2||1/2|
|Skirmishers||1 1/2||1 1/2||1 1/2||2||0|
|Cavalry and Dragoons||2||May not enter||1 1/2||3||0|
|Artillery||1 1/2||May not enter||May not cross||2||0|
Just a note about the Deduction per Turn column. In Neil's base rules the number represented a fraction of the movement that the unit lost for each turn. (Turns while using Road movement were never penalized.) The numbers here represent UWs, not fractions. Because I am using 1/2 UW as the minimum unit of measure (more on that later), I have rounded the values up, which makes units less maneuverable than in the base rules. Not an ideal solution, but as you will see, with a grid turning becomes less of an issue.
The shooting ranges are also easily converted to UWs.
|Steel Rifled Artillery||7 1/2|
|Bronze Rifled Artillery||6|
|Smoothbore Artillery (Shot and Shell)||4|
|Smoothbore Artillery (Canister)||1 1/2|
|Later Breechloading Rifle||3|
|Early Breechloading Rifle, Rifle Musket||2|
|Skirmishers||+1 to Rifle or Musket Range|
You immediately start to see an issue, however. There are a number of 1/2 measurements. The original goal in my mind had been to make the game board's grid size the same as the UW. In my case that would have meant 3" grid squares.
My intent was not to allow bases to position themselves diagonally within the grid, but only orthogonally. So a square grid that was 1 UW by 1 UW would allow you to fit two units in a square and you would know which unit was in front of which, and which way it was facing. Units would have to be aligned horizontally or vertically, but units could face in opposite directions. But if I allowed for measurements of 1/2 UW/grid, it would be a little more awkward.
So the best decision was to make each grid 1/2 UW and to double all of the measurements. This would still make the ratios between unit frontage, shooting range, and movement distance correct, but would make counting and positioning easier.
So now our data tables look like the following.
|Unit||Terrain||Deduction per Turn|
|Open||Woods or Town||Crossing Streams||Road|
|Infantry (Loose Order)||3||2||2||4||1|
|Infantry (Close Order)||2||1||1||4||1|
|Cavalry and Dragoons||4||May not enter||3||6||0|
|Artillery||3||May not enter||May not cross||4||0|
|Steel Rifled Artillery||15|
|Bronze Rifled Artillery||12|
|Smoothbore Artillery (Shot and Shell)||8|
|Smoothbore Artillery (Canister)||3|
|Later Breechloading Rifle||6|
|Early Breechloading Rifle, Rifle Musket||4|
|Skirmishers||+2 to Rifle or Musket Range|
There is only one more measurement in the rules and that is the retreat move, which comes out to 3 grids.
DiagonalsThe one area where most people complain about grids – especially square grids – is shooting or moving at odd angles. Actually, these odd angles are generally what create the most friction (read: arguments) in games. Is the enemy within the 45º firing arc, or are you turning greater than 90º, when the movement penalty is doubled, and so on. Further moving at angles other than orthogonally means you inevitably run into a scenario where you are a fraction of an inch or a centimeter in or out and time is spent debating whether the shot or the charge should be allowed or not. (It happened at my last game of Black Powder and was settled with a die roll as the two players could not agree. Still, this does not happen in grid games.
That said, if you do not want players be forced to fire or move straight forward, you need to devise a method of counting distance. I always liked the way Rivet Wars counted distance.
When calculating the range to the target, only a single diagonal may be used.These are examples of what that rule means.
The red path shows that it counts three squares, one diagonal and two verticals. The green path shows one diagonal, three horizontals, and one vertical. The one vertical is because the rule specifically only allows one diagonal to be used when counting distances. Note that Rivet Wars tends to have must shorter distances, so it works. In WNCE you can see that the measurements are as short as 1 (the movement of Close Order Infantry in Woods) to 15 (the range of Steel Rifled Artillery), so perhaps it is better to allow one diagonal per 8 grids in distance.
Note that this would apply to all distance counts, such as movement. If a unit can move 3 grids, this move is perfectly legal.
TurningAll turning is by 90º, which is one way to justify the high penalty. A unit turns by changing its front face by 90º or 180º. Turning 180º is easy; simply reverse the facing of the unit, keeping the unit in the same two squares as they started in.
Turning 90º can be handled in two ways, depending upon how maneuverable you want your infantry units to be. (Remember, only Infantry takes a deduction for turning.) In the figure below, the light blue rectangle represents the starting position of the unit, before the turn, while the medium blue rectangle represents the ending position. The arrows represent which way the unit is facing.
If you want units to be fairly maneuverable you could allow all four maneuvers, which essentially represents wheeling the unit left and right, forward and back. If you think they should only be allowed to wheel forward, then only allow options 2 and 3.
ExceptionsThere are three exceptions in my conversions: Skirmishers, Artillery and Infantry Columns.
In the base WNCE rules the Skirmisher unit is only two bases. We can easily handle that by allowing 1/2 the hits before the unit is destroyed. The primary difference comes in that the formation is always one rank of two bases, so when reducing this down to a single base, the unit footprint should actually be 1/2 the depth of the Infantry and Cavalry formations, i.e. 0.75" for me. In the end, I don't think that really matters. Further, in WNCE Neil never specifies the depth of any stands, so I don't think it really entered into his equations either.
Artillery is even smaller in that in the base WNCE rules the Artillery unit is only one base. That means that the unit in these rules should also be 1/2 the width and 1/2 the depth. I did not do that but instead used a base that was 1 1/2" wide and 3" deep. *Cough* The 1 1/2" width makes the Artillery unit the proper width and the 3" depth allows me to put a limber behind the artillery, facing away. That way when the Artillery is limbered and on the move the horses face forward, while when deployed the gun faces forward. It looks much better and saves me from sawing bases in half. So again, a compromise in that I used a base twice the depth expected. (Artillery bases are traditionally square and not rectangles, as the models are so deep.)
Finally we get to Infantry in Column formation. One of the main points of going to a single base per unit – besides the obvious point that it would take me less time to get up and running – is that I don't need to account for formations anymore, or at least not in the traditional of shuffling figures around. In WNCE you change formation only with Infantry (Skirmishers and Cavalry only have one formation and Artillery is either Limbered or Deployed). You change to Column when you wish to move and you change to Line when you wish to fire more effectively. There are a couple of exceptional armies – the British in the Crimean War get to move in Line and the Austrians in 1864 and 1866 always stay in Column, as do the Russians in the Crimean War – but for the most part you can simply indicate the formation by indicating the movement. However, even Neil gives an exception in his rules. If you are in Line and you turn, you are still in Line, but you fire as if you were in Column. So that is an exception I also deal with. If a unit in Line wished to turn, but make no other movement, I mark it in a special way denoting that it is in Line (which matters for Hand-to-Hand combat), but fires as if in Column (which is much less effective). I deal with it by placing small arrow-shaped markers. If the arrow is green, the unit moved as a Column. If the arrow is brown, the unit turned while in Line. Simple.
When I did my test version of the WNCE rules, I was using these conversions, although I had not fully marked out the 1 1/2" grids (they were still 3", but I played on and counted the half grids). I think it worked pretty well.
Now that I am expanding my armies, I am looking to how to scale the grid game up as well. Actually, it is pretty easy. If you double the frontage of the units from one base to two, you double the grid values in the tables. (You will also be doubling your table size, but that is another issue.) If you finally get to the point where you have collected and painted four bases per unit, you are just doubling the depth, so there is no reason to adjust the grid size or counts any further. Four bases per unit plays the same as two bases per unit.