My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Playing One-Hour Wargames Virtually

Shaun Travers has thrown the gauntlet in my face and challenged me to game of One-Hour Wargames (OHW). Alright! Thing is, Shaun is in Australia and I am in the U.S. ...

I am not going to publish a battle report until the game is over (unless I lose, of course), but I thought it might be helpful to describe how we are conducting the game virtually.


I have played Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA) virtually with both the author of the rules (who is in Germany) and with a gaming buddy in Texas and in all cases we used Skype and played real-time. Because TSIA is played on a square grid it was easy to describe what we were doing without having to constant move our web cameras to show our version of the battlefield. For example, to move you might say something like "I am moving my unit in square C4 to D4 then E4. Once there I am firing that unit at yours in square G4." Card draws were controlled by one player (as there is a common deck between the two players) who called out and displayed the card to the web camera. As I trusted my opponents I allowed them to make all die rolls and read me the results. (By that I mean that they told me the number of hits scored, etc. rather than reading me the number off each die.)

As I said, Shaun is in Australia (apparently out of the fire zone, thank goodness) so Skyping is not a really good option given the significant time difference and international date line between us. (Shaun is in GMT+10, I believe, and I am in GMT-07.) So there was little overlap for us to game real-time.

I play a bit of Heroes of Normandie (HoN) with gaming buddies in Ohio, and the computer version of that game can be played asynchronously as the game will send an email to you when your opponent has finished their move. You then start your game, watch the opponent's turn played, then play your turn. It works well even though HoN has a very interactive turn sequence. What I mean by that is it is not a traditional IGO-UGO turn sequence. Players alternate activating units, plus there is a discard phase, an orders phase and a supply phase, each of which are taken by players in turn. An 8 turn game might easily have 50+ changes of which player is acting. (Lots of emails pile up in your inbox!)

OHW is much more conducive to playing asynchronously because it is much stricter as an IGO-UGO game; only one player acts when it is their turn and they act with all of their units. Even the more traditional games tend to have the inactive player (the player whose turn is it not) do something, whether it be to roll for hits in melee, save against hits, roll morale, or execute retreats. OHW has none of that. So in a 15 turn game there will be exactly 34 changes of which player is acting unless the game ends short. (Lest you think I am poor at math, the additional four changes are: Red and Blue roll for force composition and Red and Blue deploy their forces.)

The only problem is: OHW does not have a computer version of the game.

Computer-Aided Tabletop Gaming

There are actually a number of computer programs that allow you to play tabletop games on a computer. Examples I am familiar with that you can search for are: Tabletop Simulator, Vassal, Roll20, Battle Chronicler and Universal Battle 2.

 Tabletop Simulator: There are a number of games played using TTS, including miniatures games. The most popular I know of are probably Warhammer 40K and Star Wars Legion. Unless you can leverage someone else's work, you need to create a lot of digital assets to represent your troops and terrain. One advantage, however, is that you can virtually flip the table, scattering the miniatures. Of course, I would not need that feature ...

Vassal: As with TTS, and really with all of these choices, you will need to create digital assets for troops and terrain. Lots of other modules exist out there, so you could easier use one of those and raid their assets. The programming aspect of it is a bit tricky, but I have done it before. Vassal provides great logging features, allowing you to replay the game in its entirety, including the die rolls (proof that you were robbed by the dice). I have played a number of board game tournaments using Vassal, but most of the modules for miniatures games with free-form movement were rather clunky.

Roll20: As it so happens, I started a Roll20 version of TSIA and it was not too bad of a development tool.

Given that its root are to support playing role-playing games virtually, supporting things like unit having hit points (as OHW has) is rather natural. Roll20 can have quite a bit of complexity, such as using line of sight and having fog of war features, so if your game has those elements, Roll20 might be right up your alley.

Battle Chronicler: I looked at this tool back in 2010 and used it for a DBA game and my notes say it had a sharp learning curve. At the time Steve-the-Wargamer was using it (not sure if you still are Steve), but Shaun Travers was not keen on it. So that is out, given that Shaun is my opponent for this game!

 Ironically, I mentioned Macromedia Fireworks in that post, and how handy I was with it. Unfortunately, that tool was sold to Adobe and it now out of my price range for what I used it for. I have yet to find a cheap or free tool that did as well what Fireworks did. [sigh] That said, I will tell you what I use.

Universal Battle 2: This tool looks to be much easier when it comes to digital assets provided. But it also comes with a "Pro" subscription with a monthly fee. Its main user base appears to be players of Kings of War. If I played that online, I would probably use it. But I could not find a way to upload my own digital assets, nor any information on what formats it supports and so on. From a player perspective though, this looks good.

As it stands though, all of them require up front work and I want to game now.

Figuring out the Physical Game

OHW provides the map for the scenario (we are playing Scenario 7: Flank Attack 2), but we still needed to figure out how we were going to play the game. Skype and other real-time tools were out. If we recorded our moves on a map, measurements would become interesting. Tools like those above all have a solution to this issue - they are designed to solve this problem after all - but if I waited until I had all of the graphics created we might never get this game off the ground.

The first thing we decided to do ... (wait for it) ... was convert the game to a grid. That way we could use grid coordinates to describe our actions, just like I did with TSIA. What followed after that is an interesting discussion on what size grid square to use. A lot of it was a re-hash of my blog post in 2016 about converting games to a square grid, but interestingly we both came to agree on a solution other than the one indicated there and the one I initially recommended to Shaun. (This is why it is good to hash out these issues in email and get other people's perspectives.)

But, to recap, using a square that was the size of the unit was out because the recommended unit size is 4" to 6" wide and a 6" distance between squares is not granular enough (some units have a 9" move and road adds +3" to your movement). This led to a square being one-half the width of the unit (2" to 3") so 3" squares did the trick ... except that OHW pivots on the center of the unit, which doesn't work.

Moving the unit's center point to the vertices of the square (the dots) solved the pivoting issue, but introduced a new issue (which I honestly do not want to even go into).

The solution turned out to make a square one-third of a unit's frontage. If we assumed that the unit frontage was 6" that meant each square was 2" of game scale, which again is a problem for measurements that are in 3" increments. However, as the range of the unit's frontage is 4" to 6", if we made each square 1 1/2" in game scale then 2 squares equaled 3" (what we needed for movement) and three squares would be 4 1/2", which was within our acceptable range of unit frontages.

From there you could scale up or down as much as you wanted. A square represented 1 1/2" in game scale, but you could make the actual squares 15mm wide, thus three squares would be 45mm, allowing a 15mm DBA stand to fit nicely. Or, if you were playing with three DBA stands per unit, as I did with my last game, each square would be 40mm wide. Shaun and I would be able to play on different sized boards, both using our armies with DBA basing, but it could look vastly different, physically.

Okay, so we have the game scale to board scale figured out. Now we needed to convert Neal's map to our game map with squares and grid coordinates.

Computer Tools

I used Microsoft Visio to make my initial maps, but I have since learned of an online drawing program called Vectr that seems promising. Here is the Scenario 7 map, converted to a square grid.

As you can see, the map is 24 squares (36" at 1 1/2" per square in game scale) horizontally and vertically, and we have a grid coordinate system. The hills and woods are marked out, as are the blue and red deployment areas.

As we progress through the game, I intend to create a new graphic for each player's turn, such as the example below. The color will indicate the unit's side, type, remaining hits, location, and facing.

That way I can see a progression of the game, which is basically what I do when photographing each game.

Die Rolls and Communication

I wanted an online tool where our conversations about what happened each turn for each unit would be logged, but it could provide us with dice rolling tools where the rolls would also be logged and everyone could see them, even if you were not logged in at the time the die roll was made. A quick search showed that the online role-playing community has several options, but I settled on Rolz. It provides exactly what we need.

Above is the start of our game. We rolled off to see who was Red and who was Blue. (I am Blue in this game.) We then proceeded to roll for our force composition. I have three Knights, one Levy, and two Men-at-Arms. Shaun has four Knights, one Archer, and 1 Levy. (I think I have the better force composition, but we will see. My Men-at-Arms will be fighting uphill against his Knights and Levy.)

As you can see, I got excited to get going and already deployed my troops. That was more as an example to Shaun of how I was thinking of doing notation. So now, my map looks like this.

Weigh in, if you like, on my setup. Granted, I should have waited for Red to deploy first, but I don't think it would change my disposition. We will see what Shaun comes up with though.

The Goal

Of course the primary goal is to have fun and game with new people and methods. But an additional goal is to create a Blue programmed opponent for this scenario, period, and rule combination for solo gaming. To see what I am referring to, read this blog post on my Solo Battles blog. I already have an example of a Red programmed opponent for scenario 8, Medieval and Dark Ages variants of OHW. (A different) Shawn played the Dark Ages variant, while I played against the Medieval variant.

I have already developed the Blue program for this scenario, but I am leaving it open to modification until this game is complete. I reserve the right to modify it mid-game, should I find an situation I did not cover. That said, I fully intend to use the Blue program to play this game against Shaun. (The Australian one, not the American one.) Shaun said he was aiming to write a Red program for this scenario, so I have high hopes that this will be the first programmed opponent trading I will have accomplished since putting forth the idea. (No pressure, 'eh Shaun?)

Stayed tuned for more information on this game as it progresses. I do not intend to do a blow-by-blow, but I may talk more about the mechanism he and I develop for this virtual gaming experience, and discuss any OHW hiccups we run across. Shaun may well have something on his blog also.


  1. Dale does not mention how much work he has put into it. I basically said I would play. Dale has done everything else. All I have done is obsess on detail and go down rules rabbit holes!

  2. Corrr.. most interesting... not used Battle Chronicler in a while, but that would be my way to go.. the amount of set up work is fairly low... mostly just duplicating existing units and after that all movement is free hand.. takes a long time though - think DG and I took 6 months on one and it was only 15 or 20 moves.... have you considered playing it by Skype?? One of you hosts the table and miniatures and does all the moves - the other player says where to go and what the actions are, and throws their dice...

    1. You should look at Vectr ( which is a free, online, browser-based drawing tool. You will see the results of it when I finally do a battle report.

      Battle Chronicler is so old (last update in 2011 and the Forum link is broken) ... and Windows. I may look at it again, but I thought both players needed to be online at the same time to play. Shaun and I are on opposite sides of the world. So Skype would have a very limited time window. And yes, I considered Skype. (See the commentary under "Choices" above. :) )

  3. You may have mentioned Skype... :o)) Battle Chronicler has the ability to play correspondence style if you want but I'm keen to see what you come up with using other options/tools ..


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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 58 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ working for a software company for the last three years. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").