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.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Playing One-Hour Wargames Virtually - Part Two

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I have been playing a game of One-Hour Wargames (OHW) with fellow blogger Shaun Travers. For me, this game really accomplished two things: 1) it allowed me to game with Shaun, who is in Australia and so is someone I am unlikely to ever meet in person; and 2) I was able to dragoon him into writing a 'program' for the Red player in the medieval variant of OHW for scenario 7 (Flank Attack 2). It also gave me the incentive to write the Blue program for the same variant and scenario. Because we are in the process of playing the same scenario, only reversing the sides, it will also incentivize me to write a Red program of my own.

The basic flow went like this:
  1. I drew the map out on a square grid (24 squares by 24 squares), indicating all of the grid coordinates, terrain, and deployment zones.
  2. As the Red player Shaun rolled in a private dice room on Rolz what his Red force composition was.
  3. I rolled for the Blue force composition in the same dice room. (This allowed us to both see each other's die rolls.)
  4. Shaun then deployed his forces and indicated their location and direction on the map.
  5. I deployed my forces on the map and published it.
  6. As Blue is the first player, I used the dice room's chat to indicate everything that was done. I would step through the phases and indicate which unit was moving, from where to where, and how they ended up facing. If a unit charged I would indicate 'charge to' instead of 'move to' so that it was clear that it would act in the Hand-to-Hand Phase also. As I never had any Archers, I never had any shooting. When it came to hand-to-hand combat I would indicate the unit by its location, state it was attacking, state the unit being attacked by its location, indicate the dice and modifiers, and virtually roll the dice. An example entry might be:
    1. Blue Knights in C7 attacks Red Knights in C6 inflicting [(D6+2)/2] hits.
  7. The formula in the '[ ]' told the dice room to roll the virtual dice and print the results.
  8. After I had done each attack in turn I would update the number of hits on each enemy unit on the map, end the turn, and then publish the map.
  9. I would then send an email to Shaun with a copy of the map so that he could verify the positions of the units and their hits matched the commentary and die rolls in the dice room.
  10. Shaun would then take his turn, repeating steps 6-9.
  11. Shaun and I would then repeat steps 6-10 for each of the 15 turns. (Well, given that we had Knights, it did not last that long.)
As it turned out, neither of us actually set up a board and miniatures. We could have, of course, but all of the information was right there on the map. What unit, type, location, and remaining hits there were, it was all there.

Note: this is the second game, in progress, which uses a 6 square by 6 square board. But you get the idea.

Was the creation and updating of graphics tedious? Not at all (for me). I simply made a copy of the previous turn's map and then moved the pieces around. Vectr is a very easy program to use. Sure, I could have made it prettier by coloring the board a grass green and using contours for the hills, but initially the map was just supposed to be used as a visual check on our moves and not to be the whole game.

If anything was a snag, it was the use of a grid where a unit straddles multiple squares. In the past I have always played OHW as "one square holds one unit and one unit resides in one square", so I was set mentally on how things worked. By changing the grid size it opened a lot of exceptions that complicated the mechanics. We have since switched to a 6" square grid for this game. The medieval variant has no units with 9" of movement and this scenario has no roads, so no +3" movement bonus occurs, so 6" measurement increments work fine. If I had to handle 3" increments, I would use a marker that grants an extra 6" square of movement the second time a unit gets 9" of movement (a carryover of sorts). Most units using road movement won't be moving on a road a second turn, so effectively you can ignore it. However, for periods that have units with 9" of movement, they will be able to get a burst of movement every other turn, as if they are alternately sprinting and resting.

The Battle

Before I start please note that both Shaun and I wrote 'programs' to control the behavior of our forces' units. So if they seem to have acted strangely at times, it is probably a rough spot that needed to be smoothed over. Also, we allowed ourselves to add to the program during play to cover situations that we had not accounted for – writing a programmed opponent is not trivial – but hopefully nothing changed drastically. I don't think Shaun took advantage of that rule, but I did as I struck upon a concept that I had been trying to mentally describe for a while now. So, I was happy with finding a breakthrough. I will be covering that in more depth on my Solo Battles blog.

The Scenario

The scenario we played was number 7, Flank Attack 2. In this scenario the attacker, Blue, has crept up on the flank of Red, presumably under the cover of a fog because they get close and get to attack first. Blue's forces are split, 2 units to the South on a small hill, and 4 units to the East. Red's forces are all on a large hill to the North. Blue must end turn 15 with no Red units on the large hill. Anything else results in a Red victory. Because Blue moves first and Red last, Blue must pretty much eliminate all 6 Red units in 15 turns.
As indicated above, we are playing the medieval variant of OHW.

As you can see in the image above, Red (Shaun) has four Knights, one Levy, and one Archers unit. I have three Knights, two Men-at-Arms, and one Levy unit. I feel like I drew the better lot as Men-at-Arms have more staying power (they take one-half casualties) and I think this game is going to be about grinding attrition.

Because the Blue units are poised to the attack, they are going to start by inflicting double casualties on their charge. Fortunately, because they are on the hill they will only take one-half casualties. Still, this is what it looks like after the initial attack by Blue.

The Red Knights at the North end of the hill took the brunt of damage, taking six hits.
In hindsight I think I might have preferred having a Knights unit attacking, at the very least at the Red Levy, so they could gain the hill faster.
One of the great things about playing other people outside of your normal gaming group (or people in general, if you play solo a lot) is that you can check your assumptions about your rules interpretations, especially with rules like OHW where Neil Thomas leaves a lot of details to the players to figure out based on their "normal" gaming conventions. If you read some of the comments to the posts about OHW you can see a lot of different ideas about how others handle things differently than I. For example, when Shaun attacked one of my units later in the game, he halved the casualties against me because my unit was on the hill (as was his). I had always read the rule as "uphill", i.e. the unit higher up the hill gets the defensive bonus, thus only one unit would get the bonus (or neither), but never both. Looking at the rules I found that it indeed did not specify that, but rather that if you were on the hill, you got a defensive bonus. (I know I got that "uphill" concept from DBA.) Always check your assumptions!

Another issue that we had to work through is "turning to face" when attacked in the flank or rear. Shaun was used to an Ancients set of rules that allowed units to attack to flank (without penalty!) and because the language in OHW made turning to flank optional, there was a discussion of why a unit would turn. Note that it was a quirk of our using a grid that made this a point of discussion. Because the Knights on the North end of the hill were clipped in a strange way, when they turned to flank they would displace off of the hill. We sorted it out in a few emails and it gave us both reason to get rid of the 24 by 24 grid used in this game. (But that is a future post.)

My program hit its first addition on the second Blue turn. Here is how the turn ended.

My Blue Knights to the South were facing off against units on the hill, the Red Archers and the Red Knights. My program took into account when a unit was under fire by Archers and could not return fire, thus my Blue Knights to the West charged up the hill against the Archers. But, why did my Blue Knights to the South not charge his Red Knights on the South end of the hill?

Looking at it logically, it was a losing battle. I would charge and score [(D6+2)/2) hits (halved because he was defending the hill, but his return attack was going to be [D6+2] hits. He was going to inflict twice as many hits as I could. The only way I could beat him was if he rolled a '1' (inflicting three hits) and I rolled a '5' or '6' each turn (inflicting four hits) each and every turn. I don't like those odds.

So, I needed to articulate that sort of hopeless situation in a rule to allow a unit not to charge headlong into battle like some dumb A.I. Thus was born the concept of the Average Turns to Eliminate or ATE. If you have read John Acar's blog post on how he took Kaptain Kobold's TMP post on modifying OHW's combat system then you know about the math that John goes through. Basically it boils down to this: a unit hitting with D6-2 will, on average, take about 9 turns to eliminate a fresh enemy unit. Let's call that an ATE of 9. Using that logic, a unit hitting with D6 is an ATE of 5 and D6+2 comes out to an ATE of 3. When you add in other factors, like doubling for flank attacks or halving for terrain or armor, you get ATE values as indicated in the following table.

Base DiceUnmodifiedDoubledHalvedQuartered

Note that a unit's ATE can change based upon the target. Continuing on with my example above, my Blue Knights had an ATE 5 against the Red Knights on the hill, while it had an ATE of 3 in return. So now I could express the rule: if the attack would result in your unit having an equal or lower ATE that the target unit, you can charge it; otherwise find another target or stand your ground until the situation changes. The Blue Knights against the Red Archers, on the other hand, had an ATE 5 versus the Archers ATE of 9 (as Archers are D6+2 when shooting, but D6-2 when in hand-to-hand combat). As it stands, even when not writing a programmed opponent, this is a good way of looking at whether you should make an attack in OHW.

The first unit to crack was the Red Knights unit displaced off of the hill.

As you can see by the rest of my forces though, they are pretty bruised and beaten. (As this is at the end of a Blue turn, hit counters reflect one additional turn of attacks by Blue units.) The Blue Knights facing off against the Red Archers are looking particularly anemic. If the Red Archers roll a '1' or '2', they would score no hits. So far they have not rolled any, so they are due any time now...

With my Blue Knights to the North free, I need to ensure that I do not block my Blue Levy from getting into the fight. Ideally, I would like to get my Blue Levy on the flank of the Red Levy and just start rolling up the defensive line from the flank.

But, it was not to be. The Red Archers claim my weakened Blue Knights.

I have to admit, I was perplexed. I had two Blue Knights units standing off against his two Red Knights units, both of which had better ATE scores than me. I had needed those Blue Knights to eliminate the Red Archers so it could charge the Red Knights to the North and break the stalemate. Now, my other Blue Knights to the South were going to get pin-cushioned by those Red Archers!

It wasn't until Blue Turn 6 that we had another significant turn of events. Two Red units were eliminated in a single turn.

My Blue Knights had moved to the West and charged the Red Archers, weathering their fire the whole way. The Red Levy had also held up a heroic defense, staving off a full turn of attacks by two Blue units (one in the flank) before succumbing. As you can see, my Blue Men-at-Arms unit to the South of the East end of the hill has one hit left, so it will be eliminated the next turn. My attempt at rolling up the flank did not succeed. Interestingly my Blue Knights that finished off the Red Archers are in a position to charge straight into the Red Knights to the North, depending upon what the Red Knights to the South do. Their program has them just sitting there, so far...

The Red Knights, surrounded by Blue forces, circle the wagons to defend against the attacks coming from all directions now. The first of the Blue Men-at-Arms units fall.

If you do a little counting of the hits you will notice that at the bottom of turn 6, both sides have 33 hits remaining. I have the advantage of four units to three, but he has the terrain advantage. As Shaun said in email "every turn I change between thinking I am going to win to thinking you are going to win". To me, that is the mark of a good scenario design.

Without going through the blow-by-blow my Blue Men-at-Arms to the East eliminate the Red Knights on Blue Turn 8. This is followed by the Blue Knights and Blue Levy eliminating the Red Knights to the North on Blue Turn 9. Despite the equal number of hits back in Turn 7, the extra unit hitting on the flank – and my dice generally getting warmer while Shaun's get colder – is telling. On Blue Turn 10 – with only five turns remaining – the last Red unit falls.

Blue has four units and 17 hits remaining.


This seems like a really hard game for Red to win. Hit on the flank in turn one with units eventually coming in from every direction. The only problem Blue has is the initial issue of the majority of his units having to break out from a small area. They need to bring their units to bear on a relatively static defense.

Rather than us just leaving it there, Shaun and I are switching sides and replaying the scenario. I have played several of these 'King of the Hill' scenarios and it is time to try something new...

Playing Virtually

Undoubtedly playing virtually does not have the spectacle of a miniatures wargame. There is nothing to say that I could not have set up the board and miniatures. Given our second game is going slower than the first, I may just do that. As shown in the first picture in this post, we are switching to a 6 by 6 board, so it should play smoother. Shaun did not want to deal with units facing diagonally in the square and I did not object. I think it is always good to try a new approach. You never know what will and what won't work until you try it. And playing virtually with people you have never played is a great way of breaking out of your solo or limited gaming group mindset. Give it a try and let me know how it works.

Programmed Opponents

Want to try my Red programmed opponent for Scenario 8, Medieval variant of OHW? Here it is. Note that this is an older program, and although it needs to be updated, it is still functional.

Want to try my Red programmed opponent for Scenario 8, Dark Ages variant of OHW? Here it is. Note that this is an older program, and although it needs to be updated, it is still functional.

Want to try my Red or Blue programmed opponent for Scenario 7, Medieval variant of OHW? Here it is.

Want to try Shaun's Red or Blue programmed opponent for Scenario 7, Medieval variant of OHW? We are still working on refining and publishing them.

If you want to send me a programmed opponent for OHW, drop me an email (it is in my Blogger profile). I would love to fight against it.

I would love to write a book listing all of the programmed opponents for all of the variants of OHW for all of the scenarios but I think it would take a really long time to play all those games, and the publishers would probably have a fit. But that doesn't mean I can't keep making them and publishing them as blog posts. One of these days I may put out a couple of PDFs and put them on Google Drive, but for now, look for them on my Solo Battles blog.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

One-Hour Wargames in the Age of Sail


Before I get into the subject in the title of the post, let me say that the virtual game of One-Hour Wargames (OHW) I have going with fello blogger Shaun Travers is still going, but coming to a close. We averaged about one player turn per day, although there were at least two days in which we each got a turn in on a single day. Shaun would generally make a move in his evening, which was about 2 AM my time. So, if I got up to go to the bathroom - and given that I am 58 now, need I say more? - I would see his move. I generally tried to hold off and wait to process the move first thing in the morning and there were a few nights that I did not wake up until the alarm went off.

Initially I used Microsoft Visio to make the maps and show the moves, but I eventually moved to an online, web browser-based, free drawing program called Vectr. As tools go, it is pretty nice. As the 24x24 grid alone is over 500 objects, it handles it all pretty well. I would make a drawing of the end of each player's turn and denote now many hits remained on each unit. Here was our setup.

You will have to wait until the battle report to hear how we came up with this grid solution. It is a long story.

OHW in the Age of Sail

Do you have any of those Pirates of the Carribean PocketModels from Wizards of the Coast? Well I do. A lot of them. (And I mean a lot.) The only problem with the game was, the rules are not my cup of tea. Not only was it a game of micro-measurements (meant to be played on a very small space), but because the models were small, lightweight, and plastic, if you breathed on them heavily they would go skidding across the table. Because being 'in' or 'out' of range could be a fraction of a very small measurement, table bumps could be strategic. (This is why I stopped playing Wings of War, Star Wars X-Wing, etc. because a slight mistake could send models skidding, which was akin to knocking a Chess board.)

I have used the models, which are very nice if simple, for other games. The closest I came was a set of rules called It is Warm Work (IIWW), which I bought on Wargame Vault and actually played the one and only time I went to Cold Wars. Relatively simple rules with a couple of pages of ship data. Has the typical hit system where you check off boxes on a roster. The main difference is that the rules are not that crunchy, so you did not separate hits out between, say, rigging and hull. Much simpler than the old Avalon Hill game Wooden Ships and Iron Men.

Given my virtual game - and the discussion we had on converting free-form movement to grids - something went off in my head and reminded me of the vast collection of plastic ships I have stored away in a shoe box. If you limit one ship to a grid (unless there is a ram or collision) then the IIWW concepts might work, only maybe simplifying it further down to the OHW level.

First thing you need to do, however, is use a hex grid. Most sailing games do well with a hex as you can model a sail's reaction to the wind rather well. Wind coming straight on stops you ("in irons"), wind abeam (green) allows you to travel faster, and wind close quartered or aft (yellow) makes a little slower.

So movement would have to change a bit from OHW.

The core concept that you would keep, however, is that combat is simply reduced down to a single die roll. Whether you would roll a D6+2, D6, or D6-2 would come down to how many guns your ship has. Like OHW you would simply record total hits on the unit and once it reached a certain number the unit was removed from the board. (Whether that represented a ship running, striking its colors, or sinking was irrelevant from a battle viewpoint - you were out of the battle in all accounts - but might warrant figuring out if you were playing a campaign.)

If you wanted to go through the complexity of it, you could assign a different number of hits to each ship type. I would not go nuts with it, but you would probably find that the ships with more guns also take more hits.

Ranges, by the way, would be short. More like infantry arms than artillery, to account for the inaccuracy of firing  on an unstable firing platform.

Another Neil Thomas concept is that you have to roll for force composition. That could also be done with this variant, substituting one unit type for an appropriate naval one. My guess is that you would want 3-4 ships with D6 and 15 hits, 0-2 ships with D6+2 and 17 hits, 0-2 ships with D6-2 and 13 hits, and 0-2 special ships. What those special ships would be would largely depend upon the scenario. They could be merchants to be guarded, a group of gunboats, an oared galley (Pirates of the Barbary Coast), or a sloop rigged fore-and-aft (as opposed to the standard square-rigged sails of the day).

Just some thoughts to toss out. If I expand on it further, I will definitely write a post about it.

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.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Botched Relief Scenario in OHW and Other News

My gaming buddy Shawn and I were able to get two games of One-Hour Wargames (OHW) in today (in two hours, no less) using some of my old medieval DBA troops. We decided to play Scenario 28: Botched Relief and, let me tell you, this is a very interesting scenario. Lots of choices to make and very quirky, although a simple design. Both games were very much until the end. (Okay, on game two you could do the math and figure out that Red was not going to inflict enough damage, but it was still a very exciting game.)

Botched Relief

The scenario notes indicate that this scenario draws inspiration from the Battle of El Molino del Rey (1847) from the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. A smaller force defeats a larger force largely because the larger force commits itself piecemeal.

The Blue Army (attacker) is assaulting the town held by Red units. The majority of the Red Army, however, is on a hill on the flank, unengaged in the battle. Although the units appearing there are on the table, they cannot attack nor be attacked until they "activate". Additionally, only one unit can activate at one time. The second cannot activate until the first unit is eliminated, the third until the second is eliminated, etc. So although Red has 6 units to Blue's 4, Blue will never have more than 3 active at any one time.

I brought my medieval troops so we were playing that variant, which is good because occupying the town is part of the victory conditions and all troops can enter towns in this period.

I am not going to go for a blow-by-blow narrative in this battle report because I think, for the most part, people don't really like that. (Maybe it is just me.) What I like in battle reports are highlighting where key mechanics in rules come into play (especially when reviewing rules) and the key decisions made by the players. I am especially interested in the latter as I am trying to develop a series of programmed opponents specifically for OHW and its scenarios.

Game 1

I played Red and rolled up three Knights, one Archers, and two Levy. Darn! No Men-at-Arms to defend the town with. Blue Army was rolled up as three Knights and one Archers unit.

  1. The column of Blue Knights attacking up the road (not visible on the map, but trust me, it is there).
  2. The Blue Archers guarding the flank.
  3. The single Red Archers defending the town.
  4. The Red Knights defending the flank.
  5. The Red Knights coming in from the relief forces on the flank.
The key decision the Red commander has, after finding out their force composition, is which unit types to put where. With Knights having 12" movement and hitting with D6+2, they could afford to be in the relief column; they have the mobility to get engaged with the enemy the quickest. The Archers have a 6" move and a 12" range, so it is possible that they too can have an impact in defending the town (or re-taking it). The issue with Archers is that they are D6-2 in melee and Blue Army, using the road, would be on them in turn 2. So I now question my choice of selecting them for my initial forces. Putting a Levy unit in there would have lasted as long, but inflicted more damage over the long run. The main point was that there was no Men-at-Arms unit (i.e. dismounted Knights) to put in. As they only take 1/2 damage, they have staying power.

The first key rules moment came when I charge the Red Knights into the middle of the Blue Knights column.

As you can (barely) see, I intentionally charged my Knights past the lead Blue Knights at the head of the road column and clipped the flank of the second unit. My intent was not to claim "flank attack" (and in fact I did not), but rather to tie up the road column from moving any further. This action, as you will see, brought up a lot of questions on how to interpret the OHW rules. I would like to hear some of your ideas on how you would interpret them.

Despite my constant advocation of playing the Rules As Written, I find myself with OHW often "injecting" rules into the game that are not there, but are simply common conventions in other rules that I have played over the years. In this case I did not claim a flank attack because of the convention that you can only claim a flank attack if you are coming in more than 45º off of the front corner of the enemy unit, otherwise it is a frontal attack. It seemed cheesy to claim a flank attack when the charge clearly did not originate from the flank.

There are three interesting things about this attack though. First, that you could charge past the first unit. This felt right because I was coming in from the side. Second, because the Knights were all jammed up together, there really was no way to engage the front face of the second Knights unit. Charging a unit in column would have hit its flank. Third, the charging unit only has corner contact. Nowhere does Neil Thomas espouse "squaring up" units in hand-to-hand combat in these rules.

At this point, we had ruled it a frontal attack. Later we would both agree it should have been a flank attack, and thus caused double casualties.

One other point of note is that the Blue Archers unit failed to pivot at the end of the last turn. You can just barely see the second Red Knights unit coming up on its flank. If it had pivoted, it would have been able to fire at those Knights, but as it was, they were either going to fire at my engaged Knights and eventually be taken in flank, or they would pivot – losing their opportunity to fire – but able to face off against the flanking Knights.

That leads to another couple of questions: firing at units partially obscured and firing at units engaged in hand-to-hand combat.

When it comes to line of sight, Neil Thomas is silent. Generally speaking I use a simple rule. If the right-front edge of my unit can draw a line to the closest center-point of the edge of the target unit and it does not pass through a unit or terrain, then do the same from the left-front edge, I allow the unit to fire. This means that units can fire into a melee if they meet the above rules. Here are some examples of what I mean.
Allowed – Not Blocked by Unit or Terrain
Not Allowed – Blocked by Terrain
Is this how you play it?

The next significant event was the relief Red Knights hitting the Blue Archers on its flank. It rolled a '6', adding '2' and then getting doubled (see the rules for the order of operations; adding and subtracting come before halving or doubling), resulting in the Blue Archers being run down in a single turn.

Generally you think of OHW as an attritional game, given that it has 15 hits per unit, but you have to remember that hard-hitting units coming in on the flank can take out a fresh enemy unit 16% of the time!

One of the rules in OHW is the inability of most units to interpenetrate other units. Generally only skirmishers can interpenetrate, or be interpenetrated by, other units. In the medieval variant there are no Skirmisher units, so there is no interpenetration allowed. By the way, I like this rule because, as Neil Thomas wrote in a Slingshot article of his rules (paraphrasing): I don't believe in command and control rules because I think players do a good enough job of getting in their own way. This next turn showed that concept neatly. The Knights on the road are all bunched up and now a threat on the flank has appeared much more quickly than anticipated.

Although it is hard to see, the block of Knights on the left are actually two units, one behind the other. Due to the interpenetration rule the Knight unit in the rear cannot pivot. Interpenetration. Units may never pass through each other. So, it is not merely a matter of clearing the footprint of the friendly unit, one unit's footprint may not pass through another at all.

This leads to a second issue. Although the rules never state it explicitly, movement is always straight. The following passage makes no sense otherwise. "Movement is depicted according to a simple model, whereby rapidity is reflected by faster movement rates rather than, for example, allowing some units to turn more rapidly than others. Turning is instead depicted in a simple manner, by pivoting units on their central point. This avoids the complexity of wheeling manoeuvres, where wargamers have to precisely measure the movement distance of a unit’s outer corner. The difficulties of turning are instead provided for by only allowing evolutions at the start and/or the end of a unit’s move, but not during it. This reproduces the historical effects, but makes the tabletop process much easier."

That said, no word is mentioned of a unit backing up, reversing its movement. In the above situation the last Blue Knights unit would be stuck in place, unable to pivot, until the Knights unit in front of it moved forward or was eliminated. We decided to allow a unit to move straight forward or backward with no left or right drift. We felt the intent of the passage above was that there is no turning or oblique/drift in movement as the rules allow a free pivot both before and after the movement.

Is that how you play it? Or would you have disallowed it because the commander inadvertently bunched his troops up? As it happened, this command and control issue still had a penalty. It allowed the Red Knights to get the jump on the Blue Knights, inflicting the first hit.

The game ended with a Red loss. The Blue Knights eventually ground down the Red Archers while only taking 10 hits. The flanking Red Knights cut through all of the Blue Knights caught on the road, but in the end exposed its flank to the Blue Knights in the town. With the clock run out the Blue Knights turned around and re-entered the town long before the next relief unit could arrive and challenge ownership. Four determined units beat six cautious ones. It was a very close game.

In hindsight I do think having a Levy unit in the town rather than the Archers unit would have resulted in a Red victory. That -2 in combat resulted in the loss of 6 hits on the leading Blue Knights, which would have destroyed them first.

Let see how I fare as the attacker.

Game 2

Blue force rolled and got three Knights and one Men-at-Arms. Men-at-Arms (i.e. dismounted Knights) are notable in that they take 1/2 casualties due to their armor. Although they are slower, I wanted to have them attack the town. I wanted to make sure they survived the assault, leaving my Knights to clear the field. My strategy was going to be much different. (By the way, even though I did not plan it this way, I think the person that goes second as the attacker has the advantage as he can see what does and does not work.)

Unfortunately, Red force rolled and also got one Men-at-Arms! In addition they received four Knights and one Archers unit. Here is how we deployed our troops.

As you can see, Red went with the Men-at-Arms defending the town and the Knights protecting its flank. Red also chose the Archers unit as the unit from the relief force.

I decided to attack on a broader front. Now that I knew I would be attacking Men-at-Arms in a town – they take 1/4 casualties – I knew that I would have to keep the flanking Knights and all of the relief forces off of my back to allow me as much time as possible to whittle down the defenders. Also, I knew that mathematically with him taking 1/4 casualties (armor and town defense) and me taking 1/2 casualties, I would have to get a second unit in there hitting him on the flank as soon as possible. So my plan was to use one Knights unit to engage his Knights unit, another to engage the Archers unit, and the final Knights unit to take the Men-at-Arms in flank.

As you can see by the image above, I pushed my Knights all the way to the hill to take out the Archers. It did not matter much because the one shot they took was to the (white) Knights. But the problem was that I was now inflicting 1/2 casualties for attacking uphill. At the time I was not too concerned about that. In my game I only got one unit from the relief force activated until Turn 15 hit. If I could keep the relief forces pinned down as long as possible the second unit might not have enough time to take back the town, as happened to me. That said, my math was a little off. The Archers would inflict an average of 0.7 hits per turn (D6-2) while my Knights would still inflict an average of 3 hits a turn (D6+2 / 2). So as soon as I wiped out the Archers, he would have a Knights unit on my Knights' flank, which would likely wipe them out instantly.

That said, all was playing out well. My Knights in the center had his engaged frontally and on flank. I missed blowing out his unit by one hit, however. Once that unit was eliminated, I had another interesting decision.

The Archers had been inflicting a few good hits, so with the Red Knights in the center gone, my (white) Knights were free to slam into the Red Men-at-Arms defending the town. But what to do with the other Blue Knights unit? I knew that as soon the Red Archers collapsed the Red Knights immediately to their right would spring on the flank of my Knights attacking the hill. As they only had 5 hits it was possible that they could survive a flank charge (if the Red Knights rolled a 1-2). Even if they did not survive, I wanted to be in a position to immediately counter-charge their flank, if possible. So I moved my Knights forward to threaten any relieving Red Knights.

My opponent thought it was a bad move. What do you think?

As it turned out, the Archers collapsed, the Red Knights sprang on the flank of my Blue Knights, which were rolled over in a single charge. My Blue Knights then counter-charged (without getting a flank position), but were apparently still blown from the previous combat as they were rolled over by the Red Knights in turn. (There is something about Knights in the relief force being particularly effective as in both games they wrecked several units in succession.)

However, by this time my (white) Knights had hit the Red Men-at-Arms in flank and helped eliminate them. (My troops had been getting very good rolls while his Men-at-Arms had been getting horrible rolls. After three turns at D6 / 2 they had only inflicted 5 hits on my Men-at-Arms!) So I turned my Knights around to intercept the Red Knights coming off of the hill. We were both at 8 hits ...

I charged and rolled a '1', while he countered with a '4', leaving me with 1 hit remaining. That was enough to allow me to eliminate his Knights in the next turn. But that meant ... another fresh Red Knight was coming from the relief force. It charged off of the hill and took my last Knight unit out.

I had 5 hits, but he was going to hit at D6+2 / 4 each turn, so basically a '1' to '4' was 1 hit and a '5' or '6' was 2 hits. His first hit he rolled a '1' ... and his swing on turn 15 ...


Two really great games, both with the attacker winning (as it was historically). OHW, like Memoir '44, due to its quick games and simplified play, lends itself to playing a scenario twice, once as Red and once as Blue, then seeing who did better overall across the two games. For this scenario, it was definitely  hard-fought draw, going down to the wire.

It was interesting to see what kind of biases I brought from playing other rules, things I did not even question as to whether or not they were in the written rules (such as flank charges having to originate outside of the front 45º, or that there was no backwards movement defined). It was also interesting to see how close or far apart Shawn and I were on 'how things should be'. (Shawn is one of the few people that can stand playing with me, so I figure we must be closer in our gaming opinions than not.)

The more I play OHW the more I am impressed with how rich a game whose combat mechanic is 'roll D6 to accumulate hits up to 15 then remove the unit' and how tightly designed the scenarios are. I have used the scenarios for other rules, but you always had to modify a few things (like forces, number of turns, etc.) so you definitely lost the sense of how tight these designs are.

It was also really nice to be able to break out the old DBA armies, blow off the dust, and game with large units that had a better feel of 'mass'. Originally I had been playing using these armies with one base per unit, making units 40mm wide (instead of the recommended 4" to 6" wide). That allowed me to play on very small board (12" by 12", in fact). For this game I decided that I wanted to use units of the proper size, and using free movement no less! Each unit was 120mm wide (about 4.75") and with 15mm figures, it 'felt' great.

I was digging through the closet looking for DBA knightly armies and found a whole (large) Norman force that I don't remember purchasing, and had definitely never played with. Shocking. But this game played so well, I can see a lot more medieval OHW games in the future.

Gaming 2019

I did not do one of those end of year posts outlining what I accomplished, etc., but I guess I will tack it on here.

My last year was mostly wrapped around computer gaming, online education, and vegetating in front of the television. I got very little painting done, no big miniatures projects done, very few games played, and very few blog posts written. It really wasn't until December that I pulled myself out of that pattern and started gaming again. In my Solo Battles blog I published six posts in December, five posts here since Thanksgiving, but unfortunately none in my Wooden Warriors blog. (I have one coming up, however.)

The biggest change to my gaming was trying to get into mainstream gaming rules, like Warhammer Underworlds and Star Wars: Legion (SWL). The former was largely unsuccessful because everyone around here has pretty much stopped playing it. The latter, however, seems to be just starting up in this area.

So, why SWL? I am not a big Star Wars fan. I am not a big 'popular games' fan. The system is actually the kind I generally do not like (competition oriented; players like to min-max lists; points driven; scenarios are that in name only; figures are expensive; lots of tokens on the table; uses special, expensive dice; rules are 82 pages long; units have lots of special abilities, requiring cards to remember everything (but you will still forget a few); uses eyeballing line-of-sight and estimating the percentage of the figure exposed; and other such goodies. So why am I inflicting this upon myself? To be more social, to be honest. I have a very hard time meeting new people and asking if I can join in. As I get older I find that I get pickier, so my natural inclination is to solo game more. But solo gaming, well, is a lot of work. And it is lonely. I need to break out of that shell.

Gaming 2020

So, SWL will be more on the menu this year. Don't expect any battle reports anytime soon though. My painting of commercial figures has slowed down, especially as my eyes seem to have worsened. (I am getting my 'painting hand' back though.) I really don't like to do battle reports with unpainted figures and I can see it is going to take quite some time for me to paint all the figures I have purchased already. (Trust me, Citadel contrast paints can be a real time saver, if you use them correctly. Which is to say, not the way Citadel tells you to use them.) So I will be gaming with others using some primed but unpainted units [yuck] largely against opponents that have unprimed units (if current games are any indication). I have no intention of photographing my shame. I will post pictures of my painted troops from time-to-time, however.

I thought about having the figures sent out for painting but Stormtroopers are black and white, for goodness sake, and my Rebels are Hoth-themed so they are black, white, tan, and gray. I cannot bring myself to pay someone to paint such simple schemes.

Shawn and I keep talking about how we would like to sell all of our miniature collections and start over. One scale for mass battles and one scale for skirmish, maybe. Maybe not get into every period you can think of (except Pike and Shot; I have still resisted that!). Maybe spend more time on terrain.

But, I can never bring myself to actually do it. So I duplicate periods in different scales.

I am resolving to get rid of a lot of rules and game systems that I know I am not going to play again. I may do some serious digitizing of the rules and magazines. But there are so many game systems I have that I cannot bring myself to throw into a landfill and I don't want to pay to have to have it hauled off. For my old collectible card games, for example, I am probably just going to give it to a FLGS just to get rid of it. That alone should free up some space.

If you have ever seen some of my cartoony wooden figures that I make, well, I will probably be doing a lot more of that. When I was about 13 I started making figures out of wooden beads. Knights mostly. Now that I am grown (HA! my wife would say) I still find I like the style. Also, I very much like painting freehand. It is much easier than painting modern commercial figures with an incredible amount of sharp detail cast into the figure. It may not sound like it, but trust me, it is. And "making" a figure these days is pretty much gluing one bead on top of another and adding a toothpick for a weapon. I am currently working on making vehicles using "granny grating". My first attempt is a pickup truck for my modern African army. (It will debut on the Wooden Warriors blog when I am done.)

My temperament is such that I tend to rotate between activities and projects. For a long time that was computer gaming. Right now non-wargame computer games have diminished appeal. I need to paint and that can take a lot of time, but as my eyes fail I won't be devoting as much time to that. My solo gaming efforts are going strong, probably stronger than my non-solo gaming efforts. I am trying to change that, but I don't see myself ever moving away from solo gaming completely. So, hopefully, this year you will see more activity on this blog and my Solo Battles blog.

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About Me

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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").