Recently there have been a number of posts on the Facebook group Wargaming Neil Thomas' rules where people have noticed that their favorite troop type or army list is not available in his rules One-Hour Wargames (OHW). I have offered my own suggestions, but I noticed that some (you know who you are) like to add new rules and complexity to OHW, despite the fact that the author intentionally stripped these rules down to the bare minimum and has plenty of other rules with slightly more 'crunch' that are much better for tweaking. I have generally resisted the idea of modifying OHW, although I have created an AWI variant, one for the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and some thoughts on how to use it for the Age of Sail. But the thought behind all of the variants were that I would not add any significant new game mechanics.
One poster to the group wanted to play the Arabs during the Medieval period, but he felt that the standard Medieval army list (3-4 Knights, 0-2 Archers, 0-2 Men-at-Arms, and 0-2 Levy) did not fit the historical model. So how should he modify the list and, given that the majority of the army were horse archers, how should he model them?
The first part, the army list, is pretty easy. Neil Thomas even gave examples of how to modify the army list models at the end of Chapter 4, Dark Age Wargaming. If you look at the lists in Table 1 of Chapter 20, the first column represents the predominate troop type. In the case of Medieval period, that would be Knights. So a roll for Knights would become a roll for Horse Archers. The second, third, and fourth columns are basically the secondary troop types, each with equal chances of occurring. In the Medieval list these are Archers, Men-at-Arms, and Levy. Archers and Levy would still be appropriate for an Arab Medieval army, but the Men-at-Arms should probably be Knights (the Arab heavy, shock cavalry), so that is another easy substitution. No severe changes and very much still in the vein of what Neil Thomas suggests players do.
The second part, how to model Horse Archers, was much more interesting to me. Before I put out what my proposal would be, let me take a bit of a tangent.
De Bellis Antiquitatus or DBA
Although my first ancients and medieval games were using WRG Ancients, 4th Edition (and later 5th and 6th Editions). I stopped gaming ancients about 1984 and did not pick them up again until about 2008, when I was introduced to (one of) the WRG Ancients successor, DBA.
I really took a shine to DBA, as did our club, due to its simplicity and small army size. One aspect of the rules that confused me, however, was that most troops that you would have thought could shoot enemy units at a distance could not. Light Horse and Skirmishers (tribal javelin throwers, Balearic slingers, Cretan archers, whatever were all lumped together) would all fight the enemy by moving into contact. Basically they looked like they were engaging in melee. Eventually I found the DBA Fanaticus forum and I asked the question: "why can't these troops shoot?" Basically the answer was that, historically, all of these troops shot from very close range, either to ensure they hit, or to ensure that their hit actually did some damage.
I looked it up and sure enough, these troops did fight from very close range. Rather than giving them very short ranges (in the order of 1" or 2"), the author chose to visually model their tactics of running up, firing, and retreating, as melee. Equally as important, the results of combat with those troops typically produced a result where if they lost, they would simply retreat rather than be eliminated.
I took that concept of visually representing this close-range skirmishing as melee, with combat results reflecting the likelihood the skirmishers would simply retreat, with me to other games. But I noticed that OHW did not model skirmishers this way at all. The author models them as shooters and when they are contacted in melee, they cannot retreat away.
Horse Archers and Light Cavalry
I don't believe in modeling horse archers as shooters. I guess I agree with the DBA model that says they don't really have enough mass and range to act like troops that stand and fire mass volleys at the enemy. Instead they charge up, loose their archers, and quickly retreat, often firing backwards as they did so (the so-called 'Parthian shot'). It is easy to model the close range aspect, require the unit contact the enemy in order to fire, essentially having them engage in hand-to-hand combat (from a game mechanic aspect).
"The bulk of the cavalry was made up of lightly-armed warriors, protected by no more than fur or hide jackets and headgear. The shock force of the Scythian host was the professional, heavily-armed cavalry commanded by local princes. Both horses and riders were well protected. They fought in formation, under discipline, and brought to the battlefield considerable experience of warfare. The engagement opened with a shower of arrows and sling-stones, followed at closer range with darts and javelins. The heavy cavalry then charged in close formation, delivering the main blow on the center of the enemy's array. … When the enemy had been broken the lightly-armed mass of the Scythian horse closed in to finish them off."— The Scythians, 700-300 BC
"When battle began the light cavalry advanced through the gaps in the heavy jaguns [battle formations] and poured a devastating volley of arrows and javelins into the enemy ranks. At the same time either or both the wings of light cavalry began an encircling movement to take the enemy in the flank or in the rear, a tactic known as the tulughma, or 'standard sweep'. If any light troops were forced back by an enemy's determination they calmly withdrew, shooting as they went, and their place was taken by other units. Very soon the enemy would become disorganized, at which point a charge by. the heavy cavalry would be ordered."— The Mongols
But, the primary rule in the Ancients, Dark Ages, and Medieval rules are that once contact is made, it can never be broken off. If we flip to the Horse and Musket period rules we can see that the author does model this behavior of engaging and then retreating; he does so for Cavalry in the gunpowder era. What is we use that same mechanic? What if we say that Light Cavalry can move into contact and attack, but if they do not eliminate the unit then they must retreat 6" back, out of contact? This mechanic would fit nicely with the horse archer/light cavalry tactics were are trying to model and yet is not simply pulled from thin air as the author uses this same mechanic elsewhere.
Light Infantry Skirmishers
Which brings me to the Skirmishers. Just like it makes no sense that the light cavalry be modeled as standing and firing at range, the same is true with light infantry skirmishers.
"The Greeks broke down the fortifications and charged out, but they were unable to catch the Bythynian [Thracian peltasts]. The latter fled from the charge, but kept hurling javelins from both flanks; every charge merely caused more Greek deaths. It was said that only 15 hoplites escaped from this massacre."—The Thracians, 700 BC - AD 46
What about taking away the Skirmisher's ability to fire at range and replacing it with the ability to skirmish, as defined above. The unit moves into contact, rolls for hand-to-hand combat, and if the enemy unit is not destroyed, it retreats out of contact. Given that a Skirmisher's movement is normally 9", I was thinking that it keeps that movement rate when taking a Move action that does not end in contact, but gets a 6" movement rate if it skirmishes (ends in contact), then retreats back 6".
Enemy Contact with Skirmishers
So what happens when the enemy contacts your skirmishers (whether infantry or cavalry)? Should they be able to get their whacks in or not? I think it should depend upon a number of factors.
- Are the chargers infantry or cavalry?
- Are the skirmishers infantry or cavalry?
- Are the chargers contacting frontally or from the flank or rear?
- Are the skirmishers being contacted by more than one unit?
- Do the skirmishers have room to retreat?
To my mind, an infantry skirmisher will never be able to outrun a charging cavalry unit, so contact will have to be maintained. A cavalry skirmish will always be able to outrun a changing infantry unit, unless some other factor comes into play. Otherwise, I think I would allow an infantry skirmisher to outrun infantry and a cavalry skirmisher to outrun cavalry, unless some other factor came into play.
If the contact is simply frontally, or from the flank, I would adhere to the rules above. If from the rear then you have been outmaneuvered so infantry can contact infantry skirmishers and cavalry can contact cavalry skirmishers. If you are contacted on two sides, your skirmishers cannot escape, regardless of who the chargers or the skirmishers are.
By 'room' to retreat I mean would the retreat movement take them off of the board. Which direction can the unit retreat? Always towards their baseline, never towards the enemy baseline nor laterally. If the retreat would take them off of the board they do not retreat and are contacted.
I know, I know. You should not tweak OHW. The whole point is for the combat model to be simple. I feel like this isn't too bad because it uses a model for hand-to-hand combat that already exists (for the Horse and Musket period cavalry) and represents Skirmishers better. Let's face it, unless it is a specific period and scenario were a Skirmisher is necessary due to terrain, you are probably like me and you groan when you roll up a Skirmisher.