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 25, 2022

Modeling Skirmishers in One-Hour Wargames

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.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Sword and Sandals (One-Hour Skirmish Wargames)

Sword and Sandals is a variant for One-Hour Skirmish Wargames, published by the author John Lambshead. (You can download this for free in the Files section of the Facebook group One Hour Skirmish Wargames fan page. Basically it extends OHSW backwards in time, allowing you to play pre-gunpowder eras, adding additional rules for melee weapons and armor.

My gaming buddy Justo wanted to play OHSW virtually, so first I had to figure out how to do that. Normally when I do virtual games I play on a square grid and we call out grid references, like the childhood game Battleship. "I move my Infantry from A4 to B4 and then fire on your Skirmishers at C4." Believe it or not, I did not want to use a grid this time, but a good, old-fashioned ruler. (I know, I know, very strange of me. I will pay for it in back pain tonight, I am sure.)

Secondly, I wanted to get good shots of the game in progress because I was going to be pointing my phone camera to the board using Discord, so Justo could see the game. I decided to try using an overhead shot so that action farther away from the camera would not be distorted and I would not have to move the camera around. (Let me know if you think this works compared to my earlier efforts.) Whenever I did overhead shots before, I would basically stand up on a chair and shoot downwards. It was very hard to tell when I had the camera centered and aimed properly. This time I decided to use a microphone boom to hold the camera directly over the table. We will see how it works, but here is what the setup looks like.

For the figures I wanted to use my large 42mm wooden figures as I thought they would be more visible for the game, plus I have not used them in a while. My choices were Napoleonics or Dark Ages, so I chose the latter.

For the terrain I was considering using my wooden terrain and a grass colored felt cloth, but decided to go with some printed cardboard terrain hexes that I purchased on Kickstarter some time ago. Ironically I see these still on sale in a local hobby shop, but the company that manufactures them is out of business. I think given the overhead view, using flat terrain will be sufficient. Besides, the hexes are very colorful. The figures are just a little large for 42mm.

This is a bit of experiment as I am not really sure if the action will be easily seen. (You can always click on an image to look at the larger version, of course.) Here is how a game in progress might look from overhead.

Whereas this would be the shot I would normally take.

As I say, feedback is always nice.

The Forces

Viking Raiders

Motivation 2 (2 points)

WarlordAxe2"145"13131Leader 2,
Tough 2,
Bruiser 2
HearthguardAxe2"145"135 (20)4Bruiser 1
BerserkerH Spear1"236"2261Bruiser 1
Tough 1
BondiH Spear1"236"224 (8)2

Total: 49 points, 8 figures, and 8 pieces of loot.

Saxon Defenders

Motivation 1 (1 point)

WarlordSword1"325"13141Leader 1,
Tough 2,
Bruiser 2
H Javelin12"23

HuscarlAxe2"145"1351Bruiser 1
FyrdH Spear1"236"224 (16)4
FyrdKnife½"318"213 (12)5
Self Bow24"11

Total: 51 points, 11 figures, and no pieces of loot.

The Scenario

The Viking Raiders are fresh from raiding the local church and laden down with loot (not being able to find beasts of burden). They are heading back to their longship unaware that the local fyrd is waiting for them at Stony Creek.


For the Viking Raiders, exit the board using the road to the northeast with the majority of their loot. If the Saxon force fails morale any loot they have picked up will not drop; it will be carried off with the retreating Saxons.

For the Saxon Defenders, recover the majority of the loot from the Viking Raiders. If the Viking force fails morale any loot they still carry is dropped. (Yes, I know it is not fair.)

I leave it to the players to determine how extensive the victory is by comparing loot possession.

Special Rules


In the beginning, each Viking figure carries one Loot counter. A figure can only carry two Loot counters, at most. For each Loot counter carried, a Move action costs +1 Action Point (AP). A figure not in hand-to-hand combat range of an enemy figure can drop or pickup one Loot counter for 1 AP.

Example: The Vikings have 9 AP. Viking A has one Loot counter. He drops the Loot (1 AP), and moves away (1 AP). Viking B has one Loot counter. He moves to the dropped Loot (1 AP), picks it up (1 AP), and moves (5 AP, 3 for second Move action plus two for carrying two Loot counters).

The Vikings must keep at least one figure within one Move action of any dropped Loot counters on the south side of Stony Creek. (A figure can guard more than one dropped Loot counter with one Move.) There is no requirement to guard Loot counters dropped north of Stony Creek.

Note that there is no penalty to carrying Loot counters to hand-to-hand combat or shooting, only increasing the AP cost to each Move action.

Stony Creek

There are three ways to cross Stony Creek: via the ford on the left; via the foot bridge in the center; and anywhere else in the water.

Figures crossing via the foot bridge have no penalty to movement. The bridge is only one figure wide, however.

Figures crossing via the ford have a minor movement penalty. Draw a card: if it is red, the penalty is 2" off of your figure's movement allowance; if it is black, there is no penalty. You will have to pay this penalty for each Move action in which you enter or are within the ford.

Figures crossing through the water have a major movement penalty. Draw a card: if it is red, the penalty is 4" off of your figure's movement allowance; if it is black, the penalty is 2" off of your figure's movement allowance. You will have to pay this penalty for each Move action in which you enter or are within the water.

Test Game

Gaming buddy Justo and I decided to try gaming this virtually, over Discord (as discussed above). I don't really have good shots of the game as I was using an overhead camera. Besides, I write terribly unentertaining battle reports. Instead, I want to discuss issues that came up in the game, which highlights some of the (very dramatic) differences between One-Hour Skirmish Wargames (OHSW) and Sword and Sandals (SaS).

Card Draw Rate

One thing that is immediately obvious is that SaS draws cards at a much faster rate. In OSHW a typical hand-to-hand combat has the attacker drawing two cards and the defender drawing one, so three cards for a single combat (spread across the two decks). In addition, that combat will be decisive; either the attacker or the defender will become a casualty.

Because the mechanics of SaS are draw to hit then draw to wound, and the card draw is based on the weapon and armor, true melee figures will pull multiple cards for each draw. Let's take two spear-armed figures with no metal armor and a shield fighting one another. The attacker pulls two cards to hit (for the spear) and the defender pulls two cards to avoid the hit (for their armor). If the attacker succeeds they then draw three cards to wound (for the spear's strength) and the defender draws two (for their armor's protectiveness). That results in up to 9 cards drawn, rather than 3. If the figures have Bruiser, as the Elite warriors will, add another card for each figure and each level of the Bruiser skill.

What is the net result of that? Actions do not resolve as the Joker appears much more frequently. Further, any scenarios with turn limits will have to be adjusted as you will burn through the decks faster, hitting the Jokers faster, and thus ending the turns with fewer actions resolved per turn. There were many a turn in which one side would draw a high number of AP, only to have a Joker come up after two or three actions, killing both player's turns. There were even turns in which the first action hit a Joker on resolving the wound of the first attack, effectively meaning no action whatsoever was completed that turn.

Indecisive Hand-to-Hand Combat

The kicker is that only if the attacker's best card for wounding beats the defender's by 7 is the defender killed. So hand-to-hand combat is very indecisive, comparatively, and requires many more attacks in order to get a decisive result. (If the attacker wins by 1 to 3 the defender is pushed back and the attacker can follow up. If the attacker wins by 4 to 6 the defender is pushed back and knocked off of his feet, making him very vulnerable.)

This may not be a bad thing, in terms of realism. Hand-to-hand combat becomes and attritional grind, looking for the opportunities where opponents are outnumbered, where there are breaks in the line, and where opponents have fallen and are vulnerable. The net result, however, is that a game that was once one hour long could now be very much longer.

I do like the effect on the melee with pushing and shoving around, but that can be achieved by driving your opponent back (always) on a hit, and when I try this again I will likely adjust the numbers to beat by 1, 2, or 3 to knock down, and beat by 4 or more to take out of action.

Final Analysis

I like SaS and would play it again, but I would definitely end up using fewer figures and trying the changes above or using the armor rules that I am trying, which is that light armor adds one card to the defender's draw while heavy armor adds two, using normal OHSW hand-to-hand combat rules. I can see that adding attack modifiers for heavy weapons is also a good idea, so a heavy weapon would add one or two cards for the attacker. I get the author's desire to rate weapons for both agility and damage, as he did with armor, but the numbers generally come out the same.

Also, the author did not define whether abilities like Bruiser apply to the hit draw, the wound draw, or both. Using my method, with only one draw, there is no question as to how it is applied.

I definitely liked the movement in the melee. My experience with hand-to-hand combat is martial arts and fighting with pugil sticks while in the US Marine Corps and I know that hand-to-hand combat is anything but standing there taking swings at one another. So any rules that reflect that movement is right in my book. OHSW does not need that distinction because there are no draws; either the attacker or the defender goes down. So if I were to continue with the hit then wound method in SaS, the charm of these rules would be this fluid combat.

If I continued with less decisive combat, however, I would definitely want to add a rule for fatigue, which I think is an important element in hand-to-hand combat.

Overall, I really enjoyed this game with SaS.

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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").