Tuesday, 11 October 2016

One Hour Wargames - First Review Game

So, we have decided to give One Hour Wargames a go. First decision - what period out of all those on offer shall we play? Well, I decided to take Mr Thomas at his word and go for the cheap and easy set up. I had some 20mm plastic ancient figures that are ideal for young hands so I decided to go with them - Rome V Carthage. The boy took the Romans – on the grounds of ‘what’s Carthage?’ was his first question when I asked him want side he wanted to be. He listened when I answered as well, so definite learning about history going on – can't be bad. For terrain I went with a bare wooden board and some scatter terrain as I was feeling the ‘quick and easy’ love and on we cracked.

Each army is made up of six units, in this game heavy foot, cav and skirmishers. The fourth troop type allowed by the rules were archers, which we would not be using as that would not be very Punic Wars. Following the recommended sizes for bases I represented each unit as two bases wide of 60mm bases. I also made the heavy foot two bases deep to give them a bit more of a hefty look. The table width and depth is 3 foot - the playing area being marked by a faint line on the board to the left of the wood - roughly where the ruler is placed. This makes the table not much wider than the six units that make up an army - limiting flanking shenanigans. This had been further limited by the terrains on the flank - which I had put down to add a bit of interest but kept to the side so it would not dominate. To stop the game armies being mirror images I had given Carthage one less heavy foot and an extra cav instead. The only rules for deployment is that one army deploys first - the other second. 

Carthage deployed with skirmishers facing the wood, heavy foot in the centre and both cav on the right.The commander of Rome had put down a solid centre of heavy foot with a unit of Triari in reserve, velites facing the woods and mounted covering the other flank, slightly held  back. I had given the boy a few 'you may want to consider' bits of advice but this was his own plan and very solid it seemed too. 

First moves - both sides push forward in the centre with Carthage keen to get to grips with their cav on the right hoping for a decision before the infantry fight is completed. The Carthagian slingers look to harass the legions before the main clash. 

The Roman cav charges into the Gauls whilst the legions continue to advance. The velites take the wood.

Even though it may have been to the advantage of the Romans to delay the mounted clash, in the rules you only cause casualties in your turn, so charging in gives you the first swing so must usually be considered to be a good idea.

On this basis the Carthaginian foot look to get stuck in. Due to the lines being at a slight angle, only the Spanish are in charge range with the Gauls and Libyans closing up.

In response the Romans get well stuck in - fighting is now general along the line.

Apart from the skirmishers who are shooting at each other. As the velites are in cover they only take half hits however - which leads me to the decision that my slingers will soon draw daggers and charge in.

With their first charge advantage the Romans mounted rout the Gauls. Units stay on the table with no ill effects until they reach 15 hits - when they are removed. This is not so bad for Carthage however as the Roman cav is badly worn and facing fresh enemy reserves.

And the Spanish charge in! As long as we can win one of the fights in the centre to draw the attention of the Triarii we should be able to collapse the Romans from the flank - all very Hannibal.

A few turns later - the exact same picture. Heavy foot fights do take several turns to resolve. As all units were committed - apart from the Triarii, who were waiting for something to happen there were no decisions take take here, we just took turns rolling dice. Which was however somewhat exciting, looking to see who would get the breakthrough.

And here we have it, the mounted Spanish hack down the Roman cav and start dreaming of Roman flanks!

Not for long however, as the Triarii do exactly what reserves are for and cover the gap. Still, no worries, win the first fight in the middle and the day would soon be mine.

Lose two units in the same turn however and it seems the only thing that would be mine is the pointy end of a Roman sword.

The Spanish, not wanting to throw themselves onto the spears of a fresh unit of Triarii pull back.

With the Romans advancing against them and also putting pressure on the flank of the gallic foot.

There are no rules for what constituted a flank charge but I ruled that it would need to start behind the target units flank. This is a standard ancients rules idea and seemed reasonable to me. So the legion just moved into a position to deliver the coup de grace.

Which was not needed as the Gauls went down without the help of a flank charge.

With the writing on the wall the Spanish Cav thought they would try to take down the battered legion before it was game over.

Could the brave Spaniards do it?

 I very much doubt it......

With things not looking to happy for the slingers who had been having a merry old punch up on the other flank with the velites. This would not last much longer.....

A overwhelming victory for the Legions of Rome!

The end of the game saw me explaining that I was at a disadvantage in the battle as I need to rely on maneuver and what with the flanks being closed down by terrain my cav were at a disadvantage. And anyway I was very unlucky with the dice in the central foot combats. In reply my boy pointed out that the game was decided by his far higher standard of generalship and luck had nothing to do with it. So a traditional and proper end to a wargame in fact.

How does the game measure up to my criteria? Well the boy loved it, a thrilling game where he got to beat daddy - whats not to love? It was not the most mentally taxing of games to play but it did require some thought - enough to make it interesting. Finding out if there is enough thought needed to make it interesting on an ongoing basis is one of the reasons why I am going to play a few games before giving a final verdict. There was a part of the game where there was no thought required - everyone was fighting. This did not last long enough to get tedious - a few turns. As each turn consisted of a player throwing a few dice we got through them very quickly. It was also not just a luck contest - more a deciding the outcome of previous laid plans and decisions. 

Did it feel like an ancients / Punic war battle rather than 'generic dice rolling contest'? I would have to say, within the constraints of only having 6 units a side, very much a yes. Looking to overwhelm a mounted flank, the legions of Rome battering down their opponents, skirmishers messing about to not very much effect, this all seems to give a clear and plausible plot to the battle - as I hope comes through in the write up of the battle above. For the question did I enjoy playing the game? A most certain yes. Very quick to set up and less than an hour to play, a very pleasant time was had by me playing a game with my first born. 

Any downsides to One Hour Wargames Ancient Rules? Well, there are two possible problems I can see. The first is that there will be a mounting up of holes in the rules that I will have to patch. 'Well make up your own rules as needed then you lazy sod' I hear you cry. Which of course I will do. The thing is though, if I am paying your actual money for a set of rules I kind of think that they should be more or less complete. Or am I just being harsh here?

The last caveat I have in my mind at the moment is that playing the games might become very samey and formulaic and therefore boring. Although the fact that there are so many scenarios will hopefully mitigate this. The next game will be a battle to control a river crossing.......

Monday, 10 October 2016

One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas - A Review

So what is this One Hour Wargames book and idea all about then? Reading the opening introductory chapter I initially was not that over keen on the philosophy. The argument that war games are somewhat time consuming and require a lot of input did not impress me – as yes, I would agree that this may be true but I did not see it as a bad thing. Weekends playing games, spending hour upon hour painting the figures to refight Gettysburg, to me these were a feature of playing with toy soldiers rather than a bug. Although, when I stopped and asked myself how many actual games I had played in the past year, I did have to admit that Mr Thomas had a point. What with life, a family, job and all that it meant the time I spent playing games was rather small. Especially when measured against the time that I spent thinking about the games that I wanted to play. So, a possible point conceded there. So, I first looked at this book as a set of simple rules to play with my boy - which remains my main motivation, I am now willing to look at them as a set of rules that I could play quick and simple games with.

So, what did I get for thirteen of my English pounds? The book included 9 sets of rules that covered most of history – each with a brief introduction to the period in question. Then a chunky 30 scenarios that can be used with each set of rules. Small sections on campaigns and solo play are also included followed by appendixes on background reading for war games and useful addresses.

Before looking at the meat of the book – the rules and scenarios I will cover the remaining pages first. The ‘useful addresses’ is basically a list of some figure manufactures. This is not really very useful as such things are easy to find on the web, as are forums where it  is easy to get useful recommendations of figures to buy based on any preferences you give on period, scale and sculpting style. This section seemed to me to be included as a self conscious copying of the format of war games books of ‘the good old days’, which always included such a section. In fact the style of the whole book seems to be deliberately ‘Featherstonesque’ (a reference that I am sure any wargamers reading this will understand. If any non wargamers have found their way here through vague interest or mistake, Don Featherstone was a prolific wargames writer from the 60s). This I do not say as a condemnation by the way – I love reading all the classic wargames books, but more to help orientate people to where One Hour Wargames is coming from.

The section on useful books I would rate as well, useful for someone starting out in the hobby, lots of good reading recommendations to get you started.

The sections on campaigns and solo wargames I found to be a bit of a waste of time – far to brief to be useful. Those on campaigns can be summed up in ‘play a few games in a row and the person that wins the most wins the campaign’ with a few more ideas than that – but not many. Funnily enough when I started discussing playing games with these rules with my boy he said ‘the war can be ten battles. Whoever wins the most battles wins the war’ (I managed to haggle him down to five). When a section on playing a campaign is paraphrased by a seven year old with the first idea he has about how to linked battles together this is probably a clue that it is not in depth enough to be worth putting in the book. Far more useful is the recommendations in the appendix on books for campaigns and solo play.

So, onto the reason that anyone is going to buy the book – the rules and scenario’s – ‘are they any good?’ I hear you ask (if indeed you are still reading after all this waffle). Before I answer that I am going to say how I am going to answer it; as I have seen reviews of wargames rules on the web after a read through and before the reviewer has played the game, which seems a bit not useful to me. First I will give a brief description of the rules from a read through. I will then give a brief write up of some games (the five game ‘campaign’ that me and the boy agreed to play) with some thoughts on the game after each one. I feel you need to play a few games with a set of rules before you get properly to grips with it. I will then give my considered view at the end of this. If you are still reading after all that I salute you and welcome your views on the rules as well.
Enough of the blah blah blah – tell us about the rules!

Each set of rules is about four, not very closely typed A5 pages. This makes them short enough to get to grips with easily but makes me suspect that there will be plenty of holes in them for the players to fill – we will find this out as we play the review games. For all the 9 periods of warfare (from Ancient to WW2) there is a very similar format. All the rules have four troop types and each game is played with six units aside. it is how the limited number of troop types  interact with each other that period flavour is attempted to be brought out.  This seems very (to?) simple to give anything other than a generic feel to each rules set but I am willing to reserve judgment until I have played a few games. The rest is fairly standard rules fare, each unit moves x amount of inches, throw a dice to get the outcome of combat yadda yadda. No morale rules – fight for 15 turns or until someone is wiped out. Have no problem with that by the way, with simple rules you have to cut out a lot of complexity and ditching a separate morale system seems like an obvious move. If you want to complain about it I suppose it can be rationalised as a unit being destroyed represents it breaking and running – there you go, morale covered. A unit has 15 hits and is taken of when this amount of hits is reached. OK, got all that and explained it to my boy. We had one very small game for him to learn to the basics of moving and fighting (and the effectiveness of flank attacks) where he had 2 units and I had 1. By the end of this he seemed to have it all more or less down so the rules pass the test of ‘simple enough for a seven year old to understand’. But would they also fulfil my other criteria.

Before getting onto the games and therefore the review of the rules proper I think it may be useful to state  the criteria that I would judge the rules by. After a bit of thought I decided these would be

1.       Does the boy enjoy playing?
2.       Is enough thought required to make the game worth playing on a (semi) regular basis?
3.      Does the game give an impression of being a representation of a battle of the period it is claiming to represent rather than just a generic game (however interesting that game might be)?
4.       Does the game meet my arbitrary, whimsical, undefined and changing ideas of what I want from a game at this moment if time?

This last one is obviously a bit unfair. On the other hand it is a criteria that we all probably apply to the games we play so, yah, life is unfair. I have just realised how much it must suck to be a rules writer some times. So for any rules writers out there that are reading this I would like to thank you for your time and effort in producing rules in what is usually a labour of love – even if I do not subsequently appreciate them.  Will upload a write up and some thoughts on the first game shortly.