Friday, January 15, 2021

Modding One Hour Wargames, Part 2: Statistical analysis of Attacks and Hits

In the last post, I’ve outlined the basic elements found in OHW’s rules. My goal is to understand how they work and interact before finalizing my rules variants for the eras that most inspire me. The first element I want to analyze in detail is what is usually explicitly perceived as ‘the combat system’, which basically just involves units inflicting a variable number of ‘hits’ on opponents.

From a simulation point of view I see hits not as just representing casualties, but the interplay of all adverse factors hindering a formation’s combat endurance, such as morale erosion, supply depletion, disorder and so on. A typical attack inflicts 1d6 hits; a strong attack inflicts 1d6+2, a weak one 1d6-2. Attacks inflict 200% of the rolled hits in advantageous situations, and are instead reduced to 50% or even 25% (fractions are always rounded up) when rolling for what Kriegsspiel would call ‘bad effect’. I couldn’t find any instance of a double advantage (i.e. 400% hits) in the rules. This means that there are just 12 degrees of attack effectiveness in OHW, and it’s possible to calculate how many hits they will inflict on average:

 

Attack

strength

 

Table 1: Average hits inflicted per attack (possible results in parentheses)

 

25% effect

50% effect

100% effect

200% effect

Weak

(1d6-2)

0.67 (0,0,1,1,1,1)

1.00 (0,0,1,1,2,2)

1.67 (0,0,1,2,3,4)

3.33 (0,0,2,4,6,8)

Average

(1d6)

1.33 (1,1,1,1,2,2)

2.00 (1,1,2,2,3,3)

3.50 (1,2,3,4,5,6)

7.00 (2,4,6,8,10,12)

Strong

(1d6+2)

1.67 (1,1,2,2,2,2)

3.00 (2,2,3,3,4,4)

5.50 (3,4,5,6,7,8)

11.00 (6,8,10,12,14,16)

 

A few things become immediately apparent. First of all, only ‘weak’ attacks can sometimes be completely ineffective; all other attacks will put a dent, however small, on their target. Second, there’s only one case in which an attack can result in utter annihilation of a fresh target unit, and it’s quite a rare one: you need to launch a strong attack in favorable conditions, then roll a 6. In most cases, you’ll need several turns to eliminate enemy units – an important consideration when planning a strategy for most OHW scenarios.

 One Hour Wargames has the Fibonacci Sequence at its core!?!

 There’s nothing particularly subtle or elegant in the table above. However, if you instead calculate how many turns a given type of attack will need to dispatch a fresh enemy unit with exactly 15 hits, something special happens. Small differences between certain types of attack disappear and an elegant symmetry emerges. The interesting thing is that you don’t generally get this effect – it’s the fact that units have exactly 15 hits and modifiers being the way they are to make it emerge. I don’t think it is just a coincidence!

 

Attack

strength

 

Table 2: Average number of attacks needed to destroy fresh enemy unit

 

25% effect

50% effect

100% effect

200% effect

Weak

(1d6-2)

23

15

9

5

Average

(1d6)

12

8

5

3

Strong

(1d6+2)

9

5

3

2

 

Due to their ‘hidden’ symmetry, OHW’s combat rules imply that the impact of those +2 or -2 attack modifiers some of the units have are statistically equivalent to situational advantages and disadvantages such as cover or flank attacks, AND to numerical superiority! For example, two units rolling 1d6 at 100% effect will dispatch one enemy unit in the same number of turns needed by one unit rolling 1d6+2 (numerical superiority and attack quality have the same statistical ‘weight’). Due to this, you can compress Table 2 into just this sequence of numbers, which correspond to the turns needed to destroy a fresh unit on average:

 “1 – 2 – 3 – (5) – 8/9 – 12/15 – 23”

 How do you use this? Start at number five: a standard attack by just one unit will take 5 turns to beat a fresh enemy. For each additional attacking unit above one, each advantageous situation (e.g. flank attack), and each +2 modifier contributing to the attack – shift by one step to the left. For each disadvantageous contingency (e.g. cover, armor, weak attack) – shift to the right. That’s the estimated number of turns needed to overcome the target unit.

 For example, two (numerical advantage: one shift to left) H&M-era line infantry units (normal 1d6 attacks – no shift) will need 3 turns of their combined efforts to destroy one enemy unit, or 5 if it’s in a town (one shift to the right). One ancient skirmishers unit (weak attack, one shift to the right) would need to throw javelins for the entire battle at a heavy infantry unit (another shift to the right due to armor) to destroy it – which nicely summarizes Iphicrates’ plan at Lechaeum, by the way.

 …All of which might be impressive enough by itself, except that there’s more – the sequence of numbers above is freakingly close to the Fibonacci Sequence! No wonder, then, that OHW rules ‘feel’ somehow right… They literally have the Golden Ratio at the core of its mechanics!

 Possible tweaks

 I don’t think it’s necessary to modify the fundamental mechanisms of inflicting and accumulating hits. In particular, I’ll follow the author’s example and avoid using stacked “x2” hits multipliers resulting in attacks at 400% effect – these would probably be too swingy and would undermine the slow, attritional nature of combat as used in the rules.

 Conversely, changing the amount of hits a given unit can sustain before collapsing (15 in the RAW) seems to be an obvious opportunity for representing different unit sizes/quality/supply/morale. Ideally, I’d like to change it so that the symmetry of Table #2 is preserved. For example, units with exactly 11 hits still largely behave as above, but are defeated 1 turn sooner on average. There are some distortions, but they are relegated to rarely used parts of the table. Some of the other numbers, like 12 or 20, bring the irregularities to the most relevant part of the table instead… but I’m not sure it actually makes a difference during play, we’ll see.

 In general, I would hesitate to give units less than 10 starting hits. That’s because if you do, you’ll start having a whole bunch of attacks possibly eliminating units in one turn – a ‘sudden death’ variant in which hits thus represent a sort of unit ‘survivability’ to attacks, rather than their attritional endurance. This might be feasible for games with much more than six total units per side – where attrition is represented by removal of units. At the opposite end of the spectrum, units with more than 20 hits will be nigh-unstoppable behemots which are probably best avoided except in the most peculiar circumstances…

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Modding One Hour Wargames, Part 1: The Basic Elements

As nearly everyone starting to dabble in One Hour Wargames rules and scenarios, I started to keep a list of the amendments I’d like to make to better suit my view of certain eras and/or aspects of warfare. I have the impression that Mr. Thomas purposely simplified OHW rules-as-written (RAW) to the utmost extreme in order to maximize accessibility and speed of play, at the expense of almost everything else. And it's a perfectly valid approach, as testified by the fact that you can get tactically rich ‘haiku’ wargaming from the combination of one of the scenarios, random force rolls and the RAW.

Of course, several of the tactical nuances characterizing conflicts of given era are lost in this sort of broad-brush depiction; basically, I’d like to inject some extra period flavor in my OHW games, while keeping its minimalistic simplicity.

You might ask why I want to modify OHW instead of using one of the many, (and more detailed) rulesets available on the market. Well, first and foremost because I’m a rule junkie and I really like tinkering with stuff. But in addition to that, because I think that the majority of wargames published these days are seriously over‑engineered, with a plethora of complicated procedures which often fail to actually add something to the game when compared to their predecessors. I’ve become convinced that one can build reasonably good models of various types of warfare by judiciously combining the basic elements found in OHW’s rules.

Now, OHW seems so simple and bare-bone that it’s easy to dismiss it as trivial or boring upon first skimming through the book. But I’ve found that its recipe is surprisingly rich, and some of the ingredients are not immediately self-evident on first reading. This is a list of how general warfare concepts are modeled in OHW:

1) Combat endurance: Hits (representing casualties, morale erosion, supply depletion), Armor
2) Lethality: inflicted hits per attack (possibly dependent on target)
3) Power projection: Attack ranges, Attack arcs, Line-of-sight requirements
4) Asymmetric unit protection: ‘Vulnerable’ arcs of units
5) Assault Capability: how units can/cannot combine movement and attack
6) Mobility and Maneuverability: Movement allowances; Restrictions on pivoting
9) Density and Concentration of Force: Actual size and shape of the unit, Interpenetration
10) Terrain: access completely restricted or limited; situational advantage/disadvantage for attacks
11) Engagement and Evasion: Movement in melee and/or under attack. Imperviousness to some attacks.

I've come to realize that this list contains all the basic elements needed to (coarsely!) model force on force interactions of just any kind at a sufficiently high unit level (think brigades/legions rather than battalions/maniples). Even though some universal aspects of warfare – like fog of war or battle tempo – seem blatantly absent at first sight, I think it’s possible to model them implicitly via careful combination of just those basic elements and their emergent interactions (but I’m jumping ahead of myself here)…

My point is that if a given OHW ruleset feels too bland, unhistorical or tactically ‘flat’, it’s just a minor design problem, in the sense that the system itself is flexible and robust enough to be made to work somehow – you only have to tweak it to your satisfaction. And that’s exactly what I’m planning to do in the immediate future! I already have tons of ideas I’m jotting down in these days… OHW rules (ahem)!

However, I want to be sure I really understand the RAW in all their ramifications before I commit to anything. In the next posts, I’ll discuss each (…most? …several? …at least a few?) of the basic elements listed above.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

‘Hexing’ Horse and Musket One Hour Wargames

As many fine gentlemen before me, I felt the urge to convert OHW’s rules to play them on a gridded map. My main goal was to be able to play on a much smaller area than my sausage fingers allow when using free movement, with additional side benefits including being able to play online/by mail or similar method. Ideally, I wanted to stay as close as possible to the free movement rules described in the book – including subtle emergent effects and interactions between troop types, unit frontage/density, board to movement ratios, ‘road block’ effects etc. I’ve realized that most OHW scenarios are very carefully balanced, and messing with any of the above parameters would unavoidably bias it toward one of the sides… making them much less interesting. As the title suggests, I’ve only tackled the horse and musket period so far – I think this is the era in which OHW rules most shine (this will be the subject of a future post, I think). Without further ado, this is what I’ve come up so far.

The Board

This was easy. All OHW scenario maps are 36”x36” squares, divided in nine 12”x12” sections. Most terrain features are neatly aligned with this grid and span some multiple of 6” in both directions. In theory, either hexes or squares would work, but I prefer hexes for everything except ancient pitched battles. I chose hexes to represent 3” on the map, resulting in a 12x12 square arrangement of hexes.

[Side note: double-sizing them to 6” would still adequately represent OHW maps, but would be too coarse to represent some of the finer implications of the movement rules].

Unit representation

Here, the obvious choice would be to have each unit occupy one hex, but this would largely underplay the actual size of the units with respect to board size. In the rules-as-written, artillery must occupy a 2”-4” frontage, while all other units’ width is specified to be 4”-6”. This is actually important because the larger the units, the harder it is to concentrate firepower, coordinate attacks and form an ordered battle line. Since I always like a tactical challenge, I’ve opted to have all units at maximum size (4” for artillery and 6” for infantry, skirmishers and cavalry). Due to this, I play with all units occupying two adjacent hexes. Artillery is admittedly a borderline case, but I’ve found that having two different unit sizes needed a lot of extra rules overhead for little benefit – so I’ve accepted a (slight) overestimation of its frontage instead. Having units span two adjacent hexes also mean that their ‘centre point’ (as often invoked by the rules) can be univocally defined as the node connecting their two hexes on the front side.

[Side note: in the following discussion, when I refer to “part” of a unit I mean “at least one hex containing the unit”].

Ranges and front arc

Figure 1 shows how to calculate ranges to and from a unit. OHW requires most measurements to be performed from centre points (even though it’s often vague about where exactly the target point is, but I’ll discuss this later). Due to this, a somewhat counterintuitive result is that the only hexes at a 3” range are those adjacent to both the unit’s hexes. All other adjacent hexes are considered to be 6” away, then 9”, and so on. No further surprises here! Front arc can be easily defined as in figure; it’s the closest you can get to 45° with hexes and I don’t see any better options.

[Side note: when a scenario specifies that a unit must enter ‘from’ a given point, I play that the specified point is the front hex at 3” distance and measure movement consequently].

Figure 1: centre point (red dot), front arc (shaded area) and distance of hexes relative to a unit. Ranges beyond 12” are only needed for artillery shooting. OTOH, artillery range is so huge (150% of a board edge!) that it’s hardly necessary to actually measure it…

Movement

OK, this was a bit tricky to nail down. In OHW rules-as-written, moving a unit entails shifting its centre point along a straight line up to their movement allowance; unrestricted pivoting on the centre point is allowed at the start AND the end of the move. This creates a series of implications which one may or may not like (I think they’re kind of OK for horse and musket games); for example, you cannot go ‘around’ impassable terrain or units in one move; and pivoting at the end of the move effectively gives you a slight boost in terms of how far some part of the unit can travel in a move.

Another aspect to consider is that if you only allow one unit to occupy each hex, you artificially reducing the maximum density of troops achievable under standard rules. This is often relevant as several scenarios have units enter from a specified point such as a road; and maneuvering slow units out of tight spots can be extremely difficult if stacking is disallowed, resulting in ‘traffic congestions’ that simply wouldn’t happen with free movement.

To reflect all this, I define a normal (i.e. non-charge) legal move as a move in which:

1) At least part of the unit (see above) ends within its maximum movement allowance.

2) An unblocked straight path exists between the starting centre point and the final centre point. A movement straight path is blocked by any part of a hex (EXCLUDING hexsides and corners) containing terrain the mover cannot enter, and/or units the mover cannot pass through. In the horse and musket era, this mainly means that skirmishers ignore other units and woods when moving; and that all units ignore skirmishers. Only infantry and skirmishers can end their move being partly in a town; other terrain types work as described in the book, without hex conversion problems.

3) Exactly two friendly units can stack in the same hex (or hexes), but only if both have the same facing. Enemy units can never stack. The relative position of stacking units counts (i.e. one will be in front of the other; I can’t find the energy to actually write down rules for this, but it’s quite obvious that one of the two stacked units will be the only possible target of shooting/charges depending on the angle of attack).

Figure 2: examples of movement. Shaded hexes are those within infantry Unit #1’s 6” movement allowance. Unit #1 (move = 6”) can move to positions A and B, since they both result in part of the unit still being within movement range. The moving unit cannot pass through Unit #2 (so it cannot move to D), but it can still move to B because the movement straight path only touches the edges of a blocked hex rather than its interior. Unit #1 can move to C because it ends aligned (i.e. having the same facing) with Unit #2. It cannot move to E since the movement straight path touches the interior of an hex containing terrain it cannot pass.

Charges

In OHW, charges only differ from normal moves in just two respects: (1) pivoting is only allowed before moving, and (2) initial pivoting cannot exceed 45°. Point (1) means that you cannot use that ‘extra pivoting reach’ you usually get as a side effect of normal moves to contact enemies (that would definitely look silly). Point (2) can be also rephrased to “you can only charge targets in your frontal arc”.

A crucial point is that you actually have to reach your target with a charge! I know it seems trivial, but most grid adaptations I’ve seen allow melee attacks to be performed from adjacent hexes, while still requiring units to fire into target hexes. However, this messes up OHW unit balance completely: for example, it would allow horse and musket cavalry to frontally charge infantry and skirmishers without ever coming under fire, which is impossible in the rules as written.

Translating all this to hexes, a legal charge move must comply with these additional requirements with respect to a normal move:

1) A charge move must end with the whole unit within movement range (no extra 'pivoting' range for part of the unit at the end of the move)!

2) It must end with at least part of the charging unit in the SAME HEX as part of the target unit; facing is irrelevant since this does not count as stacking. [Side note: in the horse and musket rules, this brief occupation of the same hex by chargers and their targets is immediately resolved after rolling for casualties, since cavalry will either shatter their target or be repulsed].

3) At least part of the target unit must be within the charger's front arc at the start of the charge.

Charges to the flank and rear are adjudicated based on the target’s front arc: if at least part of the charging unit lies within the target unit's front arc at the start of its move, it's a frontal charge. If not, it is a flank/rear charge. Easy-peasey!

Repulsed cavalry charges

The book is quite vague about how exactly moving falling back units. I play that a repulsed cavalry unit must move ‘back’ to a position (1) fully within its original front arc, and (2) within 6” of the target hex.

[Side note: due to how charging and falling back work, I’ve found it’s much easier to just declare a charge without actually moving the cavalry unit, adjudicating its final position only after the charge’s outcome is known].

Figure 3: examples of charging. Cavalry Unit #5 can charge enemy infantry unit #1 since it can reach a hex containing part of it with a legal move fully ending within its 12” movement allowance (shaded area). It cannot charge Units #2 and #3 because the straight movement paths are obstructed by terrain (#2) or units (#3) it cannot pass through. An unobstructed straight movement path exists to Unit #4 (it only touches the corner of one hex occupied by cavalry Unit #6); however, the target unit cannot be reached with a legal charge move since it fully lies outside the cavalry’s 12” charge range. Unit #1 will count as attacked in the flank/rear; charges towards all other units would have counted as frontal (if they could be reached, that is).

Shooting

In addition to being stationary as per standard OHW rules, a shooter can inflict losses on a target unit if all of the following is true:

1) At least part of the target unit must lie within the shooter’s frontal arc AND shooting range.

2) An unblocked shooting straight path (aka LOS) must exist between the shooter's centre point and the target's centre point. LOS is blocked by any part of a hex (EXCLUDING hexsides and corners) containing enemy units other than the target, friendly units, and 'area' LOS-blocking terrain (woods, towns etc). LOS extends into (or out of) one such hex, but no further. Hills have a central crest which runs along hex sides; LOS is only blocked if it crosses the crest.

Figure 4: shooting examples. Infantry unit Blue#1 has not moved, and has as many as four enemy units at least partly within its front arc! However, it quickly realizes it cannot shoot Red#1, since it’s fully outside musket (12”) range. Red#2 and Red #4 are within shooting range, but neither can be shot since LOS is obstructed by a hex containing an enemy (#2) or friendly (#4) unit. A somewhat irritated musket staccato can be heard as Blue#1 begins shooting its only available target, Red#3.

Figure 5: more shooting examples (terrain and LOS). Again, Blue#1 is apparently spoilt for choice with regard to possible targets. Skirmisher unit Red#9 can be targeted (at half effect) since part of it is within front arc and range; LOS extends into the first met obstructing terrain hex. However, it cannot extend out of such a hex; due to this, LOS to Red#2 is obstructed. View of Red#3 is completely obstructed by the hill (LOS is blocked by the highlighted hill crest hexsides).

I’ve used these rules for several OHW horse and musket games without any particular problem – I think they work just fine. The first scenario I’ve tried with hexes was the excellent No.8 “Mêlée”, and it resulted to be extremely balanced through multiple replays – a good indication that no bias was introduced by ‘hexing’. Encouraged, I continued with other scenarios. I’ll post about this soon.

Figure 6 - OHW scenario #8 converted to hexes with terrain annotations - useful to get players on the same page prior to battle!


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

"Building Blocks": micro-blocks for One Hour Wargames

Neil Thomas clearly stated his design goals for “One Hour Wargames” right in the book’s subtitle: “Practical Tabletop Battles for Those with Limited Time and Space”. I think the basic idea was to start from the simplest and most intuitive miniature wargaming mechanisms, then keep chiseling stuff away until a quintessential core was left. The result is a set of scenarios, rules and army lists which still yields tactically rich, interesting gameplay but is much less taxing than usual in terms of time, space, budget, and mnemonic demands.

But there’s one aspect of Thomas’ book I really can’t understand: the recurring insistence on the fact that you need a 3’x3’ board, terrain and miniature armies to play the game at all. That still sounds a rather high entry fee for a complete novice just to try the rules. Moreover, OHW’s suggested board and unit size is a lot larger than what literally thousands of DBA players across the globe use with 15mm miniatures since decades (with twice the number of units, by the way). A much more versatile and beginner-friendly approach would have been to simply generalize board size and unit frontage to 36x36 and 4-6 “length units” respectively, then let players choose the real-world unit of measure most fitting the physical representation they might choose. For example, my very first (disastrous) OHW playtest featured 5cm x 1cm wooden blocks for units, and a 36cm x 36cm featureless board. Same gameplay as the original - in a considerably more practical package!

Through successive iterations, I’ve discovered that playing on even smaller spaces is perfectly feasible. But since free movement and measuring can become a bit fiddly past a certain point, I’ve switched to hexes to regulate ranges and movement – otherwise still playing the rules-as-written in every respect. In that way, I can fit the scenario map, a unit roster and a turn track into a single A4 page! For units, I’m using my trusty ‘microblock’ approach. For a variety of reasons, I like to use thin (5mm x 5mm) square section rods cut to various size for depicting units in kriegsspiel-style games in most eras (instead of the most common thicker blocks), but that’s a story for another day. For the A4-sized OHW experiment, I’ve just painted several 30mm-long blocks in suitably stately red and blue hues, then used a glue stick to apply 28mm x 3mm labels with generic military symbols and a numerical unit ID. I’ve considered covering everything in mod-podge to increase block/label durability, but that proved to be unnecessary so far.

...Aren’t they’re cute?

With this approach, I just need to print one A4 pdf file instead of building/assembling/laying terrain on a 3’x’3 board; and building a grand total of 20 small wooden blocks instead of collecting, painting, and basing two armies worth of troops. The only risk is that ‘one-hour’ wargaming might turn into something more like ’20 minutes’ wargaming. I’m willing to take the risk.

I’ve only assembled Horse & Musket-themed microblocks so far – I have different plans for other eras with respect to block/label aesthetics. After all, I only need ten blocks per side to cover all combinations of troops in OHW, so I can afford to put at least some work into them!

The first A4-OHW prototype. Now take that, “limited time and space”!!!
 

Next time, I’ll start explaining how I organized my (ongoing) OHW playtest games.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

One-Hour Wargames: First Impressions

A few weeks ago I started to find mentions of the book “One-Hour Wargames: Practical Tabletop Battles for Those with Limited Time and Space” by Neil Thomas in several of the blogs I follow. This book seems to have made quite an impact around 2014-2015, then the interest somewhat waned in the small portion of the blogosphere I routinely check – but there are people out there who keep using these rules almost exclusively to this day. This has to mean something, I reasoned. Moreover, I’m a firm believer of the fact that complicatedness (as opposed to complexity!) in wargame rules is seldom necessary, and – very often – the result of sub-optimal design. Due to this, the main premise of the book intrigued me; I ordered the book and just devoured it in one go. First things first: English is not my native language, but I’ve found Thomas’ prose concise and vivid at the same time- a very pleasurable read.

You can tell whether I liked a book or not by the number of earmarks and improvised bookmarks. I count 3 bookmarks and 2 earmarks on OHW – not bad for a page count of around 150!

I’m not going to provide a detailed review of the book here: first of all because many bloggers with finer minds than mine already did. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check these reviews first:

https://johnswargames.wordpress.com/2014/11/04/one-hour-wargames/
http://shaun-wargaming-minis.blogspot.com/2014/11/ancient-game-with-8-yo-daughter-and-one.html
http://daleswargames.blogspot.com/2019/12/one-hour-wargames.html
http://hereticalgaming.blogspot.com/2014/09/neil-thomas-one-hour-wargames.html
http://keefsblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/one-hour-wargames.html
http://darkages40and25.blogspot.com/2014/11/neil-thomas-one-hour-wargames-review.html
http://wargamingmiscellany.blogspot.com/2014/10/the-solo-wargaming-guide-and-one-hour.html

I think there’s a clear overall trend emerging:

1)     Everyone agrees that Neil Thomas’ OHW rules are very simple.

2)      A not insignificant fraction of reviewers/commenters think that they are too simple to be actually enjoyable as a wargame; but most think they’re just fine.

3)      Among those who think they’re fine, most say that they are perfect for casual/occasional gaming, novices, kids, spouses, etc; a precious few think that they’re just really fine as a full-fledged wargame, with no tags attached.

4)      Everyone agrees on the fact that the scenarios are very cool and supremely useful even if you don’t plan to use OHW rules.

5)      Everyone is compelled to write house rules and mods immediately upon reading the book – often you see variants and mods discussed in the reviews themselves! These rules can’t be left alone. I think the above happens for two distinct reasons:

5a) Rules themselves are short, but they’re not tournament-tight as presented in the book. It’s not like there’s anything strange or difficult about the rules themselves – but Thomas always describes the various game procedures in simple (but somewhat vague) terms rather than specialized jargon. So, players are practically required to come up with their own answers to several open questions before (or during) play. Fortunately, that’s not difficult at all – and you can find several perfectly fine examples in the blogosphere (along with some very thoroughly-considered examples, e.g:

http://ecw40mmproject.blogspot.com/2017/05/whats-missing-in-one-hour-wargames-rules.html)

5b) OHW rules are very robust, but at the same time very bare-bone. This combination makes everyone (myself included, I confess) want to beef it up in some way, often before actually trying them out first.

Before I continue, I’d like to elaborate a bit on point 5b above. In many ways, I find there’s a strong conceptual link between what 1st edition D&D does within the ‘RPG continuum’ and where OHW resides in the ‘wargame continuum’. Before the recent ‘old-school renaissance’, which brought forth a wide re-evaluation of mid-70’s roleplaying games as valid and functional designs, they were often ridiculed as ‘too simple’ and ‘primitive’ by RPG players from the early 80’s on. Just as an example: in the ‘original D&D’ (often called ODD) rules-as-written, entering combat means simply trading blows in turns, with successful strikes whittling a (very limited) pool of hit points. Accruing hits have no mechanical impact unless you tick all of them off – in that case, you’re toast. Sounds familiar? Well, it’s almost exactly identical to the combat mechanism used in OHW – in fact, the combat rules found in a (very cool) ODD-inspired game actually are the mechanical equivalent of OHW: https://www.bastionland.com/ [Edited to add: I can’t believe it, but when I opened the Bastionland blog to paste its url here I found a mention of… Neil Thomas’ OHW! Now that’s some synchronicity, or serendipity, or something].

 

 

Still the best version of D&D... provided that you know how to approach it. Source: WoC website

The point is, there is literally nothing else in ODD’s combat rules. You can’t scan through your character sheet, find a cool power, and say “I’ll use this to win” - because practically nobody has got cool powers. Entering combat is often just accepting to trade damage for damage until one side collapses - which is (1) not very fun, and (2) often a losing proposition from the start. So, how do you approach combat in ODD if the rules themselves don’t offer you anything useful to work with? The most popular answer is that you basically don’t. Since there are no advantageous expected outcomes in a straight ODD fight, you must not accept fair fights; you should instead maneuver your character into a better fictional positioning before striking. Yeah, ODD rules don’t really encourage heroic combat – they encourage war. The interesting thing is that this is not achieved through explicit rules, but with their absence. I think people used to call this ‘the fruitful void’ in Forge RPG theory jargon a long time ago.

What I’m awkwardly trying to hint at is that rules in OHW basically do the same thing. If you just engage enemy units frontally, one-on-one, in clear terrain… the resulting game is quite dull (the same might be said about Arty Conliffe’s masterpiece Crossfire). But! Since no one has much to gain from this kind of fighting (you’re just accepting to trade damage for damage, with a very costly victory likely going to whoever initiated combat)… the game is effectively telling you that you must try to pile on whatever kind of ‘extra’ advantage you can muster. There’s no ‘lazy’ playing in OHW – each move poses a small tactical question, however basic or abstract. And the rules are so lean and transparent that you find yourself mostly thinking about your tactical choices rather than about rules themselves – a rare accomplishment in wargaming.

Before going on, I’d like to stress that OHW’s simple rules cannot be judged in isolation. As the author himself notes in more than one occasion in the book, the chosen scenario is a fundamental part of the toolbox. In other words, the game cannot live on the strength of ‘rules’ itself; in a direct parallel to an established mantra in the ODD community, the game only puts the player in an interesting situation and empowers him with meaningful, impactful choices. In absence of any of the two items, functional gameplay is seldom obtained. In addition, OHW also provides another tool of almost equal importance: random force selection rolls. If you take the number of tactical questions posed by each scenario, and multiply it times the different ways in which you can answer them with different force compositions, then again times the nine different period rulesets… You can get an awful lot of thought-provoking tactical exercises from this book – I’d say much more than what you typically get from many mainstream games of comparable (or much higher) complexity. Excellent!

However. While all of the above might mean that we’re looking at a very good game, nothing I said so far does guarantee that we’re looking at a very good war-game. Think about chess and draughts. They’re surely tactical and thought-provoking games, but nobody would consider them wargames… I think the main distinction to make here is about which kind of tactical questions the game poses. If the rules reward and punish player choices on the basis of mechanisms that are too far divorced from what a real military commander would take into consideration, then the game is probably not a ‘real wargame’, at least not in the sense I mean. But OHW rules are laser-focused on rewarding sensible, down-to-earth tactical choices that result in broadly historical behavior if answered conservatively (with some exceptions that I will almost certainly ramble about in future posts).

Some of these choices are rewarded in an explicit fashion: e.g. “when fighting in close combat, it is 200% more advantageous to attack the opponent’s flanks rather than its front”. But most of those explicit rules also create a cascade of implicit rewards to reap. As an example, even if you can move your units however you please, forming an ordered battle line is often advantageous, simply because it’s the most convenient way of not exposing your flanks to the enemy. There are many other examples of these implicit effects in OHW, with direct consequences on fire discipline, time/space trading, concentration of force, reserves etc.

To wrap everything up: there’s much, much more than meets the eye in OHW. And since every little detail is important, rules for the nine historical eras definitely do not offer the same gameplay. I did not playtest all of them yet, but my impression is that some of the nine rulesets are totally legit (in fact, brilliant) little wargames, while others are quite weak and unsatisfactory, for a variety of reasons. I’ve got the same feeling from the scenarios: some of them seem to be worthy of dozens of replays, others give the impression of being quite boring (in some cases, only when played in some of the eras) or artificially ‘gamey’.

Anyway: since this ‘first impressions’ post is probably longer than what you need to read to play your first OHW game, I think it’s time to call it quits. I’m planning a series of posts to discuss One Hour Wargames in further detail.