Wednesday, 2 March 2011

The portable wargame: The latest draft of the rules

After yesterday's battle report, I thought that blog readers might like to see the latest draft of the rules I used. I have therefore uploaded a pdf version, and it is available from the following link:
Frontier/Musket Wargames Rules
for use with a chessboard battlefield


  1. I've been enjoying the portable game and find it appealing but when it comes to cavalry, I'm wondering if I've missed something?

    As I read it, cavalry have less chance than infantry of being moved at all (1 in 6 per die vs 2 chances one of which is multiple units). When they do move, they move the same speed as infantry unless they can score multiple cavalry results on the dice and if there aren't many cavalry units. (For example, if there were 3 cavalry units and a command stand, there is no possibility of moving all of the cavalry in one turn)

    Cavalry can't shoot and are no stronger in melee than infantry. Without being faster, they seem unlikely to be able to use maneuver to over come their weakness by flanking the enemy.

    My questions are:
    - Have I missed read the rules or got it wrong?

    -Why would a player take cavalry if he had a choice? ( a question that could perhaps have been asked of some late 19thC European commanders )

    - If you were playing a game involving a cavalry heavy army, would you alter the dice as a special scenario rule to give the cavalry a better chance to move more units more often? (Perhaps Tuarags vs French FL, or a Cossack force, or involving mounted infantry like Boers etc)

    A most interesting game.

    -Ross Mac

  2. Ross Mac,

    Thanks for your very thought-provoking comments!

    You have spotted my bias when it comes to cavalry! I suspect it came about as a result of my experiences when working with a blacksmith when I was younger – I soon discovered that horses can be bl**dy awkward when they want to be, can bite, and like to try to stamp on your feet when you are shoeing them.

    Seriously though, you have a point with regard to the use of the activation dice, and if you were fielding a cavalry-heavy army, the current system does penalise you. The odds of being able to move a Cavalry Unit are 1 in 6, whereas the odds of being able to move at least one Infantry Unit are 1 in 2. In addition, the average number of Infantry Units able to move is 2, whereas the average number of Cavalry Units can only be 1.

    One thing you might have misunderstood is the distance Cavalry Units can move. The can move 2 grid squares per turn as opposed to Infantry Units that are only able to move 1 grid square. Along roads, those move distances are doubled. Had I been able to field some Cavalry Units in the play-test battle, each side could have made a dash for the bridge with their cavalry using the road.

    As to choice of a player using cavalry or not … well for the ‘Seize and Hold’ scenario, I suspect that the addition of one or two Cavalry Units to one or both sides would have changed the nature of the battle.

    One way that I could get around the problem of the activation dice would be to allow players to ‘trade off’ or exchange Infantry Unit activations for Cavalry Unit activations (and vice versa).

    For example, if the activation dice allowed a player to activate three Infantry Units, a Cavalry Unit, a Command Unit, and an Artillery Unit, the player could actually activate four Infantry Units (‘trading off’ or exchanging the Cavalry Unit for an Infantry Unit), a Command Unit, and an Artillery Unit. Alternately, the could actually activate two Infantry Units (‘trading off’ or exchanging an Infantry Unit for a Cavalry Unit), a Command Unit, and an Artillery Unit or one Infantry Unit (‘trading off’ or exchanging two Infantry Units for two Cavalry Units), a Command Unit, and an Artillery Unit.

    I could have adopted the PIP system used in the DBx series of games, but I felt that for solo play, players needed to have some limitations placed on what they could or could not do.

    All the best,


  3. Bob,
    Ross Mac makes a very good point about the relative chances of moving cavalry and the lack of a multiple move for cavalry unless more than one die permits cavalry movement.
    Without discussing the tactical role and strength of cavalry in different historical periods, the fundamental issue, IMHO, is whether a commander - at any level - should be prevented by mere random chance from issuing orders to all/any of the units under his command? I remember Jim Wallman making a similar point about having to produce an argument, backed up by three reasons, to move a unit in a Matrix Game. As he said, "I order the X Corps to move and it does so, because I'm the Army Commander and so I can!"
    Then there is the issue of coordinating different units, which would become very difficult in the case of cavalry and artillery. There might be a case for a rule similar to that in DBA, that several units in contact with each other may be given one order applicable to them all, and that this counts as only one activation, but requires more than one PIP. Perhaps with these rules, one could use a number of activations less than the number of units involved, to reflect the effort required to coordinate them?
    I'm beginning to think that the dice should allow the commander to activate any arm of service, but that there should be one blank face to represent 'friction' preventing anything being done, and that the number of dice should be decreased in respect of the number of units, but that more skilful generals/efficient staffs should have an extra die.
    The numbers of dice and the meanings of their faces could also be adjusted for different levels of command and/or historical periods.

  4. Bob,

    My compliments on your audience. Yes, I guess we old fogies still have something to contribute--hopefully not just to other old fogies, however! It would be interesting to get a cross-section of those who have been tuning in. Is it possible to set up a survey of some kind?

    Regarding your rules (uh oh, here it comes), have you considered reversing the order of fire? That is, Player 2 would fire after Player 1 moves, and vice-versa? That would enable a defender to get a shot off before close combat is resolved. As it is, a unit can close without having to worry if the defender's fire will prevent the attack. Maybe this would be better for the latter part of the period, when infantry (and MG) fire increased so enormously.

    Just a thought...

    Best regards,


  5. Thanks Bob, I did miss the 2 in the movement column on the table and was interpreting the may move once rule as being 1 square. In my defense I have lost my reading glasses and the replacements aren't due until next week :)

    The extra movement is what I was thinking of, it allows them, with the possibility of a double move to use maneuverabilty to make up for the lack of firepower.

    After years of limiting players with various activation systems, I'm getting away from it, especially for solo games but I can certainly see arguements for it. I think for standard mid & late 19thC armies there would be no need to allow a trade off but a cavalry heavy force might need to reverse the odds. I don't have the risk dice so would be using standard dice, adjusting the table for a cossack division making an attack would be easy enough.

    I'm hoping to give them a spin sometime in the next week. Just need to cut a scrap or 2 of wood to size and line off some squares.

  6. Arthur1815,

    I agree that Ross Mac has made a very important point, and it is something that I need to think carefully about. What I don’t want to do is to just copy the DBx PIP system, even though a lot of players will know and understand it.

    Your suggestion that the dice should allow players to activate any type of Unit has considerable merit, especially if – as in the current system – the number of activation dice they can throw goes down as they lose Units. I also like the idea that more skilful commanders might be given more activation dice than less capable commanders.

    It also means that players may not need to buy or make special activation dice, but could use ordinary dice instead.

    I will try to work my ideas up into something that I can write a blog entry about.

    Many thanks for your excellent ideas (and to Ross Mac for his thought-provoking comments as well).

    All the best,


  7. Chris,

    Old fogies! Not you and me … and the rest of my blog readers! We may be aging in physical terms but certainly not in any other way!

    It would be interesting to have some idea about who reads my blog on a regular basis, but I am unsure how to set up a simple survey on a blog. If I find out how to do it, I may well give it a try.

    With regard to your idea for reversing the order of fire … I must admit that it had not occurred to me to do it, but the idea has considerable merit. It is not in the version Joseph Morschauser’s original wargames rules that I have based my rules on … but as he says in his book, ‘There is no rule which says you cannot make up your own rules, no matter how wild.

    It is something that I will give some considerable thought to, especially when I start work on the early 20th century version of the portable wargame.

    All the best,


  8. Ross Mac,

    Thanks to your thought-provoking comments and arthur1815’s suggestions, I am giving serious consideration as to how to change the existing ‘activation dice’ system so that it retains a degree of unpredictability combined with a less restriction on the players as to what types of Units they can activate.

    I hope to work my ideas up into something that I can write a blog entry about sometime over the next few days.

    All the best,