Sunday, 25 November 2012

Alternative Close Combat Mechanisms for the Portable Wargame … third attempt!

After spending some more time today looking at how the Close Combat mechanism used in my PORTABLE WARGAME rules could be made less ambiguous and easier to understand, I think (no, HOPE!) that I have finally cracked it.

The resulting chart is too difficult to include within this blog entry, so I have added it as an image. If readers click on the image, it should become large enough to read.

The following examples will hopefully enable readers to understand how the mechanism works.

Example 1
  • A Mounted Cavalry Unit attacks an entrenched Machine Gun Unit head on.
  • The Cavalry Unit throws a D6 die and scores 6.
  • The Machine Gun Unit is in fortifications so the die score is reduced by 1 to 5 ... but this is still enough to ensure that the Cavalry has 'hit' the Machine Gun Unit.
  • The Machine Gun Unit throws a D6 die and scores 5.
  • This score is not subject to any bonuses or reductions but it is still high enough to ensure that the Cavalry Unit is 'hit'.
Example 2
  • An Assault Gun Unit attacks a Light Tank Unit in the flank.
  • The Assault Gun Unit throws a D6 die and scores 2.
  • Because the attack has been made on the Light Tank Unit's flank the die score is increased by 1.
  • The resultant score is not sufficient to ensure that the Light Tank Unit is 'hit'.
  • The Light Tank Unit throws its D6 die and scores 6.
  • This score is not subject to any bonuses or reductions but it is still high enough to ensure that the Assault Gun Unit is 'hit'.
Example 3
  • An Infantry Unit – supported by a Commander in an adjacent grid area – attacks an entrenched Machine Gun Unit from the rear.
  • The Infantry Unit throws a D6 die and scores 3.
  • Because the attack has been made on the Machine Gun Unit's rear the die score is increased by 1.
  • It is increased by a further 1 because the Infantry Unit is supported by a Commander but decreased by 1 because the Machine Gun Unit is entrenched.
  • The resultant score is 4 and this is sufficient to ensure that the Machine Gun Unit is 'hit'.
  • The Machine Gun Unit throws its D6 die and scores 1.
  • This score is not subject to any bonuses or reductions and it not high enough to ensure that the Infantry Unit is 'hit'.
This is still very much a 'work in progress', but I feel a lot happier with the way it works than I did with the previous draft. I am still considering whether or not to reduce the odds of success slightly (e.g. 4, 5, or 6 [a 50% chance of success] being reduced to 5 or 6 [a 33% chance of success]) and/or increasing the bonus for flank or rear attacks from +1 to +2. My choices will be determined by a series of play-tests of the mechanism ... but when I will have time to set them up is currently impossible to predict.


  1. Hi Bob,
    I think you've got a winner there. Kudos for sticking with it. When our hobby become too much like work, it takes the luster out of it to some extent. You should reward yourself with something that requires minimum effort but provides relaxed enjoyment.

    As to dropping the hit #s for close combat, it kind of makes sense that this kind of close action, while it might not destroy a unit outright (although it could), it would frequently exhaust a unit to the point of being useless for the remainder of the battle, even if they won. On the other hand, lower hit numbers would prolong the game somewhat, if that is the desired result.

    Thanks again, and regards,

  2. The Ferrymen (John),

    You are right about not approaching ones a hobby like work ... but sometimes you know that until you sort something out, it is going to niggle away at you and that you won't rest until it is sorted. This is a case in point.

    After some reflection I am going to reduce the chance of Units 'hitting' each other during Close Combat. It is a gut reaction as I have only been able to run through a dozen or so test Close Combats. Perhaps some proper play-testing will change my mind ... but somehow I doubt it. I suppose that what I want to achieve is the occasional 'break and run' reaction as well as some slogging matches … and the tests produced lots of the former and fewer of the latter than I had hoped.

    All the best,


  3. Bob,
    In my opinion, you have now achieved a simple, easily understood system for Close Combat, with the great merit that users can tinker with the chances of 'hits',the factors affecting such chances and the outcomes. I would support your idea of reducing the chance of 'hitting', but would - in my period - be inclined to increase the flank/rear factor to make it more damaging.

    Much, of course, depends upon period and level the game is intended to portray, in addition to users' own preferences regarding the length of games in turns/real time. For example, in the ECW combat between battalia of foot - push of pike - seems to have lasted longer and been more attritioal than that between units of horse, which often resulted in one side breaking and being pursued. In a Napoleonic game in which units were battalions or brigades, Close Combat - a charge or counter-charge with the bayonet - would be over quickly, but in an army-level game in which units were divisions or corps would last much longer.

    I think the PW system has the flexibility to cope with these distinctions, but that each version has to be period and level specific.

    Will PW succeed in becoming recognised as a wargame genre (if that is the right word) in its own right?

    for quick and decisive or You seem to have

  4. Arthur1815,

    I am a lot happier with the current Close Combat mechanism than I have been with the previous versions. I do hope that it is easier to understand and use … and I think that it is generic enough to withstand any changes people might want to make to fit it for other historical periods.

    On the latest – as yet unpublished – version I have reduced the chance of ‘hitting’ and increased the bonus for flank/rear attacks. It 'feels' better and I hope to make this version available later today.

    I bow to your knowledge of earlier historical periods, and hope that the mechanism is flexible enough to be modified to accommodate specific wars, weapons, and tactics.

    PW does seem to have gathered around it a group of dedicated and enthusiastic wargamers, all of whom have adapted and developed the rules to suit their particular needs and requirements. I suppose that this means that it has become a wargaming genre in its own right … but only a very minor one! The day I see it being used at a mainstream wargames show, I will know that it has ‘arrived’ … but I suspect that it will also be the day when someone else claims to have ‘invented’ it first! Such is the nature of wargames … and some wargamers.

    All the best,


  5. Bob, I think this version makes sense.

    Only some testing will tell if lower numbers are better. The only thing that bothered me was that it was possible to get modifiers to reach an "automatic hit" or a "no hit possible neither of which I like. I tend to support modifiers never being able to reduce the score needed to hit to less than 2 or more than 6.

    Units attacked in flank are not only more vulnerable, they also have reduced power to harm. Rather than increase the bonus, perhaps there should be a -1 penalty for the unit being attacked in flank as well as a +1 for the unit attacking it?


  6. Ross Mac,

    I have managed to play-test a few Close Combat scenarios and have decided that the current chance of a Unit hitting another Unit are too high, and they have been reduced on the next draft.

    I had not considered penalising Units that are being attacked in the flank or rear as well as giving a bonus to the attacking Units ... but it makes sense and keeps the effect of bonuses/penalties within reasonable bounds. I am therefore going to give your suggestion a tryout and see if it works better than just giving the attacking Unit a +2 bonus.

    All the best,


  7. Bob,

    I agree wholeheartedly with Ross Mac's point about units attacked in flank/rear having reduced capability to 'hit' the attacker. However, whether the reduction should be identical to the bonus given the attacker is another matter, which I think depends very much on period and level portrayed.

    For example, in the black powder era, a small close-order unit surprised by a flank/rear attack, such as Colborne's Brigade at Albuera, attacked by lancers, would be almost defenceless, whereas the units on the flank of a division or corps might be severely damaged or rout, but other units of the formation would have time to react.

    Since such tactical surprises were quite rare, in a tactical game between small units I would be inclined to work out the attacker's effect upon the target first, and apply any morale/movement penalties immediately, so that if the attacked unit broke, it would simply not get the chance to 'hit' back at all. Only if the attacked unit was fortunate to hold its ground, like one of Colborne's battalions IIRC, would it have the opportunity to fight back, but at reduced effectiveness. So, for Albuera, I would give the lancers a +2 or +3, but any British battalion that did not break would fight back at -1, perhaps.

    For the 'modern' period, where troops fight dispersed and tank turrets can traverse, being attacked from a flank may not cause such disruption; but I would have thought a rear attack - suggesting the enemy was behind the unit, that it was cut off from support &c. should have a greater effect on its morale/combat effectiveness.

    The beauty of the PW structure is that one can adapt it so easily to suit the different eras/levels.


  8. Arthur makes some good points but they apply to some degree to all simultaneous combats where both sides could drive back or destroy each other. Another way to look at it, to take the Albuera example, is that the dice indicate whether of not Colburnes troops managed to react in time, perhaps refusing a flank or forming square and thus repelling the attack, or getting rolled as they did historically. The dice therefore indicate result not process.

  9. Arthur1815,

    As I have said before, I bow to your knowledge of military history before 1850, and I think that the case you argue with regard to your specific example makes a lot of sense. I suppose that if I was developing PW for the Napoleonic era I would have to change the bonuses/penalties to reflect the different tactics available.

    A less specific example might be cavalry attacking infantry. If the infantry were in square the cavalry would not be able to count the attack as taking place against a flank whereas the same cavalry attacking the same infantry who are still in line might well hit them in the flank or rear and cause untold damage, It would therefore make sense to have different bonuses/penalties to reflect this particular situation … and this is quite easy to do with the way the current PW Close Combat system works.

    With regard to the ‘Modern’ era I have been thinking about making armoured units more vulnerable to flank and rear attack than they currently are. When closed up – which is how they should be when in the combat area – it is almost impossible to see with any degree of clarity what is going on around you, which is why tank commanders are so often seen with the heads outside the turret … and why so many end up dead or wounded. A different tactical problem, but – as you say – the system is flexible enough to cope with it.

    All the best,


  10. Ross Mac,

    That is an interesting way to look at it (and one that I had not considered) … and I suspect it might have been Joseph Morschauser’s view as well!

    After all, his dictum (repeated several times in his book) was always ‘Let the dice decide!

    All the best,


  11. Bob,
    Ross Mac wrote:
    '...they apply to some degree to all simultaneous combats where both sides could drive back or destroy each other.'
    I beg to disagree - the particular situation to which I'm referring, flank or rear attacks, is where the attacker has surprised the enemy/approached him from an unforeseen direction, so that the enemy is initially unprepared to fight on that front and is therefore at such a severe disadvantage in the close combat, that he may be thrown onto such disorder that he can offer no immediate effective resistance; hence my example of Albuera.

    In such cases, there is a high probability that the attacker will inflict severe damage without suffering any significant loss in return, and my suggestion reflects that in an intuitive way. Troops who break and run will be unable to defend themselves, but if they should somehow manage to withstand the attack, they will be able to 'hit' back, but with reduced effectiveness resulting from being surprised, suffering losses before they can redeploy &c.

    As I've said before, much depends on the level being portrayed in the PW game. In an army-level game, where battalion formations, tactics &c. are not portrayed, I'm content if 'The dice therefore indicate result not process.' but in a tactical game between small forces, I like to generate the narrative of events.


  12. Arthur1815,

    This has developed into a very lively discussion!

    I can see both sides of the argument ... and agree with both for different reasons. I think that the key to the discussion is – as you have stated – in the level at which the rules are being used. When I 'designed' PW (borrowing very heavily from Joseph Morschauser) I specifically did NOT state what a Unit represented. I wanted a degree of abstraction so that I could use the rules to fight different sized actions using the same rules. (This is also why I used the term ‘Commander’ rather than ‘General’.)

    In my mind Units represent the basic building ‘block’ or manoeuvre unit in whatever sort of battle I am trying to represent; therefore in the 19th century version of the rules I generally think of them as representing battalions whereas in the Modern version they are usually companies or battalions.

    One thing that I am enjoying at present is the way a number of PW enthusiasts have taken the rules and are developing them to suit their own requirements.

    All the best,


  13. Bob,

    You state: 'I specifically did NOT state what a Unit represented. I wanted a degree of abstraction so that I could use the rules to fight different sized actions using the same rules.'

    If that is your design aim, fair enough. But the result is very similar to the Old School practice of 'bath-tubbing', fighting larger battles by pretending that a unit that normally portrays a battalion is now a brigade/division/corps, so that 3 battaions, a cavalry squadron and a couple of artillery pieces 'refight' Waterloo.

    A high level of abstraction, using terms like 'hits' &c., does at least encourage players to interpret the results in a manner appropriate to the level being portrayed, in a way that 'bath-tubbing' large battles with brigade or division tactical wargame rules did not, but - given that there are relatively few figures on a unit base - the visual appearance of the game instinctively suggests a low level engagement.

    One could mitigate the powerful visual effect by using alternative bases, upon which were mounted more, smaller scale, figures, vehicles &c., but this would involve more time and expense...

    Personally, while remaining true to the fundamental principles of PW - and that itself might be a subject for a separate debate! - I favour using different versions of the basic rules to suit different periods and levels. The degree of difference can be as slight or dramatic as the user desires; a distinct advantage of PW is its structural simplicity and the ability to create period/level variants relatively easily.

    'Bath-tubbing' resulted in rules that succeeded in portraying small actions well doing a bad job of recreating larger ones; I wonder whether your PW compromise risks resulting in games that portray different levels equally well, but in a rather bland, slightly unsatisfying way? And that could be why so many of your followers are busy adapting them!

    Best wishes,

  14. Arthur1815,

    Ouch! I have been hoist on my own petard … and exposed as a closet Old School Wargamer!

    I must admit that I have never objected to a bit of bath-tubbing in the privacy of one’s own wargames room or with like-minded consenting wargamers … and now I have been found out!

    Seriously though, my intention when I originally set out down the developmental road that became the PORTABLE WARGAME in all its various iterations was to create a ‘fun’ and simple wargame that was not a DBA/HOTT clone. I based it on the work done by Joseph Morschauser and the experience I had gained creating SCWaRes and playing the ‘Red Square’ games designed by Richard Brooks and Ian Drury. At the time I had no pretentions to creating what was referred to recently as a ‘genre’ game … but somehow it seemed to strike a cord with quite a few people and then – like Topsy – it grew.

    I am enjoying the way other people are taking my basic idea and developing it to meet their own particular requirements. The input and cross-fertilisation of ideas has been tremendous and what people are creating for themselves is quite phenomenal. The teacher in me WANTS people to extrapolate from my work. (I very rarely saw it happen when I was working in schools, so this is a bit of a novel experience for me!)

    What you see as my ‘compromise … resulting in games that portray different levels equally well, but in a rather bland, slightly unsatisfying way’ I see as the foundations for people to develop their own rules. You summed it up yourself when you stated ‘I favour using different versions of the basic rules to suit different periods and levels. The degree of difference can be as slight or dramatic as the user desires; a distinct advantage of PW is its structural simplicity and the ability to create period/level variants relatively easily.’ That is exactly what I hope will happen … and that one day I will see PW being used by people who have never heard of me nor realise that it was me that started the ball rolling in the first place.

    All the best,


    PS. I hope that no of the above sounds big-headed, pretentious, or boastful. That was not my intention in any shape or form. Reading your comment made me really think about what I wanted PW to be, and writing it down has helped to solidify those thoughts into something that I can refer back to in the future. Thank you.

  15. Bob,
    Thank YOU for developing the PW concept, which has revitalised this rather jaded old wargamer.

    Something manageable I may actually complete, at last!


  16. Arthur1815,

    Whilst I would not call it a wonderful experience, I have enjoyed developing the PW ... and particularly the various battle reports and the lively debates that it has generated.

    Thank you for your thanks; they were not necessary but they were much appreciated.

    All the best,