Thursday, 24 February 2011

The portable wargame: Rules clarification

I realised today that I had not made it clear which of the activation dice (the name I have used in the rules for the 'Risk Express' dice) activated Machine Gun Units.

After giving it some thought, I have added the following caveat to the current rules:

'For the purposes of activation, Machine Gun Units whose weapons are mounted on wheeled carriages similar to those used by Artillery, count as Artillery; Machine Gun Units whose weapons are mounted on tripods, bipods, or small mountings that can be carried or dragged by hand, count as Infantry'.

I have made this distinction because it seems to be the best way to reflect the different tactical use made of machine guns during the historical period covered by the rules. The larger, older machine guns that were mounted on wheeled carriages – such as the Gatling and Gardner – were more difficult to move and often appear to have been used as a short-range, fast-firing piece of Artillery whilst the smaller, newer models – such as the tripod-mounted Maxim Gun – could be moved quite rapidly around the battlefield as an adjunct to the Infantry.

A Gatling Machine Gun mounted on a wheeled carriage.
A prototype Maxim Machine Gun mounted on a tripod.
PS. I have uploaded the amended pdf version of the Frontier/Musket Wargames Rules so that blog readers can access it. I have also altered the links from the earlier blog entries so that they go to the latest version of the rules.


  1. Bob
    I am tired tonight and wondered if you could explain the arc of fire diagram I can't get my head round it-sorry!
    Otherwise I really enjoyed the rules and enjoyed your setting them up. I am tempted to get my chess board out at the week end...
    best wishes

  2. Tradgardmastare (Alan),

    If I give you a couple of examples it should be easier to understand. Infantry armed with small arms have a range of two grid squares; therefore they can fire at any target in a grid square marked with a 1 or 2. Field Artillery has a range of six grid squares; therefore they can fire at any target in a grid square marked with a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. I hope that these make it clearer.

    I hope that you do give the rules a go. If you do, let me know how you get on.

    All the best,


  3. Bob,
    After reading the rules carefully, there is just one rule that I find counter-intuitive, although it is simple to play and has been used in other rules, such as Sam Mustafa's Fast Play Grande Armee and La Grande Guerre.
    It is the rule that states that if several units move into contact with an enemy, the enemy unit is turned to face the last unit that moved into contact with it. I would be very interested to know the rationale behind this.

    Consider this situation:

    A Red unit attacks Blue frontally, 'pinning' it in Close Combat. Another Red unit manoeuvres so as to hit the Blue unit in the flank or rear.

    In reality, Blue would be at a severe disadvantage, and might well be thrown into disorder or routed by the surprise flank/rear attack. It would be very difficult/unlikely for Blue to inflict significant damage upon, or repulse, the flank or rear attack.

    Under your rules, however, the Blue unit would at once face the Red unit attacking its flank or rear - apparently disengaging from the Red unit to its front - and engage the former Red unit with almost its full force [it would have its Close Combat Power reduced by one for facing two units], inflicting losses upon it but not upon the Red unit attacking it frontally. It might even drive off the flank/rear attack, then turn back to face the frontal attack again next turn.

    Of course, a cunning Red player could achieve a more historical effect by manoeuvering so that the flank or rear attack went in first, and then the frontal attack, which would cause any losses inflicted by Blue to fall - correctly IMHO - upon the Red unit delivering the final, hence frontal, attack, whilst the unit attacking in flank or rear runs little risk. But the disadvantage to Blue of being attacked in flank or rear still seems too low...

    May I offer an alternative?

    A unit already in Close Combat to its front is 'pinned' and cannot react easily to a subsequent flank or rear attack. It remains facing its original opponent(s) and inflicts damage upon them, but with the reduction in Combat Power for being attacked by more than one unit. The unit delivering the flank or rear attack has its Combat Power increased, making it more likely to damage/break the defender, and will take no damage from the defender this turn. If the defender succeeds in repulsing the attacker to its front, it may then turn to face the attacker to its flank/rear in the next turn.

    Not quite as simple as your rule, but I believe it may provide a basis for a more intuitive and convincing resolution of such situations.


  4. Arthur1815,

    I have read your comments several times, and 'played' through the mechanism you suggest on paper, and I must admit that makes a lot of sense … but the rule that I have used is lifted pretty much 'as is' from Joseph Morschauser’s original, and I would be very reluctant to change it at present.

    My understanding of the rationale behind the original rule is that in his game, Units will adopt a suitable formation to deal with combined front and flank attacks. The ‘facing’ determines which attacking Unit is leading the attack. Remember, it is the lead attacking Unit whose Close Combat Power is used in the combat resolution system.

    For example, if an Infantry Unit armed with firearms is attacked – in sequence – by two Infantry Unit armed with firearms and a Cavalry Unit, the defending Unit will have a Close Combat Power of 3 (5 – 2) whereas the attacking Unit has a Close Combat Power of 5. The advantage lies with the attacker.

    That said, the rule also states that ‘Units may only attack once each turn’ (which implies that each unit can attack once each turn) and in my example the two Infantry Unit armed with firearms have patently NOT done that.

    So an alternative interpretation of the rule as it stands could be that the defender first ‘faces off’ the last Unit to come into contact with it, and then if it survives that Close Combat, it ‘faces off’ the next attacker (with less of a reduction in its Close Combat Power) … and so on.

    This is very similar to the interpretation that you have given to this rule in the run-up to your suggested alternative, and I suspect that it is closer to Morschauser’s original interpretation of his rules. As you say, it is the up to the attacking side’s ‘General’ to select the order of attack when moving troops into Close Combat … and by interpreting the rule in such a way that makes the order of attack important, it retains the original rule (with a slight modification) and puts the emphasis back onto the decision maker and not just on the throw of the dice.

    Thanks for making me think seriously about this problem of interpretation. I suspect that we will not agree 100% as I want to keep things as simple as possible, but I also suspect that your alternative method will be appearing in your version of the rules! If it does, let me know how you get on with it.

    All the best,


  5. Bob.
    Your reply raises another issue: whether attacks by several units upon one in the same turn are resolved in sequence, individually, or as one overall Close Combat. I had - possibly mistakenly - assumed from the rule that the defender would turn to face the last attacker, and suffer a reduction in its Combat Power for being attacked by more than one unit, that there would be only one Close Combat resolution in such circumstances.

    But, if the correct interpretation is that, if a Blue unit is attacked frontally by Red and then hit in rear or flank by another Red unit in the same turn, the defender first rolls off, with no reduction in Combat Power, against the frontal attack and then, with a reduction in Combat Power to reflect the fact that it has already been engaged frontally, rolls against the second attacker, the rule makes more sense. Though the turn sequence of moving all units, then resolving infantry fire, then Close Combat seems to contradict this.

    Each attacker has only 'attacked' once in the turn; the defender has been forced to fight - technically not an 'attack' - twice, and has been penalised for so doing.

    But, in order to be able to fight the second attacker, Blue must have either destroyed the Red unit to its front, or drawn, thus forcing it to withdraw. In which case, can Blue be said to be being attacked by more than one unit, so that the loss of Combat Power applies?

    I would suggest that the Blue defender should still suffer some penalty for having fought already that turn, even if it is no longer literally engaged when it turns to face a subsequent attacker. So the Combat Power modifier refers to earlier attacks received that turn, rather than just to simultaneous attacks...

    Interesting, but in danger of becoming too legalistic for my taste! Much, of course, depends upon the size of the formation a 'Unit' represents - something your rules do not clearly state - which would affect its ability to respond to multiple attacks, and also upon the historical period portrayed.

    For the earlier 'black powder' period I like to game, when units are not very flexible tactically, I still think I prefer my proposed treatment of subsequent flank or rear attacks, although I might well resolve the frontal attack first and then the flank or rear attack separately, to make the latter more potentially decisive.

    It does seem that the rules as written require some clarification on this point - perhaps a worked example? - to be completely clear to the reader.


  6. Arthur1815,

    Your comments have made me re-read the rules ... and as they are currently worded they are open to either interpretation.

    I am not going to rush to make any changes to the present wording of the Close Combat rules. I want to re-read what Joseph Morschauser wrote so that I can clarify in my mind what he actually meant when he wrote the original rules. I should then be in a position to write a definitive version.

    The end result might not be in accordance with your suggestions ... but the comments you have made have made me realise that that particular section of the rules is unclear, and that it needs to be clarified in order to avoid any confusion in the future.

    All the best,


  7. Bob,

    I can see that there are going to be several variants of the basic system. Yours will be as close as you can get to Morschauser's original concepts and suited to the late nineteenth century and Colonial eras; mine will focus on the Napoleonic Wars, probably with different versions for different levels of command, and small ECW battles.

    The beauty of the rules is that our different versions can be devised quite simply, without having to rewrite/amend the entire system significantly.

    I wonder if such a game would be commercially viable as a boxed set, comprising gridded board; selection of hills, trees and hills; coloured card from which to cut out roads and rivers; two painted/colored plastic armies; dice and rule booklet? A Waterloo set in time for the bicentenary? Perhaps you should contact Hasbro now!


  8. Arthur1815,

    I think that you are 100 percent correct. The basic architecture of the rules is very flexible, and as you say, it can be adapted to a variety of different historical periods.

    If I had the time - and the money - I would seriously consider turning this into a commercial product. Perhaps I should approach Martin Wallace at Warfrog with the idea; it would fit in with his range of games.

    All the best,



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