Monday, 14 February 2011

The portable wargame: Some thoughts about Native Units

One of the comments made about my recent play-test pointed out that contemporary observers had described native infantry as moving as fast as European cavalry in the Sudan, but that this was not reflected by what had happened during my battle. This comment made a very valid point, and came at a time when I was already thinking that the natives had been disadvantaged by the recent reduction in the movement rates in the rules.

So what can be done to remedy this situation?
  • I could keep the movement rates as they are but allow Native Infantry Units to move diagonally. This would give Native Infantry Units greater speed when moving across but not along the board.
  • I could give Native Infantry Units a movement rate of two grid squares per turn. This would certainly restore the balance between Units armed with firearms and Units armed with Close Combat Weapons.
  • I could introduce a new movement rate for 'light' Infantry Units, and to rate Native Infantry Units as such. This has the advantage outlined in the previous option as well being in keeping with Joseph Morschauser's original 'Musket' wargames rules.
After giving the matter some thought, I have decided to try the latter option in the next draft of the wargames rules I am using with my portable wargame. The reason why I have made this choice is that it would allow me to identify some European Infantry Units as 'light'. They could move faster than conventional European Infantry Units, but would be more 'fragile' in Close Combat ... in the same way that Native Infantry Units are more 'fragile' than European Infantry Units in the current draft of the rules.


  1. Bob,
    I'm not sure about light infantry moving faster than line. If anything, light infantry skirmishing against the enemy, taking advantage of cover, moving stealthily and taking time to select targets and aim carefully, would actually move forward more slowly than troops advancing in a close order column - especially if opposed by enemy skirmishers who would have to be driven back before it would be possible to advance.


  2. Arthur1815,

    I take your point, but I seem to remember that Light Infantry move faster in almost all the wargames rules that I can remember using, going all the way back to von Reiswitz' Kriegsspiel (although I will bow to your greater knowledge on that subject if I am wrong … which I probably am).

    Before making this decision, I re-read the 'Musket' rules in Morschauser’s book, and he does give Light Infantry a somewhat higher movement rate. This was what decided me, as the change was in keeping with his original rules.

    The change is not, however, set in stone, and I may well give it a try and then reject it. In the latter case, I will probably use something very akin to the 'if the ‘Risk Express’ dice allow the natives to ‘move’ five Infantry Units, the natives could move one Unit one square and two Units two squares (i.e. the three native Units have moved a total of five squares)' option I have also outlined – and we have discussed – elsewhere.

    All the best,


  3. I can see the argument for sudden rushes by native infantry. I think it also presents the Native player with an interesting choice, does he close with few troops or try to keep the line?

    It should also make things a touch less predictable for the Imperial player - and by unpredictable I mean nerve wracking. A happy day with Fuzzy on the rush and so forth.

  4. Bob,

    You are correct that the 1824 von Reisswitz Kriegsspiel rules give infantry a move of 300-400 paces for advancing without firing in skirmish order, as opposed to the 250 paces for infantry in ranks.

    In his hardback edition, Bill Leeson added more precise movement rates for skirmishers in action, taken from von Trotha, who stated: "They advance firing - standing up, not under cover - at 100 paces per move, or springing forwards from cover to cover, or running forward, then lying down, and again rushing forward and lying down, at the rate of 50 paces per move - or they advance without firing at 300 paces per move."

    So we are both right! Troops in skirmish order, advancing unopposed, can of course move faster than those in close-order; but once they are actively engaging the enemy, their advance is much slower than that of formed troops who are not stopping to take cover, fire &c. Common sense, really, I think.

    Irregular natives, however, might well rush forward in order to come to close quarters, which your proposed amendment reflects admirably.


  5. Just a quick thought for the Native "rush":

    Allow the Native player to attempt to "rush" a moving unit by rolling a die and on a 4+ then they are allowed to move an extra square.

    This would add some randomness to the movement that could also represent fatigue/rough ground etc.

    In fact scenarios could dictate on what score a "rush" could take place, i.e. if facing a fresh Native army perhaps it takes place on a 3+?

  6. Conrad Kinch,

    I am being persuaded by the arguments put forward by arthur1815 and yourself to go with the 'Risk Express' dice method rather than the blanket 'all Light Infantry may move 2 grid squares' method.

    As arthur1815 has pointed out, European Light infantry might actually move slower rather than faster than their Line counterparts, and that leaves me with a simple set of choices:
    1. Leave the movement rates as they are ... and thus disadvantage Native Infantry Units.
    2. Give Native Infantry Units a movement rate of 2 grid squares and/or diagonal movement … which has possibilities but is not – to my mind – in line with Morschauser’s design philosophy.
    3. Use the ‘Risk Express dice method that works along the lines that ‘if the ‘Risk Express’ dice allow the natives to ‘move’ five Infantry Units, the natives could move one Unit one square and two Units two squares (i.e. the three native Units have moved a total of five squares)' or something similar for those who do not have a set of the dice.

    This latter has the major advantages of meaning that:
    1. I do not have to add an additional movement rate for Native Infantry;
    2. It restores some degree of balance to the rules as it would allow Native Infantry Units to rush forward and engage European Units in Close Combat before they can fire
    3. It gives a player the opportunity to make additional tactical decisions during the battle … which is no bad thing!

    Thanks for the very useful feedback.

    All the best,


  7. Il Cattivo,

    You have presented some interesting ideas. Thank you for making them.

    At present I am considering adding them to the appendix to the rules for use in specific scenarios, as you suggest.

    All the best,


  8. Arthur1815,

    As you have probably noted from my latest blog entry, I am persuaded by the arguments you and Conrad Kinch have put forward, and have chosen to go with the 'Risk Express' dice option. After giving it due consideration, I think that it will work better than the original proposal I made.

    All the best,