Sunday, 6 March 2011

The portable wargame: Twentieth century version – First play-test

Having written the first draft of the twentieth century version of my rules for my portable wargame, I decided to see what it might look like as a game. I am a great believer in the axiom that 'if it looks right, it probably is right'.

Now almost all of my twentieth century wargames figures and models are 20mm-scale, and I already knew from a previous 'experiment' that they would not look 'right' on the vinyl chessboard I have been using recently. I them remembered that I still have the board that I made for Richard Brooks' SOLFERINO IN THIRTY MINUTES game. This is basically a large chessboard, with two different shades of green used to represent the different grid squares.

So I set up a scenario which pitted some Russian Marines (supported by a T34/76 tank) against a smaller group of German troops who are defending an industrial town. The set-up looked like this:
At this point I fully intended to pack everything back into its storage ... and then I decided to try out a few moves just to see how the rules worked. My intention was not to fight a full play-test ... but then I began to enjoy what I was doing, and things sort of went from there.

The result is not a full blow-by-blow account of the battle, but more a photo-report of the main action.

Turn 1
After artillery fire by the Russian Marine Artillery Unit, the Russian left flank advanced towards the town.
Turn 2
The Germans decided to stay put in their defences, and after yet further ineffective artillery fire, the Russian advance continued. A sharp exchange of fire destroyed one of the German Machine Gun Units of the edge of the town.
Turn 3
The Russian Marine Artillery Unit managed to knock out the German Infantry Gun Unit and the advancing Russian Marine Machine Gun Units cleared the last remaining German Unit on the edge of the town. Elsewhere, the Russian advance continued unopposed.
Turn 4
After further ineffective Russian artillery fire, the Germans moved forward within the town to meet the Russian attack. The German Mortar Unit scored a notable success when it knocked out the Russian Tank Unit that was just about to enter the town.
Despite the growing German resistance, the Russians continued their advance, and one of their Marine Machine Gun Units engaged the German Mortar Unit at almost point blank range ... and destroyed it. Things did not, however, go so well for the Russian Marine Infantry Unit that attacked one of the German Infantry Units. In a short but fierce close combat, the Russian Marines were wiped out.
Turn 5
The Russian Marine Artillery chose not to fire as there was a danger that one of their own Units might be hit by mistake. The Russian assault on the town continued, with one of the Russian Marine Machine Gun Units attacking and destroying a German Infantry Unit.
On the other side of town, a Russian Marine Infantry Unit fought a close combat with a German Infantry Unit. The combat was drawn, and the Russian Unit was forced to fall back.
The German response was to fall back towards the rear of the town. They were hopelessly outnumbered, and there was little likelihood that they would be able to contain the Russian advance.
At this point I saw no reason to continue the battle any further.

The rules functioned fairly well, and produced reasonable results most of the time. However, I need to look at how the rules currently represent fighting in a built-up area. In this play-test the Germans did not gain much of an advantage for being in the town, and the Russians seemed to have no problems dislodging them once they were inside the built-up area.


  1. Hi Bob,

    Looks very interesting and I really like the industrial looking buildings - where did you get them from?

    Who knows? If the Zvezda WW2 set ever appears it may yet tempt me to head for the Russian Front! After the Balkans though....;-)

    All the best,


  2. David Crook,

    The buildings are ready-painted N-gauge buildings made by Hornby.

    I used Russian Front figures and vehicles because I had them near to hand. My intention is to use the rules for a series of games set in the 1930s ... the Interbellum or (as I have sometimes termed them) the era of the 'Tintin Wars'.

    All the best,


  3. An encouraging little skirmish Bob.

    I was reading the rules over last night and came up wioth some questions/ comments that I decided to sleep on.

    The 1st is a very minor one that won't affect any RCW games I try. I don;t see any difference between SP arty and towed artillery. I thought perhaps there was a rule saying that nin-SP artillery could not move after shooting but (and I don;t have my new glasses yet) I don't see one. Is there an advantage to SP artillery that I have missed? It does say that artillery may not move before it shoots. Since artillery fire is the first thing that happens in a turn, I was wondering if this means that they can't shoot if they moved in the previous turn?

    I was also surprised to see tanks and a 360 arc of fire, despite their turrets. I would have thought perhaps 180 but since they may turn freely before shooting it is not that important.

    The main thing that I am not convinced about is the ability to move and then shoot. It seems to support offense over defense as the attacker will always get the 1st shot unless some form of hidden unit rule is used. If they go 2nd in a turn they may even get 2 shots at the defender before these can react (if the initiative goes there way). An attack on a town for example would be more difficult if the defender, in addition to being harder to hit, gets the 1st shot.
    Without cover, it seems like the defender would need to out number the attacker to have a good chance of success.

    In addition to the above boost to the defender, firing before moving would allow a defender to "shoot and scoot", a tactic popular with modern SP artillery and with irregular ambush forces and recce units.

    It all looks very promising despite that.

  4. Ross Mac,

    As always, your comments are most welcome.

    As I wrote in my blog entry, these are very much a 'work in progress', and are therefore going to be amended as they are developed.

    You are quite right about the Self-propelled Artillery situation; as presently written, the rules do not give Self-propelled Artillery any advantage over non-Self-propelled Artillery. I shall have to address this in my next draft (see below), along with some form of penalty for tanks and armoured cars that move in the same turn that they fire.

    The rules do state that Artillery that has moved cannot fire, and I need to add a mechanism or device - probably a marker - that indicates this. Therefore, if an Artillery Unit has moved in Turn A, it cannot fire in Turn B. Self-propelled Artillery will - of course - be exempted from this rule.

    I take your point about tanks having a 360-degree arc of fire, but this is straight from Morschauser's original rules and I am loath to change it.

    You are not the first person to suggest changing the turn sequence so that Side A moves, then Side B fires and then moves, and finally Side A fires. I will give serious consideration to making this change as it will certainly restore some of the 'balance' that seems to have been lost.

    I also need to look at developing some special rules for fighting in a built-up area. This will probably be along the lines of reducing the Close Combat Power of the attacker by at least 1.

    All the best,


  5. Thanks for the answers Bob.

    You might want to consider a clarification for artillery about the restriction applying across turns. Would it have the same over all effect to reverse the restriction and say that artillery that shoots cannot move? That way it wouldn't have to be tracked across turns. It might need to be marked but a simple cotton puff of anachronistic smoke would suffice.
    On the other hand, when not deploying limbers on table, we used to turn guns around to indicate that they were moving and unable to fire, that or a marker are easy enough.

    Is that tank arc from one of his later rules? The only one I have is the book which doesn't seem to mention arcs, for anyone.

    For the shooting, I wasn't actually thing of the sequence you mention but I like it. It was thinking of the original rules where a unit could fire and then move or move then fire. You have the 2nd option only, I was suggesting having the 1st option only instead. That way if troops had moved into range during the previous turn, you could pour in fire support from 1 or 2 units then assault with units that had not fired.

    I think having a melee penalty for attacking buildings or trenches would be good. I just realized that I had mistakenly assumed it when I did a short test yesterday on an improvised board made using 2" sq Litko bases

    Today I heard an ad for a seniors home which trumpeted the availability of a games room and craft studio. I'm a good 20 or more years from one it struck me that this sort of game would be perfect! :)

  6. Ross Mac,

    I like the idea that if an Artillery Unit fires, it cannot move. Nice, simple, and logical. An excellent solution. Many thanks for suggesting it.

    I thought that the 360-degree arc-of-fire was in the Modern rules in Morschauser’s book. I will check when I get home.

    I will certainly look at the ‘fire then move/move then fire’ option. I have used it many times before in rules that I have written, and I know that it works. The only problem is that at present a Unit that has not been activated can fire but cannot move. I will need to word any change so that this can still happen. (This is to avoid the problem of a Unit that is being attacked not being able to fire in its own defence.)

    I am definitely going to introduce a Close Combat Power penalty for attacking BUAs and fortifications. I have something similar in other sets of ‘Modern’ rules, but have not yet added them to the current draft of these rules.

    A retirement home with a games room and craft studio, eh? Sounds like an excellent place to end up in (it’s a pity that it is not in the UK) … unlike the place where my father is. All they have is TV and the occasional quiz or craft activity. It is little wonder that he constantly complains of being bored and having too much time on his own thinking about his problems.

    All the best,


  7. Bob
    That looks good - I much prefer the look of the board you are using in these photos.

  8. Tim Gow,

    The board from the SOLFERINO game does look much better that the vinyl chessboard, but it was only made of cardbaord and will not stand a lot of handling.

    I am seriously thinking about making a more substantial board that has the grid marked on it, using in indelible pen, different coloured paint, or even different shades of static grass. I have yet to decide which.

    All the best,


  9. I really feel inspired reading these posts. I'm having difficulty concentrating at the moment and I'm at a stage in my wargaming life where I don't actually need complicated rules. And whilst camera relistic pretty terrain still apeals the reality of time, storage space, cost means that it's limiting.

    I believe that I can get much much more quality out of my gaming from gaming in this style.

    Thanks Bob et al.


  10. How about Hotz mats for a board?

    The chequers made me think of the Hotz European Fields felt mat.

    Do the squares HAVE to be square? Can we not just use the fields as represented (without hexes) as virtual 'squares'.

    Of course the hexes give many more movement options but do we need them?


  11. Mark,

    I am pleased to hear how much you are enjoying my blog entries.

    If you want a copy of any of the rules, either send me an email or download them from the links ... and don't forget ... change them as much as you like to suit your own needs.

    All the best,


  12. Mark,

    I cannot comment about Hotz mats as I have never seen one ... but if it has squares or a grid printed on it (even if it is in the form of fields) then it will be suitable.

    As to hexes ... well I like hexes but I am finding that squares do have advantages that hexes don't have. For a start, they are easier to make yourself, and that is a big plus if you are trying to keep costs down.

    All the best,



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