Monday 24 November 2014

Making them pay!: A play-test of the revised Colonial version of The Portable Wargame rules

Having written a new and revised draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME: COLONIAL rules, I decided that they needed play-testing. As the weather outside yesterday was terrible (it had been raining all night, and it continued to rain well into the evening), it seemed like an ideal day to do it ... so I did.

The tax collectors are having more trouble extracting money from the tribes in Southern Zubia, and after one of them was beaten so badly that they died, the local Governor decided that the most troublesome tribes needed teaching a lesson. He therefore sent a small but heavily armed column out into the desert to find the tribal encampments and to ensure that the overdue tax was levied ... along with a bit extra to pay for the trouble the tribes had caused.

As the column advanced deeper and deeper into the desert, they became aware that they were being shadowed. As a result they were fully prepared for an attack, and when the tribesmen came into sight, the column deployed to meet the threat.

The Zubian column comprised 8 units:
  • 4 Infantry Units
  • 1 Cavalry Unit
  • 1 Machine Gun Unit
  • 1 Rifled Field Artillery Unit
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 26 and an Exhaustion Point of 13.

The Tribal forces comprised:
  • 6 Infantry Units armed with hand-held weapons
  • 4 Infantry Units armed with smooth-bore muskets
  • 1 Smooth-bore Artillery Unit
  • 2 Cavalry Units
  • 1 Command Unit

This force had a Strength Value of 39 and an Exhaustion Point of 20.

The Battle
The Zubian troops advanced to meet the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

Both sides moved forward, with the Tribal cavalry trying to work around onto the Zubian column's flank. The Zubian Artillery Unit fired at the Tribal Infantry Unit immediately in front of them, and caused the first casualties of the battle.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Black 2, Black 2, Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 4, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The Tribal Cavalry Units finally moved forward to engage the Zubian column's flank, and whilst the battle continued elsewhere – without much effect – there were a series of close combats between the Tribal Cavalry Units and the Zubian Machine Gun Unit, as a result of which both sides sustained casualties.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Black 3, Red 3, Black 3, Black 2, Black 2, Red 2, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

Circumstances and chance seemed to favour the Zubians who, despite the loss of their Machine Gun Unit ...

... managed to advance and pour a deadly volley of rifle fire into the line of Tribal Infantry Units.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 4, Red 2, Red 4, Black 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

As so often happens, things now swung in favour of the other side, and the Tribal forces were able to charge forward and engage the Zubian troops in a number of close combats. As a result the casualties on both sides began to mount. (The Zubians had lost 8 of their initial total Strength Value of 26 and the Tribal forces had lost 16 from their initial total Strength Value of 39.)

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 3, Black 3, Black 3, Black 3, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

The course of the battle moved towards its climax. The Zubians lost their Field Artillery Unit ...

... but in achieving this minor victory the Tribal forces reached and passed their Exhaustion Point.

The Zubians were able to exploit this, and inflicted further casualties on the Tribal forces.

The Unit Activation Cards turned over were: Red 2, Black 3, Black 3, Red 4, Joker. At this point the battlefield looked like this:

At this point it was obvious that the Tribal forces were beaten, but that the Zubians were only a hairsbreadth away from reaching their Exhaustion Point. As a result, both sides fell back to lick their wounds. The Tribal forces did so in the knowledge that the dreaded tax collectors had not been able to enforce their demands, and the Zubians were well aware that although they may have won the battle, they had not achieved their main objective.

Lessons learnt
As expected, the rules work fairly well and produced a fun battle that did not take too long to fight. The combat results were reasonable, and the Unit Activation Cards ensured that there was a degree of uncertainty as to what was going to happen as events unfolded.

I think that the clear casualty markers (they are plastic Roman Blind rings) are less intrusive that the normal white ones, and make it very easy to keep a tally of the Units that have suffered casualties. I do need to have a better method of recording each side's overall losses, and I am thinking about buying a cheap cribbage board to fulfil that function.

One aspect of the rules that I think does require a minor change relates to flank and rear attacks. At present the tactical advantage this should give to an attacker is not factored into the rules, but it would be fairly simple to do so. I have therefore made a note of this and will make the necessary changes to the next draft of the rules.


  1. "I do need to have a better method of recording each side's overall losses, and I am thinking about buying a cheap cribbage board to fulfil that function."

    I use an expensive technological device called 'pencil and paper' :)

  2. Kaptain Kobold,

    That's what I used this time ... and it worked fairly well ... but I like to have wargaming 'gadgets'.

    My idea is to set up the cribbage board with pegs set at each side's Exhaustion Point. The second set of pegs would then be moved along the respective tracks each time a casualty is caused until it reaches the first peg.

    An alternative is - before the battle starts - to separately count off the number of casualty rings each side will use before they reach their Exhaustion Point, and when one side's rings have been used up, it has reached its Exhaustion Point.

    All the best,


  3. Hi Bob,

    That was a cracklin' little action. Nothing too involved or detailed, yet a good game was enjoyed.

    I think that as you continue to tinker with the mechanics and rules, you are getting near the "sweet spot" where playablity versus decision making are neatly balanced.

    Keep on tinkerin'


  4. Martin,

    I am very pleased that you enjoyed read this battle report. It was an interesting little action, and took longer to write up than it did to fight!

    I have had one or two minor changes in mind, mainly related to the outcome of Close Combats where I would like to include an enforced retreat result as part of the rules.

    I hope to fight further play-tests in the near future, and will write blog entries about them when I do.

    All the best,


  5. It was a pleasure to read this post Bob. The game looks good and sounds like an enjoyable game. Just the thing.

  6. Ross Mac,

    I am pleased that you enjoyed reading this battle report; it was a very enjoyable little wargame to fight, and the first of many more ... I hope.

    I am trying to make the rules as simple as possible, and to end up with all the essential information that the players need to play the game in 10pt font on one side of A4 paper. I also want to create a basic structure that I can adapt for different historical periods. The rules owe a lot to Joseph Morschauser, but do contain some of my own ideas as well.

    When they are closer to being finalised, I will send you copies.

    All the best,


  7. Great stuff Bob and the rules seem to work very well indeed. Lovely looking minis as well. I'm not sure how much more tinkering they need (apart from the flank/rear you mention). Like the sound of the odd adaption for different periods. Another great post.

  8. Blaxkleric,

    I am very happy with the rules, and think that they only need a few minor adjustments.

    The figures are all Essex Miniatures that I bought ready painted years ago, and they have served me well ever since.

    So far I have concentrated upon writing a basic set of rules that can - with a few adjustments - work for both Colonial and Modern periods, but I hope to be able to use the basic structure and mechanisms for the Horse & Musket and Shock periods (as defined by Joseph Morschauser).

    All the best,


  9. Hi Bob,

    Very neat looking and a tidy little affair to boot. The rules seem to work very nicely indeed and I shall certainly look forward to trying them myself.

    I likes the playing surface as well - very effective looking.

    Best of all it is good to see you 'pushing lead' once again!

    All the best,


  10. David Crook,

    It was a great little battle to fight and I thoroughly enjoyed myself ... and want to fight another one as soon as possible. As to the rules ... well they are still a work-in-progress but I think that they are well on the way to being about as good as I can get them.

    The playing surface was a square of sand-coloured felt with dots to mark the corners of the grid. Simple, effective, less intrusive than lines ... and easier to mark to the cloth than trying to draw lines on it.

    All the best,


  11. Bob,
    Here's an idea for an alternative to marking the cloth: use the small self-adhesive circular stickers obtainable from WH Smiths et al. Then you can remove them when you need a plain cloth, or want to create a different sized/shaped grid.
    I'd be inclined to use the white stickers, coloured with crayon or felt pen to give a less garish, but easily spotted, contrast with the background of the cloth. I know 'the sands of the desert are sodden red' but the red dots do stick out a bit too much,methinks!.
    Good to see your troops back in action on the blog.
    Best wishes,

  12. Arthur1915,

    Thanks for the excellent idea! I would never have thought of using the little dots that are sold in stationers to make the corners of the grid areas. Too late for this cloth – I think – but I may well try out the idea on my next cloth.

    I had to use red dots for this cloth because my brown marker pen had dried up, and black dots just didn't look right on the sand-coloured cloth. I suspect that if I had used a lighter colour, the dots might not have shown up in the photos.

    It was great to actually fight a wargame of my own again, and I hope to indulge myself a few more times before Christmas.

    All the best,



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