Heretical Gaming is my blog about my gaming life, featuring small skirmishes and big battles from many historical periods (and some in the mythic past or the far future too). The focus is on battle reports using a wide variety of rules, with the occasional rules review, book review and odd musing about the gaming and history. Most of the battles use 6mm-sized figures and vehicles, but occasionally 15mm and 28mm figures appear too.

Saturday 20 September 2014

Neil Thomas' One-Hour Wargames

I've generally enjoyed Neil Thomas' various rules so I was looking forward to his latest ruleset, One-Hour Wargames: Practical Tabletop Battles.  It promises quick battles on small tables with a small number of figures.

It sets out in the first chapter what the author is aiming to achieve.  It also gives an admirably short summary for beginners of how to get started getting figures or making markers, painting those figures (or not!) and getting hold of terrain.

In the main part of the book, there are sets of rules for the following periods: Ancient, Dark Age, Medieval, Pike & Shot, Horse & Musket, Rifle & Sabre (i.e. C19 Europe), ACW, Machine-Age (WW1/Interwar), WW2.  All of the rules are similar but contain period differences, such as different troop-types, ranges and abilities.  For instance, none of the Medieval units can move through woods but other units in other periods can.  Each period is described briefly, with an emphasis on what facets of warfare the author feels were decisive in the period and is then followed by a set of rules which has incorporates those features within the generally similar framework.

For these basic rules, Thomas favours very simple concepts.   The game is an IGOUGO game, without any additional command and control rules.  There are no basing requirements, Thomas simply says that the game is designed to be played on a 3'x3' table with up to six units a side, each with a frontage of 4"-6".  For my playtest, I ignored these gargantuan proportions and played it on a 36cm x 36cm table with 6mm figures based on a 60mm x 30mm base.  It worked fine:

Romans (foreground) face Gauls (distance).  The total size of the board is c.36cm x 36cm.  The Roman Army consists of 4 'Infantry' units, a unit of 'Archers' and a unit of 'Skirmishers'.  The Gauls consist of 4 'Infantry units, a unit of 'Archers' and a unit of 'Cavalry'.
The turn sequence is always:Move - Shoot - Hand-to-Hand Combat - Eliminate Units (who have taken too many casualties).  There are no additional morale rules, for instance.  Typically of Thomas' rules, there is very limited interpenetration of units and no wheeling (units pivot on their centre point, instead).  Both rules are admirable examples of the author's rule-writing ethos: rules which don't quite replicate what happened on a real battlefield, but which adequately reproduce similar problems in a very simple way.
Combat is based on a D6 roll with the result being the number of casualties.  Additional casualties are added or subtracted depending on the troop types and terrain involved.  Units only fight in their own turn - this is to give an impetus advantage to the attacker (and works really well).  When a unit's casualties reach 15, then a unit is removed.  All this is so simple that it can be remembered very quickly without referring to the actual rules.  In fact, this applies to the rules as a whole. 

After the various period rulesets comes an army generator and a selection of 30 scenarios.  The army generator works from a D6 roll which gives a selection of various units.  If your army has 10 appropriate units, then it can cover every possible combination given in the generator.  These lists are entirely generic and don't reflect any particular army of the period.

The scenarios all look good and are given in a standard format of:
Situation (general comments on the scenario)
Army Sizes (whether a unit consists of 3,4 or 6 units)
Deployment rules
Reinforcements (in some scenarios not all of an army's units start on the table)
Special Rules (for instance some hills may be impassable mountains, some units may be elite (+2 on all die rolls; and so on)
Game length and turn order
Victory Conditions
Inspiration (which historical battle or previously published scenario inspired the author)
Further reading (about the historical battle or where to find the source scenario)
Map (all the scenarios have simple, easily produced/bought/improvised terrain)

It is clear from the various special rules that Thomas positively encourages the use of special rules to further define units and terrain for individual scenarios, or as needed to reflect the characteristics of particular armies.  It is very easy to do so without affecting the game inadvertently in unexpected ways.

The book concludes with short chapters on solo and campaign wargaming and then an extensive reading list of military history and wargaming books.

My test game was quite good fun, simple and basic but with a challenge or two nevertheless.  I didn't find anything particular to break the rules.


  1. Thanks for the review. My book is on its way and should be with me in a few weeks. They do sound fast. 15 sounds like a big number to track, but then there are only a few units on each side.

  2. Yes, in practice tracking to 15 didn't cause any problems. I used a roster - if a scrap of paper with the units written down and a tally next to it can be dignified as a 'roster'!

    They are fast - although perhaps not as quite as fast as they could be! Although none of Neil Thomas' rules could be classed as a 'buckets o'dice' game, they tend to be quite attritional. The average unit takes 4-5 rounds of melee or shooting to kill, more if they are armoured. The 'trick' in the rules seems to be to arrange no-cost attrition and then overmatching (by superior unit type or by numbers), partly by using melee to 'fix' units. It is still early days for working through this though!

  3. excellent review. My copy is on the way. I was going to do a review, but instead will reference yours! I will concentrate on some of the design attributes I found interesting.

    I was thinking of switching the casualties to a rising number, and then at the end of every melee round seeing if one could beat teh number of accrued casualties with a dice roll. So if I have 7 casualties I've a 50-50 chance of breaking, more or less. This could be changed with something as simple as using 3 dice to roll. It'd make melee even less predictable and end games even faster.

    I was also thinking of allowing units the opportunity to rest and rally back a few points. Seemed to add some nice friction elements. I'm going to playtest these rules with changes very soon I hope, then post them on my dark ages blog, sword to the strife.

    Cheers! Alex

  4. Thanks very much. Both your ideas - the sudden death and the rallying back of strength points - should work well, and I'll look forward to reading about how they work out in practice.