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.

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Magazine Scenarios

Having played a lot of scenarios published in old wargames magazines over the last fewyears, I wanted to share some thoughts about what makes a good magazine scenario, from the point of view of someone who keenly plays them.  I think that in general magazine scenarios are a lot better than they were in magazines in the 1980s, some of which were barely scenarios at all.  They were really more like Wikipedia entries before the internet. 

There is no objection to having historical background and this can be as long or as short as considered necessary.  But the scenario should still be playable whether the player reads this or not.  A scenario should allow players who don't have the author's rulebook of choice but play the period to play the scenario.

It should have a map, ideally two.  The crucial map is a "wargames-table ready" map, which reflects the terrain that the writer used for the re-fight.  Gamers should usually be able to set up and play this without too much additional equipment: if it is absolutely necessary, this should be explained.  More important is to explain what kind of effect each piece of terrain should have in general terms.  The optional map is a "real-life" map, so the player can see the compromises the writer made and increase or decrease the detail to taste.  Both maps should have a scale, either the real life scale or the scale used for the test games.  If nothing else, then an indication of how many standard-sized units would fit along a particular table-edge will do, or how many turns it would take a standard infantry unit to march from one side of the table to the other.

The forces should be described in enough detail to recreate them.  This will generally be a strength, a quality and in periods where relevant, primary equipment details.  If the strength is given in wargames figures according to a specific set of rules, the inclusion of a ratio so they can be converted into an approximate real life strength helps.  I can't really see why a force would be defined only in terms of points but if it is, then an approximation of how many soldiers, or units, that represents is okay.  Outside a few very common types, including a description of how troops fought is useful although I think some familiarity with the period of the scenario can be assumed.  For example, explaining the different types of Dacian troops is more important than explaining what a Roman legionary is.

The competence of each sides' commanders and staffs should be at least hinted at, if known.

Timings for reinforcements should be expressed in both turns and real-life time.  The latter is more important than the former.  If the former, an idea of how long a turn represents is very useful.

If the scenario is complicated, then very clear instructions to the players/umpire on how to stage the game are crucial.  Special scenario rules are fine but the explanations need to be comprehensible outside any specific game systems being used use e.g. for bridge demolitions indicate how long the operation should/must take in the game and what the chances of success were; what does +1 for occupying the entrenchments mean in those rules? (a +1 in DBA is important, a +1 in other rules much less so).

Victory conditions are a must.   As long as they are reasonably clear, they don't have to be too detailed.  Reproductions of actual orders are a nice touch.  Detailed player briefings are rarely necessary for more straightforward games since they are implied by the victory conditions, the forces and any special scenario rules; but they are crucial if there is going to be a committee or matrix game (or similar) element to the game.  Some indication of what each side should know of the other sides order of battle and intentions is good if the game must or could be played with an umpire.

Some tips on models and uniforms and so-on is okay, but I think they fall better in "Gaming the Russo-Finish War"-type articles than in individual scenarios.  Ideas for possible proxy forces or other periods the scenario could be easily converted to are a great idea.  And a good bibliography is better than trying to include too much detail in the background section of the article.


  1. Good insight there; I agree with all your comments. In particular victory conditions. These are especially important in scenarios where one side is at a great disadvantage or where the goals of the overall campaign must be taken into consideration.

  2. Yes, agreed. It has two crucial elements that convert the history into the game:
    1 - What were both sides trying to do?
    2 - In circumstances where the intent was realistically unachievable, what would have been a good outcome for that side?

    It is difficult to get over the hindsight problem in some cases though. At some point, I intend to do another blogpost on that.