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.

Monday 12 July 2021

Simple '45 Revisited - Prestonpans

Since it has been a while since I managed to get a figure game to the table, and with some unexpected free(-ish!) time on my hands, and having that "I really, really, really, really, want to get my toys out and have a game" sort of feeling, I thought that something small, simple and speedy would be the way to go, so I decided to have another go at Prestonpans, with the 'Simple 45' rules from Wargames Illustrated 134, since rules don't really get shorter, simpler or speedier than these!  It would also enable me to get my new British WSS infantry onto the table.


 As a reminder, the Battle of Prestonpans was the main opening engagement of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, in which the (fierce) Jacobite Army made short work of a (very green) Government Army.

The armies numbered about 2000 troops apiece, which was translated as 5 units per side for the scenario.  The government army has 3 poor-quality infantry units and 2 poor-quality cavalry units, the Jacobites have 5 'standard' units of highlanders.

The Set-Up:

Cope's Government Army (left), with infantry in the centre and cavalry on the flanks

The left-hand of the Jacobite Army

And the right

With the two sides facing each other, Government Army to the left, Jacobites to the right - the dark areas represent the ditch which was impassable to formed bodies of troops.

The Battle:

Prestonpans is not a battle about the subtleties, it is about the Highlanders moving forward and preparing to charge...

On this occasion, General Cope does manage to get at least some of his Dragoons to charge home against the advancing Highlanders

Whilst the Government Foot holds its nerve as the Highlanders begin to fire whilst advancing.

Initially, the cavalry charge works and the Dragoons inflict heavy losses on the left-hand regiment of Highlanders

Whilst the melee rages (bottom), the remaining Highlanders continue their advance (centre)

In a somewhat surprising move, not only does the Government Foot hold, but it initiates a bayonet charge!  The Dragoons on the Government Left (top-left) refuse to join, however...

Another view of the same, as the fighting rages on

The Government Dragoons rout when it becomes clear that the remaining Highlanders are not going to break

Whilst, rather belatedly, the Government Dragoons on the other flank finally pluck up the courage to charge themselves

The Government Foot are fighting surprisingly well, inflicting more heavy losses on the the Highlanders in the centre

However, the tough Highlanders have more staying power than the Government Foot and the flanking regiment breaks (centre)

Another view

However, the remaining Government Foot triumph in the struggle of musket, bayonet and claymore and the Jacobite centre gives way!!!!!

However, the Government Left Flank is in equal trouble, since the remaining Dragoons break and rout at this point

The battle takes on a slightly odd shape, as the Government Centre is forced to refuse both flanks

The Highlanders on the Jacobite Left (left) charge again, but the Government Foot holds them off

As they do on the other flank!

The Government Foot cannot resist the pressure forever however, and one regiment breaks

And the Highlanders close in on the last unbroken Government Foot regiment (centre)

However, one of the remaining Highland regiments breaks first (foreground)!

The last Government Foot still faces enemies to front and rear, and must fight with its rear rank turned around

Incredibly, more Highlanders run from the fray! Can the last Government regiment hold out

But no - the last formed Highland regiment eventually prevails and the Jacobites have prevailed...just!

Game Notes: An unexpectedly close game as the Government Army performed much better than it did in real life, where it was swept away in 20 minutes without doing much damage to the Jacobites at all.  Although the Jacobite Army prevailed in this refight, I imagine that such heavy losses would have stopped the 1745 rebellion in its tracks and prevented any invasion of England, leading to a very different course of events.

I won't repeat the remarks I made in the first re-fight of this scenario but will make a separate one: Cavalry is much less useful in this game than in almost any other, since they don't get to instantly break opposing units after a successful charge.  Both Government Dragoon units in this game did manage to charge home and did manage to inflict significant damage on the Highland Foot.  But because no unit can quick kill an average enemy unit in this game, and Highlanders are more effective in melee than their opponents, in both cases the Highlanders stayed fighting and eventually got the Government Dragoons to rout.  I don't think this would happen if re-fighting this with WRG 1685-1845, for example, although to be fair this kind of thing could happen in Andy Callan's 'Savage Way of Fighting' rules for the Jacobite Wars in WI003.  This seems to be a key "period flavour" trait - cavalry were just not that effective against Jacobite armies, even though it seems that they 'should' have been.

This game did expose some of the gaps in the published rules, which are under-defined.  Do units turn by wheeling for instance?  Can they about face?  Does front-corner to front-corner contact suffice to count an additional unit in melee?  And so on.  With so few units and such a small game - and perhaps most importantly, a solitaire game - it was naturally very easy to have ad hoc answers to these questions but I don't think that is ever ideal.  

These thoughts did lead to one other, bigger, thought: is it possible to design sets of meta-rules which would force a subsequent designer using the model to write rules to cover all the things which are going to come up?  For example, every game which uses one base = one unit is going to have to deal with certain interactions to do with movement, terrain, support and so on.  It isn't as if the number of wargame rules that have been written is small, after all, and the number of FAQs, clarifications, errata etc. is pretty large too.  Conversely, figures using individually based figures have their own sets of issues, as do figures which use individual vehicles but bases of a squad or section and so on.

Anyway, very nice to be back figure gaming, more soon!

Figures by Baccus 6mm, with the Government infantry from the WSS range, the dragoons from the Napoleonic range and the Highlanders from the C17 range.



  1. Well 'Huzzah!' for the government troops that put up such a good fight and as you say, stopped the '45 in its tracks! I've played this scenario before and it is a tough one for the government troops, but not in your game:)

    As for cavalry, I doubt they would be good in a frontal charge, but get them on the flanks or rear (think Culloden) and then it's a different matter entirely.

    As for covering all possibilities, simply impossible IMHO. Better to have a good core set of rules and those ambiguities that might occur in a game can be settled by common sense.

    1. Thanks very much Steve. Prestonpans is a very hard scenario for the Government Army to win - and indeed, they lost in this scenario too but put up a good enough fight that it probably would mean the end of the rebellion, or at least, the invasion plans. But game-wise, the Government troops have to be very lucky to pull this off as their morale is so brittle. I maybe should have mentioned that 'training' as such plays no part in these rules, they are like an even simpler version of Neil Thomas' rules in that regard; everything is about the morale, and below average troops have very little of it.

  2. The thing I like about small actions is that what happens down at the individual unit level matters and is engaging. Your mention of WRG 1685-1845 took me right back! I had the rules when they were ‘the thing’ and wish I could remember more about them. From memory, they didn’t particularly take off the way some of their other rules did.

    1. Since I have a copy knocking around here, I may be tempted to get them out of retirement, just to see how they do...

    2. Actually, thinking about it, the inadequacies of WRG 1685-1845 (as he saw them) was a reason that Andy Callan published his rules in Wargames Illustrated (the other set of Jacobite Rebellion rules I have tried); his reasoning, IIRC, was that rulesets designed for Leuthen were not going to make much of Prestonpans with 2000 men on each side! With the distance of time, I am thinking maybe Prestonpans would be the perfect introductory scenario for the rules, since there would be something like 40 Highlanders against 43 Government soldiers. You could paint them up on the same day you bought the rules and be playing them in the evening from a standing start!

  3. Excellent and timely post! Prestonpans is on the gaming docket for the Tuesday club game. Enjoyed your Game Notes especially.

    1. Thanks Jonathan! Really hope it goes well on your games night.

  4. Interested in your comments on what was not defined in the rules. It is a case with some well regarded simple rules that run on 2 pages of A4 is that the reason they're simple is because a lot of things are left out or not defined. I'm finding with publishing my own now that being thorough is a really tough job and it helps to have play testers who ask those questions.

    1. Quite so. That is why I was thinking that a meta-analysis of forum FAQs and errata and so on might be quite useful to game designers, as a checklist of 'can I answer this about my own rules?' questions; not with the hope of answering every covering every possibility (because some events might be so rare that they will never be uncovered in play-testing) but to cover the 'this will definitely be asked' stuff.

    2. Hmm. It would need to be quite a list.