Thursday 18 March 2021

Project 10

In this week's Bastionland Editorial I wrote about following the muse. Working on the idea that's currently inspiring me wherever possible. Making the thing I want to have, rather than what I think other people will like.

Well this is a good example. 

I got my start in serious tabletop gaming through Warhammer Fantasy Battles. I've said that I chose Fantasy over 40k because swords are cooler than guns, but I think I'd underestimated the appeal of seeing a regiment formed up into a block, with banner, musician, and leader in the front. 

Dipping into Warhammer: Total War brought it all back for me. Rock Lobbers, Cold One Riders, Handgunners. I've made my peace with Age of Sigmar, but those bands of high-fantasy heroes in loose-formation just don't strike the same notes. 

Also, I want to go big. I've already got a skirmish game cooking away, so let's go to the other end of the spectrum. But I certainly don't want to spend hundreds of pounds on plastic, then months getting them painted. Where would I even store a full-sized army these days? Time to consider another way.

Last year I picked up One Hour Wargames because it's exactly the sort of minimalist, creativity-through-limitation idea that I love. It's a very simple set of core rules (3 digest pages) that's rewritten for eight historical eras from Ancient to WW2. Each era gets four unit types, and that's it. Battles are based on 4-6 units on each side, smallish board, quick resolution. 

Ran a few test games. It's fun, but I realised what I was missing. 

It needed more chaos. 

So I guess I'm hacking this into my own thing. It's already beyond the point of recognition. You can see me testing out an early version here but as with all games in this early stage, things are constantly changing.

The document isn't ready for sharing yet, mostly being written in note-form that won't make sense to anybody else, but here's the plan. 

Chunky Armies, Smooth Rules

Lots of wargames represent their units as a single multi-figure base, rather than a block of individuals. It's something I'd love to try out, as it's a nice abstraction that also opens up some cool modelling opportunities. I like the idea of treating each unit like its own mini-diorama. 

Lots of cool stuff in the Pendraken Fantasy range. I quite like their Warband rules, too.

I fell deep into the 10mm rabbit hole when I realised I could get a unit of thirty soldiers for just over £5. I'm awaiting delivery of what will be 7 bases of troops. That's a full army with infantry, cavalry, artillery, command units, even a general. Around 130 little guys for less than £40. 

I've gone for big bases. 100x50mm. I want these blocks to feel chunky on the battlefield, sometimes even rigid and inflexible. Embracing the feel of manoeuvring your big regiments around the board. Sort of the opposite of the free-running movement of GRIMLITE. 

But this will be managed through a simple movement system. I don't want lots of order-types, terrain charts or complex command and control stuff that needs cross-referencing during play.

Units can move 10cm. They can also do 2 Pivots of up to 90 degrees, each before or after the move. You can't charge after your second pivot. 

Rough Terrain halts movement when a unit enters. 

Fast units move 20cm across Open Terrain. 

Skirmishers ignore Rough Terrain and their Pivots can each be up to 180 degrees.

Shooting is limited to targets at least partially within a firing-lane directly ahead of the attacker, the width of their base, and limits your movement:

Short Range allows a Move and 1 Pivot.
Long Range allows a Move or 1 Pivot.
Artillery allows 1 Pivot only. 

And that's sort of it for movement. No forced marching or charging or changes of formation. It's loose, but in play you still have to think carefully about your facing and positioning. 

No Points, No Pitched Battles

I had a similar goal to this with GRIMLITE, but the game grew in a way that points were eventually needed. 

Still, I think as soon as you put points costs next to your units you're changing something fundamental about the game. Sure, you can say "they're just guidelines of the relative power of each side" but it still feels like a major change of game philosophy to me.

So I don't intend for this game to have points, but then I also don't want it to have battles that are especially fair.

I've enjoyed reading through the Middle-Earth Strategy Battle Game, especially the way that it presents some of the units and scenarios. It's obviously a fantasy setting, but being such a rigorously defined one makes everything feel a little like a historical wargame.

This isn't just a siege scenario, this is a very specific moment from Helm's Deep where the walls are first breached. 

Flaming Arrows don't appear in the Orc entry, but they come equipped as part of the Last March of the Ents because they're the only real hope they have in that battle.

The Quest of the Ringbearer book is filled with scenarios where the Fellowship should win most of the time. The forces of Evil can only really hope to grind them down bit by bit across the greater campaign. 

I want moments like this, not another pitched battle where we line up our carefully constructed 2000pt armies. Our forces are built for the scenarios in a way that makes sense. Maybe one side is outmatched, but let's embrace that. Every battle is part of something bigger. 

It doesn't need to be complex. Just a broad stroke of narrative with some interesting twists on army composition, deployment, and objectives can make a world of difference.

Drama from Chaos

The system of One Hour Wargames is pretty solid, but it's also relatively deterministic. It has attacks do d6 damage with either +2 or -2 for especially strong/weak units. Flank and rear attacks do double damage, tough units take half damage. Fifteen total damage wipes a unit out. No morale, that's all abstracted into the damage taken. 

It creates a clear rock-paper-scissors situation, which can be a fun tactical challenge. But that's not really what I want with this game, especially if I'm embracing imbalanced scenarios.

I want moments of drama to emerge from chaos.

So I'm using this Combat Dice system for damage. This is just a name for d6s used in this specific way. 

Roll a number of Combat Dice (CD) indicated by your unit type (1-3). 

Flank and Rear attacks roll twice as many CD after all other modifiers.

Discard the dice showing 4+ and total up the values on the remaining dice as Damage.

i.e. a roll of 1, 3, and 5 causes 4 Damage (1+3). 

Units that have taken 7 Damage are destroyed

It's swingy by design. Your average unit is attacking with 2 Combat Dice, which could cause anywhere from 0-6 Damage. But the nice thing is that each die averages to 1 Damage. You've got a combination of a very clear average, with a wide swing of results for those dramatic moments.

First-turn is also randomised each Round, so there are going to be times when a player gets a double turn. More dramatic moments born out of chaos.

I want those Goblins to stand a chance of wiping out those Grail Knights with a devastating roll.

If I'm going to create underdogs with the whole No Points, No Pitched Battles thing, then I at least owe them a glimmer of hope that the dice will favour them, and if you're winning I never want things to feel like a foregone conclusion. 

Big Armies, Small Lists

I'm very excited to work with these big bases, especially as the units I've written up so far imply far less homogeny than you'd see on a WHFB table.

The High Elf Infantry unit assumes archers protected by spearmen.

The Orc Warband unit is mostly hand weapons but they have some arrers that they can shoot if the Boss reminds them.

The Plague Monk unit is delicate but potentially hard hitting, representing a block of monks with behind censer bearers, surging ahead for those damage spikes. 

I've not managed to go as far as One Hour Wargames with its four units per era, but aiming for around seven per faction, with three special one-shot Command abilities, has really been a fun exercise in distilling an army down to its essence. 

Project 10

So I'm calling this Project 10 for now, because it's 10mm scale, using 10cm bases, and a 10 decimetre board. If only I could get it to play in 10 minutes. 


  1. This sounds cool! I'm interested in getting into wargames, but so far all I've played is a little hex-and-chit thing I made. Your games all look great (for the far future when I own minis, that is).

    I'm excited to see the full game - those army powers sound interesting.

  2. Big fan of the value Pendraken provides, hells that they're one of the few folks that are providing Samurai Apes. I also agree that the BLOCK of minis was very important to my interest in WFB. One of the big appeals of the "epic" 40k game to me as well.
    Look forward to what you come up with in this zone. I've run little early GRIMLITE using the 15mm SciFi I have on hand, looking forward to getting out post-pandemic and giving it a more concerted go.

  3. Hi, have you tried Dragon rampant by Osprey games ? It looks a lot like what you are trying to achieve, with unit type templates and fantasy rules you can bolt on, and an emphasis on scenarios that differs from the usual pitch battle. A favourite of mine to run small scale rank-and-order battles.
    Thanks for all the good work.

  4. Heresy! Those dice look like they were inspired by the GLOG.
    In all seriousness though, I really like this as an abstracted way to do those larger battles. I tried WHFB in the past and it just took waaaaaay to long for me to be able to enjoy. From the stream this seemed a lot smoother.

  5. I think ODD and OHW should be plotted in the same spot in some sort of multidimensional gamespace representation. There are several 'philosophical' similarities between the two games, as I tried to say here:
    ...the weird thing is that just as I was typing that post, you featured Mr. Thomas' book on this blog for the first time.

    Anyways, I'm a fan of your previous designs and I can't wait to see what you will come up with this time! Thanks for keeping us updated.

  6. hey! I'm slowing working on a pokemon rpg using the same dice idea with d6s. Love the idea that the average is 1, but there's some variation so you can roll hit and damage into a single roll. It's cool.