Friday 22 October 2021


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

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Have you ever had that one game book that just sticks with you?

Maybe you don't even play it. There might be significant parts that you don't like. But you just find yourself going back to it and getting inspired.

In 2021, for me, this has been One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas. 
(also widely available from your typical big online places)

I wanted to highlight a few specific sections that speak to me especially. First, on the the false dichotomy of simplicity vs realism: 

"Readers should always bear in mind that simple rules are not necessarily unrealistic, which all too common misconception has resulted in some monstrously turgid and hideously complex rulebooks being produced in the name of realism."

On creating a simple solution to a complex action (here, manoeuvring a block of troops): 

"Turning is instead depicted in a simple manner, by pivoting units on their central point. This avoids the complexity of wheeling manoeuvres, where wargamers have to precisely measure the movement distance of a unit’s outer corner. The difficulties of turning are instead provided for by only allowing evolutions at the start and/or the end of a unit’s move, but not during it. This reproduces the historical effects, but makes the tabletop process much easier."

On "choosing your battles" when it comes to simulating specific elements of a unit's behaviour. Here we see a "rule breaking" ability used to represent loose formation, and the use of an existing system (weapon range) to represent a more complex manoeuvre common for the unit:

"Skirmishers were noted for moving quite rapidly, and may also take advantage of their dispersed formation in order to pass through other units of all types – this is not something that close order units could achieve, which is why such interpenetration is only possible for Skirmishers. What may appear surprising is that Skirmishers are not permitted to combine movement with shooting – especially since they specialized in approaching the enemy, discharging their javelins, and then retiring to their original position. I have covered this in a slightly different but simpler way, by preventing moving and shooting, but by increasing the firing range of the Skirmishers’ javelins to equal that of Archers’ bows: the process may appear odd; the effect is accurate."

On slaughtering a sacred cow of wargames without sacrificing realism:

"They retain their full fighting ability until destroyed; this reflects a model whereby real casualties are at a fairly low level, but that the sustained experience of combat will steadily degrade a unit’s morale, at which point it routs. This is both simple and historically accurate: most casualties in any ancient battle (and those of most other periods too) were inflicted when the enemy fled, rather than the initial clash of arms. Essentially, loss of morale is reflected in elimination, rather than having to make frequent checks on a unit’s status, which tends to be a feature of complex wargames rules."

Feel like there's a real parallel for those of us with too many RPG systems on our shelf here:

"There is a paradox at the heart of wargaming, in that many players are absolutely and rightly fascinated by finding the right set of rules, but pay far less attention to the type of battle (or scenario) which they play. All too many wargamers will acquire many different rulebooks, examine all facets of their contents, and have very definite opinions upon their veracity – and confine their scenario to the traditional pitched battle."

On randomly generated armies. Perhaps a tough sell to those slow painters among us, but I love the idea of it:

"[Army] variety is always provided by varying the composition of each. Generals invariably had to operate with the troops they were allocated, rather than those with which they would necessarily prefer to act. This doubtless regrettable if historically accurate fact is accounted for by the following mechanism: players must roll a die and consult the relevant table below to ascertain the composition of his or her army (if identical armies are generated, players should re-roll their dice until distinct forces are created)."

Obviously I've done a lot of solo play during the testing of The Doomed and Project 10, so perhaps that's why the next section speaks to me. I like the idea of approaching a solo game like gazing into the petri dish and seeing what emerges. You can "play to find out what happens" even if you're flying solo. 

"These singular contests are very easy to arrange, at least on the most basic level of playing both sides to the best of one’s ability. This style of solo play can produce satisfying and informative games – you can learn a great deal about military history by attempting to execute appropriately realistic tactics on the wargames table, and evaluating their strengths and weaknesses according to the results which occur."

Okay, maybe I've got all the gushing for One Hour Wargames out of my system. For full transparency I should admit that I've only tested the rules out a couple of times solo, and I found there are definitely rules implementations that I'd like to change (hence Project 10). 

Even with that said, it's small, cheap, fast, and if you have any interest in game design focused on simplicity then I still can't recommend it enough.

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