Thursday, September 3, 2015

Review: Thomas' One-Hour Wargames Rules

Before launching into a comparison of three rules using the ECW Battle of Southam as a baseline (see ECW Battle of Southam for background and set up), a brief review of one of the rulesets used in this exercise, One-Hour Wargames (OHW) by Neil Thomas might be helpful.

To begin, OHW is subtitled, "Practical Tabletop Battles for Those With Limited Time and Space" and, therefore, likely intended for quick play games on small playing surfaces.  The title alone suggests high playability and quick resolution at the sacrifice of simulation or realism.  OHW places emphasis on "game."  Will that be the case?  

OHW provides rules for nine periods of warfare ranging from ancients to WWII.  Each period shares a common two to three pages of core rules.  The rules are extremely brief and simple.  Battles may be fought on small tables with only a half-dozen units per side.   Each period has four troop types, and the rules for all these periods share an IGO/UGO turn structure: move, shoot, hand-to-hand combat, and eliminate destroyed units.  Each turn is comprised of two player turns in a game typically lasting 15 turns.  Suggested force size is 4-6 units with each unit being able to absorb 15 hits before elimination. Offensive capability does not degrade with hits so an attacking unit fights at full strength until destroyed.  To score hits against an opponent, an attacking unit throws one D6.  The pips on the die determine the number of hits inflicted although this total may be modified.  Simple.  

Unusual in this turn sequence is the active player performs all actions without interruption from his opponent.  That is, the active player moves, shoots, and resolves hand-to-hand combat without any threat of retaliation from his opponent.  Even in hand-to-hand combat, only the active player scores hits.  There are no morale or leadership rules.  Right.  Leaders play no role and are not necessary for the game.  Units are not differentiated on either quality or quantity.  All units of the same troop type are exactly the same.  For a game geared towards completion in an hour or less, not every traditional rules concept can be included.  Thomas has distilled these mechanisms down to bare minimums with rules and outcomes easy to remember.  After one trip through the turn sequence, the game can be played with little need to reference the rules.

While all periods share a common set of of mechanisms, each period is differentiated by a change or two to the basic game engine to reflect nuances between periods.  As an example, for the Pike and Shot rules, the possibility of running out of ammunition is introduced.  Infantry and Reiters run a 1/3 chance of running out of ammo each time they fire.  As an added twist, these same infantry and Reiter units may only close to hand-to-hand combat once they are out of ammo.  In the pike and shot rules, artillery is excluded as a unit type.  Thomas' explanation for this exclusion makes sense.

With a capability to withstand 15 hits before elimination, a unit in OHW can, on average, endure about four attacks before being destroyed.  Quick combat resolution and if a unit is either flanked or hit in the rear, hits are doubled.  Even though combat resolution can result in a unit being destroyed in a few actions, combat results seem attritional with both sides able to dish out and absorb punishment equally.  The only method for overcoming this attritional combat is to tactically maneuver your units to hit a single enemy with multiple units. 

OHW also contains a lengthy section of thirty scenarios.  Most of these scenarios can be found spread among the classics of wargaming.  Nearly one third of the scenarios originate from Grant's Scenarios for Wargamers while Grant gets the nod in a number of other scenarios as well.  Among Grant's other works sited include Ancient Wargames, Wargaming in History, and Wargaming Companion.  Scenarios are drawn from other authors' works too.  These include Featherstone (Wargaming Pike & Shot, Wargamer's Newsletter, Wargaming: Ancient and Medieval), Wesencraft (With Pike and Shot), Asquith (Scenarios War of 1812), TAHGC's Panzer Leader and Panzer Blitz, and Weigle's 1866

Finally, there are chapters on solo wargaming and background reading.  I found the Background Reading chapter very interesting containing references to a veritable Who's Who in wargaming.

OHW provides a basic framework upon which other chrome could be added.  In fact, many such variants can easily be found.  For examples of variants, see AMWGroups on Yahoo Groups.  One strength of these very simple rules is the ability to adapt the rules to address ones' own tastes and preferences.  One weakness of producing such a terse and simple set of rules is that not all eventualities are covered.  Omissions are present and interpretations could be many.  For the Southam replay, the ECW variant available on the aforementioned AMWGroups will be enforced. 

So, how does the game play?  We will find out when the Battle of Southam gets the Thomas OHW treatment.


  1. As a user of polyhedral dice games, one obvious tweak would be to change the die type used for combat according to the quality of the troops - Poor troops use a D4, Average D6, and Elite troops a D8; should require no other changes to the rules. Or change the number of hist they can absorb - say, 12 for poor, 18 for Elite. Or both!

    1. Both of your suggestions are viable alternatives, for sure.
      If I was ready to go down the route of including troop quality into the mix, using a different die to reflect differing quality would not be my first choice.

      In your example, as a unit's quality improves, its variability increases. My thought is that increases in training and troop quality would tend to condense or shift the probability distribution rather than spread it out even more. I would suggest keeping it a D6 for hits but perhaps giving Elite (+1) DRM and Poor a (-1) DRM. That way, on average, "Elite" score one hit more than "Average" and two hits more than "Poor". Variability remains the same but the mean number of hits has been shifted to reflect quality and training.

    2. The "average" result for D6 +1 = 4.5
      The "average"result for a D8 = 4.5 also; the difference is the spread of values in the one case possible values 2-7, the other 1 to 8 so more spread out as you say.
      For D6 - 1 average result is 2.5
      For D4 - average result is also 2.5, with, in this case, less spread in results (0 to 5 vs 1 to 4), but no chance of a "no effect" result with the D4.

      It also depends how many other modifiers there are that add or subtract form the roll - I would assume they are few for simple rules like this.

      Different strokes, as they say!

    3. Quite right! It all is a matter of preferences. This place would not be nearly as interesting if we all had the same point of view. I always value your insights!

  2. A well written and well-balanced review Jonathan. Probably the best I have read on these rules. I like the way you talk about the nuts and bolts of the game, and that statistical mindset comes through with the survivability of units for example - 4 turns on average - which is a useful level of analysis for would be users.

    1. I appreciate the compliment, Nate!

      Writing reviews (or BatReps, or anything, really) takes effort so your positive reinforcement is very well received. Thank you!

  3. Jonathan, nice work. You are quite right on the effort required for a good batrep or review, and I appreciate your short and to the point one. I've spent some time doing more detailed reviews, but I mostly do it b/c it helps me think!

    So far I've worked in depth on the Dark Ages rules and now the WWII rules from the 1HW book. Both have been time well spent. I have learned a lot about what to exclude from a game, as well as improved my game design skills.

    This book is probably the best $12 I've ever spent in my gaming!

    1. Reviewing helps me to get my thoughts in order too. The ECW variant could use a few refinements.
      Where are your Dark Age and WWII variants stored? Are they on the AMWGRoups group?

      Thank you for your comments.

  4. Wow - first Two-Hour games and now down to only an hours ;) Nice overview of the rules, Jonathan. Interesting concept, but I've still not tired of Bolt Action yet, so will have to wait.

    1. Thanks, Dean. These rules cover many periods and are meant for fast play. There might be something within of interest to you.

  5. Hi Jon,

    Thanks for taking the time to review this interesting book. At first glance I questioned if we really need a whole book to put three pages of rules into print? After playing close to ten games, my answer is an unqualified yes. An amazing amount of subtility is included without an amazing amount of detail. As old age creeps up on me, I find this more and more important!

    In my untutored opinion, the P&S rules are the weakest, especially if used as is for ECW/TYW, simply because they seem to be written for games earlier in the Renaissance period.

    I very much look forward to your play test of the rules.



    1. Bill! Very good to see you stopping in for a visit!

      I agree with you regarding the OHW pike and shot rules. Seems to be many holes and questions left unanswered. Even with the variant as published on AMWGroups, more work would likely make a better game. I have some ideas as I am sure you do as well.

      The Southam playtest is up and ready for your review.

  6. (resubmitted due to embarrassingly sloppy editing!)

    Good review, Jonathan. I find the rules to be perhaps a little too basic as written, but the good points as you note are that it's a fairly solid framework and can be added to as you see fit. Having so many scenarios in one place is also very handy. Even if you don't use the OHW rules very often, the scenarios can be modified for other games.


    1. No worries about the earlier submission. Easy to delete to remove all trace!

      As you note, the rules ARE quite basic but do provide a solid framework for further building. I see these rules as an easy method of bringing non-wargamers into the hobby to test the waters.

      If a reader does not have access to the scenarios in other forms, the 30 scenarios included are easily worth the modest price of the book.

  7. Interesting, I may pick up a copy someday, but right now I easily have enough on my table to do.


    1. It is an easy read and the book is inexpensive.


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