Tuesday 29 June 2021

Drifting with the current

 I am now in my last week of furlough and shall be back in full time employment from 1st July although not back in the city until the 5th. With the self inflicted faux pas over my Warbases order I will not be able to finish the ships for the ACW collection before going back to work which is a shame but cannot be helped. The remaining models will not take long to do in any event and considering that I have built 50 of the planned 60 it is not too shabby an outcome. The short interlude has given me time to put my head above the parapet and look at some other bits and pieces I have on the horizon and the first of these concerns the whole skirmish wargame genre.

I have fought numerous skirmish games over the years but for the most part the rules I have tried seem to have ranged from the taxing to the downright unplayable in terms of complexity. I currently have a Fistful of Lead and Galactic Heroes along with some of the offering from Ganesha Games - these are set below the number of figures used in a game of, for example, the ‘Rampant’ series by Daniel Mersey and others. My current old West set up using Deadman’s Hand looks like a step in the right direction for me in terms of the level of detail although I have my own ideas about what a skirmish game should look like which may or may not sit well within the mainstream.

For me a skirmish wargame should have no more than a couple of dozen figures in all and will often be less. I would be looking at perhaps half a dozen or less on one side with the other typically being more. Whilst my thoughts were moving along these lines I was struck by the similarity of how I fight my ‘normal’ games - often with half a dozen units on one side and more on the other.

Thinking cinematically - the figures in a skirmish typically fall into three categories. Principles, supports and extras. At a simple level this could readily translate into elite, trained and raw or similar. It follows that the principles are usually the key to the story so it follows that they ordinarily will be able to do more and probably better than the extra used for the crowd scenes. 

This is where the Portable Wargame comes in. If we took a principle character as having 5 strength points, a support 4 and the extra 3 as a baseline then we have a useful framework to work with. Those strength points (probably not the best description for them in this case but it will do to start with) could be used as other things as well so, for example, a principle might have 5 actions which in turn dictates what the character can do during a turn. It could also be used for initiative or indeed anything one needs it to.

Essentially the principle characters should usually be more able than the extras.

A key point for me in all this is the importance of a well thought out scenario which should be the framework on which the skirmish is based. Key ‘action points’ within the skirmish should be properly planned beforehand so that when such an event occurs it can be handled quickly and efficiently. In may ways the design of a good skirmish is almost as involved as that for a role playing game. The scenario should be a framework that allows for the unexpected because that will always happen!

 From personal choice I would be using a grid to fight over as this makes life a whole lot easier in that the inevitable ‘micro measuring’ is at one fell swoop removed. For what I am thinking about I shall be using a 2” square grid with an area of 9 by 12 squares. By a strange coincidence this is also the size of the playing area I use for full sized battles involving units.

I believe that with a modicum of effort it should be possible to produce a set of skirmish rules based on the  Portable Wargame that would serve as the basic engine for all manner of genres. That is what my recent ‘drifting with the current’  has been pondering, initially with VSF in mind but with other ideas circulating in the grey matter.

First things first though - the remaining ACW ships need to be built and the Old West figures painted so it is no surprise that these are now on the painting tray waiting for some TLC.


Elenderil said...

Those ideas sit well with the first set of western shootout rules I used 'The Old West 1816 - 1900- Skirmish Wargames'. My set date to 1977 but I was playing the rules at least 3 or 4 years earlier at University.

Characters were one of three levels Novice, Average or Professional which matches to your cinematic style groupings. I always thought it made sense as most players focus on one character as their While the rest were there to provide targets and flavour!

arthur1815 said...

A Portable Old West game - POW! would be an appropriate abbreviation - seems a great idea. Strength Points would be exactly that, a character's ability to endure punches, bullet wounds ("it's only a flesh wound" but victim then loses 1SP each subsequent turn for loss of blood until Festus or Miss Kitty binds up his wound with a bandana or a strip torn off her petticoat) and general exhaustion.

You might want to start with a higher SP number and create a tariff for blows and wounds, depending on how 'cinematic' you want the violence to be - so a cowboy can survive numerous punches on the chin in a saloon brawl, for example.

Record wounds by putting red adhesive circles (aka badges of courage) on a picture of the character or - in a multiplayer game - on the players themselves. I did this for my son's ninth birthday party (to which all the guests had come in WW costume) and black stickers for bullet holes ("I've got holes in my cap, holes in my coat") and it proved a great success.

Good luck with it!

Bob The Old Painter said...

Hi David, I read your thoughts on skirmish rules with interest. To my mind there is no harm in going right back to wargaming origins. For example, if you look at Grant's book 'Battle' it is actually fought as a large skirmish, with each figure moving and firing. Maybe some of this old volumes will provide what you need?


David Crook said...

Hello there Elenderil,

They are a great set of rules for sure! I reckon that the three types cover most eventualities so it is a sound basis to build on. You are right about ‘targets’!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hello there Arthur1815,

I have been pondering about a Portable Skirmish Wargame for some time so the acquisition of the Deadman’s Hand figures is as good a place as any to start. I lack the attention span to tackle large forces so a couple of dozen gunfighters should work well for me and to be honest the more I look into the Portable Wargame as a game engine the more I can see that a skirmish variant can work.

I have some ideas for the whole strength point thing which I am messing about with so will post in due course about how it going (or not, as the case may be!).

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hello there old Bob,

Have no fear, I will happily use ideas from anywhere! I enjoyed the game in Battle - the gallant German Panzerschrek team that gained an iron cross 4th class will stay long in the memory!

All the best,