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In Praise of House Rules

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In Praise of House Rules

Postby thistlebarrow » Sun Nov 24, 2013 12:37 pm

A recent post on TMP suggesting that it would be good idea to write a set of Napoleonic wargame rules by allowing everyone to suggest a rule, then vote on whether it be accepted or not. It seemed to me a most unusual approach to rule writing, and one almost certain to fail.

However it made me consider my own experience of wargame rules over a period of almost 50 years, and how I eventually solved the problem

When I read the posts on TMP about the latest commercial wargame rules I am reminded of teenagers and sex. It’s as if they have discovered something new which no one else had experienced before. But of course sex, like Napoleonic wargame rules, has been around for a long time.

I can well understand this view, because I can well remember my own first experience of wargame rules. My first experience was “Charge or how to play wargames”. Then WRG horse and musket (I forget the full title). This was followed by In “The Grand Manner” and finally “LFS”. All excellent rules. All very different in design. All eventually discarded.

My own experience, though I am sure I am not alone, is that the more I play a commercial set of rules the more I become disillusioned with them. This is not the fault of the rule writer, it is that I want something different from the rules than they are designed to provide. I believe that this is the reason there has never been a “universal” set of Napoleonic wargame rules, accepted across the hobby.

Over the years I tried to adapt each of my current favourite commercial rules. It never worked for long. When I changed a rule because I disliked the outcome it often led to further unexpected problems.

My solution was to go back to basics and write my own rules to provide the sort of game I like to play. The result has stood the test of time, and been used in countless wargames, for the past six years. It will not suit everyone; indeed it may not suit anyone else. The more personalised the rules are the less then are likely to be appeal to anyone else.

I am fortunate to have a permanent wargames table, and a wife who also likes to wargame. We are both retired and wargaming is an important part of our life. We game most days, at least five days a week. We prefer to game for an hour or two, rather than game a whole battle in one go. All of my wargames are driven by a PBEM campaign, and last for 12 moves (each move being one hour in the campaign”.

As part of an overall reorganisation of my wargaming prior to retirement I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and listed what I wanted to achieve. Obviously anyone else attempting this exercise will have a different list. So there is not much point in my telling you my particular list.

The important aspects to me were they must reflect Napoleonic warfare as I understand it. They must be short and simple to remember. They must have an element of chance. They must be fun to play.

This has worked for me. We have played hundreds of wargames since I wrote the rules. We still enjoy the games. We still feel that the rules work well. We have tried countless, complicated battles provided by the campaign and all of them have worked.

We do make minor adjustments to the rules from time to time. We will often simply roll the dice again rather than change the rules. But I now fully understand the consequences of making a change, and what the knock on effect is likely to be.

This is not an advert for my rules, but if you would like to read them you will find them here
http://napoleonicwargamerules.blogspot.com/

To write your own rules you need to have a good understanding of the period, and what you want to get out of the wargame experience. So it is not likely to be attractive to new players. But it does not take long to discover what you want from a wargame. Once you have done so I strongly recommend you to write your own.

It would be interesting to hear from other wargamers who have tried, and perhaps failed.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby grizzlymc » Sun Nov 24, 2013 3:13 pm

Of course, most of us do not have a playtester living under our roof. But I agree with your precept, rules are an abstract painting of a historical environment. No two people can possibly produce the same abstract rendering and it is unlikely that their perception of the histoorical environment will be the same.

Then there is the game bit. What I like in a game and what you like may be different (although, again, living together for a few decades might bring some convergence) so even if both above condsitions were prallel, the rules which come from them might be quite different.

When I were a lad, our group almost always used house rules and any new published rules were immediately ripoped apart to be used in the new version of the house rules.

Of course, this tower of babel does tend to limit the social aspect of the hobby.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby Timmo » Sun Nov 24, 2013 4:00 pm

Good to see you back. And now you tell us that you play wargames with your lovely wife five days a week!!

I enjoyed reading your rules through but I admit I've done so quickly. Are they sort of LFS 'Lite'?

As to my own rule tinkering: I can very rarely leave a set of rules alone and love to adapt and amend them. I enjoy unpicking rules to find the core driving mechanisms, sometime they reveal flaws… Having written that other than changing the figure ratio LFS is the only rules set I've been happy to leave as it. I think it's that good.

I took TFL's WW1 air combat rules and wrote a faster to play version (Algy Pulls a Fast One) that Rich published. A very few folks have reported back favourably on them. (BTW where is Lardy Rich?) I'm working on another far more radical version that I think could give a unique and potentially exciting to play WW1 air combat game. It's based on how I think the pilot would think in combat but still using miniatures. I want to give it some more time to ferment, it will be called 'Algy Pulls Bloody Fast One'.

My attempt to sort out some ECW rules had largely failed until I went back to where I was 30 years ago - Gush WRG. His combat engine is the best I've found and his handling of cavalry also the best. However, I'm pulling in bits from elsewhere to revise the way morale is handled and to speed up the game. I'm also messing with card or dice activation.

So in short I really enjoy the more cerebral aspects to the hobby and enjoy pulling rules apart even if there are more failures than successes. I'm very interested in boardgames and remain surprised that other than in LFS, I don't see more influence coming into the miniatures games given how well and smoothly many boardgames play. Although perhaps Command and Colours is an exception to this where you do read about and see that being played with miniatures. I quite fancy the ancients version played with 15mm figures on Kalistra hexes. Perhaps one day!
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby Norman D. Landings » Sun Nov 24, 2013 4:02 pm

I think pretty much every gamer has, at some point, considered the idea.

But here's the thing - if you have actually sat down and completed a workable set of rules, you're in the minority, my hat is certainly off to you, and I'd happily give your rules a shot. Least I could do given the work put in.

The other thing that springs to mind is - a well-written set of house rules which stands up well to playtesting and is well-received by other gamers has potential to move beyond the 'house rules' format.
Bob and Alex's DBN (and it's DB-Colonial & DB-ACW variants) springs to mind.
Richard (TMP's 'Herkybird') at Tyneside wargames club writes free-to-download solo rules for Wings of War/Glory & X-Wing which are hugely popular in both Britain & the US.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby thistlebarrow » Sun Nov 24, 2013 5:54 pm

Grizzlymc

I am not sure what you mean by “Of course, this tower of babel does tend to limit the social aspect of the hobby”

If you mean that “house rules” are not suitable for large groups or wargamers then I am sure that you are right. The more players using them the less likely all will accept them. In that circumstance I believe a good set of commercial rules would be more appropriate. They are designed and written to be easily understood and acceptable by a wide range of wargamers. Providing all are prepared to compromise then there will be no problems. In a club setting where they may be used perhaps once a month or so there is not likely to be concentrated wargaming to put them under a lot of pressure.

All of this would also apply to new wargamers.

I was recommending the idea to more experienced wargamers, who might have a close knit group who have played together for some time and enjoy the same type of wargame. The smaller the group the better, less need for compromise.

And of course such rules are ideal for solo wargamers. They only have themselves to please, so no compromise is necessary. My current type of rules, similar to LFS, are quite adaptable to solo wargaming.

Of course I may have misunderstood what you meant by your “babel” comment. If so please clarify.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby thistlebarrow » Sun Nov 24, 2013 6:15 pm

Timmo

LFS were the last commercial rules we used and enjoyed. So our own “house” rules are similar, and based on the same principles. However there are a lot of differences.

The most important consideration when writing my rules was that I wanted to fight large, multi corps wargames in 28mm on a 6x6 foot table. I wanted to be able to wargame four corps per side, and still have room to manoeuvre. Finally I wanted to be able to use all of my Napoleonic collection, but not have to paint any new figures, nor change any bases.

My collection of model soldiers is organised in 128 infantry, 16 cavalry and 4 artillery and gunners per nation. I have Austrian, British, Prussian, Russian and Spanish. The French have four such armies, plus the Imperial Guard and a Bavarian/Baden army.

So each corps is 32 infantry, 4 cavalry and one gun with crew. That represents four infantry brigades, one cavalry brigade and corps artillery.

So apart from some game mechanisms it’s not really at all like LFS.

I have done away with base sizes entirely. Such scale as I use is connected to the campaign, for which the rules were written, rather than ground scale. My table represents an area 15x15 miles on the campaign map.

Most important I have rewritten the morale and combat rules. It is quite difficult to kill anyone in my rules, but once you do the effect is significant. This results in a wargame where both sides start off equal, but the side lucky enough to “kill” the enemy quickly achieves superiority.

This was necessary because wargaming against the same person on a daily basis means that you usually know what they will do in any given situation. So luck, in the form of dice, has to play a larger than normal part in the rules. Otherwise the player with the greater tactical grasp, or perhaps knowledge of the rules, will have an unfair advantage and tend to win more often. This would make the game pretty boring for the other player. The increased reliance on luck means that the clever plan does not always, or even often, win.

Remember these rules were designed for my particular circumstances. But the same principle can be applied to any wargamer and any desired outcome. If you want a wargame which relies on strict adherence to your understanding of Napoleonic tactics, just write the rules to reward such tactics.

You seem to have considerable success with your own “house rules”, so I may well be preaching to the converted?
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby grizzlymc » Sun Nov 24, 2013 6:17 pm

I guess what you said.

A set of rules that I write for my own wargaming might have peculiarities which I wouldn't indulge if I was writing for a small group, likewise small groups and large clubs. But the more fragmented things are the harder it gets to get a game. I think that part of the success of WRG was that in the Tower of Babel of the early '70s they gave you a reasonably workable set that ensured that you had a good chance of getting a game with a total stranger.

My wargaming club (24hr door to door by plane) still plays WRG so for a month each year I use them, the rest of the time I am solo so I am writing my own rules for Liberation Wars. If I lived in the UK, I might even think it worth learning black powder ( :puke:
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby thistlebarrow » Sun Nov 24, 2013 6:24 pm

Normal D. Landings

I must admit that I had many attempts at writing wargame rules before I settled on my current ones. Usually those attempts were really amending the commercial set, not really trying to write my own from scratch.

The big difference this time is sitting down with a blank page and deciding what sort of game you want the rules to reward. If you like large battalions, you will not like my rules. If you like lots of charts to cover every option, you will not like my rules. If you want to micro manage your battalions, then you will not like my rules. This is why I suspect that not many wargamers will like my rules. It doesn’t matter. I like them, and they do exactly what I want them to do.

But there is nothing to stop anyone designing a set of rules to provide exactly what they want to do.

For the above reasons I doubt very much that my rules would ever be widely accepted. Certainly they were not written for that reason. In fact they are more a series of “prompt notes” than a fully rounded set of wargame rules.

However if you do play them I would be very interested in your opinion, and any constructive comments you might have.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby levied troop » Sun Nov 24, 2013 6:39 pm

thistlebarrow wrote:For the above reasons I doubt very much that my rules would ever be widely accepted


Really? For the reasons you gave above those rules would probably go down very well in my club. And I suspect elsewhere.

I wrote a set called ITMA for use in 1940 Sealion games which seemed to work well even at a public participation level and the set existed mostly in my head with a couple of charts on an index card. Quite a lot of participation games run on the same level of complexity, the idea being to face players with a choice and get them to make quick and regular decisions, worrying less about the process (or even the outcome) and more about the next decision to be made.


PS
thistlebarrow wrote:Normal D. Landings


That's wrong on so many levels :)
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby thistlebarrow » Sun Nov 24, 2013 7:42 pm

Grizzlymc

WRG were, and still are, a good set of rules. And for quite a long time were the rules of choice for a large group of wargamers.

It’s good to hear that they are still used today, though I must admit I am a little surprised. The reason I gave them up was the long charts of plus and minus points.

I also like the command and control which is an important part of many current rules.

But everyone to their own
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby thistlebarrow » Sun Nov 24, 2013 7:56 pm

Levied troop

I take your point about simple rules.

Some of the most enjoyable wargames I have taken part in were just the sort you mentioned. I remember a classic which involved a small party of French who had to rescue an officers wife who had been captured by a group of Spanish guerrillas. There were no written rules. The umpire ruled as necessary. We were not aware that every Spanish civilian we killed would result in ten more guerrillas.

Great game, but could really only be played once.

More difficult to produce a set of rules which will stand the test of time, can be used time and again and will accept a wide variety of games.

PS apologies to Norman D. Landings
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby Norman D. Landings » Sun Nov 24, 2013 8:09 pm

15 minutes!

I was Normal for 15 minutes. FACT.

Thistlebarrow, you are obviously a perceptive gentleman of very sound judgement.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby grizzlymc » Sun Nov 24, 2013 9:34 pm

We could have a poll on that.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby philhendry » Sun Nov 24, 2013 9:38 pm

grizzlymc wrote:We could have a poll on that.

I blame Eccles!!
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby olicana » Mon Nov 25, 2013 10:34 am

We play house rule variants for most things. They change so often, sometimes week to week, that it is often suggested that I put a menu board up on the wall for "Today's Specials".
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby ochoin » Mon Nov 25, 2013 2:05 pm

thistlebarrow wrote:Grizzlymc

The reason I gave them up was the long charts of plus and minus points.


I wrote a SYW set about a year ago that was characterised by such unwieldy lists. They slowed the game down considerably but I don't know how to dispense with them.
My gaming partners are quite charitable about the rules but I've decided I don't wish to continue with them: they're simply not very good.

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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby grizzlymc » Mon Nov 25, 2013 3:26 pm

One thing that I have found with WRG's morale lists is that we don't use them often. Because the results are pass fail, you can often see that a unit will pass or not without the dice, if not a die roll will often not need consultation on the charts. In most cases where we actually go through the chart, the result is within 1 or 2 of the pass fail mark.

We have been playing the rules for something like 30 years so this is not something a new player could duplicatew. For that reason a set of rules which are meant for each player to command a brigade to a division can be played to conclusion in a day with a corps per player. However, one arsehole or confused noob can reduce us to 4 turns in a day.

In compensation the shooting and melee rules are pretty straightforward, and again, we do not often consult the charts.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby thistlebarrow » Mon Nov 25, 2013 4:28 pm

Ochoin

“I wrote a SYW set about a year ago that was characterised by such unwieldy lists. They slowed the game down considerably but I don't know how to dispense with them.”

I would suggest start with a blank sheet. Consider what style of wargame you enjoy and what level you want to play at. Consider the model soldiers, scenery and play area you have available. Consider how long you want each wargame to last. List the game sequence you want to use. Write short rules for each game sequence. I try to restrict mine to one sheet of A4.

Playtest as much as you can without changing the rules. Consider the advantage and disadvantage of any changes you feel you must make. It is quite possible that your guard grenadiers lost the firefight with the Spanish because of a poor dice throw, rather than because your firefight rules are wrong.

Try to avoid constantly tinkering with your rules. It’s better to accept that you lost the game due to a poor dice throw rather than rewrite your rules every week.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby thistlebarrow » Mon Nov 25, 2013 4:33 pm

Grizzlymc

It’s a very long time since we last used WRG rules. But I am pretty sure that we did the same thing. We never referred to the charts because we knew them so well.

If you have a group who have used the same rules for 30 years, and still find them acceptable, then you have solved the problem

I was thinking of those wargamers who are constantly searching the those elusive “perfect” rules.
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Re: In Praise of House Rules

Postby grizzlymc » Mon Nov 25, 2013 5:10 pm

That's me. MY Liberators rules will use WRG game mechanics tweaked for brigade and smaller games 1:10 fig:man ratios and a wide variety of troop qualities.

What I have found is that it is quite easy to plunder some ideas and sketch up a firing, movement, melee and morale table. As you have plundered most of these ideas before, it is quite easy to explain this to your non uber competitive mates (or in your case mate).

It is a lot more work, putting together a two side of paper QRF with the basics of the rules, sufficient that one out of group experienced wargamer can make sense of what you are doing.

If the above rate 10 and 20 work units, writing a set of rules for a larger group who know where you are coming from is at least 100.

To then make it possible for any reasonably intelligent person to pick up the rules, read them and play a game is at least 200.

To put the rules lawyers in place is 500-1000.

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