Thursday, 25 April 2019

Genesis of a ruleset

It sounds a bit grand doesn't it?. It's been a long road. I started war gaming in 1968. I had a game called " Battle of the Bighorn produced by a company called Waddingtons. For those of a much younger age, the game provided plastic figures of the U.S. Cavalry on foot and American Indians.

The soldiers were set up in the middle of the board and the Indians were set up around the edges. The idea of the game was to try and get the standard off the table with as many soldiers as possible ( I think!). The main thing about this game was that it was played on squares.

That set me thinking. At that time Airfix were producing plastic figures of Romans and Gaullic tribesmen. I made up my own board of 1 inch squares and started using a modified rule set from the game to fight the battles.

Moving on to 1970 and Don Featherstones book : Battles with Model Soldiers made its appearance. For me it was a revelation!. Proper Wargaming. All through the 70,s and 80,s this book was the bedrock of all subsequent gaming activities with my mates. Other inventions and systems were used and or amended as required.

Through all this time there were  good and not so good games. I was the one entrusted to write the rules and on occasion, especially when things were not going to well for one side or the other the inevitable arguments would rise to the surface.

" that unit is out of range because the distant is short by 1/8th of an inch"!
" that's not a melee  because you moved them, and even right at the end of the move distance they are still 1/8th of an inch short so you cannot use your melee bonus to decimate my unit!
And so on.

I wanted to use squares but my mates didn't like them so you go with the majority vote. As one of them said " you cannot cheat with squares!
Indeed at one point I was so depressed with the constant wrangling I actually binned an entire  group  of 150 figures that I had only just converted and painted!!.

Well, you know how it is. Once war gaming is in the blood you cannot give it up, and I started back in 6mm. I bought a load of Heroics and Ros English civil War figures. The main reasons for this is because, ( a) they were cheap and (b) they were quick to paint.
 I wrote some rules for using them and  the same group used them. This was one of the the best situations we ever did.

A mate of mine came up with a campaign and he also did an area campaign map of Britain. There were 6 of us, three Royalist and three Parliamentarians. ( Yes, I was Charles the 1st which gives you some idea of what happened to me!!).

However, the campaign went really well. We fought small actions using my mates 28mm figures and the larger actions using my 6mm stuff. Even without doing anything totally historical the campaign culminated in the siege of Oxford. We actually recreated roughly the city of Oxford and it's defences on a 6' by 4' table using all my 6mm figures and buildings.

The city fell and ended the campaign. The rules that I used seem to work well and  were accepted by the group.  I wrote them up ,and entitled " Matchlock " I submitted the set to Partizan Press who published them in 1988.

Situations never stay the same, and thus it was for our group. Everyone went their separate ways as life guided each individual on their separate path to follow  their own destiny ( profound philosophy here!!).

I was having the odd game on remote occasions but more often solo. I met Joyce and after a time together she asked about war gaming. Well, she had a go, but it was obvious that that the historical complexities were going over her head.

However I did not want to dent her enthusiasm so, that's when I decided to ditch the historical stuff and go right back to basics. With squares. Once again I had to start from scratch having had to sell most of my figures to cover debts. This time I started again with 15mm.

I wrote up a rule set using the squares and Joyce picked up on it really quickly. In time I also met other blokes who were interested in Wargaming and also had a go at the game using the squares. One in particular (sadly deceased) wanted to try Fantasy gaming but could not get his head around  the rules printed by the Nottingham Empire. After playing the grid game I had set up, he was hooked. Joyce was instrumental in the way the game was structured in order that It could be picked up quickly and easily.

I married Joyce.

With extensive  help of my Brother- in- Law Des, who had a computer and  Jill, one of Joyce's friends, who typed up the original manuscript, the first attempt at publishing came about.

" Wavey Bayonets And Spaghetti  Spears" was the first attempt at this. It got a small write up in Miniature Wargames , the title came from an article I had read. Needless to say it got a few sells but died quietly!!

By this time I had realised that the hobby was moving upmarket with some big hitters making their presence known. The rule system worked so ,with some add- ons and a colour cover, Table Top Armies made its appearance. Once again with my brother- in -laws help plus a review in Wargames Soldiers and Strategy we tried to get it out there. Another quiet death!!

I must admit I was ready to give up, but something kept driving me. I knew the rule system was good. People who had never wargamed had tried it and enjoyed playing. Those that had time were coming back. At this time my financial situation was picking up a bit but I realised  I had to present something a bit more " professional ".

So, once again with a great deal of help from my Brother in Law with his computer skills plus a ISBN NUMBER, TABLE TOP BATTLES. came out. At this time I was also running a postal campaign based on the War of the Austrian Succession. I did a later one based on the Seven years War. Both went very well.

 There was a good review in Battlegames, and Patizan Press were doing the distribution. This time there was some movement and I was told that small numbers were selling world  wide . Since 2007 it has been selling in small numbers.

Fast forward to 2018. During that year a review suddenly appears in Miniature Wargames. I was a bit surprised. The basic premise was that the rule set was ok but a bit history-lite and not for serious gamers.
Well, mentally I agreed with this in principle, however I still felt that they could still hold an historical game together.

A time later I received a letter from a friend telling me that a member of the Solo Wargames Association ( now online and called Lone Warrior. Editor is Richard Barbuto.) had reviewed them and played an historical game. The reviewer found that although Table Top Battles was not historical the rule set still gave a historical result!

My morale was restored by reading of this.  I still felt that the rule system rocked!!
In the last few years the Wargames Association of Reading has allowed me to present  a Participation Game at their annual Warfare event in Reading. This has also been well received by those members of the public who tried a game.

Now here we are in 2019 with  digital technology well and truly wrapped around humanity. One of my Stepsons suggested putting the book on-line. I also thought about going the whole distance by updating the book with a new cover etc.
After 46 years of work I had also been lucky to reach retirement!

So it was that Table Top Battles version 2 appeared both as a paperback and pdf file. It has been selling slowly but steady. On a personal level I felt vindicated. It won't be everybody's "cup of tea" but judging by the success of  Richard Borgs Command and Colours system using hexes. Peter Pigs rules, some of which use squares ( and pre-date my efforts). The release of " To the Strongest " by Simon Miller and " Tin Soldiers in Action by Rudiger and Klaus Hofrichter more recently, show that the use of the square grid in war gaming has found its place in the hobby.

Joe Morschauser started using squares back in the 60s and Charles Sweet continued in the70s but very few people ( including myself) knew of them until recently.

 I feel proud that I have helped kickstart this particular form of wargaming back in to the mainstream. As stated in previous blog posts, using a grid makes a lot  of movement rules redundant. There is no argument about whether a target is in or out of range and  close combat is unequivocal. I will continue using squares and my one regret is not sticking to this system in the first place. Hindsight is a wonderful thing!!

Hopefully you, dear reader have managed to stay awake through all the above! Next time I will be writing about scratchbuilding ships.