I’m a fan of Bob Cordery’s The Portable Wargame. It provides a way to play conclusive and dramatic battles without getting bogged down in byzantine rules. The game suits sparring tabletop generals and the solo hobbyist. However in my efforts to play it remotely (eg on VASSAL), there is one particular aspect that I’ve been mulling over.
When a unit is hit, the defending unit rolls to see whether they must either:
- take the damage
- choose between taking the damage or retreating
nb Higher quality troops are more likely to have the choice of holding or retreating.
I like this rule as it gives the non-active player an opportunity to make tactical decisions during the active player’s turn. However for games that are played remotely, this is a potential snagging point if the players are not present at the same time. In such asynchronous situations, the active player may have to wait on the non-active player communicating their wishes before the active player’s turn can be completed. This isn’t arduous but it does slow the flow of each turn that involves combat. Which in a wargame, can be numerous.
So here are some thoughts on possible guidelines (which could be adopted if both sides are in agreement) to help determine what a defending unit will do, when given a choice:
- A defending unit will hold a strategic position if there’s a chance that reinforcements will arrive before all is lost.
- A defending unit will retreat from a strategic position, if holding it would mean that the unit is lost.
- If not in a strategic position, a defending unit will retreat towards a stronger position, or towards friendly lines (whichever is closer).
- If there is any doubt as to which direction a retreating unit should move, it should be directly away from the attacking unit and not closer towards any other enemy unit.
You would of course have to agree before the battle, which locations were strategic positions. But hopefully this should be quite apparent whilst surveying the battlefield. Towns, bridges, hills, fieldworks and fortifications would be likely candidates. Woods overlooking open ground could be advantageous positions too depending on the map.
Hopefully these guidelines will be of use to anyone wanting to streamline their remote play, or indeed the solo gamer who sees merit in reducing the bias that they may have whilst playing “the enemy”.
A climactic standoff in the Korean War using my 2×1 Portable Wargame variant. Full campaign rules to follow!
I recently finished reading Donald Featherstone’s Advanced War Games (1969). I think it’s only fair to say that it’s a bit of a hotchpotch of wargaming ideas from the early years of the modern hobby. Having said that, I’m glad I’ve read it. Not only has it has helped me appreciate the pioneering work that Donald and his contemporaries contributed to the hobby, but it’s been a palate cleanser of sorts. When you strip things down to their nuts and bolts and see things with fresh eyes, it can help you build anew.
Donald presents extensive morale rules – 19 pages in all! There are tailored morale tables for Ancients, Medieval, 18th century, 19th century, colonial and American Civil War, each detailing the various factors which could be applicable during that period. However it was some of the possible outcomes that I was particularly taken by; troops retreating in good order and those retreating in disarray. These feature in military history time and time again, yet there seemed to be no rule to help actualize this in one of my current wargames of choice, The Portable Wargame by Bob Cordery.
In The Portable Wargame, retreating is one possible outcome of a unit being under fire – the other being the degradation of their Strength Point value. But when a unit retreats, the direction that the unit is facing seems to be left up to the player in charge of that unit. Given the choice I’m sure no-one would want to have their rear facing the enemy when there’s a chance that they could follow up, but history tells us that this could and did happen.
So here is a simple houserule for The Portable Wargame to determine the direction that a retreating unit is facing, when the quality, condition and situation of the troops are considered, inspired by the distilled ideas of Donald Featherstone.
Portable Wargame: Retreating
When a unit retreats, roll 1d6 to see if it’s conducted in good order.
- If the retreating unit makes its target number, then it retreats in good order and does so facing the enemy.
- If the retreating unit fails to make its target number, then the unit is routing and faces away from the enemy.
- Elite: 3+
- Average: 4+
- Poor: 5+
Modifiers to the dice roll:
- Friendly Commander with the retreating unit: +1*
- For each friendly unit in good order that’s on the flanks of the retreating unit (within 2 hexs of the unit’s initial location): +1
- If the retreating unit has already lost half or more of its SP: -1
- If retreating from artillery fire: -1
* If using Commander ratings as described on p39 of The Portable Wargame, then you could use the following:
- Good Commander: +1
- Average Commander: +0
- Poor Commander: -1