10 Jul 2016

WW1 Skirmish rules: Playtest 1

Hi guys,

For a while now, I was thinking about yet another project (that is correct!) - World War I. I will not bore you with my life story, suffice to say the trenches are - for reasons unknown - my "thing".

At least 2 years or so ago, I started thinking about writing the rules of my own. That was mostly to give me something to do, but also the reports I've read for other games (and I even looked at the Warhammer Historical's rules, that are way too Warhammery - can't remember the name though) did not seem to offer what I wanted of them. All these rules seems to assume WW1 is interesting in its early stage or late stage.
On contrary, I find the most amusement in the time in between. While  the frontlines changed little, there were constant battles and activities all along the front-lines.

Slovene stormtroopers. The sign reads "Assault company - Slovene boys - To live or to die"
I want the game to be really period-representative, for machine-guns to be feared and for battles to be won by the bayonet charge.
So in the essence, the game would be melee-oriented. I had some ideas with dungeon crawl type, but in the end settled for a modification of FUBAR rules. I really like their system of activations and initiative. I stripped the system of everything Sci-fi, greatly changed the weapons and added few things I considered necessary.  This is the first time I actually gave game a try and had absolutely no idea of what to expect, so there is a lot of text as I made notes. So in the end, the post is more for me than for you, unfortunately, but I would love to hear any ideas on how to tackle some of the numerous problems that I've encountered.

So - what really drags me into WW1, among other things, is the terrain. It is very specific, which means a lot of work, but with that, also a unique game play. I decided to simply draw my board for the playtesting, its fast (meaning it will get done), cheap and offers a bit better insight. I would love to build a proper 3D board at one point, however.

That is a 4x3 board (two 2x3), left half has a by-the-book system of trenches, with some dug outs; MG emplacement; bombers pit; listening post extends to the right half of the board (D shaped bastion). Right side is less elaborate and has some communication trenches leading into consolidated shell holes and there's a sap down below.

I've added some barbed wire and simply wrote what kind of cover and concelment any of the parts offer. There are deep trenches, fire trenches, underground dugouts, various shell holes etc.

For my first game, I opted to give each side four infantry squads (randomised strength D6+4, I like the unpredictability of rolls) and one Machine-gun squad (randomised D3+3). Infantry are all armed with rifles and grenades to prevent me going too deep on my first game (I should probably limit myself to 2 squads as it is!)
They are all of equal level, that is they are all line infantry, the usual peeps, not the old reserve soldiers and not young elite assault troops.

Infantry squad 1, 9 rifles (East German miniatures)
Infantry squad 2, 5 rifles (East German miniatures)
Infantry squad 3, 8 rifles (SAF miniatures)
Machine-gun squad, 4 members (SAF miniatures)

Infantry squad 1, 7 rifles (Rebels miniatures)
Infantry squad 2, 5 rifles (Rebels)
Infantry squad 3, 10 rifles (Rebels)
Machine-gun squad, 5 members (Rebels)

Set up:

Defenders were put in their dug-outs, where they'd go to survive the preliminary bombardment. As I only have three, I've sheltered larger two infantry squads (9 and 8 rifles) and an MG squad.
The smallest squad (5 rifles) was put in a shell-hole trench, as if it was caught outside by the bombardment.

Attackers I had more problems with, as their side is not done too well, it needs more shellholes. I've put largest unit (10 rifles) in a communication trench with an intention to rush them down the sap.
Next larger squad (7 rifles) was put in a fire trench section. 5 man squad was put way upfront in shell holes (damaged by defender's artillery perhaps?), while the MG squad established itself in the shell holes, connected by trenches.

Defenders on the left, attackers on the right. Never mind the 3 defenders, there were 5 before game started.
THE PROBLEM: The first problem I encountered was the deployment. How far in or out can units be deployed? Why not put defenders in fire trenches etc etc. But this can be solved by scenarios. There's no reason not to play a quick game where attackers in fact start their first turn in enemy trenches already!


Turn 1:

First turn, defenders won the initiative (game is based on FUBAR).

Defender's MG Squad fails to activate.

Attacker's 10 rifles activate and run down the sap.
Attacker's MG fails to activate.

Defender's 9 rifles fail to activate.

Attacker's 5 rifles fail to activate.

Defender's 7 rifles activate and run towards fire trenches.
Defender's 5 rifles activate and fire at Att MG. They get bonus for aimed fire, but also suffer penalty because their target unit is in purpose built fire trenches. They hit one, who then fails his save. I removed the miniature from play, but I am considering giving a miniature a chance to become light casualty, continuing to fight; heavy casualty (-1 to everything) or be removed from play. I am afraid that will greatly complicate everything, so I'm leaving it out for now.

THE PROBLEM: Att MG's troops were in two shellholes with different bonuses, which one is counted? Always the best (shooting player wise), always the worst or the fire only focuses the group in either of bonus areas?

Attacker's 7 rifles activate and run forward.

THE PROBLEM: They ran (long move) across shell holes, which seems unfair. I like the ability to run from cover to cover, but not over it. I will leave it for now, but that is something to think about to prevent rushes. On other hand, it might be desirable, too.

Turn 2:
Attackers win the initiative.

Attacker's MG activates and fires at Def 5 rifles. They scored 6 hits, but only managed to kill one. The weight of fire, however, suppressed Def 5 rifles.

THE  PROBLEM: MG is really powerful, so I think whole team can only fire either their rifles or the MG. It must be clear that it is not possible for the rest of the crew to also fire their rifles.
MG crew should not be able to move and then fire, which makes sense, but the question is - should they get the bonus for aiming (as rifles do) if they do not move? I think yes, so I avoid yet another exception and MG can't move and fire because it has to be set-up, once that is done, there is no reason why it wouldn't be able to benefit from careful aim.

Attacker's 10 Rifles activate, move closer to Def 5 rifles and throw grenades. Now, grenades ignore concealment provided by trenches (so always hit on unit's training level), which means the extra concealment Def 5 Rifles got by hunkering down when being suppressed, is useless!
They hit five times, but trenches proved very effective, as no defenders died!

THE PROBLEM: Grenades that were thrown from shell-hole to damaged trench (visible to visible) ignore concealment. Grenades were also thrown from the sap (out of LOS), so some sort of penalty has to be put in place. I think not-ignoring concealment is fine, but could also punish it as far as having the worst concealment (+2) used. That is more than fair for blind lobbying of grenades!

Attacker's 7 rifles activate and advance in communications trench. Their leading soldier lobbed a grenade towards Def 8 Rifles, but missed (I gave him -2 penalty for them being out of LOS and I'm quite satisfied with that).
Attacker's 5 rifles fail to activate.

Defender's 8 rifles fail to activate.
Defender's 9 rifles activate and run out of their dug out to try and save the day. Or something.
Defender's MG fails to activate.
Defender's 5 rifles were suppressed, which made them activate by default.

Turn 3:
Defenders win the initiative that they so desperately need.

Defender's 5 rifles fail to activate -.-

Attacker's 7 rifles activate and Assault Def 8 rifles, but before going in, they throw a grenade (there's only one in range!). Def 8 sensing their approach, threw a grenade back, hit one but made no real damage.

THE PROBLEM: Being On Guard as they have not yet activated, Def 8 Rifles was able to react to the assaulting unit's movement by throwing a grenade (3 dice on 6) or shooting their rifles (1 shot on 4 as there's only one of them that can fire). The problem is, attackers moved from area with less cover into area with more cover - at which point does the defender throw grenade? If it was a normal move, I'd say when there's best chance of hitting (obviously!), but with the assault, it could be the same or at the enemy units as they are when assault hits (so very close and unprotected). I will go with "best chance" for both for now. Then again, when assaulting troops are close by, shooting them is the best option either way.

The melee resulted in only one miniature from each side fighting each other, and both scored a hit on one another.

Enemies meet in the trenches!
THE PROBLEM: What now, do miniatures close up before the activation is over or is that done when resolving melee at start of next turn? Does melee still continue, when they are not in base-to-base contact anymore, or it has to be restarted?
I have to give this more thought, but for now, I'll play when melee starts, it only ends when there is a winner. I doubt troops would charge into one another just to run away from one another mid-brawling.

THE PROBLEM: Is assaulted unit now automatically activated? I suppose yes, they are locked in melee anyway.

Attacker's 5 rifles fail to activate.

Defender's 9 rifles fail to activate.

Attacker's MG activates and fires at Def 5 rifles again. They only hit 3 times now, but score two kills.

Attacker's 10 rifles activate and attempt to assault Def 5 rifles, but killing them with grenades before they do so.

THE PROBLEM: A unit can fire or grenade their enemy before charging, with an attempt to suppress the defenders. What happens when targeted unit is wiped out? I played out as if they assault defender's position, there's no way of knowing everyone is dead!
PS: Grenades are perhaps too powerful with 3 Dice and ignoring concealment, plus some cover. I might reconsider if that is what I want, but then again, grenades were very effective.

Defender's MG fails to activate and will probably be useless for the rest of the game!

Turn 4:

Pre-turn events, resolving melee:
Att 7 Rifles activate, while Def 8 Rifles do not. Therefore, the defenders surrendered and are now prisoners.

THE PROBLEM: Attacking unit has taken prisoners, because the melee was resolved. They gave up and must be escorted to table edge, but this can only be done if the winner of the melee activates this turn.

Attacker's won the initiative.
Att 7 rifles (that just won melee) fails to activate.

Def 9 rifles fail to activate.

Att 10 rifles activate and assault Def 9 rifles, after throwing grenades. They did nothing, but attacked unit's close rifle fire killed two of the attackers.
Att 5 rifles fails to activate. I guess each side has a unit that doesn't do anything.

Def MG finally activates and runs down the trench to see what can be done.

Att MG fails to activate.

Turn 5:

Resolving melee: Def 9 rifles activate, but Att 10 rifles do not and thus surrender!

Defenders win the initiative.

Def MG climbs out the trench in an attempt to bomb  Att 7 rifles and save their mates. Their grenades obliterated the enemy squad, leaving sole survivor.

Defender's MG team bombed the attackers, but would be erased by attacker's MG in a next second!
THE PROBLEM: The problem with some parts of unit visible and others invisible appeared again. All grenades were thrown at best chance, but cover save was applied according to the position of the miniature (ie those in deep trench having better save).

Another problem is that Att MG and Att 5 rifles could open fire at any point when Def MG climbed out of trenches (and became visible). They were 24 inches from Att MG and 20ish from Att 5. I did not fire with any of them before grenades were thrown (as I forgot), but here, it would be really important to decide if Def MG can throw all grenades and then suffer responsive fire from the two units, or it suffers the wrath before it can throw grenades.
I threw the dice and Def MG would suffer 6 hits from Att MG response and 4 from Att 5 rifles, being caught in the open they would have no save and would be literally mowed down. Then, they would be unable to grenade Att 7 unit they destroyed.
Problems: Should there be a distance limit to responsive fire (there is no limit for rifles and MGs when firing normally); Should activated unit, subject to responsive fire get some kind of save (because they are technically running at the moment!).
I don't wish to limit responsive fire with distance, plus the whole point  of covering fire is to, well, cover. Perhaps the responsive fire should suffer (additional, where applicable) +1 penalty to hit, as the targets sprint, but that's it.
Another solution is that responsive fire activates the unit, so owning player must decide if he should react or hope to activate later on. That sounds like a good trade of.

Def 9 rifles activates. One member starts to herd the prisoners, others take position in the firing trench and open fire at Att MG. They could not hit well entrenched enemy.

At this point, I decided that responsive fire should certainly activate a unit, so it is not just a bonus shooting. So, as all units were activated, dead or surrendered, turn ended.
Defenders lead attacking side's prisoners to the rear.

Prisoners get in the way; standard 6" move for prisoners is way too slow. It just drags the game way too much. Perhaps prisoners should instantly move off board, and just count more end-game victory points or something. But then, they can not be saved, which sounds like fun. Perhaps make them move 8" as they just have to walk, but not quite run (this is how I'll play it out for this game as removing them from table would greatly change what Def MG team did etc etc).

Turn 6:

Defenders win the initiative.

Def 9 rifles fail to activate.

Att 5 rifles fail to activate.
Att MG fails to activate.

PROBLEM: Do troops, relegated to escorting prisoners of table activate automatically? I think yes, there is little reason not to wish to go towards back lines!

I have an awful situation with Att 7 Rifles lone survivor. He failed his activation, so he should fall back. But he is also the only surviving member of a unit that has SEVEN prisoners, so he should activate automatically. I can not see how surrendering concept could work, if prisoners are not removed from play instantly.
This time, I played it out as if he is escorting them, so he activated automatically. Then yet another problem arose - can he be fired upon by Def 9 that is on guard? I will be ignoring prisoners and just move them to the back. This means escorting soldiers are invincible, but also useless until they drop their prisoners with rear echelon units. So that's another positive side of what I think is overly complicated and very flawed concept.
Board at the end of turn 6

Turn 7:

Defenders win the initiative.

Def 9 rifles activates, but I'm not sure what to do, they can not move up to dislodge the MG because it's responsive fire will shred them. Thus, they fired their rifles, managed to hit once, but the hit was saved. Game really bogged down now.

Att MG fired it's shots at Def 9, killing one. This, however, also means next turn, Def 9 will be able to rush forward.

Att 5 Rifles failed to activate.

Prisoners on both sides were moved. That concept certainly doesn't work.

Situation at the end of turn 7. Not much going on now.

Turn 8:
Defenders win the initiative.

Deff 9 rifles rushes across the land into enemy sap. Att 5 rifles made a responsive fire and killed one (luckily just one!).

Last surviving defenders rush in the enemy sap.

PROBLEM: The responsive fire, gained by Attackers because they failed to activate is doing way too much damage. Perhaps the "overwatch" rule should only be done as a deliberate action. But this means, units that fail to activate just sit there being useless, which is also something I dislike.
I am not sure about Casualty roll anymore, who would wish to book keep about individual miniatures that are lightly or heavily wounded etc. That, like prisoners is another idea that sounds good but would just delay the game.

Maybe the responsive fire should be done in regard to active unit's last position. So if a unit makes in a deep trench in one bound, they are safe?

Deff 9's guard reached the table edge and is free of guard duty. Now what - does he become an invincible man again until he joins his unit? Can he only move when unit activates? The prisoners concept really doesn't work. I'll have him move independently 8" per turn until he reaches parent unit, but will greatly simplify the surrender.

Turn 9:Defenders win the initiative, but fail to activate.
Att MG then activated and moved closer to Def 9 rifles in order to grenade them. Throwing grenades blindly, they didn't hit anything.
Def 9's reaction bombing resulted in one Att MG soldier dead.

Attacker's MG squad moves in to seal the defender's fate.
THE PROBLEM: Should Def 9, positioned in a very deep trench even be given a chance to throw grenades as a reaction? At first, I thought not, but surely they would throw grenades back at the place where grenades are coming from. But this is another reason why reaction fire should be always done after active player's move.

Att 5 rifles failed to activate again.

Turn 10:

Attackers win the initiative, but Att MG do not activate.

Def 9 Rifles activate, bomb and assault Att MG. They threw bombs before leaving the sap, so they only managed to hit three times, which resulted in one MG crew man dead, but there were not enough hits to pin the MG.

The MG crew then fired a pistol and a rifle (too close for MG to be effective).

PROBLEM: I considered having MG crew use grenades, but that seemingly defeated the purpose of having different weapons (like pistols, whose range is same as grenade's, but with less dice). While using grenades often is fine, there has to be some sort of restriction for their use. Perhaps a 2"minimum range, plus no speculative fire (grenade lobbying out of LOS).

However, responsive fire from Att 5 rifle killed what MG crew failed to, at which point I ended the game.

In all fairness, I forgot to consider grenade's bonuses, so MG team would probably be wiped off, but that would change little when Att 5 Rifle would still erase the attacker.

End result:
Starting miniatures: 27
Miniatures lost: 20
Prisoners taken: 7

Starting miniatures: 26
Miniatures lost: 26
Prisoners taken: 7

There's loads and loads of things to be rethought; playing solo surely added to the problems; table is just awful (but I can imagine it be really nice if it was done in 3D!) etc etc. But overall, I think the game is very close to what I want it to be. A lot of ideas were ultimately shattered, but that's not to bad, at least I gave them a try.

1. Not sure if it's fair to have units move 6" and fire, but assault 8" and fire/bomb is fair. But on another hand, this does make people want to get into close combat, which is the point of the game.

2. I had a (very short) melee taking place in the communications trench, where only 1 miniature can fight another one at a time. That I feel is fine, but will take ages. Perhaps additional rule should enable 2 miniatures to fight, but certainly not more.
The question that rises is, what happens if a unit in a deep trench (out of LOS) gets attacked from above? Do units count as fighting in trench, even if there's only place for one miniature? I think that is fair, but also the attacker coming from OUTSIDE the trench (as opposed to down the trench) should have some benefits. Bonus to hit might sound too good, as this equals attacking suppressed units - but maybe still?
As it stands now, melee is fought simultaneously. With assaulting suppressed units, it could be done that they hit second (thus having less dice when some of them are bound to die by the attacker hitting first). This makes suppressing units really important. At the same time, unit in trench, assaulted from above suffers -1 to hit, which is at the moment penalty for being suppressed.
3. I really like the idea of prisoners, but, can they be saved? And if - how? Must the unit that took them prisoner be destroyed, or just the soldiers escorting the prisoners? What about prisoners, do they get rifles automatically or would simply have to fight barehanded? Currently, I like the sound of a compromise, they count as having rifles, but when pooling dice to throw, the pool gets halved (if if 4 soldiers would normally fire 4 dice, as saved prisoners they would only get 2).
4. Reaction fire must be regulated somewhat, but should still have an impact on the game. While it's disappointing to see so many units get wiped out by units that even failed to activate, this really shows how deadly being above the ground would be.
5. The board HAS to have a lot of cover, shell hole by the shell hole, in order to give troops somewhere to hide. There also has to be a very good concept for providing artificial cover (smoke), that could and should be used a lot.

Congratulations if you made it to the end and even if you just looked at the photos - thanks for looking!



  1. You certainly have a LOT to think about.

    IOt looks like you are only concentrating on the Western Front, No Middle East, or East Arica or Russian civil war. Or Russian front or something more esoteric (like the Japanese plan to attack America via Mexico with Mexico as allies!.

    So I think the narrow focus will assist you as you already seem to KNOW what you want and that for me is the hardest part.

    Good luck mate

    1. Ah, that is certainly correct. Perhaps not Western front as such, but certainly trench warfare.Calling it a "WW1" skirmish might be a bit overstating, now that you mentioned that!

      Haha, trust me, I've been pondering over what I really want for well over a year! :D

  2. Very enjoyable mate. Lots to consider and I'm sure you can iron out the kinks.

    1. Thanks Simon, I have to say I quite enjoyed it for some odd reason, and it's half done!

      I went through all that bothered me now, changed things a bit and I hope to give it another try soon.

  3. Looks like the start of a great project. Fascinating to see your thought processes too.

    Prisoners should be escorted off the table or held and guarded at a designated point until the game ends (hopefully in that sides favour). Perhaps they could automatically activate at the end of the turn but only move 4". That way they would slowly creep off the board giving chance for them to be rescued.



    1. It finally took of, eh?

      Cheers for the thoughts on prisoners, I will have them removed from play at least until the core rules work flawlessly, but will note the ideas for either a scenario where prisoners would have to be brought back to attacker's lines or as an optional rule.

  4. Off to a nice start. But I am to tired to give it a dedicated read at the moment. Hope to see more.

    1. Thanks, and don't hold your breath, the thext itself isn't that interesting! :D

  5. I've really enjoyed seeing yourthought processes in print and am only now beginning to understand the game you want.
    I'll be giving some thought to this game; #1 son is also working on his own trench game too.

    1. Oh, he is? I'd love to see what he comes up with.

      I played another game where I found out some more things that need changing. I'll also wait for your comments and then amend the rules before giving it another try.