5 Aug 2016

WW1 Skirmish Rules: playtest 3

Hi guys,

I have to thank everyone for every little bit of input on the rules. After giving it quite a lot of thought and debating them over with Zabadak, I gave them another try now.

I am now at a stage where I am afraid I am overthinking the rules and I am holding myself way back to try and find the optimal stance between too complicated and too simple. As this is a rather new experience for me (and a quite entertaining one), I searched for any tips and tricks and I found all sorts of "what makes a successful game" kind of "suggestions" that I found absurd to be frank. It is a lot like searching for medical advice online and it's horrible. From several blog posts and pages that took game design as a serious business (offences punished by severe talk down), the  only reliable advice I came upon was that game has to be playtested a lot.

Should you wonder, I do get overwhelmed by all the things I have to do, mostly because there's a huge gap to be bridge between "keep it simple" and "making it realistic". The easiest solution to that, and something I should probably use in everyday life more often is to break the load in smaller pieces. So instead of doing everything at once, I just have to fix the movement, fix the shooting, fix the melee and add stuff that looks cool.

Units have to roll for activation and can be useless given bad rolls. To fix that, I considered breaking squads in halves. In previous games I had up to 10 miniatures per unit, portraying squads, because 'reasons'. Now I broke them in half-squad sizes, so there would be 2-4 (1+D3) miniatures per unit. Most squads were 8 men strong by mid war, so with the added simulation of bombardment effect, half would be anywhere from 2 (barely playable) to 4 (full half-squad).
There was an instant fear present, that this might be too small, but as you will see I think it worked just fine.

Having smaller elements means in a game with 20 miniatures per side, you can have 4 and more units, while before you could only have 2-3. More units means more flexibility and a failed activation roll doesn't render 1/3 of your army useless. An unfortunate roll for morale making whole unit surrender doesn't affect you as much, if that's 1 in 6 units. The surrender rules I think are very elegant and I feel they are a nice addition and I would like the players to try and force as many 'surrender' checks as possible on  the enemy, which can only be done by suppressing them and assaulting them, so by combining the units with some thought behind it, rather than simply throw some dice hoping to hit something.

The problem here comes with the support weapons. I love the idea of large HMG teams, where spare men take over the casualties positions. In one of the period manuals, Vickers HMG was described as being "invincible", because only 2 man were needed to man it, and even 1 could do in desperate times. So by cutting teams to 2-4, that lowers their survivablity a lot, but also displays the danger of having a machine gun this close to front line.

Likewise, this would mean each unit would have 1 bomber (the rest being carriers, spare men), so grenades would not fly all over the place anymore.
Rifle grenades are a bit more problematic as surely they would be firing as batteries, all together. So a mechanism to allow two teams of same type (ie a full squad) in a certain distance of one another was devised. This, I figured later, could also be used to have a separate infantry unit serve to help crew a machine gun whose unit was depleted. This is another thing I found very great (at least on paper), as obviously anything that would keep the machine gun going was a good plan.

Should a player wish to keep the spirit of the squads, teams made into a single squad could be forced to stay within a distance to one another - but why restrict it? Everything happens in the chaos of battle, so the more flexibility the better. It is not as if a 3-4 feet wide board represents any large area.

Not to make this post text only, I decided to give small units a try in a game of trench fighting, to see how Actions work. If you remember me being bothered by weapons in last game - I decided I will rework them completely. Instead of making stuff up, I will find a weapon (ie a Rifle) and then build others around it (more or less bullets fired; more or less mobile; more or less accurate; more or less destructive). I plan on making all sorts of weapons profiles,  as nothing I hate more than buying and painting a fantastic artillery piece and not being able to use it, because "it would be far away". I've read several memoirs where guns were very close, for better or worse, and even an instance where on the Balkans front, late in 1918 civilians would fire grape shots at Austrians soldiers from Austrian guns during the latter's retreat. So, while manuals are great, anything can happen in the war and should player wish to have a force made of nothing but machine-guns, why not - as long as weapons are balanced there should be a counter to every thing but a diverse fighting force.

To cut the already long intro a bit shorter - the game:

The attack is well under way and the attackers are advancing both from the front and the flank.

Bombers Unit - 2 men - activation 3+; 4+ expertise
Bombers Unit - 4 men

Riflemen -  4 men - activation and expertise 4+
Riflemen - 3 men
Riflemen - 3 men

This equals to 16 miniatures, which should be enough as I am playing on 2x3 this time.

I gave defenders exactly the same number of units:

Bombers - 4 - same as attackers.
Bombers - 2

Riflemen - 4 - same as attackers.
Riflemen - 4
Riflemen - 3

Rolls were slightly better for them, so they have 1 man extra.

Weapons note: Bombers are equipped with pistols, close combat weapons (daggers, clubs etc) and grenades, where a dedicated thrower (1 miniature per unit) can throw grenades all the time. Once per game, a whole unit can throw a salvo.

Riflemen are armed with rifles, bayonets and grenades, where grenades can only be thrown once per game. For now, this means once per game, one miniature can throw a grenade once. This sounds a little, but it saves us from book keeping and it keeps grenade salvo unique to bombers.

Set up:

Ouch! The small table really shows. For defenders, I've put two riflemen units (3 and 4.1) in front trenches. Behind them in a purpose built bomber's pit (I know!) are 2 bombers. In trenches, desperately trying to delay the flanking bombers are riflemen 4 at the end of parallel communication trench and bombers 4 in a reserve trench. First thing I noticed was my parallel trench is WAY too straight and bombers advancing down that trench would need a lot of luck. It's more of a not for future, but when designing terrain it shouldn't be straight in any direction for too long.

Attackers were positioned off the table (because I decided to use half size table), 4 bombers rushing in from flank down the aforementioned comm trench, 2 bombers will roll up the fire trench from shell holes and 3 riflemen units will push from the front.

Attackers have first turn, because there's nothing useful defenders can do with no enemies on board.
I am trying to avoid counters, but lest I forget who tried activating, green beads represent units that can still be activated.

Turn 1:

Attackers bombers 2 activate and move in a shell hole towards defenders in firing trench.

[THE PROBLEM: Yup, right at start. Can they assault the defenders right away? I think they could - why wouldn't they? Game started in middle of the battle, so there's no reason to delay. Enemy is within 8" of the table edge. To compromise this, I decided the bombers can't throw grenades before the assault as they were not on board at the point prior to move.

The defenders do not get reactive fire on the assault move (I justify this by defenders bracing to meet the melee. Option here would be to decide if defenders fire as a reaction (if they were 'On Guard'), but then hit second (after attacker's hits are resolved) or meet the attack and fight as per melee rules. The problem is, assault troops armed with pistols pretty much always hit first anyway. I will look into it, but at this moment, I would prefer it not being an option as whole game portrays one large assault.]

The bombers rushed into the defenders, who were then repositioned to fight (get as many as possible in base-to-base contact).

[THE PROBLEM: I decided only miniatures in btb contact can fight - trenches are narrow, so this means a unit with more troops would still only be able to use only a few. As defenders left enough space in between them, I've put bombers in those spaces, to make a sandwich: bomber-defender-bomber-defender-defender. Last defender can not hit anyone. I am not sure about moving pass miniatures, but it makes sense that an engaged miniature can be moved forward to engage with someone unengaged.]

Bombers have an option of using pistols (no bonus to hit, but resolved before the rest), to try and avoid being hit by defenders. Their other option are daggers, giving them +1 to hit, but would be thrown simultaneously with the enemy. Pistols can only be used for the first round of combat.
Defender's only option is bayonet, giving no bonuses, but having no drawbacks either.

Bombers missed both their hits, while defenders got a hit. Melee will continue next turn.

Larger attacking bomber unit activated next. Risking enfilade fire from defenders down the trench, they rushed towards defending bombers and assaulted. Again, no pre-assault grenading was allowed to make up for the instant rush. Again, because they're fighting in trenches, a melee of two units came down to being a duel where both sides suffered a casualty!
[Both have an option of pistols and clubs, which is something I can not playtest myself. As long as both use pistols or both use daggers and clubs - there is no difference. They both either hit on +3 or +4. The problem is, one of the sides can opt to use clubs (easier hitting), but has to hope the side using pistols does not score a hit.
Ie. If attackers fire with pistols and hit the only defender in contact, he won't get to hit. This is a great chance for players to decide, but I will simply use pistols as solo gaming can not solve this.]

One of the attacking units didn't activate, so initiative passed to defender.

I was not sure whom to try and activate here, rifles far back could try to rush in melee against larger attacking bombers, but that can also wait. So I decided to try and activate rifles in the fire trench.
They passed and went 'On guard' - orange bead.

Defender's 2 bombers did the same, while larger unit in the supervision trench ran towards attackers engaged in a melee against defender's bombers.

Only troops left to activate were two of the attacker's rifles. 4 man unit activated and moved towards the barbed wire.

[THE PROBLEM: The wire being really close, the attackers could choose among these actons:
- Walk (and fire or throw grenades)
- Run (harder to hit, no other bonus)
-Take Cover (3" move for extra concealment and cover). In this instance this move represent rolling in/out of a trench hole and so it has to be renamed (Joe's idea and I love it). "Take Cover" indicated miniature could not advance).

If they'd 'Walk', they would suffer reaction fire by two defending units and whoever survives would be able to toss a grenade or fire against well entrenched enemies. Run is pointless  and 'Take cover' would mean they up their survivability chances quite some.]

I decided to have them 'Take cover' (I've renamed the action to "crawl" after the game) towards the wire. This means they enjoy +1 concealment and 6+ cover. On top of that, they get another +1 concealment and cover from wire. Concealment is always cumulative and cover only adds up because they try really hard not to get hit with this kind of move.

[THE PROBLEM: This looks like an action that could be abused, moving 3" infront of enemy for an abundance of cover. After the game, I made a "Take Cover" action with 0" move, extra concealment and cumulative cover (as it is now). And another action (currently named "crawl") that would enable a 3" move, have extra concealment and cover, but where cover would not add up (so a player would choose this 6+ or whatever terrain would grant him if it's better)]

Defending rifles in a fire trench ahead can now react to this crawl move with one of these:
Fire 4D6 of rifles at basic 4+, and additional +1 for wire and +1 for crawling, so a roll of 6 would hit. Or they can throw one grenade (3D6) which ignores concealment (as blast radius negates the need for a really careful aim).

[THE PROBLEM: Grenades will be played as they are written atm, but I have to consider if they would not only negate some part of concealment (-1 or -2 as opposed to all of it) and if they would negate any cover (my guess is no, so larger calibers, like trench guns can be useful). Also, I need to consider if grenades would give extra "hits" towards suppression (1 grenade hit could count for 2 hits suppression wise, so hitting with all 3 grenades would suppress an enemy). Grenading will demand a game of its own for testing.]

Riflemen's grenade did absolutely nothing, because dice rolled were 1, 1, 2. So much for the overpowered grenades!
Defender's bombers in a bomber pit are too far to react to this group, but will react to middle group, if it activates.

Same story here, attackers crawled to the wire and bombers throw their grenades, hitting twice (4,4,1). The wire and crawling grants attackers a 5+ save (none basic -> 6+ crawl -> 5+ wire, so cumulative covers seem to be okay. They failed both. [Mind, this would now be changed, so there would only be a 6+ save from either crawling or the wire].

Everyone had their chance at activating and everyone but one attacking rifles did so. First turn left 4 attackers and one defender dead. Not the best of the starts for the attacker!


At start of turn 2, there were 2 unresolved melees to fight.

I first resolved melee in fire trench. There, both sides activated. Gap, opened by a dead attacker was closed (2" move for miniatures not in btb). As pistols can only be used in first turn of combat, bomber enjoys +1 to hit on his truncheon (hitting +3), while defender needs a roll of 4+. Both are thrown simultaneously and bomber scored a hit.

The melee is not over, but there's a large gap between the fighting sides, so I think gaps should be closed at end of previous turn instead of at start of this one. If this is not done and another unit jumps in that gap, unit that was in fight all of the sudden loses contact. (After the game, I decided gaps should be close right after the casualties are removed, so the units keep contact).

[THE PROBLEM: Resolving melee does not count as activation, so if it would have been concluded, surviving unit could give activation a try. As it was not resolved, I suppose this means they both activated now, as they are still brawling.]

In the other unresolved melee, both teams activated as well, gaps were closed and each team rolled a single die, looking for a +3, owed to their daggers. In this case, the defender was the only one that hit and now both units are activated.

The initiative was rolled to see how the rest of the turn would play out and attackers have won it.

I tried to activate sole survivor of middle rifles unit, so he could at least throw grenades before he dies. He activated, scored one hit, but failed to kill any of the defenders, well protected by their trenches.

The other attacker's rifle team, standing by the wire failed to activate and was put on guard.

[THE PROBLEM: The problem here is, what happens with extra cover, the unit did not move, but I want to keep away from book keeping, so now only the terrain will count. It also opens another option: Should a unit that fails activation be given a choice to be on guard (scan the horizon to fire at enemy) or take cover (gain extra concealment and cover). Units caught inactivated in the open would surely prefer extra cover than a lousy try at hitting well entrenched enemy.
After the game I introduced a "take cover" action as discussed above, while "crawl" action is the same, but has 3" movement and non-cumulative cover.]

Defender's rifles in fire trench were put on Guard as they failed their activation.

Attacker's unit that still didnt move on the board activated. I was not sure what to do with them. There's an opening, so I wanted to assault and had to consider how to tackle difficult terrain. I decided it would take 1" of movement every time they crossed a difficult terrain. As they start in a shell hole, that is -1" for climbing out of it. Possibly -1 for jumping in trench, but I think not - climbing OUT is the problem, not jumping in. So, as they were 7" from the enemy, they could assault.
One made it in trench, 2 are on the lip. Given these are miniatures on bases, I think its fair that those on the edge of trench count as in b-t-b for purpose of melee.

This means that attackers get 3 dice and defenders only one. If attackers would attack head on (assuming there was no wire), each side would get at least 3 dice (both units would be parallel). To simplify, the melee counts as being fought in the trench, so there is no pros or cons for any of the sides in this regard.

They both use bayonets, attackers scoring 2 hits and defenders none. As defenders now engaged in melee, they are not considered to be on guard anymore.

Defender's 2 bombers fail to activate and are put on guard. Defenders rifles in supervision trench activate and assault into melee between two bombers units.

[THE PROBLEM: Defender's rifles just assaulted across 2 corners, as did bombers before. This sounds pretty bad, as assault move is long and table is quickly covered.
It would be worth wondering why isn't assault same as running action (6"), justified that second part of action is done by fighting (and in walk action, by firing). This is another of Joe's suggestions that I might quite like and I changed it after this game.
Another thing that I did was introduce a LOS as a necessity to the assault. This means attacker's can't just run around trenches, but have to move carefully around the corners, which slows game on small tables down a bit, making it more playable. This opens another set of problems, like assaulting into deep trenches from above ground (which is bad for those in trenches), but that can be fixed by proper wording.]

Anyway, I decided to let them assault into an engaged melee, which is something I have not yet tackled. I have not prepared anything for this instances, so this is what I did:

As assaulted unit is already fighting, it does not expect to be hit by another unit, so it counts as "suppressed" - it has to throw an activation (=morale) die right away to see if overwhelming melee forces them to surrender.
The assaulted bombers passed, so another round of melee is fought. Bombers can't use pistols, but they have +1 to hit on their close combat weapons, which isn't enough and defenders rifles score the only hit.
[After the game, the rules were written a lot like played in this game, as it seems to be quite logical]

All units have now activated and the turn ended.


Again, the melees were resolved before the turn started.

I went through multiple unit combat first, as it was the most complicated.

This is what usually happens:
Units throw for morale, if both activate they fight; if none does, you reroll until one does. The one that fails to activate surrenders.

But now I have one unit fighting two (not to mention the one unit only has one survivor left!). The attacker has 1 unit that activates on 3+, the defender has two, activating on 3+ and 4+. I was thinking about having the defender roll 1 die for both of his units (but which one then, and why so?) and add +1 to the roll for any unit he has more than the attacking player.
Second option, each unit rolls its own (3 for bombers, 4 for rifles) but unless both fail, they do not surrender. This sounds good and viable and I've put it in the rules.
The problem is now, the one that fails - does it still fight (even if it failed) or it simply stands there, but it does not surrender, because friendly unit continues the fight.
At the moment, I believe it can not just stand there watching, so as long as one passes, both fight. While this is an 'Activation' role, it's actually a role for morale.]

So, I rolled for activation and defenders both passed, while attacker didn't and thus surrendered. I really need to sit down through this however, but I think the general idea is good, as to avoid any unnecessary complication.

As melee was not fought, both defender's unit can give it a try at activation this turn.

Second melee I resolved was between attacker's bombers (started as 2 man) and defending rifles. Both units activated and only the bomber scored the hit.

Lastly, the fight between two rifle units ended with a casualty on each side.

The initiative was then rolled for and attackers won.

[THE PROBLEM: Similar to an earlier case - does being "On Guard" move to the next turn? That is worth thinking about, it and "take cover" actions (that can also be a result of failed activation) should persist until next try at activation - or until 'on guard' is activated by reacting fire. This sounds viable, so a unit that failed to activate on turn 1 can enjoy the bonus defence from 'take cover' until it tries to activate on turn 2 and can be tactically left to be activated last.]

Larger attacker's rifles unit cut some passages in the wire, that were then taken advantage of by the smaller (sole survivor) rifleman.

Defender's bombers in the bomb pit failed to activate and were put on guard - after the attacker has already moved, which shows why initiative is very important.

On the north, defender's bombers activated and sprinted towards the front line and rifles failed to activate. Turn ended.

At this point, I decided to stop playing as I ran out of time and I pretty much got the idea of how game could work with smaller miniatures and found some more grey areas.
In 3 turns, Defenders managed to get one prisoner and 7 kills (50% of Attacker's starting force), while attackers managed to kill 5 of the defenders, less than a third.


There is not much to say, I think the smaller units are the way to go. Trenches are really narrow and should be numerous, so having more smaller units is better than one long snake. If we assume miniatures in melee would never fail their activations, a fight between 2 equally strong 4 man units could last up to 4 turns, while 8 man units would be fighting for 8 turns.

Even now melee is almost tediously slow if both units activate, so I might wish to enable fighters to hit anything in 1" (so first two in line), to speed it up a bit. But I am not sure if I want melee to be fast, as the longer it takes, more chance there is for other troops to do their objectives or come to aid. Another option would be the melee is fought over and over again in a single action until someone wins, but that would leave players with not chance to tip odds in their favour by having another unit join the fight.

I am really trying hard not to have the game too complicated, with as little to consider as possible, but making it too simple would essentially water it down to a generic set, while I want it to portray the WW1 trench fighting.

One other thing I find bad is my table - I made way too many deep trenches that should not be as numerous and I might find myself planning a game that is far more confined that an ordinary game would be. I will try playing on the other half of the board next time, that's mostly covered in shell holes to see how it would fare if everyone could see everyone else.

Thanks for looking,


  1. So are you using D6's to resolve things? Have you thought about using D10's. In regards to activation perhaps have a bonus to activate a units so a full 4 man squad would say have a +3 bonus where as a man on his own would receive none.

    Its very tricky to find balance I have to agree we have had many discussions when playtesting Across the Dead Earth its all to easy to tip the balance and your right lots of testing is required. Also when its at a beta test get all sorts to trial it especially if you know competitive players as they will seek to max out on stuff rather take something themed.

    1. Yes, I use D6 and it's VERY limiting, but I honestly don't dare open the pandora box of the possibilities that D10s and D20s bring.

      I agree, testing is simply the only way to check, it also helps with seeing how other people read the rules. But I'm still very far from even that point at the moment!

  2. Anotherinteresting aar and a whole host of new 'problems' to think over.
    I find this 'open thinking' very interesting.

    1. Thanks Joe, it's a great excuse for me to talk and talk and talk and...

  3. Always good to hear your thoughts mate.

    Whwn it comes to game design personally I find it easier to let the game get complicated by adding rules in before you try trim it down. Trying to keep it simple during development means that you run the risk of censoring or holding yourself back.

    If in a playtest you forget a rule more than three times it probably means that the rule was over complicated or unneccassary and the game could do with out it.

    This is worth reading if you haven't done before:


    Also Bob Cordery's chapter in 'Innovations in Wargaming Vol. 1' is worth a read too.



    1. Hmm, it's probably a good idea to add in everything I'd wish to have and then trim it down.

      I'll keep that in mind!

      Thanks for the link as well, I had a quick read but it really makes it seem as what I'm doing is a full time job and it's scary! :D

  4. I want to say I read it all. but that would be a lie as it is too long for me to concentrate on. (Yes I am weak that way!)

    Unless you are going to publish the rules DO NOT OVER THINK IT>

    If it is just for fun keep the rules simple and fast flowing. ONE SIDE of A4 Max. I try for 1 side of A5 personally but I do like very simple rules.

    I find complex rules get in the way of the game AND lead to arguments!

    But most importantly what works best for you is the only real criteria.

    1. Haha, well, thanks for the honesty, Clint!
      You aren't missing on much, I type it all as I play so I can keep up with my thoughts during the game.
      It is not what many would consider an interesting blog post, but if nothing else it keeps blog alive!

      One side A4? I'm on 11 now! The odd thing is, I wouldn't call them too complicated, they just don't cover everything I want them to yet!