4 Sep 2016

WW1 Skirmish rules: Playtest 4

Hi guys,

Long overdue I finally played another test game. I am getting progressively lazy so I decided to limit myself to a 2x3 board once again. The size suffices for my current needs, but I imagine game being played on a larger board, so there are more venues of approach, which makes moving more than just means to get closer to the enemy and it saves games from being a one trick pony frontal assaults.

I am aware it's a bit pointless to talk about the rules you haven't seen yet, but I would wish to have them finished-not-polished before I show them, because things literally change from day to day even now.

The biggest change from earlier games is that I've dropped the concealment + cover modifiers. It was a hard choice, because I really liked the variation it produced, but the added complexity made it all a bit too awkward.
Now,  shooting unit's ability to shoot never changes, which is justified by the logic that unit's expertise limits the model's chance to hit an intended target area as it is. Obstructions in LOS due to terrain are also ignored, as this leads to nothing but arguing in the game. Or at least that is my experience - true LOS sounds great until one argues he can see your standing miniature through a crack in the wall, but you can't see his crawling one.

To avoid that, what matters is where the target unit is at the time of being shot at, which then improves or worsens the targeted model's saving roll. Every model has a generic saving roll, so there's always a chance for a lucky escape. Additionally, some weapons can lower that save or ignore it all together. It's all a bit abstract, but it helps with high rate of fire and survivability of small units. Well, or doesn't as there's so many more hits now.

To test the new mechanics, I played a quick game where two rifle units and a HMG are defending against the attacker with 2 bomber units, supported by LMG (to test new weapons), supported by a reserve of 2 rifle units.


I used my modern Slovenes and cold war Germans to act as proxies. I have to admit I am really happy to be using them, albeit as proxies.

 Defender's rifle units were positioned right next to the wire, with a HMG some distance behind.
Attackers were simply left off board, this seems to work just fine so far.

One thing I keep pondering about is how machine guns would fire down the flank of the line, so they should not really be in a game like this, but an off-board machine gun rule of some sort would have to be implemented. When a HMG would be on board for the defenders, it should ideally be positioned for flanking fire somewhere off table, and thus have little effect on the game played.
For now, I've accepted that shouldn't be forced, game is just a game after all and I for one always liked my machine gun models. 

With a gradual introduction of means to deal with machine guns, including (off table?) infantry guns, I suspect players would be more eager to try and conceal machine guns behind some kind of terrain.
Massive 'points difference' in the two armies - can the defence hold?

I am no fan of markers, but as I'm playing alone and considering the rules and what not at the same time, I am finding them very useful to remind me what I was doing. This is even more important because this drawn board gets quite confusing at time.

Just for the sake of my own consistency, here are the beads I used:

Yellow indicates modifier to save due to action or terrain (1-3)
Orange indicates unit activated already (or failed to do so).
Blue indicates 'On guard' status.
Red indicates suppressed units.
Green indicates penalty to saving roll due to terrain


Bombers (paras) activate and rush down the deep sap towards the defenders.
Bombers (West Germans) activate and run into the nearest shell hole. As they are both armed with pistols there's not much else they can do.

[at this point I realised I saved the new version of the rules as the old ones and I've printed the old ones, confident that I'm printing the new ones!]

LMG team rushed to a disused listening post and set up their weapon.

With attackers all activating, it was defenders' time to try. HMG fails outright, going "on guard".
Defender's rifles at the mid promptly bombed attackers in a shell hole! This was a no-nonsense affair, attackers losing two of their numbers!

Defender's last unit fired their rifles at the same bombers and managed to kill another one. That's quite a bummer and bombers (West Germans) were down to 1 man just like that.
Sole survivor on the mid left side of the wire.


Turn 2 sees the attackers win the initiative and the now single survivor bomber activates, filled with thirst for revenge.

THE 'problem': As it has dawned to me in the next second, trying to activate him first was a horrible idea, as he was slightly outside the bombing range. If he would try to move closer, the HMG on guard would rip him apart. Not wishing to sacrifice him for nothing, I rather had him hunker down and hope he survives until there's a better chance to react.  That, I feel, is a good example of where "skills" would come in play with the game.

He 'takes cover', enjoying a luxurious save of  2+.

To prepare the field for the advance, I tried to activate LGM team, which, true to Murhpy's laws, failed to do so and went on guard. [Talking about skills before, that's a good example of one die roll ruining all your plans. ]

There is a war to be won, however, and bombers (paras) move on into a firing trench, offering them solid protection. I don't even follow my own rules, so I was ready to cast the MG ROF die before I noticed there's a defender's unit obstructing the fire of the machine gun! Yay! (Or nay, I am unbiased!)

Having all 4 members of the team in range of grenades, bombers (paras) unleash a hail of bombs down the defenders on the middle. They scored 5 hits that had to be distributed among 3 of the 4 defenders and as luck would have it, only one would be removed from play!
There was enough of bang in these grenades to have defender's nerves waver, failing the motivation roll and becoming suppressed. If only I had a unit that could assault them now!

The defender's other rifles now activated, firing at bombers (paras), hitting twice but without any visible effect.

Defender's HMG failed to activate agian and remained on guard.

Situation after turn 2.

Skipping my own rules, I noticed I should roll for attacker's reserves on previous turn already! Any way, one unit of riflemen did appear and can help press the attack.

Defenders won the initiative and rifle unit on the mid failed to activate and decided to go 'on guard'.

THE PROBLEM: I am still deciding whether I should  let on guard units react to movement and fire; movement only; movement and assaults. I am currently favouring the idea that one can't react with fire to fire, but only movement. I might let them fire on the assault actions with pistols only, as riflement, for example, would brace for the bayonet charge. I will let them react to movement  this time, but not firing.

Learning from my mistakes earlier, LMG team activates first this time with an intention to prepare the grounds for infantry assault.

The way MGs work now, they build up their ROF based on how many crew members the unit has. But these being weapons of suppression, they can force a suppression test based on ROF alone, and not on hits as other weapons do. In general, 2 men serving HMG and 3 men serving LMG are enough  to force a suppression test by ROF alone.

As troops aren't fit for assault across barbed wire, LMG fired at defender's HMG in an attempt to suppress it. It scored massive 4 hits (4 sixes!) out of 6, but it can only hit the gunner himself, the rest of the defender's crew being safely out of LOS! Gunner was thus forced to save 4 hits and did so for all but one. As another man simply takes his place, a spare crew man was removed from play.
The defenders failed their motivation and weapon became suppressed - this means it won't have a chance to activate (or react) this turn, so it's a job well done!

HMG team ducks, 3 yellow beads indicating they now save on 2+.
Bombers (para) activated next. They've spent their bombing volley now, but one of them can still lob grenades. The rest fired their pistols like some kind of cowboys.
Combined, they scored 4 hits (plus additional 2 as bomb's hits count for 2 in regard to suppression), triggering a suppression test.

Attacker's LMG team didn't have a desired impact on the game.
THE PROBLEMS: Rifle, being the basic weapon all other weapons are tailored to, has 1 die ROF. Pistol has 2 (as they are faster to fire etc), but I'm starting to believe that's already too many. Three men armed with pistols fired 6 shots combined. But on the other hand, when in trenches at least the lead man can have 2 shots instead of one. That will need some further consideration, with SMGs being additionally annoying to resolve.

A more pressing matter, 3 men unit now  faces 4 hits of 2 kinds. Bomb hits lower their saving throw and pistols do not. So one could put 2 bomb hits on a single man, the other 2 having better chances. Instead, I will play it that hits granting the lowest save are distributed first. So two guys get 1 bomb hit each, one gets a pistol hit and third is allocated to whomever.

In the end, both bomb saves were saved and guy with 2 pistol saves failed one of them. Furthermore, unit passed their motivation and was not suppressed, which is really annoying, as this means that bombers (West germans) unit's sole survivor can only go to ground again, lest it gets shot to pieces by defender's reaction fire.

The other defender's rifle unit failed its activation as well and it too, went on guard.

With all units activating, failing to activate or being suppressed, reserves finally move on board and run straight into the shell hole where bombers (West Germans) were. As rifle units only get to throw grenades one per game, they are reasonably safe in there, but they do receive reaction fire from the defenders.

THE PROBLEM: 2 units are on guard, so the question is, can they both react to single movement action? So far, I've been thinking it should be allowed. If they all react to one action, they simply won't be able to react to another one. But now that I'm actually playing I am not too sure and I think it should be limited to one unit (justified by time frame of reaction, each unit covering one sector or simply game playability). I will play it with a limit for now and see how it works out.

The defenders thus decided to react with the larger of the 2 units. They scored 2 hits, killing one man.

Situation at the end of Turn 3. Can the attackers push through?

No reserves for the attackers this time, and the defenders won the initiative again.

Defenders' HMG tried and failed activating yet again, which is slowly becoming rather annoying.

Attackers' LMG fared no better this time.

Nor did defender's larger infantry unit...

Bombers (paras) activated just barely and I started considering what to do with them. They would not be able to move too much as everyone is on guard on the other side of the barbed wire, so they kept bombing the defenders in the middle.

They were far less effective this time, scoring no hits with a bomb and 3 hits with pistols (all were saved). That was, luckily, enough to force a motivation test for suppression  - which defenders passed.

Attackers' reserve unit now activated and faced the problem the bombers faced before. If they move forward they will be shot at by the machine gun. I have no rules for smoke yet, which is rather limiting. Having one man in the grenade range (if the board was 4 feet long I could have put barbed wire outside grenading range - hows that for a trick, eh?), they threw that and would fire rifles if they weren't so foolishly placed. They scored 3 hits with grenades, killing both of the remaining defenders.

Bomber (West German) activated yet again, and went to ground. The thing is, should he fail his activation, he would start running away, so now at least I have him there in hopes of him being useful in this game.


Last of the attacker's reserves arrived on the battlefield.

Defenders won the initiative and their HMG failed the activation, as usual. I could swear this pattern repeats itself in every single game.

Attacker's LMG activated this time and fired at the HMG with an intention to suppress it. Scoring 2 hits, it failed to produce any casualties, but it did suppress the HMG crew due to weight of fire (as noted earlier).

Now is the time for the attackers to push - or is it? As expected, attackers' bombers (paras) failed to activate, wasting their chance.

Defender's rifles were a tad more lucky and activated, opening fire on attackers' reserves, killing one.

Reserve unit then activated and pushed forward, attempting to cross the wire by jumping over it. Being no athletes, both failed miserably and became entangled.

THE PROBLEM: The option to jump across wire was suggested by Joe and I have to admit I couldn't wait to try it out. Leaving history aside, I find it very amusing. Now the lads are entangled, so the question is, how easy they are to hit? A default save is 5+ and being hung on a wire like that, they can't be as nimble as an ordinary man on the battlefield. I think  removing the save all together is a bit harsh, given how easy it is to hit, but they should suffer a -1 modifier.
Further more, entangled models should count as being suppressed for melee (meaning they can surrender before the fight), given how they can't really do much. Perhaps they should automatically surrender to units within a certain distance, but hat would be another deviation from standard procedures.

Bomber (West German) activated (this guy really showed some motivation in this game) and attempted to cross the wire by jumping as well - surely a trained assault trooper would fare better? Not really, and now there's 3 scare crows in the middle of the board.

With all units activated this turn, reserves moved on board taking the usual way towards middle shell hole.

The attack is crumbling!


Defenders won the initiative yet again and, you guessed it, HMG failed its activation roll once more.

Attackers' LMG failed to activate.

Defenders' rifle unit failed as well and defenders would have to count on reaction fire to keep the attackers at bay.

To conserve larger units, I decided to start by try to activate two of the units in the wire. Reserve didn't activate and remained stranded, and bomber (West German) both activated and wiggled himself free, eager to push on.

Moving into grenade range of defender's rifles, I had to decide what to do about him. I didn't wish to waste HMG's reaction on a single man, and defender's rifles could only have one man fire his bolt action, with a bad chance of scoring a hit. So, being true to reality, defenders threw a bomb. They scored one hit which wasn't saved and the bombers unit was now finally completely wiped out.

No other unit activated, so  bombers (paras) couldn't benefit from the spent reaction of the defenders.

Situation at the end of turn 6. The sole attacker that has pushed across has already been removed from play.

This turn saw defenders win initiative again, but this time HMG activated, meaning things are about to get ugly.
Recognising bombers (paras) as more dangerous than the LMG, he sprayed them. Scoring 6 hits it failed to remove any miniatures from play (whaaaat?) and failed to suppress the bombers. Awful.

Defender's rifles failed to activate and went on guard.

Attackers LMG failed to activate and as reactions can only be made to enemy movement, can't do much as the defender has no reason to move around, being safely positioned behind the wire.

The rest of the attacker's units all failed to activate.


Attackers won the initiative for a change this time, but as LMG failed to activate that helped them little.

Defender's HMG failed to activate as well, reassured that it can always react to the enemies that will have to move sooner or later.

Attackers earlier reserves unit, now free of the wire, rushed towards the machine gun, threatening with the assault. The machine gun crew had to react with fire to them, lest they get assaulted with bayonets.
Scoring 6 hits, they erased the riflemen without much hassle.
Foolish attempt to dislodge the MG crew failed miserably.

Losing half of it's maneuver units and barely breaking across the wire to say hello, attackers need to make their best to end this in their favour.

I had reserves moving first, attempting to force cross the wire (that should've been cut by now!)
Only one of 4 men made it through and two of the Defenders rifle unit could take reaction shots  [at this point I also remembered reaction activates units, to avoid abuse!] and scored that one kill.

Attacker's bombers (paras) failed to activate and the turn ended.


The defenders won the initiative, but HMG failed to activate.

Attackers reserve unit, stranded on the wire lucked out and activated, both entangled men wiggling themselves free of the wire. They pushed on towards the defender's rifles, as attacking HMG on guard wouldn't end too well for them. They threw their grenades and scored one kill.

Attacker's LMG failed to activate and could not attempt to suppress the defender's MG.

Defender's rifles activated and to give me at least a taste of close combat, assaulted Attacker's reserves.

In contrast to earlier test games, this was the only melee fought in this game.
If assault actions could trigger reaction fire, attacker's LMG would stop this assault dead in its tracks. While I like that the battlefield is a dangerous place to be, losing units cheaply would ruin the game as everyone would just sit in their shell hole without any incentive to move.

As the defenders assaulted the attackers in deep trench, the latter never saw it coming and fought with a slight handicap. The melee round ended with 2 of the attackers and 1 of the defenders lost.

Bombers (paras) failed to activate again, which is slowly becoming very painful. I have little idea how to fix that, as they activate on a roll of 3+ as it is!

End of turn 9 leaves defender's with only a HMG and half a rifle unit alive.

Turn started with resolution of the melee that has been started last turn. In 1 vs 2 fight, everyone scored a hit, leaving one defender alive and victorious.

Attackers then won the initiative and LMG failed to activate, followed by defender's HMG failing to activate.

Attacker's bombers (paras) finally activated and set out to end this charade.

The rest of the turn was pretty uneventful as very little started to happen.

After in turn 11 three of four units failed their activation tests, I decided to call it a day, as the game became boring. The attackers had 8 men versus defenders' 4, but unless HMG would be kept suppressed, the game would probably eventually come down to HMG and LMG spraying each other.


Well, this game was different that those before in so many respects. Barbed wire completely shut down the attack. As opposed to last game I played, the attack was now limited to a frontal affair, had the attackers have some bombers working their way from the flank, this game would have played a whole lot differently.

In general, I think the simplified shooting rules are a step in the right direction. Saving rolls keep both players busy and the lack of penalties for shooting, while at first glance counter intuitive, helped speed things up quite some.

I am not too convinced by the reaction fire and on guard status. Failing the activation limits your choice of action (hide or scan the horizon basically), but I feel weapons like MGs are just too powerful, which could lead to abuse. I think best option is to force a re roll to hits for reaction fire (ie its snap shooting). Another options are halving the ROF and having a yet-another test to see if a unit can react. Former is doable, but re rolling of hits is a much more elegant solution I think.

In other news, I've gotten really deep into this whole WW1 project and I have grand plans for it. More about that at a later date, but let me say it will hopefully keep me occupied for another year or two.

Thanks for reading (or at least looking at the photos!),


  1. Great stuff as always. I think that your problem with weapon effectiveness can be handled by scenario design. 3 men with pistols/ revolvers would be a powerful grouping but how likely would they be. Are your trench raiders a specially picked elite or line infantry pulled together at the last moment? Either way it can be set in the scenario. Same for machine guns really. As you've probably guessed I'm not a fan of pick up and play games or points values or other quick ways to try and 'balance' games.



    1. Thanks Pete!

      I reckon you could have a whole "army" of stormtroopers armed with pistols if you want to represent the spearhead of the attack. Likewise, 2 machine guns could still be a possibility.

      The idea not to limit the choice of the units in force. With a clever use of terrain machine guns can be rendered useless, and as long as bomb tossing assault troops are delayed by the wire, they aren't all that powerful either.

      I reckon the distances I would like to portray would make any machine gun commander quite nervous because of the vicinity of the assault troops!

  2. I think most of your changes have reaped good results, despite the outcome. One of the problems I see is probably withthe scenario design itself and the small nubers of troops involved.
    (Can't remember ever suggesting jumping over barbed wire either)

    1. I agree, I probably shouldn't play with less than 5 units or so per side on the table and should probably consider somehow setting up a 6x4.

      As for wire jumping, you certainly mentioned watching the documentary where highlanders would do it - that's basically a suggestion!

    2. The documentary suggested the Highlander were more reaily caught on the wire because of their kilts, sorry if I misled you.

    3. It could be that, yes - but it had to be along the idea of jumping the wire. :D

      Either way, the point still stands as I've seen videos of Kiwis (or Aussies?) throwing themselves at wire to keep it down for the rest of the section to pass. Very acrobatic.