Jay's Wargaming Blog

January 6, 2018

One Hour Wargames

Filed under: Reviews — Jay @ 5:00 pm

One Hour Wargames

As part of my ongoing fascination with ‘stripped down’ wargame rulesets I recently bought a copy of Neil Thomas’s One Hour Wargames (published by Pen & Sword Military).

I already own a couple of the author’s books – Wargaming: An Introduction, and Ancient and Medieval Wargaming. I like the fact that he’s prepared to think outside the box, and his writing style is easy on the eye, so I was looking forward to reading more of his work.

One Hour Wargames – or OHW as I’ll call it from here on in – is an interesting book that has two quite distinct aspects to it.

Simple Rules

Firstly we have sets of very short rules for each of nine historical periods – Ancient, Dark Age, Medieval, Pike and Shot, Horse and Musket, Rifle and Sabre, American Civil War, Machine Age and Second World War.

Each of these periods is covered by a chapter setting out the rationale for Neil’s approach, and outlining the relevant troop types – plus a chapter elaborating the rules themselves.

The rules in each case are very brief – just two or three pages. And each period features just four defined types of unit. For example, troop types for the Medieval period  are  Knights, Archers, Men at Arms and Levies.

While this approach works tolerably well in theory, it is very limiting in practice. The Medieval period isn’t so bad, but important distinctions are lost when we consider Ancients, to take just one example. For this era the author defines the available troop types as Infantry, Archers, Skirmishers and Cavalry. Consequently key distinctions – for example between the Greek phalanx, the Roman legion and the Celtic warband – find no place in the rules. Chariots, elephants and camels are missing completely. And within the category of Cavalry there is no distinction between, for instance, Numidian light horse, Macedonian Companion Cavalry, and Late Roman cataphracts.

The author could object, with some justification, that he is simply applying a broad brush stroke to each period. More pertinently, he could point out that he explicitly recommends that readers add to these ‘base’ rules and/or write their own.

But that still leaves me feeling dissatisfied, a feeling that is deepened by Neil’s rationalisations for his troop types, which sometimes veer into what I fear are rather misleading statements. For example he suggests that cavalry in the Ancient era “relied upon skirmishing at point-blank range with javelins, and individual duels with swords […] This means that they are about as effective as Archers in hand-to-hand combat…” (page 9).

In a book that’s aimed at least in part at newcomers to the hobby, I can’t help feeling that this sort of mangling of history is unfortunate. It enables Neil to keep things simple, but at a cost.

This attempt to cut everything back to the bone also impacts the rules themselves to some degree. We’ve probably all had the experience of cobbling together a ‘basic’ ruleset, only to find that there is a definite relationship between the brevity of what we’ve written and the number of baffling situations that occur on the tabletop – situations that either aren’t covered at all in the rules, or which are open to wildly different interpretations. Such is the case here.

There are also puzzling elisions, for instance where Neil fails to state whether factors impacting combat results – terrain, flank and rear attacks – should be taken as cumulative or singular.

But perhaps I’m being too pernickety here. After all, OHW is designed as a starter guide to tabletop battles, rather than the finished article. But I must admit that this aspect of the book wasn’t really to my taste, and came as a disappoint given the excellence of Neil’s other books.

[And see Comments section for a more positive take on these ‘basic’ rules – one man’s meat, etc. etc.]

The Scenarios

Fortunately the rules are not the only thing you get in OHW. A big chunk of the book is taken up with thirty very fine scenarios. They’re designed to be used with army lists derived from the first half of the book, but with absolutely minimal tweaking they will serve equally well for use with other rulesets and amended forces. Additionally, they fit any historical period.

Each scenario takes up two pages – one page of text and one page with accompanying diagram, showing the battlefield layout. The text portion includes Situation, Army Sizes, Deployment, Reinforcements, Special Rules, Game Length/Turn Order, Victory Conditions, Inspiration and Further Reading.

This second half of the book is absolutely splendid, and more than worth the cover price. Scenarios encompass every conceivable type of encounter, and are designed to be played out, as per the title of the book, in around an hour. The author’s generous and very full acknowledgement of sources, plus his helpful notes on further reading, mean that these wonderfully inventive short scenarios can be deepened and expanded with just a little extra effort. Neil also encourages the reader to produce his/her own scenarios, and with these cracking examples to hand most enthusiastic wargamers will be inspired to follow his lead.

And Finally…

OHW also includes a brief introduction for newbies, short sections on campaigning and solo wargaming, and a rather more extensive section on resources.

Although the brief period overviews and ultra-short rulesets really don’t float my boat, I have to say that Neil comes through in the second half of the book with a stack of excellent scenarios. These are terrific as they stand, but also serve as an inspiration to the reader.

For me, this book is ‘a game of two halves’ – but in a good way! I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you invest in a copy.

*****

For an alternative view of the first half of the book, check out my follow-up post here, and Marco’s video review here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GERS4vGWZZ0

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6 Comments

  1. The Neil Thomas books are basically what they say they are, namely introductions into the hobby with very simple rules that are easy to learn and will play to a definite conclusion in an evening.

    That said, they also provide a good starting point for anyone considering writing their own rules, because in my experience it’s much easier to add your own ideas to a basic set of rules, than start with a complex (and generally expensive) set of rules and strip out what doesn’t suit your ideas for the period.

    Comment by Paul Davies — January 6, 2018 @ 5:36 pm

    • Paul has it in one.. for me their main benefit is that they provide a framework for you to hang as many of your own ideas on as you want.. out of the box I would say that they will not satisfy any war-game grognard, but tinkered with and added to (which is part of the fun), they are a delight..

      Comment by steve the wargamer — January 7, 2018 @ 2:34 pm

  2. Thanks for posting this. oHW is the book which has motivated me to play more games in the past two years than in the previous five combined. I agree that scenarios are the strongest part of the book and very good value in themselves : I have adapted some to play on much more complex rulesets. However the rules should not be dismissed too easily. Yes they are very simple, but neil does a good job of introducing the logic behind them: eg when explaining how he divides fro age nfantry into two broad categories ( warriors and shields all infantry). That sir I agree that the ancients section does feel overly ‘broad’. One of the virtues of the rules mechanics is that they do allow for tinkering by the players . I have enjoye colonial era games (a period not specifically catered for in the rules as written) simply by having 19 C armies fight against dark age warriors (zulus!). All worked well. I recommend trying the solo random event section. They do offer a level of complexity and randomness which is useful even in 2 player OHW games.
    Andy

    Comment by giblabman — January 6, 2018 @ 6:06 pm

  3. All fair comment, thanks for the feedback guys. I’ve added a note to the review referencing your comments as I’m maybe being overly harsh…

    Comment by Jay — January 6, 2018 @ 6:42 pm

  4. It makes a little more sense if you read his article Keeping it Simple which was in a Battlegames magazine.
    I’ve been using his Machine Age rules for the 1920’s NW Frontier and have been happy with them. I am now looking at 12th century England and think that there are too many knights and not enough levy and archers but he does invite you to make changes.

    Comment by nobby531 — January 6, 2018 @ 11:49 pm

  5. […] earlier review of Neil Thomas’s book One Hour Wargames – which praised his scenarios while heavily criticising his stripped-down rules – […]

    Pingback by One Hour Wargames – Part Deux | Jay's Wargaming Blog — January 8, 2018 @ 1:50 pm


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