Thursday, October 6, 2016

WRG Wargames Rules 1685-1845 - review

This is another review in the Once and Future Rules series, of wargame rules that are out of print, but that got a lot of play at one time (at least, in the clubs and groups I played in since the early 1980s).

The version of the rules that I own (physically), and that I am reviewing here, are from July 1979.  There was evidently an earlier release that same year, and also a release in Australia (with a yellow cover).  But the version I have is dated July 1979, and pictured here.

This is a 48 page book, and does a pretty thorough job of presenting a set of tabletop rules (no campaign rules, although they are hinted at) for the core of the horse and musket period.  While written for anything from 6mm up through 30mm figures, most of the games I have played, or watched, have been either 25mm (the majority) or 15mm (a close second).

The topics covered by the rules, and the table of contents are as follows:
  1. Introduction
  2. Method of play and time, ground, and troop scales
  3. Troop types, basing, organization and values
  4. Choosing terrain and setting up a battle
  5. Weather, time of day, and visibility
  6. Formations
  7. Orders, command and control
  8. Playing Equipment
  9. Sequence of Play
  10. Reaction Tests
  11. Steadiness and Order
  12. Movement
  13. Shooting
  14. Hand-to-Hand Combat
  15. Casualties, damage to property and engineering
  16. Prisoners and victory
  17. Suggested wargames units for Marlburian, Seven Years and early Indian Wars
  18. Bibliography
  19. Miscellaneous Information
The troop scale of the rules is 1:50 for the infantry, and 1:40 for the cavalry.  Ground scale is 1 inch to 25 paces (so, 40 inches for a mile).

Training and Morale classes are divided up between Regulars and Irregulars.  Regular classes include Elite, Veteran, Trained, and Raw.  Irregular include Fanatics, Soldiers, Warriors, and Levies.

Troop types are, of course, based on employment and equipment -
  • Cuirassiers
  • Heavy Cavalry
  • Light Cavalry
  • Irregular Cavalry
  • Line Infantry
  • Light Infantry
  • Irregular Charging Infantry
  • Irregular Skirmishing Infantry
  • Engineers and Pioneers
  • Mounted Infantry
  • War Elephants
  • Transport
  • Staff
  • And a small constellation of artillery types (different weights, rockets, and different mobility types - such as foot, horse, elephant)
Basing figures is based on a rather typical WRG 60mm wide base for 25-30mm figures.  Infantry get 4 figures per stand, and cavalry get 3 figures per stand.  In both cases, fewer figures are used for irregular units, for instance.  The basing of typical infantry and cavalry as (respectively) 4 and 3 figures is extremely helpful in combat, as shooting and fighting are done in those increments.

A point system is given for competition games, and pickup meeting engagement.  Rules for terrain selection and battle setup (entry sequencing, off table troops, flank marches, etc) are included.

Troops can adopt a number of different formation (column, line, square, skirmishing) depending on the troop type. Order writing is addressed - and pointed out (in the text, as well as in the introduction) that these rules require no order writing because of their turn sequence. Which brings us to:

Sequence of Play (alternating between players)
  1. Response Phase
  2. Shooting Phase
  3. Hand to Hand Combat Phase
  4. Maneuver Phase

This is an interesting turn sequence, mull over it for a second.  You start moving charges, and other moves, at the end of your turn, at the last phase.  At the start of the next turn, your opponent then immediately rolls for reactions, and his troops may have a response to your charge.  Once that is done, you complete your charge.  Then comes shooting, fighting, and regular maneuvers.

Okay, enough with all that jazz.  There are specifics on turning, marching, expanding, taking reaction tests and all that.  But the thing that keeps these rules fun, and still have a following , is the method for determining shooting and melee casualties.  When a unit engages the enemy it gets to roll a certain number of d6.  Usually this is 1 per 4 figures for infantry, and 1 per 3 figures for cavalry.  This is why those stand sizes make sense.  For shooting, cross index the type of weapon (musket, medium artillery, etc) and range, vs. the target disposition.  That can be a dense target (such as the flank of an infantry formation), or a normal target, or a covered target etc.  The table then gives you the results, on 1d6, for which numbers will produce a Hit.  In some cases, there are multiple hits from a single dice, if the right target number is rolled.  Easy. I refer to this as a "dice per element" system, which is different from the "dice per figure" system that Universal Soldier uses.

Example: Musketry from regular infantry, at up to 100 paces (4 inches) will roll 1d6 per four figures firing (so, say a 16 figure infantry battalion, representing 800 men, would roll 4d6).  The table for the weapon at that range, vs. a Normal target, says "2345H 6HH" - that means on each dice, if it is a 2,3,4 or 5 it causes one hit (a dead figure), and if it is a 6 it causes two hits (two dead figures).

Melee is very similar (you roll the same number of dice), but the matrix for determining hits is very much simplified for melee combat.  That table compares the fighting troops, and breaks it down to: Mounted vs Mounted
Mounted vs Foot
Foot vs. Mounted
Foot vs. Foot

For each of those lines on the Hand-to-Hand combat table, there are three columns - if you are at Disadvantage, if you are on Equal Terms, or if you have an Advantage.  There is a method for determining whether or not you have advantage, but in my experience from years ago, in 99% of cases, it is obvious (once you work through the method a few times).  If you have to figure it out, then there are points to add up and compare.  It is possible that a unit is advantaged to a foe it is fighting, on the front, for instance, but disadvantaged against another foe on its own flank.  It all works out.

Then you roll the dice, and the table tells you, again, how many hits you score for a dice toss.  For instance, Foot vs. Foot, on equal terms, will score "456H" - which means on a 4, 5 or 6 on the dice, one enemy Foot figure is killed.  Mounted vs. Foot, with advantage, is deadly.  The results are "23HH 456HHH" Which means on a 2, or 3, each dice rolling that number will kill two enemy figures, but on a 4,5, or 6 each dice rolling those numbers will kill three enemy figures.

Interesting odds and bits on engineering rules, and how to treat structures, officers, and prisoners round out the rule book.

There is a reason these are still played by some people, and hated by others.  There is a lot in these rules to reaction tests, which may or may not be your thing.  The fact that there is no simultaneous movement is a bonus.  And the combat adjudication is simplicity itself, once you get the hang of figuring out advantage.  They do, however, tend to bring out some extreme gamesmanship (i.e. - min-maxing?) that I have only seen topped with Napoleon's Battles.  But that is a different story.

Several supplements have come out over the years that are useful.  One of the best is a set of 18th century army list rules that I have, from the Cheltanham Wargaming Assocation.

These offer up a number of rules, and hint at some changes for linear warfare.  The cover everything from Marlburian up to Revolutionary armies (both American and French).

Later on WRG themselves produce Seven Years War army lists, with actual (official) changes to the rules to accommodate linear warfare better.  It seems that the rules themselves are more suited to Napoleonic warfare (being more fluid).

I don't have the 7YW army list book, so I can't compare them to the Cheltenham book.  Equally, I never got a copy of the Tabletop Games 1:50 Napoleonic Army List book, which also was widely touted for use with the rules reviewed above.

My opinion?  I like them.  I like the mechanics.  But I also very much like the Tac50 rules from Ben King covering the same period, and they play easily as fast, with easier to navigate text and reaction rules.  Maybe these need a replay.  Maybe not.  I understand there is a modern version, for free on the internet, called ELAN that are a refinement of the WRG rules.  That deserves a look.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

I have that very set of rules.. probably haven't even played them since 1985'ish...! Must get them out

George Stosic said...

We play wrg but an Australian version. AWRG has been refined over the past 15 years from players who have participated in our Annual competition called CanCon that is held in the nation’s capital over the Australia Day long weekend. The rules have been re formatted, rewritten, amendments added and some removed.
The rules can be accessed at (including official errata)

Also we have our own face book page that also can be found by searching AWRG.

George Stosic said...
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Fitzbuttress said...

Still one of my favourite sets of horse and musket rules!

Fitzbuttress said...
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