Welcome / Bienvenu

This blog presents my different wargames armies, after action reports, campaigns which I have run, some scenarios and a presentation of some of the different rules I play. The pages at the top of the blog contain historical information on the periods that interest me. They are an aid to my poor memory, and not in any way exhaustive nor necessarily correct. As I am an Englishman living in France, some pages are in English and others in French...sorry, I am too lazy to translate...

I hope this blog offers you much enjoyment and some inspiration !

vendredi 31 août 2012


I play the Principles of War (POW) ruleset for 19th century warfare (which covers 1820 to 1920). A unit (made up of 9 or so figures) represents a battalion or an irregular contingent of similar size.

The game uses the typical initiative system, but each brigade also receives one of four orders, indicating the direction it is to move in (if any) and the ways in which it can react to enemy presence. Although they give a certain amount of leeway, these orders, which can be difficult to change if a lot is going on, mean that a good plan is needed, and I consider that a good thing.

Armies start the battle as "movement bases", ie. a large rectangle of cardboard which represents the whole brigade. If inidividual units wish to leave the rectangle, they may, but otherwise it provides a means of moving quickly, and above all creating uncertainty for the enemy.

This is a fantastic aspect of the rules. By carefully using terrain, and spending a little initiative to "hide" your bases, you can get close up and personal with the enemy without him even knowing what you have got ! It gets even better after 1900, when smokeless powder arrives and units on movement bases can shoot without automatically revealing themselves.

It also means that units of light cavalry - usually of little use in pitched battles - can play their real scouting role in POW.

A unit is characterised by its "strength points", which are simultaneously its base firepower and its morale level. Base firepower is then modified by the type of weapon that the unit is armed with, and the range it is firing it. The various weapons available are, initially, a bit disconcerting, but you soon learn the factors.

Shooting is conducted by "firing groups" - several units adjacent to one another will tend to fire as a single group against all enemy units in their "beaten zone". Hand to hand combat is conducted in the same way, meaning that combat can be resolved fairly rapidly. The total firepower present is cross-referenced against a D6 roll, which adds an element of chance. The more firepower you are using, the less the die is important.
Another nice idea is that the exact effects of terrain, hills excepted, are unknown until one of your units has moved or passed adjacent to it. A wood might be dense and difficult, or light and offering little or no cover. The differences are never extreme, but have a definite impact on the battle, and offer another interesting and realistic role for scout troops.

Terrain also affects the distance at which "strategic movement" is blocked. Units at a certain distance from the enemy can move several times in a single turn...and in a wood, this distance is reduced to 10 meagre centimetres ! By placing a wood between yourself and your enemy, you can march right on him in the opening moves of the battle.

One downside of POW is that it is poorly written. I don't find the layout very logical - the procedure for setting up a random battle, for example, is scattered in about ten different locations, and I had comb through the rulebook to sort it out. The exact effect of different Orders could be far better explained (I have provided my own personal interpretations later on in this section).

Another downside is the time needed to play a game. Using the standard army lists, with two players who have a reasonable idea of how the game works, you need at least 5 hours to reach a conclusion, and 6 is not a luxury.

The main culprit is the strength factors, which start around 12 to 14 for most armies. Morale tests can cause a unit to be "shaken", to "retire shaken" or to "rout", the three levels requiring you to score more than, more than twice than, and more than thrice than your unit morale on a D20. Since "shaken" is not that serious, and even "retire shaken" hardly the end of the world, you can imagine how much shooting it takes to get anywhere.

There are, however, numerous ways round this problem. The first is to use smaller armies - I typically take 100pt armies from a 150pt list. I have found that 12-14 units is playable in 4-5 hours. The second is to use random unit strengths. Instead of a Russian line unit having 12 strength, it gets 1D10+6, the die being rolled the first time the unit fires or tests. S ome units will turn out of course to be very steady, but others could turn out to be very weak, and this offers a more dynamic game.  The third remedy is simply to lower unit strengths by two or three points from the very start or, better yet, by 1D4 points.

These negative points exposed, POW is, overall, an EXCELLENT rules set. Whilst it offers many subtleties, the basics of it can be picked up by a gamer within a couple of turns, which makes it a good club rule.
I like it best for the period after 1870, when breech-loading weapons are available, offering firepower capacties which seem, to me, to be better adapted to the rhythm of the game. In this period, you have enough time to profit from the sneaking and scouting possibilities which are one of POWs most exciting features.

Another excellent feature is the army lists, which opened my eyes to dozens of periods which I know nothing about, and give me a great urge to go out and paint armies.

Some basic principles

Since my 19th century pages refer to POW, I thought it would be useful to include a little glossary for those who don't play the ruleset.

Weapon types

A unit shoots with a force equal to its strength multiplied by its weapon factor (and firing range). The weapons are broken down into muzzle-loading pieces (ml), breech-loaders (bl) and repeaters (r). For regulars, a distinction is made between rifles (+r) and carbines (+c). For irregulars, the weapon receives the prefix (i) for technically advanced irregulars (eg Boers) or (n) for native troops.
For example, nbl = native troops using breech loaders; rc = regulars using repeating carbines; mlr = regulars using muzzle-loading rifles.
Repeating rifles and breech-loaders are 50% more powerful than muzzle-loaders (with repeaters even more deadly at close range).

Troop types
Troop types are split between regulars and irregulars. The latter (FF = fighting foot, MF = massed foot, SF = skirmish foot) are all on one 9cm base, and have only one formation, whilst the former (RF = regular foot) are on 3 x 3cm bases, and can adopt different formations. The same applies to cavalry (RC = regular cavalry, CH = irregular charging horse, SH = irregular skirmish horse).
Troops may have additional capacities or handicaps, such as pfd = poor fire discipline, li = light infantry, pi = pioneers able to dig basic scrape trenches during the battle, mi = mounted infantry capable of dismounting and firing as infantry.

Unit strengthConscript infantry units have 10 strength, average units 12, and better units 14 to 16. Artillery and cavalry units always have 4 less, I presume to reflect their lesser numbers per unit.

To give you an idea of what morale reflects for comparison with your own preferred rules set, a unit is "shaken" if it rolls more than its morale on a D20, the main effect of this being that it cannot go closer to an enemy until rallied. More than double obliges the unit to retire one move, finish shaken and lose a strength point. Triple routs the unit, which is taken off board.

Cover can be type 0, 1 or type 2. Type 0 cover makes no difference at all; type 1 cover (the most frequent) reduces the efficiency of medium range fire by about 25%, type 2 cover by 40 to 50%.


If you want real hints and tips, and answers to your questions, the only place to go is the Principles of War Yahoo Group. The participants are the friendliest people on earth, and always ready to patiently answer questions. A "beginners guide" is also available in the documents area, with a blow by blow account of a battle between Greeks and Turks, explaining step by step the mechanisms of the rules.

Here, you can find a few nerdy "analyses" of the rules, and my personal interpretation on how to handle the Orders.

A bit of a breakdown...

All this may seem an overly mathematical approach to what is, after all, just a game - but my aim is simply to improve the way that I play POW and thus offer the most exciting challenge to my opponent. Too often I have gotten bogged down into a game of what turns out to be desultory shooting, which which seemed like a good idea at the time but which, in the timeframe of an evening's gaming, led to a disappointing battle where nothing really happened.

So, I took a closer look at the mechanisms. There is nothing groundbreaking here, though.

Given the morale rules, the "break point" for a unit under fire is reached when it is around strength 5 or 6, and more like 6 or 7 when it is under fire from the flank.  By shooting alone, how long does it take to reduce the average unit of strength 14 to this state ?  It all depends, of course, on your firing factor and the cover occupied by the enemy - I have assumed for simplicity that the firing unit remains untouched, or is regularly replaced.

It turns out that, on average, a unit in no cover, fired on with a x2 multiplier (ie. medium range for breech loaders and repeaters), will be knocked down to the required level in about 4 turns. This rises to 8 turns if firing at only a x1 multiplier.

So far so good - but look what happens when the enemy unit is in cover of class 1. At factor x2, it now takes 5 turns, but at factor x1, a massive 18 turns to get anywhere. In class 2 cover, factor x1 is not even worth attempting, factor x2 takes 7 turns of firing to wear down the enemy to break point, and only x4 factor (short range for repeaters) brings it down to 3 turns.

Given that a typical evening's game allows one to fit in 10 turns at the very most, the rather crude conclusion is that x1 factor firing is virtually useless. x2 is reasonable, but still lengthy; x3 or x4 is needed when a rapid result is required.

There is, however, the possibility of hand to hand fighting, bearing in mind that an enemy who loses a melee only needs to score more than twice his morale to rout and will retire shaken if he loses more.

Bearing in mind the casualties taken from fire whilst charging, there is (to my mind) little point doing it if there is no chance of routing the enemy, which means morale must be down to 7 or 8 (or as high as 10 if you manage to hit him in the flank and give a negative to his morale test).

Of course, if he is occupying a position you want to take, a "retire shaken" result, achieved if you win and he rolls more than his morale on the D20, is just fine. An enemy strength of 10 or 11 gives a good chance of this...but also means you will take heavy fire coming in and will have a comparable strength to your enemy in melee.

SO, taking into account the "rout my enemy" factor, and the various probabilities arising from strength and the die roll, I came up with this (crude) rule : it is worth charging if

a) your enemy is at strength 8 or less and
b) based on your own strength and the various modifiers that will apply for charging, shaken enemy and so on, you better your enemy by at LEAST one column on the melee table.

So there you go...

Setting up a random game
You have to comb through the rulebook to figure this out, so I thought I might save some people trouble by bringing it together here.

1) Initiative aka Attack / Defense (p.10)
Regular armies vs. irregular armies will always be the Attacker.
In other situations, a die roll is needed. Unless the two dice are equal, it is an encounter battle. If the two dice are equal, it is a set piece battle.

2) Terrain generation (p.30)
The defender uses his "Home Terrain" table to generate terrain. See p.30 for details, all is grouped here.

3) Terrain placement (p.32)
The defender places the terrain, within certain restrictions noted on this page.

4) Identify valid objectives
1D4 is rolled to give the number of objectives for the battle. By priority these are BUA, villages, fords and bridges and then hills. If there are more hills than "required", they are reclassified as "low hills". Low hills are not objectives, and can be seen over from normal hills.

5) Choose board edge
The attacker now chooses his entry edge

6) Supply (p. 33)
The supply type for each army is indicated on the army list (road, rail, native village, baggage, fortified baggage). Baggage is represented by three mobile units (p.33), a native village by a BUA covering 9x9cm at 30cm from the baseline. If road or rail, it is a 15 x 7.5cm area on the baseline at 1D20x7.5cm from the right hand table edge and automatically generates a road or rail crossing the board via any village present.

7) If a set-piece battle (ie. the rarer sort of battle), then set up
A regular C-in-C may now change his army's command structure (p.10). Each side may roll for terrain within 30cm of its base edge. Both sides then simultaneously write deployment orders on a map, issue orders, and then place their movement bases or troops.
8) Nominate objectives
Each side now secretly allocates a total of 0-100 pts to any valid objective (village, BUA, ford, bridge, hill) and/or to the enemy supply area. The maximum amount that can be allocated to a single objective, in function of your army class, is noted on the table on p.10 (that it is a matter of maxima and not fixed amounts is written nowhere, but inferred by the example on p.11)

Note that supply areas are "double whammy". Whether or not you put objective points on them, you get victory points by taking them.
Unclear if the objectives and/or the points placed on them are kept secret or now revealed. I prefer to reveal the information.

9) If an encounter battle was rolled (ie majority of cases) then set-up occurs nowA regular C-in-C may change command structure. The defender (only) may roll for terrain within 20cm of his own table edge.
The defender sets up bases / units up to 20cm from the table edge.
The attacker now sets up his bases / units on his table edge.
Both sides write their orders.

10) Hills
The difficulty of all hills on the battlefield is now rolled, but not the exact degree of broken hills.


Interpreting orders
Units must obey their orders on two occasions - when firing, and when moving. Once more than 50% of a brigade (eg. 4 units in a 6 unit brigade) have obeyed their orders in a given turn, the remainder can "act as a reserve". I consider that units "acting as a reserve" can do anything they like, as long as they remain within the command radius and do not disobey orders (eg. 'reserve' foot in a brigade with engage orders cannot charge unshaken enemy).

Attack orders
The units of a brigade under attack orders have a very restricted "action zone". It is a cone whose narrow end is the unit width, and whose wide end is the brigade objective, and no wider than 9".
During the firing phase, an infantry unit may fire on an enemy within its action zone and at close range or less, and count as obeying orders.

If more than 50% of the brigade have already fired during this fire phase in such a way as to obey their orders, the "reserve" may fire at any target and any range they wish (as long as they obey target priorities, of course).
In the movement phase, if 51% or more units have not yet obeyed orders, units must charge enemy at close range that they could have but did not fire on, and will then count as having obeyed orders. Other units must advance at speed 1 towards their brigade objective, and will count as having obeyed orders. If 51%+ of the brigade has now obeyed orders during the firing or movement phases, the rest of the brigade may move as it pleases, or remain stationary.

Engage orders
These units have a simpler and wider "action zone" : a circle including everything within 9" of the command marker as long as it is between the unit and its brigade objective (ie. "in front" of it).

During the firing phase, an infantry unit which has a non-shaken enemy as target priority, within its "action zone" and within the specified range associated with the order, must fire on it and will count then as obeying orders. If 51%+ of the brigades's units have already obeyed orders during the firing phase, the unit may act as a reserve (see above).

During the movement phase, (if of course less than 51% of the brigade have already obeyed orders), infantry units who did not fire on shaken enemy which were a legitimate target, must charge them. Other infantry units must advance at speed 2 or more until in range of the enemy.

Hold orders
This is straightforward : all a unit has to do is remain within 9" of the command marker. It can shoot (or not) as it pleases, respecting of course target priorities, and move (or not) as it pleases within the above restriction.

I consider that the command marker of a brigade under "Hold" orders is always moved to the centre of the objective that the brigade has been ordered to hold, and that the defended area is then a 9" circle around this command marker. This is more flexible than confining the units of the brigade to a narrow zone and allows the order to apply with equal ease to a small area like a ford, or a large area like a town or a large hill.

Order transformation
By virtue of my interpretation of the "defended area", once the command marker of a brigade reaches its destination, the brigade immediately reverts to Hold orders, and all units within 9" are affected, including those who have not yet laid foot on the terrain to be defended.
This makes sense to me : hold orders being quite flexible, a brigade that is now very close to the enemy-held objective has a wider margin for deciding how it will take the terrain.

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