10 November 2021
Fighting Toy Solder Battles: For Shame
Words by Arthur Harman Photos by The Editor
With these rules I have tried to create a simple toy soldier battlegame, that you may be able to persuade your families to play to relieve the tedium of being ‘confined to barracks’ during the Coronavirus crisis, while you are unable to visit your club or regular opponents. Who knows? You may even succeed in recruiting some new members to the hobby!
You will be the Gamemaster or God of War, responsible for administering the relatively few, simple rules. I have eschewed rules that require mental arithmetic, which I suspect put many people off wargaming, after actually shooting toy soldiers down with toy guns (so entertainingly described by H.G. Wells in Little Wars) was replaced by calculations. At first you may not be able to play in the game yourself, but your family should soon grasp the rules and you may even find that the numerous die rolls improve your children’s understanding of probability for Key Stage 2 Maths SATS…
This game is set in my personal favourite blackpowder era. Don’t try to recreate historical orders of battle but embrace ‘bathtubbing’: simply give each player several units of infantry, some individual figures for skirmishers, and one or two guns; you may choose to give each formation some cavalry support or have separate cavalry formations with their own horse artillery. In your players’ imaginations each side may be an entire army or army corps and each player’s command an army corps or a division. Make sure each player has several individual mounted figures to represent themselves and their Aides de Camp (ADCs). One player on each side will be the Army Commander; the others, in a multi-player game, his Generals.
Give each player a picture of a suitably splendid mounted officer on which to mark any wounds suffered. Young children may enjoy designing or colouring in their own uniforms; you may even be award the best a bonus in close combat! Alternatively, if you have some self-adhesive black and red circles, stick them onto the players themselves to show bullet holes in their clothes and wounds respectively, as I did in a Western gunfight I staged for my son’s ninth birthday party. (Just placing my call to Social Services! Ed.)
Like William Napier, I have ‘sacrificed to the general grand effect all minor and apparently trifling things’ to keep the wargame sufficiently simple for family entertainment. The tone is deliberately light-hearted; it’s a game of toy soldiers, not a ‘simulation’, historically accurate or realistic.
You can obviously use your existing 18th or 19th century wargame armies. If you don’t already possess ‘horse & musket’ era armies but have any of the RISK sets that contain 18th or 19th century figures, it’s a simple matter to glue them onto card bases to create units of infantry and cavalry: I recommend four infantrymen in two ranks, or two cavalrymen, on a 20 mm square base. If there really is no alternative, make troop blocks out of LEGO bricks. How many bases or figures you use to represent an infantry or cavalry unit depends upon the number of figures you possess; their size and how they are based; the size of the table you’ll be using, and the number of players that will be participating.
Create a square gridded battlefield to avoid having to measure movement and ranges. The sides of the squares should be equal to the frontage of a battalion/musketry range. I won’t insult your intelligence by describing terrain; as experienced wargamers, you’ll have plenty of suitable items to hand. You’ll also need plenty of ordinary, d6, dice with clearly visible spots.
Troop Quality and Combat Value
The number of figures or bases that make up a unit does not matter; in this game you will simply decide the unit’s quality, which will remain unchanged throughout the game Units may be:
- Veteran, Guard or Elite: throw 4 Tactical Dice (see below) for Fire or Close Combat
- Trained or Regular: throw 3 Tactical Dice for Fire or Close Combat
- Conscript, Militia or Raw: throw 2 Tactical Dice for Fire or Close Combat
The unit’s Combat Value (CV) represents a combination of its quality, strength and morale and is reduced by hits scored by Tactical Dice throws to determine the effect of Fire or Close Combat upon it. A full strength, Veteran, Guard or Elite unit with high morale, for example, would have a CV of 10; a similar Trained or Regular unit, 7, and a full-strength, Raw but enthusiastic unit, 4. You can decide how much to reduce a unit’s initial CV to reflect being understrength and/or having poor morale. Artillery is always Trained, full strength and high morale at the start of the game. All the players need to know is the quality and initial CV of each of their units, which they can record on a simple roster.
When a Unit has lost over its Combat Value, it forfeits one of its Tactical Dice and may no longer take offensive action by Fire or Close Combat, but may defend itself by Fire or Close Combat. When a Unit has lost all its Combat Value it ceases to be effective and will start to retire; any further musketry or artillery Fire or Close Combat hits or Flags will cause it to rout and flee the field for the rest of the battle.
The Turn Sequence
Each turn is divided into several distinct phases.
- Both sides fire their Artillery, save for Horse Artillery, which may Fire after moving if desired, (Note: Artillery fire is deemed to be simultaneous, and an Artillery Unit that has been hit, forced to retire or destroyed may still fire that turn if a suitable target is in range.)
- Both sides throw a D6 die; that with the lower score can choose whether to move and Fire first.
- One side moves its units, including Horse Artillery that has not fired already, and other pieces ordered to give close support, that are within close range of enemy units, may Fire.
- Any unit that moves into a square adjacent (orthogonally, not diagonally) to an enemy unit will engage it in Close Combat; routs and pursuits take place immediately afterwards.
- The other side then moves its units, Fires and engages in Close Combat, as described above.
- Once both sides have had the opportunity to move, Fire and engage in Close Combat, the turn ends.
- If one side has won the initiative for the last two turns, add 1 to the D6 next time; for the last 3 turns, add 2 to the D6 and so on.
The Tactical Dice
Tactical Dice determine the results of Firing by infantry and artillery, and of Close Combat. The six faces of the D6 Tactical Dice have the following meanings:
- One is an Officer casualty, causing loss of command and control of a unit or injury to a General.
- Two and Three are close order Targets within close range for Volley or Cannister Fire.
- Four is a Falling Flag indicating loss of morale. If a unit suffers more Flags than its troop quality, it routs. If it suffers Flags equal to its troop quality, it halts and then begins to retire; if it suffers more than one Flag, but less than its troop quality, it halts, but may Fire or defend itself in Close Combat, throwing one less Tactical Die that turn. One Flag causes it to throw one less Tactical Die in Fire or Close Combat that turn. See also special rules for Cavalry versus Infantry/Artillery.
- Five is Fire from Artillery at effective range or skirmishing Musketry.
- Six is a Sabre for Close Combat.
- Skirmishers can move up to two squares in the open and Fire; see Skirmishing rules below.
- Formed infantry can move two squares non-tactically, without Firing or engaging in Close Combat.
- Formed infantry can move one square and engage in Fire and/or Close Combat.
- Musket Range is one square between units; Throw a number of Tactical Dice equal to troop quality: Target hits, causing a loss of 1 point of CV.
- Troops can only engage enemy in an adjacent square in Close Combat; throw a number of Tactical Dice equal to troop quality.
Foot Artillery Batteries
- Move two squares without firing, remaining limbered, or one square and unlimber to fire next turn.
- Limbering up reduces movement by one square.
- Ranges: Canister (3 MR) 3 Tactical Dice; Targets hit, causing the loss of 1 CV.
- Effective Range (up to 8 MR) 3 Tactical Dice; Fire hits, causing the loss of 1 CV.
Horse Artillery Batteries
- Move three squares without Firing, remaining limbered, or two squares, unlimber and Fire next turn, or move one square, unlimber and Fire the same turn; limbering up costs one square of movement.
- Ranges: Cannister (2 MR) 3 Tactical Dice; Targets hit, causing loss of 1 CV
- Effective Range (up to 6 MR) 3 Tactical Dice; Fire hits, causing the loss of 1 CV.
- Manoeuvre up to three squares, changing direction if desired; charge up to four squares for one turn only to engage enemy in Close Combat (the last two squares of the charge must be in a straight line).
- Cavalry can only engage enemy troops in an adjacent square in Close Combat; throw a number of Tactical Dice equal to troop quality: Sabres hit.
General Officers and Aides de Camp (ADC’s)
- One mounted figure represents a General and his escort (if any) or an ADC.
- Move up to three squares.
- Add one Tactical Die to Infantry or Cavalry units under a General’s personal command in Close Combat (but not Fire); ignore the first Falling Flag suffered by any unit in the same square as a General.
- An ADC can deliver messages/orders from one General to another, or orders from a General to a unit or formation comprised of several units in adjacent squares.
- If a General or ADC is in the same square
- as a unit that suffers at least one hit from
- Fire or Close Combat, and another Tactical Die shows an Officer, the General or ADC may
- become a casualty. Throw 1D6: 1- General/ADC
- is killed; 2- General/ADC wounded and must
- now throw 1D6 every turn, being forced to leave the field for 1; 3 or above – General/ADC escapes unscathed
- A General or ADC can rally a unit that has suffered a Falling Flag, by joining it and provided it is stationary and is not charged or fired upon that turn, by throwing 6 on 1D6.
- Formed units may enter not a forest unless following a road that goes through it.
- Skirmishers may move through forests at a rate of one square per turn.
- Skirmishers may shoot inside a forest at other skirmishers, or out of a forest square into an adjacent open square.
- Forests block line of sight.
- Artillery firing from a hill increases its Effective range band by one square and may fire over friendly troops on lower ground.
- Hills block line of sight.
Built-up Area (BUA) squares
- Formed infantry must stop when it enters a BUA, unless moving through it on a road.
- Cavalry and Artillery can only enter a BUA if moving through it on a road.
- Only infantry may engage in Close Combat in a BUA; skirmishers may skirmish inside a BUA.
- When firing on a unit that is in a BUA, reduce the number of Tactical Dice thrown by two.
- BUAs block line of sight.
Rivers or Streams
- Units may only cross rivers or streams in squares that contain a bridge or ford.
- Rivers and streams do not block line of sight.
- Formed infantry and skirmishers in fields containing tall crops may only move one square.
- Cavalry in fields containing tall crops may only move two squares.
- If engaging a unit in a field of tall crops in Close Combat, reduce by one the number of Tactical Dice.
- A field of tall crops blocks line of sight of infantry or artillery, but not cavalry or Generals.
Fences or Walls
- Formed troops, but not skirmishers, must stop when they enter a square with a fence or wall across their route.
- When shooting at a unit that is behind a fence or wall, only Fire hits, to reflect the cover.
- If infantry are attacking troops behind a fence or wall in Close Combat, reduce the number of Tactical Dice thrown by one; cavalry cannot engage troops behind a fence or wall in Close Combat.
- Fences and low walls do not block line of sight; high walls, such as those round an estate, do – use common sense!
ARTILLERY & MUSKETRY FIRE
See the descriptions of Artillery and Infantry Units (earlier) for details of how their Fire is resolved.
Throw a number of Tactical Dice for each unit engaged in Close Combat, equal to its troop quality. Add an extra Tactical Die if the unit is accompanied by a General. For each face of the Tactical Dice, a Sabre, that causes a unit to suffer a hit, deduct 1 from its CV.
CAVALRY Vs CAVALRY
When one cavalry unit charges another, the charging unit throws a number of Tactical Dice equal to its troop quality, Sabres scoring hits on the enemy, with the following results:
- If no Flags are thrown, the enemy unit counter-charges simultaneously, throwing a number of Tactical Dice equal to its troop quality, Sabres hit.
- If one or more Flags, but less than its troop quality, is scored against the enemy unit, it fights at a disadvantage, throwing one Tactical Die less than its troop quality.
- If the number of Flags scored against the defending unit is equal to or more than its troop quality, it retires or routs immediately, suffering further hits and Flags in any pursuit without being able to reply.
- If neither cavalry unit is routed or destroyed in the first charge, both units pass through each other, move one further square forward, then rally and turn in that square to charge again the next turn. After two turns of Close Combat, the horses are presumed to be ‘blown’ and the cavalry must fall back to its original position to rally.
CAVALRY Vs INFANTRY/ARTILLERY
When a cavalry unit charges an infantry or artillery unit, the cavalry throws a number of Tactical Dice equal to its troop quality, Sabres scoring hits on the enemy, with the following results:
- If a number of Sabres and Flags equal to or more than its troop quality are thrown, the infantry fail to form square/artillerymen panic and rout immediately; cavalry may pursue, throwing again plus an extra Tactical Die; infantry/artillerymen may not reply.
- If a number of Sabres and Flags less than its troop quality is thrown, the infantry only just succeeds in forming square, suffers Sabre hits, and Fires with only one Tactical Die. Artillerymen Fire hastily, throwing one less Tactical Die, suffer Sabre hits and then retire to the nearest infantry square or unit. They may return to their guns when the cavalry has gone.
- If no Flags are thrown, the infantry forms square in good time, ignores any Sabres and fires back as the cavalry flows past it immediately, throwing only half (rounded up) its number of Tactical Dice (to reflect the fact that not all faces of the square may be able to fire). Artillerymen stand to their guns and Fire canister but do suffer Sabre hits.
- Cavalry will only charge infantry already in square if the number of Flags scored against the infantry square is equal to or more than its troop quality, when the square will break, suffering further hits and Flags in any pursuit (as earlier). If the square does not break, the square will ignore any Sabres and Fire (as earlier).
- Cavalry that delivers an unsuccessful charge will flow past the square, receiving Fire (as above), for two squares and then rally and return, unless they suffered Flags equal to their troop quality, in which case they will return to their starting position by a roundabout route, avoiding the square and any other enemy troops.
INFANTRY Vs INFANTRY
Skirmishing [Optional: you may prefer to ignore skirmishers in early games]
Skirmishers deploy in a line of single figures, one to a square, covering the front of a unit or formation, which cannot receive hits from musketry while the skirmishers remain in front of it. Throw one Tactical Die per skirmish line when engaging other skirmishers, Fire hits; one Tactical Die firing upon a unit not protected by skirmishers, Fire hits.
Only Fire and Flags count against other skirmishers. A hit from Fire removes one skirmisher figure; when all have been removed the victorious skirmishers may fire upon the formed enemy troops behind. If both sides suffer no Flags, or the same number of Flags, no ground is gained and the skirmishing continues next turn. If one side’s skirmishers suffer more Flags than their opponents, they must fall back one square; if they fall back into the same square as the formed troops they are screening, they are driven in, exposing the formed troops to enemy skirmish fire.
Skirmishers firing on formed troops with no skirmish screen throw one Tactical Dice, hitting on Target. A Flag scored by skirmishers may be added to any Flags scored by that side’s formed troops charging into Close Combat in the same turn.
Bayonet Charges by Formed Troops
When an infantry unit – the Attackers – advances into the square adjacent to that occupied by an enemy infantry or artillery unit – the Defenders – with the intention of closing with the bayonet, the sequence of action is as follows:
Upon advancing into the square adjacent to that occupied by the enemy, the Attackers throw Tactical Dice equal to their Troop Quality first.
If the number of Flags or Sabres and Flags equals or exceeds the Defenders’ Troop Quality, the Defenders panic and flee at once, without Firing, also suffering the Sabre hits, leaving the Attacker free to occupy the square.
If the number of Flags or Sabres and Flags is less than the Defenders’ Troop Quality, the Defenders Fire back, throwing one less Tactical Die. If their Fire does not halt the Attackers, they then retire, suffering hits, leaving the Attackers free to occupy the square.
If the Defenders suffer one Flag, they stand and fire back, throwing one less Tactical Die. If that does not break or halt the Attackers, Close Combat continues next turn. If the Attackers are halted, there will be an exchange of Fire next turn
If the Defenders suffer no Flags they stand and Fire with all their Tactical Dice. If that does not break or halt the Attackers, Close Combat continues next turn. If the Attackers are halted, there will be an exchange of Fire next turn.
If there has been no decision after two turns of Close Combat, both sides will retire to rally, unless the Defenders were occupying a BUA, when only the Attackers will retire.
If your family enjoys their first few games, they may propose additional rules, such as limiting ammunition so that infantry and artillery can only fire for a certain number of turns before having to withdraw to replenish their ammunition, with which you can experiment (have a look at The Battle of the Boyne article. Ed.). You may also like to adapt these principles to your preferred period: feel free to do so!
This article originally appeared in issue 457 of Miniature Wargames. You can pick up your issue of the magazine here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.