Simplicity in Practice

The Game:

Neil Thomas, author of Ancient and Medieval Wargaming, wrote a simple set of horse and musket rules called Simplicity in Practice. The intent of these rules are to show that wargames do not have to be complex to give a good game with an authentic historical feel. They are intended to be used as a mechanism to fight out the table top teasers found in Battlegames magazine.  The rules themselves can be found in Battlegames #23 (October).

The game is an element based game. Each unit is based on the same width. The suggested base widths are from 6cm to 12 cm but any basing system can be accommodated. The game has no formations per se. Units are assumed to be in the best formation for the situation.

The game is IGO-UGO in format. The first player completes the following steps followed by the second player.  1) Movement 2) Firing 3) Melee.

The game has 6 types of units. Close order infantry, light infantry, heavy cavalry, dragoons, light cavalry and artillery. Each type of unit has its strengths and weaknesses.

Each unit has a movement rate. Light units may turn for free allowing them to, essentially, move in any direction they choose. Close order infantry are penalized for moving through rough terrain and cavalry may not move through it at all. Light infantry may pass through any friendly troops but all other troops may not interpenetrate at all. If they are forced to do so, they are eliminated instead. Finally, light infantry may move and then fire or fire and then move.

Any unit armed with ranged weapons may fire at an enemy target within range. Each unit gets 4 dice. The chance to hit is based on unit type shooting. For each die that is equal to or greater than the target number for that unit, 1 hit is registered. Units in cover are entitled to a saving throw of 4+. Each successful throw negates 1 hit. The total number of hits determines the chance to score a DP on the target. For instance, a close order infantry that scored 3 hits could inflict a single DP on a target with a 3+. If the target were in cover and the saving throws negated 2 of those hits, then the chance to score a DP would be only 5+.

Melee is more straight forward.  Each unit gets 4 dice.  The dice are rolled, totaled and compared.  The higher roll wins the combat.  The loser must retreat 10cm and take 2 DPs.  The number of dice rolled can be modified by certain situations, such as having more units near the melee than the enemy, or for the matchup such as mounted troops attacking light infantry in the open.  Each advantage adds 2 dice to the total rolled.

Each unit can take 4 DPs total.  Once 4 DPs is reached the unit is routed (eliminated).

There are rules for smaller units, and unit grades.  All are, as you can imagine, quite simple.

Under the Hood:

Firing seemed somewhat dicey and melee seemed VERY one-sided in the games I played.

For shooting, I worked out the probabilities to inflict 1 DP both long hand and then checked my work with an online program called Troll Roller.  Here are the results.  Close order infantry inflicts a DP 61% of the time.  Light infantry and dragoons inflict a DP 48% of the time.  Light cavalry inflicts a DP 35% of the time.  It seems to me that you could have dispensed with the whole 4 dice thing for shooting and simply rolled 1 die per unit.  3+ (66%) for close order infantry.  4+ (50%) for light infantry and dragoons.  5+ (33%) for light cavalry.  I have no real problem with the probabilities either way.  I just don’t like rolling extra dice simply to roll extra dice.

Melee was more problematic.  In the games I played, the advantaged unit won the combat EVERY TIME!  I wondered about this and so coded the probabilities using Troll Roller.  As it turns out, a unit that has even 1 advantage will win a combat about 90% of the time using the current system.  With 2 advantages it will win a combat more than 99% of the time.   So one advantage ramps things up quickly.  If the author’s intent was to make a game of chess-like maneuvering then the game delivers.  However, in his design notes, he says the following about melee combat:

“It could also be decidedly unpredictable, which is why these rules adopt a simple process of throwing many dice.”

Unpredictable it isn’t.  In fact, if you use the optional rules for smaller units, those units would not stand any real chance in melee combat as they start with 1 or 2 dice and work up from there.  So, here are some suggestions to change things up a bit:

1) If you like rolling dice, you can cut back the probability by simply adding 1 die per advantage instead of two.  You end up with a 75% chance of victory with 1 advantage, 90% with 2 advantages and 97% chance with 3 advantages.  Still pretty grim but better.

2) Another possibility is to add +2 points to the total instead of +2 dice.  Now the chance of victory is a bit less at 66% for 1 advantage, 80% for two advantages and 90% for three advantages.

3) Finally, I will point out that option 2 closely mirrors another tried and true method of dice comparison…the 1D6+mods found in DBA.  Each side rolls 1D6 and adds advantages at +1 per advantage.  The loser suffers DPs and retreats.


If you are just interested in making the game work, I would suggest keeping the fire combat system the same and going with option 1 or 2 above to make the melee combat a bit more unpredictable.  If you are interested in rolling fewer dice, I would change the fire system to the 1D6 system and use option 3 for melee.  There will have to be 1 adjustment for small units.  Since you can’t halve or quarter dice (how do you quarter a single die!?) then you will give them a penalty of -1 for small units and -2 for tiny units for both melee and fire combat.  I found the game, despite the problem with melee, to be very well thought out and easy to play.  It does give a good game and can readily be modified for other time periods.


Simplicity in Practice available in issue 23 of Battlegames Magazine

Troll Roller Statistical Dice Engine


5 Responses to Simplicity in Practice

  1. Dave says:

    Thanks for this review. I’ve enjoyed Mr. Thomas’ books, and was just getting ready to purchase BG#23, having just read his article in BG#22.

    Any chance you could review “Table Top Teasers”? Henry has them collected in one volume now, but is rather vague in the description.

  2. The single dice firing roll is a great idea, but doesn’t take into account cover (unless you just negate the lost DP with a simple 4+ cover roll, but I don’t think that the odds are quite the same then).

  3. acarhj says:

    From what I remember, cover did exactly that (4+ save) in shooting didn’t it? It’s been a while since I played.

  4. “From what I remember, cover did exactly that (4+ save) in shooting didn’t it?”

    True, but in the rules as written each hit is tested to see if it is saved, before the final total is used to determine if a DP is inflicted. If you use the ‘one roll’ system for inflicting a DP, then the cover save doesn’t have quite the same effect – it becomes all or nothing. It’s not a serious issue, but it is a slight change to the way the numbers work.

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