Small is good – The Portable Wargame

At the end of January, Bob Cordery released his Portable Wargame in a book format called (not surprisingly) The Portable Wargame. The book itself is 108 pages long and covers the history of grid based wargames, a design philosophy, rules for the 19th century, rules for modern warfare and several battle reports demonstrating the rules.

Essentially the rules follow a strict IGO-UGO sequence. Both sides exchange artillery fire with simultaneous effects. Then the players dice to see who goes first. The winner moves and attacks with each unit in turn before going onto the next unit. For instance, a unit could charge, win the combat driving the enemy back. It could then follow up and fight it again. All of this would occur before the next unit. Once both sides have taken a turn, you determine if there is a winner and then start the next turn if not.

I played my first game last night with an excellent little game engine designed to play The Portable Wargame on a computer. I chose the 18th century theme. Rather than playing on a flat plane, I decided to do a river crossing. There was a river that flowed west to east to the center of the board and bent to the south where it then bent again to the east. There was a bridge 1 space away from the bend and a town right next tot he bend. I played in 1 hour wargames style. I had 3 infantry and 1 gun for the defender and 4 infantry 1 gun and 1 cavalry for the attacker. The game played out in a believable manner, first with an artillery duel as well as a prolonged firefight across the river. The attacker crossed at first with a high risk attack. After an initial success, it was halted and then succumbed to flanking fire from both flanks. This maneuver did leave the enemy flanks vulnerable for 1 turn. The defender lost all the initiative rolls. The attacker assaulted a second time. This time, the infantry advanced and wiped out the enemy center unit. It was followed up by a cavalry unit which dispatched the enemy unit in the open. At this point, I ended the game as the defenders were down to their guns and 1 infantry unit still holding the town.

Simple and even simplistic but not in a bad way. I found that I never worried about the rules and never tried to “game” the system. Rather, I was concentrating on strategy and tactics the whole game. I played the game on an 8 by 8 board and 6 units per side comfortably fits on this sized board. I say this because One Hour Wargames uses 6 units per side. You can use this very setup, a chessboard sized board for those that did not pick up that subtlety, to fight out the scenarios in OHW. There is an option for chance cards in OHW as well. With some minor modifications, these can be used in The Portable Wargame too. Most OHW scenarios last 15 turns. In relation to movement, the 8X8 board is about 1/3 smaller than the OHW board. I’d limit the turn length to 10-12 turns per scenario for The Portable Wargame.

After I get a couple of more games under my belt, I think I am going to expand on Bob’s ancient rules. I already have some ideas that don’t fall too far outside the “canon” of his rules. Mainly they will be to provide a small amount of differentiation of units for the classical period. As well, I am going to put some paper armies, board and terrain, all 2.5D, and try to make a truly portable wargame.

The Portable Wargame at Lulu Hardback, Softback, E-Book

Computer game can be found here.

More information and support at the author’s blog.


4 Responses to Small is good – The Portable Wargame

  1. Prufrock says:

    Thanks for the review, John. Might have to get it myself. Cheers, Aaron

  2. Good overview and am am interested in where you take the ancients. I have been following Bob’s journey with the Portable Wargame on his blog for many years and it is good to see it in print. I have been tempted to pick it up but I just don’t have the time to fit anything else in to my life! i think I could get into gridded games but again, haven’t the time to delve into them. i think i am a few years behind you on this 🙂

  3. acarhj says:

    Hi Aaron and Shaun,
    I believe you are both in the same boat as me with potential young gamers in the house. This is an ideal game for kids to get started in gaming. Everything is regulated on a grid, either hex or square. There are few troop types and units on the board at one time so there would be no confusion as to what can do what. At $7 US for the paperback and $4 for the e-book, you can’t really go wrong. Even if the rules are not well received, it is still a very interesting read.

    As for Ancients, it would make for a pretty high level gaming experience. I think it would work fine. There are some compromises in abstraction to be made for unit types but I think the end result would be a fun and interesting ancients game.

    I plan on doing a Dark Ages post today. I’ve not tested anything other than Horse and Musket but I figure Dark ages is a good place to start for Ancients because you can probably coble a game together with about 4-5 unit types.


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