Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Why Portable Wargaming?

Bob Cordery("Wargaming Miscellany") has done wargaming a great service by bringing the work of Joseph Morschauser back into focus. In 1962, Morschauser wrote a book called "How to Play War Games in Miniature". I saw it in a catalog, wanted it for Christmas, and despite my mother searching for it frantically, did not receive one from Santa Claus. Fifty years later, I did get a copy, off Amzon, and it was worth the wait.

This small (134 page) volume gives three sets of rules for actions in the "shock"," musket" and "modern" periods, with suggestions on how to run campaigns and use optional rules.  The rules share many common mechanics, and can easily be blended. As an example, the "shock" and "musket" periods can be combined to cover a period such as the English Civil War.  Game play is straightforward, charts are minimal, and a good session can be played to a conclusion in an evening.

Bob has built on this fine foundation with his Interbellum rules,  Colonial Portable Wargame, and now his Modern Portable Wargame. All utilize precepts put forth by Morschaser, including one not specifically mentioned in his book: a gridded tabletop.

My first miniature wargaming  used Jim Getz's "Napoleonique" rules, played on a hex grid. Over time, I began playing other rules, getting away from the grid.Grids were considered "old fashioned" and "restrictive". Scenery and rules issues made line-of-sight more complicated. I played one game of "Flames of War" with an opponent who used a laser pointer to argue for and against shots....This was progress.

Finding the Portable Wargame was like a return to sobriety and sanity. No more arguing over whether a figure was "bumped', taking it out of range. No more "phantom measurements". You are in range, or out of range. Period.

The small size of the table and armies makes a pick up game enjoyable. You can place a few pieces of terrain, draw a dozen stands of troops from your collection, set up, play and clean up in an hour. I have seen examples of the "random scenario" system for "Flames" take more than an hour to determine amd set up  before the first shot is fired.

A campaign can be fought in an evening. I can set up three 2x2 foot boards. On one is "Hell's Highway", another  has the Eindoven bridge, and a third downtown Arnhem.  Play the first game. The winner gets an advantage in the second(Allies get a bonus tank unit, or Germans get initiative on the first turn), then move on to the third game, again with rewards to the last winner.  All three games can be played in less than two hours.

Portable Wargaming encourages "tinkering". Bob's rules are really a toolkit, allowing you to craft the game you enjoy. do you like Hobart's Funnies? Modify the SPG rules to create an AVRE (SPG, infantry gun, no indirect fire, elite,to reflect heavy armor). Flail tank? (Tank, moves into minefield, rolls for hit. Either destroyed, or removes minefield on that turn). You get the idea!

While I can enjoy a "monster game", I find that the chance to play one gets more and more remote. I know very few people who can invest four or more hours in a game session.  "Marathons" don't appeal to me as much now that I am older.

My plan for this blog is to post at least once a week, giving a battle report, with some suggested rosters and scenery. Feel free to second guess the commanders!

While Bob is happiest gaming the late 19th and early 20th centuries, I also enjoy the Black Powder period, and plan to produce charts for English Civil War/30 Years War,  French and Indian/American Revolution, and the Mexican American War. I will post them for your review as they are finished.

Next Tuesday: A View from the Trenches:Portable World War One


  1. Steven,

    What an excellent introduction to your new blog ... and a great explanation as to why the PORTABLE WARGAME is well worth using!

    I look forward to reading your battle reports in due course.

    All the best,


    PS. The idea of fighting a mini-campaign, where one battle lead dircetly on to the next would be an ideal way to refight the Waterloo Campaign, with fighting taking place at Wavre (French vs. Prussiand), Quatre Bras (UK-led Allies vs. French), and Waterloo (UK-led Allied vs. French, and with the Prussians arriving towards the end).

    1. Thanks, Bob,
      I've already tried a couple of WW1 games with PW:M as is, and am now tweaking the aircraft rules from Interbellum(movement and ranges) so I can graft them on.
      I also spent a few minutes last night noodling with Morschauser's "muske"t rules and the ECW.
      It is fun to be a Wargamer again.

  2. Are you using individual cork tiles for your WWI games? The picture at the top right looked like that might be the case. Accurately cutting individual hexes has always been a problem. Making squares up for a PW game might be pretty easy comparatively.

    1. Hi Bill,
      Those are actually fabricated from layers of corrigated cardboard, glued and covered in paper masking tape, then painted and flocked. It allowed me to build up the trench sections very economically. The whole system will be seen in next week's Adventure.
      Cork would have required much less labor, but a few dollars I had just spent on two command & Colors: Ancient Modules:-)

  3. Looking forward to seeing more of the blog. Excellent intro by the way!

    1. Thanks Luke,
      I hope you will check in often. I plan two updates this week, focus being on WW1 and End of the Victorian era.

  4. Steven
    I am very much looking forward to you next post. I have just bought and read the Joseph Morschauser book and find it most inspiring. The portable wargames rules are splendid for solo games and have infinite potentiality for gaming and fun.They can be taken in many,many directions...
    I await your Blackpowder era charts with interest because it is a period I love also.
    with best wishes

    1. Hi Alan,
      Good to have you here. I'm already working on ECW, using the "roster" approach. I hope to post a play test report a week from Tuesday. My early tests will feature infantry regiments built from a pike unit of three stands, and two musket units of two stands each. Cavalry will be troops of two stands, and artillery will be one stand units.

      As I post, please give me any suggestions that will help the flow of the game. Unfortunately, where I live any talk of "Civil War" means Blue and Grey, not King or Parliament:-)

  5. Hi Steven,
    I have just discovered the portable wargame. As a fan of wargames for more than 20 years, I am very excited with this project. Over these years I have played DBA, DBM, Ancients (from Bill Banks), Impetus, and a lot of pc wargames (now Iphone as well). Some times I even dared with my own rules. Well as you can see I am more interested in ancient and medieval period so is there any plan to use thsese rules in those periods? or do you think that it will be relatively easy to adapt the rules?
    Well thanks for your time and Best Regards

    1. Hi Carles,
      Joe Morschauser's book has a section on "shack" battles, that works well for ancient through the middle ages. Iplan to do some segments on these rules very shortly after getting my English civil War rules up and running.
      If you have not read Morschauser's book, I really hope you will. It is available in reprint from John Curry, and can be purchased on Amazon.
      Please check in often. any suggestions are welcome.

  6. Thank you very much Steven,
    I really apreciate your response.
    Just let me ask you a (maybe) stupid question relates te PW rules: Is it true that according the version 2 of the rules the more powerfull the unit is the les is its Close Combat Power? For example if some unite had a Close combat Power of 1, it would be easier to survive the attacks.....
    Thanks in advance and Best Regards
    Carles (Catalonia)

  7. Actually, a good question, Carles,
    In Morschauser, you tried to throw "your number or less" to hit the other unit.
    In Portable Wargame, you want to throw "your number(s)" to AVOID being hit. For example, a tank is engaged in Close Combat by infantry. The infantry is on the flank of the tank Unit. The infantry need to roll a 3,4,5 or 6 to avoid being hit. The tank need to roll a 4.5 or 6 to avoid a hit.
    Mounted Cavalry have the best chance of surviving Close Combat. They, however, can not engage in Fire Combat while mounted.

    Stay with me, Carles, I hope to have an Ancient variant ready by next week.