Sunday, March 3, 2024

One-hour Skirmish Wargames: Papa's got a brand new bag

Encased within my freakishly thick skull is a monkey brain sans pareil. It's inevitable that however well focused I may be on anything, everything else seems to crowd in as the monkey brain dances and plays until it latches onto something solid. Enter One Hour Skirmish Wargameset voilĂ , papa's got a brand new bag.

The rules were written by John Lambshead back in 2018, but I only encountered them on Saturday, Feb 24 at our Drumbeat game day in Tacoma. Phil Williams ran a four-player game at the event using his French and Indian War minis. (That's Scott Appleby in the pic. For some reason, Phil's image does not reproduce on any media.)

Eric Donaldson played in a few games and was taken by the rules and sung their praises fulsomely. In the following week, there was much email exchanged about the rules and the potential for them. I bought a copy of the rules for Kindle (as well as a yet-to-arrive hard copy) and read them through. They're simple, elegant, and fun. There's a lot of room for homebrew modifications, plus a good fan group on Facebook. They are, according to the categorization I outlined some time ago, true(ish) skirmish rules. The slight exception is that the force checks morale as a whole and there is almost never a situation where less than the whole force checks. (The exception is armored vehicles, which check every time they suffer a penetrating hit to see if the crew bails out.)

Like Tribal, they're totally diceless. Everything is driven by a standard deck of playing cards.

My mind turned and turned, as it will through no effort of my own, and I imagined a lot of dead or moribund projects that I could restore to vibrant life for these rules. The investment in figures for a single force is roughly 12-15.

I prevailed on Eric for a game and he eagerly obliged by setting up a Napoleonic skirmish using figures that he'd had hidden in darkness for more than 20 years. Our latent skirmish enthusiasms with Saga, Tribal, and now One Hour Skirmish Wargames have brought a lot of forgotten figures into the light.

The game was a simple learning experience set up where Eric ran a British force and I ran a French force. We set up on opposite sides of a 3x3 board and had at it.

The game flows smoothly. Our only glitch was with the turn-end mechanism. The rules stipulate that a turn ends immediately when either player draws a joker during game play. We played it that, in a ddition to other turn-end activities, we reshuffle the decks whenever that happens. We kept getting jokers pop up just a few cards into play. Finally, we pulled one joker out of each deck and things went more smoothly. I've since learned that the author's intention is that decks are only reshuffled when all the cards have been drawn. That's consistent with Tribal and Pig Wars, which use standard card decks.

In general, it drives me crazy to plop figures on their sides to indicate hits/losses. 1HSW does this whenever a figure is hit by shooting. When a turn ends, players check morale for their force and then go through checking every downed figure. On a black card, they're back in the fight; on red, they're gone ("red is dead!"). In the end, it wasn't a big thing to drop the figured on their side and felt sort of natural. The rules do note, however, that a suitable marler is also an option.

The rules are consciously uncomplicated. There's area terrain like trees, scrub, rocky places, etc. and linear terrain, like walls, hedges, ditches, streams, etc. Terrain gives cover for shooting, but not for hand-to-hand combat. Simple shooting is just a comparison of drawn cards; if the shooter's card is higher, the figure is down, but not dead—yet. If the target is in cover, the targeted player draws extra cards depending on the type of cover and uses the highest card in his defense. Similarly, if the shooter has extra skill or a weapon that can shoot promiscuously (think automatic weapon), he may draw multiple cards for his shot, keeping just the highest. Eric's two riflemen were the only skilled shooters.

Being in the open was generally not a good idea. Shooting can be nasty. Drawing extra cards for combat is an interesting dynamic. It's very different from a simpler +1, +2, etc. to the value of the card drawn. It's adds a whole different level of calculation. In out first game, I had several figures behind a stone wall, which provided heavy cover (+2 cards). Eric's skilled riflemen drew two cards, so my ability to draw three cards and keep the highest made shooting at them, even with skilled rifles, a bit more difficult.

If I shoot at something several times and it doesn't go down, I'm likely to fix bayonet and go in for close combat. It was kind of that way in our games. I had three grenadiers with the Brawler (1) ability, that gives me an extra card in hand-to-hand combat. When you attack someone hand-to-hand, you already draw two cards to the defender's one. The third card made the grenadiers pretty formidable close in. In the first game, I kept them together and managed to cut a swathe with them.

Now, we kind of maybe did things wrong with hand-to-hand. Let me backtrack a bit. At the beginning of his phase, a player draws a card and its value is the number of actions he can can do. Most actions cost 1 point and figures can combine actions like move and shoot (1 point to move, 1 point to shoot). A figure pays extra points for multiple moves. For example, it can make a second move for 3 points and a third move for 5. Whatever you do with the figure, the rules clearly stipulate that when a figure shoots, all actions for it end. It doesn't say the same for hand-to-hand, so we figured that if a player had the points, he could keep going after a successful combat: Charge in for 1 point, fight hand-to-hand (no cost), if he wins, go on to another figure within move distance and fight for 3 points (second move), then on to another figure for 5 points (third move). For an expenditure of 9 points, a single figure could rampage through another player's troops taking out three times its number. Being a grenadier helps with that and I had a couple fun moments of rampage.

In subsequent chats on the Facebook group, we learned that the author's intention was that hand-to-hand also ends a figure's actions. Valde erat Rambo, sed non licitum. However, it's a nice thing to keep in mind for a special skill, like Rampager (x), where (x) is the number of hand-to-hand combats the figure can extend past the first.

We managed to play two games in under three hours, which time takes in a lot of pre-game, inter-game, and post-game chatting. While not timed precisely, each game took about an hour. The title is not a lie.

I'm considering projects now for this as well as looking at what I have on hand. For the latter, what comes most to mind is sci-fi. All my Xenos Rampant figures are on single bases and would make for a cracker-jack 1HSW game. I can also count among my painted figures the 40mm ACW that I inherited from Phil Bardsley. We played a few games of Smooth & Rifled with them (12 years ago!). There aren't a lot, but more than enough to make opposing sides for 1HSW.

I have a lot of ECW, especially the excellent Bloody Miniatures range, that can be made into 1HSW armies. ECW is one of those periods I deeply love, but there's not a huge enthusiasm for it in Western WA. I have enough painted for a The Pikeman's Lament army, several in some stage of being painted or painted but not yet based, then the great mass of figures that are still raw lead. I just keep acquiring them. Making 1HSW armies from my vast pool of figures won't put a dent in the number of available figures I have for a project. ECW is likely my next move with 1HSW. I just ordered some 3D printed buildings that would be perfect for an ECW skirmish battlefield.

I inherited a lot of painted Wild West cavalry and Indians from Dave Schueler, which would make for a good game. I could probably build two opposing forces for my Flint and Feather Indians and Dutchmen. I have many more that I can paint—or finish, since there's a lot more that I started a few years ago.

There's my warlord Chinese from Copplestone Castings and the two FT-17s that I bought from a company that's been out of business for decades. As I contemplate the contents of my Garage of Wonder, the possibilities are endless.


  1. The game looks great! I have a unread copy of these one hour skirmish rules and must go and have a wee read of them…
    Alan Tradgardland

  2. Nice write up of the rules, David. I think they might work with Samurai/Koreans too.

    1. Yes, late 16th c. combat in Korea would be a good fit for these rules. The author has a sci-fi supplement in the Files tab of the Facebook group with rules for personal armor. I'd already suggested a similar approach to Eric before I'd read Lambshead's rule. Basically, you split the melee into two parts, the initial combat to determine winner/loser and then a second card draw comparing armor value (x cards) to weapon value (x cards) and if the highest weapon card is higher than the highest armor card, the losing figure is dead. If not, the attacker disengages and goes back 2".

  3. Love this ruleset! Played ACW and WW2 with them. I played most commercial rulesets and like them, but this is my go to on an evening. Three games a night is possible. The rules are so simple you are analyzing strategy rather than rules mechanics. After gaming many years I find simpler more realistic because of this. Welcome to the dark side!