A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Thursday, 24 October 2013

ECW – The Arquebus Rules

So what are the Arquebus Rules, then, Foy?

Well, since you asked, I’ll tell you.

They are a hybrid, and an incomplete hybrid at the moment. Arquebus was my working title for the framework of a computer program I wrote last year to manage solo ECW games played under a set-of-rules-yet-to-be-defined. Initially, as you may have read here before, the idea was that the underlying rules were to be Clarence Harrison’s Victory without Quarter, which I liked the look of for a number of reasons, and which I had tried out during a visit to the Kingdom of Old John last year.

Whatever your thoughts on computers in wargames, one spin-off of automating the game management is that you soon become aware of gaps in the game logic if you try to put a set of wargames rules into a computer program. So let’s see – if the melee winners fail this morale test to control the pursuit – what happens? – oh – look at that – it doesn’t say. So what exactly do artillery do if someone charges them? – well – gosh – it doesn’t say. Etc.

One big advantage of using someone else’s rules is that they have been playtested before, and you have a good idea in advance whether they work or not. VwQ is a bit different – there are people who have played them and use them and like them, but there is also a fund of recommendations for adding the missing bits – including some from The Bold Clarence himself, who has never pretended that the rules were complete or anything other than a work in progress.

So I set about redrafting VwQ for my own purposes, to plug some gaps and fix some things I wasn’t comfortable with and then – since I’d started doing it this way – I took the opportunity to simplify a couple of fiddly bits, and amend a couple of the tables to suit my own ideas. The final straw was that I eventually replaced VwQ’s trademark, card based Activation system with something else – I discussed this in an earlier post.

At this point, though the game still employs some of the mechanisms from VwQ which I have liked from the outset, much of it is changed. The overall package is definitely not VwQ, and I decided it made more sense to make a clean break, and call my evolving rule set Arquebus, if only to keep my head straight – same as the program. I acknowledge my debt to some other games, but it is a hybrid.

Briefly, I adopted an alternative Command and Activation system which I found in some of Mr Featherstone’s recently-published rules – which may or may not have close relatives in Warhammer, Blitzkrieg Commander and Bloody Barons. It ticked a lot of boxes – intuitively, it seemed reasonable, it hung together well from a completeness point of view, and it was cute enough to borrow without shame.

Well, I’ve now tried it out, and it was tedious. Clever or not, it required extra work, and I found it to be mostly irritating – slowed the game down far more than it improved it. So I’ve replaced it with a much simpler, dice-based system which has close relatives in the Portable Wargame family, and in at least one iteration of Ross’s Hearts of Tin, and even in some earlier ideas of my own (surely not?). Since this is now Arquebus we are talking about, and thus mine own, I may well replace it yet again next week – I’ll see how I feel. I am giddy with the possibilities…

The rewritten rules for Arquebus are beginning to stabilize – I have now reached a stage where I am polishing the wording, checking that I have covered everything. Once the game works, I will continue with the computer program, but make no mistake – Arquebus first has to perform tidily as a dice-&-rulers game without a computer in sight, or I shall keep working on it until it does [famous last words]. Thus there is a latest-version rule booklet (I believe I’m on Version 0.21 – which is the first amendments to the substantially changed 2nd edition) and I was thinking that I might make it available if anyone is interested – I’m still not sure about this – it is a tweaked version of VwQ, though the tweaks now outweigh the VwQ bits, and it is not really designed to cope with anything more than the way I like to play my wargames. I’m thinking about it. The world is full of half-baked rulesets that don’t quite work – why add to the heap?

He's what? - he's redrafted Table 3? - bloody hell...
Once I’m comfortable that it works – at least a bit – I’m happy to provide copies to anyone who wants one. Hang on a bit. If someone feels moved to ask me why I don’t just be a sensible fellow and use Forlorn Hope or similar, please don’t – we’ve done that bit already.

Righto, Foy – so what happened to your Commands & Colors based ECW game?

Nothing – I have been using it and it works pretty well. As I mentioned before, I also need a more tactical game for small actions – where the Commanders can amuse themselves forming column of march and carrying out flank attacks and all that – this is where Arquebus should come in.

And it’s guaranteed hex-free, in case you care.


  1. "guaranteed hex-free"... I'm in!!! :o)

  2. And binned the cards! This just gets better :O)

  3. Yeah, proper wargaming. All measurements will be in cubits, or possibly poles and perches, and there will be special rules to encourage littering the battlefield with tape measures and ashtrays. Simultaneous movement (of course), with pre-printed order sheets - as big as I can get them. You have to move every single unit every single turn. 1 bound is equivalent to 2.5 seconds of real time - infantry move is 0.047 cubits. 14 different kinds of dice, and lots and lots of charts. A3-sized QuickRef Sheets - one for each player. And beer cans. Lots of them. Great.

    Oh yes - and you have to rebase EVERYTHING. Whatever you have done before, it was all wrong, and if you wish to capture THE TRUE FLAVOUR of the period you will have to rebase. Sorry, but being ubercool has its price.

    The true flavour is cheese and onion, of course. ;-D

  4. Sorry, I'm still back at "dice and rulers"? don't you mean hexes? Nice lovely repainted hexes?

    Oh dear.

    I'll have a look please, I'm thinking of rebasing my ECW Scots anyway.

    1. Have emailed the current draft. The killer for hexes for a VwQ-derived game (and I did have a go to convert it!) is the variable move distances for routers, counterchargers and pursuers, the variable range for firers receiving charges - all that stuff. Bits in the rules about "if the pursuers catch the routers" become a bit pointless if everything is rounded to the nearer 7 inches. Also, specific tactical deployment into columns and lines and suchlike doesn't fit well with hexes in this context, and the significance of the facing of the unit would require a lot of compromises.

      Calculation of these variable distances may prove to be more of a labour than I'm used to, but computerisation would solve that - how much of a bad man can I get to be?

  5. Interesting! I'll certainly have a read through them. I understand what you say re hexes, but once used to them they are very hard to move away from - I have this very dilemma right now myself and the perfect compromise would be to be able to play both types of game with the same figures.

    1. Spot on, Lee - I have used hexes for getting on for 40 years now, so the novelty has kind of worn off(!) - when I play a free measurement, non-gridded game now (and I do, whatever they say...) I find the flexibility kind of interesting - pleasing - but I find that a lot of time and effort goes into looking after things that I've rather forgotten about in the click-click world of hexes, where they take care of themselves, and where measurements are by definition an approximate compromise, but the game is exact.... :o)

      Cheers - Tony

  6. I'd be very interested in seeing your Arquebus rules, if you would be so kind, as I have been tinkering with the Portable Wargame rules myself, trying to get a satisfactory ECW game for use with a simple campaign system derived from that in Lone Warrrior 184. Mind you, I won't be using a computer - I like my wargames simple and 'old school' in so far as tecnology is concerned! My email is arthur1815@yahoo.co.uk - thanks in anticpation.