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

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Keeping in Step - Movement in IGO-UGO Wargames

When I started dabbling in wargaming, longer ago than you might believe possible, first of all I digested a couple of the Featherstone books, and I got the hang of the basic idea of a game cycle comprising the “Three M’s” – Movement, Missiles and Melees (in that order), and the alternate-moves approach which those books embraced.

I also visited a local club, and found they had their own rules, typed up as a leaflet, but what they played was still, recognisably, a branch of the same family.

Round about the same time, I read somewhere that it was a lot more authentic militarily (and thus better, more serious, more grown-up) to employ a simultaneous-movement system, using written orders for each unit. I was interested enough to try this, and found that – more authentic or not – the overhead of writing, checking and managing the orders was extremely tedious, and any increase in accuracy or compliance with the rules was negligible. There were sheets of paper everywhere, the orders invariably degenerated into unreadable, ambiguous wiggly lines and curved arrows, or abbreviations which could mean almost anything, and the actual game moves which followed had only a very slight connection with what the orders might have said. That crooked arrow curving to left would be interpreted to suit whatever the player felt was in his best interests from moment to moment. The amount of cheating in the game actually increased, likewise the amount of argument. I recall a player claiming that a solitary exclamation mark against a unit on his sheet meant “charge, straight ahead” – what else, he protested, could it mean?

Simultaneous moves didn’t do it for me at all. Of course, my old chum George Jeffrey would have claimed that it worked perfectly for him and his club members (because they were all gentlemen), and that if you couldn’t trust the people you played with then you shouldn’t play with them. And I would have replied, as I would reply now, “wuff wuff”. I never heard such bitter arguments over a supposed pastime as I heard at George’s club nights.

However, alternate-moves did not always result in calm perfection, either. One snag which was always troublesome in IGO-UGO games was that some unit or other would get out of step with the rest of the battle – one move ahead or one move behind – wrong, anyway. As long as everyone moved only during their side’s movement phase, everything was fine, but things became complicated when someone retreated during the enemy’s fire phase, or ran away from a melee which might be during their own turn or the other side’s, or even if someone wished to countercharge when being attacked. Suddenly you would have a unit which was one move ahead of everyone else, and there would then be a discussion of whether they should miss their next official movement opportunity (since they had already moved), views of which frequently varied according to what particular disaster might befall them if they now stood still. This was one area, even of fairly well developed and stable rules, which regularly caused confusion and disagreement.

Now then, although I found them too fussy and too prescriptive to use in their entirety, the publication of the Wargames Research Group’s “Wargames Rules 1685-1845” in 1977 introduced me to a variation on the Three M’s which I found logical and pleasing – in very broad terms, the move now became Missiles, Melees, Movement and – in particular – a (charge) move to contact would now be declared but only partially carried out during the movement phase, the chargers stopping some distance short of their target at the end of their turn, to wait for fire and other enemy reaction before attempting to complete the charge during the opponent’s turn. Of course, the full details of the turn sequence were more fiddly than this, but they hung together well enough if you kept your eye on that nippy old problem of who had moved out of turn, and what should be done about it.

My personal approach to this made use of some coloured counters – red “Attack” arrows, black “Hold” markers and brown “Withdraw” arrows. In a later refinement, I got some custom, plastic versions made up for me by Litko, but the game system worked well enough for years before I added that extra level of elegance.

I’ll skip over the matter of activation – exactly which units (and how many) might do something in a given turn; broadly speaking, units moved only when it was their side’s movement phase, but there were some oddball groups: 
  • Units which, as the result of reaction to a morale test – possibly following combat – were stuck, unable to move, or else were forced to retreat for a single move and were then stuck. These units would be given a black “Hold” marker.
  • Units which, as the result of such a test, had just routed – they were required to run away for a move, and would then be tested in each subsequent turn to see if they rallied or continued to run. These units, in the turn in which they broke, would get a black “Hold” AND a brown “Withdraw”.
  • Units which were already running, and needed to be tested to see if they rallied – these would be identifiable by the presence of a brown “Withdraw” – the black “Hold” would not be present if they were in a continuing rout.
  • Units which were charging to contact (or countercharging) – these would have a red “Attack” marker, which also served to remind the players that they were eligible for an impetus bonus (or whatever the rules allowed in this situation).

In what follows, note that all the references to “Test” (as in “Test morale”) may be addressed in whatever level of detail is required by your preferred rules – at times I have used detailed morale tests (sometimes far too many of them), at other times I have taken little trouble over them; it makes no difference – the point at which such testing would be done (if any…) is quite clear in the sequence; the emphasis here is on movement – who has moved and who has not, and the procedure with the markers is to keep things in order (and it’s surprising how confusing this can get, especially in a solo game).

Phases in a player’s turn (player’s own actions are in a black font – anything which is an enemy action is in red; anything which involved both players is in brown): 
  1. Test units being charged (if they break and run, give them a “Hold” marker and a “Withdraw”, if they are to retire in an orderly manner then move them back and give only the “Hold” marker; if they are able to countercharge, advance them to meeting point, mark them with an “Attack” marker – melee is formed).
  2. Test routers who have been running since at least the previous turn – i.e. any units which just have a “Withdraw” marker (no “Hold”) – if they rally, replace the “Withdraw” with a “Hold”, and turn them as appropriate; if they continue to run, they keep their “Withdraw” marker, and they remain one move ahead of the game – move them back another rout move.
  3. Fire artillery. When all artillery fire is complete, enemy player removes losses, checks for staff casualties and tests morale reaction as appropriate – as before, any unit which is halted or retires gets a “Hold” marker, and any which breaks and runs gets both a “Hold” and a “Withdraw”, and any retirals or routs are carried out now – out of sequence.
  4. Fire musketry. When all musketry fire is complete, enemy player checks for losses and reaction as for artillery fire.
  5. Enemy chargers who are still able to continue their attack now press home the charge, retaining their red “Attack” marker – melees are formed.
  6. Both players now work out melee outcomes (including losses, staff casualties and reaction) in accordance with rules – if the melee continues into a further turn, leave it formed but remove “Attack” markers so no-one gets inappropriate impetus bonus. Any melee losers who retire in good order are pulled back, and get a black “Hold”; if they rout they get both a “Hold” and a “Withdraw” and are turned around and moved back one rout move.
  7. Now is the Movement phase – the player may move (activated) units which are not in a formed melee and which do not have “Hold” and/or “Withdraw” markers. Charges may be declared (subject to necessary morale tests), and charging units are moved part of the way to the target unit, and given a red “Attack” marker (they will have the opportunity to complete the charge at the beginning of the enemy player’s next turn).
  8. When movement is complete, remove all black “Hold” markers from your own units – they have now (correctly) missed out on the movement phase, and are back in step with the rest of the game. Units which still have a brown “Withdraw” are still running, and will be tested for rally/rout in the player’s next turn.

That’s the end of the player’s turn; now the other player goes through the same sequence.

So, to summarise, units which retire or are pinned for a single turn are given a black “Hold” marker which will stop them moving again when it is their normal time to do so, and routers will keep testing, out of sequence, until they are rallied, at which point they are held for a move to get them back into step.

I fear I may appear to have explained something relatively simple in a complicated way, and the plastic markers may seem like overkill, but in a large battle I found this marker system works very well, and avoids confusion in the very areas where the most critical pieces of action are taking place.




  1. So in essence it's still move/fire/melee - it's just that you start your move elsewhere in the sequence...

    1. That's right - and the opponent sticks his neb in at a different point. All true progress is incremental - anyway, this must be brilliant, because it was the WRG's very latest brainchild in 1977 - they even managed to be very superior about previous sets of wargame rules, including their own, of course!

  2. The only way we could make the WRG rules work properly was to have an anally retentive mate who, even now, after two failed marriages and a career in the Civil Service, can recite the sequence and still has the flow chart he drafted many, many years ago.

  3. I have to admit to being a 'Simul Movement' man. My reason for this is that I find IGoUGo just too slow, and unless the type of play allows the non-phasing player something to do, the player interaction limited, and you spend a whole lot of the game sitting around awaiting your opponent's decisions.

    I have encountered IGoUGo versions (a locally designed 'Vive l'Empereur' rule set and the Italieri 'Operation Overlord' sets that called for a good deal of non-phasing-player involvement. They kept one busy all the time, and the games seemed to go a lot faster as a result.

    I accept that 'Simul Moves' have their problematics, but here's a thing: I don't like written orders either! Much better, though they are apt to clutter up a table, are order chits along the lines you have illustrated, but perhaps with a wider range of options. Units with a target will always shoot (unless the player chooses not to do so), so I don't need a fire order.

    Some of the ideas you have expressed here seem fairly similar to those used in the Fire and Fury/Age of Eagles rule sets. You might want to take a look at those. As IgoUGo sets go, I find they aren't too bad at all..


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