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


Friday, 23 March 2018

Rules - Allan Gallacher's "Ripples" Game


This follows from the brief discussion of Piquet in yesterday's post - as an example of a game which uses neither simultaneous activation nor conventional alternate turns - plus an email I got from Geoff P which reminded me of some other unorthodox approaches to wargames I had found interesting in the past.

This very nearly got classified as an off-topic Hooptedoodle. It is potentially going to be a rather irritating post, where I attempt to describe something that was so long ago I cannot remember it clearly, in the hope that someone recognises what I'm talking about and has some further thoughts on the matter. It is not, I emphasise, of any significance other than it will bother me a little if I can't remember!

A long time ago, in another century, I had a friend named Allan Gallacher, who was really the fellow who stoked up my enthusiasm for miniatures wargaming, and whose splendidly irreverent approach to the hobby probably gave me my grounding as the misfit I became. Allan's constant theme was that his games with toy soldiers were never as successful nor as enjoyable as he thought they ought to be, and that as time passed and rules were "improved" (including his own, to be fair) the situation became worse rather than better.

The particular period I am thinking of came after Allan had declared himself to be very fed up with miniatures games which "achieved very little over very long evenings". As I recall, he had recently experienced a club game in which a melee that would have lasted a very few minutes in reality had taken over an hour to come to a resolution. The thing about this which particularly annoyed him was that most of that hour had been taken up with much marching and countermarching by units who were a long way from any useful action.

This, of course, is recognisable as what we would now call activation - most rules of recent date contain systems which force the commanders to concentrate on the significant bits of the action, rather than being distracted by the lovely spectacle of all those regiments marching round in circles. Allan felt very strongly that some of the best fun he ever had with toy soldiers was as a kid, on his bedroom carpet, playing with Timpo and Britains cowboys and Indians (to use an old and politically insensitive term) - in these games, there was no strategic element at all. There would be a massive brawl going on between figures who were close enough to the action to be involved, and the rest of the figures would be dormant until either the brawl moved close enough for them to become embroiled in it, or until some kind of lull or stalemate forced a new initiative somewhere else. The point being that the game kind of "rippled" (to use Allan's word) out from identifiable hot-spots, and unengaged troops would remain unengaged until the hot spots moved or someone did something about  it.

Allan produced a sketch of a game which he code-named "Ripples", and I was involved in a couple of playtest games. I remember that we played at Allan's flat, in Great King Street in Edinburgh, and that Pat Timmins, Alan Low and John Ramsay were there at various times. The game - if it matters - was an ACW action - only time I ever saw Spencer Smith ACW soldiers up close.

I don't remember much detail of the game, but it had some interesting features - units could move, fire, charge etc automatically if they were in a position to do so - if they were within some defined "threat range"; this "threat" might be a threat from themselves against the enemy, or a threat from the enemy. If you fired at some unit or other, then the next thing that would happen would probably be that they would fire back, if they could, and this might alternate back and forth until there was an outcome of some sort. Combat did not get frozen until the next turn - it was followed through, so that there would be moments when different little bits of the same action would be at slightly different elapsed times from each other. Allan's justification for this was that the actual fighting time in a real battle was relatively brief compared with the standing waiting time, so that a bit of elasticity was OK. He also had a concept which used tokens he called "disrupters" - these were in short supply, and I remember we used some old, pre-decimal coins, though when they were issued or how they were replenished I don't recall. If you played a disrupter you could initiate some action by a unit which was not currently in threat range - to bring up a reserve, for example, might require the expenditure of a few disrupters.

It was crude - underdeveloped. Artillery was a major problem - since artillery could theoretically offer a threat to anyone within their range, the rules got a bit tricky to avoid artillery simply firing all the time, and - accordingly - someone fighting back. The game was eventually shelved as yet another daft idea, and yet...

The idea of allowing hot-spots to get ahead of the time frame in this way is interesting - it certainly makes things exciting, though you may simply end up in the game with the cowboys on the bedroom carpet. It obviously needed a lot of work, but it did demonstrate that you could limit the amount of pointless countermarching of remote units if you focused on units affected by the "ripples" from the hot-spots.

The only reason I mention this at all is that I am sure that Allan said that he had borrowed the idea from somewhere else - it may have been Morschauser, though I am not sure at all about that. Anyone recognise such an approach to miniatures gaming? In more recent years I was interested that the published Huzzah! rules focused on threats (i.e. implied threats as much as actual charges and ranged fire), which rang a few bells, and which sort of stood the normal game logic on its head - the Huzzah! game, to me, though, was disappointingly complicated.

Maybe Field of Battle does a bit of this - the possibility that it might is what reminded me of the long-defunct Ripples Experiment.


That's it, really. Just an old memory - as I say, I wonder if anyone recognises the concept of a game which "brews" around units who are engaged, and which requires some deliberate initiative to involve anyone else?

Sorry about this - duff post, probably...

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