Sunday, 1 November 2009

My Lack Of American Civil War Rules.

Last night I was going through the old bookshelves up in the loft, trying to sort out other stuff to sell on eBay to raise some much needed funds, when I came across a couple of old books on the ACW.

Now, I game the ACW.

Or to be honest, I more sort of don't.

I have a reasonable library on the history of the conflict, and have been studying it for many years. That interest has lasted from my childhood, and the first set of Airfix Union Infantry I was given as a present for being good when my mum was having my third sister. Oh, and down to the old Civil War bubblegum card sets, complete with bar of red bubblegum, gratuitously bloody picture cards of the war, and Confederate Dollars.

So a long history, there.

And given that, one would expect me to be a fanatic when it came to wargame rule sets on the period. And yet I game the ACW using old, slightly modified 1962 Featherstone rules. Yes, I know there're tons of other rules out there, loads of them really good, and I've bought a few and played them and... gone back to the Featherstone rules.


Because I like them. I know they're not "realistic" or particularly "historical", but I play my wargames for fun and those rules are really all I want. Every other set of ACW rules I've bought, I've sold on shortly afterwards. No offence to their writers, but they are not for me.

So these two books came to light in my search. Both are old, and both contain ACW rules. The Stevenson one is the more modern work, dating from around the early 'nineties. The rules (or rather some rules) are in there, although not really organised or formally presented as a set of rules. It's worth keeping because.. er... well. is it worth keeping? It doesn't get referred to, has little in the way of interest now. But for old times sake I shall retain it. It's not as if it takes up much room.

The other set is the old Airfix Magazine Guide no 24. American Civil War Wargaming, by Terence Wise. It is dated 1977.

Now there is NO WAY I will let go of this puppy. I had a copy long ago, and made the mistake of selling it. Two weeks later I regretted that move, and carried on regretting it for five years, until I finally found another copy.

This book also has a set of ACW rules inside, actually presented as rules and not just as a few ideas to kick around, as in Stevenson's book. Even so, Terence Wise was humble enough to suggest that his rules were not definitive, which was rather rare for rule writers at that time!

I especially love the old photos in the book. Airfix ACW plastic figures, train set trees, Airfix Trackside houses, used regardless of their total incongruity to either period or nation. Marvellous!

The rules are, sadly, not. One might expect, given the background of this series of books, that any rules presented would be simple. Not so. By the second half of the 'seventies, wargame rules were getting rather carried away, with layer after layer of complexity, in an attempt to find that elusive Holy Grail of "realism". And Terence Wise's rules follow that trend. OK, they're not the worst, but even so they are still hard work.

Tracking individual casualites for each unit, until one finally reached whatever number was needed to remove a "man" from that unit... Yuck!.. It was all the rage then, but it's a pain in the butt now.

Loads of rules for various weapons, many with tiny differences between them, offered in the mistaken hope that, somewhere in all those tiny details, one would find realism.

Oh, and lots of smoke. Now fair enough, the smoke of battle DID play a part in many clashes, but even now most rules writers can't be bothered with it, and these rules will show a reader why. Clouds of cotton wool scattered around and in front of every unit that fires, visibility blocked, movement through smoke made erratic, it's final direction governed by the roll of a die.

Realistic? Yes, maybe...
Fun? No.

Now my comments are not meant as a pop at Terence Wise. That was just the way most wargame rules were going back then. If my memory serves me well, compared to the Newbury set from the same era, these Airfix ones are simplicity itself.


alan said...

Having read more than one account of the powder smoke hanging over the battlefield at Gettysburg for days, I'm sure it played into strategy as well as quality of life issues on many levels.

Having burnt my fair share of blackpowder at July 4th celebrations through the years in a community that takes their fireworks seriously, I can also tell you that it can even be a driving problem both on sidestreets and the highways today!


Peter said...


I stumbled on your blog following a link from Ross McFarlanes Gathering of gosts blog.
I'm also staring up projects but you seem to be doing what I want to do, only faster.
Anyway, I would like to suggest you look at the Gush/Finch post napoleonic rules in their book“A Guide to Wargaming”.
They go a little deeper than T.Wise and I'm still convinced the earlier but similar napoleonic rules by Gush are the best Old School rules available.
When I get some technical stuff sorted out I'll try and become a "follower"...good luck with your truly are an inspiration to me.
Feel free to take a peak at my blog, I would appreciate any comments.


Poacher said...

Thank you, Pjotr!

I shall certainly take a look.. :-)