Monday, 30 September 2019

Hexing It Up

For a while now I've been thinking of having a go at gridded figure wargames. There have been many fine examples down the years. There was Morschauser in the early 60s. Then more recently we have had the Command and Colors family of games used as the basis of figure games; Lost Battles by Phil Sabin; and To the Strongest/For King and Parliament. Apologies to any I've missed. Amongst worthy practitioners on the interweb are, in no particular order, The Jolly Broom Man on  1642 and All That, Peter over at Grid based wargaming, and Maximilien Foy, le Grand Comte lui-même, of Prometheus in Aspic fame. Now I've been quietly watching and reading these for years and have been increasingly tempted to give it a go. You only live once. And in this enlightened age I would have nothing to be ashamed about by, you know, indulging my 'other side'.

So why would I want to try gridded wargaming? Why swap the flexibility and 'more natural' appearance of traditional ungridded wargaming for something more stylised, abstract and 'artificial'? Well the short answer is, I don't know if I will swap, but the long-winded answer follows.

There are the usual reasons that are given in favour of gridding up your wargames. Time saving on not measuring. Less scope for cheating by fudging that extra 2mm of movement/shooting every turn. Clarity over where things are. Also for me, maybe the transition isn't so great in principle.

I currently wargame (mostly solo) on the dining table. I use the old school method of placing a cloth over the table. For hills, instead of using books, 60s-style, I have surged ahead to the white heat of the 1990s and utilise DVDs*. Or more accurately DVD boxes. These work for me as I use 6mm and 10mm toy soldiers so a DVD case ot two, layered up, up gives a decent sized ridge. It means the high ground has straight edges, but on the plus side it is highly flexible, and it has defined edges which help for determining if something is or isn't on high ground. My terrain is therefore highly stylised. It doesn't look as good as purpose made hills, but it has its advantages. I've already accepted compromises in return for benefits.

The wargames I play do not work with figure removal (too fiddly when your toys are under 1/2 inch high). As well as the fiddliness of figure removal, I also wanted to play at being the general in command, not a unit commander, so all of that stuff that goes on at unit level (casualties, morale, formation) gets abstracted out. My SYW (home-brewed rules) and Napoleonic (Polemos) games don't differentiate between infantry fire and hand-to-hand combat**; they just have 'combat' when units are in base-to-base contact. So I've abstracted out combat too, pretty much like a boardgame or a gridded figure game. Strictly-speaking gridded figure games could have figure removal (some of Ross Mac's games do this) but many seem to treat the unit or multi-figure base as an indivisible whole. So that's another area in which I've accepted a large degree of abstraction in the interests of what I want to acheive.

My ECW games (also home-brewed rules) are a bit different from the later horse'n'musket games that I play. The figures are a bit bigger (10mm rather than 6mm) and there are multi-base units with a bigger ground-scale and a lower ratio of toys to the soldiers that they represent. 1 toy soldier = 15-20 rather than 1 = 50. More significantly my ECW rules have ranged combat for foot and horse - as well as going 'stab-slash-wallop' when in base contact, they go 'bang' when separated by a few centimetres.

A trial is what is needed. I'd like to have a bash at a gridded version of my own rules and also a go at M. le Comte de Foy's Command and Colors-based ECW rules. Given that it's only a trial, I want something that I can do without a lot of effort. Scribing hundreds of hexagons on my cloth or new boards isn't going to cut the mustard. So I thought of painting dots in the corners of the grid on my cloth. Also I will suffer NO REBASING!

Hills are going to be tricky. At least in a trial. How do I represent higher ground within the confines of one or more hexes. I'm sure I can fudge a way.

Next question is hexes or squares? And if squares, traditional chess-tyle grid or offset squares? Not sure about the pros and cons but given the prevalance of C&C in my favoured blogs (and what I read as the less than favourable comments from them about FK&P) I'd be inclined towards hexes rather than squares.

Then there's the challenge of the size of the hex/square. Factors I need to consider include:
  • the size of my units (120mm wide in ECW; that would be a brigade of two regiments in my SYW rules, so that's also handy)
  • space available versus no. of hexes needed - width no problem on my table. Depth is potentially a problem. Standard C&C board is 13 x 9 hexes.
  • the sizes of commercially available hexes (Kallistra are 100mm 'across the flats'. What others are there available?)

I always wanted rivers that are lower than the rest of the board not vice versa. Trenches that are lower than the surrounding land, for a siege game would also be excellent. The problem has always been how to acheive this wthout a sand table or with limited flexibility terrain boards? A small grid would allow that option since it can be both modular and more flexible than terrain boards 12 or more inches square.  Longer term, if I do go for gridded games full-time I can do that finally! Probably.

In furtherance of these ambitions I sat down with pencil, compass and graph paper to work out what I could fit on my table. I'm not particularly mathematically inclined - it's been 40 years since I dropped it as a subject - so working out the right hex size is an exercise in trial and error for me. I didn't get very far, but the initial results are not encouraging. To fit my units (120mm) in across the flats requires a hex c 150mm from 'point to point'. Which means only 6 hexes deep on my table. I could go for just two infantry bases with one dropped back or pushed forward, and cavalry 3 bases with one dropped back, so the width would be 90mm and depth proportionally smaller. This would fit with Kallistra's 100mm wide hexes, but be less satisfactory with my SYW bases (60mm wide) which I will not put one behind the other because it doesn't look linear enough***. Still too deep but maybe I could cope with a bit of overhang.

It looks like more work and more thinking is required, unless there is a blinding flash of isnpiration. I suppose I could make do temporarily with small hexes just to try it out, but what follows if I find that hexes are the business? I'd have to get boards which are 50% deeper than my table to get the full 9 x 150mm point-to-point hexes in. And even then, I suspect that hexes that size will look too big for my scale of toys and bases. Then I have to think about whether to have separate shooting or bundle it with 'melee' - I fear I am still too much of a ground up literalist to allow my toys to shoot a lot further than 200 yards unless it is very ineffective. Hmmm! Lots to think about.

Edit: I was correct when I said it has been 40 years since I studied any maths. A lot else was wrong though in the last two paragraphs. I'd used pencil, compass, protractor and ruler to work out the dimensions. I was doing some head-scratching tonight (not not because of another outbreak of head lice at the girls' school****) wondering some more about hexagons and if I'd really got my calcs right. Short answer to that question was no (no smirking*****) . I found this useful calculator here .  This gives me slightly more room for optimism - a hexagon with a width of 120mm 'across the flats' has a length (point to point) of less than 14cm. I also remembered that hexagons on a game board are not laid point to point but have their pointy bits 'overlapping' (DOH!) so I don't need to fit 9 lots of 14cm in. I need 9 lots of 10.4 plus a bit, so just shy of 97cm. My dining table depth is 'only' 7cm too short. I can manage for now without 1 row of hexes I'm sure, so I'll mark up my cloth at the weekend. Happy days! 

I'm glad to have found out that I was stupid. 🤓 

* You can't do that with your e-books and streaming services! Whose the mug now eh, kids?
** Which there should only be rare examples of anyway. 
*** I will only go so far in a compromise and I DO NOT want to rebase that lot! My ex-wife always did accuse me of being a purist (as if wanting something to be right was wrong....I know, I know... I should let it go, pedantry can be so restricting).
**** Kids (or at least girls) these days seem to go through 2 rounds of head lice: once when they are about 6 and have lots of cuddles with their friends; and once when they're about 12 and all stick their heads together for a group 'selfie' or whatever you call it.
***** Give yourself a talking to if you think that's what they say in Hull when you light up indoors. That of course is nonsense: it would be rendered 'ner smirking'.


  1. Hi matey, for what it's worth I went from hexes to squares and now want to go back to hexes since they just seem more flexible. I've had a lot more fun with Msr Foy's ECW C&C rules than FK&P which was being quietly dropped at Maison Broom even before I had to pack all my toys away for the big move. I'd recommend his "ramekin" variant which does away with the C&C cards and is therefore easier to replicate and does away with the enforced choice of the card options currently in your hand. It'll do everything in a a game you seem to be looking for. Drop him a line if you get a mo. He'll be happy to share.

  2. I have seen your hex posting, 6 Oct, and while I am not aware of what you have been putting under your cloth table mat, if you use cork sheet as your underlay, or a series of old blankets, then you could use tiny push pins as the 'points' of the hexes or joins of the squares.

    By playing out a few games this way then you could decide better if you want to use hex or square (or none at all) as you could 'color code' some tiny dots in the cloth covering so as to have the cloth do the marking of hex/square and then use whatever works for you as the hills/forest etc. Thus dispensing with the need for different hexes for forest/river/swamp/rough ground/hills and so on ...

    1. Some good ideas there! Thanks. Wish I'd thought of that! It would have also enabled me to try different sizes.

      I still have the other side of the cloth....I'm reminded that it only cost me a few pounds because when I asked for a 2m x 3m sheet of green felt the woman serving said 'we only have this left (about 1.6 x 2.8m) but I can let you have it for £x'.