Wednesday 17 July 2019

Book Review - One-Hour Skirmish Wargames

One-Hour Skirmish Wargames
by John Lambshead

Pen & Sword Books, 101 Pages. ISBN 1526700042

"There is a definite trend in wargaming towards slicker, faster, comprehensive, pre-packaged games that can be learnt and played in a few hours and it's clear that this is more than just a transient fad."

Anyone who has been playing wargames for more than a few years can't help but agree with the above quote, taken from the Foreword to this latest book by writer/game designer/editor/local hero (he lives in the same town as me!) Dr. John Lambshead. The increasing mass appeal of tabletop games has driven the market towards simplified and streamlined games with high production values and minimal rules. Wargaming has always been an area where attention to detail is the key to distinguishing between eras and armies, but can you do it without having a ton of restricting rules to keep it authentic? Subtitled "Fast-play diceless rules for small-unit actions from Napoleonics to Sci-fi", this book is aimed squarely at doing just that.

This book is actually a follow up to One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas, a successful set of rules which allowed for large battles to be fought on a small area in a relatively short time. These rules attempt to do the same thing for skirmish gaming, where one miniature represents one soldier, but also where each one is a single operational unit (i.e. acts independantly of all other miniatures and must be ordered accordingly). The book starts with 5 pages of general introduction which addresses the requirements of a skirmish wargame, from game size and duration to dice use, and the basis for the rules layed out within. There are also some of the basic principles of the playing card based system employed by the book.

The rest of the book gives us the rules system itself over ten chapters, divided into three sections, which gradually build on the core principles as they take us through the major changes in firearms-based warfare. To begin with, each player needs a regulation pack of 52 playing cards plus jokers. All the actions and action resolutions are determined by the drawing of a card from the deck. Cards are drawn for initiative, then to give a number of actions available in the current phase, and opposed draws deal with combat. If a joker is drawn at any time by either player, play stops immediately and the current turn ends with morale and casualty checks.

If no-one has won, the next turn begins and so on. And apart from a handful of special rules for leader models that is nearly all there is to it! Each chapter then deals with a specific era of combat, adding rules for the weapons and relevant troop types, with a pre-determined scenario to enable you to test them out. As the sub-title suggests, the early part of the book deals with the Napoleonic and the rifle era (late 1800's), with subsequent chapters adding rules for the 1900's and World War 2, plus the Cold War of the 1970's and 80's, with a final part adding pulp sci-fi to the mix.The book concludes with campaign rules, a points system, and another scattering of additional rules to bring your tabletop to life!

We couldn't let this rules set go by with just a read through, we had to give it a proper test drive! But what would be the best way to check that the system works? Try a scenario and time period from the book? Oh no, we couldn't do anything that simple... A friend of mine has been looking for a basic rules system for a while now to run some Vietnam War games, and this looked like the perfect opportunity. Using the points system, we took the rules, weapons and equipment from each section we needed and it was game on! Most of the pictures in this article are from that game.

This book is very easy to read, with plenty of historical facts and information in addition to the rules, but like many modern rule books its drawback is finding the relevant rules when playing the game. We spent many frustrating minutes (which add up when you're playing a One-Hour Skirmish Wargame...) trying to find a rules clarification which didn't appear to be in the section we were expecting it to be in! The system works by introducing new rules and weapons etc. in each Section, but without an index or a reference sheet/summary anywhere it can mean a lot of flicking back and forth through the book. A better layout may have been to put all the rules, still in section sequence, in one place and follow up with all the scenarios in order behind them.

However, do NOT let this put you off trying this game! Once we got the hang of the basics we had an absolute blast, and are definitely planning more games in the future, possibly in a Vietnam campaign. The system adapted perfectly to our desired setting, and I would imagine it is easy enough to slot into any era from black powder onwards. The card draw system works surprisingly well, and felt well balanced all the way through. Strangely, the random cards didn't feel as random as dice, and the Joker "full stop" mechanic popped up at dramatically appropriate times, which added to the flavour. As promised, we ran a game in a little over an hour, perfect for a club night where time is at a premium and the skirmish game is king. Keeping it simple works here, the tweaks in each section are enough to make each era feel suitably different from each other while using the same basic mechanism, and there is no room for cumbersome "flavour" rules!

Do yourself a favour and give it a go! With a little preparation time (I would suggest coming up with your own era-appropriate quick-play sheet beforehand, maybe you can use the handy notes section at the back of the book?) you can be playing your favourite skirmish battles of the last 200 years... In about an hour!

By day, David Mustill is a Human Workhorse for a chemical company. Naturally, every possible moment away from this existence is spent gaming and painting miniatures.

A steady diet of rock, metal, punk, comics, gaming, miniatures and genre movies has moulded David into a renaissance geek, for whom no gaming company or genre is too obscure, and no graphic novel is unreadable.

He is currently the Chairman of Milton Hundred Wargames Club, which affords him the privilege of running the Broadside Games Show. He will not let you down. Unless you're after selfies. He is rubbish at selfies...


  1. Hello,
    I try to play with my toy soldiers for recreate Vietnam war and I buy this book because I like the idea of quick game with soldiers of many ages, can you say me all the compositions of your Armies in vietnam battlefield?
    I like have your sensationa on this experience and a great help for the creation of the different group in clash.

  2. A really creative approach to skirmish gaming. You could easily run through a few scenarios or campaign turns in a club night. It's flexible, fun and I highly recommend it!

  3. Thanks David. If I was writing this again I would include an index. You point is well made. John

  4. Excellent! Yes, very true that less is more. This has become my favorite skirmish system. I expect to run plenty of scenarios as all the game conventions that will be open again soon.

  5. Another comment in mind... These rules are ideal for seasoned gamers that are not held back by a fixed mindset that is common with most off the shelf games. Yes, these are easy for newbies too but the fill MONTY is really tapped into by experienced gamers and hard core Grognars.