Tuesday 28 March 2023

Working through some solo wargaming rules for the ECW

During this past week, I have resumed playing some English Civil War (ECW) games for to two reasons. Firstly, my interest in the period was reignited after reading "Pike and Shot Tactics 1590-1660" by Keith Roberts (refer to an earlier post for my takeaways from this book). Secondly, I am experiencing issues with my left hip which means I need to avoid sitting down too much, but standing at my wargaming table doesn't put any strain on my hip, funny that, and is the one and only upside of this situation.

The ECW units see the light of day. These are Hinchliffe models some 50 years old and repainted.

The constraints placed upon the ECW commander with deployment of their armies and the difficulty of manoeuvre of those armies on the battlefield, has got me thinking about the suitability for solo gaming of this period and whether or not I could construct some decision tables to direct the opposing army in a  wargame?

The rest of this post and some following posts will provide more details of my progress, and the pitfalls I encounter, as I work through this. Any comments and advice are most welcome.

However, prior to starting to create the decision trees, I had to modify the rules of the "D3 ECW" game (see tab at top of blog). I opted to use an I Go, You Go, approach as it seems more suitable for utilising decision tables, since the decisions will mainly involve movement such as charges, while shooting is directed at the nearest enemy, and melee automatically takes place between engaged units. Additionally, I reduced the number of infantry and cavalry units to between 5 and 6, along with a few smaller dragoon and artillery units which are eliminated with half the hits of larger infantry and cavalry units. This was to simplify and reduce choices. Finally, I limited the number of units permitted to move to the score of a D3 dice. As I continue with these posts, I will provide the updated rules.

A cavalry unit on the left with two bases, a dragoon unit with one base, and an infantry unit with two bases on the right. The cavalry and infantry represent brigades when the number of units is reduced in the games.

A test game underway

In the process of developing the decision tables, the top level table operates at the army level and establishes whether the army is in an attacking, holding, or retiring position. Once this status is determined, the corresponding decision table for the army's status is used to determine the actions to be taken on the tabletop.

The army level decision table determines which corresponding decision table is used to move troops on the tabletop.

To help in the creation of the second set of decision tables, I have been playing a number of ECW games and noting down my decisions (hopefully the right ones). While taking notes, I discovered that I had more of a prioritised list of actions rather than a decision tree, and these actions quite naturally followed the game's sequence of play. The priorities on each list varied depending on the army's status. Although there are no dice rolls involved in choosing between actions, it may appear somewhat mechanical. However, the variability lies in the number of move actions taken, which is determined by a D3 dice roll.

I am using filing cards to make notes. One card for each decision table (or priority list).

Example of Army Level Decision Table

Here are details of the decision table for army level status as they currently stand. There are sure to be updates, but it is a starting point.

The army will Hold its position if any of the following apply:

  • It is the opening turn of the battle.
  • It is outnumbered when just counting infantry and cavalry units, or has no cavalry units
  • It still has multiple artillery units who are able to engage the enemy at a distance.
  • It holds the objective it was tasked with taking.

The army will Attack if any of the following apply:

  • It has more cavalry units
  • It is yet to hold an objective it was charged with taking.
  • It equals or outnumbers the enemy when counting infantry and cavalry units.

The army will Retire if any of the following apply:

  • It is outnumbered and has fewer than two infantry or cavalry units.

Example of Decision Table for Hold

Here is an example of the Decision table used when at the army level it is in a Hold position.

Note - During the movement phase the number of moved units meet the score of a rolled D3 dice. Units that just pivot, do not count against the D3 score.

During the movement phase apply to units in the following in order:

  1. Any unit facing a possible charge can pivot to face the most imminent threat if permitted to in the rules.
  2. Dragoons and commanded shot units, if not already within shooting distance of an enemy unit, will advance to harass infantry or advance to cover and harass cavalry.
  3. Cavalry units, unless they have a terrain advantage, will charge other enemy cavalry within range.
  4. Cavalry units that have come under attack from infantry will charge the infantry if the enemy infantry have taken 50 percent hits, else they will retire.
  5. Infantry will hold their position.

During the shooting phase:

  1. Artillery shoot at the nearest infantry or cavalry unit. They do not shoot at dragoons, commanded shot, or other artillery.
  2. Dragoons and commanded shot units will shoot directly ahead at the closest enemy unit.
  3. Infantry will shoot directly ahead at the closest enemy unit.

During the melee phase:

  1. If a unit is permitted to pivot to face an enemy unit, or units, then face the greatest threat.

As I progress I will print out these lists and glue them to filing cards so I can easily select the card associated with the army status. 

Anyway, that is all for this post and there will be more in the next post about the Attack and Retire decision tables.


  1. Great to see the Hinchliffe ECWs out on the table again, they are very dated in terms of our current understanding of 'authenticity' but full of such glossy, nostalgic charm that they get my vote every time.
    Your Decision Table approach looks promising and if they stay as short and sweet as the 'Hold' example then you could add another layer of interest with commander characteristics (CinC + 0-3 subordinates for the centre and wings). For example, Prince Rupert might not have to pay for charges i.e., he wouldn't be expend any of the D3 pips - the down-side being he has to charge horse at horse if any are available to be charged (or baggage if no enemy cavalry available to charge). I am assuming the charging unit gets an advantage - this would make PR quite a powerful but uncontrollable option. In this way you not only have to plan your army deployment with care but also how you allocate commands among your available subordinates, if your army has any.
    Looking forward to seeing how this works out.

    1. As things develop I am planning, or hoping, to loop back if things progress well and add commander influences and experience levels. This may well be on different cards, so for example, there may well be three hold cards depending upon the commanders experience. That way you select the card at the start of the game and avoid having to look at stuff you don’t need.

    2. It occurred to me that with IGO-UGO there is an advantage with charging (going first) as you will always be either up one round of ‘killing’ or level after the opposition have their turn.

    3. Yes, charging first does have the advantage. The rules are a variant of One-Hour Wargames and the writer’s argument, if I remember correctly, was it encouraged players to take the initiative.

  2. Sorry to read of your hip issues but it could be a blessing in disguise. "Really, dear, I need to stand at my gaming table all day as a cost-effective means of hip therapy. "

    Looking forward to following more rules' developments.

    1. It is a bit of a hard sell, but the cost effectiveness line is a good one to throw into the justification.

  3. This was an interesting read. I like following your processes. The hold decision table looks sound to me. I wonder if the attack decision table will be trickier.
    I follow with interest.

    1. Your are correct the attack table is a bit longer as it currently stands.

  4. This looks very interesting Peter. Great idea to use the cards too.

    1. I am looking forward to seeing where I end up. I will definitely be keeping the cards approach.

  5. I'll look up the book. I've always liked the Osprey tactics series. Re: solo gaming, I have the Mike Lambo ECW book and have been meaning to go thru the scenarios...

    Your decision table looks interesting, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

    1. I really enjoyed the Osprey tactics book and found it really useful. I will have to keep an eye out for Mike Lambo’s book. Thanks.

  6. Interesting to see you going down broadly the same route as I did when trying to establish a solo opponent for TWoTR. I over complicated things by having a decision tree for each wing of the opposing army so that one side of the enemy force could be acting offensively and the other side defensively on some occasions. I even included an ability to change each of the stances in game due to casualties suffered. From memory I had full on attack, cautious advance, active defence and passive defence. Each of theses stances limited the actions allowed by the formation it covered, ie - in full on attack units had to advance on the enemy and in passive defence units could only fire if attacked or respond to mêlées against them. Like where you are going with this. Watching closely so I can nick bits!

    1. I like your variation of stances which could prove useful if I add commander characteristics into the mix, so I may be the one reusing your ideas. Thanks.

  7. Sorry to hear about your hip Peter. Glad that there is a bit of a silver lining.
    I look forward to see how you work out the decision trees.

    1. I am slowly on the mend and I should be posting the remaining two decision trees over the couple of days and playing a battle using them this weekend.

  8. Did you write the post while also standing at the wargame table? I’m sure my wife would find many things I could do while standing; fishes, vacuum, etc…😀
    Hope your hip feels better.

    1. I am using old boxes from a past move to sit my computer on so I can stand up. As for the other many things, I did do the vacuuming. There are some chores you cannot escape :-)

  9. As I struggle to come up with an enjoyable way to solo wargaming, it's good to see others working on this knd of approach...like JBM, I hope there is lots I can pinch from your work here, Peter!

    1. I hope you find some useful areas you can reuse with your solo games.