May 28, 2022

History of Wargaming – Donald Featherstone

Robert Mosher, 5 May 2022

Donald Featherstone (1918-2013) received many accolades in his life for his efforts over half a century on behalf of wargaming. A constant presence in wargaming in both the UK and in the USA, he was long a living link to H.G. Wells and Little Wars which was reportedly his own introduction to wargaming.

His approach to wargaming was very much in the Little Wars tradition. He repeatedly said that almost all gamers prefer to use rules that they have themselves compiled, adjusted, and adapted along with contributions from friends. In Appendix I of his book Wargaming Ancient and Medieval Periods (1975) he wrote what appears to be a summation of his thinking about rules –

“The rules that control a wargame usually reflect the character and temperament of their devisor: a dashing wargamer will allow full opportunities for panache in glorious charges and heroic defence, and a steady player scope for coolness in a commander and intricate manoeuvre. This individuality among wargamers leads them to adapt sets of rules not of their own devising to their own ideas and military concepts. When doing this, certain facts should be borne in mind if the rules are to provide a brisk and realistic historical reconstruction. Remember first that the little metal and plastic soldiers used in wargaming have only the fighting ability or morale that you bestow upon them. Where history decrees that particular soldiers are known to be of inferior morale and fighting ability, penalizing rules must be devised to govern their performance.”

He went on in that discussion of rules to cite as good choices the rules prepared for various periods by the Wargames Research Group in the UK as well as the Chainmail rules devised by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren. Although Donald Featherstone authored numerous books related to wargaming, he rarely provided a complete ruleset but I have found a few that will allow us a deeper peek into his thinking about rules.

What Don Featherstone did do in many of his books, in addition to offering scenarios, army details, terrain ideas, etc., was to offer bits of rules for combat, movement, etc. usually as advice and suggestions rather than anything looking like a completed rule set for any period. These did not usually include a time-distance scale.
Unit organization is recommended to be 20 figures with 1 officer figure and one color bearer for Infantry.
Cavalry units would be an officer, guidon bearer, and 9 troopers as a ‘squadron’.
He recommended a playing surface of 5 feet by 4 feet up to a surface of 8 feet by 5 feet.

He did recommend that each game begin with the definition of an objective to be taken in order to win. Game structure was usually ‘you move, I move’ through a cycle of movement, fire, and then melee and he stated that a ‘wargames day’ was usually eight turns while a ‘night’ was four turns. Alternatively, he noted that you could also play simultaneous movement with each player beginning at the opposite flank as determined by a die roll for right or left. Another form of turn structure relied upon simultaneous movement but with each side first riding out orders to be acted upon during a move.

In his second book, Tackle Model Soldiers This Way, published in 1963, Featherstone did offer about a dozen pages setting out some simple wargame rules – in fact – three sets of rules:

  • Rules for Ancient War Games;
  • Rules for Horse-and-Musket Type War Game
  • Rules for Modern War Game.

I have added to our study of these three rule sets, a fourth set, which he offered for The Hundred Years War period in his book Poitiers 1356 in the Knight’s Battles for Wargamers series. None of these three rule sets offered any time-distance-range scale, nor did they present an historical table of enlistment/equipment for the units in the game. As noted above, for these games, Featherstone’s figures were generally mounted independently and then grouped together in units of ten or twenty.

Movement

Movement for all rules sets is measured in inches with no reference to a real world time or distance scale.

ANCIENTS

Unit Type Movement
(inches)
Road Bonus/Terrain Penalty Value in Melee
Ancient Heavy Infantry 6″ 3″ / half movement on hills, woods, marshes, etc. 2 points
Ancient Light Infantry (archers) 9″ 3″ / half movement on hills, woods, marshes, etc. 1 point
Heavy Cavalry (armored) 9″ 3″ / cannot enter woods 3 points
Light Cavalry (bowmen, etc.) 12″ 3″ / cannot enter woods 2 points
Elephants 12″ 3″ 10 points
Chariots 12″ 3″ 6 points

100 YEARS WAR

Unit Type Movement
(inches)
Road Bonus/Terrain Penalty Value in Melee
Archers/
Crossbowmen
15″ 3″ 1
Dismounted Men at Arms 12″ 3″ 1-1/2
2 with shields
Mounted Men at Arms & knights 9″ walk
12″ trot
18″ gallop
3″ / 1 turn at the gallop must be followed by 1 turn at the walk 3
Wagons 12″ 3″

HORSE & MUSKET

Unit Type Movement
(inches)
Road Bonus/Terrain Penalty Value in Melee
Horse & Musket Infantry 6″ 3″ / half move on hills, woods, marshes
Troops either move or fire
1 point
Horse & Musket Cavalry 12″ 3″ / half move on hills, woods, marshes 2 points
Horse & Musket artillery 6″ or 3″ & can still fire 3″ / half move on hills, woods, marshes 3 points

MODERN (WW2)

Unit Type Movement
(inches)
Road Bonus/Terrain Penalty Value in Melee
Modern infantry 12″ or
6″ & can still fire
3 inches penalty if crossing wall, ditches, hedges, or similar obstacles/half speed on hills, woods or marshes
Modern MG team 6″ OR fire Ditto
Modern AT Gun team 6″ OR fire Must spend 1 turn breaking down an obstacle before crossing it/half speed on hills, woods, or marshes
Heavy Tank 9″ Unaffected by terrain/half speed on hills, woods, or marshes
Light Tank 12″ ditto
Truck 12″ 6 inches cross country, hills, woods, marshes (can be knocked out by rifle, machine gun, or cannon fire)
Armored Car 15″ Half speed on hills, woods, or marshes (can be knocked out by AT or tank guns or artillery)
Scout Car 15″ ditto (can be knocked out by AT or tank guns or artillery)

 

Firing

Fire Combat for all rules sets is based upon ranges set forth in inches with no reference to real world ranges for fire combat. Hits resulting from fire combat reflect primarily the number of figures firing and a modified die roll using six-sided die.

ANCIENTS

Weapons Firing Short Range (Inches) Medium Range (Inches) Long Range (Inches)
Bow, Crossbow, or Sling (volleys of 5 figures) 3 9 15

(1 die/5 figures, -3 on the die roll, remaining number equals kills)

Javelin (volleys of 5 figures) 3 6 9
Pila or spear (volleys of 5 figures) 3
Ancient Rules for Firing
(if firing on elephant or chariot and you hit, a second roll of 6 kills the animals, a 5 stampedes the elephant backwards)
Roll 1 die per 5 figures, subtract 1 and the remaining number are kills Roll 1 die per 5 figures, subtract 2 and the remaining number are kills Roll 1 die per 5 figures, subtract 3 and remaining number are kills

100 YEARS WAR

Weapons Firing Short Range (Inches) Medium Range (Inches) Long Range (Inches)
Ranges for Firing 6 inches 12 inches 18 inches
Archers
fire twice if they don’t move
once if they move no more than half or 7-1/2″
Roll 1 die per 5 figures
hit on 3–6

Targeted player rolls 1 die per each hit and saves on a 4–6

Roll 1 die per 5 figures
hit on 4–6

Targeted player rolls 1 die per each hit and saves on a 5–6

Roll 1 die per 5 figures
hit on 5–6

Targeted player rolls 1 die per each hit and saves on a 6

Crossbowmen
either move or fire, not both
Roll 1 die per 5 figures
hit on 3–6

Targeted player rolls 1 die per each hit and saves on a 4–6

Roll 1 die per 5 figures
hit on 4–6

Targeted player rolls 1 die per each hit and saves on a 5–6

Roll 1 die per 5 figures
hit on 5–6

Targeted player rolls 1 die per each hit and saves on a 6

HORSE & MUSKET

(Rules for Firing are identical to Ancient with only the ranges being different)

Weapons Firing Short Range (Inches) Medium Range (Inches) Long Range (Inches)
Horse and Musket Infantry 6 12 18
Horse and Musket cannon 36

MODERN

Firing in the Modern Rules is sequential, not simultaneous, and Featherstone recommends setting out numbered markers to show the order of firing, a unit destroyed before it’s turn to fire will not fire

Weapons Firing Short Range (Inches) Medium Range (Inches) Long Range (Inches)
Modern Infantry 12
1 die per 3 figures, a roll of 5 or 6 destroys the targeted infantry of MG team
Modern LMG 15
Modern HMG 24
Roll 1 die per L/HMG, a roll of 5 or 6 destroys target infantry or MG, a roll of 6 is required if target is under cover
AT Gun 24
  • Anti-tank guns roll one die for a 5 or 6 to hit the target
  • a second die roll of 5 or 6 will knock out a tank fired upon at the side or rear
  • a roll of 6 destroys a tank hit in the front or when hull-down
Tank Guns 36
  • Tank guns firing roll a 5 or 6 to hit the target, a second die roll determines the damage as for AT guns.
  • A tank gun firing at an AT gun needs to roll a 4, 5, or 6 to destroy it after a hit on the first roll – 1 is deducted from the roll if the AT gun is under cover.
  • A Tank gun firing at infantry must first roll a 5 or 6 for range; then it places a 3-inch disc over the target, everything covered by the disc is destroyed
Mortars with an observer can fire over houses, hills, etc., the full range of the table – a die roll of 5 or 6 is on target, a 3-inch disc is placed over the target, everything underneath the disc is destroyed
Modern Off Board Guns fire across the table using observers

Of the studied rules sets, only the Horse and Musket era and Modern Era (WWII) rules incorporated cannon and artillery fire. Ranges in both rules sets are given in inches only with no real world reference or scale.

Horse and Musket Artillery Fire

Guns fire up to 36 inches. The firing player places a 3-inch diameter card on the target and any troops found inside that 3-inch circle are killed up to the number rolled on two six-sided dice. When firing at another cannon, the firing gun hits on a roll of 5 or 6, a second die roll of 5 or 6 knocks out the gun while a 4 kills one member of the gun crew. The die roll to hit is modified by -1 if the target is under cover.

Modern Artillery Fire

All cannons are off board in the modern game. Cannon fire is limited to targets on the table that can be seen by an Observer – the total number of observers matching the number of guns. When a target is nominated, a single die is rolled for ranging and a roll of 5 or 6 means the gun has hit the target. Lighter guns (25 pdr and 88mm) then lay down a 3-inch card disc on the target, everything under the disc is killed or destroyed. Heavier guns (155mm) lay down a 4-inch disc with the same effect. If an observer is killed or a new target is identified, then a new die roll is needed to acquire the range again.

Counterbattery fire against the enemy’s off-board guns is permitted and once declared a ranging die roll is thrown. A 5 or 6 means the firing gun is on-target. A a second die for effect knocks out the targeted gun on a roll of 5 or 6.

 

Melee Combat

Melee combat comes after movement and fire combat. Featherstone’s rules for melee are very similar to those found in H.G. Wells’ Little Wars.

ANCIENTS

For Ancients, melee combat involves advancing first to within one inch of your opponent’s figures and declaring a melee combat. Each player rolls one die for each 5 figures engaged, the side initiating the melee adding a +1 to each die rolled to represent the shock value of their attack unless attacking over a wall or uphill. Chariots roll one die each with a +2 bonus on the roll while elephants (worth 10 points) will roll two dice each getting a +2 bonus. A chariot is destroyed in melee after first being ‘hit’ by the opponent’s die roll and then a second die roll 6 destroys the chariot (or kills the elephant). As with Little Wars, the total value of the dice rolled is halved to provide the number of enemy killed. Extra kills from odd totals are lost as the players drop the total to the next even number and divide it by half.

After both sides have rolled and taken their losses, they compare the total number of survivors. Each player then rolls a single die and multiplies that roll by the number of surviving figures. Whichever side has the highest result is the winner and the loser must withdraw his forces six inches backwards.

HUNDRED YEARS WAR

Melee in the Hundred Years War rules first award Impetus to mounted attackers as 1 defender on foot or a stationary mounted defender is immediately removed to reflect the ‘shock’ of impact (unless saved on a roll of 5 or 6). A charged infantry unit needs to roll a 4–6 to stand and not run (adding plus 1 to the roll if the charge is uphill – with spearmen and axemen always standing).
IF the infantry stand, the charging cavalry roll and on a 1 or a 2 they refuse to charge (and if the charge is uphill, they refuse on a 1–3).
Each side in the melee will roll 1 die for each 5 points worth of figures in the melee with combatant figures grouped roughly into 20-point units, plus the Commander of the King for whom the player adds 1 or 2 dice respectively. Having determined how many dice each player will roll, they then roll off the melee as outlined in the Ancient rules above.
Each player will then be allowed to roll 1 die for each casualty in melee for savings on 4–6 for mounted figures; 5 or 6 for infantry; and a 6 for archers or crossbowmen.
Morale is checked when a leader of a group is killed; a group loses 1/5 of its number in one move; or a group is below ½ original strength at the end of the melee and it lost the most men in that melee. The English add 1 to all morale rolls except when a group is outnumbered by more than 2 to 1.

HORSE & MUSKET

Horse and Musket Infantry are worth 1 point each, cavalry 2 points. Melee is initiated in the same way as in the Ancient rules at the 1-inch contact point. Each player totals the point value of their engaged infantry/cavalry with the attackers getting a +1 shock bonus on each die rolled. The shock bonus is lost if the defenders are behind a wall or uphill from the attackers. The post combat morale check is the same as in the ancient rules noted above.

MODERN

In the Modern Warfare rules, once die is rolled for each three figures/MG team/AT gun team. A 5 or 6 knocks out the opponent if they are under cover a 6 is required. Tanks can overrun and destroy infantry during their movement phase, infantry thus run over are removed from the table. However, there is no checking of morale otherwise set forth in these rules.

 

Observations

Featherstone’s rules discussed here are strongly in the tradition of H.G. Wells and Little Wars. None of these sets of rules sets out a distance or time scale that relates the game board to the real world, combat ranges are not linked in any stated way with actual weapon’s ranges, and the turns are not linked to any interval of real time (although they generally suggest about 8 turns of play being day followed by 4 turns of play being night). None of these rules indicates whether any figure or playing piece represents 1 real soldier, cannon, vehicle, tank, etc., and no reference is made to the real-world tables of equipment or enlistment for squads, platoons, companies, battalions, etc.

Personally, I will in future distinguish such rules sets that omit time/distance/unit scales under the category of “war games” while games/rule sets that incorporate scales for time and distance and which offer a scale relationship between the figures and models appearing in the game and their real world squads, platoons, companies, etc. (whether 1:1 or even 1:50 etc.) take a significant step towards the world of kriegspiel, i.e., ‘wargames’ that simulate conflict.

“—never permit the search for realism to interfere with enjoyment” – from “Poitiers 1356 – Knight’s Battles for Wargamers”

[N.B. However, in his book ‘Wargaming Airborne Operations,” Featherstone does discuss how to scale his outlined scenarios for the wargame table in a realistic fashion in addition to other pointers on how to wargame them using time charts, etc. though he stops short of setting forth a complete set of rules for the proposed wargames.]

 


HISTORY OF WARGAMING
THE ORIGINAL KRIEGSSPIEL  ~ AMERICAN KRIEGSSPIEL ~ STRATEGOS ~ LITTLE WARS
PAWNS OF WAR ~ JACK SCRUBY WARGAMES ~ DONALD FEATHERSTONE
DISCUSSION FORUM THREAD


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