Saturday, 20 May 2017

Free ACW hex based rules

Two Flags - One Nation. These are my own hex based ACW rules. They have existed as a set of home-brew rules for 10 years and more and have morphed through a variety of versions.


This year I have re-visited the rules and taken them back to their original hex based roots, adding some changes that I have enjoyed in my more recent rule dabblings, in particular Eagles at Quatre Bras.

This post replicates the design notes from the rules, while the rules themselves (including two scenarios) are now available as a free download (copyright reserved) in the resource section of this post.

Please use the 'read more' tab for the rest of this post.

Design Notes.

Two Flags - One Nation. This 2017 Edition updates my home brew ACW hex based rules, which are now well over 10 years old. Much remains familiar, but they have picked up some new mechanics from my more recent rule designs, in particular my napoleonic rules (Eagles at Quatre Bras), as I attempt to merge several aspects of the two sets together. The lineage of Two Flags - One Nation and Eagles at Quatre Bras are quite different though and so a full merging is proving difficult.

The first scenario ever designed for the original system was McPherson Ridge, which has always given a good game and so it again makes an appearance, as it has proven to be a good bench mark in measuring the effects of new ideas and rule tweaks. A second scenario, the fictional 'Action at Mill Creek', has also been included, as a sort of starter scenario that also offers a useful generic Random Events Table.

Core design principles have been to favour fun over simulation and that complexity should sit at the lower end of the spectrum, using easily implemented abstraction based mechanics. The game aims to be solo friendly, be playable in a single session and to deliver play into a compact space to reflect the gaming and storage limitations that a lot of gamers have at home.

Capability - The use of 'unit capability' forms the pillars of the system. Units are initially rated on their training and experience (raw, seasoned, elite) and this gives a basic capability rating for the unit. This rating is used for what are essentially morale type tests and also for doing certain activities such as changing formation or preparing to charge or receive a charge and so it is a mechanism for managing unit performance more than simply determining morale alone.  During play, units will get Heavy Casualty markers, either directly though combat or other rigours of war.

As casualty levels increase on a unit, this will directly feed in to their ability to pass Capability Tests and so a units performance steadily decreases due to the attrition of action and the importance of having fresh troops in reserve becomes emphasised.

The disadvantage of using such a device is that this testing makes for additional die rolling and some may not like that aspect, however, as players get into the mid game and casualties accrue, the nuances of capability and the immediate situation (bringing modifiers), the fatigue of combat and the staying power of units, come together to bring some nice narrative into the game, which can turn on a series of intense moments that feel important to both sides. I have looked at ways of taking some of the dice rolls out, but where I did this, a more generic and anticipated outcome resulted.

Movement - Limited movement allowances are useful when using a smaller playing space. It helps define a centre and wings without units dashing across to influence other parts of the battlefield that from a command perspective would not be within their immediate sphere of influence. 

Cavalry are not given the speed boost turn after turn that many games seem to favour. I tend to view cavalry as being an arm that has short bursts of high energy movement, such as the charge or seeking to occupy an objective, but that this is separate from the 'normal' levels of movement that all 'legged' units are subject to in reality.

Units in march column and limbered artillery will get around the battlefield faster, but they are very vulnerable to attack and in most cases within our small battlefield, they will likely shake out into a combat formation at an early opportunity. Reinforcements will probably arrive in this formation.

Restrictions have also been placed upon how frequently units can charge (see Passage of time below) as those things that have hearts and lungs need to take more breathers between moments of intense activity than wargamers might ordinarily allow.

Passage of time - Although the system uses a turn based structure, a Game Clock is also running and several game functions run off this clock. The starting time of the battle will be stated, say at  1100 hours and probably an end time will be given, say 1245 hours. At the end of each turn, the clock is randomly advanced by 2 x D6 plus 8 minutes. So the game is played and moved along by time and the turn sequence sits within that mechanic.

This 'time' running in the background will manage such things like when reinforcements arrive or special rule events (such as at 1130 hours the fog lifts etc), but importantly the clock is also used for some in-game functions such as disorder. So for example, following a charge, one side may get a result like 'The unit stays in place, it suffers 1 Heavy Casualty marker and is disordered for 15 minutes'.  Units are also restricted by time as to how often they can charge, as after conducting a charge, they need a short period of rest before charging again. Infantry cannot charge again for 20 minutes and cavalry need 30 minutes between charges. They can do other things, they just can't be charging around the battlefield all the time. The randomness of the advancing clock brings in some nice uncertainties in all of these things.

So say in this game we are running through the Sequence of Play for the third time (which of course is hard not to think of as turn 3). The Game Clock by now might be 1142 hours. If a unit got a 'disorder for 15 minutes' result, then it would remain disordered until the Game Clock had moved beyond 1157 hours, which could happen on what effectively would be turn 4 or turn 5, depending on how the clock randomly advanced, removing certainty from the players.

Casualties and the rigours of war - The accumulation of hits makes Capability Checks harder to pass. During the Retreat Phase, those units that have accrued 5 or more Heavy Casualties must test to see whether they are forced to fall back a hex. Units that accrue 8  Heavy Casualties have become totally non-effective and are removed from play. By mid game, it certainly feels good to have a few fresh units to be able to call on. Units cannot get rid of their casualties, so attrition becomes increasingly significant through the game.

Command limitations - The command radius is there to encourage the player to keep the elements of a brigade together and allow them to support another regiment of the same brigade. A brigade's artillery is not bound by the radius, allowing them to give fire support further away from the brigade and to be effective in fixed positions for longer. 

The loss of a Brigade Commander has a temporary effect on the capability of the formation by disordering them, hopefully balancing the effect of loss without being too punitive. Command structures offer an efficient transition of command to the next ranking officer relatively quickly.

Divisional Commander - The player for the most part, has the role of Divisional Commander, so representing oneself on the table is best done in an abstract way. Basically in a players own Command and Control Phase, they simply pick up the Divisional Leader base and attach it to a unit of their choice. There is a short list of activities that the leader can assist that unit in during the turn, for example allowing a regiment to support a charging regiment from another brigade or to turn a retreat into a controlled retreat so that the retreating unit does not suffer further casualties in the retreat. Once the leader helps with an activity it is removed from the board until the next turn. Think of it as the commander giving particular focus to a single part of the battlefield that turn.

Half hearted! - In places, the Capability Test is tempered a little so that it does not produce the more extreme results of simple fail or pass. So for example when attempting to charge, a failed test will not stop the charge, but the charge becomes a half hearted attack, reducing the number of attack dice. If a unit fails when testing to change formation (during the movement phase), it will still change formation, but will then not be able to move in the same phase. This sort of thing can effect a unit that shakes out of march column into line, but then can't move up until the next turn, or perhaps artillery that wants to limber / unlimber and move in the same turn. 

Fire and Charging - Fire will generally inflict casualties and may cause a unit to fall back. It requires charging to get other effects such as disorder, rout and additional casualties. Both can lead to the removal of enemy units by advancing Heavy Casualty scores to their maximum of 8, but extra weight is given to units that 'get into' the enemy by charging and taking ground. Casualties can be heavy on the charging unit, the unit may have to suffer fire on the way in from defensive fire and then when they attack, any result of '1' on the attack dice will actually harm the attackers, but it strikes me that successfully taking ground does sadly come at a price. The scenario should adequately reward the taking of ground and putting tight time limits on scenario length will bring aggressive manoeuvring into sharper focus.

Terrain Chart - There isn't one! The effects of terrain on combat and movement is summarised under the Terms and References section (page 17). Essentially difficult terrain will hinder movement and the movement mechanic takes care of that and the degree of cover is considered differently when fired upon and when charged. So protection against fire comes from more substantial cover, while a wider range of cover can hinder a charge. The fire process (hits) has the cover factor built into it, so that units in cover simply need to suffer two hits to receive a single Heavy casualty marker from fire, whilst out of cover, every hit translates into a Heavy Casualty.

Optional Rules - There are just a few extra rules that may add interest. We have brigades testing cohesion each time they lose a regiment, tiny and large units having some adjustments and Leader Attributes bring a chance that a leader may be thought of in such terms as Inspirational, Exhausted, or even lucky etc - though in my last game, my lucky leader got shot in the opening moves!


Complexity - It is the intention that the game should avoid complexity and keeping the rules down to 15 pages reflects that, though some of the new ways of doing things might mean that the gamers head is frequently in the rulebook until things become a little more second nature. The rules have been set out so that they follow the sequence of play. When something is not covered, just try to do what you feel is most realistic, particularly from the view that troops are not supermen and that battlefield manoeuvres are often fraught when under the stress of action, often it will probably be better to not let a unit do something than say it can because it is not covered in the rules. 

Thank you. Norm Smith


Downloadable free rules for Two Flags - One Nation. This is a DropBox link (thank you DropBox) and if you do not wish to have a DropBox account you can close down the opening invitation that you are bound to get and then just click on the direct download option. The rules are for personal use only and copyright is reserved. LINK

The McPherson Ridge Scenario included in the rules has previously been used here with the One Hour Wargame rules by Neil Thomas. The reader may find that account interesting. LINK

COMMANDERS, my sister website is less article based and will cover the progress of these rules. The site also has a little more about hexes. LINK


  1. Your design notes are an enjoyable and interesting read. I particularly liked the thinking for cavalry movement and half-hearted charges. Thanks for making your rules available.

  2. Thanks Peter, I like both those rules. We seem to have grown up with rules that allow say infantry to move 6" every turn and cavalry 9" every turn. I have never really liked that process.

  3. Very generous of you, Norm.

  4. Thank you very much Norman!

  5. Thanks gents, I hope there is something in them that catches your eye as interesting.

  6. Very comprehensive set of rules, Norm! A number of interesting mechanisms, therein. As with many, I typically head straight to Designer's Notes if present. Gives the reader a peek into the thoughts of the designer/developer.

    I like the inclusion of Brigade Cohesion Check; elegant and necessary, I think. For combat, does only the attacker roll dice? If so, why does the attacker have 2/6 chance of scoring a hit while defender only 1/6? I have not printed your rules out on hardcopy, so I likely have missed something important!

    First rate looking production.

  7. No, you have that right. If when charging, the target is in cover, 2 hits are needed to score 1heavy casualty and then when not in cover, you are right, the attacker has an advantage (if the dice behave statistically :-) ), but on the way in, the attacker more than likely will be subject to a dose of close range fire, so the total combat has to be seen in the round.

    In one of my games, the Confederates saw a chance to strike at a Union formation in March Column, that should really spell disaster for the column, but the Confederates failed their charge capability check, so only launched a 'half hearted charge' and then their dice roll brought up three 1's - Yikes, utter failure for the attackers and taking heavy ... who would have seen that coming?, but then what are the chances of three 1's, it just adds a bit of narrative and it tells the gamer 'never take anything for granted'.

    1. The dice often provide an interesting and unexpected narrative. Adds a lot of drama, I think.

      Regarding dice rolling and probability, when I game with my erstwhile opponent, you can throw probability theory and Central Limit Theorem out of the window! Of late, we seem to be playing in the tails of the distribution.

  8. Great looking set of rules - many thanks for making them available.

    After a read-through, I only have one question so far. If the Brigade Commander is killed, do his units take a Heavy Casualty marker or not? I thought there I saw a discrepancy between the rules and the designer's notes, but I may be wrong (I usually am).

  9. Stephen, firstly I am really pleased that you found this post, I know you have been patiently waiting to look at these long promised rules and that was one of my motivations to get things moving (though the Napoleonic rules still need attention at some point :-) ).

    Yes thanks, good spot on the Brigade Commander. It is mentioned 3 time in the rules, page 4, page 14 and in the designer notes. Literally just before I posted I did a couple of final tweaks and one of them was to take out the heavy casualties caused by brigade leader loss. I changed page 4 and the design notes but totally missed the page 14 reference, so thanks, that is now rectified.

    I am still not 100% certain that I have done the right thing in this regard and at some point may move back to the original position, though I think the 1 heavy casualty to each regiment may have been a bit heavy handed and the addition of the brigade cohesion rules also moves me away from wanting to impose that kind of penalty, though perhaps if the leader was inspirational etc, there may be a case to go further than simple disruption .... the jury is out!

    I am also going to keep an eye on whether the disorder element is executed / administered as well as it could be. Changing that would be a more fundamental change to the system and at the moment I am content that the rules are fairly tight and time is better spent on consolidation rather than change.

    I hope that some of the ideas in there appeal to gamers, even just as a discussion point, if the rules are never used.

    1. Stephen - by the way, are you a hex player or do you convert to inches/ centimetres? I know you had a go at the Quatre Bras scenario and just wondered.

    2. I am usually a hex player, although for skirmish games with larger figures (my Lammings medievals with Lion Rampant) I prefer a cloth with scenic pieces and a tape measure.