Wednesday 1 January 2014

Zen and Two Hour Wargames

There’s a well-known Zen saying “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Not comparing Two Hour Wargames to Zen but the saying holds true in THW. Having demoed hundreds of games throughout the US and answering questions on the THW Yahoo groups and Forum I know that newcomers to wargaming tend to catch on to the Reaction System much quicker than experienced gamers.

What I noticed is that the veteran gamer brings a lot of preconceived notions to the game. From their vast experience they know how movement will work, how to take reaction tests etc. Then when things don’t work out quite like they expect they are at a loss. Now newcomers bringing little to no experience, take things as they come and catch on quickly. A great example is how the Received Fire Test works.

In the traditional IGO UGO game I have a turn to move and fire, and then you have a turn to move and fire. Some games introduce an “over watch” mechanic that may allow the non-moving player to stop the opposing player’s movement to fire at him, some do not. So I move and shoot, and maybe we melee and the turn is over. Now it’s your turn.

In the Reaction System I activate and move into sight. We take an In Sight Reaction Test and maybe you shoot first or maybe I shoot first or in many cases we both end up shooting. That’s where the newcomer has the advantage. That’s because we take a Received Fire Test and maybe we continue to fire at each other. Firing doesn’t stop with one round of fire and that’s where the veteran gamer can have the hardest time catching on to the non-traditional mechanic. In THW two figures fire at each other until one gets hit, ducks for cover or runs out of ammo. There’s no traditional break but instead a realistic resolution.  

The Reaction System can be frustrating if you are used to total control of your figures. Grunts, the figures that are not you, behave according to their reactions based on the situations you place them in. For example, if you send your squad across open ground and into machine gun fire, those that don’t get hit, may just go to ground or seek cover. Grunts will balance their actions between wanting to carry out your orders and staying alive, just like real people. Anyone that has children or employees can attest to the fact that getting them to do exactly what you want, when you want, is pretty difficult; so to with using Grunts in THW.

But Grunts don’t behave in a willy-nilly fashion contrary to what some experts may say. Place them in cover, have the higher Rep Grunts (better trained) with the better weapons, use tactics and they will usually perform as desired. It’s when you place them in difficult situations that they don’t behave as you would like.

Because of these observations most of the THW rules now have Stop Boxes. After each section of the rules we have placed boxes that provide examples, short exercises, and reviews of the material that you have just covered. We breaking down the rules into bite size pieces. If you do the simple exercises and answer the questions you will quickly learn the rules and will spend less time referring back to them during your games. Besides 90% of the rules are in the QRS sheets in the back of each set and you only use 2 or 3 tables 95% of the time. In fact, during demo games at conventions, many players have memorized the tables after 3 or 4 turns and almost never ask questions or refer to the rules.

But you should use the Stop Boxes, even if you are an experienced gamer.

Okay, so let’s say you try the free rules (Chain Reaction – Final Version and/or Swordplay – Final Version) and use the Stop Boxes you’re going to love them, right?
Well, not exactly. Just as some people like vanilla ice cream and some like chocolate, the Reaction System may not be for you. Just find a set of rules that you like, and there are hundreds of them out there, and move on because at the end of the day it’s about playing games, nothing else. 

Just play the game, any game!


  1. Thanks, Ed. Some excellent reminders for starting a new year of gaming. BTW, I love THW rules. Just sayin'. Happy New Year!

  2. Happy New Year to you as well! I've been sitting on this post for awhile as I don't like doing stuff that can taken as self-promoting. But I've seen it happen too many times where someone has a problem with the rules then once they get it cleared up in their head they enjoy them.

  3. Well said. Happy New Year Ed!