Tuesday, March 7

"Firing into the Brown" #28 - "Skirmish at Long Bute Farm" game, Wargamers Newsletter, and stuff..

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update..   really enjoyed this one..

Back when I was a (considerably) younger Steve The Wargamer I played a lot, and I mean quite a lot, of western gunfight games using the simply stunning set of skirmish rules published by the Bristol Wargame Group of Steve Curtis, Mike Blake and Ian Colwill. 

I think I first came across them in the pages of the Wargamers Newsletter, as for a while Don had a series of articles called the 'Skirmish Line' which these guys wrote - the first one featured in about June '73 [clicky], and for a while round that time I was also going to my local wargame club where these also featured heavily. 

Being short of dosh at that impecunious age, I slavishly copied out the entire set of rules (they would have been the v2 ones) by hand!

All of these games I documented in a spare school exercise book entitled "The Annals of Cedar Gulch", as such was the name of my imaginary and troubled town in the dead-lands of some unnamed territory, pray to any passing herd of cows, steers, buffalo's, Indians (sorry, "First Americans"), cowboys, posses or bad men..  glorious stuff... I even had a background tape of spaghetti western film theme's on cassette for added atmosphere.. 😁

So it was that when when someone on Facebook offered up a job lot of old rules a couple of years ago, and they included among them the v1 and v2 rules, I bit their arm off, but they then sat on my shelf ever since, quietly murmuring in my ear every time I passed them that 'it really was time for them to hit the table again'...  until now!  So I present to you (and in as close to that eye catching original font as those guys used to use as I could find on Blogger.. 😏)........

Skirmish at Long Bute Farm

In the long hot summer of '62 the war is but a year old, and the now (long forgotten) town of Cedar Gulch, which was located in one of the contested counties on the edge of the State, has found itself almost on the front line of the war between the States.

Long Bute Farm lies just outside town, but even closer to the contested border area....

The farm is abandoned (a fallout from the war, as the Father and older sons have gone to fight for the Union, leaving the mother and smaller children to go and live with her sister, who lives in a far safer location), but with crops uncollected, and some livestock still present, it's a sure target for any passing Union or Confederate foraging patrol. 

So it was that one warm and sunny day, two groups of men in different uniforms happened upon each other, and as the carbine shots rang out, the skirmish at Long Bute Farm unfolded, and the following is an account of the action..

The Union patrol of three men, comprised Corp, Seth and Zack - Corp being the NCO leading the group. On the Confederate side a similar sized group were lead by Zeke (also an NCO), with Robbie and Buck in support. 

All the men are troopers from two cavalry regiments who have been out on patrol reconnoitering for signs of the enemy, but are currently bivouacked nearby - given the unofficial nature of their activities (they are out foraging for the pot) they are dismounted, but are armed with their traditional weapon, the single shot Sharps Carbine, in addition they each have the almost universal fighting knife.

NCO's classed as professional, troopers are average, P is for pistol skill which they don't need, R is their basic rifle skill, N is for "nerves" and in essence is their starting morale - equal forces as I wanted to be able to test the rules

The two patrols arrive at diametrically opposite corners of the table, and quickly deploy into cover loading their carbines as they move.

Move 1:

Corp orders Seth and Zack to rush the farm house, as the farm house covers their quick advance from the Confederate patrol he has spotted across the way. No shots are fired by them, as for the same reason they have cover, they also have no targets. 

Corp opts to remain in cover behind the scrub as he has a fairly clear line of site to Robbie, who is also in cover, but at the end of the Confederate skirmish line. Zeke and Buck use the same tactics as Seth and Zack, and also rush forward using the farm for cover, but branch left and right as Buck is looking to get a flanking advantage. They leave Robbie behind to cover them. 

Taking aim at each other it is Robbie who's quicker however, and spinning round and dropping to the floor, Corp falls, grasping hold of his injured right arm.

Bit of rule mechanicals to show how the narrative was arrived at....  game moves in the Western Gunfight Wargame Rules are divided into 3 phases, all moves are simultaneous, and although you plot your movement first, you don't complete it until after firing - so for this move, other than Corp and Robbie, everyone will complete their movement and end up where they want to be as no one is fired upon. In the firing part of the move, Corp opts to do aimed fire which gives bonuses in firing factors, but can only hit in phase 3, whereas Robbie snap shoots banking on being able to hit quicker than that - and so it was.... Robbie hits in phase 2.. Corp's arm is useless for the rest of the game, he and his now useless rifle (you can't use one with only one arm) drop to the floor before he gets his shot off..

Move 2: 

With Corp down, Seth and Zack decide to move round the corner of the farm house to take on Zeke together, the farm house itself covers half their advance, and both of them fire as Zeke comes in sight; Zeke naturally returns fire, but can only fire at one of them, so chooses Zack as his target. In the fusillade of shots that follow, it is Zack that doubles over grabbing his arm before dropping to the floor.. Seth's shot meanwhile has gone wide, and he stares wildly at the enemy corporal deciding what he needs to do next..

Bit more rule mechanicals to show how this narrative was arrived at....  in the firing all three opted to snap shoot as clearly time was of the essence, but with two against one I was kind of expecting a different outcome to the one that transpired..  in summary though, all three shots went off, but Zeke's hit in phase 2, Zack's in phase 3, and Seth's shot discombobulated only a passing crow... the fact that Zack and Seth were moving, while Zeke was stationary was the defining difference..

Buck runs to the corner of the farm in the hope of taking Seth and Zack in the flank, but by the time he arrives they have moved round the corner and are out of sight.

While Corp gets back to his feet cursing the wound in his arm and 'the luck of the devil some Reb's have', he reaches for his fighting knife - he'll not be able to use the carbine again today, and indeed for some time. Across the other side of the farm, Robbie moves forward to the cover recently vacated by Buck.

Move 3: 

You may notice the clear map pins - I use them to show the position of the character as they move - in this case Corp - he is in phase 1 position, middle in is phase 2, last pin is phase 3

Corp is now on his feet, and surveying the farm see's Zack on his back, holding his arm and clearly in pain... right or wrong he decides to go to his aid. Running forward, Corp aims for the corner of the house where the downed body of Zack can clearly be seen - he's looking to save what little he can from what appears to be a complete and total FUBAR - "damn these, Rebs"

As Corp breaks cover, moving fast, Buck fires from the corner of the farm, and hits him again in the arm Corp collapses to the ground and into the shrub with a second wound. Robbie has paused to reload, or he would have fired as well. Corp drops to the ground.  

At the farm house while Zack climbs groggily to his feet, shaking his head and clutching his arm, Zeke drops his now empty carbine and takes a swing at Seth who returns the blow - neither man lands a telling hit, and they crouch ready to fight on.

Bit more rule mechanicals...  in the firing, only Buck needed to worry as no one else was able to, either due to needing to reload, no line of sight or wounded... even though he was running, because of the range, his shot was good for a phase 1 hit. The hand to hand engagement resulted in a blow from each man that cancelled out..

Move 4: 

The Confederate patrol is doing alright, but all is not yet over..

At the farm, Buck moves round the back reloading his carbine at the same time - he can hear Zeke calling for help. 

Zack, now back on his feet, pulls his knife (taking 2 phases) and moves to attack Zeke (move for 1 phase) in concert with Seth.

Robbie, now reloaded, has seen Corp drop, and breaking cover runs towards his last sighting of him with the intent of either taking him prisoner, or finishing him off if he declines the offer!

Behind the shack, Seth and Zeke continue to square off and on this occasion Zeke's hit is of sufficient force to knock out Seth.

Move 5: 

The Union patrol have had it - seeing Seth knocked out, Zack, rather than attack, runs to the nearest friendly cover. Corp kneels down and moves further into the scrub - enough's enough!

Zeke takes the opportunity to draw breath and reload his carbine. Meanwhile, just as  he comes round the corner of the farm building, Buck see's Zack make a break for the cover and fires off a quick shot dropping him before he gets to cover.

Robbie, approaching the last place he'd seen Corp, slows to a walk and shouts out for him to come out with his hands up. Corp tells him to 'go to hell', but slowly get's to his feet with his hands in the air - he's a realist and knows when it's over  

Bit more rule mechanicals...  as part of the game move all participants take a nerve test at the end of each move, and in this case both Zack and Corp failed, primarily as a result of the number of wounds each had taken (2 each), and the fact that Seth was knocked out and therefore not available as support...  the nerve test result at the end of each move is carried forward, and is a clever way to track the ups and downs of the game in a cumulative way..

Move 6:

Game over - Buck moves to cover Zack and tie him up, Zeke does the same to Seth before emptying a bucket of water in his face to bring him round. Robbie escorts Corp back to the farm..

Pausing only to liberate a couple of hens and a sack of corn, the trio head back to the regiment, prisoners in tow ready to be handed over for further questioning.

Post match analysis:
  • stupid really, but I can't tell you how much I enjoyed that little push around with half a dozen (yeah, unpainted..  mea culpa, mea maxima culpa 😏) figures on a two foot table - but what a narrative it delivered, and what a mental picture it painted of six slightly scruffy, campaign hardened soldiers meeting somewhere between the front lines in search of nothing more than a good chicken dinner...
  • for this little run out I used the version 1 rules, they're slightly simpler and only contain the rules and methods for pistols and Winchester repeater rifles - I mocked up the rules for the carbines which was easy enough to do. For the next game I will be using the expanded version 2 rules, if only because it will once again allow me to arm one of my little dudes with a LeMat revolver again. 😁
    Le Mat pistol..  9 shot cylinder firing normal bullets, but the thing underneath is a shotgun barrel firing buckshot! I can see Zeke carrying one of these, as the Confederacy took delivery of 1500 of them during the war..  more here.. LeMat Revolver [clicky]
  • As I mentioned - I'd forgotten how effective the nerve rules were - they really track the ebb and flow of the action/skirmish on the individual character, and in some case (like Corp and Zack) drives the next action the character has to take ('surrender' and 'run' in our case)
  • I very much recommend this as a read - he argues (quite effectively I thought) that the Western Skirmish Wargame Rules could quite possibly have been the first ever RPG.. Playing at the World: Western Gunfight (1970): the First RPG? [clicky]


The above also reminds me that I have been entirely remiss in not better advertising the availability of the following, which is quite possibly the best source of online content from the Wargamers Newsletter anywhere...  I was a party to scanning a number of the magazines and adding them to the archive, but John (Haines) has done an amazing job of putting these together and I am ABOLUTELY sure he would be beholden to anyone who has a copy of the few issues he's missing..

...there is an index for the contents of the Newsletter on the Vintage Wargming page..  link 'ere.. 

...utter wargaming gold...


 Laters, as the young people are want to say...


  1. Very good nostalgia :-) the Le Mat is very interesting and I followed that clicky to find out how it fired - I would have thought this system would be more widely used - everyone will want one in the next scenario :-)

    1. LOL, I think (from memory, not re-read them yet) they introduced a D&D like cost system in v2 so your character only had a certain amount of money to equip themselves, and I think the LeMat was quite expensive, whereas a bowie knife was almost free... having said that I know what I'd rather have! Cheers Norm...

  2. Nothing like a bit of nostalgia.

  3. I played the socks off these rules in the early 70's and converted cowboys and ACW figures into Australian Bushrangrs and Policemen using Britains plastic figures , great fun !

    1. Svjek, another fan! The fun we had.. down to the local Beatties or other toy shop on a Saturday morning and checking out the Timpo cowboys and farm workers for suitable conversion and paint job opportunities.. my favourite was a Timpo farmer carrying a shot gun - he became "Doc" named after you know who.. good times..

  4. Good to see how much fun can be had with only a handful of figures! And the Wargamers Newsletter is still a fun read and has things to teach us...



    1. Bit of satellite delay, but thanks for the comment David, and yes, you're absolutely right...

  5. Jon Peterson (AD&D historian who has published quite some books on the history of roleplaying games) has described the gunfight rules of the Bristol group as "one of the very first roleplaying games that came out of wargaming". See this talk: https://www.youtube.com/live/nj8zUMajkjk?feature=share starting around 19:40.

    1. Thanks Phil - that was an interesting watch.. and apologies for the delay in responding, for some reason your comment got lodged in my junk folder..

  6. There has been a reprint of these rules available on Amazon for the last six years.

    Search: The Old West Skirmish Wargames

  7. Hello old chap,

    Oh the siren lure of a LeMat revolver - many happy hours spent waiting for the moment to unleash the shotgun!

    Great read!

    All the best,


    1. Cheers DC... feel the need to get and paint some little metal men for this now.. still need to try v2 in anger..