Small Grid Board War Games

There has been much discussion about Joe Morschauser’s grid system of late, so I’m posting this article…

Small Grid Board War Games
Reprinted form Table Top Talk September 1964

By Joe Morschauser

Sorry for the poor picture quality, third generation scan 🙁

There are four major problem s which plague many potential war garners who wish to pursue the hobby. These are: lack of space, lack of time, lack of money and lack of opponent. The potential war gamer may live in an apartment or small house which just does not have the room for storage of even a 4 by 6 foot fold-away table. The struggle to earn a living, spend time with the family, study homework, etc., may eat up so much time there isn’t enough left to paint and prepare what he might consider adequate armies. His income may be modest to the degree that even if time and space were available, he would feel guilty about spending on miniatures and materials. And finally, he may, even if there is space, time and cash, be unable to entice friends into joining him because they feel “playing with toy soldiers” is a child’s game. This article offers a solution to all these major problems. The solution is not absolute nor is it offered with a five-year, money-back guarantee. But it can help.

The small table top war game has the potential to help the war gamer solve one or all of these four problems. It is played on a table top or board measuring no more than 48 by 48 inches and this board by reason of being in four sections (2 feet square) can be stored in a limited space A minimum number of military miniatures are used on this small board and the board itself is marked with grid lines which eliminates much of the wasted time of moving, measuring and arguing found in war gaming on a larger scale (see photo). When for example a soldier faces one side of a grid square, the opposite side can only be the rear of that soldier. When the rules indicate a cavalryman moves six squares, he moves six squares with no time out for measurement or argument.

The cost of setting up a small table top board and army is at a very minimum. Two armies consisting of no more than 36 to 40 figures are needed. Two armies complete with artillery, infantry and cavalry can be purchased in 20mm scale for about fifteen dollars. The materials for the board cost about five dollars. Naturally twenty dollars is nothing to sneeze at but have you tried to purchase a top quality model RR or race car set for less? And with war gaming you don’t have to spend this all at once when preparing a set up, nor for that matter do you actually have to spend that much if you are clever enough to improvise with materials at hand.

Finally the small board set up is much more attractive bait for luring friends into being opponents in your battles. Many might balk when confronted with a larger battlefield strewn with real little trees, houses, etc., because to them it looks like “something for kids”. But these same individuals viewing a gridded 4ft by 4ft board set up on your coffee table and dotted with symbolic houses, trees and stepped and gridded hills will react differently. With this set up and your soldiers mounted one-to-a-tray the whole thing will appear more like a giant chess board for adults; a military checkers. Because it looks “adult” the war gamer will find that many of his friends will accept it as not beneath their dignity, and dignity I might add here is a very precious thing to many.

How do you set up a small grid type war game? There are many ways but for the sake of space (and the grey hairs I would give Jack Scruby by running on for fifty pages of TTT) I’ll limit myself to the broad outlines of one and let you follow your own inclinations about details of rules, etc.

THE BOARD: Your battlefield should measure no more than 4 by 4 ft. This is the absolute maximum (and darn near the minimum) for easy-to manage exciting small war gaming. Long experience has taught me that the square is far better than the oblong for a battlefield of this nature. It gives maximum space in minimum space.

You make your battlefield out of insulation board cut exactly into 2 by 2 foot square sections. This board is very light weight, very cheap and is about 3/4 inch thick and comes painted a cream color on one side, the other being an unfinished rough surface. Edge each of these four sections with 3 inch masking tape to prevent chipping. Then paint the cream color surface (only) with a light-green, matte-finish, plastic-base interior house paint. Let it dry overnight then draw in your grid lines with a green felt -tip ink marker. Measure off one inch distances along each side of your boards then use a heavy ruler or piece of wood to line the grids. This will produce one inch squares. The resulting boards will, with the matte green paint and the green line s, give you a softly-.reflecting, easy on-the-eyes surface – an important fact when working with small-space battle fields.

FLAT TERRAIN: Flat terrain consists of roads, rivers and swamps. Roads are made of 3/4 inch tape (pressure-sensitive, brown color) and should be laid down the middle of the grid squares. Once down; line in your grid lines which have been covered by the tape with a black felt marker (see photo). Rivers are made of blue tape of the same type. These should be laid down along or astride the grid lines then these lines should be remarked. This arrangement allows you to make use of the grid squares either side of the river, wasting no valuable space for the river itself. Swamp areas can be indicated by sections of light green crepe or contact wall paper laid to conform to the grid pattern. If your rules allow movement in same you should re-draw the grid lines.

RAISED TERRAIN: Hills may be made of insulation board, stepped in one inch steps. These should be either taped on the edges, or covered with contact wall paper. When completed glue the hill steps and finally the whole hill in place on the board and mark the grid lines indicated. Woods are produced by placing dark green tape on your board in proper position, gridding or re-gridding as indicated, then punching small holes at corners of the inner’ grid squares. Into these holes insert a bit of plastic fern you can purchase in the 5 & 10. Not much is needed and flat rather than rounded ferns are best since you must not fill up the squares else troops won’t fit in them. Once plastic fern pieces are inserted place a drop of glue at base of each and let dry.

Towns and villages are made of bits of wood about one bch thick, two to three inches high, cui so that one end comes to a pointed edge like a roof peak. These are glued to a piece of cardboard of the correct size in inches, and then painted different colors. It’s best not to be too fancy here. Strive rather for a general effect, a yellow house with a dark green roof section, than for detail. After all these houses are not to-scale but merely representative. When completed paint cardboard “streets” between houses and draw in grid lines. Then glue whole thing in place on your board.

This about does it for d’3tails of board and terrain construction. You no doubt wonder that I suggest gluing down everything. Actually you are making 2 by 2 terrain boards, gridded and with everything held in place firmly. Thus in setting up your battlefield all you need do is bring out the four boards, place them on a firm surface (dining room table, etc.) being careful not to allow too much overhang and you are set to go. It’s like setting out a Monopoly board, a chess board, etc. “But”, you say, “This limits you to one set up”. Not at all! True, you are limited to the set up you make on these four boards to start but if you use a universal type of arrangement, balanced for either side, your games will vary greatly. You can also make up more terrain boards later (or play from anyone of the four side s to change off).

A universal set up is one in which each side has three towns and one city separated by various terrain features. Capture of three enemy towns or one enemy town and his city, while holding your own city and one of your towns, wins the game. You set up your troops around your own towns (in grid squares in towns or those adjacent to towns or city) according to your desires at beginning of the game. But you need not follow this so called universal arrangement in making up your boards for your small grid game. Make any arrangement which suits you remembering only to give some balance between sides either in troops or positions. If you don’t like what you have you can easily change it by making up another two boards.

Storage of your 2 by 2 boards is done by placing blocks (four) on one, setting another atop it, terrain down. The blocks must be thick enough to keep the terrain from hitting. Atop this you can place another board, terrain up, then with blocks placed atop this you can put on another section, terrain down.

20mm types are used with a maximum of 40 per side. If you use any more you will have no open flanks on your table top and end up with lines across the table top facing each other in a slugging match. Troops are mounted on 3/4 inch cardboard trays (infantry) or 1 inch cardboard trays (cavalry, artillery). One infantryman, one cavalryman or one 1.nnon and one gunner are mounted on each tray. Paint not only the figures. bases but the trays the same dark green or brown. This will insure preservation of the cardboard tray.

Each card represents a unit of troops and each tray is numbered so that it can receive strength according to the Roster System. The game is played in the same manner as an open table game except that instead of moving 8 inches you move or fire 8 squares. I find a maximum move for fastest troops (light cavalry) should run about 7 squares (more on roads of course). .Maximum range of muskets or bows should be about 12 to 15 squares, with cannon firing perhaps 24 squares at most. The ranges and moves are counted off across sides of grid squares, never across the diagonal corners. Thus a shot or move on a diagonal or in a diagonal direction is always less of a distance than in a straight line of squares. This may sound silly and mechanical but it works.

There is no space here to go into details of rule s but I believe the above will give war gamers a good idea how to get started. Details like crossing rivers (uses up two squares or more of move) and such are better left to individual tastes. However for those who might be confused about troop balance the following lists of proportions of types, each with a special speed, firing ability and melee strength will no doubt help.

Musket Period
5 Light Infantry Trays
5 Guard Infantry Trays
15 Line or Regular Infantry
5 Light cavalry trays
5 Heavy Cavalry trays
4 Artillery trays
1 Commander tray (mounted)
40 Total trays

(Shock) Medieval Period
10 Light Infantry Trays
4 Heavy Infantry Trays
6 Light cavalry trays
4 Heavy Cavalry trays
6 Light Foot Bowman Trays
6 Light Horse Bowman trays
1 Command tray (mounted)
37 Total trays

The above are only guidelines of proportions. You may well find that ypu wish to alter them to suit your set up or rules. The figures themselves can be stored upright in a large shirt box or inserted (tray edge) into a slot punched in a piece of insulation board. The latter method of storage allows fewer figures to be stored in a given space but is far neater and protects the figures. The board in this instance is cut to the size of a shirt or other small box and several can be stored one atop the other with figures inserted.

Let me end this by urging those limited by space, time, money or lack of opponents to try the small grid board type war game set up. It perhaps isn’t quite as much fun as the big set ups but it does solve and help solve problems. And it’s fun to have and use!