Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Roster Systems, Casualty Caps & How I do it.

Another picture of my Irlanda regiment painted by Mr E
Now based to match the rest of my collection
(click to embiggen)

Bob over at Wargaming Miscellany has been mulling over the possibilities of roster systems, casualty caps and other means of marking casualties in games. I hate casualty caps as I think they look awful and they cut at one of the main reasons I play games with toy soldiers in the first place; the beauty of the thing.

I dislike rosters, but it's an irrational aversion- there are plenty of games that make good use of them. The slips of paper always manage to migrate onto the table though and spoil the look of battalions of toy soldiers marching across the table.

The regiment deployed in full
(click to embiggen)

This collection of figures represents a unit made up of four blocks in the regular game. The sixteen men in the first two ranks represent one block, with the officer, NCO and drummer representing one block each. Astute observers will recognise this organisation from a popular old school wargaming classic.

The unit has taken one casualty and the drummer is removed, but with three "blocks" left the regiment still has plenty of fight left in it
(click to embiggen)

I use a visual roster system for my Command & Colours units which is based around three key ideas.

Point One - I wish to keep the greatest number of toy soldiers on the board for the longest period of time. I love the sight of them in serried ranks. It's one of the reasons that I enjoy playing with 20mm figures so much. They're big enough to be recognisable but still small and cheap enough that they can be used en masse.

Poor old Sergeant Darcy has copped it, reducing the regiment to a strength of two blocks
But what sort of dull fellow would humble those proud plumes with casualty caps?
(click to embiggen)

Point Two - The "visual roster" must be clear. Ambiguity in a game is fine, but it must be designed ambiguity. I may not know what cards my opponent is holding is fine, but having the playing piece working against you because it is unclear what the represent is a recipe for disaster. Not least because it can easily escalate in an accusation of cheating and there is nothing corrosive to the atmosphere of fun and good fellowship that I consider the hallmark of a good wargame.

A Frency bullet has ended another proud Jacobite line. Lieutenant O'Connor has been cut down, leaving the regiment teetering on one block, but with sixteen figures still on the field
(click to embiggen)

Three - the beauty of the figures must not interfere with the speedy playing of the game. I enjoy games, so much so that I want to play lots of them. I did once have grand plans for developing a system whereby the officer and NCO figures were placed around the unit in order to communicate to both players whether it was advancing, falling back, loading, etc. It was a nice idea and would have looked interesting. However, the added complication would have added significantly to the playing time without making the game play much more interesting.

To say nothing of the potential for confusion.

Speed is also one of the reasons I am so taken with my black metal plates, because the cut down the number of hand movements required to move a unit significantly. I don't mind taking time over decisions which are the interesting part of a game, but physically manipulating the playing pieces should take as little time as possible.

Alas! The Irlanda has been wiped out, leaving only Duggan, the casualty marker behind

(click to embiggen)

This approach is no more valid than any other, but it is the one I have adopted and I think my reasons are clear. My posting has been a little sparse of late as work has made rather more demands on my limited brain energy than usual, but I do have the inestimable advantage of having been asked some very interesting questions in the comments section of this blog which should provide the spur for a post or two.

But until then, goodnight.


  1. Dear Joy,
    Clever idea and I concur that the point of miniatures is to be on the battlefield! "On to Richmond!", a Civil War rules set also attempted to keep figures on the table as did the many rules of the late Wally Simon.
    I have used larger units, each with a number of banners and used banner removal to indicate casualties,loss of morale.
    Have you ever read C.F.Wessencraft? He was quite the wargames idea-man .

  2. COnrad Kinch,

    I prefer the way that you indicate a unit's status to almost any other method, and if my collection were not already fixed on multi-figure bases I would probably copy your example. The unit still occupies space on the battlefield, even if it is on its last legs ... and that is as it should be.

    All the best,


  3. And a good system it is too. I resisted casualty caps for years, having my first real experience of using them in 2009. I have gotten some what used to them but still prefer to do with out.

    With singly based figures and a 50% rule, I have started removing all casualties from the rear ranks. Not only does this maintain the unit frontage, but it gives an easy visual clue to how a unit is doing.

    I will keep the supernumeries as casualty/morale marker (depending on how you look at it) idea in mind though for stand based games.

  4. A person I know uses a system whereby they remove figures, but the percentage removed is very small compared to the size of the unit. For example, if you are doing a system like C&C Naps, which typically has four figures (and thus four steps), he might use 12 figures for the unit and simply remove 1, 2, or 3 figures for the steps, and then the entire unit on the fourth loss. This allows him to keep the "look" while still maintaining a step counting system.

    If you have a mult-figure bases, simply add singly based "specialty" figures (porte fanions, sergeants, extra officers, vivandieres, etc.) to the back and remove them as casualties mount.

  5. That sounds like an eminently sensible system maximizing appearances, with the practical details kept clear.

    I have only seen the plastic caps in pictures, but once in a US Civil War game, the host used cones made of paper on the spot and secured with tape to cover the sections of figures deemed casualties.

    These cones were fully as large as ice cream cones and uglier.

    When there were more losses, the cone was stretched until half the unit was covered, and pretty soon all the units had them.

    It was really enough to make one draw up a roster and pass out pencils.