Table Top Teasers

Our last Wars of the Roses game involved trying to take and hold a mountain pass. I’d prefer to draw the veil of oblivion over my performance; sufficient to say that the Yorkists were massacred. What I would rather like to do is talk a bit about where the scenario came from: Namely from the hands of the great Charles S. Grant.

The Lancastarians fending off a last desperate attack by the remaining Yorkists.
Lancastarians fending off a last desperate attack by the remaining Yorkists.

I first came across this scenario in issue 14 of Battlegames magazine, which I read after discovering the pdfs at the Ganesha Games shop. It is called ‘Reconnaissance in force, or “You can’t have your cake and eat it”’ (well, seems I choked on that cake!) and was written by Charles S. Grant. The nice thing about the scenario is that the author not just states the forces and the objectives. He also provides a short introduction into the subject matter, in this case reconnaissance, describing its function, possible tactics and problems. After describing the forces, the terrain, the objectives and some special rules, he includes a short after action report from a game fought against a friend. While this game was set in his own 18th century ImagiNations background, the scenario itself is not period specific and can easily be adapted – as we have done for medievals. The whole thing was part of a series that ran in Battlegames under the header ‘Table Top Teasers’.

Grant, who got into wargaming through his father (also a pioneer of the hobby), started writing Table Top Teasers in 1978 for the now defunct magazine Battle (later continued for some years in Military Modelling).

I want a neon sign of that!

Those Table Top Teasers were 2-page long outlines of scenarios which always revolved around one specific tactical problem, for example an advance guard grabbing an important objective, the demolition of a bridge, escorting a convoy or conducting a beach landing. Grant’s stated aim was to provides alternatives to the pitched symmetrical battle. He refrained from calling his scenarios ‘problems’, as he suggested that there might not be clear answers to them, and rather thought of them as ‘stage settings’ for a battle – a term I like very much as it implies the drama and narrative these scenarios can offer.

In 1981, Grant published a book of teasers with Wargames Research Group called Scenarios for Wargamers. It includes 52 scenarios – one for every week of the years, as the cover states – and covers a broad range of topics. Sorted by general categories such as Attack and Defense, Reinforcements, Convoy and Ambushes etc., the scenarios follow the same structure as the teasers, starting with an introduction that sets the problem, outlining the forces and objectives and including a map. Most of them can be adapted to many periods. A few are restricted to the 20th century because they deal with tactics that are only possible with modern technology, such as the helicopter raid.

Let's have a raid over the weekend!

This book was followed by another one entitled Programmed Wargames Scenarios. This was aimed at the solo wargamer who would like to have algorithms for moving the enemy forces. I’ve never played a solo wargame, so I don’t know how they would actually play out, but the algorithms seem general and lose enough to be adapted to different rule sets, and they would perhaps even provide the opportunity for some collaborative gaming (yes, I’d like to join the winning side for once!).

pic4

The third book, Scenarios for all Ages, was published in 1996 together with Stuart A. Asquith and contains some material from the first book, but also a lot of new scenarios.

pic5

After this book, there seems to have followed a break in the publication of teasers until Henry Hyde got Grant to restart his column for Battlegames in 2006, the place where I first encountered them (Battlegames also published a special issue with teasers). The series ran until 2010, when Grant decided to take a break to prevent becoming predictable, as he wrote in issue 24 of the magazine. He keeps on gaming though and occasionally publishes teasers in his Wargamer’s Annual.

Most of the scenarios published by Grant were originally written for the horse-and-musket period and for ‘old school’ rules. However, they do work very well for other periods and rule sets. Sharp Practice for example is excellent for scenarios, as would be most other rules that cover large skirmishes or battles. As the required forces are stated in very general terms, such as light or heavy cavalry, line infantry and artillery, one can easily build equivalent lists for specific periods. However, I guess there would be some difficulties using the scenarios for small skirmishes involving only a couple of individuals on each side because the tactical problems are different at this level.

Even if you normally don’t play scenarios, have a look at the Table Top Teasers! They provide great inspiration for setting up a game that is more than just a slugfest between symmetrical forces. As ‘stage settings’, they allow you to wrap your game into a story that draws you into the world on the tabletop, explains why you are fighting and motivates you to keep going even if your carefully laid plans are falling apart.

Edit: Thanks to the friendly and knowledgeable folks at The Loose Association of Wargamers, I found out that more than one Grant was involved in the Table Top Teasers. In fact, it seems that Charles Grant senior started them in Military Modelling, Charles Grant junior took over and published the books with WRG, while his son in turn contributed to the Teasers in Battlegames. What an amazing family!

Availability: Scans of the original Tabletop Teasers are available on the web, while old issues of Battlegames magazine as well as the Battlegames collection of Teasers are available as pdfs at Ganesha Games or Wargame Vault. The two books published by WRG can sometimes be found on ebay or at antiquarian booksellers, while Scenarios for All Ages is again in print thanks to the History of Wargaming Project by John Curry.
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5 thoughts on “Table Top Teasers

  1. Michael March 29, 2014 / 2:43 pm

    Thanks for this and for the links to the Table Top Teasers, that is most useful.
    Cheers,
    Michael

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