AN INTRODUCTION TO
ONE BRAIN CELL RULES

by Jim Wallman (originally published sometime in the early 1980s)

One of the common experiences in my years of wargaming has been the extent to which I have been, by turns, baffled and annoyed by complicated 'realistic' sets of wargame rules. This not, I hasten to add, because the rules themselves are at fault, but rather that I lack the necessary patience and numbers of brain cells to get the best from them.

Rather than give up on wargames and wargaming, I wondered whether there is some other way of devising rules that I could play, and perhaps actually enjoy - without feeling that I was hopelessly overwhelmed by the game system.

Enjoyment is, of course, a highly subjective thing. For me, enjoyment in a wargame comes from taking part in a simulation of historical events. In other words I quite like the events of my game to mirror some historical prototype. This is the aim of, I think, most wargame rules writers - but can you write rules that are both easy to play and historically satisfying?

Well, several sets of rules have now appeared that are easy to play, but it is still, I think, worthwhile examining the principles behind a simple approach to wargame rules requiring only a single brain cell to operate and play; the eponymous One Brain Cell Rules.

The idea for One Brain Cell Rules was first devised some time ago as an alternative to the then mainstream of table top figure wargames, to find, through a different approach a radically faster method for calculating the results of inter- unit combats.

The Six Step Model

To explain the One Brain Cell approach we should perhaps look first in some detail at how figure game rules have been constructed in the past. For my example I will examine what has become a 'classic' of figure wargaming, the so-called 'Horse & Musket' period of the 18th and early 19th century. In many sets of rules for figure battles the more common method for calculating the result of combat might follow this sequence;

i. Move the unit within firing range.
ii. Calculate the number of casualties received and inflicted by firing (if any).
iii. Calculate the effect on morale of the firing, eg in terms of percentage casualties, or drops in morale etc.
iv. Roll dice and consult some sort of morale chart to determine the influence of the unit's morale on its subsequent actions.
v. Usually following a good morale result, units in some games are permitted to close to some sort of hand to hand combat, which is then calculated, giving a result both in terms of numbers of casualties and sometimes further morale effects.
vi. Occasionally the melee calculation is followed by a further test for morale conditions with a die roll - for the effects on subsequent actions.

Now, this sequence does not always appear in exactly this form in every set of wargame rules, but it is an indication of the way in which many sets adopt a common basic approach to the combat resolution problem for 18th and 19th century battles.

Making It Easier

It seemed to me that if these steps could be made simpler then the game would obviously be much faster. But, there would also come a point when each step would reach a state of 'minimum simplicity', beyond which it ceases to be an independent step at all and have little or no value in the structure of the game rules.
In addition, no matter how much you may simplify the six steps, there are still six steps to work through. The next stage in keeping the rules simple must be to reduce the number of steps - but which step to cut out? And why?

Before answering these questions, let us look at what the 'Six Step Model' means in terms of time and motion of the game itself rather than the events it attempts to portray.
An 18th century battle might have 50 or more battalions a side, of which maybe 20 a side or so could be engaged at any one time. At an optimistic rate of 30 seconds per step, it would take about an hour to process an typical move - not counting time spent on moving figures and handling command and control.
And when you think about it, is it reasonable to take an hour to resolve 1-5 minutes of combat actions (which represents the sort of time slice of a typical figurel wargame move)?

The solution a lot of players and clubs find for this is to have a large number of experienced players using well known and rigid legalistically - defined set of rules and accepting the shortcomings of the rules as a necessary sacrifice in order to fight a historically realistic size battle.
Obviously experienced players can process moves much faster. The disadvantage with this approach is that the inexperienced player is thereby marginalised and discouraged - and not every group is big enough to make this slightly elitist approach practical.

A New Design

In approaching the design, I redefined the problem by looking at it from the other end.
I asked the question "what information do I want the rules to provide about a given combat?" My answer was threefold:

i. Who won?

ii. What were the casualties?

iii. What were the changes in the relative positions of the units involved (i.e. who ran away?)?


This also led me to ask another question; "Do I mind how this information is arrived at?" In answering this, I had to admit that when one views the battle from the point of view of a senior commander the minor details of battalion vs battalion combat was to my mind an irrelevance - in other words the answer, for me, is "No".

The answers to the questions are, of course, a reflection of the sort of game I like to play. It might not appeal to everyone. Many wargamers I know actually enjoy the ritual of resolving combats in a long-winded step by step fashion. The advantage of gaming each step is that the outcome of each step can be 'read' like part of a war history. However, as I have discussed above, the price of this anecdotal approach to combat resolution is that you don't get much of a battle done in a normal gaming session of only a few hours.

A Different System

So here is the start of a system which is a little different. On the one hand we should be able to input the combat situation (strength, size of unit, troop quality, morale, tactical positions etc) and at the end we have the three key pieces of information required. This is no different in aim from the traditional Six-Step Model, but the calculation of the results need not be sequential in quite the same way.

It has often struck me - and many other people too, I am sure - that the crucial thing in a close combat or a firefight is the state of the participant's morale. Historically, some units were beaten before they started, and some units' effectiveness depended upon their reputation among their enemies. An assumption in the normal wargame is that the calculation of the results of combat should follow a rigid cause and effect progression - that is, a unit will run away because it has taken heavy casualties and therefore has low morale.

In the system I am about to suggest these calculations need not necessarily be carried out in that order.

Using this 'One Brain Cell' approach, the close combat resolution would determine the winner first, and the detail of casualties etc would be determined afterwards. This might seem strange at first, but it does have advantages.
For example we know from reading about battles that units often take their greatest casualties in the pursuit after they have broken, and we also know that often the most casualties from musketry occur when both sides engage in a standing firefight and neither will give way. We know that often cavalry would not close and cross sabres unless their opponents had shown signs of recoiling or running away first.

In these examples, we are actually better placed to assess casualties quickly if we know who won the action before we go on to working out losses.

This could be determined primarily by the morale status of the units, with factors for states of disorganisation, casualties taken so far etc.

The results of combat can be arrived at by reference to a single combat results table giving who won, how decisively they won, and the likelihood that casualties were inflicted, in one fell swoop. This should meet the objectives outlined above, in that we have moved from a Six Step Model to (hopefully) a One Step Model - or to give them their more correct (and now generally accepted) title:

One Brain Cell Rules