The latest entry in the Osprey Wargames series, With Hot Lead and Cold Steel: American Civil War Wargaming Rules, is out this month. Read on to have it introduced by the author...

The American Civil War is probably one of the most popular historical periods for wargamers. The reasons for that are many and varied. For one, there are a lot of figure ranges available in practically every scale imaginable: 54mm, 28mm, 25mm, 20mm, 18mm, 15mm, 13.5mm, 12mm, 10mm, 6mm, and smaller. Most of these ranges offer you a wide array of troop types such as regular infantry, zouaves, the Iron Brigade, different types of artillery, skirmishing infantry, and cavalry. The uniforms of most ACW soldiers were relatively simple, especially compared to Napoleonic uniforms. This allows players to get a decent-sized force painted up relatively quickly.

Another important aspect is the history of the Civil War itself. The Civil War is a watershed moment in American history. It literally pitted brother against brother in a conflict that would determine whether a nation that was only 80-odd years old would overcome sectional strife or separate into two nations. In the words of the late author Shelby Foote, “It was the crossroads of our being, and it was a hell of a crossroads.”

The causes of the war are as varied as the miniature scales available. Suffice to say for now is that the Civil War was the bloodiest event in American history. Most recent estimates put the death toll over 700,000. Hundreds of battles were fought during the war. Some were small skirmishes, but many were large battles with thousands of troops on either side.

From a military perspective, the Civil War offers gamers a lot of scope to try out tactics that were developed during the war. Gone were the days of grand Napoleonic-style cavalry charges. Cavalry now operated as mounted infantry, dismounting and fighting on foot, scouting ahead of the main body, protecting supply lines or the exact opposite―attacking them! The Civil War was fought mostly by infantry supported by artillery. As the first year of the war waned, most infantrymen were armed with rifled muskets, which had greater range and more accuracy than smoothbore muskets. The rifled cannon, again more accurate than its smoothbore counterpart, was widely used to great effect. Players are able to stage grand manoeuvres with banners flying and beating drums, while facing potentially murderous weaponry.

A photo of fully painted miniature figures and terrain for wargaming: a Union American Civil War army charging through a farm behind mounted officers

The Civil War is considered by most historians as the first ‘modern’ war. There is a lot of truth in that, as the war witnessed the advent of more modern and accurate weaponry: rifled muskets, rifled artillery, breech-loading carbines, and repeater rifles. One of the first machine guns, the Gatling gun, was invented in 1861, but was hardly used during the war. Troops were transported by train for the first time in military history. The telegraph was used widely by both North and South, making communication across the vast distances a lot easier. The first battle between armoured vessels occurred in March 1862, between the USS Monitor and the CSS Virginia (formerly the USS Merrimack). The world watched in awe. Trench warfare became the norm during the second half of the war. As it became evident that the casualty rates during battles were generally disastrous, many commanders chose to dig in and force the enemy to break his army upon well-defended trench systems. Despite all these developments, during four years of war, commanders relied on outdated tactics. Massed infantry assaults were made against well-defended positions and beaten back with heavy losses. Medical care and personal hygiene were closer to the Middle Ages than to our own time, adding to the misery and enormous death toll of Civil War soldiers.

I have played many different wargames over the past 25 years, ranging from fantasy and sci fi to historical. What I have found is that most of those rulesets, especially historical rulesets, tend to either overcomplicate the rules or oversimplify them. In the former case, rules are not player friendly, especially for new players. There are endless charts with relatively complex formulas which really bog down games. In the latter, games become too abstract to the point where one might simply play with chits or tokens instead of painted miniatures. With Hot Lead and Cold Steel (WHLCS) tackles this problem by providing easy to understand statlines for troops and minimizing the number of statlines used in general. Modifiers are also kept to a minimum without sacrificing realism.

Having played several American Civil War and black powder-era games, I have come to the conclusion that none of them really use the correct terminology of the period (save for a few exceptions). This goes for formations, manoeuvres, weapons, ammunition, orders, and so on. WHLCS provides players with the correct phrases because I have taken these from original source material. If you want your troops to move fast, you can order them to ‘quick time’ or ‘double quick’. If you want to fire your artillery, you can choose between case shot, solid shot, shells, or canister, and each type of ammunition reflects what it did in a real battle. You can use the correct manoeuvres such as ‘oblique movement’, ‘refuse the flank’, and ‘move by the flank’. Brigade formations were an important tactical option during the American Civil War and you can deploy your brigades ‘in echelon’, in ‘multiple lines’, or in ‘assault column’, each granting their own specific benefits.

To sum up, I wanted a ruleset that I would enjoy playing with my friends; a set of rules that allows for fast play, minimal charts, but also provides period flavour. I hope like-minded ACW enthusiasts will enjoy playing WHLCS as much as I did writing them!

An illustration of Union American Civil War soldiers charging over a trench carrying a flag and aiming at soldiers manning a cannon below

With Hot Lead and Cold Steel (WHLCS) is a fast-playing, big-battle game set during the American Civil War (1861–1865) played with miniatures. And by big, we mean big. WHLCS is meant to be played with hundreds of figures per side and is principally designed for 28mm figures (1/56 scale). For those of you who have ACW collections in different scales, fear not; we provide you with a conversion table. Games can be played with two brigades per side, which we would consider small, up to several brigades, divisions, or even corps per side.

We have designed the game in such a way that allows for fast play. We feel that in many miniatures wargames, a lot of time goes into flicking through the rulebook, looking up tables for specific results, and so on. We have kept this to an absolute minimum without sacrificing a sense of realism in terms of battlefield conditions influencing the outcome of orders, movement, shooting, melee, and so forth. WHLCS is a bloody game; units can inflict an enormous amount of damage when placed correctly, especially when enemy units get close. This means that units can get knocked out of the game fairly quickly. We feel this is very appropriate for an American Civil War game. A game of WHLCS, depending on the size, can be played easily in an evening, and for those of you who are very ambitious, very large games can be played over a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. Most games can be played out to a satisfactory conclusion in a couple of hours.

With Hot Lead and Cold Steel is written for friends, to be played with friends, in a light-hearted spirit. It is not a competitive game. That doesn’t mean you can’t field two equally sized forces and play a balanced game against each other. However, WHLCS is intended to be very historical. The Union and Confederate armies, despite both having similar arms and equipment, the same training manuals, commanders who had received the same military education and sometimes attended the same military academies, were in many respects very different. The Union army could field huge armies, thanks to the North’s massive population, compared to that of the South. In addition, the Federal government was able to equip and feed their soldiers extremely well due to its industrial and agricultural development. The Confederate forces were far smaller, and relatively poorly equipped and supplied (with sporadic exceptions). They did have the advantage of fighting in their home states, with short interior lines, and having experienced troops under the command of some excellent officers.

These differences result in two armies that each have their advantages and disadvantages, making a game of WHLCS a less than balanced affair, which we think is only just and proper. It is up to the players to make the most of what they have!

A photo of fully painted miniature figures and terrain for wargaming: a huge Union American Civil War army descending on a wooded settlement with clouds of gunsmoke hanging in the air

What do you need to play? American Civil War miniatures first of all. Preferably painted and nicely based. Miniatures are available from different companies in various scales and styles, made of plastic, metal, or resin. Next, a large playing area, again depending on the figure scale, at least 6' x 4' but larger would be ideal, especially for 28mm figures. You’ll also need some model scenery such as trees, roads, fences (you need loads of fences in ACW gaming!), bushes, hills, and buildings, plus a handful of 10-sided dice (D10), a range ruler in inches, some useful tokens to mark casualties e.g. dice, casualty figures, chits etc. Fish tank filter wadding is perfect to use as smoke markers to indicate which units have fired. Finally, of course, people to play with.

With Hot Lead and Cold Steel is out October 26th in the UK,
and will be out January 23rd in the US.

Pre-order now.

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