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The "Splendid Little War"

Miniatures Wargames Rules for the Spanish-American War

Written by Arofan Gregory

Copyright (c)1997. All rights reserved.

I. Introduction

The Spanish-American War was not, in terms of duration or intensity, the most important armed conflict in the latter part of the 19th Century. While recognized as being of political importance, and much studied by students of naval warfare, it is perceived as being a one-sided conflict on land, and consequently of no interest to the miniatures wargamer. Not true!

For the U.S., a basically excellent army, largely composed of veterans of the Indian Wars and American Civil War, came to battle under-equipped and with an outmoded concept of war. It is lucky, indeed, that the Spanish high command was so entirely self-defeating: a naval blockade could ensure that Cuba and Puerto Rico fell to the U.S., but popular support in the U.S. would not have been the same had casualties been as heavy as they easily might. The Spanish troops were experienced and better equipped in many respects - had they been concentrated appropriately, the U.S. might have found itself in a worse bargaining position than was historically the case.

Historical miniatures wargaming is all about the "what ifs?" of history, and this conflict is a "splendid little war" in that sense. We have the basic dynamic of the 20th Century infantry combat - artillery, machineguns, and rifles - in a setting where small armies can realistically portray historical (or historically plausible) actions. These rules focus on the basic realities of the battlefield as reported by the participants. While generalizing weapons types for ease of play, the "flavor" of this contest has been reproduced in a quick-play format.

Note that measurements as given are appropriate for 15mm and 20mm figures; for 25mm (and 20mm, if you prefer), double all measurements. For 6mm and 10mm figures, increase the number of figures per base "to taste." All dice are ordinary six-sided dice.

To build armies for this conflict, the following information may be helpful: Frontier has released an extensive line in 15mm, including both smaller boxed packs and bags of 100 figures. Freikorps 15s also makes a 15mm range. It is fairly easy to find useable figures for conversion in any American Civil War range to use for the Spanish, Cuban, and Filipino forces; Old Glory has 25mm U.S. soldiers, both mounted and dismounted, that can be used for U.S. troops. You can use their 25mm ACW artillery models for the guns, although you'll have to modify Confederate gunners. For Spanish artillery, use the Krupp guns of the Egyptian army from any 25mm Colonial range.

II. Background

A. Troop Categories

All troops are categorized as follows:

  1. Infantry (This includes cavalry units that are operating dismounted, as was often the case for U.S. forces)
  2. Cavalry
  3. Artillery (either "siege" guns in permanent emplacements or "field" guns)
  4. Machineguns (including the ones with explosive shells - give a +1 to fire dice)
  5. Generals/HQ Bases
  6. Units are mounted on bases 1" square. Infantry and cavalry bases have two figures each; artillery and machineguns have a gun model and two gunners. Each base represents approximately 100-200 men (a company or squadron), or a "section" of two guns. Each base is a "unit" in it's own right, although these are grouped into higher-level formations.

    Additionally, the command unit of a particular army is represented, although the general's base does not count as a typical "unit" under these rules.

    B. Organizations

    Bases ("units") are grouped into organizations at the brigade level. A "brigade" consists of a group of infantry or cavalry bases, along with whatever supporting machinegun or artillery units are attached to it. On paper, a U.S. cavalry regiment will have 3 bases; a U.S. infantry battalion 4 bases; a Spanish cavalry regiment 4 bases; a Spanish line infantry battalion 4 bases; and a Spanish "Rifle" or "Light Infantry" battalion 6 bases. Attrition reduced numbers, so when calculating from actual rosters, figure 1 base per 150 men.

    All bases in a brigade must make every effort to remain within 1" of another base in the brigade, as a higher priority even than following orders. The exception here is for artillery and machineguns, which can remain further back to fire in support of an attack or defense involving their brigade. They must simply be capable of firing on the enemy units opposing their brigade.

    Take the component battalions/regiments within a brigade, total the number of bases, and field this number of units to make up the brigade, along with a base for each section of guns/machineguns attached to it. For small actions, battalion/regimental organizations may be substituted for brigades - this should be specified by the scenario.

    III. Tactical Rules

    A. Turn Sequence

    1. Players dice for initiative. Ties are rerolled. High score has the initiative.
    2. The player with initiative makes an action with each of the units within a single brigade, or elects to pass initiative to the enemy. Actions include: (a) fire; (b) moving; (c) recovering from suppression/pin; (d) doing nothing. Each unit in a brigade can perform whatever action the player desires - all units in the brigade do not have to perform the same action. Each unit may only make one action per turn. Units that have already fired all of their dice in the current turn are considered to have already made their action. Units that perform an action other than fire sacrifice all fire dice (this does not include the "do nothing" option - these troops can save fire until later in the turn).
    3. The non-moving player may now fire at any enemy target that has fired or moved within LOS during step 2 (above), with any unit that has fire dice remaining to it and that is otherwise eligible to fire. A moving unit can be forced to "retrace its steps" in order to receive fire, and will suffer the consequences of fire in the position chosen by the firing player. Any given target unit may only be forced to "retrace its steps" once (so that you can't go back in time just because your later shots missed!)
    4. The moving player may now opt to fire on any of the units that fired in step 3, with any units that have fire dice remaining to them, and that are otherwise eligible to fire (this includes units that elected to do nothing while the rest of their brigade moved or performed other actions).
    5. The non-moving player may now choose to fire on any unit that fired in the preceding step, with any units that both have fire dice remaining to them, and that are otherwise eligible to fire. (You cannot force an enemy unit to "retrace its steps" any longer.)
    6. Steps 4 and 5 are repeated over and over, until neither player chooses to perform any further fire.
    7. Any close assaults initiated during step 2 are now resolved, in any order desired by the player with initiative.
    8. The initiative now passes to the non-moving player, and all steps are repeated until the turn ends, with intiative passing back and forth. The turn is over when neither player is capable of taking any further action, or both players agree that no further actions will be taken. Note that a given unit can only make a single action during the turn, and that firing during steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 counts as an action. Units with more than one fire die may use them at different points during the turn if desired. Generals may elect to move at the same time as any brigade under their command, but may only make this action once per turn, like normal units.
    9. It is recommended that units that have moved be marked (use cotton balls painted brown, for dust, or counters), and that units that have fired also be marked (white cotton balls, or counters). "Recovered" markers should be used on pinned/suppressed units that spent their action to recover from this condition. At the end of the turn, pick these markers up (pinned/suppressed units should also be marked, but these markers will stay with the unit until removed as an action during play.)

      B. Movement

      Movement includes maneuvering units on the tabletop and the intiation of close assaults. Units can move in any direction or combination of directions as a single action, and can adjust facing as desired during movement. Total movement may not exceed the base movement rate, adjusted for terrain. Friendly units may freely interpenetrate, but you may not interpenetrate emeny units.

      • All infantry units have a base movement rate of 6", which is halved in rough terrain.
      • Cavalry units have a base movement rate of 12", which is reduced to 1/4 in rough terrain.
      • Machinegun and field artillery units have a base movement of 4", which is halved in rough terrain. Seige artillery may not move except to change facing, as allowed by their emplacement.

    When a player moves a unit into contact with an enemy unit, it is considered a "close assault." Machineguns and artillery may not initiate a close assault.

    Suppressed/pinned units cannot move - the only action they are allowed to take is to recover from suppression/pin. They must perform this action unless actively taking enemy fire during the current turn (at any time before they perform their action).

    Special Terrain

    Barbed wire requires a full turn to cross for enemy troops - friendly troops simply deduct 1" of movement (this assumes that they know the "paths" through the wire). You will move up to the wire on one turn's action, and during the next movement action, you will move the base to the other side of the wire. If there are troops defending immediately behind the barbed wire, a close assault does not exist until the second movement action.

    Roads double all movement, and obviate the effects of rough terrain on movement (not including barbed wire.) Towns count as roads for movement purposes.

    C. Fire

    Rifle-armed units fire one die up to 18", carbine-armed units fire one die up to 12". MG units fire two dice up to 18". Field artillery units fire up to 36", and seige artillery units up to 48". Artillery fire places a "sheaf," which is a rectangle 1" x 2" for field guns, and one covering four 1" square areas, forming any regular rectangle at the firing player's discretion. Any unit - friend or foe - with any part of their base underneath the sheaf must roll for the effects of fire when the sheaf is placed, and any units subsequently moving into the area covered by the sheaf must also roll for effects of fire. The sheaf is removed from the tabletop at the end of the turn. It does not block line of sight (LOS).

    Fire is performed one unit at a time, in any order the firing player chooses. You may wait to see the effects of one unit's fire before firing others. Note that machineguns may choose to fire partial dice, firing one die at one point in a turn, and using the rest of the fire action (the other fire die) at a later point in the turn.

    Units may not fire if suppressed/pinned. They can fire in a 45-degree arc off either side of their facing, at any spotted target within LOS of the firing unit. Note that troops block fire under most circumstances (see LOS and spotting rules).

    When fire on a target is announced, that target may elect to become voluntarily pinned, in which case this status is implemented immediately, and is taken into account when modifying fire dice.

    You are allowed to fire at an enemy unit that is being close-assaulted by friendly troops, so long as the friendly troops do not block LOS.

    Effects of Fire

    Rifles, Carbines, and Machineguns: If any die scores a 4 or 5, the target unit is suppressed/pinned. If any die scores a 6, the target unit is destroyed/dispersed, and removed from play.

    Artillery: Roll one die for any unit even partially under the "sheaf." If any die scores a 3 or 4 for field artillery, or a 2 or 3 for seige artillery, the target unit is suppressed/pinned. If any die scores a 5 or 6 for field artillery, or a 4 - 6 for seige artillery, the target unit is destroyed/dispersed, and removed from play.

    Note that each unit fires one-at-a-time, with effects of that fire going into effect before the next unit fires. Units moving into an artillery sheaf must roll at the time they enter the sheaf, and suffer any effects at that location.

    Modifications to Fire Dice

    Unit is suppressed/pinned: -1 to fire die

    Unit is in soft cover: -1 to fire die

    Unit is in hard cover: -2 to fire die

    Friendly Fire/Ammunition Rules

    For Spanish units, ammunition was always scarce. Whenever a Spanish fire die comes up a natural 1, roll a second die. Another roll of a natural 1 indicates that the unit is out of ammunition, and may not fire for the duration of the game (this status should be marked with a counter). For Spanish artillery units, make a separate roll of two dice each time they fire - a roll of 2 indicates that the unit is out of ammunition, and may not fire again after the current turn's sheaf has been removed.

    For U.S. machinegun units, spraying friendly troops with fire was an unfortunate reality. Whenever a U.S. MG unit rolls a natural (unmodified) 1, roll a second die. On a score of 5 or 6, a friendly unit (if any) within the arc of fire and LOS is suppressed/pinned (roll for which unit is effected if there is more than one eligible friendly-fire target.) Note that the second roll is modified by the usual fire modifiers, as applicable.

    D. Close Assaults

    To resolve close assaults, units "pair off" with an enemy unit with which they are in contact, until all units in contact have been designated as a part of a "pair," consisting of themselves and an unpaired enemy unit. Any "extra" units that are in contact with an already-paired enemy unit will act as "secondary" units in some single combat. By definition, "secondary units" may never be in contact with enemy "secondary" units, or the two would form a primary pair. Each unit throws one die, with the primary and secondary dice being added together. Whichever side scores the highest total has destroyed/captured all enemy units in the combat, and these units are removed from play.

    Modifiers to Combat Dice

    Suppressed/pinned units get a -1 to their die score.

    Artillery/MG units get a -1 to their die score.

    Mounted cavalry get a +1 to their die score versus opponents not in soft or hard cover or rough terrain, on the condition that they have "charged" at least 2" in a straight line in the move that resulted in the close assault.

    Ties are rerolled.

    E. Line of Sight (LOS) and Spotting

    LOS and spotting rules are central to this game, and are not necessarily typical of similar rules found in other miniatures wargames. In order to "see" an enemy unit, it must be in LOS; in order to fire on it, it must both be in LOS and "spotted."

    Line of Sight (LOS)

    There are two categories of terrain obstacles that block LOS. The first consists only of hills, which can be one or more terrain levels tall. They can either be "ridges" or "plateaus". If ridges, the scenario should specify where the ridge line runs.

The second category of obstacles are terrain features that block LOS only between units on the same terrain level, but have no effect when "looking down from above" or "looking up". These include woods, buildings, and troops. You can see up to 1" into or through woods and built-up areas. Troops block fire, but not LOS.


It is assumed that troops will generally take advantage of whatever cover offers itself under most circumstances. In the case of the Phillipines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, almost everyplace you went there was sufficient cover to hide behind, even in relatively open ground. Certain acts - firing, and moving - will give troops' position away, making them eligible targets for fire.