Wood Wars

A Fantasy Miniatures Game by Timothy Lowell, published by Jim Corn Games
These comments copyright 2000 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page written June 20, 2000 and last updated February 11, 2007 (Company website)

Wood Wars is a unique and refreshing game in the miniatures field. It's nice to know that something new can still be developed! Wood Wars differs from other miniatures games in many ways - I'll detail a few them in this review. The rules are written for fantasy miniatures, but they're so easy to adapt, it would be a piece of cake to create historical miniatures rules using the same pieces.

What You Get

The first big difference from other miniatures games is in the components. You get the miniatures when you buy the game, and they're not made of metal or plastic. They're made of wood, as you may have guessed from the name of the game. Each piece in Wood Wars is a simple wooden pawn. There is no facing - the pawns are identical from all sides. My set came with two armies of 40 pawns each, one set painted red and the other natural wood color. They're actually quite handsome! You can see photos of a Wood Wars set in action at the link above.

A pawn stands about 30 mm high (almost an inch and a quarter), and has a base of 15 mm (5/8"), so it's relatively sturdy. In addition to pawns, you get 62 wooden disks and a set of stickers to attach to them. The disks are not units in the game, but are placed by units to distinguish them. So a stand of ten pawns can be anything until you place a disk by them to identify them as Warriors, or Archers, or a Wizard and his guard, etc. It's a nice idea that not only works very well but also allows for nearly infinite expansion. Want a stand of cavalry? Just add a sticker to a disk, and that's all it takes!

In addition to the pawns, disks and stickers, a set comes with four marbles, the rules booklet, and two player aid sheets.

Wood Wars rules are clearly descended from H.G. Wells' Little Wars. But there are enough differences to make it a separate game in its own right. The similarities are strong, mind you, such as missile fire resembling artillery fire, and building armies by point costs, but there are strong differences in melee combat and terrain, among other things.

Unit Types

The first difference is in unit type: Little Wars has only Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery. Wood Wars, being a fantasy game, has instead Warriors, Archers, Wizards, and King's Elite. I do find the omission of cavalry to be odd, but one that's easily remedied - see my House Rules section, below.

Warriors are the backbone of an army. They cost two points each (the cheapest unit type), which is probably why you'll want a lot of them. They have a melee ratio of 2:1 - more on that later.

Archers cost three points each, and every five archers in a unit allows you to fire one missile at your enemy - more an that later. They have a melee ratio of 3:1.

Wizards cost ten points each and can cast four different spells. They have no melee ratio, but may be protected by warriors.

King's Elite cost four points each and have a melee ratio of 1:1, the same as regular units in Little Wars. They also have a morale bonus over other troop types.

Movement and Unit Cohesion

All of the units above move 6" (15 cm) in their turn. Archers cannot both fire and move. Pawns are moved individually, and a unit may take many different shapes. You can bunch them close together for more punch in melee, or spread them out to avoid missile fire. You can march in column or proceed in line, or defend in square, or curve to match terrain - see the photos at the link at the top of this page. Each pawn in a unit must be within 1" (25 mm) of another pawn in the same unit, or it loses morale and flees from the battlefield. Units on the same side may not be within 2" of each other. Aside from those rules, anything goes.

Terrain can have an effect on movement, often costing half your movement rate to move through various terrain types. Rules for walls, woods, waterways, hills, buildings, and boulders are included. Some of it gives you bonus in combat, others affect missile range or block line of sight or affect movement.


Melee combat is very interesting. When a pawn is within 1" of an enemy pawn, they are considered to be in hand-to-hand combat. Any pawn that is within 3" of either of these pawns is considered to be in the same battle. So bunching your units close makes them awesome melee machines. However, it makes them missile targets par excellence, which you'll soon see. And this is realistic: massed formations are better at melee, but take more damage from missiles ...

Once you've determined exactly which units are involved in the combat, use the ratios. For example, every two Warriors involved in the melee means one enemy pawn is destroyed. It takes three Archers to kill one enemy pawn, and so on. The rules don't say who picks the removed pawns, so we say the owning player decides which ones die. There is no die roll, just straight ratios. It works.

Missile combat is quite entertaining, and this is the first miniatures game I've seen that recommends players wear protective eyeglasses! For every five pawns in an Archer unit (drop any fractions), you may fire one missile at an enemy unit within 12" (30 cm) of the Archer unit. This is done using a cardboard tube from a paper towel roll and the marbles included with the game. Hold the loading end of the tube 12" (30 cm) above the table, point it at the target unit, and drop the marbles through. Any pawn knocked over is a casualty - this is very similar to Little Wars' artillery fire, and very fun to do. It's more accurate than Diskwars' missile fire, by the way, at least in my experience.

Missile combat is also a very strong argument in favor of the plain wooden pawns: I'm not going to shoot marbles at an army of miniatures that I've spent hundreds of hours carefully painting! But it sure is fun to bowl toy soldiers over, as every kid knows. This gives the game a "high toy factor" as the expression runs ...


Magic is simple in this game. A Wizard knows four spells, and can cast one per turn. The spells are fairly simple:

  • A Fireball, basically a magic missile,
  • A Healing Spell, trying to reduce casualties,
  • A Wind Gust to blow enemy units away from the Wizard, possibly into or out of combat, and
  • Valour, which grants a bonus to the ratio of a nearby unit in a melee.
It would be very easy to steal spells from other games, if you're so minded - Fantasy Rules! and Diskwars spring to mind right away, as well as hundreds of RPGs.


Morale rules are simple and clear: if a unit drops to fewer than three pawns, it has one turn to join a similar unit, or flees the battlefield. The only exceptions are Wizards, who can be alone or with one guard, if they wish, and King's Elite, who not only don't break themselves, but bolster units within 6". The last figure left alive in a King's Elite unit is presumed to be the King, by the way.

Other Rules

I haven't covered all the rules in the game - it wouldn't be fair to the game designer to basically give his game away for free in this review! Rest assured that he covers other things, such as retreating from an attack before the melee phase, the order of missile fire, set-up rules, defended positions, etc.

Future Expansions and House Rules

The rulebook promises future expansions. The basic game includes Barbarians and Orcs, who really are identical in abilities. He lists Elves, Dwarves, Goblins and Lizard Men as future armies - I hope he'll include some distinct capabilities for them.

In the meantime, the game is so simple (in a good way) that it's easy to tweak it in any direction you want. I haven't actually included any of the following rules yet, but have already thought of them.

Cavalry would be very easy to implement. The simplest version would be to give them a 2:1 ratio, like Warriors, but a 12" (30 cm) move. Their cost would probably be three points each. You have enough blank disks to make up stickers for these extra unit types, by the way.

Pikemen are the next logical step - you've got to have some defense against Cavalry, after all! They'd have a 1:1 ratio against Cavalry, but 2:1 otherwise. They'd cost three points each.

Hidden Disks: simply keep the disks face down until the units come within 12" (30 cm) of an enemy unit. This would allow a surprise Archer attack, for example, or be a good way to disguise your King's Elite until they're close enough to do some major damage. Probably a realistic rule, actually - you might see the enemy coming, but not know what type of unit it is until they're closer.

Rangers are a logical necessity if you use the rule above, of course! Somebody's got to scout out the enemy units ... A Ranger is very similar to a King's Elite in the following ways:

  1. He is immune to the morale rules - that is, may travel alone,
  2. He fights at a 1:1 ratio, and
  3. He costs four points
A Ranger is different from a King's Elite in the following ways:
  1. He gives no morale bonus to other units
  2. A single Ranger may travel alone without being the King
  3. He cannot be attacked while in woods or rough terrain - but neither does he stop an army from moving by him.

More Magic Spells are easy to come up with, but you'd probably want to limit a Wizard to four spells, still, lest they become too powerful. But it would be fun to be able to choose four spells from a longer list for each Wizard. I've thought of a Missile Boost Spell that lets you add one to the number of marbles shot from an Archer unit within 6" of the Wizard. While this may seem little different from its own Fireball, the Wizard gets to cower 6" further from the enemy ... And you could also have a Teleport spell, to get out of trouble quickly when that pesky Cavalry comes charging at you. Oh, there are lots of magical effects you could have: make a river impassable for a turn, prevent a unit from moving for a turn, reduce damage (rather than heal it afterwards), counter an enemy Wizard's magic spell, create or shift terrain, increase the movement rate of a unit, etc., etc.

More Terrain Effects are likewise easy to implement. Terrain in this game has to be (A) flat so pawns can stand on it and (B) sturdy enough to resist missile fire, though it's easy to set it back in place if it is disturbed. So far I've just used pieces of colored felt to denote most terrain - it meets the above criteria superbly.

Why Wouldn't You Like This Game?

Well, one prominent reason is that most miniatures aficionados love the visual aspect of their games: a whole tableful of beautifully and intricately painted miniatures is a grand sight. In this game, a pawn can be anything, and all units in the same army look alike no matter what they are. This doesn't bother me at all - in fact, I kind of like it. It may bother you.

The simplicity of the rules may turn some people off. A miniatures game is really just a wargame, and most wargamers like their rules to be fairly complex, so they can model reality a bit closer than simpler rules can. That is, closer to a simulation than to a game. This is just a game. It's a good game, but it doesn't pretend to be a simulation. Realism is bypassed to get to playability. This can be a plus or a minus to you, depending on your tastes. I consider it a plus - you might not.

The marbles that came with my copy of the game are crystal clear and get lost easily! This is remedied by using other marbles, of course, but I wonder why he chose clear marbles.

There are very few randomizers in the game, and the major one (dropping marbles through a tube) may not appeal to you. There are some coin tosses here and there scattered throughout the rules (the Healing Spell, for example), but most things are simply resolved using the melee ratios. This may not be to your taste.

There are a few holes in the rules, to be honest - not every possible situation is covered. (I list an example above, where the rules don't mention who chooses which pawns die in melee combat. This can be important if you lose a critical pawn whose loss might create a gap in the unit, triggering a morale crisis.) I don't mind such things - I can fill in rules with my own easily enough, and even enjoy doing so, but you might not be of the same mindset as I am. The author is online, however, at the link given at the top of this article, and I'm sure he'd happily answer e-mail questions if you've ordered his game.

Summing Up

I like this game a lot. It's simple, it's an improvement on the classic Little Wars, a game I already enjoy, and it's attractive in its own way. I recommend it if the flaws mentioned above don't bother you.

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