Castle Cracker

Medieval and Ancient Warfare

Copyright 1998 - T. Sheil & A. Sheil - All Rights Reserved

A simple, basic game based on warfare in ancient times.  Easy to learn, easy to use, for backyard, beach or living room.  Uses almost any size or type figures, from plastic toy soldiers to collectible miniatures.

Click here for Castle Cracker Advanced Rules Supplement

Here's what you need:

Making tools:

String should be cut in lengths of 4 feet, 3 feet, 2 feet and one foot. Each string is then divided by thirds. You can tie a knot to separate each 1/3.  These are Range Cords representing distance, and noted as R1, R2, R3 and R4.  They measure both movement and weapons range.  For larger figures, you can make the cords longer - for instance, R4 can be 8 foot instead of 4.  Doubling or tripling distance also helps when you have large armies in a large area..

The disk has to be four quarters. Draw a cross over the center to do this.

Click here first - The Basics of the Sandy Hook Battle Games

The battlefield:

On a normal battle field, the area is divided into zones. Each side takes an end area. The middle zone is "no man's land. Troops must move into no man's land to fight.

In a regular Castle Cracker, the fort is on one end of the battlefield while the attackers start from the other end.

Castle Crackers Away is a version where a fort is already under attack, and its side must send troops to reinforce it before the enemy wipes it out. In Castle Crackers Away, the fort my be in No Man's land or even the enemy sector.

Defense: one side defends and wins if it keeps the attackers out, the other must get through and take an objective and hold it for five turns. You can also have a game where both sides have objectives. Use your imagination!

Troop types:

The amazing thing about Castle Cracker is that you can have a battle with armies that were thousands of miles or thousands of years apart.  Because warfare had changed so little prior to the use of gunpowder, the same basic principles apply for Romans and Greeks as for Knights and Vikings.

Still and all, there are matters of troop types.  Ancient footsoldiers were sent forth in units, while cavalry and chariots could act as a group or as a mob of individuals.  These are the standard troop types that apply to all armies:

Infantry: we have 3 types, Light/Unarmored, half-armored and fully armored.

Cavalry: light unarmored or heavy armored cavalry.

Charioteers: the Assyrians, Egyptians, Greeks and early Romans used chariots to carry spearmen and archers.

War Wagons: slow-moving carts drawn by mules or oxen, used mainly to carry archers in battle.  Wagons are also used to carry supplies and troops to the battle.

Siege Crews: these are the men who manned catapults, ballistae (massive crossbow-like contraptions), trebuchets (huge stone-throwers), siege towers, battering rams, and in the later middle ages they handles Culverins and other primitive cannons.

Archers: troops armed with the bow and arrow

Hakenbuschers: also called Arquebusiers and Musketeers.  These men carried the crude firelock muskets during the early renaissance.


In the middle ages, troops were organized according to the weapons they used.  Mainly, foot troops were of 3 types: pole-arms (spears, pikes, etc), small arms (axes, swords, maces, etc.) and Missiles (archers or Haknebuschers).  When you organize your army, it helps to organize troops this way.  Here are classes of weapons we use in the game:

Pole-arms - weapons mounted on poles and fitted with a stabbing spike or blade.  Includes spears, pikes, halbards and spontoons.

Small arms - hand-held weapons such as axes, maces, swords and war clubs.

Thrown weapons: javelins, pilum, spears or axes thrown en-masse at the enemy.

Archery: the bow and arrow.

Crossbow: hard-hitting mechanical bow

Muskets: old firelocks with short range, used by units

Lances: pole-arms wielded by mounted men.


Movement is by turn: one moves, then the other, and then fighting and shooting take place.

Here is how far a unit can move per turn (we use the same distance as the Range cords):

Light troops: unarmored troops (some may have a steel cap) and archers - 1 1/2

Medium Troops: 1

Heavy troops: 1

Light cavalry, chariots: 2

Heavy cavalry :1 1/2

Wagons: 1

Towed siege gear: 1

Pushed siege gear: 1/2

It takes 1 turn to hook or unhook a weapon to be towed


Different aspects of the land affect movement.  Here is how speed is affected:

Hills:  climbing a gently-sloping hill  - 10 degrees to 44 degrees- slows troops and wheeled carts and wagon speed by 1/3. A steep hill - 45 to 80 degrees - slows them 2/3.  (Hills over 80 degrees can only be scaled by climbers with climbing gear.)  Wheeled vehicles and horses cannot climb steep slopes.

Going down hill on gentle slopes does not affect movement.  On steep slopes, movement is slowed by a third.

Rivers: on coming to a river, a unit must stop immediately.  If the river is fordable, all movement through the river is slowed by one half.  On climbing the far bank, the unit must stop.  

Bridges, Passes, Tunnels: when a unit comes to cross a bridge or go through a narrow pass or tunnel, choose one piece as the lead figure.  It moves as far as you wish, and everyone else follows behind.  

Lakes: crossing lakes involved using boats or barges.  It takes one move to get on the boat, and one move to get off.  A boat or barge can move R1 per turn.


Missiles fire and have a certain impact.  The range is shown by a number following the letter R (as in R2).  Impact is 3 numbers, denoting close, medium and long range.  The amount of times a weapon can fire per turn is indicated in parentheses.

Thrown weapons: R1, 2-2-1 (1)

Bow and arrows: R3, 4, 2-1 (2)

Crossbow: R2, 6 - 3 - 1 (1)

Musket: R2, 6 - 3 -2 (1)

Ballista: R2, 7- 5- 3 (Fires every other turn. Counts as 4 - special rule)

Catapult: R2, 3 -3-3 (Every other turn) cup rule applies

Cannon firing direct: R2 8 - 6 -4 (Every other turn) Counts as 4, special rule applies

Cannon, howitzer, mortar firing indirect: R2, 5-5-5 (Every other turn) cup rule applies

Armor protection from missiles

Armor protection works so long is the damage of the attacking weapon is lower than the armor's rate.  If the weapon equals or exceeds the number, it breaks the armor.

Light troops - 1

Medium half-armor troops - 3

Heavy armor - 5

Siege gun - 4

Siege tower - 5

Ram - 6

Chariot - 3

War Wagon - 4

Castle gate - 6

How we shoot

A unit of men fires at another unit.  Casualties are removed, starting at the front of the unit being hit.  

Roll 2 dice.  You need a 6 or better to hit at close range, 8 or better for medium range and 10 or better for ling range.

To hit troops fighting behind walls, you subtract 2 from the dice roll.

To hit troops hiding behind wagons or houses, subtract 1

If you fire at a unit that has not moved for one mover, and you have not moved either, add 2 to your dice roll.

Cup rule: Artillery, be it cannon, mortar or howitzer, chooses a target and fires. A die is rolled. 1 or 2 means a direct hit. A cup is placed over center of the blast, and everything inside is ruined or killed. If you roll a 3, the hit fell short and lands one cup-width to the front, 4 means to the rear, 5 to the left, 6 to the right. Again, a cup is placed over the center of the cup and everything inside is hit. (Of course, a stone wall will resist the blast. If the blast is outside the wall, everything inside remains untouched), This simulates a gun's tendency to be off target and create casualties also. And it shows why you never fire at a target too close to your troops!

Cannon direct fire: A cannon will hit any man in its path, hitting up to 5.  Place the range string from the cannon to its intended target.  Aim at the target as you would any regular shooting.  If it hits, anything in range behind him touched by the taut string is hit - he may hit up to 5 men.  We consider the 5th to have stopped the cannonball, so that anyone over 5 is unharmed.  

Ballista: a ballista's direct fire is like a cannon.  It will do 4 damage and it will hit up to 3 men.

Cannons also fired grapeshot.  This is how it works: At an attacking unit of troops R1 or closer, artillery fires grapeshot. Lay the cup on its side, the bottom facing the gun. Everything under the gun is hit as if it were shot by rifles. Medieval Grapeshot can hit up to five targets and it does 5 damage. Those troops and things closest to the gun are destroyed first.

Mortars, howitzers and catapults cannot fire at targets in close range, as they are high-angle weapons.  They can only fire at targets, using the cup rule, at medium or long ranges.

Hand to Hand Fighting

When two units come into contact, they are involved in hand-to-hand fighting.  All infantry and light cavalry fight as 1 man each.  Heavy cavalry fights as 2 men (with exception noted below), chariots fight as 3.

When fighting a unit of 6 or more spearmen, unless those spearmen are already involved in hand-to-hand combat with another unit, heavy cavalry and chariots fight as 1 man.  The spearmen are considered to have made a shield wall, which impedes horses and chariots.  However, spearmen already in a fight cannot use the shield wall advantage.

To simulate close fighting on the battlefield, units cancel each other out.  We do this based on armor:

2 heavy armored troops or 1 heavy armored cavalryman (remember, he's acting as 2 troops except against spearmen) eliminate one enemy per turn.

3 medium or half-armored troops eliminate one enemy per turn

Chariots are considered medium troops

4 light troops eliminate one enemy per turn

Eventually one side can choose to run - a side running is considered so panicked that it runs its normal speed plus 1/4 of that speed.  

When the numbers get uneven, the side with more troops takes the smaller side prisoner.  Thus if you don't have enough men left to eliminate any more enemy and he cannot eliminate your troops, he is taken prisoner.  

It takes one man to guard 8 prisoners and march them to his own lines.  once there, one man can guard 20 prisoners.  If the guard is killed, escaped prisoners must escape to their own lines or fort before they can fight again.  If they are attacked while escaping, however, they can defend themselves.

When archers are charged, half of them can fire once before starting the hand-to-hand combat.

Musketeers can fire only if their guns are loaded that turn.

A cannon can fire grapeshot if it is its turn to fire.  If not, the gunners must defend as light troops.

Aiming: place the quartered disk over troops.  Archers can turn up to 3 quarters of a circle to fire. Musketeers, ballista can turn up to 1/2, cannons, mortars and catapults can only turn 1/4 of the circle to fire.

Historical Troops

Here is how we rate troops from historical armies:

Romans, Greek Hoplites, Macedonians - medium infantry

Vikings - defend as medium infantry, fight as heavy infantry

Celts, Gauls - men with only steel cap are light, those with armor are medium.

Knights: mounted knights are heavy cavalry, knights on foot are heavy infantry.  

Archers, crossbowmen, musketeers, siege crews: light infantry

Saxons: medium infantry

Roman, Gallic, Greek cavalry - light cavalry

Most other troops can be figured from the amount of armor they are wearing.  Full armor means heavy (figure must have 80% of body and head covered), half armor means protection of the chest and a helmet, light is anyone not protected on chest.  

Castle Siege

It is very hard to break a castle walls.  A ram that stays in place 4 turns can open a gate, but it takes 7 turns to open a breach in a wall.  Troops in the castle can counterattack by shooting or throwing stones and boiling oil.  Boiling oil sets a ram on fire, and troops must stop for one move to put out the fire.  That means the ram must stay one extra turn in order to break a wall.  A castle only has 3 bottles of oil, and it must use them against other siege tools.

Siege crews pushing a ram or tower are considered hiding behind it, out of range of missile fire.  However, when the tower gets next to a wall, it can be set afire.  Troops cannot climb the tower.  They roll a dice.  1 to 3 means the fire is too big to put out, destroying the tower and anyone riding on it.  4 to 6 means the fire is out, but no troops may climb it that turn.

Ladders are hard to use.  A soldier with a ladder can be shot along the way.  If he places his ladder on the wall and enemy defenders are within 1/3 of R1, they can push it off.  Roll a dice 1 to 3 means the ladder is pushed, 4 to 6 means the solder can climb to the top and fight.  If the ladder soldier wins, he comes onto the parapet and another soldier is placed at top of the ladder.  If he loses, the defenders can again try to push off the ladder.  Whenever there are no attackers left to defend the ladder, a defender can try to push it off.

Siege rules for Hand to Hand

In a siege, men are not fighting as units while they defend the walls.  Each soldier in a fight roles a die.  If it is one man against one, high roll strikes.  In the first roll, the one with the higher score wins. Now we must see if he gets past his enemy's armor.  He rolls again.  He needs 1 or higher to eliminate a light soldier, 3 or more to kill a medium, and 5 or more to defeat a heavy.  Where one man fights several, he rolls only once but each of his enemies roll.  The one must choose one enemy as his target.  If he beats that man's roll, he rolls the second die.  All of the enemies who beat his roll get to roll for damage, however.  A roll is both offensive and defensive.  Offensively, it denotes a strike on one enemy.  Defensively, it is how well he protects himself against all enemies arranged against him.  Any enemy attacking him who beats his roll gets to roll for damage.

Note: three men can fight one man at once.  However, if his back is not to his own troops, a wall or open area, or fighting from inside a doorway, etc. a fourth can get behind him and join the attack.  

Click here for Castle Cracker Advanced Rules Supplement

These are only very basic rules for using Ancient and Medieval troops.  Send any comments or suggestions to us

 Toy Soldiers?  More Games?  Click here for Army Men!