Australian Frontier Wars – Smooth & Rifled: skirmish gaming


Smooth & Rifled

Smooth & Rifle is a skirmish game in the truest sense. It does not attempt to handle larger forces upwards of 100 figures or so which is the purvey of rules sets such as The Men Who Would be Kings ie massed skirmish, as we have discussed in previous posts.

No…Smooth & Rifled will hit the sweet spot with actions around the 15-30 figure mark, with the lower end being common, with the game able to handle slightly larger forces depending on the scenario and force types involved.

The unique activation method used in Smooth & Rifled lends itself well to small skirmish actions that sit above the role play game (not my cuppa tea), whilst driving a strong narrative game. This is perfect to reflect small scale clashes of frontier life that were typical of the days of settlement in Australia, with many a settler/soldier vs aboriginal warrior encounter occurring.

A unique aspect of the rules lend itself well to small free wheeling skirmishes with the use of the ‘no group/group’ idea. This is the method used in the game where leaders form, disperse and reform groups throughout play, without group sizes being fixed such as they are in many rules, including our massed skirmish game of choice, TMWWBK. The rules also allow for a number of specific unit traits that further define troop types which we shall be seeing in our Frontier Wars clashes.

With a number of unique weapons used in the game this provides us with the opportunity to explore clashes that emphasise weapon types not normally seen elsewhere in the colonial pantheon whilst fitting well with our skirmish setting. When combined with the unique initiative system and the group/regroup options, we end up with a pretty interesting mix of on-table troop abilities to reflect actions set on the Australian frontier that capture the salient features of troop and weapon interactions. Scenarios are off course key to any rules set and we add an extra one below on top of those include in the game and encourage ideas around putting a good scenario combined with the Smooth & Rifled tactical system together to give us a fair representation of our subject.

The game system itself has a number of built in features that enable it to reflect frontier war games – we’ll touch on a few.

For the British and Settler forces they are fairly stock-standard and easy to represent being typical of their type in the game. Special rules for civilians are added to scenarios. Indeed I would encourage all prospective Smooth & Rifled players to download the many army lists for free to get an idea of how special rules can be added to the game.

The skirmisher trait that the aborigines are given limits them to a role more akin to their fighting style ie they will be unable to activate as a group to fire or charge-into-combat but can do so when moving as a group or mob. When combined with their low combat score they are less suited to close into contact with settler forces, relying mainly on missile firepower. To more accurately reflect the lower lethality of aboriginal weapons we also reduce the ‘to kill’ number from 4+ to 5+, causing most hits to represent very light wounds or deflected shots, that still cause a figure to be shaken but not down for the count.

For morale we do something slightly different to the standard rules for our Frontier Wars games. In our variant when one-third of the morale value of your force is reached we test morale for each figure to see whether they stand. If in this test more than half of the figures, in morale value points, has routed, then the entire force is broken. Leaders are worth more in a morale value point computation and thus their loss is more critical.

This rule can be applied to both sides but should at least be given to the better trained British Army troops – you could easily leave it out for the settlers and probably should for the aborigines unless a particularly belligerent tribe or rated fierce.

One of the nice things with Smooth & Rifled off course is that you can get yourself 15-20 figures and get playing immediately. The small/medium/large game formats provide guidance on unit set up and scenario information. This makes the period very accessible as even 20 figures to paint is within reach of all miniature gamers.



The following lists provide you with details for all troop types for the early period of the Frontier Wars. As I have mentioned in previous posts, this is my primary area of interest and the period where the forces are most evenly matched. It is worth remembering that in a skirmish setting weapons technology can be seconded to good scenario design, which can to a degree mitigate some of the technical advantages the settler player will have in the later years…getting the scenario right will be important, as it is in any rule set.

For now, I’m putting an arbitrary cut off year of 1855 on the lists (Early Colonial Settlement) though off course they can be used beyond that for at least a decade or more. The lists allow players to put together forces for typical historical encounters or less common and fictional ones.

Finally, these are my list. They are not definitive or perhaps even the way some people would represent certain aboriginal or British weapons, but I think they fit pretty well in the game system and produce the right effect. If you don’t like ‘em, change ‘em but drop me a line if you do as you may have a better suggestion – thanks.

Player Note – I prefer using imperial measurements and have provided players with playsheets below for both ie cm and inches.


Smooth & Rifled – Australian Frontier Wars army lists.








another playsheet!

A friend of agrabbagofgames has also made a playsheet up that is very useful. It includes our small rule tweaks and very nicely summates the rules – recommended.





The four scenarios included in the game are all usable for the Frontier Wars. In addition and though not specifically for Smooth & Rifled, the medieval version of the game, Lords & Servants, does have a scenario book. I recommend getting this one as most, if not all, scenarios are useable and for $1 how can you go wrong.

One such scenario forms the basis of the following game I present here specifically for Frontier Wars. It takes the form of an aboriginal raid against a settler farm. From our previous posts we have discussed this tactic was often used by the Aboriginal tribes to raid, loot and burn settler’s farms as a type of economic warfare, this being being a common strategy employed by tribesmen to drive the white man from tribal land.

The farm can also serve as a source of supply for the tribes and in this scenario capturing and fleeing with sheep is part of the aboriginal player’s objective capturing this idea.

Players will need some sheep and settler civilian figures in this game. Some fencing, a few outbuildings, some cows for scenery, and the odd kangaroo in the background should be the order of the day.



…” no tribes would allow of the peaceable occupation of their country but, following the counsel of the boldest and strongest man amongst them, would endeavour to check the progress of the white men by spearing their cattle, stealing their sheep and murdering the shepherds”.

“W. H. Wiseman, commissioner of crown lands for the Leichhardt district (Queensland), 1855



Farm Raid


BRIEFING – Aboriginal player: As the leader of your tribe you are tasked with raiding a settler’s farm located on your traditional lands. Your young warriors are hungry for loot and revenge and are ready to attack. Settler player: The ‘locals’ having been giving us a bit of curry lately. One of the farm hands from a local tribe has informed you that trouble is brewing so you’d better be ready when it comes.


PREPARING THE TERRAIN – Players prepare terrain using the standard procedure in the rules with 1-2 farmhouse buildings and 2 outhouse smaller buildings representing the farm, placed centrally on-table. Link the building with a wooden fence with at least one area creating a sheep pen.

Once the table is laid out each player alternately places 6 civilian figures and 6 ‘units’ of sheep. You can base your sheep singly or in groups, so 6 bases (groups) with at least 3+d3 of sheep on them ( ie between 4 and 6 sheep).

Each civilian/animal must stay inside the farmstead area or be no more than 4″ from it as well as no more than 4″ from other civilians/animals. They can be placed inside buildings if both players agree.


DEPLOYMENT – Aboriginal player forces enter from one side of his choice. He cannot place his figures closer than 8″ to the farm. For the first two turns of the game he plays by himself ie the Settler player does not take any actions except with civilians.

The Settler player for the first two turns is only in control of his civilians. He uses all his APs to conduct their actions, using all the usual rules for the use of APs. At the start of the 3rd turn he deploys his force from the opposite edge player A entered from, no closer than 16″ from any enemy figures.


CIVILIANS AND SHEEP SPECIAL RULESThe Settler player controls all civilians, using the same APs rolled for his troops. Civilians Stats: Movement 5″/8, AV 2/3/4, C=2.

Sheep move only if contacted by a figure moved by the Aboriginal or Settler player. Once a figure has moved into contact with sheep roll 1d6. A score of 1, 2 or 3 means the sheep moves away 6″-1d3 in the direction chosen by the opposing player. A score of 4, 5 or 6 means the player whose figure touches the sheep has captured them or has the option to kill one sheep per action (ie remove from play).

Figures that have captured sheep suffer the following penalties to their actions:

  • They cannot take more than 2 movement phases per turn
  • They cannot fire.
  • If in melee they loose one die.
  • Civilians and sheep that are moved off the board are safe. Both civilians and sheep can be targeted for shooting.



  • Any civilian killed counts as d3 points lost for the Settler player morale. (Note – it doesn’t raise the break point of the Settler player).
  • Any sheep base captured by the Aboriginal player counts as 2 point lost for the morale of the Settler player.
  • For each sheep base killed by the Aboriginal player counts as 1 point lost for the morale of the Settler player.
  • Each civilian or sheep unit got safely off the board by either side counts as 1 point of morale breakpoint for the other side respectively.

Apply standard victory conditions in the rules (p.17).




Aboriginals, though not natural hunters of the night, did develop the use of night attacks to limit the effectiveness of modern weaponry arrayed against them as well as increase the fear factor for the settlers. Players may use night rules in their game if both agree.


Darkness limits visibility and as a consequence movements and shooting ranges are reduced. Movement are limited to 1 per turn and visibility to 15cm (6”).

No shooting is allowed over this range and the difficulty is increased by one level (eg. a 9 is needed to hit at Effective range). Even if it is dark and visibility is limited to 15cm (6”), sentinels can stil try to spot at 30cm (12”).

Choose a specific target (single figure or group) and roll 1d6. Spotting is 1 action and it is succesful with a result of 6.

Modifiers (cumulative)

•   +1 spotting horses

•   +1 spotting groups of more than 4 figures

•   +1 spotting within 15cm (6”)

Sentinels can sound an automatic alarm if they successfully spot or if they become the target of shooting (unless they are killed).


From Turn 1 to Turn 5 it is night. At the start of turn 6 roll for “Dawn” . With a result of 4+ dawns breaks, otherwise it breaks the turn after with a 3+, or automatically the following turn.

With Dawn visibility turns to be normal and figures can act as usual. Spotting is automatic.



So there we go chaps, plenty to get you going using Smooth & Rifled for frontier wars games.

In the following post we’ll take a look at a comprehensive battle report with lots of eye candy 😉






6 thoughts on “Australian Frontier Wars – Smooth & Rifled: skirmish gaming

  1. Naturally I can’t comment on the historical accuracy of your mods without a thorough understanding of the rules mechanisms, Happy, but I should point out that ordinary native mounted policemen were referred to as troopers, not constables; the latter term was reserved for white policemen. Also, sergeant was the usual rank of NCOs involved in frontier skirmishes. Explanations of NMP rank structures and changes to them over time in the period you’re interested in can be found in ‘Police of the Pastoral frontier’, by L.E. Skinner.

    Up to now I haven’t commented on your English expression, but there’s a couple of errors that appear repeatedly and therefore could do with being addressed:

    You use the word pantheon, which means an assembly of all a religion’s gods, where I think you possibly mean panoply, which in this context would be the standard equipment and weaponry of a warrior – or maybe armoury, which here would mean the array of weapons available to a ‘faction’.

    Off course should of course be…

    I was surprised to see a list for bushrangers, a ‘faction’ that in my view needs detailed individualisation and its own specialised victory condtions and scenario objectives. Also, its inclusion really demands the addition to your lists of the Military Mounted Police and assorted white civil police forces… and while you’re at it you could throw in the Border Police, too. This moves the game beyond the confines of frontier conflict into the realm of a multi-faction, comprehensive colonial Australia setting.


    • Hi Leigh,

      Point noted on Mounted TROOPERS – change made. Leader is specific to the game so whilst the senior rank may be a sergeant in the game it is a leader ‘Officer’ in the system and noted as such – in this case, a non commissioned officer….but the correct rank is noted as you say – thanks.


      I’m just waxing a bit there Leigh…just maybe unduly flowery which you can be online of course in your own piece of the internet…it’s just a blog post…nothing to serious…this ain’t a PhD!

      “I haven’t commented on your English expression”
      Please ignore what you don’t like good chap, I don’t want a lesson 😉

      Thanks for the tip on Skinner’s NMP. I found a .pdf online….nice one 😉

      Click to access HV8280_A2_S55_1975.pdf

      Bushrangers are an additional list that can widen the faction group as sometimes tribes and bushrangers, or disaffected whites, fought with them, or at least were sympathetic to their cause and could pop up in a scenario….the Irish in particular. So it’s just an expanded option for players to play with. Like I said in my opening, it’s not definitive nor meant to be and the whole white vs white stuff I have kind off left alone.’s Smooth & Rifled skirmish gaming, not a treatise on everything possible so please pop in comments but they are lists for the game that cover off most options. Other people can go away and refine them and I hope they do.

      ..good news is, there is something out there people can hang their hat on and get playing frontier wars skirmish games…that’s the goal 😉


      Happy W


  2. Really well done as always. Leigh is correct about the police nomenclature. There were some interesting instances in Queensland where the descriptions were deliberately mixed up to ensure the local NCO/Police chap in charge drew extra rations and resources for what appeared to be white troopers but were in fact black constables. I got a copy of smooth and rifled and was thinking broadly about how to create the document you have put up…so now I will stop and use yours. Thanks

    There is much scope for expanding past the 1855 point even though both the nature of the conflict and the weaponry changes dramatically. More of the post 1855 conflicts occur in the dry pastoral areas such as northern SA and inland NSW. There is a different style and type of conflict that develops. As white settlers dispersed the encounters were with much smaller native groups. So they because skirmishes in nthe true sense of the word. Many conflicts were between mere handfuls of people.

    However in more remote but well resourced areas such as Arnhem Land the traditional warfare and conflict was much more in evidence up to at least the 1890s. White settlers were few and conflict was mostly with explorers and surveyors.

    I’d be interested to know what people think of the somewhat different conflict in Queensland: considered by far the bloodiest and most ruthless of the battlegrounds. The very clear anti native police policy and actions would provide actions much more akin to traditional war games.


    • Hi George,

      Thanks for your comments.

      “I got a copy of smooth and rifled and was thinking broadly about how to create the document you have put up…so now I will stop and use yours. ”

      Excellent! If you were so inclined, you could do the 1856 -1901 lists (my arbitrary cut-off date to federation) and we’d be able to collaborate on a finished set of lists?…that would be handy. I’m sure Leigh might have some thoughts on the later stuff as well.

      “The very clear anti native police policy and actions would provide actions much more akin to traditional war games.”

      Yes. The later period in many respects reflects what we consider ‘typical’ colonial policy by any of the colonising powers. I have looked less into the later period as the early to mid century period is what I am focusing on at present but much opportunity presents.

      I have a copy of Greg Blake’s Kalkadoon article in the Miniature Wargame #113 and #113 if you like. It provides a good indication of this type of more ‘typical’ colonial encounter. Email me if you need it.

      Perhaps Leigh would like to expand on some thoughts on post 1855 later period pertinent to your questions above..he’s probably well versed in the later stuff.

      Thanks again George, hope you get those lists into shape and if you like I can supply you with the Word files to make editing them easy and with a consistent look to mine…certainly a worthwhile small project.


      Happy W


  3. I’ve posted extensively over the years (well.. decades by now) on frontier conflict over the entire colonial era, and in all that commentary I’ve always emphasised that the widening of the technological gap between the colonials and natives over time makes balancing games harder (or rather, more expensive) the later you go. In ‘Boomerang’ this is achieved through a relativistic points system, wherein the base cost on the colonial side is a civilian with musket, and additional points are added for his being mounted and/or improvements in weaponry. After the points are totalled for all colonial combatants the numbers on the Aboriginal side are calculated, and naturally the higher the colonial points total the greater is the number of opposing warriors required.This means that you can set games as late in the period as you want; you’ll just need more warriors the later you go, to the point where mounted colonials with breech-loading long-arms and revolvers will be outnumbered by a factor of about ten to one – which is entirely historically realistic, and also is the only way to give the natives the ability to successfully enact the tactics I’ve discussed previously against opposition of this calibre (if you’ll pardon the pun).

    A ‘very clear anti-native police policy’ wasn’t by any means exclusive to QLD. For instance, all the early police commissioners in SA were ex-military officers who often overlooked the nature of their current role and slipped rather too easily into their former identities. Just read O’Halloran’s thoroughly military ‘Memorandum for Operations Against the Blacks’ (posted in full on TMP some years ago), issued during a SA government expedition to the Rufus River*. One commissioner (Warburton 1853 – 1867) insisted that the Mounted Police division was a military force and that its troopers should be armed, equipped, uniformed, and conduct themselves, as light cavalry; no guesses needed as to whom the presumptive ‘enemy’ was.

    Conflict in Queensland was certainly the most intense of any Australian colony, for a number of reasons: Aboriginal populations in the eastern regions of the colony were denser than elsewhere on the continent, there had been more historical contact, and often conflict, with outsiders, the more so the further north you travelled (white settlers had a belief that Aboriginal warriors had more ‘pluck’ the further north they were located), many of the settlers were from southern colonies where they’d had previous negative interactions with the local tribes and so arrived in QLD with a hostile predisposition, and there were the gold rushes that attracted hordes of greedy, armed white men of often very dubious moral character Finally of course there was the additional catalyst of trouble that was the NMP.

    *Detailed posts about this localised conflict can also be found on TMP under the title ‘Rufus River’.


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