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Friday, 25 November 2011

Rules - Scale representation, TOEs and paper keeping

Wargaming Rules thoughts of the Day

Just having a think this morning about rules systems for gaming in this scale, at the operational level.

I am slowly putting together my own set of house rules (of course), and dwelling on some of the issues involved.  There are 2 little points that are consuming my thought processes at the moment that need some expansion.

Number 1) is the paper keeping issue.

Number 2) is the TOE and representation of Divisions issue.

And these 2 subjects are necessarily intertwined.

Simulation vs Game ?

I am definitely leaning towards the latter here more than the former.

I have spent way too many hours in real command tents over the years - its tedious work, often boring, the coffee is shit and the flies and mosquitoes will never  leave you alone. The stakes are high and gravely imposing as well ... so any tabletop 'gaming' you do will neccessarily be lacking in that aspect of the simulation. (Hopefully !!)

That is not to say we cannot capture some of the feel of operational command on a grand scale on a model tabletop. Of course we can !  With great models, great terrain, and decent rule mechanics we can easily transport our minds to other times and other places, and feel the rush of being there.

Calling it a 'game' is probably as inaccurate as calling it a 'simulation' as well. It is neither. Its a tool to invoke your imagination and get you thinking, acting, and feeling like you are there.

With that in mind, lets look at rule mechanics for operational scale warfare with 2mm miniatures ... and see how we can tweak and enhance them to improve that experience.

Paper Keeping on the Gaming Table

On the subject of paper keeping .. tracking statuses of individual units is always required at some point in all gaming systems. At the one end of the scale, where you have a role playing systems with a small number of 'units' on the table - each representing a character in 1:1 scale .. there is a massive amount of paperwork involved in tracking their abilities and current status.

At the other end of the scale - say, a monstrous WW2 campaign with Army Groups clashing over vast areas, there are a lot of models on the table. As you go down to 2/3mm scale especially, I think that any level of paperwork and additional battlefield counters would spoil the look and flow of the game.

The other subject - of TOE's of models and how they represent the various Divisions has an impact on this as well. Let me explain ....

A lot of the existing systems use a concept of 'Strength Points' for each base of units on the table. This allows for units to be gradually worn down by combat and attrition. Very good, very realistic. This approach is ideal if you were building a computer game, where the computer keeps track of all these little details on each unit.

On a tabletop game though, I am not convinced that is a good plan. Why not just use the model bases themselves as a representation of the current strength and standing of a unit ?  Instead of having a single base and tracking the strength of that base ... use 3 bases for the unit instead, and remove bases as strength is lost. You then have a visual indication of the 'strength' of the unit, and no paperwork.

That solves the problem of paperwork at the expense of having a lot more figures on the table. I really dont like that idea either .. it would become extremely messy keeping track of all the models, as the growing casualty pile off table gets as big as the models on the table. Waste of good models I reckon.

KISS Rommel - although dirt simple - has an extremely clever and elegant way of handling this. When a unit takes damage - is hit and fails a saving throw, it is removed from play, as 'disbursed'. It goes into a reserves pile for that Division, and comes back into play at some random time in the future, out of your control.

Now looking at this from a Corps commander's point of view, it works. You care about your Divisions (next level down), and you care about how many battalions each Division has effective at a point in time (2 levels down). Its too much information to worry about what the % combat effectiveness of a given Battalion is at a point in time.

Removing battalions as Disbursed, and bringing them back into play later on the whim of the dice makes a lot more sense. It is imposing the idea that what is happening in detail at the battalion level is obscured from view in the Corps HQ tent, and that feels just right to me.

I will be sticking with that mechanism, unless something radically better comes along.

Modelling a typical combat Division

That leaves us with the TOE issue.

I am going to go out on a limb now and suggest a general rule of thumb that in any good gaming system, you command a half dozen or so of large units per side (Divisions),  each of which contains around a dozen bases representing sub units (Battalions).

This general rule of thumb works with systems like DBx / HoTT / Napoleonic Grand Tactical, etc, so lets see how that impacts WW2 operational wargaming.

The bottom line is that the representation of a typical Division should equate to something around 12 bases of troops of differing types.  That would be maybe 6-9 front line teeth bases - infantry battalions, and 3-6 support assets (Artillery, Heavy Weapons fire support, recon, engineers, etc)

That would allow 1 base of infantry = 1 battalion very accurately.

It becomes a problem with the supporting assets, especially mortars and HMG companies. In scale, a Division would end up with 1 heavy weapons stand, and that is just not granular enough.  What I would prefer there is to have a larger number of 'half bases' to represent these important support assets.

Artillery - what to do ? Only 1 per Division, and its too hard to lose the lot on a bad dice roll. Too many, and the game bogs down with artillery fire.

So I am thinking I will put my full combat battalions on larger 30x20mm rectangular bases, and have a larger number of small support bases on little 20mm circular bases.

So my German 1939 Infantry Division now looks like this :
  • HQ base
  • Regiment 1 - 3 x infantry full combat battalions. 1 HMG group, 1 Infantry gun group.
  • Regiment 2 - 3 x infantry full combat battalions. 1 HMG group, 1 Infantry gun group.
  • Regiment 3 - 3 x infantry full combat battalions. 1 HMG group, 1 Infantry gun group.
  • Recon group - circular half base
  • Artillery Regiment - 3 x Artillery batteries.
The Artillery Problem

To solve the artillery problem - which is that in my experience, artillery fire can get so horribly complex that it consumes the game and blows out the time to play. I have even been in games where both players have deliberately passed on even firing their own artillery because they want to get on with the game and see if their bigger plans work out. Its not a good feeling :(

So I am thinking of treating artillery as a supporting asset, and employ it as a combat factor bonus applied to those front line units it is supporting. Other deliberate artillery barrages will still happen, but the mechanics have to be quick and simple, and not ruin a good game.

I want the Corps commander to keep their mind on holding the line together, and finding breakthroughs in the enemy line ... not getting lost in the detail of artillery barrages.

So to that end, I like the idea of having 1-3 artillery bases attached to a Division instead of 1. Allows for more granularity, and it allows the modelling of slightly differing artillery support capabilities between the different Divisions of different nations.

A simple mechanism for counter battery fire and weight of opposing artillery - lets say there is a combat happening in a sector. Blue Force has 3 batteries in support range, Red Force has 2 batteries in support range.  The 2 Red Force Batteries cancel out 2 of the Blue Force batteries ... so Blue Force gets a +1 for artillery support, Red Force gets +0. Simple !

All those other little support groups - MG companies, Infantry Guns, Mortar Batteries, etc .. work in the same way. Those in range of support cancel each other out, and the player with the surplus gets the combat bonus for their main front line fighting force. Keep it simple, and reduce the die rolls.

The Tank Problem

Now we have nice problem !  As above, I have said that 1 base of infantry = 1 combat battalion.

If we were to stick with the same scaling rule, and keep to historical TOEs,. then we are going to end up with battles with around 50 infantry combat battalions, and (if you are lucky) 3-4 tank bases on the table to represent a large scale battle.

Where is the fun in that ?

A couple of bad dice rolls may be enough to lose a base of tanks, and its then pretty much game over. That would be both silly and annoying.

I want to see games where large numbers of Infantry Divisions define the front line, and where clusters of tank units exploit breakthroughs in the enemy line, and throw the enemy into confusion. Thats what I want to feel when I play an operational game. Would need more than 2 tank bases to get that feel right.

I think it is necessary to model tank combat units on a different scale. We need to think in different terms here. Instead of sticking to a rigid thought that "1 model base represents X  men / vehicles in real life", we need to think in terms of "1 model base represents a level of combat capability and zone of control which is roughly the equivalent of a typical infantry battalion".

If you phrase it in those terms, then you can rightly justify some far more interesting and plausible armoured organisations.

Nothing concrete yet, but here are some possible examples :

Red Force 39th Shock Corps (15 combat bases, 7 support bases, 5 artillery)
  • HQ base
  • Recon Battalion - 1 base armoured recon
  • Rifle Division - 3 "Motor Rifle Shock Regiments", each with 3 combat battalions in trucks, 1 HMG, and 1 Assault gun battery
  • Heavy Tank Assault Regiment -  2 bases of KV-1 heavy tanks (3 tank models and some infantry per base)
  • Tank Breakthrough Division - 4 bases of T-34 fast tanks (4 tank models and some infantry jammed on each base)
  • Artillery Regiment :  3 x 122mm artillery batteries, 2 x Katyusha Rocket batteries
Nasty looking unit indeed, but the mix feels right, and most importantly, the massed look of the unit matches the feel of how it is to be used.

In comparison -

Blue Force 103rd Panzer Kampfgruppe (14 combat bases, 8 support, 3 artillery/AA)
  • HQ base
  • Recon Battalion - 1 base armoured recon, 1 base motorcycle recon
  • 2 PzGren Regiments - each with 4 bases of armoured infantry (2 half tracks and some infantry on each base), and 1 Combat engineer support base.
  • Heavy Tank Company - 1 x Tiger I model and some infantry on a base.
  • Tank Battalion - 4 bases of tanks.  2 bases with a couple of Panther models, 2 bases with a mix of PzIVs, a Stug, and some sort of improvised AT gun on a motorised chassis.
  • Artillery  Regiment - 2 x 105mm Battery
  • Flack detachment - 1 battery of quad 20mm AA 
  • AT detachment - 1 x 75mm AT gun battery, 1 x PzJager company (half track and some infantry on a small support base)

Note how with well equipped armoured infantry battalions here, I am using 2 bases per battalion now, instead of 1 base for an infantry battalion. Does not mean that there are twice as many troops, it just means that an armoured infantry battalion can cover a wider frontage, take more damage, and project more capability than their leg borne brethren.

I think that works.

The battered remnants of the Blue Force organisation is obviously a lot smaller than the Red Force opponent - and there are less models on the bases to show that ... but they can still project a lot of combat capability on to sectors of the battlefield.

It would be visually interesting to see that lone model of a Tiger holding off swarms of T-34s as well.  A little bit Hollywood perhaps, but its an example of how a more flexible TOE and model basing system can be used to capture the imagined feel of this engagement ... without adding any paperwork or table lookups.

Using Medals to Spice Up the Game

Here is an interesting idea.

In my playtesting using a mix of tables based around KISS Rommel / Pz8 ... I had a moment at a critical phase of the battle where the whole balance of power switched over to one side because of a single bad dice roll.

I am using a mechanism similar to KISS - roll 1 dice to 'Hit', and 1 dice to 'Save'.

Using D10 instead of D6, since I like the wider spread and finer control of combat bonuses.  Remembering that if a unit fails a saving throw, it is considered disbursed, and removed from play until it can roll to get back on the table later on.

I thought it would be fun to say on the saving throw of a hit - if you roll a natural 0, then treat that not just as a fail, but as a catastrophic fail (Epic Fail ?). Removed from play for the rest of the game, not to be returned.

Well, it so happened that the lone elite heavy tank group leading the flank attack suffered an unlucky long shot from some measly light gun on the flank (2-4km away), and rolled a natural 0 on the save.  Ouch !

Yes, I know that bad luck can happen, but I wasnt very pleased with the effect that had on the game. Such rare events, although fun when they happen, can mean that all the good generalship and preparation can go out the window on a single die roll. That doesnt particularly feel right.

The solution to the tank problem above - ie, representing tank battalions with multiple bases, removes the possibility of the whole unit being wiped off the board with 1 dice roll. That goes a long way towards solving this problem.

In addition,  I have broken that catastrophic event down into a little more detail, and added some extra die rolls and mechanisms .. will see how it plays out.

Realistic Simulation ?  Dont ask.
Battlefield Bling ?  Definitely !

If a unit takes a catastrophic hit, they roll a D6 on the catastrophic hit table. There is a range of reactions there from surrender, annihilation, through to heroic reaction and fighting their way back. So it can go either way.

Catastrophic Loss Table - Regular Units

Die Roll Result
Modifier +2 Elite
+1 Veteran / Fanatic
+0 Regular
-1 2nd Rate
or Natural 1
Unit surrenders
2 Unit annihilated
3 Unit broken, ineffective for remainder of game
4 Unit out of action for 2 days
5 Unit out of action for 1 day
or Natural 6
Heroic recovery - unit reforms immediately within 1 sector. Unit is granted a Medal.

In the case of rolling a natural 6 on this table during a save, the unit earns a 'Medal' for their heroism. You can purchase a little bag of tiny gold and silver plastic stars in the jewelery and beads section of the cheap shop .. I use these on my Napoleonic games to denote various things such as gifted leaders ... and they would make excellent tokens for 2/3mm units as well.

If the attacking unit scores a catastrophic hit on an enemy, and that enemy then surrenders .. the attacking unit earns a 'Medal' as well.

They can carry that shiny medal token around with them on the gaming table for the rest of the game with justifiable pride.

When designing scenarios, in addition to defining troop types and troop ratings, some very special bases can start the scenario with a 'Medal' as well. Only 1-2 per side though, if at all.

The effect of having a 'Medal' is then 2 fold.  During the end of day procedure, when disbursed units roll to get back on the table, disbursed units with Medals auto-pass their recovery roll. Cant keep a good man down.

When a unit with a 'Medal' suffers a catastrophic hit (Rolls a 0 on any saving throw), then they roll on a slightly different catastrophic hit table to other non-heroic units. 

Catastrophic Loss Table - Units with Medals

Die Roll Result
Modifier No Modifier
1-2 Unit fights heroically to the last man, annihilated
3-5 Stubborn defence, no effect
6 Inspiring defence, unit gets a free return fire against the attacker.

Anyway ... a bit of gaming bling to spice up the game, and simple mechanics that don't bog the game down.

Must get some painting done now, so I can get some troops on the table, and have fun seeing how all this works .. or doesn't work. Either way, will have fun finding out.

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