My blog about my wargaming activities. I collect a lot of 15mm miniatures for the American War of Independence and so collect a lot of rules for this period. I started miniatures with Napoleonics, so I have a number of armies in 6mm and 15mm figures for skirmishing. I have15mm WW II figures that I use for Flames of War, Memoir '44, and someday, Poor Bloody Infantry. Finally there is my on-again, off-again relationship with paper soldiers that I sometimes write about.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

TWTUD Questions

This is why you need to playtest rules before you make judgments or proclamations about how good they are or are not. The rules The World Turned Upside Down (TWTUD) sounded pretty good in the Battlegames review. I bought the rules and I read them and I agreed; they sounded pretty cool. Most attractive were the campaign rules, but the tabletop rules looked innovative. Now that they have soaked in and I have actually started parsing the rules and trying them out they look ... incomplete. The comment on Boardgamegeek (which also does reviews of miniatures rules) is correct: "the rules need a few clarifications (and perhaps an outside playtest)".

So, why did I go from cheerleader to skeptic?
  • Command and Control is too strict
  • Resolving combat is unclear
  • How locations are used is unclear
  • Combat too random
  • Strong British bias
Let me start by saying that I reserve the right to be wrong, especially given potential misunderstanding of the designers' intent and that they may come along and answer some critical questions. Other than that minor caveat, I firmly stand behind my comments. (I know it is hard to tell, but my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek.)

Command and Control is too Strict

The command and control rules basically fall around a few simple mechanics.
  1. The Commander-in-Chief uses his ability to activate subordinate Generals.
  2. Subordinate Generals use their ability to activate units.
  3. Activated units can move and fight effectively.
  4. Unactivated units cannot move and only skirmish at their current location.
The key here is that the Commander-in-Chief is the weak link. If they cannot activate subordinate Generals, or due to their low Ability (which can be lowered by Fate cards) can only activate one or two, the unit are completely ineffective. This reminds me of the command and control rules of Warmaster, only with no chance for a unit to use initiative, and the Army General blowing the first roll.

What was telling is when the American General Ward (ability 2) was saddled with A Fop and a Poltroon, lowering his Ability to 1, allowing him to attempt to activate only one of four subordinate Generals. In addition, because he was at a different location from all others, activation would only be with 1D6.

The problem here lies with the fact that no subordinate General will activate for any reason other than his Commander-in-Chief telling him to "Commence giving orders, Sir!", on a turn-by-turn basis. No external factors change that, like the presence of an enemy General and forces attacking you...

Resolving Combat is Unclear

This is the most distressing, as this is the heart of a miniatures rules system, and the part that I was so looking forward to, given its good review.

Combat occurs when a unit is successfully ordered into Close Range Firefight or is at the same location as the enemy, but not ordered, in which case it Skirmishes with the enemy.

Skirmishing occurs by location, so the exact position of each unit is undetermined. No limits on the number of units that can participate is apparent. The total casualties inflicted are calculated, with the owner determining which specific units receive the hits. Each hit can be saved, negating the casualty.

The Close Range Firefight occurs by pairing off units and having those two units resolve combat between them. Casualties are inflicted on the target unit (or an attached artillery piece) and hits can be negated by saves, as with Skirmishing. The problem with the close range firefight is the use of several key phrases, such as "Pair off units on a one to one basis by how they are deployed at a location." As you do not apparently "deploy" at a location (or do you?), you cannot exactly pair off by position. If you do deploy, there are no rules to tell you how to do so.

What is also unclear is what happens when some of the attacker's units, which are already at a defended location, are successfully ordered to Close Range Firefight, but the remainder are not. Will the ones ordered pair off for Close Range Firefights and the remainder Skirmish? Or is it an "all or nothing" proposition (e.g. you can only do one or the other at a given location on your turn)? This is especially troubling where there are two Generals at a location and one fails to activate. The rules indicate that you can only Skirmish at a location where a General failed to activate, but it gives no exceptions where two Generals are concerned.

Given that these are British-style rules, it is usually assumed that you will figure out the "filler details" by yourself. That said, it is always good to understand the game designer's intent before you go off filling in the missing gaps.

How Locations are used is Unclear

This is the part of the rules that I was so looking forward to, given the Battlegames review on how innovative the movement system was.

A location is where troops conduct combat. The only other "place" modeled on the tabletop are links, which are the paths between two locations. Although a unit can be positioned on a link (when it takes more than one turn to move between locations), no combat can occur there.

At several points in the rules there are references to "positions", which is always occupied by the defender, but this is within a location.

Conceptually, it appears that a location is broken down into four abstract parts, as shown in the figure to the right. Note: there are no references in the rules to what follows; this is simply my analysis based on what happens in the combat rules.

When a side occupies a location, it has taken a position in the terrain. It is not clear if its exact position within the location is determined at that time or later, when combat occurs. The position comes into play when an attacking unit enters close combat with a defending unit and wins. At that point the attacker occupies the defender's position.

The most obvious effect of being in a position is that you get the benefit of the terrain in the location (e.g. in the village, at the crest of the hill, along a fence around a field, etc.).

Assume for a moment that some attacking units can perform a Close Range Firefight, while others Skirmish, based upon whether they accept their orders or not. Also assume for a moment that the attacker determines any pairing off (i.e. which unit is attacking which defending unit), so that leaves us with four groups of units:
  • Attacking units in Close Range Firefight
  • Attacking units in Support/Skirmishing
  • Defending units in Close Range Firefight
  • Defending units in Support/Skirmishing
If you imagine that the defending units in the Close Range Firefight as in the terrain of the location (in the picture to the right it is a hill), the attacking paired units are attacking those defended positions. So, if there are elements to the terrain (fences, hill crests, etc.) these come in to play in their combat resolution.

Those in support/skirmishing position come into play in Skirmish Fire, and post-Close Combat pursuit. All of this can be conceptualized as a four box system as shown in the figure. The problems arise when the defenders of a position become the attackers (during their turn) and when there are more units that the terrain piece size.

If all this sounds confused, that is because I am. There are no real answers in the rules.

Combat is too Random

Most systems with savings rolls generally have a low chance of saving, unless the unit is in cover. TWTUD is the exact opposite. The basic save chance is 50% with cover increasing that to 67%. So, if a unit inflicts 6 hits on an enemy, the number of actual casualties that might occur are anywhere from 0 to 6. That's pretty random. Granted, the average is 3 casualties, but the variance is pretty wide. That makes the game much more luck-intensive.

Strong British Bias

Okay, so maybe the bias is mine. I read about the Southern Campaign, where the British might technically win tactically because they possessed the field, but the field had no advantage (Guilford Courthouse), or they might even lose tactically (Cowpens). Battles like Monmouth Courthouse, Freeman's Farm, Brandywine, and Germantown did not really interest me as much. (Maybe I should read them more though.)

That notwithstanding, as the use of a General's Ability permeates throughout the game, and a strong strategic ability automatically gives one a strong tactical ability, and vice versa, the British end up overpowering in both the tactical and strategic game. One has to see if somehow the campaign game offsets that, however I doubt it.

But, Tarleton as a '5'?!? Come on!

So Where does that Leave Me?

At this point there are some good ideas. I think the campaign game will be awesome to play. The tabletop rules require a lot of answers at this point, and I have to consider it unplayable, as is. Maybe with the right insights and answers I will hit the "Aha!" moment.

I still have an issue that the number of figures used is far larger than I expected.

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Huachuca City, Arizona, United States
I am 50 yrs old now. I bought a house in Huachuca City, AZ (although I have a townhouse in Houston, TX and a small home in Tucson, AZ) working on a contract for "the next two years" that is going on five years now. To while away the hours I like to wargame -- with wooden, lead, and sometimes paper miniatures -- usually solo. Although I am a 'rules junkie', I almost always use rules of my own (I like to build upon others' ideas, but it seems like there is always something "missing" or "wrong").