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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Micro Tactics in Games

If I maneuver my Corps around the map and am able to get into a good position, resulting in a tabletop board setup to my advantage, I call that 'strategy'. If I maneuver a force around your flank while another force blocks your counter, I call that 'grand tactics. If I maneuver two bodies of troops against your one and achieve concentration of fire, I call that 'tactics'. What I'm talking about here today is none of those things; I am talking about the physical placement of components in a unit and how it affects game play. I'm not really sure what to call it, but the term I use is 'micro tactics'.

Most games don't allow micro tactics. Some gamers don't like micro tactic games and typically game them a being too 'gamey' or 'fiddly'. I personally hate micro-measurement games - games where being 5mm off can mean the world of difference and where the measurements are typically small - but that is not what I am referring to (I hate those too ... well except for DBA).

The best way to describe it is through an example. The picture below shows a situation with a typical horse and musket rule set. Here five stands of red are firing upon four stands of blue, but with the allowed arc of fire, represented by the lines, only four of those stands can be brought to bear on the front face of the unit; thus only four stands can fire.

By shifting the unit to the left, the fifth stand can be brought to bear and thus gets to fire.

Is this shifting of the stands really representative of micro tactics? I suppose so, but it does show that the typical horse and musket rules, which have rules like in this example, doesn't provide a very rich set of nuances that make for micro tactics. (And to be honest, many rules are specifically designed so that they don't have many nuances at this level.) The best reason why this sort of micro tactic is less of an issue in these type of rules is shown in the example below.

Because so many horse and musket games have a wall of troops, any stand that cannot be brought to bear against the main target simply splits off an fires at the next unit over, where it can be brought to bear. Thus, with a line of such units, all off alignment but splitting their fire as necessary, stand placement really has little effect during most of the game. Thus it becomes less about micro tactics and more about tactics. (Again, I think many of the authors and players of those rules would say: "and that is the way I like it and intended it".)

So, what is a concrete example of micro tactics? Here is a situation that came up recently.

In these rules, a defending stand can be pulled into close combat if it is within 4" of the attacking stand, otherwise the defending stand cannot participate. Blue has attacked the end of the line and shifted slightly to the right, putting it outside of the 4" range, thus allowing it to get a 2:1 advantage locally, despite having 1:2 odds unit-to-unit. This occurred because blue exploited the isolation of the rightmost red stand (it is within legal command distance, which is 6" between stands, but not within 4", which is supporting range for close combat).

There are a variety of ways for red to counter that situation, but with the rules in question (Flames of War), bringing stands closer together has a side effect with another tactical element, the template weapon. Placing stands closer together means more stands fall under the template, making more eligible to be hit. So red has to trade off between vulnerability to template weapons versus vulnerability to assault. In this example, spreading out limits the damage from artillery while also limiting your response to assault. (One can also say that it limits the damage done to you by assault as you cannot have more than one stand drawn in, like it or not.)

An interesting micro tactic came up in a game yesterday, in this case a bad micro tactic, but it illustrates the point. Shawn did not intentionally mess up, but rather had so many stands in his Soviet infantry horde to manage that by the time we sorted things out for firing, the error revealed itself. But it shows the interesting sort of micro tactical situations that show up in Flames of War.

Blue was moving forward and firing. The SMG and Flamethrower teams accidentally ended up beside one another. Normally that might not be a problem, but because they both have a very short 4" range and were at the extreme end of that range, only one enemy team was within range of them and it was the same team for both. So instead of rolling 7 dice and it applying to several enemy teams, they could only allocate hits to that single team, resulting in some drastic overkill. If either of those teams had been in the position of the rightmost blue team, for example, it would have reduced the overkill considerably. That spreading out the of the fire concentration is counter-intuitive, but a good example of hat not to do at the micro tactical level.

As a side note: due to the extreme short range of these weapons, I think it is very important that players scrupulously apply to methods for rolling and allocating hits cited in the Flames of War rule book. Most people forget that 'roll one at a time' is the default method and that 'roll them as a batch' is a convenience allowed by the defender. When you have a situation like the above it makes sense to invoke the rule, even if your opponent calls you a cheesy rules lawyer (and no, Shawn did not call me that). Otherwise these short-ranged, high rate-of-fire weapons become overpowering and could wipe out whole squads in a single volley.

So, why this discussion? It dawned on me last night as I was jaw-boning about the game afterwards with Don that these little things - what I am calling micro tactics - are what I like in a rules set. That is why Flames of War gets more interesting as I learn more about the rules. I think that is why I like the Ganesha Games Song of ...engine too; choices about the number of dice to roll, the order figures are activated, ganging up in close combat, etc. all make for small choices that the player makes that can have a material impact on the game.

"No dude, it is not your dice. You placed that figure 1" too far to the right, creating a hole I could exploit and then ..."

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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").