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, September 27, 2011

Deployment in FOW can be critical

We had a large Flames of War game this weekend, and to say that it was anti-climactic would be an understatement: 2,000 points per side resolved in three turns. I did not even get to push any lead (I was the Reserves commander), but I did get to roll a single die (for Reserves; I failed). All this leads to the subject: why deployment in Flames of War is so critical.

Basically the scenario was Late War, Eastern Front, with both sides choosing armored forces. I am not quite sure which list the Germans used - either Bake Regiment or Ostfront Panzers, it was a PDF - but the Soviets used the Self-Propelled Artillery list from River of Heroes. The problem was the mission - we rolled up Encounter - so 1/2 of both sides forces were in Reserve and the reserves were both Delayed and Scattered.

Maybe saying the mission was the problem is wrong. The Soviets only had five platoons (companies), while the Germans had six. (Yes, the Soviets had a pretty elite force.) So that meant that only two Soviet platoons could be deployed at the start. The Soviets had the following (as best as I can remember):

  • ISU-122 Battalion Commander
  • IS-2 x 3
  • ISU-122 x 3 (with Rat)
  • ISU-152 x 3
  • Katyusha Rocket Launchers x 4 with extra crews
  • Sapper platoon (5 stands?)
  • Priority Air Support (Shturmovik II-2 TIP)
What to deploy? The Soviet commander chose the Katyushas and the IS-2 company.

The Germans had the following:

  • Company Commander and Second in Command, both in Panthers
  • Panthers x 3
  • Panzer IV H x 3
  • King Tiger x 1
  • Light AA Halftracks x 3
  • Panzerwerfer Rocket Launchers x 3 with extra crews
  • Recon platoon in haltracks
The Germans chose to bring on the Panthers, Panzer IVs, and the light AA.

The battle report is short and bloody, but it points out three key lessons to learn from.

The Soviets got the first move and the IS-2 company moved forward and blasted away at the Panthers. All missed. (Giving that the mission was Encounter, the Mobile Battle special rule was in effect, so the Soviet takes were going to have a hard time hitting and the Katyushas could not bombard on the first turn.) The Battalion Commander missed. Even the flight of two Shturmoviks, who had three tanks under their template, missed all targets. The Panthers counter-attacked and destroyed two of the three IS-2s. Despite being Fearless they failed their Platoon Morale Check. The Panzer IVs meanwhile blasted a single Katyusha rocket launcher. That was turn 1.

On turn 2 Don only had the Katyusha's and the Battalion Commander. The former failed to range in and the latter took out a Panzer IV. The air support came in again, but again their bombs failed to find their target. In the German turn the Battalion Commander was taken out and the Katyusha's lost one stand shy of a morale check. The Panther platoon double-timed towards the Soviet objective uncovered by the routing IS-2 company.

So, at this point the Soviets are one stand away from taking a morale check, and if they fail it, they will automatically fail the Company Morale Check, thus losing the game. And facing them are five Panthers, two Panzer IV, and three light AA halftracks. The only thing that could save them are Reserves - rolling a '5' or a '6'.

It was at this point that the Dice Gods decided to smile on the Soviets. The reserves came in - an ISU-122 company - and they came in randomly right in front of the double-timing Panthers. Six shots at 5+ and they get four hits, resulting in all three Panthers in the platoon being destroyed! (The air and the rockets miss.) The Germans fail their Reserves roll (my only roll of the game), the Panther 2iC and Panzer IV obliterate the Katyushas, and the game is over with a German 5-2 victory.

So, what were the three lessons? We will start with the easiest ones first:

1. The Soviets could have not lost on turn 3 if they had remembered to run the Soviet Katyushas off of their baseline. This would have resulted in one platoon dead, one alive, and one not counted, meaning 50% casualties, not > 50%. This was a critical rule forgotten.

2. Although the odds were not great that the Soviet Reserves would come on that turn (33%), the fact was that the double-timing Panthers resulted in no advantage, even if no Soviet reserves came on. They were not within 4" of the objective, so they could not have claimed a win at the start of German turn 3. So, the Germans risked all for no gain, and lost.

3. What you choose for deployment critically affects the outcome of the game. The Katyushas could not bombard on turn one unless the Soviets lost the First Move die roll and as the Soviets had fewer platoons to deploy, the odds were that they were going to be the attackers. Secondly, the Katyushas have an AT rating of 2, meaning that stand little chance of bailing a tank, and no chance of destroying it outright. Finally, given that they were a soft target, they stood a real chance of dying. The Katyushas never should have been selected as part of the two critical platoons to start the game on-board. My recommendation was that the Soviets should have started with two assault gun companies, plus the commander (7 tanks).

Some discussion resulted in whether the Germans should have selected the King Tiger instead of the AA. Given the Shturmoviks being most abundant at the beginning of a game, I thought it was very important to keep them off of the Panthers. Putting a KT out there would have just given the aircraft more undefended, high value targets to choose from. The AA needed to be there, in my opinion.

Bad day for the Soviets!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Bringing the Command and Colors Design to the Tabletop

Now, I am not the first one to discuss turning Ricard Borg's Command and Color (CC) series of board games into a miniatures game. In fact, Richard himself apparently starts out designing these games using miniatures on hex grid mats before turning them into board game designs. But, that is not quite what I am talking about.

Fantasy Flight Games, in their Borg-inspired Battlelore: Battle of Westeros (BoW) series come the closest to what I am thinking of. In BoW each player gets two forms of command elements: tokens and dice. The number of command tokens available per turn is dictated by scenario, just as the Command Card count is dictated by scenario in CC. These tokens are played on leaders, allowing them to order groups of units together (with group membership being defined as any unit within 2 hexes of the leader unit being eligible). However, each player also rolls a certain number of battle dice each turn to indicate the number of additional units that can be ordered, above those ordered by group moves. Thus, if a group has more members than a leader can normally control, or a unit is outside of the command radius of all friendly leaders, the dice can be used to order units individually. This mechanism of command and control allows the board to be devoid of sections, and adds a leadership component the way Command and Colors: Ancients and Command and Colors: Napoleonics do. Actually, in BoW leaders are extremely important.

So, if you imagine a table with a hex grid, no section lines, and a bunch of models, how could you go about using 'straight' CC rules without the Command Card deck? Everything else would still be the same - in Memoir 44, for example, the armor would still have a three-hex range and the same number of battle dice - you would just get rid of the card aspect of the game and replace it with another mechanism. Now I realize that removing the section lines and replacing it with "PIPs" changes the game. Allowing you to move units anywhere on the board gives you a lot of flexibility that the games currently do not have. I experienced that when I played a game similar to CC: Clash for a Continent by Worthington Games. So, unless you like that sort of thing, it cannot be a simple "roll for PIPs" kind of command and control system.

My idea was to take the ideas from BoW and convert it to a single game mechanism: roll dice for command, then allow the player to use the rolls in different ways, which allow for different options. Let's start with the basic mechanic, so it becomes a little more concrete.

Imagine we are doing this for Memoir '44 (M44). I use the battle dice that came with the game (two sides show infantry, one side armor, one side a grenade, one side a flag, and one side a star) to determine what units may be ordered each turn. The scenario would dictate how many dice are to be rolled - no reason not to use the number of Command Cards as a starting point for this discussion - with the unit symbol indicating the type of unit that can be ordered and the grenade (or star, if you prefer) indicating the player has a choice. Basically treat it like the Command Card In Their Finest Hour, except you don't get the bonus die in battle.

At its simplest level, you basically move a number of units equal to about 2/3rds of your Command Card allotment (1-4 units). However it is possible to move no units in a turn, something that generally does not happen in M44. So far, so good, but a little too simple and flexible. Rather than create a penalty for choosing units all over the board, I want to create an incentive for:
  • Keeping your units grouped together 2.
  • Not ordering the maximum number of units every turn (i.e. "Use them or lose them").
  • Giving the players choices to make that exchange risk for reward.
2 By "grouped together" I mean an approach similar to BoW where units within a certain range of a key unit are considered part of the group, and thus can benefit from a group order. This range could change based upon the period you are playing, the nationality, or other special circumstances you define in a scenario.

Grouping

Given the math above - that, on average, rolling dice will probably produce fewer units that can move than if you used the Command Cards - the goal of groups is to offset the reduction in the number of units that can act each turn by giving you a mechanism to order a group of units as if it were a single unit. BoW has two command mechanisms: use tokens to order groups and use dice to order individual units. Each mechanic, rolling dice or collecting tokens, however, has its own rating in a BoW scenario. What I am proposing is to use a single mechanic, rolling dice, and allowing the player to use a die to either order a unit or to be converted into a group move.

So, how to convert a die to a group order, and what exactly does a group order mean?

Die Conversion

Simply put, a die is converted to a group order by withholding the use of the die and at the end of the Orders Phase, exchanging the unused die for a token, representing a future group move. The token it is converted to is either of the same symbol (infantry, armor, Red, Green, Blue, etc. – called a Group Leader token) or it is converted to a Group Member token that is stacked with a Group Leader token you already have. This stack of a Group Leader token and one or more Group Member tokens is called a Group Order.

Imagine you are playing Battlelore and you only have a Command Rating of four, so you roll the following four dice for orders:


You have some moves for a Green unit that you would like to take, same with a Blue unit, but you want to save the Lore die (any unit) and the Red die. When you convert the Lore and Red dice, you decide to exchange the Lore die for a Lore Group Leader token (i.e. any unit can be a group leader) and the Red die for a Group Member token. As Group Members can only be stacked with a Group Leader token, you have to add it to the Lore Group Leader token, as that is the only Group Leader token you have.

A player can have any number of Group Leader tokens or Group Orders at one time, but each Group Order can consist of no more tokens (one of which must be a Group Leader token) than the player's Command Rating. So, in the example above, the Group Order currently consists of two tokens, and because the player's Command Rating is four, only two more Group Member tokens can be added to it.

Group Orders

So, what do you do with those Group Orders you've collected? Use them to order groups of units; one unit for each token in the group. Note, however, that one unit must be designated as the Group Leader, and its type must match the symbol on the Group Leader token. All other units in the group must be within a certain range of the Group Leader in order to be eligible as a Group Member. (Rules on unit eligibility will largely depend upon the period being played.)

Only one Group Order may be played per turn. The player may roll for Command dice that turn, but if a Group Order is played, all of the Command dice must be converted.

Continuing our example above, the player whiffs his Command dice roll and gets four dice with either Flags or Shields, indicating no units can be moved, so he decides to use his Group Order. As the Group Leader token is Lore, he can choose any unit on the board as the Group Leader and one other eligible unit to move as part of the group.

Summary

Next post I will try and post an example of play that better illustrates the concept.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What's Happening

Well, our Infantry Aces Cassino campaign is winding down. Although I have not gotten a turn three game in yet (work has taken over), I have gotten some gaming in of late, just not Flames of War. The campaign went as I expected it would. The campaign was played over too long a period of time (each turn lasted a month), meaning it was hard to sustain the enthusiasm. One turn should have lasted a week; two weeks each at the most. People cannot take playing (effectively) the same list for three solid months. Oh well.

As I indicated, I have been gaming however. Of late I have been playing a lot of Battlelore (BL) by Days of Wonder/Fantasy Flight Games, mostly over the internet using VASSAL, but some of it solo. This has gotten me to go and pick up the remaining expansions (Creatures, Horrific Hordes, Bearded Brave, and Code of Chivalry) that did not buy before, as I wasn't playing it anymore. All of this came about because I introduced a good friend to Command and Colors: Napoleonics (CCN) and we started playing it at night over VASSAL. He started as the British and lost every time. We never did get through all of the scenarios. We then flipped sides and he started winning almost all of the scenarios. Although he liked winning, I think it sparked a realization in both of us that CCN was broken (see previous post). So, one night I rattled off all of the variants of this system to him, describing how they differed, and when I came on BL, he said "let's try that", as he is an avid fantasy fan.

After the first session, he was hooked. He pointed out succinctly why BL is "better" than CCN: the missile units really have range. Granted, BL plays at a smaller scale than CCN, but even so, muskets feel like pilum or throwing axes in CCN (e.g. a pre-melee, one-shot weapon), rather than a weapon that you firefight with. Archers and crossbowmen in BL definitely feel like missile units.

So, I bought all the remaining expansions (although I am still holding off on buying all of the Battlelore: Battle of Westeros expansions) and am playing that, looking at ways to turn in into an army-level fantasy campaign. Maybe setup several Imagi-Nations like those old school Seven Years Wars enthusiasts do. This may even get me to figure out how to do more in VASSAL.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Is anyone still playing Command and Colors Napoleonics?

I wonder if anyone is still playing Command and Colors: Napoleonics (CCN)? I know I could post this on some forum, but to be honest, I don't want to appear like a troll. I am sure someone really likes it, but for me, this is the title in Borg's series that does not really work.

So, why doesn't it work? The basic problem is that melee trumps firepower and the turns are not granular enough. What do I mean by that?

Melee combat trumps firepower in that moving and fighting is not penalized for melee, but it is for firing. So, if a unit moves into melee range and fights, its fighting is not penalized while someone who moves and shoots is penalized. Once a unit enters melee range and engages a unit, the opposing unit cannot easily disengage and turn the contest back to firepower.

This has a severe impact in British versus French games. The British want to stay at range and fire away, while the French want to close and turn the contest into one of melee. In this regard, the French will almost always win (dice and card play being equal). As the French advance, they will get moving fire (2 dice) while the British will return with 5 dice (assuming no casualties). Following that, the French melee with 5 dice and the British with 4 (again, assuming no casualties as of yet).

All theoretical, of course, but the basic problem is that when the unit gets within melee range, the enemy cannot easily get back out. As the British, you can stand there and melee at 1D per block or back up and fire at 1/2D per block. If you succeed in backing away, you get an advantage in firing, but that is assuming that the French cannot simply counter by advancing and meleeing you at 1D per block +1.

And that is the crux of the matter. The French can advance at 1D6 per block +1 while the British retreat at 1/2D6 per block or stand there at 1D6 per block. Either way, the French have the upper hand.

Add in factors like using terrain or other units to shield your units when advancing under British fire, or the numerous cards that allow your infantry to move two and bypass the British fire completely.

The second part is that the combat sequence is not granular enough. The basic British tactic – the one that won them battles in the Peninsula and at Waterloo – was defending the reverse slope. This does not work in CCN largely because the hexes cover too large an area. You are either on the hill or off; you cano never be on the hill, but behind the crest line and thus out of line of fire.

If you play this tactic as the British are off the hill and behind, the British need a card at a critical moment, when the French advance to three hexes away, by advancing onto the hill and firing at the French. However, as noted above, this is ineffective as the British are moving and firing, so do so at 1/2 dice and with no British bonus. Forget the timing issues of needing the right card in response to the French card play. And if the French play a tactics card that allows them to advance two or more hexes, the tactic does not work at all.

One way to handle this is to simulate the British "fire and charge" tactic, whereby they held off behind the crest and while the French advanced up the slope, they came over the crest, fired a volley at 30-50 yards, then charged into the French before they could recover. From the aspect of modifying the game without adding new mechanics, that would mean that the British are +1 in melee and the French not. However, that does not sit very well with the Anglophiles that believe all Napoleonics rules have to have the British better at firing and the French better at melee.

A better option is to allow a British infantry unit (or a Cavalry unit of any nation) on a hill to declare itself "behind the crest" (use a marker or some such to denote it) thus rendering it invulnerable to musket fire and -1 to artillery fire. The unit may crest when ordered or when charged. Rather than allowing the unit to battle back, it should instead get to fire before the charging unit. Whether it does so at normal values or a minus would have to be playtested. Nonetheless, this should produce the proper result, which is that the British fire would often break up the French attack, but if it did not, the French might be able to carry the hill on the point of a bayonet. As it stands now, the French frequently roll over the hills.

Well, I don't play CCN anymore (can't get anyone to give it a go, now that they found the British don't really work). That said, I still have the Spanish pre-ordered. :^)

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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").