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.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Review of Arrayed for Battle!

Welcome to new reader La Long Carabine. I hope you enjoy reading the blog.

Well, I finished my Cold Wars reports (whew!). The only report I did not link to was Cold Wars Report (6) on my Wooden Warriors blog. In that report I published the battle report of the two games that I flew from Arizona to Pennsylvania for: Matt Kirkhart and John Acar's re-fight of the Battle of Zama using home-made wooden figures (aka "craftees") and Matt's rules Arrayed for Battle!. I did a mini-review of the rules on that blog entry, which prompted Matt to respond with four long comments. I've decided that the rules need the full review treatment, then I want to post my original comments, along with Matt's, plus any additional comments that came out of emailing him privately.

The Arrayed for Battle! rules, as far as I know, can only be obtained from the Files section of the Wargaming on a Budget forum on Yahoo. That forum is where those of us that like to make our our soldiers, terrain, and wargaming accessories hang out and discuss new ideas and techniques. It is an odd place for those rules to be, but maybe if there is enough demand, Matt will move them out to Google Docs where others can easily get to the them.

Rules Inspiration

Matt has stated several times that the basic rules are inspired by wargaming pioneer Joe Morschauser's rules. The basic idea is a unit has a combat attribute and the player must roll that value or less on a six-sided die (D6) in order to inflict a hit the enemy unit. There are very few modifiers to that roll. Morale is similar in that when a morale roll is called for the player must roll the morale rating or lower on a D6. Failing the roll results in the unit being routed (removed from the board).

Discussion with the Author, Matt Kirkhart

MK: Hey Dale,

Thanks very much for the great battle report and rules and figure reviews. Great stuff and just like with everything else on your blog, excellent "press" for the Craftees movement in general.

I thought I would throw in my thinking on the rules issues that your brought up. First and foremost, I'm a big believer in folks making the rules their own. They are at best guidelines and I think people should tweak and outright change things they do not like or that do not fit their gaming style or ideas. You clearly already know I feel this way, I just put this in for your blog readers who may not know that is my approach to rules even my own.

Second, I gotta go with Neil Thomas; any set of wargaming rules is indicative of the biases and preconceptions of the rules writer in terms of the writer's belief about warfare during that period as well as his preferences for types of play, characteristics of the game, etc. My rules are clearly not an exception. So, I will start there with my own biases and what I was trying to get the game to "play like."

I have to admit that I am in the camp of those who believe it is rather silly to have a set of wargame rules for the "ancient" period that span 3000 BC to about 1500 AD. I even think it is a bit of a stretch to claim that there was little in the way of significant weapons development that changed warfare during this very large stretch of human history, but even if one goes with that assumption it is difficult to swallow that the warfare involving the phalanx formations fighting on the open flat plains of Greece and Asia Minor was not any different than the warfare involving the flexible Roman formations against the "barbarian" tribes with their style of fighting in the rough and broken terrain of central and northern Europe, or even later than that the warfare during the Dark Ages or the Crusades. My rules are clearly influenced by my understanding of and desire to game the period of the rise and the fall of the traditional Greek/Macedonian phalanx, from about 700 BC to the end of the Successors influence. In my opinion, the rules do a pretty good job of providing a flavor for this period and type of warfare. Anything beyond this period or style of fighting would need some modifications. Could these things be addressed with the special abilities for each unit? Partly I think so, yes, but there are some more significant rules changes that are probably needed and at least one of your rules comments is indicative of this I think. Given that I'll now comment on the two points raised about the rules. I'll start with the "easy" one first.

It has not bothered me during play to leave the units where they are when they make contact (not "evening them up" in other words). Having a rule that only one enemy can be on each side makes the exact location of the enemy unit not as important. That said, I am clearly in the minority on this point, and your suggestions about evening up the units and how and when to do so I think are great and clean this up for most players. I really do not see my tendency to not want to even them up as being an important aspect of game play. It doesn't provide anything to the game that is representative of the period, make the game easier to play, etc., so this modification you suggest I think is probably good if for no other reason it reduces arguments between players during play. I'm all for that!
DH: This came up in the first game, which is why I brought it up. You are right in that the "one unit fighting per contacted edge" simplifies matters tremendously. However, there were situations in which very little edge contact still resulted in combat. This "sort of" corner-to-corner contact did not bother me, in and of itself, but with units not "evening up" you ended up with situations where a unit might have to swing very wide (taking two moves, in fact) in order to hit a flank, such as the situation below.
In figure 1, two blue units are off towards the flank of the red unit. However, as they attack (figure 2) the leftmost unit contacts with only a small portion of its edge in contact with the enemy edge. This is a legal contact, so the melee is fought.
In figure 3, as the melee continues the second blue unit, in order contact the flank edge, must swing wide and will still probably pass through the friendly blue unit unless it take two separate movements (two turns) to get around the friendly unit. Figure 2a shows why a post-melee slide changes the nature of charging and contact. On blue's turn three the second blue unit's path is clear and it can charge in one movement, without being disordered by charging through a friendly unit.

This calls into question, however, should the second unit be able to get into  flank contact so soon and so easily?
The second point raised is about units turning to face enemy who are in contact with their flank or rear if they are no longer engaged to their front or not engaged on any other side (in other words one enemy on each flank or one to the flank and one to the rear). Not turning to face is a VERY old school type rule that in my reading is only present in wargames rules before 1970. I honestly haven't read them all, but in the "classic" wargame books I've read to date I have yet to find a rule set after 1970 that does not allow a unit to turn to face the enemy. Be sure to appreciate here that why I like not turning to face is because of my own biases and preferences for understanding the period and having the game play in a particular way.

I really like not letting a unit turn to face and here is why: I wanted a rule structure that would mimic the descriptions of battle lines in the period I described above. Again, when you throw in the various flexible formations of the Roman heavy infantry and other more flexible approaches in warfare chronologically later, these ideas I'm about to state do not apply, and to me this was a significant change in the way ancient battles were fought. Anyway, I wanted a rule system that would allow movement of units to be fairly flexible until contact with the enemy occurs. At that point movement becomes greatly restricted. This I wanted to be particularly the case with heavy infantry that in my understanding in phalanx warfare in particular was something that once you committed it, it was committed and that was it. It was very difficult to "recall" a phalanx or maneuver a phalanx once it is in contact with the enemy, etc. Cavalry and light troops are described as having more flexibility even once in contact with the enemy, but not the heavy infantry. I also wanted to stress the importance of a coherent battle line in the game and the need to protect the flanks of that long coherent line. This too is a characteristic of the ancient battle accounts during the period so I wanted to reward players who maintained the battle line (which would require that units stay in line facing the same way) while using light troops or cavalry to "buzz" around the flanks keeping them protected. If you want to lose quickly with these rules the first thing to do is break your main battle line into more than one part, and the second thing to do is to leave a flank unprotected!

So, this is the reasoning behind the rule of not allowing a unit to "turn to face." I do not mean to imply that these units did not fight to their flanks and rear. They just were not able to reform the entire unit while in contact with the enemy in a way that allowed them to fight just as well after doing so as they would have had they initially contacted the enemy with their front in that direction.
DH: For me this is clearly an issue of aesthetics over time. What I mean by that is if the game mechanics are such that a unit will last in melee only two turns on average, having a unit hit in flank and not turn when contacted doesn't really both me. Having it not turn on the second round I am still okay, but for turn three and after, it starts to look strange.

In your rules, units can easily melee for more than two rounds given a basic 50% to inflict a hit and requiring three to four hits before a morale check is called for. For the flanking unit not to turn for, say, six rounds, looks strange. Of course, it is fine if it does look strange if it is giving you the result that you want, but I wonder whether it is. Units on the flank should get the flanked unit to a morale check faster, but the net effect of the current mechanic is that the flanked unit has less chance of winning; the flanking unit still grinds as slowly through the flanked as if it hit it in front.

So I looked at the mechanic (the odds to hit and how long it would take to break a unit) and figure that it is producing the result you want (i.e. a slow grinding down of a unit, even when hit in flank) and the aesthetic, and that is why I say it does not look quite right. I cannot imagine pikemen, who are armed with short swords for just such the occasion when they are outflanked, that are on the uncontacted flank, are going to keep formation and wait for the unit to break. But, then again, I don't know...
In the game there is a mechanism that allows something similar to turning to face to happen, but heavy infantry are not allowed to do it. Once they are committed to a path that contacts the enemy, that's the way they will face until they are disengaged from the enemy either through winning or losing the melee (becoming "spent" or "broken" in the rules). Light infantry and cavalry are not so committed. Light infantry may disengage (move away and end facing the enemy) and so may cavalry. In addition, cavalry can only be "re-engaged" during that same turn by other cavalry (even light infantry cannot "catch" them when they disengage). So these troops not in a phalanx formation do have more flexibility in disengaging with an enemy to their flank or rear and eventually "turning to face" the enemy, but even these units are not allowed to maintain melee contact while doing so. They literally must have somewhere to "move to" to get away from the enemy and reform facing them. This creates a flexibility in maneuver after melee contact that I think is consistent with the reports of units in ancient warfare: cavalry with the most flexibility, light infantry next, and heavy infantry without any real flexibility once committed.
I think of troops being "committed" as being different than troops in combat.
But again, the lack of a "turn to face" maneuver in the game is VERY inconsistent with modern rules, which from a game play point of view may not be such a good thing. Players count on this and it is sometimes the source of frustration and confusion when they are not allowed to do this with their heavy infantry units during the game.

So, Dale your idea to allow the unit to turn to face and be disordered is a nice one in terms of fitting in with the existing game mechanics. In fact, I think it is a brilliant use of the "meta-view" of the game as a whole as it adds in nothing new in terms of a new rule mechanic and it is completely consistent with how "disorder" plays out in the game. Would I do it in my games? I would not for the period I'm describing because for me I just don't see the heavy infantry of that period being able to accomplish that. Would I use it in other periods, say Imperial Romans fighting Germans or other "barbarians" in the rough terrain of northern Europe or Britannia? Frankly, yes I probably would. This seems more consistent with the reports from folks like Caesar and others for the warfare of that period, in particular the smaller unit conflicts that were so common.

That said, a possible modification for the "phalanx period," for lack of a better term, would be to allow a heavy infantry unit that is in contact with only one enemy unit and that enemy unit is to its flank or rear to still not be able to disengage or turn to face, but instead to fight that enemy unit with a STR of 3 instead of the normal STR of 2. It basically turns that fighting capability of the heavy infantry unit on that side into the functional equivalent of a "medium infantry" unit like a peltast unit. Historically this is probably what it looked like as they cohesiveness of the phalanx just isn't possible to maintain to the flank so you end up with these heavily armored fellows in a looser formation fighting with a mixture of swords, spears, etc., much like what a well-armored peltast unit would be doing fighting to its front. Heavy infantry usually have at least a STR 4 to their front, so they would still not be getting the full benefit of the phalanx formation, but their good armor and weapons would still allow them after the first turn anyway and if fighting no other enemy unit at the time to rally their resources and fight a bit more effectively in that situation. Similarly, the STR 3 is still greater than the STR 2 the unit would be using if there were multiple units fighting it with at least in one case the unit fighting an enemy to its flank or rear. So if it is only fighting to its flank or rear against one enemy its STR would be 3. However, if it is fighting one unit to its front and one to its flank, that flank attack STR would be 2. Against multiple enemies the psychological impact would be tremendous and they would not be as likely to be able to marshal enough resources to fight equivalently to a STR 3 to its flank or rear in that situation.

Units that are typically STR 3 to their front to start with would not get this benefit and would still be STR 2 to the flank or rear even against only one enemy unit. Usually STR 3 units are light so they would have the opportunity to disengage and face the enemy with their front anyway. STR 2 units to their front are usually skirmisher units or very light infantry (poorly armored) so a well-armored STR 3 to its front unit probably fights like a skirmish unit to its flank or rear. I'll have to give this one some more thought.

Note: this was written after Cold Wars, but for some reason not published. The rules Arrayed for Battle was the primary game I went Cold Wars for, so here it is, better late than never!

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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").