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, January 28, 2018

One More Square and the Impact on Engagement

Last post I described a battle using the Tin Soldiers in Action (TSIA) rules with a scenario from One-Hour Wargames (OHW). I posted notices in various places and it has led to some good discussion – primarily with the author of TSIA – about scenario design.

In my last game I was trying to be true to TSIA while also being true to the intent of the scenario in OHW. The issue for me was that OHW's scenarios have a few assumptions built into them, mainly that you are using the rules published in OHW. So when deciding to use the scenario with another ruleset, the first thing I had to consider was how they differed, to see if the scenario needed to be adjusted. As I outlined in the previous post, the time scales of a "turn" are significantly different between the two rules, requiring an adjustment in the scenario length for example. What else might need to be adjusted.

The author of TSIA recommended some changes, one of which was to adjust the board to 8 by 8 squares. One of the tenets of OHW is to provide "practical tabletop battles for those with limited time and space". Although I was certainly not space limited when playing that scenario (I played it on a 3' by 3' section of a 6' by 4' table), I often do play on a smaller table and so I was trying to keep to the spirit of OHW. Nonetheless, it got me to thinking. What would have been the impact of adding one additional square (6") to each edge of the board?

Adding a Square to the West Side

The focus of the scenario is on the two hill squares. Control of these squares trumps all else in the scenario.

Given that this was a horse-and-musket game, these were the key squares to attacking and retaining control of the hill. Because of musket range, only the squares marked in red could attack the hill.

Adding a column of squares to the west side of the board would have done little in altering the dynamics of the scenario, in my opinion. I understand the desire to avoid the "wall-to-wall" troop effect and by having six units and a board six squares wide, you would think that adding squares to the flanks would alleviate that. It would not. The "wall-to-wall" effect was a function of the scenario design calling for the entry of six units onto the board on turn 1.

Had there been an additional square to the west I probably would have shifted the light infantry from a position on the east, approaching the woods, to the new square created on the west flank. This would still have resulted in wall-o-wall troops, just shifted left one square.

I do not mean say that the addition of the square would not have had an effect; it just was not going to have an effect on trying to get the troops to space out. As long as the focus was on specific squares, troops would naturally cluster around those points. Adding a square to the west would have allowed more firepower to bear on the western flank's key control squares, potentially dislodging a unit and allowing an attack on the hill.

Adding a Square to the East Side

Given the range of the musket (one square for full fire, two squares with skirmishers) the east side was largely out of play. Throwing a woods on that flank ensured that side was going to swing around onto the east side quickly and easily in order to attack their opponents in the rear.

If the east flank had been extended a square, presumably there would have been woods in the same positions in the new column. If there had not been, you would have essentially been negating the presence of the woods in the first place, which would have been a violation of the spirit of the scenario.
Note: because square grid movement in TSIA counts the diagonal the same distance as the horizontal and vertical, moving around obstacles is very easy in TSIA. So positioning a woods on the flank would have presented no obstacle to movement, and thus to time, unless the woods were also present in the new column of squares.
I see no value in adding a square to the east, as it leave more of an area out of play. This is a function of the scenario having the terrain objectives offset from the center.

Adding a Square to the South Side

Adding a square to the south, where the French attack from, modifies the dynamics of the scenario quite a bit, and this was my main objection to changing the board size. Let's start by looking at the decisions the French Commander has.
Note: when I rate rules I have a category called Engaging that represents "do the rules allow the player to make meaningful decisions that lead to consequences?"
The key determinant on the French Commander's decisions is whether the enemy units on the hill have already activated this turn or not. You can actually break down the French Commander's thought process using a truth table.

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Bet Allies Will Move First (Turn 2)
Bet French Will Move First (Turn 2)

A. In this situation the Allies will not get to fire on the first turn as the French are off the board, but because they act first on the second turn they will be able to take two Fire actions before the French can act.

B. In this situation the French are forced onto the board where they can be fired upon, and then have to withstand an additional two Fire actions in the second turn before they can act. This is the worst situation for the French Commander.

C. If the Allies move first there is no firing, as the French are off of the board. If the French then move first after coming on the board they can act without any fire from the Allies first. This is the ideal situation for the French Commander.

D. This situation is only better for the French as they would get two volleys into the Allies on the second turn, but that is after they had received two from the Allies on the first turn.

So the French Commander's decisions are strongly influenced by the firing potential of the Allies before he can act with full firepower with his own units. Let's look at this in detail.

When the French turn to act occurs, they have two actions available to each unit. Each action can be either Move or Fire. (There are more actions, but these are the two we will only concern ourselves with at the moment.) The Move action will allow the unit to move one square in any direction, as long as the square is unoccupied. The Fire action will allow the unit to fire at full potential into any adjacent square, or to fire weakly at any square up to two squares away (given some limitations on line of sight, which we will ignore for now).
To understand the firepower potential, each Allied unit will get to throw 6 dice for each Fire action if at a unit one square away, and 1 die for each Fire action if at a unit two squares away. Each French units firepower potential is 3 dice and 1 die, respectively. The differential in dice is not due to unit quality, but due to possession of the hill.
For the first action, the French have no real choice; they must take a Move action to move onto the board. For the second action the French can either take an additional Move to get adjacent to the enemy on the hill or they can take a Fire action and fire weakly at the enemy (about 1/3rd of the firepower of a full volley). Which should combination of actions should they take?

Going back to the truth table, this is what the firepower potential of the Allies looks like if the French take two Move actions on the first turn. (French firepower potential is in ( ). As it will be at one square the second French turn would consist of two Fire actions.)

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Allies Move First (Turn 2)
12 (6)
24 (4)
French Move First (Turn 2)
11 (6)
11 (6)

Now let's compare that to the truth table if the French take one Move action, followed by a Fire action on both turns 1 and 2. Again, this is the firepower potential of the Allies. (French firepower potential is in ( ).)

Allies Move First (Turn 1)French Move First (Turn 1)
Allies Move First (Turn 2)
2 (4)
4 (4)
French Move First (Turn 2)
12 (4)
14 (4)

Just looking at the change in the tables shows you that the decision the French Commander makes has a tremendous impact on the game and its pace. (It also shows you how much of a gambler I was.) This example also shows why I rated TSIA a 5 out of 5 in Engaging. Such as simple decision – do I Move/Move then Fire/Fire or do I Move/Fire then Move/Fire – can result in drastically different odds and outcomes.

Now, let's add a square to the French baseline. When the French unit acts its first action will be Move, just as it was previously. It must enter the board. The second action, however, cannot logically be Fire as nothing is within range. If the French Commander decides he does not wish to move into range of the Allied units, then he would Pass for the second action. But why would he do that? The firepower would only yield 1 die per Fire action. Hardly enough to be concerned about. So on turn one, rather than having a decision on whether the second action should be Move or Fire, leading to radically different potentials for turn two, you have no real decision. Further, on turn two the French Commander's decision is also pretty much set. Being one square away, the choice is to Move then Fire.

So, what does that extra square gain you, the players? It actually leads to fewer real choices. It may be more realistic, in that the outcome of who moves first on the first turn results in less drama, but it is interesting that the simple addition of a square essentially delays the action, thus delaying the opportunity for the player to make real, meaningful choices.

Are your scenarios engaging? Have you made decisions about timing, terrain placement, and force disposition that leads to more or less engagement by the players? Is adding that extra square (or subtracting it) really as simple as just giving all your troops a little more elbow room?

1 comment:

  1. When considering the Neil Thomas rules, I know there are a lot of gamers who enjoy the book for its scenarios whether they are player with his rules or not. His 3' x 3' game and fixed play of 15 turns, seems to be formulaic in that an average move for infantry is 6", so his scenarios (especially those that have troops exit or join the map) are based on a principle that a unit can generally travel from one side of the board to the other in 6 turns.

    Adding squares could adjust scenario balance in some cases. For a while, I was doing his games on 8 squares wide, but the two out squares, I treated as flank zones and all units had to pay double movement costs while in them. I felt this did allow the forces to have a recognisable 'open' flank, but that this was not a space that would be just then get absorbed into normal play.

    I think the main argument for adding squares is that it increases the number of cells and therefore increases chances of points of crisis being created in separate parts of the table at the same time - the sort of situation that allows you to be winning on the left flank, but losing on the right.


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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").