Friday, October 28, 2011

Need hidden state information

I just realized an implication of having magetized bases.

  Here is a stand (50mm x 30mm Jagdpanzer IV)
It has state information and you can't see it.

Here it is:

The labels on the bottom are inkjet-printable business-card fridge magnets - an Avery product I think.  While 60th Regiment, 15. Division VIII corps is more applicable to the Prussian army (another project) the fact is that this is an easy way to put stance, casualty, morale or "I am a decoy" information on a stand so that it cannot be seen.  It is easy to add or remove but a brief experiment suggests that it is reasonably durable during normal stand use.

Something to think about.  Perhaps let every German AFV use a Tiger stand until the real type attached to the bottom is revealed? 

It is also fine for ID information that is not particularly needed by the opponent but is needed by the player.  Or key chart values to save looking them up?  The mind boggles. :-)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Combat System

I don't know the answer yet, still thinking of the questions.

For a fast, clean system with a lot of kit on the table, this is where the rubber meets the road.
  A winning system should be:
  • Fast:  Few rolls, few exceptions
  • No "game tactics":  real world tactics should pay off, but there should be no temptation to tweaking the action of the individual stand.  Infantry, especially, should be operating by the battalion.
  • Minimal record keeping.
The cycle of decide-act-resolve should be fast and lead to a clear conclusion quickly so the players can get on to the next decisions.

"One mechanism" sounds good, and BKC actually manages that, but it does not necessarily simplify the visualization of what is happening.  Players  (IMHO, YMMV) accept that tanks, guns and infantry act and interact differently.   Having multiple mechanisms does not seem to harm Command Decision for example.

The simplest system would have two results at least on a stand basis, pushed back and destroyed; a battalion who's attack was broken up by push backs would have to concentrate on keeping together or accept the loss of capability.  Strict distance rules might count the pushed back units as effectively lost until the attack had been re-organized.

Also, add factors and one roll,or handful of dice?  Single-die stats are certainly simpler to work with, but it is not hard to do Monte-Carlo analysis of  "handful" results.  The curve shape I have in mind would be to increase central tendency as the volume of fire increases, but to reduce the incidence of "low effect" events while allowing an increasing tail of "high effect" events.

Also, given one hour turns, I think it would make sense to provide rewards for effective combined arms "from above" rather than try to have it fall out of a "bottom up" model.

Are tables evil?  It might be interesting to look at using a nomogram of some sort as a play aid to integrate comparative firepower, protection and morale effects into a single roll without using tables or formulas in the familiar sense.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Still WWII Rules

Three notes this evening:


I have just received my copy of John Curry's "British Army Tactical Wargame 1956" which is filled with fascinating data on planning cycles, movement rates, and the like.  Written by professionals with experience on the WWII and Korean War battlefields, should be a gold mine.

This was  my first order from Lulu and I am impressed.  Solidly made, stapled spine and fulfillment from a company in Canada-- received promptly and while I am not a fanatic about these things its nice to not be a 100% importer of my hobby books.


I have swung around to a change of heart in unit representation.  If we take a stand to equal a company,. we end up expecting it to act like a company -- cover the frontage of a company, take initiative like a company, lead its own existence like a company.  That pushes awareness down a level too far for my purposes.  If I take a stand to 100 men (or ten vehicles) and the basic unit to be the battalion, then the player (who should be thinking divisions or at least brigades anyway) may manipulate the stands of the battalion as part of the battalion performing its mission, but they are just a representation.  It also makes it a bit easier to pace the degradation of battalion capability as numbers are lost.


Written orders.  Not the thing for a "club night" game these days -- writing seems seriously out of fashion.  On the other hand, looking at the basic doctrine of WWII it is hard to see how we can get away without at least recorded objectives, artillery fire plans and the like.  These don't have to be written for each turn but some mechanism seems essential to constrain telepathic opportunism, especially if we are to eschew random aids to represent a formation's failure to do whatever the commander desires.


Four, four notes.  OK - concealment.  Critical to the success of those nasty lads with their tiny we anti-tank guns.  Blinds might work.  So might allowing some "key concealment" units to be attached to more visible units and not revealed otherwise.  So an AT gun could be deployed with an infantry unit and only revealed when it fires.

Maybe.  A general referee-free solution to the concealment problem would be far better.  Blinds?  Strictly limiting orders before deployment?  I really don't know just yet.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A couple of interesting documentaries

Unknown War -- A fascinating Brezhnev-era piece from 1978 showed up at my favorite video shop.  This is pretty broad brush stuff, as probably befits a Soviet official history aimed at an American audience.  There is a current western historian there to provide some perspective; which if you do not actually know the history yourself is more than needed.

What does it offer the wargamer?  A lot of documentary footage that I for one had never seen before.  If you want to see some great combat film footage, and are old enough that "detente" is a nostalgic period in your life (I visited some of the cities shown rebuilt in the film in 1974) I'd recommend renting it (or finding it elsewhere -- I am sure much of it is kicking around youtube).

If you consider yourself at risk from too much Communist propaganda, you might counter-dose with Russia's War -- which basically portrays Stalin's entire time as General Secretary as his war against his own people.  Likewise kicking around you-tube and available on DVD.

This, by the way, is my preferred film version of 1984.

I also recommend the recent Polish film Katyn - very powerful stuff.  It paints a county coming to terms with the enormity of Nazi occupation, while dealing with the Stalinist occupation that took its place, and how individual Poles tried to come to terms with that reality.

My final offering in what seems to have been a festival of grimness in the last couple of weeks is the book Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder.  It covered the area of Poland and the former Soviet Union controlled by the Nazi and Stalinist states from final collectivization of Ukrainian agriculture to the death of Stalin.  The detailed portrayal of the Ukrainian famine of 1932-33 that opens the book is certainly as compete as any I have seen.  The book also makes a real effort to affirm the dignity and uniqueness of each of those murdered; it is well worth reading.  In looking for a link for the book I found (I should not have been surprised) that there is a lot of controversy around it; both because the Holocaust is a loaded subject for a lot of people and because (as also should not be surprising) no group comes away with completely clean hands.

I really must find a light comedy or a superhero movie to watch come Saturday.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Still on a WWII kick

Looking at scales and organization somewhat evades the key question of command and control; and with it its friend sequence of play.  After all, it's the failed command rolls that were driving me nuts in my last BKC game -- and for that matter in playing black powder.  It's not that I can't stand having some restriction on what my toy solders do on the table, it's just that some system are so frustrating.

I have played many randomness-free C3 systems over the years.  In many ways written orders  (early WRG rules, and Charge!) and simultaneous resolution are best.  They have real advantages for solo play, but with a lot of units to move I've found that my decision time was limited to the first few minutes of each turn.  That's the most significant thing that pushed me away from Command Decision.

Lately I have been looking at Megablitz.  It is a stand=battalion games that aims to play very large actions spanning several days.  The interesting there is that action is restricted by state (using the acronym SMART for Static, Mobile, Attack, Retreat, Transit).  A unit can only move and act in ways appropriate to its state, and legal state transitions are restricted by current state and supply factors.

Restricting action based on state (stance may be a better word) should allow a more open unit activation system.

A big question about good brigade activation systems is "how many players should be able to play at once?"  One-command-at-a-time is great for solo or two-player but falls flat on its face when half a dozen people are playing -- too many people are just standing around.  A good system gives everyone at the table something to do.

One system I have in mind I saw used in large, multi-player refereed skirmish games.  Each character was given a number based on his ability.  As the referee read the numbers, a player with that number could undertake an action but a player with a higher action could interrupt just before the low-numbered player acted and take his action instead.  Once you acted that was it for the turn. 

That could be adapted by assigning proficiencies to commanders, keeping the range low to allow multiple moves by one side, but using an initiative system so, for a given value, either one side or the other is rated higher for the turn.

I have a game called Tomorrow's War on order.  It is another skirmish system, which features an action and response system that might work for WWII.  Shipped, so I will have a look next week. 

And of course there is always good old alternating move, roll for initiative, with opportunity fire.  It has some interesting variations which intensify fire -- probably a good thing for a WWII game.

Friday, October 7, 2011

WWII ranges

This subject is soon going to need its own section.  Or page?

Anyway, a table of ranges in meters converted to inches at various ratios.  The base distances are not far off those used in the weapons tables for Test of Battle, which uses Short, Medium, Long and Extreme bands.


6x4 Table (km)
250 500 1000 2500

width  depth
6 12 18 48 inches @ 50 m/inch 3.6 2.4
2 4 8 20 inches @ 125 m/inch 9 6
1.7 3.3 6.7 16.7 inches @ 150 m/inch 10.8 7.2
1.5 3 6 15 inches @ 166.7 m/inch 12 8
1.25 2.5 5 12.5 inches @ 200 m/inch 14.4 9.6

In terms of a division in defense game, both 6" = 1 km and 1"=200m seem to me to give the most effective table size.  However, we come close to loosing close range combat entirely.  Soviet AT doctrine, for example, called for fire to commence at no greater than 500m range.  Also, table terrain interpretation will have to be considered carefully.  Simple flat table space cannot be considered equal to a clear, open field of view or very long range fire will be too common.

I sometime reflect on this image when considering lines of sight:

There are clearly some very long viewplanes here, but between most places out on the plain you cannot see very  far at all

Thursday, October 6, 2011

More WWII Thoughts

Some more thoughts on WWII;  I've dug out some TOE information (actually I bought some downloadable army lists from Micromark -- already nicely digested for wargames use).  Some preliminary conclusions:
  • I was considering abstracting away companies and just using fixed stand:man or stand:vehicle ratios.  However, this creates more problems than it solves.  In particular, Soviet tank battalions are so much smaller than German that any alignment of stands to battalion commands is a bit wonky.  Aligning stands to companies (for the most part) is no harder although there are some details to resolve.
  • Looking at the constitution of an infantry battalion, and its tactical employment, I think a core of 4 rifle company stands using my current 40x30 basing would be a start point.  Firepower would depend on the number of bayonets and the automatic weapons mix along with morale factors.  Add to this a number of support stands on 30x30mm bases -- Tripod MGs, Mortars, and specialized AT teams would be be in the category.  Normal would probably be 2 x MG, 1 x Mortar, and 1 x ATR or Panzerschreck.  Given the need for either scouts or the forward platoon positions employed at Kursk I think a 30x30 scout stand would also be good to have.
  • The wide spread in vehicle company (and battery) sizes raises some interesting questions.  For example a fresh Soviet tank company is 10 vehicles, while the German equivalent is 15-17.  At the other end German reconnaissance formations operated very small armored car platoons which doubtless increased the flexibility of reconnaissance elements.  Do I want to bring the recon company together as one or break it up - and if it is broken up, to what degree?  A final call will probably have to be somehow capabilities based.  I will also want to avoid having the same vehicle type in two different kinds of formation, a decision which leaves the question of how to deal with the five tank reconnaissance platoon of the German panzer battalion.
  • Then there are the Soviet SU regiments, which are broken up into 4-vehicle batteries.  I'm not going to worry about those right now.
One approach to differing unit sizes is to look at the problem across two dimensions.  Larger formations should have a larger volume of fire, but individual shots should be no more effective.  Larger formations should also be somewhat more durable.  Consider 3 types of formation.
  • "Large" German companies -- or comparably-size SU regimenst -- with roughly 15 vehicles, and a base Rate of Fire (ROF) of 3.
  • "Normal" Soviet companies with around 10 vehicles and a base ROF of 2.
  • Platoon-sized Reconnaissance detachments, with a base ROF of 1 and perhaps some restriction like only being able to return fire -- or at least to not be able to get into duels with tank companies.
  • A recce platoon would disappear at the first destructive hit.  A Large or Normal company might be marked as "reduced" at the first destruction and loose one from its ROF -- at the second, either would be removed.  I don't think carrying one marker around for a that big a problem.  Alternatively, either might disappear but it would be harder to achieve with a Large company than with a Normal company.
Lots to think about.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Perfect East Front WWII Rules

What do I want from a set of WWII rules?  This is a moving target, obviously.  Some of the parameters are more or less fixed:
  • I already have a substantial more-or-less 1944 WWII East Front collection.   It is not going away, and I am interested in the period in any event.
  • I have a 6x4 table.  While it is nice to be able to offer a game that will work on smaller or larger but that is the space I will be using for the foreseeable future.
  • I am unlikely to see more than four people around the table, and normally it will be one other and myself.
Some parameters I must admit may change with time, but for now:
  • I want to play largish actions -- I have a goodly number of figures and I would like to be able to get *lots* of them on to the table without being awash in detail.
  • I want to have definite time, distance and figure scales; a measure of imprecision is allowable but it's important to me that figures and games map to the real world in a defined way.
  • I like to play Table Top Teasers, most of which are based around a six to twelve "units" a side.  I would like to have each teaser unit map to a definite unit in my game organization.  Exactly what that unit is -- company or battalion -- is not as critical as that it is well defined within a TOE and have the level of real-world independence that could conceivably map to the independence required by the scenarios.
  • I want to be able to game the sort of situation I can read about in history books.  That does not mean I want to play the whole of Kursk on one table in an afternoon, but (unlike books about the west, where the struggles of individuals companies is discussed) it is rare to find a single sentence that looks at any unit smaller than a battalion. 
  • I am not a great tread-head, but I do think technical factors are important as well as morale and C3 factors, perhaps more for the satisfaction of expressing an interest in tanks and guns as getting at the effect of various types on the battles.
 So, should the basic unit be a company, a battalion, a regiment?  Do I want to be able to represent a divisional defense on my table (at Kursk, 52nd Guards Rifle Division has a front of 15km, with a depth of about 5km from the forward lines, and a forward security zone 3km to the front.) or a divisional attack (an average, at least for the Germans at Kursk, of about 5km)?

In the first case, I would need each foot of my six-foot table to represent 2.5 km for the frontage.  The depth would then be an adequate 10km.

In the second, one foot to one km would do, with a depth of 4km; or the regimental defense could be represented in depth.

In any case, just taking the simple frontages as the long axis and accepting the old trope that most engagements in Europe are at around 500m the divisional defense scale gives 500m = 2.5", or 1"=200m.  The regimental defense scale gives 1" ≈ 80m or perhaps 3cm=100m.

For comparison, here is the 78th GRD from Glantz's "Soviet Defensive Tactics at Kursk"

I will do some more research on this part of things; I am not going to send the question off to its own blog for now.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gaming Weekend

Two games against Ross this weekend.  The first was Blitzkrieg Commander II, a play of Grant's Reinforcements In Defense; Off Table examined in detail on my 10mm WWII blog.  The other was a Renaissance Basic Impetus game in 15mm which Ross has discussed in Battlegame of the Month.

I will be re-basing my 15mm Renaissance forces for Basic Impetus using 25mm basing guidelines.  The game has very short movement rates for standard 15mm -- fine for space-constrained Europeans, but here in the empty expanse of Canada big tables are easier to find.  Doubling distances will work well on a six by four foot table.

This gives a rough idea of what a pike square will look like on that basing - each base will be 120mm front by 60mm deep (that can be varied, but I think that depth will work well); a pike square then consists of a front and rear base, only separated as the casualties wear away at the rear base.

Reasonably massive; in fact I should be able to make the end result far prettier.  Knowing the front and rear are always together lets me pick and choose figured for the best effect for each block while knowing that each set of stands is a single block means I can bring things in from the extreme edges to both give the levelled pikes some room to play (indeed, the front block could be even deeper) while improving definition and giving space for double-pay-men and officers to keep order on the flanks of the formation.

I can only wonder what the result would look like in 10mm.  I won't duplicate my Italian Wars army but it is tempting to look at another ancient or medieval period with a small-scale force on very big bases.