Monday, 11 March 2019

My Mechanised Warfare Rules - Design Thoughts

A patch of Estonia - about to get very busy!

When I began work again last week on my Mechanised Warfare rules (currently known As Contact Wait Out, primarily for 1980+, but also extendable back to WW2 and forward to near future SF) I was aghast to see that I last tinkered with them back in 2016. In fact, a quick look at my hard drive (well Dropbox) shows that the very first draft was in 2008! Growing up I played WRG’s modern set (well it only went up to 1975 when I bought it!), but found that each new edition just added more and more complications (1st/2nd Edn was 44/40 pages,  3rd Edn and Challenger/4th Edn were 64 pages!). Coming back to gaming I tried Force on Force but the level was too low, ditto Chain of Command (and a bit too gamey). I didn’t like Rapid Fire treatment of unit sizes,  IABSM was probably close, and Cold War Commander even closer. In fact, if I could be confident of the BKC/CWC future development I might be tempted to just vary it with some house rules. I’m also hoping to try BattleGroup Northag, and hope to pick up Sabre Sqn at Salute. There are others on my to do list, but I’m guessing as ever I’ll only be happy with my own set.

The first versions of CWO were trying for a WRG 1st Edn Lite. I then went down the “if a naked man has a fire-power of 1” rabbit hole (and still think it has merits for firepower, if not for points). In  the last (2016) version  (still just called MechWar) I tried to do everything on cards, index cards for each rule section, and Top Trumps style cards with unit stats for each unit. Whilst fine in principle, in practice I would never find the right index card or unit card at the right time, and having everything on one or two sides of A4 for rules, and an A4 set of tables for units for each side has to be quickest.

The 2016 iteration of Contact Wait Out with index card rules and unit cards

So I’ve now embarked on the 2019 version of CWO, and I think its looking good so far – although it’s only hitting the table this week. In terms of what I want to achieve my goals are:

  • More at the simulation than game end (so reasonable number of DMs), but playable (perhaps 2-4hrs for a game)
  • Suppression as probably the key infantry ranged attack mechanism, not as an afterthought to aimed fire. Watching YouTube videos just getting rounds in the right general area seems to be the aim!
  • An activation mechanism that doesn’t leave units standard because they cant activate. This is the 21st Century (or late 20th) and most units have enough nouse to do something sensible
    • … but one which introduces some uncertainty, avoids IGO-UGO and allows for overwatch
  • Spotting is important. The modern dictum is “try not to be seen, if you get seen then don’t get acquired, if you get acquired then don’t get hit, if you get hit then don’t get penetrated, and if you get penetrated don’t die!”
  • Anti-tank weapons should have a critical armour level above which they just can’t penetrate. No 2-pdr anti-tank taking on Tigers. Yes I know lucky shots happen but….
  • A set which will work from a game with only reinforced platoon per side (below that it’s probably skirmish territory) and up to a Bn a side, perhaps even a Bde. One challenge is that if you are playing realistic attack/defence scenarios then you can expect the attacker to have x3 to x5 what you have, so if you have a Platoon, they will almost certainly have a company, or two,  and could even have a weak Bn, so the rules must be able to cope with one side at least one command level up or down from the other.
  • Going into this I’m totally open about dice type and use. I’m not a great fan of the “bucket of dice” model, and have at least two of my own “special dice” I could try, earlier versions have used various combinations, but for modern games (CWO and skirmish ) I do like the idea of percentage dice since then you know exactly what a DM means (+20%). 

And being me it has to work on a hex grid of course, 4cm or 10cm.

So, what decisions have I made so far:

  • Suppression: Had a brain wave on this whilst walking the dog. Only the defender roles for suppression – it is assumed that the attacker can get the bullets at least roughly in the area. Weight of fire etc still count, but there is only one role. Weight of fire is based on a “naked man” scale of points per weapon (at each range band), added up, and then player gets 1 dice per X points (see below for dice and X).
  • Activation: I still think that a card activation system works really well – just enough friction even without a “tea-break” card. Activation is one or two levels below the force command, so at Pl level for a Company force.
  • Spotting:  Simple roll plus DMs. However rather than a single target role I’ve long liked the idea of some form of “environment” variable. At 100m per hex (esp at 4cm) then if you were to do hedgerows then almost every 1-2 hexes needs a hedge, which isn’t going to happen. So instead I abstract the general environment and you have a base 5+ to spot if on Salisbury plain, 6+ in rural Kent, 4+ in the Iraqi desert etc. Aimed fire has the same categories, but a naturally high target (eg 7+ not 5+). Suppression only score actual hits (c.f suppression) if you are really lucky, aimed fire scores hits as a purpose, but are harder to get than suppression.
  • Critical armour: Gun and armour are rated. If you gun is one below your max armour you have a much reduced chance of a hit. Less than that and no chance. If your gun exceeds the tgt armour that gives you a DM for damage.
  • Multi-level: Shamelessly stealing an idea here. I kept debating whether to call CWO Pl/Coy or Coy/Bn, or even Bn/Bde rules. The answer is to side-step the issue and talk about resolution (thanks Buck Surdue and Albedo Combat Patrol). The rules define 2 resolution levels (basically foot elm = sect or pl, or even coy, and veh elm = individual veh, or tp or sqn) and you then decide which you want to use (based on table size, model collection, model scale, time!). The raw “firepower” that has been calculated for each element then just has a different divisor applied (already done for you in the unit charts) to say how many dice you get, so perhaps FP/5 for high resolution. But FP/20 for low resolution (or even FP/50 for very low).
  • Dice: Whilst, as said, I like the percentage idea, 2 dice are a pain, and anyway one military maxims says that effects of less than 10% don’t count, so if you’re only doing 10% (or perhaps 5%) resolution then why not just use a D10 or D20? I started with D20, but you then start to gets DMs of +4 (eg for +20%), which starts to make the mental maths awkward, so I think I’m going with D10. The firepower model for infantry then gives how many dice to throw, and for vehs its simply one per veh at lower resolutions (but both against a common target, so not quite a full BOD model with add/subtract dice, and small numbers).

So that’s my thought process so far, we'll see what happens.

The other shift I want to make is to open up a parallel strand to my favourite of 1986 (I’m determined to get a figure representing me on the wargames table – just need to do the Airmobile Bde!), and that will be the Baltic States (with NATO reinforcement) in the 2020-205 time frame so I can have realistic scenarios of peer adversaries using not only with the latest kit, but also with the UCVs/ACV that are coming next. And looking at the area of Google Maps its got far more cover than the North German Plain so should be a lot more fun!

Sunday, 10 March 2019

Liphook - Margeno Megagame

A good game at Liphook this weekend. It was a smaller crowd and smaller battle, with less troops, but with still three big tables so it was the most open game I think I’ve very played there, with a reasonable amount of room to manoeuvre. I think its also the first time I’ve ever seen a unit fight its way across 2 whole table width.

The 3 tables looking W from behind the French lines (c. San Giuliano)

The battle was Marengo, with me as Napoleon and Nick as General Melas. As the heavily outnumbered French we had little option but to try and hold the line of the Fantanone stream. Nick decided to avoid a direct assault across the bridge to Marengo and instead put almost all his forces to the flanks. Kellerman and Murat did an ace job is using their cavalry to frustrate his advance, particularly in the south. With all our troops more or less engaged on the flanks he was then able to force a ford just N of Margeno.

Fantanone table now clear of my French (except Marengo!)

At that point I ordered a fallback to a new line at La Fournace. We managed to make a clean break and at this point apart from our cavalry (which was now pretty much spent) had suffered hardly any damage. Nicks parallel thrusts on our flanks continued. In the S Victor fount a village based defence, also making good use of the woods and vineyards. In the N it was more open and although Lannes tried to hold the vineyard line some good dice rolls from the Austrians, plus their surfeit of cavalry/artillery and some poor rolls on our side soon saw the whole of Lannes’ Corps streaming back beyond Villa Nova.

The middle table and the fight for the vineyards and wheat fields

Desiax was rapidly trying to get into a position to fall on the flank of the Austrians in front of Lannes, but Lannes gave way and a poor firefight saw Desaix frustrated and it was game over.

Austrians advance out of the wheatfields

Nick and the Austrians won 4 points to nil, and we’d fallen back (rather than be pushed back!) to a line which we were just about holding. Lannes was actually still a very potent force once rallied, and so we feel it was far from a  white-wash.

Kellerman's Dragoon's saw much action during the day - as in reality

Overall a good game for Liphook, with a nice amount of space to play in, a reasonable amount of troops on the table (not too many, not too few), and a reasonable, if still brisk, tempo to the play.
With Trevor “retiring”, there is just one more “classic” Liphook game to be played in September, but there is already talk about how to continue these mega-games beyond then.

More pesky Austrians!

Saturday, 9 March 2019

Skirmish at Gembloux - Blucher 100 Days Campaign

Nick and I finally got to play the Gembloux Skirmish for our 100 Days Blucher Campaign this weekend.

The encounter takes place on  the same day as the 2nd Day of the Battle of Sombreffe. A French Division had been pushed out East with the aim of cutting the Prussian supply lines (which would reduce their ability to recover unit strengths after battles). To get to the interdiction points it had to move N up and around a river beyond Gembloux, and it was there, between Gembloux and Walhain that the Prussian Division tasked with protecting the supply lines managed to intercept them.

I have an odd relationship to the encounter since I was Prussian when it was set up, but now with Alan’s death (BTW see his wonderful collection of figures and scenery and buy some it at, I was playing the French trying to break-through.

The Prussians (Nick) placed their line troops in Walhain, and their Landwehr just N of the river around a small copse. I (French) could have played it purely strategically and just screened my troops with may cavalry, snuck them round the top of the river, and then legged it off the map. But Nick and I had been trying to play this game for ages, and I’d come down a day early from Brum, so to do so would have been a bit of a damp squib.

So my cav took on his, and got the better of the exchange, and my infantry piled into his Landwehr, but got raked by his gun (the only one on the board). His Landwehr held firm and sent my first line packing. With the second line I tried to soften him up with musketry and my Brigade guns (effectively just a +1), but took casualties myself and whilst I managed to see off a couple of battalions the attrition was just getting to much, so it was time to get off the board (in the right direction) whilst still in reasonably good order.

Early moves, most units still on blinds

I can’t say the Blucher rules grew on us any better. In fact there were several incidents that just didn’t seem right, the worse being a French Dragoon unit, more of less undamaged, bouncing off a charge against the REAR of a Prussian infantry unit in column. Very odd.

Congestion in the French ranks as the 2nd wave comes in

So we can now move back to the main maps moves, and probably move towards the final battle – whether my flying column can cover off both supply points remains to be seen. We have though decided to switch to SLS for the remaining battles, Blucher just doesn’t give us the game we want (although we may still use the Momentum dice system as that’s not bad).

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Latest ECW NMA, Foote and Covenanter

Here's the result of February's painting (OK was meant to be January!). All 20mm from Tumbling Dice.

First, a unit of Covenanters:

Then an NMA Regiment. These and the next unit were a "bonus" as a result of deciding to move away from Pike & Shotte basing with double pike ranks, so I needed to paint up some extra shot sleeves, giving me two new units.

And finally a Purple Regiment.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Battle of Adwalton Moor - AAR 2 - For King and Parliament

Finally back to the original plan for Roundway Down and Adwalton Moor which was to test out For King and Parliament - the ECW version of To The Strongest. I switched to 6mm for this (but kept the terrain identical, so a far less crowded battlefield). So first a quick AAR and then some comments on the rules.

Starting positions

Battle Report

Royalist Horse surged forward to the enclosures where they were well received and beaten off by the commanded musketry and dragoons. The Royalist Foot then went in, and it wasn't until the 2nd line went in that the enclosures were cleared - on particular commanded musket regiment was still going at the end, reluctantly pulling back to conform with the remaining troops. A late left-flank charge by Royalist cavalry was met the sole Parliamentarian cavalry unit who won, but then got taken out themselves by the Royalist 2nd line. On the right flank two regiments of horse were eaten up in trying to fall on the Parliament Pike & Shot who didn't even bother to go to hedgehog.

Royalist foot advancing whilst the cavalry goes in against the enclosures

I called time about turn 15, by when the Royalists were in control of the enclosures, and Parliament only had two fresh P&S units to defend the ditch, against 6+ Royalist units and a cavalry unit about to wreak havoc in their rear. And Gog an Magog never fired at all.

Interestingly whilst tactically it looked like a clear Royalist win the FKaP victory coins gave a 14:13 victory to Parliament - but the coin numbers may have been skewed by too many colonels! 

The battle at its height from behind Royalist lines

The Rules

I must admit I do quite like the basic TTS mechanism. Drawing cards is actually way faster than rolling dice, and of course I'm always up for anything played on a grid. But something didn't seem quite right with FKaP. In the end the attacks became a real slog (realistic?), with time after time units either not activating, or missing, or having hits saved. Getting on a flank improved things (double opportunities), but in the end it really did just feel like which side could turn over the 8+'s (and then the 9+'s) fastest. An odd thing about cards is that you don't feel the same agency as you do with dice, especially when you opponent has just had a run of 8s and 9s and so you know there won't be many left for you! The slagging match, and the fact that units typically fought to elimination also meant it was a very static game, lines advanced to contact, 10 rounds of push-of-pike, and then it was all over. The previous run of Adwalton Moor had felt far more fluid. I did like the morale test for units adjoining a rout though - just as in SLS!

The Royalists surge forward!

I seem to remember having enjoyed the original TTS more. Checking back missile fire is 8+ (as FKaP), but doesnt reduce to 9+. Melee hits start at 6+, not 8+ - so far more bloody. If I play FKaP again I might well be tempted to revert to TTS values. I also though that there was minimal difference between the different Pike&Shot units, just ammo counters, and dragoons seemed very resilient (they save on 6+ not 7+). The ammo chit system worked well though and wasn't too onerous (Note: I tracked it by adding a chit to a unit when it fired, not giving each unit 3 chits to start and taking away, reduced the clutter on the board).

So, not as good as I'd hoped. The TTS/FKaP system still has a lot going for it,  far more my cup of tea than Pike & Shotte, and the FKaP rule book is a joy to behold. If I was to play it regularly I think I might make a few house rules/TTS throwbacks to make it better suit my gaming style.

ENDEX positions
What is interesting though is that the two games of Adwalton Moor bracketed the real result, one giving a good Parliamentarian victory, one giving a good Royalist victory, whereas the real battle more of less split the field.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Wargame Model Mods ISO Containers

Two of my new year resolutions in one!:

  • Buy a piece of 28mm scatter terrain every month
  • Post more often to the blog by having an easy way to do work-in-progress shots

I wanted some ISO containers as they are a versatile bit of scatter terrain that will go with any modern/SF setting. Whilst there are some lovely detailed "proper" ISO containers around I was really taken by these ones from Wargame Model Mods since:

  • You get four for £17.99
  • They have a really nice style to them that will work in SF and modern
  • You actually get 8 objects since the interior hex module slips in and out (very nicely engineered niches on the module and the frame). So you can have 4 hex accommodation modules and 4 empty frames.
In fact it gets even better as as long as you leave one end off the frame (which does admittedly then mean that the hexes don't fit so well) then you can make your own rectangular box to fill the space - I'm busy working on that now using some foamboard - so 4 modules and 4 filled ISO containers!

Highly recommended!

The other part of the resolution comes from the blue background. So as to have something quick, easy and neutral to photograph things in I got a bit of A3 blue card and then cut out the side of a Cheerios pack into a flap and then stuck the card as a curve inside it. When not in use the whole thing folds back down into the Cheerios box (same as I do for my spray "cabinet"). The ISO containers are a bit bigger than what it was intended for (so you can see the sides), but should be great for figures and single vehicles.

And I did remember just in time to get a shot of the containers with a 28mm figure.