Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Battlegroup Generator

Continuing with my new quest for impartial solo game set-ups and taking certain decisions away from the solo player, I have knocked up a table for selecting random units from my armies.

This is a sort of follow-on from Dale's solo blog where he ruminates over how the turn sequence might effect a player's strategy (or is it tactics?). It set me off pondering on how a solo player, without any external input, could get stuck in a tactical rut during games, end up using the same old favorite units (the French D2's with snazzy camouflage in my case) or setting up the same types of scenarios, almost by default.

So here we have a screenshot of it at work. It doesn't bring the unit up, I have to read it off the chart using a Mk1 Eyeball and for the human touch I will be rolling dice for actual games anyway. It's not going to be accurate in terms of distribution (I notice already that Pz 1s & 2s need boosting and Pz 35t's & 38t's need reducing) or whether particular vehicles fought side by side but it should spit out some playable combinations, possibly some unbalanced ones but hey, war is hell! I have tried to keep the infantry components as prominent as I can and I expect I will tweak it a bit but to be honest I do like to see tanks rumbling across the fields.

Monday, 20 May 2013

On-Table Unit Reminders

To cut down on record keeping during a game, I write the unit morale level and other details on 16mm green tiddlywinks and place the marker next to the unit in question. No need to consult a notepad now and the morale status of a unit doesn't have to kept secret as I play solo!
The notation {8/13~65} means the unit has a current level of 65%, that there are 8 elements in the unit and the loss of one element will cause a drop in morale level of 13%. For the 8/13 part I use a fine permanent marker as this does not change but a water based pen for the morale level which needs updating at times. The counter stays with the unit when it goes back in the box.

Green was my colour of choice so as not to distract from the overall appearance and this works well. (Incidentally, the exact same tiddlywinks are used as bases for all rifle sections and other foot units). My next purchase from the very helpful people at Patriot Games in Sheffield was a pack of smaller 12mm multicoloured counters (they left out all the green ones at my request and put extras of the other colours in) which I will be using for various on-table unit reminders and any morale reactions in force on the unit. Again, this does not need to be kept a secret from the solo player and it will be a lot easier to remember which units need retesting next turn, whether a particular MG is on AA lookout, orders arriving soon, etc.

The counters are available in the colours here (and another shade of green) in 12-48mm diameter, 50 per pack for smaller sizes.


Firstly, a big welcome and congratulations to Dale who is the first official follower of my humble blog!

Over on his Solo Battles blog, he has some philosophical musings and a goodly exchange of views in the comments section. One concern is that the turn sequence and other mechanics "changes the way [gamers] think and how they approach tactics, or...how to win the game", suggesting that you might end up exploiting the idiosyncrasies of the rules resulting in an unrealistically played-out scenario.

Some of Dale's ideas and followers' comments made me realize that the simple alternate turn sequence really ought to be improved upon, away from the clunky swinging of a grandfather clock's pendulum to something organic, with more flow, less 'whole army activation', by design giving the feel of engagement action instead of chess moves. Perhaps a bit more like initiative in Crossfire with a frequent shifting of activity from one side to the other to replicate the speed of action in a firefight with seconds (fractions of most game turns) between events and irregular & variable windows of opportunity. You could also try to replicate another player with a programmed opponent with the decisions of one (or both) sides of the game determined by rules.

However, if the player wishes to operate both sides, there are a few game features (some inspired by discussion at Yahoo Solowargames) which could be altered or included to add interest to the solo game:
    • Unit activation: With a regular turn sequence, all units activate and complete their actions, then the opposing forces react. Sometimes this entails units moving back in time to where they became, for example, pinned down or destroyed. Having to enact on the gaming table the equivalent of  "actually, because of my dice rolls, that didn't happen" is a little unsatisfactory so I would use single unit activation but allow a reaction and for groups to be activated as opposed to units in the case of a number of units acting together or as one (advancing in line or waiting in ambush for example)
    • Specifics of terrain features are unknown until scouted: The penetrability of woods, locations of river fording points and bridge strengths, fields that may or may not give cover due to crops, areas of soft ground or hard going and steeper slopes which may prevent vehicular access, are not known in advance. Also units would only discover if hedgerows were of the twiggy variety (offering cover only) or overgrown dry stone wall type (soft and/or hard cover, including possible AFV hull-down position) until encountered
    • Surprise reinforcements: Unless scenario specific, the composition of units is diced for upon arrival on table
    • 52 'randomly' triggered wildcard events: Reaching for the regular deck of playing cards instead of dice reinforces to the player that something off the wall is about to happen! It could be an orders glitch, command failing, ammunition, fuel or vehicle breakdown or reinforcements snag, or the event might be a stroke of luck like surprise reinforcements, radio message interception or other intelligence coup, a 'free change of plans' or dice roll bonus. Effects could be immediate or the card could be retained for play later in the game. Possibilities are limited only by imagination (partisans or 5th Column units!) but game balance should not be upset. I mostly use percentage dice in my rules so it is easy to set the triggering probability (any "0,0" or "9,9" occurring, for example)
    • Battle-testing of conscripts: If the rules allow for variations in troop quality, the morale of second line or raw recruit units could be determined randomly at first contact
    • Random battlegroup composition: The player draws up a few sets of forces for each side to tackle the scenario at hand, then dices to determine which army each uses
    Up to now I have only introduced a random element through the use of wildcards but will do a bit of rule writing before the next game.

    Monday, 21 January 2013

    Rules Tweak: Return to 'Alternate'

    After much agonizing I have decided to admit defeat and go back to an alternate turn sequence.

    As a solo wargamer, using a simultaneous turn sequence created a lot of work trying to keep track of which elements had fired, or indeed, moved. This in addition to any other complications I decided to build into the rules!

    Some rule sets restrict movement to half speed if firing; others apply a large penalty if moving at greater than half speed. (I guess the half-speed rule of thumb is an easy one to remember, not entirely unreasonable and simple to calculate). I tried to amalgamate all ideas into one by allowing most elements to do two actions each turn: fire twice, move twice (a 'doublemove' in other words) or 'fire and move', 'move and fire' or 'fire on the move'. That way, stationary elements get more rounds down towards the target whilst those opting not to fire at all can concentrate on going as fast as possible. So it is possible to 'fire and move off' or 'come to a halt and fire', all within the structure of the turn sequence. Communicating may also preclude firing and single-man turrets (eg French R35, H39 etc) would only get one shot per turn, irrespectively. Unfortunately, to do all this, one must remember (or record it somewhere) which elements might still have a shot left if it is all to happen in the correct order according to the turn sequence. For example, a hidden ambushing element which has watched its prey approach, should have first shooting priority whereas an ambushed tank may well fire last in an encounter after taking evasive action and traversing the gun onto target.

    Using an "I fire then move, you fire then move" system, defenders will get reactive fire against any targets which have moved into view and attackers will be prevented from charging towards a target and opening fire at close range without first receiving fire.

    In spite of the attractiveness of turn sequence innovations ('initiative through success', it has been described) used in games like Crossfire, I am returning to a more structured method (I was going to say 'simpler' but there isn't anything easier than...not having a turn sequence at all!). By doing only the absolutely necessary number-crunching (which has to be done by me for both sides), I will hopefully be more able to be impartial in my decisions and rulings and have a fuller enjoyment of the game itself.

    Sunday, 20 January 2013

    Bosquet Sacré

    Time for a larger tank based game, methought and my Matilda IIs not having an airing for a while I decided to have an Arras style attack against a fairly lightly held supply line, with the possibility of reinforcements for the defenders.

     There are 37mm AT guns on guard at the road junction in the forest and also at the forward edge of the churchyard. A Kfz 13 armoured car section is up front in the brickworks, other than that any other German unit is billeted in the village and may be diced for to activate at 50% probability each turn.

    Sleeping village...
    German armour arrayed in nearby fields; Kfz 70s parked in the square ready to take crews out to guns.
    MkVI tanks advancing...
     Mk VI tanks of a Light Recce Squadron advanced rapidly across the open ground towards the brickworks; a 37mm AT gun to the rear sends up the alert flare.
    Turn 4
     Matilda IIs are advancing across the central open ground, followed by Matilda Is who never really catch up & contribute to the battle. 18 pounders overlook infantry and carrier platoon approaching the churchyard but fail to cause any casualties with their shelling of the village. Panzer IIs race for the brickworks, not yet aware it has been taken and Panjagers and 35(t)s move to cover the church frontage.

    Brickworks dramas
    The Panzer IIs are clobbered at short range by the MkVis and AT Rifles. They fall back to the wood alongside the Adler scout cars where they are gradually picked off & inundated by infantry following through.

    Matildas out in the open
     The Matildas simply pull up in the centre of the open ground and choose their targets, 37mm AP from the churchyard and 75mm shells bouncing off. The Panzer IVs at last are in position near the road.
    Assault stumbles
    While the carrier platoon struggles through the wood the infantry assault stops and retreats as the Panzer 35(t)s burst out of the village.

    End of the road...
    The Panzer IVs fall back beyond the road after some 'bad luck' and heavy losses; the Czech tanks are also no longer a coherent unit after their attempts to bring the range down. But reinforcements finally arrive in the form of the only effective countermeasure against the British infantry tanks and the 88ms inexorably blunt the armoured centre.
    The assault by the carrier platoon also falters when a section of MG42s sets up in the nearby terrace and the game is halted when the Panzerjagers swing back through the village to link up with a Schutzen platoon, due any moment.

    Battle Academy: France Blitzkrieg

    I have recently acquired Battle Academy with the France Blitzkrieg add on and have been guilty of playing quite a lot over the Christmas shutdown to the detriment of my war gaming with miniatures. It has been fun and I would recommend it for anyone who wants a tactical computer war game, as opposed to a simulation of some kind.
    I was actually looking for a strategic simulation at the time, possibly counter-based when I stumbled upon Battle Academy, on my shortlist was Advanced Tactics: WW2, Decisive Campaigns: Blitzkrieg from Warsaw to Paris, Gary Grigsby's World at War, Norm Kroger's Operational Art of War, and Strategic War in Europe.