Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Grid wargames play test.

Hauptmann Harlequin von Chrome's sketch map from
Chapter 9: 'Double Delaying Action' of his
 Still waiting for my copy of Portable Wargames to turn up - problem with the delivery company, apparently - I thought I'd try out a gridded game adapting the simple One-Hour Wargames WW2 rule set.  Opening the book more or less at random yielded this: Scenario 9: Double Delaying Action.
The battlefield.  the trio of trees by the river mark the location
of a ford.

The table set out yielded an interesting enough terrain.  The yellow hedgehoggy thing in the picture was by way of a weight to keep the polystyrene hill in place.  New Zealand is a damned windy country, let me tell you, especially in summer. The air is rarely still. Fortunately for me the wind today was a mere zephyr,  For the firefighters battling the bushfires south of where I live - the enormous smoke clouds dominating the southern sky wafting off to the east - conditions would have been very unpleasant, with a scorching nor'wester forecast for later in the day.  The power outages later in the day were due to these fires.  They have been going for a couple of days, now. But... to proceed.

Ten units from which the BLUE army was selected
Here are the troops from which the forces were to be selected:

Ten units from which the RED Army was selected.
Blue Army (German):
- 4 Infantry units (each 4 stands, 8 figures);
- 2 Tank units - Jagdpanzer IV/70s classed as 'tanks' (because they were to hand);
- 2 Anti-tank gun units - Marder 38(t).  These I treated 'per spec' in the rules - the same as towed AT guns;
- 2 Mortars - one infantry support 7.5cm gun mounted in an 8-rad armoured car, and one 12cm mortar.  Both were to be treated the same.

Red Army (Russian):
- 4 Infantry units.  They ought to have had 4 stands, not 5, not that it mattered at all:
- 2 Tank units: 1xT34/85, 1xM4 Sherman;
- 2 x120mm mortars
- 2 Anti-tank units, 1x76.2mm and 1x45L66 anti-tank guns.

BLUE (German) army's main thrust: over the ford.
The jagdpanzers are Matchbox, the Marder a recently
bought second-hand Marder 38(t); the Sherman a
'made in China' diecast of indeterminate origin.
This scenario postulated that five miles north of this area, a decisive battle is being fought.  Both commanders here have been ordered to reinforce the main battle, whilst at the same time delay if they can not prevent the enemy reinforcement.  RED (Russia, defending) must break off at least 3 units by move 12 (one each fourth turn), provided that BLUE (German, attacking) fails to gain control of the town (for a future supply base) AND fails to exit at least two units from the north edge of the map.
A single company about to attack the town.  The white dice
(German) and the red (Russian) are strength point markers.

I have an idea that the author, Neil Thomas, mentions somewhere what each unit represents, but I tend to think of them as companies - or company-sized - though they could conceivably represent battalions.   Each and all units have 15 strength points.  I used dice in holders to mark this, with the idea for the infantry units of removing a stand for each 5 strength points lost.  Then I promptly forgot I was going to do this because I was concentrating on remembering the current SP strengths of the vehicle and gun units.  I now think for those that once the first five SPs are lost, of placing two dice down showing 5 and 5 and reduce the SPs from them.

Each side comprised 6 selected from the 10 available units, selected by a die roll.  The Russians rolled a '1' which gave them:
- 3 infantry (Rifle) companies
- 2 mortar companies
- 1 tank company - Shermans
Of these, 1st Rifle Company deployed in the woods, 2nd Rifle Company formed a reserve in rear of the town, which was occupied by 3rd Rifle Company.  The tank company stood midway between wood and town, but somewhat drawn back close by the hill.  The powerful mortar support stood upon the hill itself. The whole formed a line with the flanks thrown a little forward to occupy the wood and town features.

The German main attack
 The Germans rolled a '3' for force selection, which gave them:
- 3 infantry companies
- 2 tank companies (the Jagdpanzer IVs
- 1 Anti-tank company (the Marder)
The General Officer Commanding - General-major Klaus von Klutz - decided that the town was likely to prove too much of an obstacle, and massed the bulk of his force for a major drive over the ford and the Russian right flank.  Just a single infantry company (Nr 1 Coy) would make an attempt upon the town.
Rather an optimistic attempt on the town...

Progress on the western flank...
The Russian chose not to contest the ford crossings, preferring to wait for the Germans to advance onto their guns,  After briefly favouring the forest defenders with machine-gun attention (spiritedly returned with support from the mortars), the heavy assault guns swung off to the northeast to take on the Shermans. By this time the lead German armour had already taken serious losses. The company finally succumbed, having barely advanced beyond the riverbank. By this time, however, it was time for the Russians to draw off one of its units.  One of the mortar companies was the most conveniently placed; it retired without more ado.
The Soviets reinforce the town garrison.
The German company is already badly depleted.
Meanwhile the contest for the town drew quickly to a close.  After the initial exchanges of fire, the Russian commander, possibly unnecessarily, pressed 2nd Rifle company into the town alongside the 3rd.  The unequal firefight - two to one, with the Russians enjoying the cover of the buildings, could end but one way.  First Infantry Company was out of the battle.

The armoured battle...

That still meant that in the sector of their main effort, discounting the mortar supprt, the Germans outnumbered the defenders two to one.  By the time First Assault Gun Company was destroyed, it had inflicted considerable loss upon the Russian armour.  Second Assault Gun Company had already joined the quarrel, and barely two more turns had passed when it reduced last of the Russian tanks to a smoking wreck.
Both sides have lost a tank company.
The 1st Rifle company was equally unable to hold off the German infantry attacks.  Second Infantry Company plunged into the woods on their flank, and levered the Russian back
Russian infantry under
heavy attack in the woods. The green die must have been
knocked: it ought to have been showing a '2' signifying that
the Russian unit was down to 7SPs.

The problem of playing outdoors.  The sunlight in Canterbury
New Zealand is very strong (which is why I always
wear a hat outdoors).
Time was pressing for the Russians, who perforce drew off the remaining mortar company. Having won the battle for the town, Colonel Vladimir Vladimirovitch Vladimirski ordered 3 Company to counterattack to the west, whilst 2 Company took to the road north.  There was plenty of time to draw off the latter, but he would have been better to have kept 3 Company in the town.  It helps to remember what  the victory conditions what your orders are and what needs to be done to carry them out.

All the same, 2 Rifle Company saw off a tentative approach by the Marders, before turning off to retreat northward.  Badly depleted though it was, 3rd Rifle Company were gone by the 12th game turn, fulfilling half of the Russian victory conditions.  It was at this point that I called the game, for it was clear enough that the Germans would exit two units in that time.

The Germans have conquered the west flank, but the
job is but half done.
About to call it a German victory I suddenly realised that the Germans had to have control of the town by the end of move 15 as well.  In the circumstances, that too was achievable, as the Russians had long since abandoned the place.  On the other hand, the last remaining rifle company (the 1st was finally destroyed at Turn 11) was still within a couple of moves' distance from the town also.  As that implied a fight for the place with the Russians having a slight edge, I was forced to award the laurels to the Russians after all.
Second Rifle Company ought to have carried straight on
northwards, instead of diverting onto the hill; and 3rd
Rifle Company should have stayed in the town.  
- One tank and one infantry company destroyed;
- One tank and one infantry company carried on northwards off the map;
- Town contested; therefore not in exclusive German hands.
- One tank and one infantry company destroyed;
- Two mortar and one infantry company drawn off to the north;
- Town still denied German control.
Result: Russian victory, albeit a very tight one.

Move thirteen completed.
 Two moves would not be enough for the Germans to bring off two units off the
northern edge and to take and hold the town.   
The action went by very quickly, with no real hitches.  It is no disparagement to describe the Neil Thomas rule set as being of the 'One Brain Cell' type.  There are good reasons to adopt this approach. For one thing, simplicity makes the game accessible, and is less unrealistic in many of its effects than is too often alleged.

But as designed here, they are very easy to tailor - and I suspect have been designed with that possibility (inter alia) in mind.  It would not take much to build in rules differentiating among the disparate armour and armament of armoured and unarmoured fighting vehicles; of loading infantry on trucks or half-tracks, of bringing in reconnaissance elements etc, and still have a fairly simple game.  Less simple, sure, but by no means complicated.

Next time:  Stonewall in the Valley continues:


  1. Archduke Piccolo,

    I'm sorry to read that your copy of THE PORTABLE WARGAME gas yet to arrive. I hope that you enjoy reading it once it is delivered.

    The rules and scenarios in OHW work well, and represent an alternative set of simple fast-play rules to my own.

    All the best,


    1. I hope the book thing can be sorted. It is awkward being told there is a problem but all efforts to sort it being frustrated by unknown causes. I've emailed 'Lulu' to see if they can help. All my attempts to contact the delivery people have fallen over.

      Speaking of 'One Brain cell' rule sets, I adapted a magazine published rule set for my wooden ACW riverine naval units. I think the original rules were deign for models maybe an inch long, but mine are made to a 1:300 scale - the Benton being 8 inches long, I think.

  2. A very tricky scenario for both sides, that one.

    The WWII rules do seem to provoke the reaction you had; they look odd on paper, but actually work better than you think they will.

    Also please to see that I'm not the ony one who has trouble with the wind blowing my gaing pieces around. Our dining table, where a lot of my games are played, is by the door to our deck, so on a hot day we have it open with just the screen across, and I have to fight every breeze. If someone opens the door to go outside (which seems to be every five minutes - we have cats and no cat-flap), then I have to rescue every piece of paper involved from across the room.

    I have now switched my gaming to our spare room, whilst there is no bed in there and I can set up a table instead :)

    1. The loneliness of the long distance wargamer! I recall something similar happening 27 years ago (1990) on Show Day in Christchurch. Hot day, nor'wester blasting through the place, dust everywhere, and we're trying to play a demo Command Decision game. Complete shambles.

  3. How big are your grids? And how do you go about converting OHW moves and ranges to a gridded format?

    1. The grids are 4 inches. But if I had had my wits about me I would simply have used the OHW system as is. But, as sometimes happens, one doesn't think these things carefully enough through.

      Tanks: An orthogonal move counted a 4-inch; a diagonal as 6-inch.
      A tank could travel 3 spaces orthogonally, 2 spacesdiagonally, or 1 space of each.

      Infantry and mortars could travel one spece in any direction:

      Anti-tank guns can travel 2 spaces orthogonally, or 1 space diagonally per turn.

      Firing ranges:
      As mortars have a 48" range, and this would cover the entire 3ftx3ft board, pretty much, I simply gave them unlimited range on my board.
      Other weapons have a 12" range. This translated as 3 squares directly orthogonally, and 2 squares in any direction that included a diagonal.

      There is one peculiarity in the rule set I forgot to mention: infantry fire ranges. This seemed fine against infantry, mortars and antitank, but it was hard to figure how they could hurt tanks at that range (the same as tank and anti-tank). To represent something like bazookas I would have gone for a 4- or 6-inch range. for infantry against tanks. I might play-test this idea, but I suspect I might already know the answer to Mr Thomas's choice.

  4. That is a nicely-sized pocket battle. While Thomas' OHW is a gem for the scenarios, in my camp the jury is still out on the rules, themselves. Certainly much to consider. After a few pike and shot games, it felt like die rolling luck played a large role. Roll high to win was a useful tactic. Firing first seemed a big advantage too. I do like the basic concepts very much and the minimalist structure allows for modifications and personalized tweaks galore.

    1. I agree: the 'minimalist' approach leaves a lot of room to tailor in add-ons and amendments to suit one's particular situation. I did feel the P&S rule set seemed more of a horse and foot with swordsmen. As my own 30YW armies don't feature swords, but do artillery, I reckon to make some changes there.

  5. I haven't tried the wwii rules but suspect that i would find them less objectionable. Simple is good but one can over do it. Would it be so complex to let light troops attacked by hoplites to move awa in their own turn? Or let Napoleonic infantry a reason to not have "shoot at extreme range" as their only tactic?

    Still, interesting game. Welcome to the grid.

    1. Takes a bit of getting used to, the grid. After a few games, I'll look to making certain changes. To explore:
      1. Infantry vs tank - max range 4" or 1 square (since anti-tank guns are a separate troop type, it can't really be subsumed into the infantry, in my view. To represent AT rifles or bazooka types, I suggest a short range, still with a -2 modifier against tanks.
      2. Some sort of close combat mechanic
      3. Variations in armour and anti-tank (probably 3 classes of both).
      On the whole, though, I think the 15 Strength Points for each unit is a very clever device that subsumes a lot more than battle losses, but adds in attrition though fatigue, ammo depletion and what have you. The SPs lost to your light troops upon being charged by hoplites might represent (among other things) the difficulties associated with bringing these guys under sufficient control to be once more effective.

      Hoplites add 2 to their attacks on skirmishers, which gives a statistical expectation of 5.5 SPs knocked off. It is very likely your skirmishers will survive 2 such encounters. But the trick might be use the skirmishers' greater mobility to give the heavier jokers the run-around. Not so much keeping out of the way - that can lead to being run off the table - but manoeuvring onto flanks and such. The skirmishers' speed might be more valuable than their hitting power. Of course, I haven't tested that idea...