Monday, August 28, 2017

Combined Arms Assault - a brief debrief.

View of the battlefield from the Russian perspective.
After what was quite an enjoyable game, I thought it a jolly wheeze to have myself a kind of debriefing.  This was to discuss or sort out some points that cropped up.  Feel free to add your own observations by way of comment.

1.  The Map.

The acute reader will observe from the following maps that I did not translate the original Portable Wargame hex-map to my square-grid table exactly.  The maps are, in sequence: the table as played, the hex-map; and how the table would have looked translated column by column.

Map of the field as p[played, a 10x10 grid.
  As the original was just 9 hexes wide, here the far right column
 of squares was eliminated by the addition of a river.

You will see that rather than retain the 8 by 9 cell arrangement I stretched it to 10 by 9.  That was not exactly an arbitrary decision - apart from wanting to use as much of the board as possible.  But I felt that an 'exact' translation had certain effects that altered the nature - even the apparent density - of the terrain.  Check out the hex-map.  Immediately in front of the fieldworks you will see that a clear line of empty hexes can be traced running from one side of the field to the other.  On the map following, there is no such clear line, bearing in mind all moves and ranges are measured orthogonally only.
The Portable Wargame original hex-grid map -
9 columns wide; 8 hexes deep.

Now, you might argue that that is simply by the by, and that is reasonable. But I preferred to retain where possible the ability to move or to see according to the original map. That implied a certain stretching in depth.  In my square map, there is that traceable clear line. Mind you, I have only just noticed this particular feature. I was more concerned at the time about the terrain effects of the woods in front of the cojoined fieldworks on the German right.  

How the map would have looked translated column by column

2. Effect of SP vs 'Sudden Death'.

Someone asked about the whether the square grid might have improved the Russian chances of victory.  I thought not. But I do recall thinking as I set up this game, that the 'Sudden Death' system would have been relatively advantageous to the Germans.  The attackers simply could not afford 'take a few' hits in order to press home an attack.

I now don't recall sufficiently the order of losses, but it might have been that the Germans would have lost their anti-tank and an MG unit before they could offer any resistance (the long run of red cards); or that the Russians would have lost a tank and two infantry units before they could properly get to grips.

The strength point system gives you a bit of flexibility about whether of not to persist in an attack, or to hang on in defence, in the face of losses.

Work in Progress: Proposed  Mechanised Brigade of the
Not Quite Mechanised type

3.Rules and their interpretation.

Two issues came up here ... and kind of a third, but that one I'll treat under a different heading.

The first was the loss of the commander.  During this Combined Arms Assault, the commander, sharing the fieldworks with 4th MG Coy, shared their fate when it was overrun (Rolled for commander's survival: a six.  He didn't.  End of Oberst Willi Fredrickson).

Did the 'nominal' 6SP go with him?  At the time, I thought not.  Wrong.  Played 'per spec' that loss would have placed the Germans in a state of passive defence.  Something to bear in mind for future games!

That the rule set was unspecific about this ought perhaps to have told me that indeed the vanished 6SP did count towards the Exhaustion Point.  What I did was to 'second-guess' the rules.

The other was the matter of multiple close assaults against the one target. I supposed that all units involved received one die. That is the way the rules read to my mind, but that is based upon this assumption: that multiple attackers against one unit is one close combat. What if that assumption were wrong?  Although he didn't express it in quite this way, Ross Mac gave it as his opinion that in fact there are, in the case of a three-to-one fight, in effect three close combats. The weaker side gets to roll in defence of all three; BUT as each is taken in turn, and the results are applied before the next in the series, the defender might not survive long enough to fight all three combats.

I like the idea, not so much for its verisimilitude, but a sense I have that it would be the more exciting method.  That is always a consideration, methinks.

Proposed NQM Mech Bde - organisation.

4.  On a clear day....

The 'third' point perhaps deserves a heading of its own. As there is no specific rule mentioning this, I infer that the only impediments to visibility is the terrain: hills, forests, towns and such.  Given a clear line, a man from one end of the table can see to the other. Given the on table ranges of artillery, I am inclined to want a limit to how far one can see, even if we take binoculars and range-finders into account.  

The other reason - apart from the artillery ranges, this is - is that I would like to allow room for reconnaissance. Having said that, writing up rules for recon might not be so easy, when only the 'moving' player can shoot. I'm not talking units concealed from the players, mark you, but concealment from the enemy. And what do you do about artillery preparation? I'll leave these matters open for now, but may revisit them another time with some ideas.

Not Quite Mechanised Mechanised Formation.

Finally: on a different topic, and just to add colour to an otherwise monochromatic posting, I've added some pics of my proposed Soviet Mechanised Brigade, organised as follows:

  • HQ: commander and flag, with vehicle (White scout car in this instance)
  • Logistics, 1 Zis truck
  • 3 Rifle battalions comprising 3 'fighting' stands (rifles with an LMG on one of them) and 3 support stands (1 MMG, 1 PTRD or PTRS anti-tank rifle, 1 light or medium mortar or infantry gun). I'd probably make the last the command/support stand;
  • 1 tank regiment with 2 medium tanks (T34s here, but I also have Shermans)
  • 1 Recon unit with Armoured Car and jeep; 
  • 1 Anti-tank gun unit with 1x45mm or 57mm anti-tank gun
  • 1 Field Artillery unit with 1x76mm gun
  • 1 Anti-Air unit (absent until I get hold of some models - jeep mounted quad MG or 37mmAA guns)
  • 1 'Motorcycle' Company (this one with a .30cal MG mounted)
Apart from the towed weapons with their tows, the units will fit quite comfortably within the 4-inch square space of my little gridded table. We'll have to give that a try some time...

With different scaling, this formation might also stand in for a Mechanised Corps.
NQM Mech Bde - seen through the Microsoft 'Zeke' filter.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Combined Arms Assault: A 'Portable Wargames' Narrative.

Russians advancing on a broad front.  Sixth Rifle Coy
in the foreground.
In this scenario. the attacking Russians comprised:
-  6 rifle companies, numbered right to left 1 to 6, each represented by 4 stands;
-  4 tank companies, numbered right to left 1 to 4, each represent by 1 tank;
-  1 field company;
-  1 anti-tank company.

The Germans comprised:
- 2 infantry companies, Nrs 1 and 2 numbered from the right each represented by 4 stands.  Nr 1 Coy was dug in;. Nr 2 coy lurked in a wooded area beside a field work garrisoned by a machinegun (MG) company;
- 2 MG companies, numbered right to left 4 and 8, each represented by 2 stands;
- 1 Anti-tank company (one PaK40);
- 1 Infantry gun company (one 75mm infantry gun);
- 1 Panzer company (one tank).

Early attacks.  The PaK Coy and 4th MG Coy have already
taken losses from Russian shelling.

The Russians advanced on a broad front.  I had in mind a kind of split between right, centre and left. The right flank was made up of 1st Tank, and 1st and 2nd Rifle Coys. They were to advance up the river bank, through the wire entanglements and woods to their front, and envelop the German left flank.  Conscious of the relative openness of that flank, Oberst Fredrickson had placed his few panzers to protect it.

The main thrust was in the centre, where were assembled 3rd through 5th Rifle Coys, 2nd and 3rd Tank Coys, and the artillery.

The left flank comprised one company each of rifles (6th) and tanks (4th). 

Overall view of the early action.  The German right
about to be enveloped.
The units were activated by drawing Black or Red cards, the number appearing determining how many units could be moved.  I won't go into Bob Cordery's system in detail, but state here that the sizes of the forces being as they were, the Russians were likely to draw a Red 6, 7 or 8; the Germans a Black 3, 4 or 5.  In playing such a system the cards need to be well shuffled. I have almost zero skill in shuffling the cards. Guess what....

The Germans drew the first two, and, having nothing to do, did nothing. Then the Russians drew several reds in a row.  Unmolested they advanced to the minefields and wire entanglements. A few desultory shots from the artillery damaged the PaK battery.  As it soon became apparent as time went on that Col Strelnikov was intent upon driving home his assaulting troops, the guns fell silent. Sixth Rifle Coy, left behind to begin with, began a rapid advance up the extreme left flank.  

The first signs of German activity - a Black 3 after a string
of red cards.  Meanwhile, 5th Rifle Coy has been repulsed.

The first attacks were unsuccessful. Fourth Tank Coy, passing through a wood, came under fire from the PaK40 just beyond, took a damaging hit, and settled down for a gunnery duel. Having cleared away the wire to their front, 5th Rifle Coy surged on to storm the 4th MG Coy post. At about the same time, 6th Rifle Coy had fetched up on the flank of 1st Coy's field works.

Now, a couple of further points for this game. I did not use the pinning system proposed in the second Portable Wargame book. Readers may judge the effect this might have had on the action. The other had to do with the field works. Were they set up for all-round defence? For this action I decided not, BUT though the attackers got the benefit of the flanking attack, the defenders could still count the protection of their field works. This seemed to me a reasonable and plausible compromise.
Sixth Rifle Company strikes the flank of the German field
So long was the string of red cards drawn by the Russians, that 5th and 6th Rifle Coys were fairly assailing the enemy field works before the Germans could react. Fortunately for the latter, the close combats fell (after a time) in favour of the defenders. Fifth Rifle Coy fell back past what remained of the wire; 6th to the wood in its right rear.

Another general view.  4th MG has been forced out of
its field works; the PaK coy destroyed.  But 5th and
6th Rifles has been driven off.
At last a black card made its appearance: a '3'. Whoop-di-do; what to do? During the course of 5th Coy's attack, 4th Rifle Coy had crossed the centre minefield (taking a hit to its SP in the process). Having thrown off their attackers, 4th MG Coy turned its attention towards the 4th, as did the infantry gun. Now, all day, the shooting and fighting on both sides was pretty abysmal, but on two occasions its results were very effective. This was the first of them. Fourth Rifles disappeared so rapidly that no one was sure afterward what happened to them (This narrative is my best guess!).
Russian assault, delayed by wire,
wood and minefields, still developing on the right.
As it transpired, the Germans now  received the benefit of a brief run of black cards, and was therefore in a position to hand out more damage. The Panzer Coy got the better of its gunnery duel with 1st Tank Coy, but was gradually being driven back, even so. The Germans were inflicting damaging hits, the Russians not, the Germans electing to retire a square on the rare occasions the Russians did achieve something. For all that, this duel was prolonged and frustratingly indecisive.

Second Tank Company took a hit crossing the minefield (which hit was later forgotten, as the perspicuous reader will discover from the later pictures). Then it closed in upon the fieldworks of 8 MG Coy. At the same time, 2nd Rifle Coy moved through the forest to their right.  First Tanks and 1st Rifles continued to march up river bank. Their aim: to place themselves squarely athwart the German line.

1st Infantry Coy now isolated an under attack from three sides.
The German initiatives (string of black cards) was short lived, however effective in throwing back the Red Army's first attacks. Back came the Russians, better coordinated and in much greater strength. Following  their earlier fight with the Russian infantry, tank and artillery gunfire had forced 4th MG Coy out of their field works, and had also pummelled the PaK Coy into the ground.  Then the Soviets resumed their close assaults with all the force immediately to hand.  On their left, 3rd Tank Coy quickly overran 4th MG Coy, taking the unlucky Oberst Fredrickson with it, then turned upon 1st Infantry Coy, then being attacked front and flank by 4th Tank Coy and 6th Rifles.

A point cropped up here that I'm nor clear about. The German commander having met his demise, does that reduce the German strength points by 6, or is that value purely nominal to get the numbers/balances right between forces? I can certainly understand if some such notion has been informed by play-test experience. Bearing in mind that the command element is not in itself a fighting element, merely augmenting the power of whatever element he is with, it seemed to me that the commander's loss would sufficiently felt by the absence of that extra 'oomph' where wanted, but rather too much by the loss of 6SP.  I chose to disregard it on this occasion pending further thought.
Indecisive early result of the attack upon 8th MG.
On the other flank, 2nd Tank Company closed up to 8th MG Coy's position, with the result shown in the picture. The kind of shooting displayed here was far more typical of the overall action than otherwise - a frustrating feature, especially for the poor Germans. Isolated as they were, 1st Company could scarcely even call upon the infantry guns for support, so busy were they trying to hold off the enemy.

Attacked by 3 units, I did wonder whether the single German company fought all three in turn - pairs of dice thrown for the 3 combats, left, right and centre, or whether all units involved rolled one die (D6), and the defender (or outnumbered side) chose to which enemy unit should the result (if any) be applied. I adopted the latter course, although it did occur to me maybe it ought to apply to the unit directly in front.

The engagement has become general right across the front.
German line threatened with envelopment on both flanks.

Bad news for 1st Coy: losing a strength point, AND
its position with no loss to the enemy.
Actually, the point was moot for some time, as, apart from the Germans losing 1SP at some point no one seemed capable of inflicting any damage or forcing retreats during the course of a prolonged assault.
8th MG still hanging on, but unable to throw back
the attacking Russians.
On the other flank, the tank duel also continued as ineffectually as  ever.  Second Tank Coy's attack upon 8th MG was now being assisted by 2nd Rifle Company. Even so, the machine-gunners clung on to their strong-point, though unable to throw back their assailants.

Indecisive fighting still on 8th MG's front.
Under such pressure, however, it could not be so very long that something had to give. Third Tank Company finally broke into the 1st Infantry Coy's position, whereat the Germans promptly evacuated the place.  Though not apparent in the pictures, the Germans also forced one of the assailant units to fall back.  

1st Coy forced to abandon their position...
The Russians found the situation rather more complicated on their right, as, at last, the hitherto inert German 2nd Coy burst from the woods to attack the flank of the 2nd Tank Coy. Losses were heavy on both sides in the chaos that followed (all four units involved in this little battle scored hits). Second Coy forced the enemy tanks to retreat - straight back over the minefield, where they took another damaging hit - but not before the latter had inflicted losses on 8th MG. The MGs in turn knocked a SP of the Russian infantry, but at last succumbed to the combined attack by infantry and guns. The German armour, forced back to the edge of the battlefield, were unable effectively to redress the balance. 
Decisive results at last!  The MG coy is destroyed, but
the Russians take heavy losses themselves.

At this point, I called the battle, though it could in fact have gone on, give or take the status of the Strength Points of the lost commander. But the result was already clear: the Russians had successfully stormed the German line. The whole front was in Russian hands. Yet the victory had not been without considerable cost to the latter. Curious, I totted up the casualties:

German losses:

Panzer Coy: nil
1st Infantry Coy:  -1SP
2nd Infantry Coy: -1SP
4th MG Coy: -2SP (destroyed)
8th MG Coy: -2SP (destroyed)
PaK Coy: -2SP (destroyed)
IG Coy: nil
Colonel Fredrickson KIA
Total: 8SP lost - one short of the exhaustion point, unless we factor in the commander's 6SP.
A rather blurry final picture, with the Germans having fallen
back all along the line.

Russian losses:

1st Tank Coy: -2SP
2nd Tank Coy: -2SP
3rd Tank Coy: nil
4th Tank Coy: -1SP
1st Rifle Coy: nil
2nd rifle Coy: -1SP
3rd Rifle Coy: -1SP
4th Rifle Coy: -4SP (destroyed)
5th Rifle Coy: -1SP
6th Rifle Coy: nil
Artillery: nil
Anti-Tank: nil
Total: 12 SP lost - still a considerable distance short of the exhaustion point.

It would have been interesting to factor in these losses had this action been part of a campaign, say, Ukraine, early autumn, 1943.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Still more about grids ,,, and a 'play test'.

The portable wargame in action:
Soviet combined arms assault...
More later...

Part One:  Thoughts on 'offset square' grid system

After considerable thought, I have come to the conclusion that trying to bring diagonals in to a square grid game system isn't worth the candle. But I do have some thoughts on the offset squares (rectangles) grid system.  Since when this notion first occurred to me, back in 1990, I always envisaged a field of offset rectangles as a simplified field of hexagons - hexes. For mine, that meant the cells were rectangular, rather than square - in fact it never crossed my mind to make them square - with an aspect ratio of 1.155/1 (or 1/0.866).
Demonstrating 60-degree fire arcs on an 'offset square'
grid.  Note that (a) the squares are rectangles, (b) the long
axis of the rectangles is aligned with the long axis of the page.
No one is going to be so exact, of course, but it seems to me that an aspect ratio of 7:6 (1.167/1)or 8:7 (1.143) would be a good approximation. Somewhat inconveniently, 1.155 lies half way between 1.167 and 1.143. In these diagrams the cells are 21mm across by 18mm high - a 7:6 aspect ratio. Incidentally, I would recommend anyone adopting this scheme to align the rectangles with the long sides parallel to the long sides of the playing surface.

The point of this article is how are the cells to be treated. In the Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame, the 'offset' square cells are treated as such: having four sides. I tend to treat them as having six sides still: Two 'vertical' long sides; four 'horizontal' short sides (opposite pairs or which happen to be co-linear!).

I wanted to see what the effect would be on a unit's facing, and given a limited, 60-degree, arc of fire. In the diagrams, I have used 'tank' symbols to indicate facing. But I ask you to imagine them to be assault guns, with a firing range of 4 cells, and its traverse limited to 30-degrees either side of dead ahead. The first diagram shows the cells in range, depending on the facing: 'up-right', 'up-left' and 'horizontal' (I wish I could think of better terms!). You will notice, of course, the apparent asymmetry of the firing 'arcs' in the first two cases.
Note the lines drawn from the centre of the unit's 'square',
 through the centres of the left- and right-most squares
 of the arc, and its centre.  The lines describe two 30-degree
angles - a 60-degree firing arc overall.

But look at the arrowed lines. Passing through the centres of the cells along the extreme left and right of the 'arc' and straight ahead, they do indicate the practical symmetry of the '60-degree' arcs. I have placed the 30-degree angle of a set-square to demonstrate this (and to show that the 7:6 aspect ratio is quite accurate enough for our purposes).

The page flipped, and hexes sketched over the 'squares'
The symmetry of the arcs is much clearer!
To show further just how truly symmetrical those arcs of fire are in practical terms, I turned the piece of paper over. You can see how the ink soaked through to form a mirror image of the above. Then in pencil I roughly sketched in the hex-field.  You can see there that the firing arcs are indeed symmetrical.

Reverting to the original. I added some dots to indicate a 120-degree arc. The symmetries are much easier to discern and to understand. Even so, I believe the 60-degree arcs would better represent the limits of firing units lacking the 360-traverse capacity of tanks, say.

Part Two

Now we come to my version of the Portable Wargames 'Soviet Combined Arms Assault'. Well, the beginnings of it anyhow.  First off, I played it on my little 10x10-square table, set up on the kitchen table. The original hex-field map had to be adapted to my table, which tended to stretch it slightly in the up-down direction.  The extra square in width was occupied by a wide, fast-flowing river.

Kampfgruppe Fredrickson
The Opposing Forces:

German: Kampfgruppe Fredrickson (Oberst Willi Fredrickson)

- 1 Command Unit (mounted in light half-track) nominal SP = 6
- 2 Infantry Units (Rated average) @ 4SP (Strength Points) = 8SP
- 2 Machine-Gun Units (Rated Average) @2SP = 4SP
- 1 Infantry Gun Unit (Mountain gun in the original, Rated Average) @2SP
- 1 Anti-Tank Gun Unit (PaK40, Rated Average) @ 2SP
- 1 Tank Unit (PzIIIL, Rated Elite) @3SP
Total 8 units including the Colonel himself in his halftrack
SP = 25.
To this add 3 squares of field works @1SP, 3 minefields @2SP and 4 wire entanglements @1 SP brings the total SP to 38.
Exhaustion point: loss of 9SP (I have to admit, I am not clear whether the nominal SPs of field defences go towards the exhaustion point.  I was inclined to think not.).

Elements of 101 Mechanised Brigade

Russian: Lead elements of 101st Mechanised Corps, commanded by Col Pavel Strelnikov.

- 1 Command Unit, represents by a stand with a battle flag, accompanied by a jeep. SP=6 (nominal)
- 6 Rifle units (Rated Average) @4SP = 24SP
- 1 Field Artillery Unit (Rated Average) @2SP
- 1 Anti-Tank Unit (45mm/L66, Rated Average) @2SP
- 4 Tank Units (T34/76, Rated Average) @3SP = 12SP
Total number of units, 13
SP = 48; Exhaustion point, loss of 16SP.

Germans dug in and awaiting the Russian onslaught.
The Germans I set out as far as possible according to the original book scenario. As seen in the diagram. Oberst Frederickson parked his half-track within the works occupied by 1st MG Unit.  In this action, I tended to think of the units as companies, and so I'll describe them. That suggests that Col Strelnikov's force might have been the bulk of a Mechanised Brigade - most of the heavier support weapons having been left behind in the 'steady advance' of the previous days 'in the face of almost non-existent German resistance' (quotations from R. Cordery, The Portable Wargame, p80). In the above picture, the anti-tank obstacles stood in for minefields and were treated as such.

Russians approaching the forward defensive locations
of the German line.  Number 5 Company has reached the
re-entrant in the line of wire entanglements.

The were several changes I made to the scenario:
1.  Square grid instead of hex-grid:
2.  Strength Points instead of the 'Sudden Death' option.  I did, however, use the 'Going 
Solo' card system of activating units.  
3.  The infantry and machine gun units' strength points were indicated by the number of stands - 4 for the rifles, 2 for the MGs.
4.  I had the Russians advancing on a broad front...

To be continued... 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Yet More Thoughts on Grid War Games

Multi-element units on a chessboard.  Swedish foot and Imperialist
Horse.  Or Severeian vs Austereian if you prefer.

Some of the recent response to my earlier comments and posting on this topic led me to look into the practicalities of:

1.  Units that occupy more than one grid cell
2.  How one might approach diagonal movement and placement.

This was very experimental - not a play test, withal, merely to inquire into the 'look of the thing.'  In the accompanying pictures, I was focusing more on the infantry than the horse.   Unfortunately the 6cm width elements are slightly too wide for the 5.7cm squares on the chessboard.

 Black Regiment in line.
A Swedish (or Severeian when I'm feeling whimsical) regiment (battalion) of foot, comprising a pike block (8 figures) with 2 arqubusier/musketeer wing elements (6 figures each).  The unit occupies 3 spaces - grid cells.  In play, each element would have conferred upon them their own strength points.
Red Regiment in left echelon, facing north.
In this formation, the unit can switch front to due west
and then form line in a single move.
Lined up orthogonally, the unit presents a nicely ordered, solid line, but suppose they found their enemy somewhere off to their left flank front?  One possibility is to begin by throwing forward the right flank to form left echelon as in the above picture.  In my view this would work quite well in the kind of 'orthogonal-only' systems we have been discussing, as the unit would be flexibly enough placed immediately to form the solid line East-West or North-South as required.
Red Regimentin line facing diagonally 45-degrees.  The gaps
 do rather detract from the notion of contiguity, one feels.
Suppose we allowed diagonal moves and shooting according to the system proposed in my previous posting (counting a diagonal step as one-and-a-half steps, and rounding the fractions down for completed moves).  With a two-square movement rate, it would be possible, provided the left-flank element pivoted in place, to wheel the whole  3-element line 45-degrees as in the diagram (except they ought in the picture to be lined up on the light-coloured squares).
If the cavalry advance into the adjacent light squares, a
close combat would ensue.  But what about the
corner-t0-corner adjacent green squares? Ought the
cavalry be permitted to concentrate their attack
upon the right flank musketeers, say?

Then of course you run into the elements splitting up to centre upon their grid cells  Is this good?  Do I like this? Not sure. This diagram has alerted me to another fishhook with this system. Suppose the Imperialist (Austereian)  Horse were to try charge the Severeian line. Does an element placed upon a diagonally adjacent square count as being in close combat? If so, you could bring seven (7!) elements into close combat with the diagonally oriented unit.  Against an orthogonally oriented unit, only five. In the pictured situation, the cavalry might try concentrating upon the right flank musket element, say. That does not sound at all like a Good Thing!  
I perceive, then, that there is a whole lot more to this whole question than meets the eye. I'd probably be inclined to allow close combat between orthogonally adjacent grid-cells, and allow only shooting between diagonally adjacent cells. This would equalise to 8 the 'contactable' cells around the unit, though in one case there would be 3 frontal, 2 flank and 3 rear; the other 4 frontal and 4 rear.   It would also solve a little problem I noticed last time with javelins shooting diagonally.
Food for thought, but I am beginning to think that maybe trying to sort out the diagonal moves, orientations and effects aren't worth the candle.  It seems more than likely that my 30YW armies are better suited to an ungridded battlefield after all.   If I wanted to persist with this, I would have to construct a grid field with 6cm squares.  Starting from scratch, 6cm hexes might be a better option.  
These last couple of pictures are a bit of self indulgence. I rather regret my neglect of these armies, especially as there isn't all that much to do (Swedish Horse and some artillery) to finish these off. But other projects are clamouring more for attention... 

Sunday, August 6, 2017

More thoughts on Grid war games.

A recent posting on another of my favourite 'go to' blogs  Battle Game of the Month has once again provoked some further thoughts in my mind concerning the use of square grids. What Ross raises here are some problematic features associated with the 'orthogonal only' convention. I mean, it works, but one feels that there ought to be some method of dealing with diagonal orientations. Would it not be wonderful if we could create a tessellation of regular octagons on a flat, two-dimensional surface?

Here was my immediate response.

In the matter of diagonals, I seem to recall discussing this with you about 18 months ago:

I didn't really follow up on that as I was not then thinking a going down the gridded wargames track. I've had reason to revisit the notion since.

I've been looking at Bob Cordery's Portable Wargames (I now have a copy of both his PW books) and looking to adapt my own Byzantine Army of c950-1050AD and its opponents (Bulgars and Georgians{Abasgians}) to the system.  Your current posting has got me rethinking about this.

The PW square-grid system measures moves and shooting by orthogonals only.  It would not add very much complexity in my view to add diagonals.  Talking specifically of 'Ancients', movement varies from 1 'step' (artillery), 2 (heavy infantry) to 3 and 4 for more mobile troops.  Weapon ranges are 2 or 3 except for the artillery, which is 6 squares.

The effect of this is that that the movement allowances and ranges themselves still form a square, but set at 45-degrees from the grid orientation.  A square lozenge if you like.

It occurs to me that you could add 'and a half' to diagonal moves and ranges, with the fraction dropped when you reach the target square.  For example, my heavy horse, movement allowed 3 squares, moves one orthogonal (1), one diagonal (2 'and a half'). It can move one more orthogonal (3 'and a half') but not one more diagonal (4).  

I'd also suggest that the unit ends the move facing the direction it was moving.  Otherwise a unit
1. Can begin the move with a 45-degree turn or 180-degrees;
2. Turn 45-degrees when stepping INTO a cell at the beginning of the step;
3. Count a 90degree turn as a full 1-square step

Where things get really tricky is shooting.  But that can be resolved in the Cordery system by ignoring the adjacent squares for shooting - that's close combat country - and limiting shooting to the orthogonals adjacent to the orthogonal line of facing, or the diagonals CORNER-TO-CORNER adjacent to the diagonal line of facing.  In the latter case I'd be inclined to exclude the nearest two outside diagonal squares.

It seemed to me a posting on my own blog was called for.
Left: 'Orthogonal-only' movement allowances:
Right: Movement allowance with diagonal 'steps'
The first of this two diagrams compares the system of movement used in Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame, for any units with up to 4 'steps' allowed per move, all steps to be orthogonal - that is to say, through the sides of the squares - and my proposal that does allow diagonal movement.

If we count a move from one square orthogonally to the nest a 'step', let us count a move from one square diagonally to the next one-and-a-half steps. Two such moves would therefore be 3 steps; and three, 4-and-a-half. And so on. When counting off steps, at the end of the turn, you drop the 'and a half', and the remaining integer must be not greater than the unit's movement allowance in 'steps'. In the diagram above, I show the blue unit's allowance under my suggested scheme. Except for the unit with an allowance of 1 only (artillery), the movement range more nearly approximates a circle, which is my aim.

This leads us to facing. I suggest that the at the end of the turn, the unit remains facing the direction it was moving when it entered the final square.  If the moving unit comes adjacent to an enemy, then it must turn to face that enemy (or at least one of them). The Portable Wargame rule set is a lot more flexible in regard to turning.
Top row: weapons ranges with orthogonal facing:
Bottom row: weapons ranges with diagonal facing.
The problem Ross saw had to do with manoeuvring and facing threats from 'Northwest', so to speak, rather than 'due North' or 'due West'. It seemed to me that shooting arcs and ranges ought to be possible with a diagonal facing as much as an orthogonal one. For ranges, I use the same 'x-and-a-half' to denote distances through diagonals.

Some quick pix to liven up a dry posting.  Byzantine cavalry
 in pursuit of a Bulgar raiding force run up against a
reargurad of light horse and spearmen.
To begin with, I thought it might not be a bad idea to restrict the arc of fire using something derived from the DBM convention, namely, along the line faced, and the orthogonals adjacent.  In the diagrams above you will observe I do not indicate the squares adjacent to the firing units.  That is because enemies in adjacent squares are in close combat.  That made the thing a lot easier to figure out. Having said that I an not sure whether, under the PW system,  orthogonally adjacent enemies may or may not shoot at each other. Of course, units diagonally adjacent are in range under that system,

Battle is joined!  The Bulgars take heavy losses early -
down 4 strength points to no loss to the Byzantines/
The diagonal equivalent of this orthogonal convention was not so easy to nut out.  Eventually I arrived at restricting the arc to the diagonals corner-to-corner adjacent to the diagonal line of facing, excluding the squares not contained within the 90-degree angle formed by the square sides converging in front of the shooting unit.  Those squares are indicated by the asterisks in the diagrams above.  If you check out the artillery angles and ranges you will find the 'kill zone' for the artillery is equal in size (15 squares) for either orientation.

The spearmen look menacing, overlapping the Byxantine flank...
It so happens this topic is of considerable interest to me as I am thinking of adapting the Cordery rule set for 'Ancients' for my c.1000AD armies and enemies of Byzantium.  Many of the units, especially the Byzantines, comprise troops of disparate arms. The Byzantine Horse comprise lance-armed and bow-armed riders.  Even the elite cataphracts (kataphraktoi: fully armoured and with barded horses, not to be confused with the standard Tagmatic and Thematic heavy horse: kavallarioi) carries a small contingent of horse archers within its trapezoidal formation. The heavy spearmen (skutatoi) are complemented  by bowmen (toxotai)  in the middle ranks.  All the Bulgar horse, light and heavy, were armed with javelins and bows (as well as swords).
Indecisive, back-and-forth, combat ensues...
The Byzantines began with 29 SP, the Bulgars with 34. 

For Byzantine units that can not shoot you would be looking to the Varangian Guard (elite heavy spearmen in my army - the axe-toting Englishmen came later); or the rather poorer quality peltastoi spearmen (I don't really believe they were rough terrain troops, but could easily be wrong.  I can see them doing OK in urban fighting, say).
... the Byzantines taking hard knocks themselves 3 SP lost
to the Bulgars' 6...  This part game was played using the standard PW conventions, but all horsed troops could shoot.

I am also inclined to place a close combat premium on lances.  The Bulgars didn't use them, but the Abasgians (early Georgians) did, as of course did the Byzantines.

Tell you what, this will make the Byzantines a formidable army!   More on Portable wargames Armies and Enemies of Byzantium (c950-1050AD) another time.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Grid wargames - some thoughts thereon.

Formations on a square grid battlefield.
I really ought to be in the garden right now, but - the heck with it.

I received a fortnight ago my copy of Bob Cordery's Developing the Portable Wargame.  Even after a fortnight I have barely dipped into it, yet it has already got me doing a lot of thinking.  Added to this was his recent blog posting anent a commercially available 'hex' grid system and the effects of over-large unit bases overlapping the 'cell' edges.  Here was my response to his remarks (the pictures have been added, of course, to lend a little colour).  In the following pictures, I hope the square 'cells' are sufficiently clearly delineated by the + markings.

One of the consequences of thinking about gridded war games has been to consider how my Napoleonics might 'fit'. This hasn't gone any further than my brain so far, but might well see the light of day.

Consider my standard 24-figure infantry Division. A Divisional column occupies a 9cm x 8cm 'footprint' - easily contained within a 4"x4" (10cmx10cm) square cell. But what of the same division, deployed in line, say, for defence? It might then occupy two, three or four 'cells'. That seems to me no bad thing. 

24-figure divisional column - easily accommodated by
4-inch squares.  This Division maintains an 'all round'
(orthogonal) interval of 1 square
My cavalry units (Brigades) do present a small problem, as, arranged 3 ranks of 4 figures they occupy an 8cm x 12cm 'footprint'; 2 ranks of 6 figures, it is 12cm x 8cm. Were I to go down this track, the Cav Brigades would have to be reduced to 8 figures, OR I'd have to endure accept the overlap.

French Division deployed into 'regimental' lines.  Although I
don't maintain a regimental organisation in this scale,
this informal effect would be the same as if I did.
Although the latter would not be wholly satisfactory, I think I'd rather have the overlap in depth, rather than width, and arrange my 12-figure cav units in 3 ranks of 4.

Austrian Uhlans in Brigade Column.  Note the 2cm
overlap in depth.

Austrian Cuirassiers closed up in successive lines.  Here the
unit overlaps in width 1cm on either flank.

I also think that in a system like this, the full Division and Brigade columns ought to maintain an 'all round' interval of 1 cell (orthogonally only on a square grid).
Austrian Division in route column.  The depth of the column
 would be 3 squares orthogonally. It ought to be more, of
course, but I refuse to have a single file of figures
to represent a column of route! 

I'm tempted to expand this as a posting on my own blog spot. Especially considering that I received my copy of 'Developing the Portable Wargame a couple of weeks back.
(I might be forced, in a separate posting, to suggest 'Army Lists' for my 11th Century Byzantines, as well... :-D)

Barely sooner threatened than carried out: here it is.  It brought me to considerations of whether one might accommodate route columns in such a system.  I don't think Bob does, but in any case, he maintains a regimental organisation within similarly scaled Napoleonic formations.  Route marches will most likely be absorbed into the system with little or nothing needing to be said or done.