Thursday, November 9, 2017

Some Reflections on 'Upping the Scales'

The previous posting but one describes a table-top battle fought a week ago between 'Jacko' and myself on my kitchen table. Actually, the playing surface was a blanket draped over the board that I have since marked up with a hex-grid (see previous posting). That board rested on the kitchen table.

I have been working on adapting Chris Kemp's Not Quite Mechanised© (NQM) game system into the sort of scale that its author has been running for his East Front campaign. In this endeavour Bob Cordery has given a great deal of assistance by sending me his Operational Art© concepts and his very straightforward Hexblitz© rule set to be downloaded. There is a whole heap of material and ideas and mechanics for me to get my head around.

The Hexblitz rule set gave us the basis for a quick game, intended primarily to try out the movement and combat mechanics. Having already worked out the orders of battle and strength points, I left them as is.  According to Bob's system, they would have represented fairly poor quality troops, but as it was a first time game, that was not apparent. On the whole that game was a lot of fun, though not very well balanced, with an outcome satisfactory to both sides.  At least before my repulse I had taken one village and broken into the eastern end of the main town.

Here are some thoughts on the game, and where to go from here..

1. Activation system.  

Although in principle the playing card system is fine, those standard sized cards of my Samba (3-deck Canasta) pack tended to dominate the table, as this picture shows.  

Of course, a mini-pack (as recommended) would have been an improvement.  An alternative idea is a pile of numbered counters - one uniquely numbered counter to as many units there are on the table - which would diminish the clutter immensely. I believe John Sandars favoured this method for his Sandskrieg battles. 

A third idea, which sounds very attractive, is to create a deck of cards each labelled uniquely with a unit or formation ID. As each card is drawn, the identified units in turn get to do something. The drawback to this is that for each game one would be required to make up a deck of activation cards for that particular occasion. The units themselves would have to be labelled, as well. 

H'mmm. Effort. Not my long suit.

Instead of activating units, is there anything to be said for activating an action, the players choosing which unit to take it? I'm thinking something akin to Memoir '44 or the Italieri Overlord game system. In each given game-turn, players toke turns drawing an action card - from a pile or from a hand - with one unit acting on it. Such a system can be great for player interaction. Would it be compatible with the Hexblitz M-S-D system, or Megablitz's SMART approach? You might want something that allowed a default action, if, towards the end of a turn actions kept turning up that were not suited to the as yet unmoved units; or if one side had a heap more troops than the other. Whole formations might be allowed to act in some concerted manner.

2. Strength point (SP) system.

That used for last week's game was ad hoc, decided ahead of time, just to get a game rolling. This is where I may be forced to depart from the Hexblitz system of assigning SPs to each element, and assign them to units and formations instead, as in NQM.

Each Hexblitz element represents a body of troops from company to battalion sized, with SPs assigned per company, 15 AFVs or 12 artillery, mortars, anti-tank guns etc. These strength points are further modified for the element according to troop training/quality, weapons, transport availability, say. So the Romanian 6-element Division  made up of, say 6 battalions, would have had a baseline SP of 4SP per battalion, or 24SP in total. Lack of motorised transport would bring the SP total down to 18, and supposing in mid-1944 Romanian equipment continued sub-standard, SPs would come down to 12 - 2 per battalion element.This is to omit Divisional assets such as artillery, anti-tank guns, pioneers and recon units.

In our game, Divisional support weapons - the 'Divisional slice' - were subsumed as Army Corps assets.

On balance, I would prefer to retain where possible the SPs at formation (Div or Corps), rather than unit, level.  The reason is to reduce accounting clutter, but it also is due (a) to the scale we have in mind, and (2) to what I am now about to talk about.

3.  Element based war games.

My immediate preference is to keep the SPs at formation level, but then we have to consider this:
The 2nd Panzer Division  at 6 June 1944 had, as part of its establishment, Panzer Regiment 3.  This comprised two panzer battalions, one (I/3)  of 78 (establishment) PzV Panther, the other (II/3) of 98 (establishment) PzIVH (Generaloberst Guderian had obviously done his best to repair the damage done to his panzer divisions when Hitler in 1941 split their tank establishments in two to create more panzer Divisions!).  

I infer from this that I Battalion comprised 4 x 17 Panther companies, 1 recon platoon of 5 Panthers, and an HQ group of the remaining 5.  The other battalion would have been similarly organised, but with 22 panzers in each company.

Our 2 PzDiv would then have one model panther whose base-line SP is (78/15) = 5, upped to 6 as a tank unit, then 7 for 'superior equipment', then to 8 for being 'regular' (or 9 for being veteran!); and one model PzIV whose baseline SP is also 8 or 9 (98/15, truncated to account for wastage or tanks in repair shops) = 6, +1 for 'regular' or +2 for 'veteran'), +1 for tanks. Well, I dare say I can live with a single vehicle being given a strength point value of 8 or 9!

The remainder of the Division would have to be commensurate, and, going by the picture above, it looks pretty handy! This organisation would fit the Megablitz game very well, methinks. Each element represents a battalion or battalion sized abteilung.  The artillery could be beefed up by a further light artillery (10.5cm) element. The radio half-track in the distance is meant to represent the pionier abteilung (because I haven't build my bridge carrying vehicle yet). Possibly a Marder 38(t) should replace the towed PaK40 as well.  The reconnaissance unit is represented by the light half track and kubelwagen.

This I laid out just for the look of the thing, with the idea of seeing the results of upscaling. The 'first pass' (below) is rather gradual, and consists mainly of cutting back on the tank and infantry arms. I tend to think of SP2 being something of a floor rating, though SP=1 for the AA and AT elements would probably be appropriate enough.

The image on the right reduces the infantry to a
single unit, though they still represent two regiments. Probably the armour ought to be reduced to a single model with SP=6, in this case. The following picture is a different view of the same organisation.  
The final picture in this sequence is the sort of thing I'm looking for in terms of scale to play out our Operation Uranus against III Romanian Army. This organisation is still 1944, but the whole Division has been reduced to armour, infantry and guns (self-propelled, but most Panzer Division artillery was still towed). The support weapons could be subsumed into Corps troops, perhaps.

You will observe in all this that after the Megablitz type of organisation, I reserved the SP markers to one only for each arm, plus the Div HQ. For the purposes of the games we play and the scale they represent, I would be disinclined to allow the regiments to be split into their constituent battalions, any more than the battalions to be split into constituent companies.  We'll have lots of Divisions, after all!

Stacking limitations, especially in respect of armour, may imply that a unit must be distributed among more than one hex grid area. It's an idea I'll have to test for practicability, but it seems to me that one might attach the SP marker to one element (representing the unit/formation commander's presence), and limit the separation to adjacent grid areas only.  Hits on the unit in either grid area are still to be accumulated upon the single SP marker stand. This will have consequences for assigning SPs to combat, though. Each element would be allowed the appropriate fraction of the unit SP, the 'commander's' being rounded up, the others rounded down. More of this in another posting, maybe. (You can tell, if you have got this far, I'm thinking up this stuff as I go, eh?)

Will the organisations for infantry Divisions  require expansion from the mere 5-6 rifle stands they currently have been in Jacko's and my thinking? In the our 'test' game, the 'Divisional slice' was represented by the Corps troops - artillery, anti-tank, mounted recon units and such. Will that be sufficient? A little more research called for, methinks.

And that brings me to ...

4. Scaling.

Up until now I have been working to these scales: ground: 1:25,000; time 1 move to 2 hours. But that tended to leave our infantry Divisions occupying a rather smaller 'footprint', or length of front, than looked right. Change the organisation?  A fair bit of effort has been put into it so far.  How about the scale, then?

That was what that final picture is about. Suppose we upped the scale to 1:50,000 and the time scale to 1 turn to 3 hours?  Then, 1 SP represents (is the baseline strength for) 2 rifle coys or cavalry squadrons; 30 AFVs. or 24 artillery pieces.  In certain circumstances, we might build in elements that comprise between 10 and 20 AFVs, but with a negative modifier to signify a small unit.

An example might be the AT/AA Abteilung of the type of Division of 352nd Infantry at Omaha Beach.  That little unit comprised:
1 company of 10 StuGIIIG
1 company of 14 Marder 38(t)
1 company of 9 self propelled AA guns (mounted on Pz38(t) chassis)
At our monster scale, how would you represent this?  Possibly one might allow a single vehicle to represent the whole thing, with SP= 2 (baseline) + 1 (Regular unit) = 3SP.  I'm more inclined to let all 3 vehicles be represented by with SP=1 for each of them.

Here is a tentative ORBAT for 352nd Division; Normandy; 5 June, 1944:
HQ: Generalleutnant Dietrich Kraiss SP=1
HQ staffs and signals: kubelwagen and motorcycle or battalion command vehicle.
Truck or ammo vehicle LOG=3
(Optional)(Note 1) Regimental infantry gun companies: 1 x 10.5cm leIG or 15cm sIG SP=2 (1 {baseline: 6 x 15cm pkus 14 x 10.5cm} =1 {regular}) 1 light tractor or kettenkrad tow
(Optional)(1) Regimental anti-tank platoons: 1 x 7.5cm PaK SP=1 (0 {baseline 9 PaK guns, 3 per regiment}, +1 {regular}) 1 medium tractor (SdKfz11)
914, 915, 916  Grenadier Regiments each SP=4 (4SP {baseline 8 coys} +1SP {regular} -1SP{non-motorised)(2,3)}
352 AT/SP Abteilung(4): 1 StuG SP=1 (0 {baseline 10 vehicles only} +1 {regular}; 1 Marder 38(t) SP=1 (0 {baseline 14 vehicles only} + 1 {regular});  1 SPAA SP=1 (ditto);
352 Fusilier Battalion: 3SP = (2 {baseline 4 coys} + 2 {veteran} -1 {non-motorised})
352 Artillery Regiment: 3SP (2 {baseline 4 battalions} + 1 {regular}),
352 Pionier Abteilung:  SP=2 (2 {20 flamethrowers plus 6 mortars} +1 {regular} -1 {non-motorised})(5).
A possible opening set-up for a one-table Operation Uranus
against III Romanian Army .  Stacking limitations will mean
that Soviet tank and cavalry Corps will occupy more than one
hex grid area.
I've put it here just... because.
1.  These were small companies in each regiment with infantry gins and anti-tank guns in small numbers.  I am suggesting grouping them together under Div HQ, or else omit them altogether.

2.  I have assumed the infantry units were not motorised, but the only one I'm sure about is 1 Kp 352 Fusilier Battalion, who were mounted on bicycles.  I also have an idea that it was this battalion, by the way, that would have been called on for Division reconnaissance duties.

3.   In the following I have assigned SPs but omitted stands.  For infantry I am inclined to assign 1 stand per baseline SP, but one could reduce the ratio to 1:2, 1:3 or 1:4 depending on the game scale.  Oooo - I do like flexibility, as the bishop said to the actress....

4.   As the baseline is zero, this unit would vanish altogether if the troops were not up to 'Regular' quality.  Then I really would substitute a single vehicle, with  SP=2. The lesser quality Divisions at Normandy didn't include such a unit though.

5.  One might add an 'Ersatz' battalion, but that had a mix of trivial numbers of all sorts of things.  I have omitted it.

5.Stand sizes and stacking.

Last week's game was played on an open, rather than gridded table.What I wanted to know was the effect of substituting 10cm hexes with simply measuring ranges and movement in 10cm increments.  On the whole the think seemed to work, but the jury is still out.

Operational Art called for standardised bases 40cm square, which limits to three stands the number a 10cm hexagon can accommodate (a 10cm square could hold four).  When I see design parameters like this, I tend to assume they mean something, and therefore set them aside very reluctantly. But as this would require a wholesale rebasing of my armies, set this one aside I must.  

The effect is to allow the stacking of more than three infantry elements onto one grid area.  In our recent action, though it was 'open board', the effect was in fact to accommodate 6 infantry elements in the one 10cm frontage - the rough equivalent of a single grid area.  It seemed to work.

As this posting is quite long enough, covers a lot of ground in much the same way as a drunk might in crossing the street, I'll end it here.  In my next posting I'll see if I can't refine - and organise! - my thinking into practical game design features. I might have something more to say about that Operation Uranus map, too.


  1. Looking good! I await developments with interest.

    REgards, Chris.

    1. Cheers, Chris... I do hope I am going somewhere with this!

  2. Archduke Piccolo,

    Wow! This is a very interesting analysis … and well worth reading in detail.

    1. Activation system
    I also don’t like the big playing cards on the tabletop, which is why I first tried out smaller ones. They looked a lot less intrusive, but were still too large. I then tried making individual activation cards for all the units, but this was far too time-consuming. In the end I opted to use the small playing card tiles from some board games, PLAY 5 and CROSSHAND POKER. Alternately you can make your own using printed playing card symbols and tiles from SCRABBLE.

    2. The Strength Point System
    I will be very interested to see how your proposed formation-level SP system works in practice. It is something that I have considered doing, but never actually tried, although I have used a formation-level morale strength system.

    3. Element-based war games
    My first impression was that the middle of the proposed groupings of elements to create a formation looked the most balanced aesthetically, but that the first showed the real numerical balance of armoured and infantry units in a Panzer Division. (One gets used to seeing wargames where there are as many armoured vehicles on the tabletop as there are figures, even though this is completely wrong!)

    The third formation looks like the ones I would use for HEXBLITZ, and I would expect that they would work well with operational-level wargames.

    4. Scaling
    Now this is something that one can play around with for hours! I rather like the ORBAT you have produced for the 352nd Infantry Division, and wonder what it might look like on the tabletop.

    5. Stacking
    I opted for the 40mm square bases for infantry so that they would be useable for MEGABLITZ battles … and chose to try to (unsuccessfully) standardise on that base width. In the end I never took it any further than a few experiments as it would have meant re-basing my entire collection. I may do that one day … but not in the near future!

    I look forward to seeing how you take this project forward, especially as you have revived my interest in the possibilities of revitalising and revising HEXBLITZ.

    All the best,


    1. Thanks for your feedback, Bob.
      1. Still thinking about the Activation System. There are some complications in respect of artillery support in defence and attack, that I haven't addressed here.
      2 SP system - practical tests required, I agree.
      3. Element based ... We seem to be heading for a game system that can vary from Army Corps to Army Group level. The progressive simplifications were intended to lead towards the HEXBLITZ type of game.

      4. I'll take a pic or two of 352 Div for my next posting on this topic. I did wonder what you might make of my inclusion of small numbers of particular equipments by giving them a baseline SP of 0. 'Command Decision' achieves this by labelling such equipments as (bg) - 'battalion guns'. They are on table, but their effects are restricted. Another idea that has occured to me is to give such things an SP=0(1). That is, they count as SP=1, but when attacked, although counting SP=1 for the defensive die roll, are then automatically eliminated per HEXBLITZ.

      4 Scaling. The aimn is the Army Group level game. "Jacko' and I have been angling for this Romanian III Army game for a couple of months now, but wanting a set of rules. I ran the above map by him yesterday and he seemed pretty happy that we could probably get the whole thing on one table.

      5. Stacking. Yeah, it was the thought of rebasing my collection that had me going 'M'mmm... Nope." I lile the idea in principle, though. If I can get 6 infantry stands in one grid area (with possibly a command figure added) that will do.

      If you do resurrect, revitalise and revise HEXBLITZ, I'll be very interested!