Archive for April, 2016

Arty Control

WW2 – it’s an artillery war. And in that light, I’ve been addressing Mission Command’s methods for enabling players to control artillery. Forward Observation Officers, or others, who want to call in shoots of artillery batteries have to communicate (in other words “do a Communicate action”) to make it happen. The time delay between request and shells in the air depends on the efficiency of that communication, and in Mission Command we’ve previously handled it by messages with a delay in turns run by players, umpires or both, often relying on memory and the accuracy of individuals. As you might imagine, this has resulted in muddle, even with our one-message-box-per-turn experiment in our last game.

Now I’ve decided to try a lesson from the Euro game book – a ‘player board’. We have a simple artillery control board for the commander of the artillery. It lists the batteries down the side and the turns along the top, so that a very brief order can be written straight into a cell. Each battery has a wooden cube on the left hand side of the board to indicate whether the battery is Moving, Preparing or Ready/Firing; and these must be carried out in that sequence.

Arty_4

In this example 12th Field Regiment (Self Propelled 105mm guns, known as Priests) started the game On Call to the FOO of 11th Battery. It’s now Turn 3, so the turn at the top of the board is circled. 11th Battery has been directed to fire at 026040 with 11th and 16th batteries. This order will have come in, and been written on the board, on Turn 2 at the latest, as artillery cannot fire on the turn the order is received (in Mission Command, a Shoot action is always the first action of the two actions an element does). The shoot is planned for 2 turns duration, then the two batteries will prepare for fire elsewhere. 43rd Battery has been ordered to prepare to bombard the same target. Bombarding is the most intensive, highest rate of fire and takes 2 turns to prepare. When the other two batteries Prep on Turn 5, 43rd will bombard the same target. Meanwhile the medium guns of 5th Battery, 15th Regiment have been carrying out a rolling barrage close by.

If desired, you can also control battalion mortars through the control board, as shown. Mortars don’t need a turn to prepare, so the player has crossed out the Prep box for the mortars.

The current status cubes give a quick overview of what’s happening now, and they also remind you that you have to Prep after Moving the battery.

My plan is to use this for our game on 7 May to see if it works ‘live’.

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Testing times in Normandy

On Thursday Pete and I had a quick play test of the proposed new group activation rules for Mission Command (see the previous post).  We each had about half a battalion of infantry with supporting tanks, AT, and artillery.  We played fairly slowly to make sure we had the mechanics of communications and control correct.  Even so, we managed 9 turns in an hour and a half of play, which is roughly game time = real time, so good pacing.

The Germans (Pete) had the first bound and advanced rapidly to the cover of a wood in the centre of the area of operations.

GermanAdvance

First Panzergrenadier company is in the woods, second panzergrenadier company is forming a single group with the Panzerjager on the German right (our left), while the Panzer IV company (with HQ company in the rear) takes up a wedge formation by a hedge for partial concealment.  Note the tank formation – owing to the 1 model = 3-5 vehicles scale, the front 5 models represent a standard wedge formation, albeit they are too closed up; an artillery strike would possibly kill more than one model if they’re this close together.  Width of the this tank wedge is rather less than 200m; better if it was 250m, and it could easily be double the depth for ease of later deployment.  Panzergrenadier vehicles are also very vulnerable here, but then again, it does mean they were able to move up quickly.

The British advanced from the other side of the table, using the right hand side.

BritishAdvance

I also used a wedge, and mine also are rather too close together!  The infantry are two companies with some depth.  Note that an infantry element in a company group has to be within 100m of another group element chaining to the command element, in order to be in command.  As this was a play test, I deployed from a random part of the base line, when I should have gone for the cover of the ridge (top left).

The Germans develop their position. The tanks halt and go into overwatch (they can’t see anything for the moment).  On the German left, the FOO with 1st company prepares to call in artillery on the village.  On the right the jagdpanzers initially form up across the ridge with 2nd company infantry, but as they see Shermans advancing just under 1000m away, they take up hull down positions at right angles to the infantry instead.  Unfortunately for my Shermans, I can’t see them, as they’re partially obscured by the ridge – if only I’d had some scouting Stuarts!

Jagdpanzers!

I made the mistake of leading my tank squadron with the command vehicle (which was a very stupid mistake!).  As I came round the right side of the village, I spotted the enemy tanks at under 500m (fortunately they weren’t yet in overwatch).  My command vehicle was forced to use its second action to reverse back out of sight.  Unfortunately this meant that the commander couldn’t use a communicate action to inform or re-deploy the squadron quickly, nor to inform the overall commander straight away.  We’d also not seen the jagdpanzers on the ridge, and soon lost several tanks (the rear smoking turret being my sole Firefly model).  Then the artillery came down on where the German FOO thought my tanks were going to be, but of course they’d backed off.

You can just see the little blue marker between the right hand Sherman and my bottom infantry element.  This marks that this infantry element was separated last turn, as the infantry advanced into the Sherman company’s area splitting the infantry company.  Fortunately we were able to regroup the company quickly with no particularly bad effects, as the company was not closely engaged.

The action continues.  British artillery puts in a smoke screen against the flanking jagdpanzers, though it comes down a bit too far to the left and I have to supplement it with the company’s 2″ mortars.

My second (left) company had nearly reached the village, but mortar fire from the 2nd panzergrenadier company hit and destroyed the 2″ mortar element.  This element had been linking to the company HQ in the rear, and the separated forward elements failed a reaction test and fell back.  The leaderless Shermans meanwhile have tried to rally back to the second company HQ, but lost more tanks, this time to the Panzer IVs at just over 1000m.  The few remaining Shermans call it a day, because it’s just too open to deploy here.

SmokeButTooLate
Meanwhile the German FOO moves the German 10.5cm artillery barrage forward in 100m steps, and my 1st company manages to advance through towards the woods, taking some casualties from the artillery.  These are veterans, so they don’t give up easily.

At last my infantry have closed up to engage the enemy in the woods.  The German FOO drops the artillery back onto them, so it’s not going well for the Brits.  Finally the tanks move forward, and it’s beginning to look like my 1st company will be overrun (though I do have a PIAT element in the right place).

German strength isn’t going to be broken this day, so we call the game at this point.  I never brought on my 17pdr battery, because I needed to possess some cover to put it in.

Denouement

I’m very happy with this play test.  It shows that a relatively clumsy British advance without good co-ordination and reconnaissance has very little chance against a well co-ordinated opposition.  In fact, the Germans would have won (on this showing) without any tanks at all.  The key was to take up good positions and not get carried away.  Pete, quite correctly, spent a lot of time sitting on his hands, on the grounds of “don’t interfere when the enemy is making a mistake”!

The joint group activation wasn’t crucial, but could easily have helped the Germans if I’d attacked on the left.  Also the disadvantage of mixing up companies came out in the delay to 1st company and slight confusion in my 2nd company area when the Shermans fell back.

Thanks for the game, Pete!

 

 

The Day After D-Day

Not a zombie game, but a new scenario for Mission Command, to be played on 7 May 2016 at Frome, Somerset.  It will be a psuedo-historical affair, so that reading up on the history won’t be relevant.  Set around Caen it pits the Canadians against the Germans.

Since the Canadians have more or less the same lack of doctrine as the British in this period, it’s an opportunity to see how British and Commonwealth forces and Germans fight differently, and of course, how that’s reflected in the game.  The basic smallest ‘unit of command’ in Mission Command is the company-sized group, and we describe command and control via orders of battle that specify which company-sized groups are within which battalions, etc, going up the hierarchies to brigade and division.  Generally each company has its own command card with details of the elements in it, plus their capabilities.  Where units are within kampfgruppen, combat commands or regimental groups, these are specified in the command cards, and players have these in front of them as they play.  Control on the table-as-battlefield is exercised through the activation of each group, one after the other.  So, for example, a battalion of infantry may have an HQ company and 3 or 4 rifle companies, represented by 4 or 5 groups, each successively carrying out its actions during a side’s bound (or turn).

A new restriction that we’re testing is to limit company operations, so that random or convenient mixing of groups has bad effects. If a player moves one company into a position occupied by another company, some elements in the line are effectively put out of command, because their normal voice and runner communications are disrupted by the new unit.  Once the offending company has gone, the company in line will have to spend actions to re-establish the normal communications between the rifle elements and their command element.  Of course if these companies should be attacked while this confusion is on-going, bad stuff may well happen.  What we want players to do, is to keep their companies organised and separated, as they would have been in reality, so as to avoid confusion.

Doctrine and experience affect these command and control issues.  The advantage the Germans had was their more integrated combined arms training and experience within their panzer divisions in particular.  So German kampfgruppen can arrange for 2 groups to work together with no penalty, typically panzergrenadier and tank or assault gun companies.  Also these jointly activated companies take reaction tests (morale checks) together, ignoring the worst result.  This reflects the advantage of fighting alongside familiar partners.

British and Commonwealth troops learned these practices very much later, so do not gain these advantages.  I suspect, and hope, that the need to keep the companies organised and separated should focus the minds of our players on maintaining battalion and brigade-scale overviews of the fighting, rather than the minutiae of each element.

We’re also testing out a new method for handling artillery, involving simple planning sheets.  Previously we’ve tried to get players to remember things and scribble notes, but using artillery requires some planning and integration with the rest of the combat – particularly for the Canadians, who’ll typically have more resources than the Germans.  We’re testing a planning sheet that  lists the batteries, which FOO they’re allocated to, and their planned fire by turn (if any).  This is a bit like a simple Eurogame player board (yes, with black cubes!) for the artillery commander to use.

Although these developments look like added complexity, I think they’ll make the game management (by umpires and players) more streamlined.  Speaking of streamlining, we’re amending armour classes, so that each vehicle element has one AC only – side armour is simply front armour -1.  This reduces the need to look things up in tables and fits in better with our scale (1 vehicle equals 3 to 5).

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be finishing off all the briefings, command cards, etc for the scenario.  It’s definitely flesh on the bones time!