Archive for the 'Airfix Battles' Category

Open Battles Solo Mode: GI Joe versus the Romans

This post is about testing the solo rules in Open Battles with aircraft, using the 2-player version of the scenario I designed for the first anniversary of the Airfix Battles Appreciation Facebook group: GI Joe versus the Romans. Open Battles is our working title for the new game under development by Nick Fallon and I (for Modiphius) as a follow-up to Airfix Battles.

The historical background in brief is that on 15 July 1944 the hard-fought, intense battle for St Lo had not yet been won by the Americans of General Bradley’s 1st Army. XIXth Corps had attempted to outflank Hill 122 to the north-east of St Lo for several days, but stubborn German defence had blunted his lead divisions. Therefore, he called upon the recently-arrived 35th Division to carry out a more direct attack. Approaches to Hill 122 were covered by the villages of Emilie and Les Romains. The scenario represents part of the attack of the Nebraskan National Guard 134th Regiment on the hard-core survivors of the German 352nd Division, the same division that had opposed the Americans at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

I opted for the US in this game, as I’d already played (and lost) as the Germans. For the 2-player and solo versions we use only about half of the battlefield, so that we can limit each Force to 19 Stars apiece.

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Initial German set-up

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German troops. The Captain’s Air Defence Controller attachment is, as you can see, a very new card. He allows the player to buy a Field Fortification in any scenario without needing a Unit tab.

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US set-up. The half-track contains my Engineers led by a trusty Lieutenant. I also have off-table Spitfire and Thunderbolt. Also, my Captain has a Forward Air Controller who can call in air strikes anywhere in line of sight.

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My US troops. I have a preparatory air bombardment – this represents a few Marauders helping out before we go in.

Preparatory bombing: I chose to bomb the known field fortifications, hoping to pin the 88. But not particularly effective, caused a couple of German losses and pinned the PaK40.

My first card is Rolling Thunder, so I launched an immediate air raid on the PaK40 to clear the way down the left flank. Rolling Thunder permits 2 vehicles to Move then Fire, so it’s perfect for a couple of planes. I can target the PaK in the Field Fortifications only because I have the FAC attached to the Captain in LoS of the enemy square; normally aircraft cannot spot things in cover. The A-OK 88 starts the scenario ready to fire, so it opened up on the Spitfire. Brilliant flying from the pilot meant he avoided all 3 potential hits from the gun, completed his strafing run and caused a casualty on the PaK. The Thunderbolt following up decided to strafe and finished off the crew (terrible cover save rolling from the Germans, because they do get +1 on their cover saves in the trenches there).
However, on the very next turn the 88 fired again at the Spitfire (using its normal Order), scored 3 hits again, and this time the pilot’s luck ran out and he was shot down.

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Honours even?

End of Round 1: With the PaK knocked out, both US Infantry Squads have moved up ready to assault down the left flank. German fire has been intense and both have lost men and are pinned.

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End of Round 1: First US attack. Note the barbed wire – these “model” pieces are actually extraordinarily sharp! Handle with care because they’re very realistic!

Calamity in Round 2: My assault got under way, and eventually we pinned the dug-in Grenadiers #5 in front of us by using all our firepower including the half-track; the enemy was also down to 3 men. Then disaster! My engineers were hit by an artillery strike and forced to retreat; my plan had been to get them to clear the barbed wire so Squad 11 could get through. Then the 3 German Grenadiers rallied and charged my pinned squad 8, forcing them back as well. It’s not looking good.

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First attack beaten off. It was so hairy there that my Captain had to engage directly and beat off the Grenadiers himself.

Situation stabilised a bit. US troops regrouped. Another Thunderbolt strike failed, and the plane was damaged . But we eliminated the German Grenadier Unit #5 as well as the PaK, and caused casualties on their other Grenadier Unit (#4). However, that German Unit in the multi-storey building is tough – extra dug-in, plus it has height advantage, so better range than us and can fire over the hedges without them blocking LoS. We suffered a lot from flanking fire.

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Getting ready for another assault.

Round 5: Thunderbolt’s last attack . Coupled with the loss of another squad that retreated off the board in the face of MG fire, it was nearly over for the good guys. I was hit hard by the Engineers’ failure to rally for 3 Rounds – they were supposed to be the mainstay of my attack!

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Got to dig deep now! Squad 11 is about to retreat off-table.

Sudden change of fortune in Round 6: Our attacking Engineers, having eventually been persuaded to get back over the hedge, were immediately pinned in the open again, this time by the enemy’s command team consisting of their Captain and an Air Defence Controller (with just a pistol)! Fortunately, this was a very temporary setback. An Artillery Strike on the pinned German Grenadiers holding us up in the centre of the battlefield caused them to rout, so the flank fire was neutralised. At the same time our engineers rallied straight away (!) and shot down the German commander and his side-kick. This meant we just needed half-a-Star to demoralise them, and this was achievable by taking the empty Field Fortification. So, it looks like the US may have pulled victory from the jaws of defeat!

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German command team is killed.

Final position: Technically, the game ends when the halftrack enters the field fortification square. I’ve adjusted the duration of the game by changing the victory conditions to – Game ends when all Forces of one side are demoralised; so, in a 2-player game, demoralisation of one side automatically means the other side wins. However, you can always play for the final denouement of taking the Pillbox. In this example, the Engineers have AT(6) + 1 for the Mechanised Assault + 1 for the flank attack. They manage to just about knock it out in this example. It’s quite possible that this will take more than one go, so it’s best to be prepared .

This was a very close game. I’d taken 8 Stars of losses, the Germans 9.5 by the end. For a proper assessment of balance, we’d need to play it a few more times.

The Solo Rules seem to be working fine. Important points to remember when reading the Enemy Behaviour table: aircraft are Vehicles! If the enemy is in a good position, don’t override that by interpreting the Enemy Behaviour table in your favour – for example, an enemy Unit in Cover won’t Move as a result of a Default Order if moving doesn’t improve its position or enable it to Fire.

One important point is to add a Default Order clause as the 1st clause of the current version: If the enemy has an unprepared AA gun, carry out an Air Defence Order to prepare it. For aircraft, I’m introducing a method within the AI for enemy planes – but not yet shared with my co-designer Nick Fallon, so I’m keeping it up my sleeve for now.

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Final denouement: a very close finish, the US just squeaked it.

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Air Today, Done Tomorrow

Update on the Open Battles draft

Open Battles rules drafting continues apace. I’ve written up the resolutions to the air rules – now a bit simpler, I hope, so more fitting for the Airfix Battles oeuvre. I’m also quite pleased with my little icon for air Units: BlackPlane, though it will probably need to be re-drawn better, so it’s iconic at smaller size. Nothing says WW2 aircraft like a Spit!

Airfix Battles, The Introductory Wargame, didn’t have aircraft. We’re adding them in to Open Battles, but keeping it simple, because it will remain a basically on-the-ground game. I’ve shown 2 or 3 draft Unit cards on the Official Airfix Battles Facebook group, so folks can get a preview of how we see the aircraft operating in the game.

SpitfireIX ME109G

The basic anatomy of the aircraft rules is that each Unit is 1 plane, and they start off-table at their airfields. You use a Vehicle Move Action to bring a plane on, which changes its status from “Ready for Take-off” to “Engaged”. You can place the plane model anywhere convenient on the tabletop, because they don’t obey the same movement rules as ground troops. To carry out an attack, play a Vehicle Fire Action – then put your aircraft next to the target (no extra Move Action required) and shoot, using air to ground or air to air as appropriate. Most of the late war aircraft have AT and MG as well as AA weapon types. Rockets and bombs are commensurately better AT, as you’d expect.

Once you’ve carried out a ground attack, you turn the Unit card to show RETURN TO BASE, and it automatically goes away in Clean-up (no further Order needed). Turn the Unit card again to show REFUELLING, so your planes effectively skip the next Round and then can come back.

These cards are not yet final. We’re currently thinking that the “basic” late war fighter, like the Spitfire IX, should be 2 Stars, rather than 1, so that early war planes can be just a single Star, and obviously less effective. Perhaps MG(8) is a bit too much as well, so this might get dialled down a tad. The Me109 Ace would then be 3 Stars.

You’ll need Commanders with Air Unit tabs, so we’re developing these as both Officer Pilots and ground-based air controllers with Forward Air Controllers too.

We’ve also covered anti-aircraft fire. After wrestling a little with the balance of guns like the 88, we decided that AA guns can fire usually fire in 2 ways. First, they can shoot like normal Gun Units, using an Order with a Fire Action. For an 88 on the tabletop, that means you can target any aircraft over the battlefield, owing to its range – smaller AA guns are more limited, but we cannot miss out the 88! Second, you can use an ability called “Defensive Interrupt Fire”. This allows you to shoot at an attacking aircraft before resolving the aircraft’s attack. However, we didn’t want this to be a way for the 88 to shoot down everything that moves as a kind of permanent Interrupt Fire, so you have to prepare the Defensive Interrupt Fire by carrying out a Basic Order that places any Command card from your hand under the AA Unit card – a bit like a glorified Stay Frosty. Then your AA Gun is ready to shoot at aircraft carrying out a Fire Action, but you’ll only get 1 shot of this prepped fire before you have to prep it again. If you can inflict 2 hits on the aircraft, it has to take a Morale Check, and a fail result makes it return to base even though it might not be destroyed. This gives us, subject to more playtesting, a balanced set of Units, I think.

Reflecting the use of MGs against aircraft, we’ve given a blanket AA(1) versus aircraft attacking your square or an adjacent one to all Units with MG weapon types. Again, these Units will have to prep the Defensive Interrupt Fire, so that’s something to look out for if you’re playing against an opponent with aircraft. There will undoubtedly be some 50 cals around in future! Some vehicles might explicitly NOT get this, for example if they’ve only got a Hull MG; that will be on the new Unit cards.

Aircraft don’t follow exactly the same rules as ground troops for Morale results. The Morale Checks are the same, but if they fail, they can’t be Pinned or Retreat or Rout, they simply change to RETURN TO BASE and if they’ve not yet done their mission, they lose it.

Aircraft are likely to be very useful in your Force. However, you’ll need some skill to make them highly effective. For example, you can only see troops in the Open from the air, so you may well need spotters on the ground to help via Attachments and other Units with the Forward Air Controller ability. The enemy might have their own Fighters to keep yours away, so dog-fights can happen in the skies above the battlefield.

Any comments from AB players are very much welcomed!

USA soldiers painted

First batch of US soldiers painted. These are 15mm Plastic Soldier Company figures to be used in our Mission Command: Normandy game. I expect to have at least a battalion of regular US infantry done by our November 2018 game.

Speaking of which, we’ve not yet designed the scenario, but I’m keen to do something in Operation Cobra – envelopment and escape.

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Random design lessons from the front: troop representation

It’s comparatively easy to put together a vaguely credible way of representing troops at low level for a WW2 wargame. For example, with Airfix Battles we did a 1:1 representation, so each infantry figure or tank model represents 1 infantry man or real tank. As John Salt has pointed out in an earlier comment on this blog, it is not “at all easy to find out how combat really works at the lowest tactical levels”. However, for Airfix Battles, we were aiming at “credible”, not a simulation, and our approach has been well received; there are some heartening comments on Bob Cordery’s blog here: https://wargamingmiscellanybackup.wordpress.com/category/airfix-battles/, and the Airfix Battles Appreciation Group on Facebook gives us a certain seal of approval.

Modelling stuff at a higher level – by which I mean tactical representation, not making and painting figures – has needed more work, especially if I’m trying to capture a bit of the command, control and communications aspects, while ending up with a playable wargame. Taking company level as an example, a primary difficulty is the extent of articulation in a WW2 infantry company. A company might be highly concentrated in one place or spread thin in defence; it might be focused on where to place its mortars and MGs to support a neighbouring unit, or it might be focusing on all-round defence with its rifle components. Some companies might provide components as attachments to other troops, and some might be acting on their own entirely. The platoon and section/squad structure enables these sublties to be implemented. Providing a single answer to this conundrum is problematic.

Some wargame rules get around this by allowing on-the-fly creation of groups. So, you have a “centre” for a specific command function, typically representing an officer, and all or a proportion of troops within a specified command range can be used. I’m not keen on this type of solution, because it gives the player much more flexibility than the commander on the spot would have had. It also concentrates the leadership function on one area, when leadership and the command of sub-components were dispersed via officers and NCOs. Perhaps it’s more playable, but that type of solution loses some of the essence of command and control for me.

Alternatively, you could implement a representation of the internal structure of the company – platoons, and so on. This has the merit of structural accuracy at the expense of greater complexity.

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German infantry company deployed to attack

Our solution in Mission Command was to represent “the group” as the lowest sized unit that would be given orders, with a group in the Normandy incarnation of the game being a company or squadron – less flexible Soviets might have battalion groups. Even though our groups have multiple elements – with an element being the smallest separately movable item – the elements don’t model the internal company structure. Rather we’re modelling the combat capabilities of the whole company, and we try to reflect differences in the capabilities of groups from different armies in different periods of the war.

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British infantry company deployed in defence

There are some implications for players, as you might imagine. It’s quite OK for a player handling a lot of groups to manage each company as a unit without paying unnecessary attention to the details of each element. This is particularly true with broad brush deployments. On the other hand, if you’re playing a small German kampfgruppe, where the positioning of heavy weapons is vital for defence, then you can and should focus on the individual elements and how they fit with the wider group – especially as you almost certainly haven’t got many of them. And you need enough players in your team to handle the size of your force efficiently.

Most importantly, the Mission Command framework allows us designers to focus our attention on the composition of groups within the scenario we’re designing. It’s quite rare that a force will have all its groups straight out of a standard table of organisation and equipment. Variation by scenario is vital to model that portion of reality we’ve put under the microscope. For example, a German panzergrenadier company may “normally” have 3 coherent elements (full sized elements with small arms, LMGs and panzerfausts), with a supporting HMG element and a 8cm mortar element, plus its transports, but it’s easy to vary this overall capability to a more realistic field strength. A 17SS group in Normandy would have integrated elements (just small arms and LMGs), because they weren’t issued with panzerfausts. For most scenarios a German panzergrenadier group might have only 2 coherent elements, or even only 1 with a separate command element and LMG support element, representing the normal coalescing of the infantry around their most effective weapons.

We have a lot of evidence from our games that this approach discourages micromanagement. Players (well, good players anyway) tend to focus on how the group relates to other groups at battalion level and above. There is also very much less tendency to intermingle companies, because that leads to realistic confusion, and elements that become separated from their group suffer bad morale effects. In addition, I’ve found it’s very easy to represent the particular effects of Normandy bocage terrain – simply, each element in bocage but not in a prepared position is immediately considered separated, with all the communications and morale effects that entails; this models well the sense of isolation and lack of support reported by all troops in the bocage, regardless of their company organisation.

Achtung! Spitfeuer! Air combat in Open Battles

Open Battles update: Nick and I had a good session over the hols. We’ve focused on the basics at the moment. This is all about how to retain the essence of Airfix Battles within the context of a new Open Battles system without squares. We’re keeping the Unit cards, Command cards and the fundamentals of the combat system, so that the new game will be recognisably similar to AB – components will be compatible. But you’ll be able to use whatever WW2 miniatures and terrain you happen to have, or wish to acquire for the new game.

We are retaining the numerical movement points and ranges. These then convert into an appropriate distance on the tabletop depending on the scale of your minis. Typically, this would be 1 movement point or 1 range equals 4″ for 1/72 scale or 15mm scale figures. There’s a bunch of “how to…” things that we’ve drafted, which I’ll go into in a later post.

Open Battles will include Air Movement and Air Combat, and we’re looking for your comments on our current work. I’ve stuck a file called OpenBattlesAirCombat.pdf here, plus some aircraft unit cards here. Any comments would be very welcome!

Unfinished Wargames – A New Hope

New Year’s Resolution: I will attempt to post here every day about some aspect of my wargame designing and / or experience. Posts may be short but hopefully of interest!

As a short stocktake, the wargames I’m currently working on are:

  • Mission Command – my big WW2 simulation miniatures game. C0-design with Pete Connew.
  • Open Battles – follow-up of Airfix Battles. Co-design with Nick Fallon.
  • The March of Progress – micro-game inspired by Clausewitz’ On War.

I have an article about wargame design that I’m working on at the moment. Over the next few days, I’ll post a bit about that to give me a few head start posts.

Airfix Tanks

A little bit of prep for Airfix Battles happened over the hols.  Only a little, but the objective is to get a whole set of figures and minis in Airfix for use in Airfix Battles.

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