Archive for the 'Airfix Battles' Category

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.

p9-infantry-deployed-c

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.

p10-infantry-in-defence

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.

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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.

airfix_tanks

Airfix Battles: A sneak peak at Operation Cobra

Airfix Battles, The Introductory Wargame, has now hit the shops.  If you’ve not yet seen it, have a look here: https://www.modiphius.net/collections/airfix-battles.

The basic game has 10 scenarios, many of which are geared to teaching you how to play the game.  We thought it would be a great idea to present a whole campaign of scenarios to test out our more advanced players – enter Operation Cobra, the US offensive at the end of the Normandy Campaign that resulted in the (almost) encirclement of the German’s 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army.

The Operation Cobra Airfix Battles campaign is made up of 10 linked scenarios.  At the end of each scenario the winner earns Cobra Campaign Points (CCPs).  Most points wins at the end of the campaign.  However, you’re unlikely to play all 10 scenarios, because the outcome of a scenario presents some choices about which one to play next.  Some of the scenarios are not necessarily balanced, but rather they might favour one side or the other – or your style of play may suit you to one type of scenario, but not another.  So, if you think the next scenario is maybe a bit too demanding for your side, you may be able to opt to skip it, and move to a more palatable option.  In this way the path through the campaign can be different each time.

We’ve also introduced a few new bits and pieces for building your forces, setting up the scenarios and ending them.  Typically the Germans during Operation Cobra were scrabbling to keep up with the movement and materiel of the US advance.  To reflect the German losses, in most scenarios German squads will start with less than their full complement, but they’ll still cost the normal stars to buy.  Your Grenadiers may have only 7 or 8 men, instead of the normal 10.  Sometimes the German tanks are not fully repaired, so may have to start the game with 1 pip less on their Hit Dice, while at the end “The Last Throw of the Dice”, German tanks cost an extra star each to purchase.  In compensation, and because they’re on the defensive, the Germans frequently get to place terrain where they want it to be, so their relatively smaller force sometimes has the advantage of the ground.

As Operation Cobra was an offensive of rapid manoeuvre, both sides will face having to split their troops.  In Scenario 3, “Armoured Breakthrough”, the US side has a main and a flanking force and tries to take an on-road objective worth a large number of points.  In this scenario the Germans don’t have any tanks, so their problem is how to shift infantry around to block a flank attack, while also parrying a frontal force.  In Scenario 5, “Encircled!”, the Germans attempt to break out or rescue a trapped force by running the gauntlet of the attacking Americans.

We’ve included a lot of variation in the scenario designs.  The number of troops ranges from 10 Stars to 25, and many scenarios use both maps, so you’ll have a lot of ground to fight over.  We’ve also provided some very different end game and victory conditions.  For example, in Scenario 2, “Opening Attacks”, the Americans can choose to end the battle at the end of any round, thereby allowing them to limit their loss, take a quick victory, or go for broke by staying in the fight.  On the other hand, Scenario 4, “Panzer Counter-attack” is a do or die that only ends when one side has been destroyed, routed or withdrawn.

Scenario 10: Allied Briefing – “That’s it, boys, the Krauts are beaten. I doubt they have a single tank left in the whole of France! It should all be plain sailing from here on.”  Or the Axis Briefing – “General, you may demand all you want, but I cannot make tanks appear out of thin air! The whole division is destroyed! What’s that? An order from Berlin? Then I suppose we have no choice…”  Your chance to fight the enemy in Operation Cobra!

Airfix Battles @ Frome

Saturday 2 January saw a group of Abbeywood Irregular wargamers enjoying the open fire, the mulled wine and the mince pies at our first start-of-the-month session at the Bennett Centre in Frome, Somerset. Many thanks to Pete for laying on the vittals. Not a Big Game session, but a collection of Small Games was the tune, owing to the season.

Saga was played, as was some DBM / DBMM / DBA as a precursor to a campaign to be joined later this year. But for me it was an opportunity to play test Airfix Battles with some more unsuspecting gamers, even though it involved a 3.5 hour trek each way!

We managed 3 AB games during the day, focusing more on the intro scenarios, though I did push the boat out on a complex one with Pete and Colin at the end. Honours were more or less even amongst the opponents, which at least suggested we had balanced scenarios – a good sign. More importantly the game was well received and enjoyed. There was plenty of cheering and anguished cries as a result of the vagaries of dice rolls! But also some nicely executed coups of tactical finesse too. One of the best was an On The Double race by a sole surviving German officer onto the unoccupied objective in the final turn, only for an artillery strike to lay him low at the last moment.

Our final scenario involved 3 Shermans and a couple of US squads attempting to resist some German panzergrenadiers and Panzer IVs. The Panzergrenadiers special ability enables them to Move immediately after disembarking from their transport, typically to dive into cover. Sure enough, they grabbed one end of the village before the Yanks could say ‘coca-cola and French fries’. However, this did lay the panzergrenadiers open to concentrated fire, and though they bravely resisted for a while, in the end they were pushed out. Meanwhile a US squad carried out a Rapid Advance to the flank of one of the Panzer IVs – surely a dangerous move, as they’re armed with a couple of bazookas, as well as rifles. But no, despite maintaining a constant fire for 4 turns, and hitting several times, no penetrating hits were scored – questions will be asked in Congress about the quality of US ammo! Some days things never go right, and the US forces were beaten by the narrowest of margins, in a battle that was bloody for both sides’ infantry, but strangely not for the tanks, only one Sherman KOed.

As a result of the test we’ve tightened up the wording on 3 or 4 Command cards, and we’re looking at a final tweak or two on the Assault rules. Assaulting permits a rapid elimination of Units with poor morale, but woe betides you if you try it against a prepared enemy. Vehicles can overrun infantry by using Assault, but you’ve the risk of KO by their AT weapons.

We’re now finalising the precise details of how to engage soft skinned vehicle targets. In earlier versions we gave them Hit Dice like armoured vehicles but with no need for penetration rolls. Our discussions currently centre on what weapons should be able to engage them, and how to make this consistent and simple, bearing in mind that these have to relate to Towed Guns, which are also soft skinned targets.

Our Frome session was very successful, and everyone had a fun time with the new game. Can’t wait to get the final “real” set now!

Airfix Battles – oldie models, new games

Though Mission Command has been taking up a lot of my 2015, what with launch of the alpha version, another little project was offered to me by that kind Mr Birch at Modiphius Entertainment. Airfix Battles!

Airfix! Certainly a name to conjure with for those of us of a certain age. Like most wargamers of my vintage, I was brought up on those 1/72 and 1/76 scale figures and models. I’m not ashamed to say that I still have a few trays of Airfix Napoleonic Line Infantry that I can use alongside the more conventional lead stuff acquired over the years. It was only at my last house move that I decided to ditch a swathe of 40+ year old Airfix plastic – huge numbers of ACW and Napoleonic soldiers consigned to a skip :(. But enough of reminiscences.

Nick Fallon and Chris Birch asked me to give them a hand with ‘One War’ as Airfix Battles was initially labelled. My credentials were mostly as a WW2 buff – I’d introduced them to Mission Command earlier, so I wasn’t an entirely unknown quantity – so I was brought in to help out with historical details in the first instance. I found the project very interesting and a great contrast with Mission Command. The latter has focused very much on detailed simulation, whereas Airfix Battles is all about playability. Yes, theme has to be accurate and the ‘feel’ of the game is vital. However, the Airfix Battles Introductory Set has to do what it says on the tin – introduce newbies to the wargaming hobby, specifically WW2 land battles, while also appeal to the, ahem, older fan. Players have to be up and having fun within minutes.

After a few weeks of tinkering and developing, I was honoured to be asked to co-design the system with Nick and Chris. How could I refuse?

To be entirely fair the Airfix Battles system had been at least sketched out by the time I got involved. It’s a D6 system based on squared maps with only 1 Unit – primarily infantry and vehicles – allowed per square. Movement and shooting are configured on the basis of squares, where a more complex board wargame might use hexes, and a tabletop game would use tape measures. It uses Unit cards to describe the troops themselves. In the first set these cover stuff you’d see in a late war Normandy game – Shermans, Panzer IVs, basic infantry squads, MG sections, snipers and the like.

Players take actions with their troops by playing Command Cards from a limited hand. Actions are what you would expect – primarily about moving and firing – but we have interesting and fun combinations with additions to movement points and variations to firing, so that the unexpected can easily crop up and challenge the unprepared. IMHO the system does a good job of representing ‘fire and movement’. Keeping the enemies’ heads down really pays, especially if you’re aiming to assault a dug in squad!

Airfix Battles has preconfigured small scenarios to teach the rules gradually. More experienced players can dive into larger fare and design their own forces, as each Unit has a points value dependent on its weapons, abilities, and importantly its ‘War Dice value’, a number that must be rolled to succeed when the Unit fires or rallies. You can play with a single player on each side, or with 2 or more players per side taking team decisions. There’s also a solo play mechanism.

The Intro Set will come with counters for those who don’t already have Airfix models. But it’s really time to break out the old Airfix collection, base up those WW2 infantry, re-paint those Panzer IVs, and declare ‘Panzer Marsch!’