Posts Tagged 'Airfix Battles'

Airfix Battles: Juno Regina

I’ve been dreaming up some scenarios for Open Battles, our working title for the extension to Airfix Battles. These are mainly D-Day ones (or shortly thereafter), based on a mixed old and new set of Unit cards and rules.

Rather than getting carried away with the expensive acquisition of actual terrain models, I decided to playtest using map boards derived from artwork from the original game, plus some fairly lame extra pieces of terrain that I’ve created in Photoshop. This all makes it easier to focus on design and playtesting rather than the looks of the thing, so bear with me.

My current Juno Beach board represents a piece of Nan Green beach, assaulted by the Regina Rifle Regiment supported by 1st Hussars. For simplicity’s sake, I’ve not attempted to replicate the full intricacies of either the defences or the attacker’s plan – this would complicate the scenario immeasurably and might threaten to turn it into more of a simulation that we would expect or enjoy.

junoBoard

A Piece of Nan: Draft Juno Beach board

This board has a fairly narrow beach; the beach landing squares are water+sand, the beach proper is 1 square deep. Then, there is the sea wall, displayed here as a normal wall Edge Cover, but tracked vehicles cannot traverse Sea Walls. Note that the slipway “road” is blocked by a concrete block, also Sea Wall Edge Cover. On the grassy “promenade” are a couple of pillboxes, providing inter-locking fire to the front. Behind them is a line of single storey beach huts, then a beach-side road – I think this would now be Avenue de la Combattante, but presumably a different name in 1944!

Courseulles is fairly flat, but there is a slight rise as you move into the town, as you’d expect coming up from the sea front. The buildings are also more substantial. Therefore, I’ve allowed that this would enable firing from the village itself towards and into the beach area over the beach front properties. Though not something you’d normally call a “hill”, I’ve represented this slope as a Gentle Hill in Open Battles terminology. This will be common in our Normandy representations where a few metres of height would be of great importance. More houses continue beyond this rise.

In terms of defences, I’ve provided the Germans with a couple of pillboxes on the beach front and a bunker on the rise into town. The Germans will also be able to stick down some barbed wire. For a more flexible game, you could allow the Germans to place all their Static Defences wherever they liked – mine is a starting suggestion.

In this scenario, I wanted both players to get some experience of the new equipment in Open Battles. For the Germans, this is primarily the Static Defences, and they have very few actual troops: a couple of PaK 40 guns, an MG section and some Osttruppen. Therefore the German player’s actions will be mainly limited to selecting targets, rather than any game of maneouvre. However, the bunker has height advantage on the beach area, so troops in there get +1 range, which may be significant.

I’ve also given the Canadians (using the British Unit cards) fixed Units for this scenario. Sometimes, you just have to work with what you’ve got. In this case, they’re fairly officer-heavy with a Captain for their tanks and a Captain for their infantry. New men and equipment include a Preparatory Artillery Barrage – unlikely to destroy the fortifications, but you may pin the occupants – Engineers, a Sherman DD tank (hull down when in water!), a Churchill AVRE (with Petard Mortar firing AT8) and a Churchill Bridge Layer.

 

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.

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.