Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Ultra Simple Naval Games...

To further the development of the was between the rival nations: the Kingdom of Ruberia and the Republic of Azuria, Brian (A Fist Full of Plastic) donated a whole bunch of figures and accessories from the 'War: Age of Imperialism' boxed set.  What to do with the navies?  Well, the Red and the Blue were simple enough, but what of the Grey and the Purple?   It seems that the Grauheim and Porphyrian Empires might have to come into at least a shadowy existence as allies of one or the other.

At that, some way of adjudication naval actions was called for.  So: simple naval rules, designed for one brain cell or fewer.  As there is just the one ship type, I'll stay with that.

1. Movement: 10cm, maximum.  All moves are simultaneous.
2. Maximum turn 90 degrees, only one such turn per move.
The leading elements of the Porphyrian squadron emerging
from the Straits of Dyre just as the Ruberian squadron
 crosses its 'T'.
3. Squadrons move as a body.  If in line astern, the successive vessels turn at the same point as the first.
4. Gunnery Range: 30cm maximum, 6's required to hit.
5. Each ship gets 2 shots, one for each turret fore and aft.  Secondary armament?  What secondary armament?
6. All fire is counted as simultaneous.
7. Vessels may not fire over friendly vessels.
8. Targets within 45 degrees of a central fore-and-aft line through the  vessel may be engaged only by the fore or after turret, as appropriate.  Outside those angles, the target may be engaged by the full broadside of both guns.
9. For each hit received, a vessel loses one gun. Having lost both turrets (2 hits) the vessel is considered to have been sunk.  However, I am thinking of changing this such that although the guns are out of action, a 3rd hit is required to put the vessel down. I'm also thinking that a hit has to be registered before any damage is done.  Not sure about that one.
10. Actions are fought until one side is completely sunk, or else has successfully broken off the action.

Here is a description of an action fought between a small Ruberian squadron against a Porphyrian fleet, from the Log of Admiral Sergei Sergeivitch Nuttoffsky, aboard his flagship Tsarina.

17th October, 1871: 1600 hrs
Steaming through the Straits of Dyre in line astern, course SSW; visibility fair, slight wind from the East. Sighted Ruberian Squadron of 3 vessels steaming W or W by S at the head of the Straits.  Almost at once enemy vessels fired their first salvos at our lead vessel, Taras Bulba.  Confined as we were, no manoeuvring was possible as the Ruberians crossed our 'T' firing six times the volume of fire able to be put down by Taras Bulba (i.e. 6 shots to 1).  
The Ruberian opening salvo: totally ineffective.

Fortunately, the enemy took several salvos to get our range.

The Ruberians score a hit!  But retribution is swift and
severe.  Two hits upon HMS Obdurate puts her under;
and Commodore Slybacon's flagship also takes damage.
Adm Nuttoffsky ordered a change of course to West by South, still in line astern, to parallel to the enemy line.

It was not until half way through the change of course that the enemy registered a hit upon the second vessel Elizaveta Romanova.  However, our own gunnery proved much the superior, as the lead Ruberian vessel, HMS Obdurate took the whole salvo from Taras Bulba and went down. The Flagship of Commodore Aloysius Slybacon, HMS Obsidian.  also received a damaging hit, and a turret put out of action.  
Check out the superb gunnery of Taras Bulba!
Shortly after these successes, however, Elizaveta Romanova was also sunk by a hit from Obsidian.
In the ensuing exchanges, Admiral Nuttoffsky's flagship Medvjed remained unscathed, but the rearmost Ruberian vessel scored a hit upon Sukin Syn.   As the weather began to deteriorate, with thick stormclouds coming up from the west as afternoon faded into evening, both sides were finding hits hard to achieve (I thought I was going to run out of table).
HMS Obnoxious puts one aboard Sukin Syn.
Just as it appeared that action would be broken off, Taras Bulba's final salvo sent HMS Obsidian to the bottom, and Sukin Syn avenged herself with a telling blow upon HMS Obnoxious.  As night drew in, Obnoxious managed to crawl off without further damage. The Porphyrian fleet continued westwards in search of a sea port in order to effect repairs on Sukin Syn.  
Taras Bulba does it again: a salvo from her sends HMS Obsidian
 and Commodore Slybacon to the bottom, whilst
HMS Obnoxious takes damage.  The return salvos splash harmlessly
into the sea.

This was, of course, an undoubted success by the Porphyrian fleet against a redoubtable foe.  For the cost of one ship sunk and another damaged, the Porphyrians had fought out of what amounted to an ambush, whilst sinking two and sending the surviving enemy ship limping off heavily damaged.  But it was, of course, just another instance of God fighting on the side of the big battalions...

For a one brain cell rule set, it seemed to work OK...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Squares 'n' Hexagons: Part 2

Well, this  part is mostly about squares.  Having discussed in my previous post a means of drawing up a hex-field with squares arranged in a brick pattern - a 'Brix' field, I explored  what I considered to be problematic about such a field - shooting ranges - and looked at a possible solution.  At least one commentator (thanks Ross) brought up a limitation as it concerned units that spanned more than one hex, square or 'Brik'.  That may become a topic for future discussion.

Right now, I'm about to state my personal preference for the standard 'chessboard' square array anyway.

The major problem hinges upon moves, and shooting, though corners.  If diagonal moves are as 'easy' as orthogonal (as they for a King or Queen in chess), you get the peculiar topography of the chessboard in which the corner-to-corner distance is equal - in effect - as that from side-to-side.

What if you permit only orthogonal movement - or, whenever a move of multiple squares is contemplated, effecting diagonal moves by two orthogonal moves - 1 'up' and 1 'across', for example?  The effect of that is almost the same is the problem it seeks to obviate.  The range of squares reached from your starting point still describes a square - a smaller one than if diagonal moves were permitted, and it has been tipped up 45deg upon one corner to form a lozenge shape - but it's still a square.

It is possible to mask this effect, as the game Civilization does, by substituting a chequey field by a lozengy one.  The picture below is an instance of this sort of thing, with the lozenges flattened along the vertical axis.  But it doesn't really resolve the issue.
Part of the map of Sideon IV, a.k.a. Jono's World.

My approach is to employ a 'movement allowance' system, in which the 'cost' of moving diagonally is 50% greater than moving orthogonally.   This does nothing for movement allowances of just 1 or 2 squares, but for 3 or more, you start to get a 'foorprint' of possible destinations that more closely resembles a circle than the hex system allows.
Movement Allowances.  Please forgive the distortions -
this was adapted from a hand-drawn diagram.
Here we have it.  Leutnant Gruber's little tank, sitting in the centre of that array of squares can reach squares depending on its movement allowance (MA), indicated by colour and  number.  If its MA is 9, then he can reach any coloured square he likes.  If it happens to be 5 only (say) then he can reach only as far as the orange squares.  Note that I have numbered only along the orthogonals and diagonals from Leutnant Gruber's little tank.

The blue circle shows how close to a circle the MA=7 'footprint' is. The slight penalty for diagonal movement (40% is mathematically much, much the better approximation than 50%, but defeats practicality, methinks) isn't worth troubling about.  In my view it is a great advance upon the chess or orthogonals-only systems.

The main difficulty I see at this point is having to 'count by one-and-halves' for diagonal movement.  The simple way around this is to double the MA numbers, such that between adjacent squares, an orthogonal move costs 2 Movement Points (MP) and a diagonal move costs 3 MP.  Simple: saves fractions, and is easy to remember.  So long as one does remember it.

The question now comes down to multi-element units, orientation and musketry ranges and arcs of fire.  From the point of view of orientation, I think we will have to accept an artificiality imposed upon us by the grid system:  The unit's elements will have to be facing orthogonally or diagonally.   In each case, the elements' firing arcs will be defined - for instance - as in the following diagram, in which the shooters' range is measured in the same terms as movement rates: MP.  

In the diagram, shooting range is 3 in all cases, but with a limit to how far to a flank.  Here, I use the convention of imagining an adjacent element with the same facing.  The arc of fire extends to the flank only to a square directly to the front of that adjacent element.  That will mean a single element facing diagonally will cover one extra square, but I think we might be in swings and roundabouts country here.

Consider two 4-element units - They might be a 4-company Napoleonic Battalions - in a fire fight.  Let their effective musketry range be 3(MP).  See how the unit's effectiveness falls away to a flank and beyond 2/3 maximum range to the front.  

The unit facing diagonally necessarily covers more front (40% more, geometrically speaking; 50% more in terms of our MP system).  As such, you will observe that it covers more squares: 20 to the orthogonally placed unit's 16.  If you count the coverage of each square, the right-hand unit scores 32 (4x8) on 20 squares; the left-hand unit 28 (4x7) on 16 squares.  The former has the wider coverage (32 to 28), the latter is slightly denser (1.75 per square vs 1.6).  Swings and roundabouts.  So far, I see no way around this.

For the sake of illustrating any amendments you might care to make, I have added for this diagram 1 MP to the shooting range of our elements.  At this point I'll do no more than observe again that the apparent advantage in ground coverage of the diagonal placing is partially offset by the greater density offered by the orthogonal placing (though there the difference is very small).  This can be fudged either way.  You might decide, for instance, that if a unit can bring any fire to bear upon an enemy, then the whole unit can have a go.

At any rate, I leave this with you for what it is worth.  For mine, I'm quite intrigued by the effects of range and arc of fire in concentrating the greater fire effectiveness towards the centre-front.  Now, if I could just think of a way to bring that effect into 'free' table gaming, without adding too much in the way of tedium...

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Squares 'n' Hexagons: Part 1

In recent months a number of bloggers have been exploring the type of wargames pioneered by Joe Morshauser - played on a gridded table.  The purpose is to obviate some of the 'fudging' that freer systems tend to force upon players, minute accuracy not being feasible in the time and with the resources available to most wargamers.

As any chess player will tell you, a field of squares can lead to some strange effects, particularly noticeable in the end game.  A King, travelling as it does a square at a time, will, starting at a1, reach a8 or h8 with equal speed, even though h8 is over 40% more distant from a1 than a8 is.  The problem is movement through the corners.   It's OK for chess, but what about something that we wish to represent more closely the topology of real ground?

There are two ways one could go.  The first is to use a field of hexagons - hexes.  An elegant solution, as hexes tessellate nicely on a flat surface, and, an area of constant radius about a given hex more nearly approximates a circle.  The other solution, that retains the square field,  I'll come back to this in Part 2 of this article.

The problem with hexes is, of course, that they are a real pain to draw up.  Squares have it over hexes by a huge margin in this regard.

The solution is this: 'brick-squares' - hexes for lazy beggars like me. Check out the following diagrams
Diagram 1: Hexagons
 The diagram below is the square-brick equivalent of the hex field about (ignore the terrain - I just needed a hex field in a hurry, and didn't like my hand-drawn effort).  You have exactly the same topography, and as all movement is through a square side (or half-side) then the problem of corners is solved.
Diagram 2: Square-bricks
Dare I coin the term 'Brix' as the equivalent of 'hexes'.

But what about weapon ranges and arcs of fire?  This is the tricky but.  Somehow you have to translate your ranges and angles on the hex field onto the square-brick field.  Take a squizz at the first diagram.  The centre and right situations are exactly equivalent - identical withal: the units are shooting through a hex-side (I've given all units a range of 5 'hexes'.  The left hand unit is shooting through a hex corner.  The fire-zones aren't quite the same, but near enough, but we also have to bear in mind that some rule systems will not allow such an orientation.

The Square-brick (Brik/Brix) system I don't think can allow that prohibition.  And, reverting to the centre and right hand units, their respective situations, although equivalent, are not identical.  One unit is shooting through a full Brik-side; the other through a half Brik-side.  It is easy enough to translate the fire-zone from Hex field to Brix field, but how to describe it?  I think the best approach might be to mark out an appropriate template and use that to determine whether something is within a firing arc or not.

The upside is that the orientation of the unit, being critical, is also less given to ambiguity.  If the unit is facing a Brik corner, then it fires through a half-side.  On a hex field, it is very easy to orient the unit in such a way as it is unclear whether it fires through a side or a corner, the difference being 30deg (compared with 45deg for the Brix system..  That might sound plenty of angle to obviate ambiguity, but in the heat of a brisk and lively action...

Diagram 2A:  Brix.
A new orientation added.
Since writing the above,  I realised that the system I had envisaged was not quite complete. Just as there were equivalent brik-side and half brik-side patterns for shooting through hex-sides, there had to be a half-brik-side equivalent as well as the full for shooting through hex-corners.  I've therefore added the blue unit to the diagram, with its shooting pattern.  The question marks, by the way, I leave as an option to leave out of the pattern so that the overall shape is nearer centre and right RED unit patterns.

Now my earlier comment about orientation is much less clear.  The left and right hand units are clearly firing through brik sides.  The centre red is firing through a brik half-side; and the blue through a brik corner.  Players will have to work out their own conventions on how this is to handled, whether certain patterns are or are not to be used, or some clear indication employed to differentiate orientation between Blue and centre red.  If we count the LH red as firing directly to the front (0deg), then the RH red is firing directly to the right (90deg); centre red fires at 30deg right and blue at 60deg right.  As the ambiguous point is 45deg precisely, I would be inclined to rule that a unit so placed is firing through the corner it is facing (NOT the half-side).  That should resolve that problem. 


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Stalemate at Schlammdunsk

A view of the battlefield looking westwards from behind Soviet lines.
In the late spring of 1942, as the Russian Front shook off the mud of the Rasputitsa, both sides bestirred themselves into resuming the advances made before attrition and the winter ice had frozen all large scale activity.  The scarcity of good lines of communication in the vast Russian plains made the road nexus about the otherwise unimportant village of Schlammdunsk a very attractive objective for both sides.  Its present unoccupation by either side was just one of those inexplicable accidents of war that exist simply to puzzle historians.

Looking south along the Russian front line.
Entrusting a picked task force to his favourite Colonel, Ivan Ivanitch Ivanov, Marshal Zhukov instructed him to seize the village and exploit on to control the road extending from Schlammdunsk to a small farm two or three versts to the south.
First Rifle Platoon riding on the tanks of
First Tank Platoon.
To carry out this task, Colonel Ivanov had available elements of 13th Army:
-  A Rifle Company of 111th Rifle Brigade, with three rifle platoons each of an 8-man HQ Section, and two rifle Sections.  Each section had its own PTRD anti-tank rifle.
-  Attached, as was normal (according to the Army List anyhow), was its supporting Machine Gun Company, comprising;
1 Light Machine Gun Platoon with 5xLMG
1 Heavy Machine Gun Platoon with 2xLMG and 4xMMG
1 Light Mortar Platoon with 3x50mm Mortars.
- A Medium (T34) Tank Company of three Platoon, whose 2nd Platoon had been temporarily substituted by a platoon of 3xKV1A heavy tanks - 7xT34/76 and 3xKV1 in all.   
The Rifle Company HQ.
The Russians advanced with the three Rifle platoons forward along the whole front.  Placing his armour upon the right front, with the rifle platoons riding on the medium tanks, Ivanov had the MMG and Mortar platoons linking 2nd and 3rd Rifle Platoons on the left, whilst the LMG Platoon rode upon the KV tanks between 1st and 2nd Platoon on the right.
Battlegroup HQ: Col Ivanov on right of picture.
But the conservative objective given this task force were to prove too restrictive in the event.
Red Army Orders and movements.
As the forces closed from east and west, Col Ivanov stared aghast as through his binoculars he discerned the full strength of the German forces he was facing.  Commanded by Oberstleutnant Antonius von der Ormandy, the Germans has gathered together four platoons of Panzergrenadier infantry, reinforced by a 2-gun section of long-barrelled anti-tank guns - 50mmm PaK38s.
The German front line seen from the north.
But it was not they who concerned Ivanov, but the plethora of Armoured Fighting Vehicles the Germans deployed: an eclectic collection of assault guns and panzers that almost double his own numbers in tanks.  Ivanov counted a Platoon of PzIIIs and another of PzIVs; a Platoon of long gun StuG IIIs, and a Platoon of short; and a pair of Marders carrying  Russian 7.62cm guns.  Altogether a force to be reckoned with.
Germans advancing towards the rich farmlands
west of Schlammdunsk.
Dense woods dominate the middle of the battlefield.
For his part, Oberstleutnant von der Ormandy had as good reason - possibly more - for his own apprehension.  Outnumbered though they were, the Soviet armour was the better protected, and all were armed with the formidable 76.2mm main gun.  It seemed expedient to face the enemy with every AFV he could muster, though he prudently kept back the Marders from the action about to unfold.

It was not long, even after a pause to allow the infantry to dismount before the Soviets were at or near their objectives.  The German armour had meanwhile got ahead of the infantry and soon brought the Russian armour under fire.   The Russians were comfortable enough - aside from a scratch or two and some minor damage to a 3rd platoon T34, the first German shots were largely ineffective.  
A brisk tank battle leads to heavy German losses...
Not so the Russian. The superiority of their armour and armament quickly told.  In a trice 5 German AFVs, smoking gently, were scattered about the field.  A sixth - the PzIII Platoon commander received a hit that put  his tank's gearbox out of action.  In the next few minutes, the Germans managed to break a track upon a 1st Platoon T34, but that was it.  Fortunately the Russians failed to improve their score.
...for trivial cost to the Russians: the expenditure of
 half the ammunition from more than half the tanks, and
one T34 immobilized
All the same, it was clear that with over a third of his armour out of action, a change of plan was called for.  The Oberstleutnant pulled back his tanks and StuGs - the wounded tank crew laying demolition charges before abandoning ship. 
First (PzIII) Panzer Platoon loses 1 tank and the
Company Commander (sand coloured) heavily damaged and
reverse gear knocked out.  This tank was abandoned soon after.
 Down came the smoke to cover the move.   And Colonel Ivanov found himself something at a conundrum.  His orders did not allow for any further advance.  Exploitation was not going to happen quickly, and not at all unless he could get a message through.  Snorting with impatience, he waited as his radio operator tried to get through to his company commanders.  No comms.   He had to wait, fuming with disgust, as the radio operator tried again.
Behind the smoke screen, the Germans regroup
and form a defensive line.
The Germans were able unmolested to pull back behind the line of the Sowchos 73, covering the move by placing his anti-tank guns in the gully separating the twin crowns of the ridge on the other side of the road from the farm.  But he continued advancing in the centre, aiming to seize control of the dense woods in the centre, and hoping thereby to dislocate the Russian line just beyond.  On his far right his 1st (Motorised) and 2nd Platoons mounted the hill facing the eastern farm, in preparation for an assault.
The view looking from behind the German
left flank, south-eastward across the
By this time that small farm had been occupied by a rifle section of the Soviet 3rd Platoon.  The remainder of the Platoon lined the irregular ridge to its rear, covering the flank of the Heavy Machine Gun Platoon and the light mortars.  
Two German platoons on the southern flank.

The message at last having got through to his company commanders, Ivanov directed that a push be made towards and to the east of the dense woods.  Third Tank Platoon had to reform its line facing in a south-eastern direction before advancing, to allow the KVs to take over their line.  The German masking smoke covered this movement.  Meanwhile, a section of 2nd Rifle Platoon advanced across the stubble of a recently cleared field in a reconnaissance move to discover the strength of the Germans advancing through the woods.
German manoeuvres and Russian tentative advances
before both sides call off the action.
In what amounted to an ambush, half the section was lost to heavy short range fire from front and flank, and the rest fell back more quickly than they had advanced.  However, the heavy machine guns east of there, alerted by the firing, exacted a toll upon the enemy.  Six of them fell as the long range fire scythed through the leaves.
The Russian left flank, looking NW.
Part of 3rd Rifle Platoon has occupied the small farm.
 Lining the crest of the  ridge line, the rest of 3rd Platoon,
the MMG and Mortar Platoons, and 3rd Tank Pl in the distance.
But the incident put a stop to any further Soviet advance.  Ivanov countermanded his advance order - which exceeded anyway those he had been given.  But the Germans themselves were not especially interested in putting Russian mettle any further to the test.    By tacit agreement both sides settled into their positions , the battle done.
Third Tank Platoon turn to move in a South Westerly direction
just as the Soviet smoke screen begins to fall.  The halt was called soon after.
It is hard to think of an action in which one side lost 6 AFVs and 6 figures, and the other just 5 figures and one heavily damaged but still running AFV, as anything but a decisive victory to the latter.  But it had to be admitted in the final situation, neither side was prepared to chance their arm further.
Looking west, the Soviet view is blocked by the German
smokescreen.  The Red armour was loath to move through that!
Sometimes one has to admit that the game system we are using has certain limitations, which dissuades one from acting too wildly against one's judgement.  Often that limitation lies within the players.  This was a pickup game (Panzer Marsch! rules), pretty much, with terrain fairly thick but more or less randomly laid out.  Force sizes and composition were determined by Army Points (1500 apiece) and time of the war (early to mid 1942).     That I had no orders beyond where I had reached was simply due to my expectation of being unable to get further ahead anyhow.  Tony expected my armour to carry on its advance, but that required the issuing of further orders.  The first attempt simply failed when I rolled a 1 on the comms dice.

His early halt was occasioned by the loss of so many vehicles so quickly - one turn (mine) withal.  Mine was due to many causes: unfamiliarity with a rule set I play about twice a year; the Germans' change of stance from advance to defence;  the strength of the German infantry and support weapons; that at least 6 of my 10 tanks had already used up half their ammunition; early failure of comms; and finally, Colonel Ivanov's attack of spinal jaundice.   Not that Marshal Zhukov blamed him overmuch.  His orders had been carried out, after all.