Sunday, 11 September 2011

Reflecting unit quality in the Portable Wargame 2 rules

Over the past few days I have been giving some thought as to how to reflect unit quality in the next draft of my PORTABLE WARGAME 2 rules.

My first thought was to use Morschauser's roster system. This has the merit of being simple and it is in keeping with the origins of the rules. The main drawback is that players have to remember to mark 'hits' on the roster .... something that can be easily forgotten during the heat of a tabletop battle.

I then considered the possibility of having magnetic strength markers on the unit bases. These are used in the MEGABLITZ rules and it is a system that I have copied in previous sets of rules that I have written. The main drawback to this system is the need to have a box of strength markers nearby (and this often means that it 'creeps' onto the tabletop) and to ensure that the markers are changed when 'hits' are scored on unit.

Many other sets of rules use 'hit' markers than can be placed on unit bases to show how many 'hits' a unit has suffered. A variety of different 'hit' markers could be used including curtain rings, tile spacers, small stones, tiny dice, specially made plastic caps that fit over a figure's head, and casualty figures. The problems that I have with all of these (and in the past I have tried using most of them) are that they can look unsightly (and thus detract from the aesthetic 'look' of the game), the box of markers can 'creep' onto the tabletop, and they often seem to become detached from the unit that have been placed with. In addition, the sight of a unit dragging its dead about with it just looks plain daft to me!

In the end I have opted for a very 'old school' solution (and one that has been suggested several times by a couple of regular blog readers), namely the good old/bad old saving throw Saving throws are not in keeping with Morschauser's original rules ... but they are contemporary with them. They are a system that I have used before, and I know that it works. Players may not like using saving throws ... but they never seem to forget to use them when their units get 'hit'. Another point in its favour is that the saving throw does not detract from the aesthetic 'look' of the tabletop battle. Finally, it is a mechanism that I can slot into the existing draft of the rules with little problem, it can be removed if it does not work without requiring a complete re-write of the rules, and if it does work but needs fine tuning, any changes can be incorporated into the rules without causing too many problems.

My proposed saving throw rule looks like this:
Any Unit that is destroyed as a result of Artillery Fire, Non-Artillery Fire, or Close Combat throws a D6 die to determine if it will survive the destruction. Elite Units: 4, 5, or 6 = Survive; Average Units: 5 or 6 = Survive; Poor Units: 6 = Survive.

This mechanism gives a Poor Unit a 16.6% chance of surviving, an Average Unit a 33.3% chance of surviving, and an Elite Unit a 50% chance of surviving. In other words, the Average Unit is twice and an Elite Unit is three times as likely as a Poor Unit to survive destruction. These odds may need to be altered as a result of play-testing, but they are the simplest method that I consider will achieve the aim set out in the first sentence of this blog entry.

20 comments:

  1. Hi Bob,

    The Block rules I am working on will employ both a roster and savings rolls but based on your post I am now wondering if this is overkill! You have made me think about the type of hits a unit can sustain (infantry and artillery 'hits') though because under my system a unit may have different savings rolls for different types of hit and so keeping track of them may be a little cumbersome in the heat of battle.

    I will need to ponder this further so your post has been thought provoking.

    The proposal you have mooted seems suitably elegant and so I will be keen to see how it tests.

    All the best,

    DC

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  2. David Crook,

    I would suggest that you try your existing rules as they are. You may be right; having a roster and saving throws may be one mechanism too many, but until you try it, you will not know for sure.

    Don't forget my rule that simplest is usually best; too much complication in one's rules can lead to things being forgotten (or ignored) in the heat of tabletop battle. If it is, then one has to ask oneself if it should be there.

    My proposed rule may not work, but at least it is simple and can be removed and/or replaced if necessary.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. Hi Bob

    I have been considering similar problems with my napoleonic rules, although I do use a "hit marker" system.

    The morale mechanism from two-hour wargames may be of interest. This involves rolling two dice, each will general a "pass" or a "fail".

    In the situation you describe perhaps a similar system would work. If "hit" a unit rolls 2 dice. Elite pass on rolls of 4+, regular on 5+, poor troops on 6+. Two passes = no effect, one pass = fall back (or disordered?) and two fails = unit destroyed. Having three possible outcomes is sometimes helpful and ollows for a more sensitive treatment of outcomes. Juggling the scores needed allows greater flexibility.

    kind regards
    Steve

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  4. An option might be:

    poor = destroyed
    average = saves on a 6
    elite = saves on 5 or 6


    -- Jeff

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  5. Not a bad solution Bob - I'm fond of casualty figures myself. We shall see.

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  6. Bob,

    I just noticed that there is another "battle report" for these rules over on the Soweiter League blog:

    http://soweiterleague.blogspot.com/2011/09/battle-of-bruckwasser.html

    He used one of Grant's "Programmed Scenarios".


    -- Jeff

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  7. Having made much use of them over the kast 10 years, I have a love/hate relationship with saving throws. They have all the useful qualities that you have pointed and all the excitement and all the frustration that a die roll can bring at the single stand level.

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  8. Bob,

    One idea I have toyed with is to provide each unit with an officer, colour-bearer and, perhaps, a musician. One could then:

    Either remove one each time a 'hit' was suffered, the last figure indicating complete destruction of the unit's ability/willingness to fight.

    Or, by rearranging the order in which the figures stand in rank show the unit's current state.

    A sort of visual roster, if you like, and in keeping with Morschauser's ideas.

    Advantages: no book-keeping or saving throws (unless you want the latter); units remain aesthetically pleasing; burnt-out units still occupy space on the battlefield and may obstruct their own side.

    Disadvantages: purchasing (money)and painting (time) all those extra command figures.

    On balance, I think it will be worth it when I raise my proper PW Imagi-Nation armies.

    At this rate, you just have to persuade John Curry to publish Big Bob's Little Book of Portable Wargames... There's a retirement project for you!

    Regards,

    Arthur

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  9. Steve,

    Thanks for the reminder about the system used in the various sets of Two-hour Wargames rules.

    I can see the reasoning behind having three rather than two results, and the mechanism has considerable merit.

    I intend to leave things as they are for the moment, but may well come back to this mechanism as the rules develop.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  10. Bluebear Jeff,

    Thanks for the suggestion. I would like poor quality units to have a small chance of surviving, but I want to see how the play-testing goes before I make any final decision.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. Conrad Kinch,

    I would certainly prefer casualty figures to the alternatives (e.g. curtain rings or tile spacers), but I think keeping the tabletop free of everything except the figures and the terrain is my ultimate aim.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  12. Bluebear Jeff,

    The blog that contains that battle report is written by Fitz-Badger (he is one of my regular blog readers) and we have been in contact about the battle he fought.

    It was interesting to see that he seemed to have no problems using the rules, and this is very encouraging.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  13. Ross Mac,

    It this instance it makes sense to use the saving throw mechanism, and for that reason - and that reason alone - I intend to trial it.

    I like the idea that Steve has proposed (i.e. the system used in many of the sets of rules devised by Two-Hour Wargames). It has considerable merit, especially as it produces three rather than two results.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  14. Arthur1815,

    I have toyed with the idea of having what you describe as a visual means of keeping track of a unit's current state, and if I had the time - and the money - I would certainly consider using it. In the meantime I am going to struggle on as I am with single base, multi-figure units.

    As to the possibility of a book .... well, the thought had crossed my mind as well. If I did I would have to do what Morschauser did, and produce at least three sets of rules in the book: Ancient, Horse-and-Musket, and Modern (plus Colonial as well!). By using a common basic set of rules, each tailored to a separate period and with lots of illustrations, I might just have a worthwhile publication that John Curry could publish.

    You never know; it might happen one day!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  15. I like Jeff's suggestion of no saving throw for poor troops, 6 for regulars and 5 or 6 for elites because, a. it's simple, and b. it keeps the casualty rate relatively high which means the games play quickly.

    I did post a new battle report yesterday (Sept. 10th). I think I'm starting to get "the hang" of the rules. Maybe another game or 2 and I'll be ready to try some tinkering myself. (-:

    As for 3 levels of results I was thinking the combat roll could produce that; for example, the lowest number that would cause destruction becomes a push back. The advantage is it saves you from rolling extra dice for saves or for combat. The way I'm thinking of a push back is the affected unit immediately moves backwards 1 move - or maybe a set number of grid spaces. This is immediate, there is nothing to keep track of, no markers/caps/individual figures needed, it's less drastic than destroyed but more onerous than no effect. I will probably give this a try when I do start tinkering.

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  16. Fitz-Badger,

    As I said in reply to Bluebear Jeff, I like the idea that a Poor quality unit might just have the opportunity to survive. That said, what he suggests - and you support - would keep the somewhat bloody nature of the present rules reasonably intact. It is certainly something that I want to think about.

    In previous rules I have had three fire combat results; survive, pin, and destroyed. What you suggest (an automatic 'pull back' reation) was included in the Close Combat results in PW1, but not in PW2. It makes sense to include something along the lines you suggest in PW2 as well ... and to include it as a result for all three types of combat.

    Something for me to think about ... and hopefully for you to tinker with!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  17. Bob,

    Your proposed contents for a PW book are true to Morschauser, but also quite Featherstonian: three historical periods, sets of rules &c.

    You might also consider the structure of Sham Battle -Lieutenant's game; Captain's Game, and General's game - and add degrees of sophistication/realism to the basic game.

    For example: in the basic game units 'hit' are destroyed; in the intermediate game, there is a saving throw based upon unit quality, and in the advanced game there is some sort of roster, so a unit can suffer several 'hits' before being destroyed, to portray battlefield fatigue and attrition.

    Then, for some periods, you could offer variants for different sizes of engagement/levels of command.

    Maybe not such a little book after all! But plenty of prospective purchasers.

    Regards,

    Arthur

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  18. Steve's comment mentioning the 2 hour wargame system (which does work well) got me thinking again.

    One of the main things that I don't like about saving throws is that they cancel the result of the original die roll. What if the 2nd roll only modified that result instead of cancelling it? Instead of a "Saving throw" it could become a "severity check" or "Morale test". This could provide a troop quality differentiation and 2 levels of hit severity all in 1 roll, with no markers and without negating a previous roll or affecting the established probability of getting some sort of outcome from a shooting or melee roll.

    It might look something like:

    Militia:
    6 The unit recoils 1 grid.
    1-5 the unit routs and is removed

    Regulars:
    5-6 The unit recoils 1 grid
    1-4 the unit routs and is removed.

    Elites:
    4-6 The unit recoils 1 grid
    1-3 the unit routs and is removed.

    -Ross

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  19. Arthur1815,

    You have a more detailed plan for what should be in the book than I have!

    I like the idea that the book should contain increasingly more detailed and/or more complex versions of the rules as well as covering different historical eras.

    Once my life has settled down to its new rhythm, I will give serious consideration to putting such a book together. In the meantime I have one or two things that I will need to sort out first on the wargames front.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  20. Ross Mac,

    This is an excellent idea! Thank you for sharing it with me. It is such a good idea that I will most likely incorporate it in the next draft of the PW2 rules.

    What I particularly like is the fact that - as you have stated very clearly - it does not negate the first die roll but determines any resultant outcome.

    So, rather than Units being 'destroyed', they will be 'hit' and the second die throw will determine the outcome of the 'hits'. I could call them the 'Combat' and 'Effect' throws, which would enable me to avoid using the term 'Saving Throw' in the rules.

    All the best,

    Bob

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