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Saturday, 18 November 2017

Grids and scales

David Crook – who writes the A WARGAMING ODYSSEY blog – is designing a naval wargame set in the early twentieth century, and in an exchange of emails we have been discussing the advantages and disadvantages of using a grid of Hexon II hexes for naval wargames … something that I have done in the past but in an abstract rather than a realistically scaled way.

This set me thinking, and I sat down with a pencil and paper and started playing around with the numbers … and what follows are the results of my thinking.

Assuming that the distance from face-to-face on a Hexon II hex (which measures 10cms from face-to-face) represents a nautical mile, a ship travelling at a speed of one knot would take one hour to move from one hex to an adjacent hex.

This gives gun ranges of one hex representing 2,000 yards, two hexes representing 4,000 yards, three hexes representing 6,000 yards and so on.

If the ship were doing a speed of six knots, it would take ten minutes (i.e. one-sixth of an hour) to move from one hex to an adjacent hex. I chose six knots because during the period David is setting his rules in this seems to work as a common denominator for most major classes of warships; on average battleships do 18 knots (3 hexes), cruisers do 24 knots (4 hexes), and destroyers 30 knots (5 hexes). All the thoughts and ideas that follow are based upon this six knot common denominator assumption.

Now ten minutes can be a long time in a naval battle, with even slow-firing guns being able to get off two or three salvoes, so if we reduce the time scale to five minutes, this has consequences.

For example, if we change the ground scale to one hex representing half a nautical mile (i.e. 1,000 yards) from face-to-face, the move distances per turn will not alter but the gun ranges will, with one hex representing 1,000 yards, two hexes representing 2,000 yards, three hexes representing 3,000 yards and so on. As the Battle of Tsushima began with the ships firing at 10,000 yards and hitting each other at 7,000 yards, the tabletop distances would be between 100cms and 70cms.

As the average heavy gun salvo rate in 1905 at the Battle of Tsushima was about one salvo every three minutes, it would seem to make sense to use that as the basic element of the time scale. In this case the ground scale reduces to one hex representing 600 yards from face-to-face, the move distances will not alter, but the gun ranges do, with ten hexes (i.e. 100cms) representing 6,000 yards.

Now all of the above works well if one assumes that one wants to fight a salvo-by-salvo naval battle … but as naval gunnery was still relatively inaccurate (most sources seem to indicate that only about three to five percent of shells actually hit their target and did any damage) this might end up as being a rather tedious wargame to fight.

So if we return to the original timescale where one turn represents ten minutes of real time, our pre-dreadnought battleship will fire three – possibly four – salvoes per turn. Assuming the latter, the ship will therefore fire sixteen shells and possibly – if they are very accurate and achieve a percentage hit rate of 6.25% – score one hit. In reality they are more likely to score one hit every two turns.

This begs the question as to whether or not the time scale needs to be changed so that more firing can take place each turn … and this opens yet another can of worms.

I cannot for the life of me come up with a way of realistically balancing the constraints of ground scale, time scale, and realistic gunnery … which is why I have always tended towards designing naval wargames where these elements are abstract rather than definitive.

Does anyone out there have a solution to this … or is it one of those wargame design problems that is best just ignored?

The Battle of Tsushima as depicted in a painting ...


... and my attempt to model something similar to it!


It may not be art ... but I know what I like!

16 comments:

  1. Bob,
    I can appreciate the factual information and considerations when it comes to real naval battle...though to equate time, distances/range, rates of fire etc -is indeed a very difficult prospect when were thinking about staging a miniatures battle. I think we have to keep it all in the perspective that in fact we are designing a Game...to which we need relatively simple rules and easy solutions. I just wrote my Mars Airial Combat Rules this evening- which took all of ten minutes (1/2 A4 Page)..and afterwards had two very good games to boot..enjoyable fun. I wish you and David all success in your debate and evolving the eventual Naval Rules (Pre-Dreadnought era?). All the Best. KEV.

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    1. Kev Robertson,

      The more I look at wargame design, the more I seem to emphasis the GAME aspect in the rules that I write.

      This discussion arose because of a short discussion that David Crook and I had in some emails, and it set me thinking ... and I was interested to read what others thought.

      Thanks for your thoughtful and - as ever - practical contribution.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. Bob,
    The issue of synchronizing ground and time scales almost inevitably ends in either tremendous fudging or battles which last 15 minutes with huge casualties.
    The issue is that of the theoretical distance things can move being compared to the theoretical rates at which things can shoot. By tying the distance to a time scale, this seems to automatically cause problems with things like rate of fire.
    In practice what wargamers require is a system which regulates each in comparison to each other; so for example in a given time period a unit should be able to move and fire within a reasonable range of parameters.
    All too often we attempt to work this around either the maximum possible or a reasonable average. Unfortunately if the time scale is short (too prevent huge move distances or weapon ranges) this often results in a high rate of fire within a game, which produces high casualties in a relatively short time. In response a longer time length is often imposed in order to distribute the casualties over a more plausible time period.
    It is often rationalized that units spend a lot of time waiting and not moving or acting.
    Alternatively, others have tried variable bound timescales or introduced "tactical" and "strategic" moves, allowing greater move distances outside of a theoretical "engagement" distance.
    Personally as I have got older, I have begun to question whether it's worth getting hung up on. The aim is to have a game that produces whatever our personal parameters accept as a reasonable result in a given time. So if in a game which lasts a theoretical half hour but results in 90% casualties do we rationalize that the half hour was merely the time of the actual fighting, with the other probable 4 hours taken up with waiting around?
    The usual result in a good set of rules is that the macro elements of move distances and ranges are relative to each other, as well as complementing the other macros of time and combat. The micro elements often have to be rationalized as result.

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    1. Neil Patterson,

      I doubt that I could have summed this up better myself and I particularly agree with your last paragraph.

      I used to get tied up in all sorts of minutiae that made my rules very complex, time-consuming to use, and not very interesting to play. I did this in the quest for 'realism'.

      Nowadays I try to produce playable, fun wargames that usually end up being no more inaccurate in their outcomes than those earlier so-called 'realistic' rules.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. I have to agree with KEV and Neil. When I was younger I spent too much time trying to design wargames where ranges, ground scales, unit sizes and time all fitted together perfectly. It never worked and the solutions/fudges mentioned by Neil never convinced and mostly did not work.

    These days I tend to fall back on the approach taken by the likes of Tony Bath, Don Featherstone and Joe Morchauser where you basically put together ranges, movement distances, unit sizes, etc. in a way that you know will work from past experience and don't worry what the time scale is or how "12 moves in a day" fits in with the time to close from outside musket range. Pretty much what Neil says in his final paragraph.

    In theory, it should be easier to produce rules that don't suffer from these problems for naval games but I've never seen it done convincingly (though I'd be glad to be pointed to a set of rules which really succeed and don't cost the Earth).

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    1. Mike Hall,

      From the comments I have read so far, we all seem to be in agreement.

      I plan to publish my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME at sometime over the next six months, and I hope that you will find that they fit your requirements ... and hopefully they will not cost a lot of money to buy!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. I've never commanded a Battle Cruiser let alone a squadron in battle or been in battle of any kind but I have been an officer-trainee handling a frigate during squadron manoeuvres and I am here to say that at relatively close quarters Time is not a constant!

    It is interesting the underlying assumptions. In your example where you change the ground scale and then say that moves would not change, I immediately made a mental note that this would only be true if you changed both the ground and the time scale. It is quite possible to have changed the time scale but not the ground scale. This would of course leave ranges the same but change the move distances which would have a rather different effect with ships closing faster and firing more shots per turn but needing some sort of averaging of ranges or at least factoring this in by a positive modifier if range bands were the same as in the previous turn.

    A lot of naval gamers that I've met seem quite focused on details, like a land gamer who is worried about battalion drill during a refight of Waterloo. Most naval wargames I played in also made little sense to me and rarely or never seemed to have much resemblance to my limited reading and experience until Peter (The Single Handed Admiral) wrote a much simplified set which moved at a good pace, abstracted much of the stuff being handled by subordinates and included command & control & formation rules and suddenly the player was a Squadron Commander and the battles began to relate to my limited reading about naval battles and limited experience of fleet manoeuvres and results felt right and the results were credible. The games were even enjoyable.

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    1. Hey that's me that Ross is plugging. I'm glad that you enjoyed those games Ross, I should haul the rules out of the archives

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    2. Ross Mac,

      The pencil and paper workings that I did were an exercise that enabled me to try to visualise whether it was possible to design a naval wargame where time, distance, and firepower considerations could be accurately built into the rules. I can to the conclusion that whilst it was possible, the resultant game would not be great fun to play. I wrote my blog entry in the hope that it might spark off the sort of discussion it has ... and the unanimity of thought has been very interesting.

      I think that you are right that a much simpler set of rules with lots of the unnecessary detail abstracted out, and which allows players to be flotilla, squadron, or even fleet commanders is a much better way to move forward. I hope that my PORTABLE NAVAL WARGAME will achieve that.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    3. Peter Douglas,

      There's nothing like a well justified 'plug', especially from someone like Ross Mac!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Bob
    I agree with much of what you have to say. I haven't commanded a warship, but I've smile across the Channel several times in 25-35 footers and cruised through the Spithead and the Brest Roads to boot. I've got to say that your mock Tsushima shot has a lot going on that looks right to me.

    FYI naval wise I now mostly game WW2 using a much more detailed set of rules GQ3, focusing on smaller actions where the details count more and don't weigh down the game too much.

    Cheers, Peter

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    1. Peter Douglas,

      My mock Tsushima took place at COW2016, and was a great success. The session lasted less that three hours, during which time I was able to explain how the rules worked and for three different types of action to take place (i.e. a battle between two fleets of battleships, a cruiser action, and a pair of raiders vs. a convoy and escort).

      I have used GQ3, and found them to be simple to use and reasonably accurate in their outcomes ... something that I did not expect before I tried them out. I was more than pleasantly surprised by that.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. I agree with everything that has been said before ;-)

    In a wargame, time and distances are discretized in chunks: turns and movement distances and firing ranges. Anything you want to include that has a significant finer resolution (e.g. distances smaller than a movement rate epr turn, or actions (such as firing) that are faster than a turn length) will always be very difficult. One has to abstract them, or average them out and group them in a macro-action.

    In one of my games, I wanted to keep the thrill of firing individual volleys. But, this meant increasing firing ranges. After all, a battalion should be able to fire x amount of volleys before contact was made. With set movement rates, and one volley per turn, this meant increasing ranges such that x volleys could be fired in x consecutive turns.
    Not to say this is good design, but just another illustration how we have to fudge our ground and timescales, especially if we want to include things that are finer than the chosen ground or time scale.

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    1. Phil Dutré,

      I think that this conundrum is one thing that differentiates a simulation from a wargame. In the former retaining the strict relationships between time, distance, and actions seems to be a given whereas in the latter wargamers are quite prepared to fudge it in the quest for an enjoyable wargame.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  7. In my rules I have abstracted the resolution of gunnery whilst keeping the time and distance scales linked. A "hit" (I can't think of a better term) does not represent a single shell, but the damage done by, possibly, multiple hits or near misses.
    There is no need to track individual hits, anymore than in a Napoleonic land game we are concerned with which soldier is hit, it is the overall effectiveness of the unit that matters.

    Just my two pennies worth,

    Martin

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    1. Dilton Martin (Martin),

      Aggregating damage is a very sensible way to go, and - as you comment - it is what we do all the time in land-based wargames, so why not do it in naval ones?

      All the best,

      Bob

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