Friday, 15 July 2011

The portable wargame: Some thoughts arising from the COW2011 session

It is now almost a week since I ran my PORTABLE WARGAME session at COW2011, and since then I have had a chance to think about the feedback I received from those who attended and took part in the games that were part of the session.

As I have mentioned in my replies to some of the comments made about my COW2011 photo report, there was overwhelming support for the use of squares rather than hexes, and this has given me pause for thought. I will not go into the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of these two alternatives, but in the immediate aftermath of COW I was firmly convinced that I had to go with squares, and abandon the hexes altogether. However I do have a large collection of both Hexon II and Heroscape™ hexed terrain, and I am unwilling to dispose of either.

One complaint about the Heroscape™ terrain is its starkness, especially when compared with Hexon II … and this does make the battles look less aesthetically pleasing. That said, I have painted and flocked some Heroscape™ terrain in the past, and as the photos show, it loses much of its starkness when this is done.

So I have decided that – for the time being at least – I am going to persist with using suitable painted and flocked Heroscape™ terrain. This does not mean that I am going to totally ignore the use of squares; it is just that they are not going to be a priority for the immediate future.

The other important feedback concerned the Activation Dice, Turn Sequence, and ‘pinning’. Basically, without special Activation Dice marked 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, and 0, some players were confused about converting the scores on normal D6 dice. Did they add all the D6 dice scores together and then divide by two, or did they do it for each dice and then add those results together? I need to address this, and I have a possible solution.

The best solution I can currently come up with is to add all the D6 dice scores together and then divide by two. However, in order not to skew the results too much, the ratio of dice to non-Command Units should be changed from 1:3 to 1:4. This seems to produce similar results to the original system, but appears to be easier to understand.

The current Turn Sequence also confused some players. They kept losing track of which non-Artillery Units had moved and could not fire and which had not moved and could fire.

One possible solution is to make players place ‘moved’ markers by those Units that have moved … but this means more clutter on the already crowded battlefield, and is one more thing that will detract from aesthetic look of the game. It might also lead to confusion with the ‘pinned’ markers. I have considered several solutions, but the only one that currently seems to make for less confusion rather than more is to allow non-Artillery Units to move if they are ‘activated’ … and to allow all non-Artillery Units that are in range of enemy Units to fire without having to be activated.

This will, of course, lead to more Units being able to fire each turn, but at present I cannot come up with an alternative solution that is also a simple solution. It is also in keeping with Joseph Morschauser’s original rules, and this further commends it to me.

The process of ‘pinning’ and ‘unpinning’ Units cause no problems whatsoever … but there were a number of instances where Units were in receipt of several ‘pin’ markers. This is not covered in the current draft of the rules, and I therefore came up with a simple expedient rule on the spot.

The rule states that each ‘pin’ marker requires a separate ‘activation’ to remove it, but that players can expend multiple ‘activations’ in the same turn to remove ‘pin’ markers from a Unit or Units. Doing this reduces the number of Units one side can move during a turn, but it does reflect a Commanders decision that it is better to get ‘pinned’ Units moving next turn than to just move those Units that are not ‘pinned’ this turn.

I still have some more thinking to do, but this blog entry shows the direction in which I am likely to go with the next draft of the rules. Nothing has yet been committed to paper, but I hope to produce a new draft of the PORTABLE WARGAME rules sometime in the next seven days.

28 comments:

  1. Bob, all else being equal, I think I prefer squares as well but since I play on hexes at Ron's it made sense to standardize. In the end it doesn't seem to make much difference to play, its something more subtle.

    I like being able to fire without activation. Ron & I discussed that option. It seemed to us that troops would not need orders to defend themselves, indeed, getting troops to not fire seemed to be the trick.

    We haven't had difficulty converting the activation dice but the proposed change sounds easier and more straight forward to me.

    Good to have a clarification on the pinning, we weren't sure what to do with multiple pins and ended up not marking additional pins although we did discuss exactly what you say in the post with a rally per pin.

    Any chance you could slip in a rule for armoured cars or trains? (the latter at least being in use in the Soudan and Boer war)

    Good stuff.
    -Ross Mac

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  2. Bob,

    It seems to me that you need to consider one key question before you make further changes . . .

    "Are you writing these rules for YOUR use? Or are you writing these rules for the use of OTHERS?

    I think that if you are honest with yourself about the answer to the above question, then you will know if you wish to make changes or not; and you'll know what directions you want to move things.


    -- Jeff

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  3. There is always the option of bespoke dice.

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  4. Moving markers: Make 2 sets of markers in different colours (say red & blue)that are just slightly bigger than the unit bases. Moves then alternate between red & blue turns. When a unit moves in a blue turn place a marker of that colour into the square it is moving into, then place the unit on top of it. Next turn will be a red turn. Repeat with red markers, making sure to retrieve the blue marker when you move the unit.

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  5. Ross Mac,

    I suspect that the squares vs. hexes conundrum is one that is not going to be easily resolved ... but as you say, the end result is not that different.

    Firing without activation does make more sense. It is one less thing to try to remember and it does allow troops to fire in their own defence, which is a very positive point.

    The more I think about it, the better the new activation dice mechanism seems to be. It is simple and unambiguous.

    The multiple 'pinning' problem had not arisen in any of my play-test battles, and when it happened at COW I realised that the rules did not adequately cover it; hence the proposed change, which I hope will lead to a better game.

    Rules for armoured cars and/or trains? They will certainly be covered in the 20th century version of the rules, and these will be the next thing I work on after I have re-drafted the current rules. So you might have to wait a month or two but I might manage to get a draft done sooner.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. "The current Turn Sequence also confused some players. They kept losing track of which non-Artillery Units had moved and could not fire and which had not moved and could fire."

    I don't understand this problem, which makes me wonder if I've grossly misunderstood the rules. The way I read it, non-artillery units may either move or fire at the point they are activated, which doesn't exactly tax the long-term memory. Were the players simply unable to keep track of which units they'd already activated in a turn?

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  7. Interesting to read your reflections on the COW experience of the PW. My son and I played our first game of PW (RCW - inspired by RossMac!) on Wednesday. We had no problems with it all - it did what it said on the tin, in that it was quick (45 mins), fun, easy to set up and go. We were both sure that with repeated playings we would become more effective in deployment and tactics, and, given our limited time for wargaming, we felt that the strengths of PW meant that we would return to it. We used squares, not hexes. The one thing that would have made a difference (for me, at least) would have been special activtion dice.

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  8. Bluebear Jeff,

    The answer to the question is 'for both'.

    I intend to use the rules for my solo games, but also with 'visiting firemen'. Therefore the rules will have to be simple enough for someone to pick up and use very quickly. The current draft almost achieves that, and the changes will hopefully get me closer to my goal.

    When playing solo, I like to concentrate on getting each side's tactics right, and the simpler and less clumsy the rules are, the easier I find it is to achieve my aim. If, during a play-test, I find that I am not using a rule or mechanism, I will see if it can be 'stripped out' as being unnecessary.

    Thanks for posing this question. It should be added to the list of wargame design guidelines I wrote some time ago.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  9. Conrad Kinch,

    I can easily make bespoke dice for my games, but other wargamers seem reluctant or unable to do so.

    As one of my aims when I started the development of my PORTABLE WARGAME rules was to re-use as much existing material as I had, using normal D6 dice rather than bespoke ones fits in better with that aim.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  10. Interesting comments on the Heroscape terrain - have you seen the 'Grishnahk' series of articles on the Heroscapers site at http://www.heroscapers.com/community/blog.php?b=6 ?

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  11. Bob,
    Bluebear Jeff makes a good point - as always - that you shouldn't rush to alter your rules to deal with every issue that arises in playing. That may be why Phil Barker's Horse, Foot & Guns rules have never been completed.
    On the other hand, there is no reason why all the various ideas cannot be published on the PW webpage, so readers can mix and match to suit their own preferences.
    Firing without activation, IMHO, makes good sense - especially if the unit is firing upon a target it had engaged the previous turn, or responding to an enemy attack.
    Perhaps the number of 'pins' a general can remove by an activation could be linked to his quality/commanmd ability?
    Best wishes,
    Arthur

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  12. Trebian,

    Thanks for the idea - it would certainly solve the problem at a stroke - but I want to reduce the number of things that players have to remember to do, not increase them.

    Don't forget, I and most of the people I wargame with are getting older (not including your good self, of course) ... and we need to keep things simple!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  13. Dr Vesuvius,

    There is nothing wrong with the original rule, but play-testing has shown that it does not work as well as it might once players really get into the game.

    The simple answer to your question is 'Yes, some of them did lose track of which Units that had already activated and which they had not'.

    I must admit that as an observer of two games, I also lost track at one point, and so the blame cannot all be laid at the feet of the players.

    The players got so engrossed in what was happening during their game (not a bad thing in my opinion) that they lost track of which Units had or had not moved.

    This left me with a dilemma ... and the solution makes things simpler and easier for the players.

    In my opinion, the rules should help the game flow, and if they don't, then they need to be changed. This is a good example of this sort of problem.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  14. AlFront,

    Thanks for the very helpful feedback.

    What you describe is exactly the sort of battle the rules were intended to be used to fight ... and I am pleased that you found them pleasing to use and want to use them again.

    I hope that the proposed changes to the 'Activation Dice' will make life easier for you.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  15. ADB,

    It was those articles that inspired me to try to improve my own Heroscape hexes by painting and flocking them.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  16. Arthur1815,

    I agree with what both you and Bluebear Jeff have written. I am not rushing to make changes for change sake, which is why I have left it for nearly a week before recording my thoughts about the feedback I got from COW2011.

    I want to create as simple a set of rules as I can, and when I get feedback or something that arises from a play-test that indicates that I can simplify the rules (i.e. reduce the amount of unnecessary 'chrome'), then I will give serious thought to finding a simpler way of doing things.

    The 'firing without activation' change seems to be one that makes lots of sense for several reasons, and your suggestion about linking the number of 'unpinnings' a Commander can perform during a turn being linked to their ability has considerable merit, especially if the Commander is in an adjacent hex.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  17. One thing you may need to consider - the changes will increase the effect of firing generally, so you may have to consider reducing the firing factors to compensate.

    Rob

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  18. I'll resist the temptation to make any of the obvious cracks about the advancing age of COW attendees and short-term memory loss

    Allowing all non-artillery units to fire every turn is a significant change, not necessarily a bad one depending on how you envision the use of Activation points. Personally I imagine that troops in range of eachother will already be exchanging fire albeit ineffectually. Activating the unit to get them to shoot would represent sending orders to "press the attack" or otherwise increase the intensity of the fighting in ways that aren't immediately visible at the company/battalion/brigade level that you see the game operating on.

    Are you going to split Activation (now effectively just Movement) and Firing into separate phases in the turn sequence? Or will firing still happen in the Activation phase, even for units that aren't being activated?

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  19. re keeping track. I had that problem as well and ended up either dropping a small whiff of cotton"smoke/dust" beside a unit when it was activated or hauling out spare command figures, drummers, flags, officers etc ( I just happened to have them available already ) and placing one beside each unit that I wanted to activate (once I had calculated how many points I has available). I then removed the figure as I activated each unit.

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  20. Bob,

    On the moving markers I think you'll find it makes the game easier, not harder. You start each turn with a set of markers in fornt of you, when you've used them all you've finished.

    Trebian

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  21. Xaltotun of Python,

    It is something that I may have to alter, but for the moment I want to see how my proposed changes work before I do.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  22. Dr Vesuvius,

    We are a bunch of 'Good Old Boys' ... but some of us are older than others!

    My thinking AT THE MOMENT (i.e. it is still subject to change) is that the Turn Sequence will go something like this:

    1. Artillery Fire (simultaneous).

    2. Dice for initiative.

    3. Side with initiative fires any non-Artillery Units that are in range.

    4. Dice for Activation/Movement.

    5. Movement/'Unpinning' takes place.

    6. Close Combat are fought.

    7. Other side repeats stages 3. to 6.

    This sequence will allow a side to 'shoot an attack in' on their opponent.

    This is still very much at the 'thinking about it' stage, and may well change ... but I suspect that I will at least give it a try in a play-test before totally accepting or rejecting it.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  23. Ross Mac,

    As usual your solution is a simple and elegant one. I will certainly bear it in mind when I begin re-drafting the rules.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  24. Trebian,

    I take your point, and have used a similar system many years ago.

    Ross Mac's suggestion has similar merits, and I am not ruling anything out at the moment. The suggestions I have received are all being added to my development notes.

    It will only be when I actually sit down to word process the rules that my ideas and thought will come together into something that will hopefully make sense.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  25. I like the proposed turn sequence. Troops need to have been nrought forward into range on the previous turn (if attacking) or be under attack (if defending).

    They can the use fire to disrupt the enemy then press the attack home if the fire is effective, or hang back if not. On the other side, the defender who manages to break up an attack with fire can then choose to counter attack to take advantage of the disrupion, or if the fire was ineffective can decide to pull back.

    I look forward to seeing what eventually emerges.

    -Ross

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  26. Ross Mac,

    If the new Turn Sequence achieves the outcome you have outlined, I will be very pleased indeed. It will reinforce the need for players to use proper tactics ... and will be simpler to follow than the existing Turn Sequence.

    If the change can achieve such a win/win outcome, it would be great.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  27. Bob,

    Ross's idea on cotton puffs is good. You could also use little stacks of cannon balls to indicate which artillery units have fired. (BBs on a penny work well; also, many plastic artillery sets now include little piles of cannon balls.)

    As for the square vs hex question, I mentioned awhile back that you could universalize the rules by stating at the outset that either can be used, and that the rules will simply say "space" instead of hex or square. A few rules might need a note to differentiate the very slight differences between the two, but this shouldn't happen very often. (I thought I'd bring it up again only because I know how much you're had on your plate; it's not exactly important...)

    Best regards,

    Chris

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  28. Chris,

    Many thanks for both the idea about the cannon balls (I have a vast number of BBs that I could easily use) and the idea about trying to make the rules non-specific with regard to squares or hexes.

    I had not forgotten the latter idea, but have yet to find a form of words that makes sense when trying to explain it, without sounding too complex.

    All the best,

    Bob

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