Thursday 1 September 2011

Gladiators, Employment and Fractals in Wargaming

Yesterday evening at the club saw a couple of play test games of the new Warhammer Gladiator - with figures, rules, umpirical judgments, carpet tiles and enthusiasm supplied by Mr. Fox with yours truly trying to quote vast chunks of dialogue from every gladiatorial film I could think of! Early days for the rules as yet but boy are they fun! They are not a highly detailed set of man to man combat in the arena but they are designed with  large actions in mind and also feature rules for chariot racing, arena based naval battles and all manner of ferocious and exotic wildlife - including the Ostrich! As ever the eye candy is top drawer and whilst I am not about to paint anymore wargames armies I consider skirmish level enterprises to be fair game and so I am very tempted to augment my EM4 prepainted 28mm gladiators with some other bits and pieces.

The employment situation has changed in rather a dramatic fashion! I spent all of Tuesday morning after the bank holiday talking to the local job centre for the purposes of signing on. This was followed by calls to various parts of the inland revenue and a whole host of other unemployed related places. After an exhausting morning of this I had just sat down to a late lunch when the phone rang. It was the HR department of the firm I had just left (the one with the recruitment freeze!) asking me if I wanted another couple of months work with them in the same role, on the same team and at the same daily rate! I start back on Monday of next week with a notional end date of November 11th. Hopefully not at 11 minutes past 11....;-)

Of course the down side is that I have had to 'unwind' the bureaucratic machinery of signing on so it meant a further round of phone calls!

Apologies for somewhat obscure choice of title for this post - it will make some kind of sense in due course I promise - and so I will commence with a small definition courtesy of Wikipedia:

fractal is "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole,"

I have been giving a lot of thought to the rules I am currently drafting for use with my block armies. I have already decided on the use of a roster system for recording 'damage' sustained by a unit and am leaning towards a Memoir 44/Battle Cry/C and C Napoleonics combat system. Where the fractals come in to all this is very much a matter of perception - be it in the eye of the beholder or as a more general consensus.

A military map, as depicted in countless books over the years, usually has the geographic and topographical features drawn to an applicable scale and a series of units deployed either as individuals or overall 'frontage' representations (a good example would a corps type zone)  within the area covered by that part of the force in question. The symbol used to identify the unit(s) in question can therefore be seen to be representative of any size of force e.g. from a battalion (or smaller) to an entire army depending on the scale of the action under consideration. The terrain depicted is similarly elastic in that, for example, a wooded area could represent anything from the local park to the Black Forest - it does not matter as long as the scale is constant to the size of the military formation and the scale of the geographical area being represented.

Translating this into a tabletop battlefield then becomes a simple matter of ensuring that the overall look of the thing is consistent in terms of the relative positions of the various topographical features. A battlefield set up - either fictional or historically based - can then be seen to be either a very large area covering a city, a major forest,  a range of hills and a large river or can be telescoped down so that the city becomes a couple of farm houses, the forest a small wooded area, the range of hills a couple of gentle inclines and the major river a small stream.

Using figures - no matter how well they are painted or organised - causes problems in this case because no matter how hard you try a unit of 24 infantrymen will look like 24 infantrymen no matter what model to figure scale you are using. You could use lots of small figures or fewer larger figures but the result is still the same so if you wanted to fight an army level battle you are forced to either increase the model/figure scale: 1:1,000, 1:2,500 or whatever (meaning smaller units - sometimes of very few figures) or use more figures (and probably sell the house to finance it!).

Blocks solve this visual and scale based dilemma because a block is a block whether it is representing a platoon or an army and so for multi-scale actions are probably better to use than figures. This is my own line of reasoning in any event, hence the use of the fractal analogy.

But we like models - of course we do and so compromises are made and the expression 'purely representational' comes into its own. I suppose I am greedy in that I want to fight everything from a skirmish up to a major battle on a 12 x 8 hexed tabletop but am disinclined to paint the appropriate number of models to achieve this. I like units that look like units (that is with a reasonable number figures contained therein) and this means a lot of work, time, effort, money and devotion. Having a unit marker (for want of a better expression) that is visually the same whatever size of formation is being represented is a definite advantage in this case and so the block is ideally suited to such a system.

The scenarios from Battle Cry and Memoir 44 are good examples of this variable scaling in respect of both terrain and units involved and in truth, it matters not a jot how you represent your forces and battlefields or even what those forces actually represent as long as it is clear and consistent.

I realise this has been a bit of a ramble for which I offer no apologies but it has been something I needed to get off my chest. The use of blocks is my solution to a number of longstanding war game quandaries I have had and the great thing about our hobby is that there is always room for the innovative or even the downright odd!


Sidney Roundwood said...

David, great news about the job. Sounds good. Looking forward to see what you make of the Gladiator rules. I like the sound of the Ostrich!

David Crook said...

Hi Sidney,

Thank you Sir! I am really not sure what to make of the Ostrich other than a pair of very large drumsticks....Mmmmm!

All the best,


SteelonSand said...

Hi David, excellent news about the continued contract - even if it is for a short period - at least you've got your foot back in the door! Hopefully this will lead on to other things in the medium term...

Interesting and well reasoned piece above about the 'fractal' approach to gaming - it is a good justification for your journey into a block-based world - the potential for multi-scaling and the diversity of armies, periods and types so easily attained speaks for itself - if it were not for the huge emotional wrench (which I'm not yet ready for) of parting with my little men - I'd be following in your footsteps!

David Crook said...

Hi SoS,

Many thanks old chap! For preference I would love to use figures but in the quantity and variety I am going to need it is a non starter! I am very close to a play test of an idea I am cobbling together and this will be a good chance to show what a block based 3d battlefield looks like.

All the best,


Geordie an Exiled FoG said...

Good news on the work front
Even if it is at present an extension

I hope it turns into something more permanent

All the best

David Crook said...

Hi Geordie,

Many thanks old chap! I have an interview this evening for a permanent role so hopefully that will be successful.

All the best,