Wednesday 6 March 2013

The Telescopic Wargame or Commanding the Level

Guess the level of command being represented - no prizes on offer though!

This post is very much one of a rambling nature for which I apologise in advance but it may serve to strike a chord in certain quarters.

Some time ago somebody posted a simple boardgame on a free wargames rules website as a joke. The game was based on the Battle of Gettysburg and consisted of two counters - one for the Union and one for the Confederates. Essentially each player rolled a d6 and the winner won the battle. As I recall there was no mention of anything in terms of tactics, terrain, commanders or any of those things that wargamers set such great store by. Essentially you a dice and won or lost the battle. I was amused to see this at the time but it did stop to make me think about levels of combat and how we game them.

Our hobby has rules available for everything from single figure skirmishes up to galaxy-spanning wars and pretty much everything in between. I have been thinking about this a lot over recent days as my plans for my Middle Eastern project begin to take shape. To further aid the thought process I have been in regular contact with Bob Cordery and more latterly with Tim Gow over matters Megablitz/Memoir '44/MOMBAT related and the upshot is that I want to be able fight actions where my models are used for higher level formations than they would appear to represent as well as using them for a conventional tactical level game.

Taking Memoir '44 as a very good example the combat units in use can represent anything from a platoon to a battalion or even a brigade. The combat mechanics do not change but because the gamer has almost been pre-conditioned into the appropriate command level by the scenario notes they are quite happy with this apparent inconsistency. Ordinarily though, one would not expect a platoon level game to be fought in the same way as a battalion or even higher level action. Logic dictates that the considerations required by a platoon commander are different to that of a General.

Megablitz by Tin Gow is pitched very firmly at the top end of the scale in terms of what is representing what. It is a system for tackling actions involving divisions and even corps so the lower level tactical detail can be happily ignored - it is simply not relevant to the scale of action being fought.They are a fusion of board and war games methodologies with the added bonus of using models and of being able to make use of a lot of table space when needed!

One of the problems I have had with the Memoir '44 series of games is the fact that whilst it is a good game (and speaking as someone that has pretty much most of what is available for the system - not the carrying bag though....) of war it is not a war game in the sense that most wargamers would understand. Although the higher up the command chain you go, the greater the distance from the purely tactical nature of decision-making; it is safe to say that Memoir '44 does not handle the lower levels particularly well, being too abstract in its approach. I would point out that the various expansions released in the series have attempted to address this (either consciously or coincidentally) with varying degrees of success.

Bob has tinkered endlessly with variations of both the WW2 and ACW/late 19th Century and these have worked uniformly well - if the number of actions I have fought using these is any gauge of success that is!
What Bob has achieved is to turn the system into what is essentially a tactical game, albeit pitched at up to the divisional level.

Now here's the thing. Supposing one wanted to game a WW2 battle at the operational level (using brigades, divisions or even corps) using models and a hexed grid, how would you do it? What would you need to consider in respect of rule mechanics at the command level being gamed?

What indeed.

The first thing that stuck me when I opened my copy of Megablitz a couple of days ago (after, I must confess, they had been sitting in a rules file for, ahem, a number of years....) was the way that strength points are calculated for individual units. Straight away I thought, hang on, don't you ordinarily use strength points for most of the rules you routinely use - MOMBAT and Portable Wargame to name but two sets?

Why not use the Megablitz method for creating actual units to be used within a Memoir '44/MOMBAT setting? This would serve, in one fell swoop, to formalise the units used and so by default define the command level being used. You will end up on a 13 x 9 hexes grid and probably around a dozen or so units give or take. Coincidentally, the Command and Colours system routinely has normal scenarios with a dozen or so units a side - but with the crucial definition of the level of command being gamed usually absent. This is not an oversight; it is a specific function of the game system - the 'blurring' of command level definition. The rules are designed on a 'one size fits all' approach.

My own thoughts on this subject fall into two camps. If I am playing a game at the level that requires tactical thinking then I want a set of rules that address the tactical problems faced on a battle. For me this means I want to be able to make use of cover; I want to deploy machine guns and mortars and I want the tangible differences between, for example, tanks, to be addressed. Similarly, when fighting an Operational level game I want those considerations mentioned in the tactical game to be of much lesser importance as my concern is in the command of a higher level formation. My priorities are different and so the rule set should be as well.

I believe that it is possible to use a hex based system for fighting games at both of these command levels - tactical and operational - and so while the tactical side has been 'nailed' in respect of Bob's MOMBAT series of rules (certainly to my satisfaction for the most part) my thoughts are heading towards the upper echelons of command and this where the concepts behind Megablitz and also Hexblitz (you will need to check out Bob Cordery's blog for this as for some reason I am unable to add any links today!) will come into play.

As for the opening of this post and the 2 counter ACW game - if that is the level of command the designer wanted to address then he has come up with a very slick and fast play mechanism.

Somehow I can't see it catching on though....;-)


Battlescale said...

Interesting post David.. Some food for thought there.


Sean said...

I think I see where you are going with this. I have always thought of playing a hex and chit strategic game and fighting the combats out on the table top. Hmm, Blitzkrieg anyone?

David Crook said...

Hi Steve,

Many thanks old chap! I rather fancy that I made the post a little on the indigestable side. I know what I mean and hope that what I am driving at makes sense - however badly it has been written!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Sean,

I suppose what I am trying to get acoss is that I want a hex based gaming system that will allow me to fight tactical and operational level games with the same kit. The tactical rules should give the tactical feel whilst the operational version should give the operational feel.

Memoir '44 as a case in point can be used for either level but in a sense is a 'jack of all trades, master of none' system hence my need for some gaming and command level clarity.

All the best,