Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Building Blocks and Big Battles

The classic block wargame of Kriegspiel being used for a rather well known battle....

The great block extravaganza continues and so I spent some time this weekend experimenting with various methods of incorporating flag bases. I will post the details in due course but the early ideas were very encouraging. I think I have found a method that works so the non-grid block armies will be in use hopefully sooner rather than later.

I am rather excited about using the blocks on a normal playing surface and so I have been thinking about rules. This may seem a little odd but given that all my gaming with the block armies thus far has been grid based you can see why this needs some thought. With the grid games I enjoy – mostly Command and Colours or Portable Wargame inspired – I am tempted in the short term to simply convert these into inches and see how they work out. It is rather embarrassing to admit that I have been so grid facing in respect of my wargames of late that I have gotten out of the habit of using a ruler!

In respect of rules my plan is something startlingly original and, if I am honest, is what I had always intended to do with the block armies when I first decided to make them. I am going to design a generic set of horse and musket rules for games using them.  I have opted for two half blocks per unit for infantry and cavalry mainly because my collection is organised this way so that different formations can be easily represented – the typical column (march and attack), line and square – and the facing of the unit can be shown by the physical location of the yet-to-be-seen unit flag block. Artillery and command will use a half block in the normal way. This means that a typical infantry or cavalry unit deployed in line will cover around 75mm by 20mm. The figure equivalents would probably be 6/10/12mm and so the scenery will scaled thereabouts.

The main criteria for the rules is that they should fit on two sides of A4 at a maximum. All measurements will be in inches and the only dice in use with be our old friend the D6. I am torn between using a roster or marking the blocks in some way for any hits scored. The former has the advantage of preserving the ‘fog of war’ so the opposition will not know what they are up against until they are engage with the unit in question. In truth this will probably be the option I use although the latter has the advantage of being 'in plain sight'. At this stage the definition of a unit will be fairly flexible as it my intention that the scale should be able to move and down as required by the action being fought. In this respect using blocks is certainly advantageous as, for example, a 24 figure unit will look like a 24 figure unit whatever scale of action one is choosing to fight. The abstract and indeterminate nature of the block is its greatest strength as evidenced by the way that they are used in military maps – the standard symbols I have chosen for my blocks can represent any formation from a platoon to an entire army.

Believe it or not but this was fought six years ago between Bob Cordery and myself in the man cave.  The game was based loosely on the Russian attack on the Grivitsa Redoubt during the Siege of Plevna in 1877. We used a version of Bob's 'Memoir of Battle' rules that were based on the Richard Borg designed Command and Colours game Battle Cry by Avalon Hill. The Hexon has gone and the book cases have moved walls since then but it is still my 'inner sanctum'.

An alternative to starting a rule set from scratch would obviously be to make use of any number of existing sets or to adapt for use 'off the grid' some tried and tested rules - namely the Portable Wargame or any of the MoB or MoMBAT series by Bob Cordery.

The key thing for me this time around with the blocks is ensuring that the action being fought has an obvious identity which is why I am taking some time to get the flag issue right. This will help immeasurably in showing the personality of the army being represented which in turn will be reflected far better in the supporting narrative.

This will of course mean the return of the purple prose....


Rick Krebs said...

David, when you said you had a lot of blocks, you weren't kidding. It is strange how one feels when you have been playing on hexes or squares and you switch to measuring sticks/rulers 8-) But, it is doable, by an old gamer such as yourself 8-) I am headed in to a stretch of measuring sticks/rulers in the new year. Squares and hexes are like a comfortable pair of old slippers.

I look forward to your battle reports.

Charles Litka said...

As I have commented before, I really like the look of block armies. I don't see any downside to getting rid of the grid, with the upside of having battles that look more natural. If every unit is going to have a flag stand, perhaps you could use it to record hits. Small paperclips that fit over the flag for each hit?

I am not familiar with the Portable Wargame rules, but if I were designing a set of rules, I would always have both attacker and defender roll a die to determine the results of an attack or melee rather than the Avalon Hill system where only the attacker rolls. With both players rolling, each takes responsibility for the performance of their units, though you are, of course, always free to blame the units themselves. I could never rely on the drunken British Guard regiments to do anything but lose despite their "6" rating.

David Crook said...

Hi Rick,

I fully intend using both gridded and non-gridded playing surfaces for the block armies but using them on a conventional tabletop has thrown up a banana skin in respect of facing. Having a flag base with the unit will help to not only show which way the unit is heading but also to add to the 'personality' of the army being represented.

I appreciate the slippers analogy!

All the best,


David Crook said...

Hi Charles,

The 'natural look' is an important consideration for sure and have flirted with the idea of using hand drawn maps for battles. I may use them occasionally but I really like seeing the blocks with a 3D terrain.

I will be using a roster system for recording hits as it avoids having markers etc on the table as well as building in an element of the fog of war.

The Portable Wargame by Bob Cordery is quite simply superb and they do address the issue you mention!

All the best,