Wednesday 1 January 2014

(Rant) The .303 Lee-Enfield that only fires 50 metres...

Like all GW-ripoffs with a strong commercial backing, I can tell Bolt Action is going to take off.   So I'm thinking of adding to my Weird War II legions with some "normal" WW2 28mm in case the natives ever stop playing Warmachine.  But I've hit a snag.

I'm not a scale purist by any means, but I DO find it jarring in Bolt Action when a rifle fires only 24".  They say it is the "effective range" but it seems a bit silly that models are completely immune from enemy fire outside that range. In most games we would call that the "extreme range."

To put that in perspective, if we assume a standard 25mm+/1" tall model stands 6 feet, then 24" is equal to  6 x 24 feet (144 feet) - or a tad under 50 metres.  So we have a Lee Enfield .303 rifle that has absolutely no effect at all beyond 50m.  Belt feds machine guns like MG42s shoot a whopping 75 scale metres.

Given the guns do not have any effect at all past that point, that's not actually "effective range" - that's like bullets are hitting an invisible wall and vanishing. Maybe if it was a smoothbore "Brown Bess" musket...  ...but seriously.

Place two 28mm WW2 models 25" apart. Eyeball it.  Now tell yourself "they can't shoot at each other at all as it isn't effective range."  Feels silly, doesn't it?  I know scales are "compressed" to fit games on the tabletop, but some things are just stupid.

The target is outside "effective" range.  Actually, the target is beyond the maximum weapon range because he is "effectively" immune from harm. 50m? I can kick a football that far. Heck, I could probably hit him with a well-aimed rock...

This looks like a plausible combat situation....

But no, the bullets will magically vanish about a yard from him. Phew, he's safe! 

Movement vs Firing
This is, naturally, because Bolt Action has borrowed 90% of its mechanisms from Warhammer 40K and its variants (which include Flames of War and LOTR) - where the the 6" move, 24" rifle/bolter/bow range is already a staple.  Perhaps it was the sci fi setting, where they fire handwavium bolter projectiles that may well vanish at 50m, but I don't recall it bothering me back in the day.  Perhaps I've become a grumpy old man. 

Balancing weapon range to unit movement (by radically reducing it so much as to be egregiously out of scale) is one way of balancing the ratio of "fire" vs "maneuver." I'd argue it is a lazy way. If this is only way someone can balance the lethality of firearms in their game, I'd say they are a pretty poor game designer.  

But wait! Didn't you just slam modern naval games as "boring" due to the massive weapon ranges and absence of meaningful maneouvre?  Aren't you advocating the same thing here with "long" gun ranges?  Won't people just massacre each other from their deployment zones?

Two reasons - a radar-guided Exocet (whilst it may not be as accurate as the manufacturer claims) can hit far more accurately and reliably at its extreme range than an infantrymen (under a lot of stress) can hit at his extreme range, with bullets.  If the rules have infantrymen is hitting models on the opposite side of the table at 70% accuracy with each bullet, then yes, we have a problem.  But again, that is a game design fault.

The second reason is something largely absent from most naval games - terrain.  Again, I'd suggest this is often a 40K carryover - a hill, a small bunch of trees, and a small ruin on a 4x6ft table is "normal" or even generous, in 40K.  But I'd argue if players are playing with relatively open tables, devoid of interest, their games will likely be somewhat dull anyway - and not because of the rules. 

Terrain should be plentiful - both blocking line of sight, and giving benefits to the safety of units (cover "saves" or negative shooting modifiers).  Terrain adds interest, and layers of decision-making.  Occupying certain terrain becomes a desirable objective in itself, and forms a part of the tactical "puzzle" a player has to solve on the way to victory.  A well-set up board would make it unlikely players could even see to the enemy deployment zones. Lack of terrain is a player fault.  People who think terrain "gets in the way" of a game have, I think, missed a key point of wargaming.

This is evidently not an "impossible" design challenge as already we have an increasing amount of games (such as Force on Force and Chain of Command) where small arms range is unlimited on the tabletop - giving their rifles a maximum range of up to (gasp) 72" (432 feet or a  little under 150m) on the average 6x4' table. And people still move miniatures around and don't simply sit hunkered in their deployment zones....
The other option is to simply change scales.  The Two Fat Lardies in their book Chain of Command say whilst they prefer 28mm for "looks", 15mm is more "accurate" given actual tabletop ranges involved (and their rules have "unlimited" rifle range!)

In 15mm, the distance is a bit more to scale, though saying the target is completely "immune" might be stretching it.

So where are you going with this rant/ramble?

Uh... well...
#1. Mr Priestley and Mr Calvatore - stop slavishly copying 40K mechanics. You don't work for the Evil Empire anymore.  You are free. Free!
#2. Rifles can fire further than 50m!  Realistic (or at least vaguely plausible) weapon ranges are fine - problems will lie in the rules mechanics or the terrain. Games can condense down ranges - but not so it looks silly to a player. In short, Bolt Action is lazy game design. Consider the period you are gaming, please, and don't simply use rehashed fantasy rules.
#3. Whilst the models aren't as impressive, smaller scales look more realistic.  I'm giving 15mm WW2 serious consideration. In addition, $15 for 30+ 15mm infantry with support weapons and $10 for a tank or truck is pretty sweet. $50 for a complete "army" (or rather, platoon) is eminently reasonable.

So what do you reckon? Is this poor game design? Does having a "reasonable" scale matter and what is, exactly, "reasonable?"  Or am I simply turning into a grumpy old man....


  1. Maybe we are both grumpy old men then, I'm in complete agreement with you and why I'm more likely to pick up Chain of Command rather than Bolt Action.

  2. I agree with you 100%, which is why I never switched to BA.

    But I do think they actually want it this way. If you look at the way they market BA, their aim is clearly to siphon off 40K players, which is why the rules are a clone.

  3. It could SO easily be solved - say by simply by allowing fire out to double "effective" range but halve the dice (i.e. 7 riflemen and a MG roll 10 dice - just halve to 5 dice to 48").... but that might be too complicated for the players they are trying to attract....

    But yes, definitely Warlord is trying to siphon 40K players (Flames of War also did it successfully) by appealing to the masses.

    That said, Warlord is a much more benevolent evil empire - charging $5 postage for anything to Australia is rather nicer than simply adding a flat 50% markup (I kid you not, 25 pound Space Marine box - which converts to $45 AUD sells for $65 here)... ....then banning any online shops (also from the UK!) from selling them cheaper.

  4. Great post. In your previous post you talked about the difference between Chain of Command and Bolt Action. CoC is fairly brutal in that the whole table is within range of all weapons with the exception of SMGs and assault rifles which do have range limits, though 48" for an assault rifle is still a goodly distance on most tables. This I think is true to the ideal of a tactical game which forces tactical constraints on players who don't want their little men killed too quickly. Said constraints include use of cover, smoke, slow tactical movement and good planning. I don't know about BA but when I played W40K with my son a few years back, it seemed to me to be almost an ancients game: limited missile use and lots of melee. That sort of game doesn't require a lot of tactical finesse and thus appeals to young and/or novice gamers. The game becomes a quest for cool troops and superheroes rather than a game about history and simulation, but this has all been said before by smarter chaps than me.

    1. "Cool units and superheroes" seems to sell well, though. At the local club, you can always find people poring over the latest Warmachine releases saying "Oh, this would be awesome in combination with x" or "this has xy Defence and a z special attack - cool!" - and this is not just the teenagers, mind you. This is their dads!

      I find the oversimplification of games a tad insulting. Recently a few lads (13 and 15) came over to my "garage" and played Infinity and Tomorrow's War. Both are far from simple, and both have realistic weapon ranges and need good use of cover. They picked it up far quicker than any adult would have and after 2-3 turns were pretty much playing it themselves.

      If "Bolt Action" and "40K" are aimed at the younger/teen market, it is ironic as the average teen (or the average 10 year old) can grasp complex rules far more easily than most adults I know....

  5. I must be a grumpy young man because i agree fully with you!

    On the Toofatlardies blog Rich wrote a similar article about weapon ranges. I have to agree that i have come to hate limited ranges in WWII or other more modern conflicts. In Flames of War for example, some tanks can only shoot 24 inches, which i find totally ridiculous.

    1. I find it ironic where most historical gamers are absolutely "anal retentive" about getting the exact shade of khaki or painting on the correct shoulder patches, yet see nothing wrong with absurdly short weapon ranges.

      If you suggested painting a WW2 model "fantasy" colours (SS panzergrenadiers in blue and gold uniforms, say?) you would be lynched or laughed at - but no one sees anything wrong with a rifle that, at 50m, is far less dangerous than a slingshot.

      Technically, Bolt Action is as much a medieval fantasy game as 40K is...

  6. Yeah, 24" is ridiculous, but I note that your suggestion about being able to hit targets at the opposite side of the table with 70% accuracy would actually be pretty realistic, so they probably still have to compress the ranges a little.

    I actually shoot a WWII vintage rifle on occasion (Swedish Mauser; very similar to the German K98), and when I do standing rapid-fire I can put five shots in a 180x180cm at 300 yards, so I'd probably be looking at about a 50% chance of hitting a human sized target at that range.

    Sure the stop-watch isn't as much pressure as being in combat, but I've only fired a few dozen rounds through this rifle, and maybe 50-100 rounds in total from a standing position. I'm probably only slightly better than the greenest recruits that some games include. Real soldiers, especially elites, are going to be much better trained. Also that's standing rather than prone; I'm much, much better prone. I'd expect a real soldier with a proper rest (even just leaning against a window still) to be able to shoot as well as me, even if the adrenaline messed up their fine motor skills.

    I'd go so far as to suggest (at least for strict realism) that the maximum possible accuracy on a normal sized table should be 100% at any range, with severe penalties for moving (either the shooter or the target), cover, or "suppression", which become somewhat less severe at close ranges. On usable sized gaming tables this would put a lot of emphasis on fire over maneuver though, unless you had really dense terrain.

    Of course from what I understand anything shorter than 100m is considered short range by most modern militaries. That's the limitation of 28mm I suppose: it's too big for anything other than close range fights with modern weapons on a one-to-one scale with reasonable table sizes.

    For a realistic sized combined arms battle you'd need a huge "table", for example a 2 inch mortar had an effective range of about 500 yards, or 25-ish feet at 28mm. You'd need a basketball court to have any chance of moving outside of the EFFECTIVE range of even the shortest range artillery.

    1. At risk of derailing the topic, a few random thoughts:

      1. After WW2, in-depth studies showed only 15-20% of solider actually aimed to kill at an exposed enemy. Nowadays due to training, that percentage is much higher.

      2. The vast majority of fire was "suppressive fire" aimed to keep heads down. I think the estimates of "rounds fired per enemy KIA" was between 10,000 and 20,000:1 Sadly I don't have any 10,000-sided dice.

      In Vietnam the "willingness to kill" was much higher, but interestingly the rounds expended per kill was above 50,000.

      3. This is totally different to your situation, which is more a trained, prepared "sniper" with a spotter. I believe the sniper "rounds to kill" is under 1.5 or so, which quite accurately matches our hypothetical 70%.

      I remember reading somewhere about Vietnam the average ammo cost per sniper kill was about 20c and the average ammo cost per M16 kill was about $2300....

  7. While I agree that bullets magically disappearing after 50m are ridiculous, there is one thing you should take into account - miniature scale and terrain scale usually are NOT the same. That is, if you're playing with 28mm miniatures (more or less 1/60 scale), in most games that doesn't mean that the terrain (and ranges) are in 1/60 scale.
    I'd say that many game designers choose the minis' scale because of how they look (and appeal to buyers), and the ranges in game are a totally different thing.

    Still, I do find that annoying in games representing smaller battles (company and smaller - and especially skirmishes with 5-20 minis per side), but quite acceptable in more abstract games for bigger battles (say Blitzkrieg/Cold War Commander with 6mm minis).
    That's why I really like CoC - the scales for minis and terrain are more or less the same.

    1. I am aware that "distance" can scale, and that it does in most games. In aerial, space (and many naval) games, it is essential that it does.

      I'm not that concerned about that.

      What I'm against is when the scale looks OBVIOUSLY stupid. I.e. at eye level, it looks like the mini could hit another with a rock at 24", let alone a high calibre rifle.

    2. I find the scale in 40k tends to go well with the cartoonish miniatures, which I like mind you.

  8. Count me in as an old school Historical gamer.
    WW2 has always presented problems as a tabletop game, the disparate ranges and speeds of weapon systems are a part, but also the difficulty in reasonable concealment for infantry renders them the aunt Sallys of the game.

    Like you, I can tolerate so much figure to range mismatch, but only so much. This may be why 28mm and skirmish are not the default setting for WW2.

    The problems with any tabletop seem to be threefold.
    * Infantry have insufficient places to hide (and by this time you're either hiding or quickly dead.
    * All small arms fire is excessively deadly - you've noted the small percentage of bullet hits.
    * Most rifle platoon casulaties weren't other rifle platoons, but usually by high exploisives of the 3" to 4" range (Mortars and artillery) - loop back to your realistic ranges and you'll find that these will be located on a different table in a different postcode.

    There seems to be a phony war at present with CoC and BA as the contenders.
    It's clear that the protagonists are quite different crowds.
    "Unrealistic gibberish" shout the CoC fans.
    "Boring poop" shout the BA supporters.

    I'm delighted there's a choice, but count me in as #TeamLardy.