Saturday 28 February 2015

Game Design #30: Coherency & Leadership Ranges

Soldiers in a squad must stay within 2"of each other* 

I could copy and paste this into almost ANY platoon-level game and this statement would be correct - that's how universally this rule is used.

But why?
Well, it's a simple, handy way to ensure individually-based models stick together and act as a unit.
It's an abstraction.

What if we break coherency?
If one of our mini soldiers moves beyond that magic 2" (which is about 4 metres, to scale) what happens?

Usually one (or more) of these:
*The soldier must spend their next move to get back into coherency
*The unit's next move must restore coherency 
---or more drastically--

*The soldier must make a morale test; if it fails it flees the board
*The soldier cannot attack or take any action until it rejoins the unit

There's a lot of "must" there.  It assumes a trained professional soldier will somehow break down if he is more than a few yards from his companions, and not attached via an invisible umbilical cord.

Yes, a soldier will be more effective working in close proximity with team mates - it's easier to communicate and co ordinate attacks. Yes, he will be more confident with his buddies beside him.

But is there a need for "musts?" - perhaps giving a -1 modifier to attack and defence (simulating better target awareness/mutual defence) would encourage players to keep units together.

Why 2" range? (I'm tempted to say Warhammer did it once then everyone else copied.)  Is it the range someone could shout to each other in a firefight?   Why 2"and why not 12"?  Why not simply "line of sight?"  What is the "footprint" of  a fire team - how much area does a "fire team" spread out to cover?  40-50 yards?   Isn't there a "minimum distance between troops?"  I'm presuming about 10 yards.  You'd assume a single grenade would take out most of a Bolt Action squad*, for example.

(*Naturally, the historical game Bolt Action uses a gap of under 1" so the models are practically holding hands. It then does away with template weapons. Perfectly logical. )

Leadership Range
Another common rule is leaders having a radius (usually between 6 to 12") where they can influence troops; i.e. remove suppression, rally fleeing troops, or perhaps issue orders if it is that style of game.
 Again, I'd ask - why x distance?   And why is this radius larger than 2" if that is the maximum distance squads can shout at...  do lieutenants have louder voices?  unless we are using *drumroll* radios....  Which leads me to question:

Why do we even need coherency?
Most of the games that use the 2" coherency mechanic tend to be "modern" or sci fi.  You know, around the time this device called the radio came into fashion? 

Obviously we want squads and fire teams to act in a co-ordinated manner, and not have individual troops scattered all over the board, but I don't think a hard limit is needed. Keeping friendlies in sight is important, and coherency should be desirable, but I question that it needs to be forced artificially.

Coherency in Company Level Games
I don't play these very extensively, but the few I own tend to have squads in coherency with their platoon HQ, and platoon HQs within coherency range of their company HQ, and so on up.

Ranges & Scale
Yes, I know the 1" gap between models could actually stand for 25 yards.  But it's the ratio that interests me. If we use 1"= 25 yards coherency range, it needs to be checked against other ranges - a rifle which shoots 300 yards might have only a 12"range (!) and grenades might only be able to hit one model at a time.  Abstracting the scale too radically impacts things like model basing and the size of buildings as well.   

The purpose of this article isn't that the standard 2"coherency rules are bad; but to question what seems to be (like true-line-of-sight) an almost set-in-stone wargaming convention.

I'd like to know designers are basing their decisions against gameplay choices, or actual ranges, or something - not just copying something cos it is just the "done thing." 

*Is 2"the best distance? What do we base this on? What is its ratio vs other distances in the game?
*Should a "leader's" range differ from this? How long should that range be?
*Should units be forced to move into cohesion?
*What is a suitable "penalty" for troops who move out of cohesion?
*Is cohesion needed at all, and if so, for what genres?


  1. I always questioned coherency in modern games, radio and com-links etc should mitigate the need for officers to be able to shout orders to their troops. I understand that keeping a unit together serves to keep the game space tidy and reduce confusion. Of the two options above I prefer the command range from unit leader over the 2" to a friendly any day of the week.

    I also wondered about the practicality of coherence in fantasy games, you know where magic can be used to replicate the effects of radios etc.

  2. I suppose that in a stressful combat situation is nice to have friends in sight. I guess that if you cannot see any friend even though you know they are close to you, it can cause you panic if you're been fired or charged or bombed unless being highly motivated or trained.

    I like how penalty cohesion works in THW games: soldiers out of cohesion range activate with their own Rep instead of with their leader's Rep which used to be higher. So Rep 3 soldiers seldomly activates unless commanded by Rep 4 or 5 leader. It's simple and it works, without any "must".

  3. In Defiance: Vital Ground the only requirement is that units mustn’t intersperse. The perimeter of one unit can't overlap the perimeter of another unit. If that occurs then they must separate as soon as possible.

    Elite units are allowed to break these rules and their members are essentially independent operators.

  4. In real life, when doing small unit drills there's a saying; two is one, and one is none. You always stay within easy reach of your buddy, because he's your buddy and you work together as a buddy team. In real life the distance between you and your buddy is a variable based on terrain and visibility. In jungle very close, in open terrain about six meters or so depending on mission.

    As for the officer's radius of control, yes radios exist, and yes you can can communicate with everyone, but it require discipline and voice procedures, which is slow. Also, again in real life, when explosions are happening around you not so easy to hear. Shouting orders and the NCOs relaying them during combat is not big or clever, but it does work – most of the time, which is why one practices the drills.

    For our games the ground scale to figure scale ratio can often make for unrealistic looking troop deployments. I'm thinking FoW as an example.

  5. I've been moving away from this. I think it was TW&T that really broke me of it by saying that you didn't have keep the squads together, but the leader won't be able to really manage the teams unless you do.

    I ended up copying that for NEIS/NSIS because it made so much sense to me.

    There ARE psychological benefits of having friends nearby (and the leader in arms reach) but what if you made the rules give a bonus for that, rather than a penalty for being dispersed?

    +1 on 1D10 (or whatever) for a group of 3 or more men in proximity to each other.

  6. Submitted too fast:

    As far as why 2"? I'd say "because 40K" but honestly it might be simpler than that:

    Take four figures and set up them 2" apart in a line. They look like a nice skirmish line and won't take up half the table.
    Now move them 4" apart and they start to lose the look of being in a unit or formation.

    I'd wager the 6" move is much the same. Part tradition and part because it just looks nice. (I got some indignant howls when I made non-rush moves 3" in NSIS ;) )

  7. I have no issue with coherency as a concept, not just for C2 but the troops are trained to work together, cover one another, pass sigmas etc

    What most rules lack is the ability to split off a few guys for a specific job (e.g. scouts, AT team etc). This should be quite doable but requires some sort of leader action to do (briefing them etc).

  8. A lot of sensible ideas in the comments, as usual.

    I agree that you should be able to break off minis as needed; and a +1 bonus for working together sounds solid (or use leader's/best trooper's morale). It's the artificial "musts" in 90% of rules I object to.

  9. My impression is that one of the reasons for squad coherency is simply to help players tell which models are in which unit. This is particularly tricky in a realistic setting where models across different units often have the same uniforms and weapons – how do you tell whether this marine with an M16 belongs to fireteam 1 or fireteam 2?

  10. In 7TV you get a number of action points equal to half your models in the game (it's a skirmish game set up like a TV show), and then you have leaders that can assign additional action points to models in proximity (and which activate after the leader that assigned them action points). In practice this means that you want to have several small teams of Extras lead by your Star and Co-stars (usually models with the Leader skill).

  11. Some sort of maximum model distancing is neccessary to make AOE weapons effective. Not that I'm convinced AOE weapons are strictly neccessary -Bolt Action does just fine without them. Also as Tim said, clarity of what models belong to which unit. I'm in favour of squad coherency, but I think I'll be a bit more generous than 2'. Perhaps 3' or 4' would be more appropriate, with 5' for skirmmishers.

    1. For an interesting look at AoE-as-a-squad I really like the OOP Starship Troopers (still in print as WW2 Victory Decision rules?) - it's the direction Andy Chambers wanted to evolve 40K and it has some excellent ideas.

      Units fire with a template which is placed over a single enemy mini; measurements are made from specific minis and the rest of the squad kinda fluidly works around it.

      Also Ivan Sorenson is exploring how troops can break coherency with the mother unit and rejoin (also using AoE weapons) in his more recent rules (Clash on the Fringe)looking at a risk vs reward for doing so.

      Another interesting concept (along with zone terrain) is the idea that the model does not show the EXACT location of the mini - kinda like "zone units" so to speak; used in Ambush Alley(?) and a few others - the mini can be assumed to be 1-2" from its actual location as the game is fluid and minis don't freeze in place waiting to be shot.

      Example: if further than 2" from cover, count as "in the open" +1 to enemy fire; if within 2" of cover (regardless of what side cover is i.e. troops hugging sides of street in Iraq) = normal; if actually all unit is set up inside cover, -1 to be hit.

      (That's just a random example I made up, but gives you an idea of how the rules work)

  12. Also for taking and holding objectives. If coherency is only restricted by LOS, you could have 7 squadies spread over the width of the board, sumultaneously holding 3 objectives, which is messy and somewhat unrealistic.

    1. If it's a platoon game where squads (~8-12 minis) are the primary "unit" a sensible method (to avoid too much scattering) is to enable them to break off fire teams; most WW2 squads for example had a support group with a couple of guys (usually +MG42/BAR/Sten) establishing a base of fire, while the others did the assulting/flanking with rifles & grenades.

      Breaking off sniper teams also would make sense.

      So no, I don't necessarily think you should have every individual soldier scattered across the board (unless it is squad skirmish level with ~10 per side) but breaking a squad into two fire teams is both playable and historical.

      There's also the risk vs reward; scattered troops are harder to hit but have poorer morale and are harder to rally/organise/project focus fire.