Monday 6 July 2015

Game Design #46: Skirmish - Basing, Group Move vs Individual Move

Just some random musings.  I was looking at Chain-of-Command and Bolt Action, and thinking how it would be so much cheaper in 15mm.  It then lead me to compare the individual basing used in those games compared to the "group bases" used in 15mm Flames of War.

Individual Basing
- more fiddly/slower to move them all in a game
+ simple way to record casualties (just remove/tip over minis)
+ can easily fit them in and around terrain pieces
/ usually "true line of sight" rules

Group Basing
+ allows for cool dioramas
- not as flexible - i.e. once based you may not be able to use them for other games
+ easier to tell if squad is in/out of cover
+ less dice chugging
/ tends to have simpler/faster resolution (i.e. unit suppressed/destroyed)
- tends to use counters (clutter)
- can't record individual casualties
/ usually uses "area terrain" rules

I think "what's best" depends on your rules - do you ever allow units to detach individual minis or do you always move/fire them as a group?  If your base unit is a squad, in a platoon-company game, then group bases seem to offer faster gameplay. But if you're looking at smaller fire-teams or sub-divide the squad, then individual basing is better.  (I personally maintain my minis as individually based for anything 15mm+, as I prefer not to commit to a particular base size and can use the minis for any game - given I try so many different games - but I do like the simplicity, speed and diorama potential of multibase games like FoW)

Question: So when is a group basing best - and when is it better to individually base your models?

The Group Move vs Individual Move Conundrum
This bring me to my second thought - how most skirmish-platoon rules struggle to allow units to move both individually and as a group.  Generally there is two methods:

(a) heroes/leaders are individually based, and the "units" - everyone else - is in groups of 4-10 or so which must move, shoot etc in unison with the other group members.  (Warhammer 40K)

(b) all minis move and shoot completely independently of each other (Necromunda)

It's like you must choose either one or the other - either units or every man for himself - whereas in reality soldiers might act as individuals, pairs, fire teams, and squads, and even in unison with other squads of a platoon.  However, I notice some rules are starting to address this.

Infinity, while orientated around "every man for himself" individual movement, allows for "link teams" - fire teams of 3-5 to act in unison.  This has a benefit in that enemies can only react to the fire team's action, instead of repeatedly to each individual soldier, thus minimizing the reactive fire. 

Chain of Command allows for weapons teams to be detached from the squad, under the direction of the squad leader.

However I think it's important to maintain a balance - i.e. it's BENEFICIAL to move as a squad/fire team, without being absolutely MANDATORY to do so.  I think breaking off individuals/pairs should be easy to do, and a plausible option to squad/fire team leaders.

Question: What is the best way to allow units to move both as squads and as individuals? 
Does it have to be one or the other?
Another thought that spun out of the above paragraph.  Reading Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers I was struck by the emphasis of fire-and-move; pinning enemies with fire while other troops advance/flank. And whilst most modern rules incorporate this to some decree, I don't remember many rules that allow this as a specific order for their units.

Most units in most games, when activated, can move and then fire; or fire and then move.

But why can't some individuals within the unit are move, simultaneous with others in the same unit firing/suppressing?

For example, in Infinity, we can have individual soldiers form link teams to act together - but they are all doing the same thing i.e. all troops firing, or all moving etc.  In Tomorrow's War, other fire teams can give overwatch to fire teams who are moving, but not members within the fireteam (also, I find the "reacting to a reaction" in Tomorrow's War a bit confusing and messy).  But once again, all members of the fire team (of 4 or so) are doing the same thing.

As the fire-and-move concept works with only a pair of soldiers - one firing, one moving - you should be able to break it down to the individual level as well as by squads/fire teams. 

So I'd like a rule that works at every level - individuals with a fire team, by fire team, by squad/s within a platoon.   Presuming some sort of reaction/overwatch system is in place (as most current modern rulesets do) it would act like this:

One portion of a fire team/squad/platoon may fire, at the same time the other portion moves. 

I.e. in a 4-man fire team, three guys could sprint forward, covered by the SAW gunner.  On the next turn, the SAW gunner could sprint to catch up, covered by the other three guys who are already in the position.  

In game terms, a Fire+Move action by a squad/pair might look something like this:

Any group/unit of minis (of any size) can be given a split Fire+Move order.  You divide them into:
*Moving minis - move full speed/sprint (do not fire)
*Covering minis - rolls suppressive fire dice which cancels out hits by enemy reactions but causes little/no casualties

Anyway, the essence of this is in most games, units can only do the same thing as each other.  But they aren't some sort of hivemind drone (unless they actually are, of course!) Why not allow units to do two things at the same time?

This isn't a new or original thought, but I'm surprised more modern rules don't include something of this sort. Given that it is a very, very basic tactic that even rookie troops straight from the US could use in combat.  Rookies always clustered up too much, making them vulnerable to AoE/machine guns (a "forced cluster together" from suppression might be an interesting addition to the morale rules) and they have poorer awareness of cover/concealment when moving through terrain; but even the greenest troops could execute a basic fire-and-move manuever. 

Yes, I probably could have used better/other rules examples but I'm sitting at a kitchen table at my parents place, far away from my man cave and rules collection.


  1. I'll throw one more thing in there, and this is mostly personal:

    When basing, say, 3 figures to be a squad, I know it's a squad, but when I look at the gaming table, it just looks like 3 blokes hanging out.

    I much prefer 1-to-1 representation just for that reason unless it's a really high level game.

    As far as units doing multiple things, one solution is "action point" systems of some sort.
    I'll note that No Stars/End in Sight does this pretty handily.
    I get 4 activation points, I can have one guy lay down covering fire, move up 2 guys and try to fix a wounded guy with the last point.
    Or any other combination.

  2. Agree, but the ability to replicate this and not bust the games' level of granularity is a tough balance to draw. Force on Force (and by extension, Tomorrow's War) is, as you've noted in the past, a small unit game and not a skirmish game. One fire team suppresses, one assaults. And that mirrors US doctrine - you usually plan on having at least a fire team in each role. The FoF/TW rules also provide for suppressing fire, so the mechanics are there. I would just assume that at this level of granularity, which I happen to like, the intra-fire team cover and move mechanic is encapsulated within one fire team's shoot and move in the same turn.

    1. I like TW/FF, but I find it in a bit of a weird place. It is the most commonsense and realistic of the modern warfare games. And its basic mechanics are very simple.

      However, it's pitched at an odd scale - the fire team level means it isn't a true platoon+ game like, say, Bolt Action. Neither is it a skirmish game.

      It also has a tendency to bog down (IMO) when you add lots of troops/vehicles. Each rule is commonsense, but you need to look up the specific rule for it. I.e. infantry assaulting buildings might have a different sequence to infantry assaulting a buttoned up tank. TW adds in lots of special rules without fundamentally changing the gameplay which is why I prefer FoF in its genre.

      Despite the simple mechanics, it plays quite slowly with quite a few dice and counters needed, and reactions (and reactions to reactions, which I'm not fussed on).

      Whilst it does in practice work as a fire-and-move game (as quite a few games do) I'm looking more for a simpler rule that can be used at all levels.

      ...a bit OT but I've had the AAG books lying on my desk in the man cave lately, and I was musing why I don't play them as much any more....

    2. Yes, FoF/TW can bog down with elaborate reaction chains. Having said that, the following games chronicled over on my blog (would be flattered if added to your links list) were all played with platoon-sized forces on each side and took about 2.5 hours each:

  3. Another game that came to mind: Stargrunt 2.

    While it's mainly a unit based game, you can detach an element from a squad and spend one of your actions activting that element separately.

    So you could detach the MG team to do their thing while the rifle team advances or whatever.
    Of course, once you are outside yelling distance, your comms might fail and you're boned :-)

    Maybe a column on communications in games in the future?

    1. "Maybe a column on communications in games in the future?"

      This comes up quite a bit, but I currently don't have any real "burning questions" or pet peeves to drive the topic.... (As long as it isn't written orders, of course....)

    2. Mind a guest post? Might have a few thoughts on that (and command/control systems in general with regards to ups and downs of the various systems)

    3. Sure! The only reason I do the game design posts is no one else seems to be having the discussions - or asking "why" we do things a particular way. I'd welcome the input.

    4. IT, EW/jamming and Cyber attacks should be a key feature in SF gaming IMHO.

      PS - I think this Game Design series is about the best ongoing series of any posts on any blog, period. Keep it up please!

    5. Most sci fi games have them. However they are usually a mild buff/debuff - a "magic spell" of sorts.

      What I want is for a concept (be it EW or whatever) to be central to the gameplay. For example, in ASW, detection is a central concept, that as opposed to Napoleonic warfare, where morale and discipline have a greater sway.

      So EW would be the main feature of the game - units who are detected have a catastrophic loss of capability, or can so massively degrade units that maintaining EW supremacy is paramount.

      In most sci fi games, having EW supremacy is simply an extra dice in a pool of 10... not a big impact on the core gameplay... which is inevitably medieval fantasy melee centric (40k) or Vietnam fire-suppress-manever (everyone else).

  4. I think it depends on what you want from your game - skirmish style or platoon+ level games. Quite different experiences and quite different mechanics. The problem of course is that we want our figures to be multi-use for either.

    I did my BA/CoC in 28mm because thats what all my mates and opponents were using. If I had my druthers I would definitely go for 15mm, I scale I have subsequently moved to for playing Battlefront. I am now somewhat peeved that I have ww@ stuff in multiple scale which seems silly to me even though they are quite different (28mm Brit Paras, vs 15mm Eastern front and North Africa). Anyway, here is a guy doing 15mm CoC to great effect:

    1. Whilst I think the platoon+ level lends itself to multiunit basing, there are others who disagree (i.e. Ivan, for aesthetic reasons).

      I think there is quite a bit of variation within skirmish style games. For example, in Infinity you move each unit individually (though you can have 3-4 man fire teams). In SoBH, you often use groups of minis who move/act simultaneously, as well as individual heroes.

      In something like FoF (which I'd argue isn't a skirmish game anyway) you always move units in small groups of 2-4.

    2. SAGA also would work well Smith multi basing, but the casualty removal is the issue. A friend of mine tried a game replacing each individual 28mm figures with a base of 15mm figs. Looked spectacular!

  5. The War of the Ring trays with round holes for round bases were a neat idea, and one that makes me think it would be easy to switch between groups and individuals.

    1. I never played WoTR ($90 for rules - yelp!) but I Do have about a dozen of those bases, which are great!

  6. The Black Powder family (I know thyey're not skirmish) have something that might address your individual / group moves.
    The commander activates units either individually or in groups (Confusingly called brigade moves, though not limited to organisational brigades).

    The early approach moves tend to see a lot of brigade movement.
    This is OK because they're all doing the same sort of stuff "March up that hill and deploy on the crest".

    Once the enemy is close, units are more likely to act individually.
    Guns deploy to shoot, infantry change to line and maybe deploy skirmishers, cavalry charge (or the smarter ones sit back and wait for the PBI to get tired).

    I'm sure there's scope for something similar in a platoon size skirmish game. If you command a WW2 platoon, the natural "Units" should be the "gun" and "assault" teams of the squads, the Headquarters and and special weapons (Light Mortars, bazookas).

    While these could be split further, the fragments would typically lose a lot of effectiveness in traditional armies. However specialists (eg sappers or snipers added to the platoon for a mission, or many troops in commando formations) would be quite happy to operate as individuals and pairs.

    The challenge to the designer is to assess how splitting up degrades performance.
    For example a typical "gun group" has the spotter (Usually a corporal who scans for threats and targets), #1 who acquires the targets and shoots, and #2 who keeps the gun topped up with ammo and keeps it running with quick barrel changes.
    Remove any of those and you diminish the team.

    One downside is that you may end up commanding 30 individuals rather than 6 or 7 small units, and this can cause the game to grind slowly.

    1. I haven't tried Black Powder as I dislike painting 20-figure units (i.e. minis are glorified hitpoints) but I've tended to assume it's similar to Warmaster/Warhammer Ancients in style.

      I did get Age of Glory (or some such) to try a "modern" ruleset of that sort of rank-and-file combat and it put me off further purchases in that genre (rightly or wrongly).

      Feel free to stick your head into the google group (see right side tab) if you like a good discussion as the comments here have been quiet of late (due to my own job workload over the last month or so)