Monday 29 April 2024

Game Design #105: Suppression, Pinning, AoE

Q: What does Generation Kill, Green Zone and Battle for Los Angeles have in common?

 A: They are all movies I have watched recently with my wife, and have prompted thoughts about suppression/AoE in wargames.

Here are a few shower thoughts. I reserve the right to add to/edit this post as I "concrete" my thinking so apologies if this post changes a bit vs what is in the comments. Also all my wargame books are boxed up for my shift so I can't check details.

What does pinned and suppressed even mean? Which is better/worse? Are we using the right terms?

I kinda presumed pinned means "can't move" and suppressed means "can't shoot." But definitions seem vague in wargames. I'd be interested to know what the correct usage is. 

Usually in wargames pinned is a worse result (frozen in place, unable to return fire); but should it be? If a unit is "pinned" in cover it could presumably return fire (maybe at a reduced effectiveness). Something that is "suppressed" is rendered ineffective, right? So... no shooting? And no moving either? Or is it merely "degraded" enemy shooting/observation?  I also read "suppressing fire" "pins down" the enemy and stops them from moving but "covering fire" stops them from shooting and allows you to move. Ugh, confusing.

I'm not sure if this is semantics but do wargames actually treat this the right way? The terms seem to be two different effects in wargames or two "levels" of impact. I'd be interested to know the proper usage. I'm pretty sure my various army rellies used the word "neutralise" but I think it's just the Aussie term for "suppress?"

Are there two stages of suppression? And if so, what effects should they have to best mimic real life?

I'd like a lot more clarity as to the correct terminology... are wargames even using the words right? 

Are wargames too lethal? Is aimed fire too lethal? Does this diminish the value of suppression?

Should you need to suppress first to reliably kill?

I have 0 real world experience, but in milsim PC gaming, the ones getting kills are the ones who are not being suppressed; or the unspotted ones/ambushers with the leisure to aim carefully. When both sides are suppressing each other/spraying fire from cover there is less casualties then if one side has "won" the lead-slinging contest. I'd presume this is even more so when there is real life risk involved. Aimed fire tends to be close range or when there is less risk to the shooter.

Should it almost be a sequence where you have to suppress first / make yourself safe from return fire (can include first turn of an ambush), THEN your chance of getting an actual kill say ...doubles?

Ambush Alley has units "defend" with a pool of dice that represents their active return fire etc; and as a unit takes fire it looses dice from this defensive pool; making it more liable to actually take more losses.

Rolling a 4+ (50%) on a d6 to hit is crazy high, even for a burst of fire. Heck, even 6+ (17%) is high. It almost infers for modern games we need d10, d12 or d20 to allow the low probabilities and allow modifiers.

Should suppression always include the chance to kill?

Quite a few games have "suppression" effect as merely a morale roll. But shouldn't the suppression actually include danger? Having no chance at all to be harmed (however small) seems a bit contradictory.

Should being suppressed/pinned be a choice?

Should units be able to voluntarily "pin" themselves? Maybe units can choose to override the pin at risk of casualties? (risk vs reward) I.e. WW2 USSR troops would probably push through fire that would pin say US troops  - but would certainly take more casualties. (I think Zona Alfa does this?)

Suppression - should it be an AoE marker?

A bullet suppresses ~1m or so; a artillery shell/bomb might suppress to 100x that...

Should suppression be an "area" i.e. a high RoF weapon like a SAW might suppress a 6" diameter circle but an assault rifle a maximum of 3" - representing the volume of fire. (And even then the AR may need to do some sort of reload afterwards). A .50 cal mount on a vehicle might suppress 9-12" due to the bigger rounds...  How long will suppression linger (before cease fire/enemies recover)? Can you place a "suppression" marker as a sorta hazardous terrain token?

I've always liked AoE effects which I've explored more here already...

Squad/Platoon vs Individual Minis - Different Mechanics for Different Scales?

I feel a game that operates on the Bolt Action/40K level (you move clumps/squads of 4-10 men) will probably need very different mechanics to games where you move and fire individual minis (a la Infinity or Necromunda) - i.e. the effect of suppression on a group vs an individual. This would probably also effect the infliction of suppression; 10 squaddies with semiautomatic rifles could probably "suppress" an area or enemy squad; whereas a single guy's semiauto rifle probably would not be viewed as "suppressive" weapon; whereas a single SAW/LMG might...

Suppression/Covering Fire: Should it effect the move sequence?

Wargames nearly always move then shoot; maybe you must shoot (or suppress) then move; or indeed need to suppress to be allowed to move. Can a successful suppression shift the initiative or change unit activation sequences? I.e. the "flow" of battle. 

Gaining fire superiority is often a precursor to maneuver... so shoot, check, THEN move/flank somehow?

Also... should we allow some sort of joint activation, where one unit covers/suppresses a target and the other unit moves in a single action/activation?

Games like Infinity have reactive/suppressive fire that can stop miniatures dead; but it does not interfere with the move sequence. I think Crossfire did swap the initiative when an action was hindered by enemy fire?

It's very late so I'm off to bed; but I'll probably return to expand upon, and add questions.(And hopefully some solutions - I'm just a bit handicapped due to my move not allowing me to experiment. This topic probably links with other posts; on morale/willpower, activation and lethality.

EDIT #1 - Further Thoughts: As you can see from the comments, there isn't a lot of consensus of what a term exactly entails. 

In my googling I realize we may be rehashing a debate from TMP - who also didn't properly define the terms!

-Looking at the AAP6 NATO terms recommended, suppression "degrades" (limited fire and/or move?) as long as the fire lasts*; neutralisation is the next level up; it renders a target temporarily ineffective/unusable (no fire or move?). I kinda like this as the two main "levels" of effect.

-Wikipedia is not ideal but it is a 'common source'  and is suggests "pinned" is a colloquialism like "keeping their heads down" - it's just suppression, rebadged. Relation to cover probably differentiates suppression from pinned; most movement of a suppressed unit is going to be towards cover; once it arrives it'll be 'pinned' there? I'm wondering if pinning = suppressed; and the idea of pinning > suppression or pinning > suppression may be more from our wargaming rulebooks than 'real life.' 

Pinning may just be one aspect of being suppressed; suppression fire by nature isn't too precise - your minis are relatively safe unless they try to move or shoot back. So allowing a risk/reward choice mechanic (stay put and be safe vs try something and risk death/penalties to hit) might be available to better troops. These options could vary - fanatics may be allowed to move/charge despite enemy fire; while trained militia might only be able to return fire and not move, for example.

-Suppression is temporary and limited by ammo. HE/grenades can be used by suppressed units to "counter suppress" ('win the firefight?'); smoke/flares can technically be used to suppress nonlethally through giving/denying concealment....         ....So should these be factored into a wargame? I.e. a single model using suppressive fire with a non-belt weapon may need to reload - a squad may have reduced attack dice etc in the next turn etc? And you can throw grenades and (if it breaks LOS) next turn you squad gets bonuses to "unsuppress" themselves etc.

-The use of marksman/snipers to suppress interests me; I think I mentally classed it as "aimed/directed fire" - intentional killshots the opposite of "mad minute" sprays and AoE blasts; but they are listed as a suppressive weapons and it does kinda make sense. Didn't the USMC ditch its SAWs altogether?

-Suppressing enemies seems integral in doctrine to allowing allies to move freely - so I am increasingly thinking, yes -  suppression in a wargame should be linked to activation; i.e. successfully suppressing a unit may allow a 'free' move to an ally nearby, or allow joint activations between supporting units; anything to control the "flow" of the game; not just a penalty on the target.

Sunday 21 April 2024

The New Man Cave + Terrain Musings

If the blog seems a bit dead, it is a combination of (a) school busyness (b) moving house and (c) Google's 2FA (ok, the latter seems a bit lame but it is more the straw that causes the camel back pain or however the saying goes...)

You'd think the shifting house is a perfect time to remove the projects/terrain I no longer need/use, but au contraire - I have been mostly shoving stuff in boxes to speed up the process, as I am not in the most thoughtful of moods whilst moving. The painting has ground to a standstill (although I have prepped a few minis) as my man cave contents have transferred to my new shed. It's actually smaller than the last, but it has better storage as I have replaced older wooden bookshelves with larger, more practical metal 'shed' shelving. 

Down the track the aim is to have an additional converted small shipping container which will either house my library or wargaming stuff - whichever looks/fits/works best. Over the years the man cave has become more about kids reading or playing LEGO or painting minis alongside dad rather than hosting multiple big folk, so smaller premises are OK, given I rarely play games beyond skirmish 

(I tend to have a single big table split into two 4x4's for concurrent projects - usually a playtesting table and an actual game table).

I have 4 of these 120x120cm tables, made of cheap MDF and pine. They are placed atop folding picnic tables, and can be stored sideways against the wall, or (more usually) stacked on top of each other, and can store miniatures (or more usually, dice, trays, rulers and various gribbles) inside...

...and then put a extra 'lid' of MDF on top and play on that....

 ...or even fill them with sand. Not bad for around ~$20 of materials and 20 minutes of work.

Most tables have textured interiors - (sand, PVA and grey spraypaint) in this case - for various genres.

The other really useful terrain (probably my most used) is simply some cuts of pine, painted grey which has served as underground caverns, bases and spaceship interiors. Considering these pine strips all fit into a shoebox (or can be left loose "inside" a table) and cost about $10 it's also highly recommended - super useful for quickly setting up a game/testing rules.

Why am I mentioning terrain? Two reasons. 

(A) During the shift I realize terrain storage needs far outweighs my miniatures storage. I've got thousands of LoTR troops which take up about the same storage space as a single box of terrain. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a 5-bay shed (I had 7 bays so I've gone backwards)...

(B) From my "barriers" musings of late, lack of proper terrain can really impact my motivation to play various genres (lack of good vertical terrain is hindering my Zone Raiders project - finally I have a decent set of sci fi rules but terrain is holding me up...)

I don't particularly love making terrain. I feel money spent on it could be put towards cool toys (minis)... yet decent terrain is kinda integral to the experience. It's like buying paints and brushes - I know I need them for my hobby but resent buying them...

I was thinking: What would I recommend to the "average" wargamer who is starting out? I'm assuming "some" shed/basement space and not a tiny apartment.

*One of those 4x4' MDF tables as per above, painted different colours on each side of the table and separate MDF lid (allowing 4 colours say desert, moonscape, brown dirt, ocean blue) and/or sheets of fabric to go over them. ~$20+  I put mine on picnic tables but it could go on the kitchen table.... wife permitting

*Some sets of cardboard fold out terrain (Dropship Commander, Carnivale, etc) ~$50ea for various; however be aware they don't always fold back down flat...

*Some "block" strip terrain as per above ~$10

*If time/space permits, some nicer bigger terrain specific to a system you are proven to play OR works for several genres. In my case, 15mm middle eastern works from ancients to sci fi - which is excellent versatility.

The high storage commitment for bigger pieces has to match your use of the system; for example these toddler toy castles (total ~$30 or so from a thrift shop) serve dual role in MESBG (my most played game) and medieval psychic dino knights (my own homebrew rules).

Anyway, this post is (a) to reassure regulars I will be back after a hiatus and (b) perhaps stimulate discussion on what storage/terrain works for you.