Sunday, January 15, 2017

Operation Jupiter 13 - Form a Defensive Flank

This is game 13 in replaying the scenarios from the Briton Publishers Operation Jupiter skirmish scenario book (Lulu PDF link).   I played this one on a 4'x4' table using 20mm. The background on why I am playing these is at the start of the first game post.

Normally I play these solo but for this game I played with the 12 year old son of a friend.  I had played a few WW2 20mm games with him before over a period of several months (this is the 3rd game).  He has been asking to play again for the last year or so but only realised late 2016 that it had actually been two years since we last played!  Badgering for two years, not one :-(  The stars aligned and he came over during the Christmas break and we got three games in (game 13, 14 and 15 in the Operation Jupiter book).  We have a few people staying with us at the moment so there was no room to get out the half a table tennis table I normally use so I used the dining table that gave a 4'x4' area.

Rules used
Games 1 to 5 used my own Advance to Cover rules for battalion level games i.e. 1 figure = 1 section.

Games 6-12 I went to gone to a 1:3ish figure ratio (so 3 figures = 1 section) and 1:1 for everything else.. Games 9-12 have been played but not written up yet (as at January 2017).

Games 13-15 are using a revised company level rules, still at 1:3 for infantry and 1:1 for everything else.  The revision is I have done away with roll to hill, roll to kill and gone with rolling 1-3 dice with a die roll of 4-5 is one "success" and a 6 is two "successes".  The number of successes determine the result.  I have not written these up well enough to post them but they exceeded my expectations and they worked really well.  Reasons on why I switched  away to this mechanism is at this rambling blog post.

At the start of the battle for Hill 1112, the British 5/Wilts advance up the north-west slope to clear some German positions. The British have 6 turns to capture two of the three buildings.

Even though I am using card activation with a turn ends on a joker, we opted to keep the turn limit at 6 turns as the table is quite short, and on the first turn the joker is ignored.

Note that although I am playing with 1:3 ratio and the scenario is at 1:1, I fielded the same number of figures and vehicles as the scenario e.g. the 10 person rifle squad became a 10 figure platoon.

British (me)
1 Company HQ
    4 figures
2 Platoons
    1 platoon HQ (1 figure)
    3 Sections (3 figures each)
1 Vickers MMG
4 Universal Carriers
2 Churchill VII
3 Artillery missions: 25pdrs in direct support

Germans (L----)
1 Kompanie HQ
    2 figures
1 Zug
    1 Zug HQ (1 figure)
    3 Gruppe (3 figures each)
1 MG42 team
1 75cm PAK 40 (scenario called for 88mm but I could not easily find it!)

Germans are all veteran

British will all enter on the road.  The Germans set up with the AT gun dugin looking down the road and the other mostly in the building.  Kompanie HQ dug in between buildings and MG42 at the end of the stone wall to have a good view of any incoming infantry.

At start with German units deployed

All infantry are hidden (in my rules that means if they do not move or fire they can only be spotted at 8").

The only terrain that counts are the three buildings, the stone wall and the roads.  Everything else is cosmetic.

Note that I use card driven activation.
Also note that I took only a few pictures for this game - too busy playing!
And last note is I was also testing out some major modifications to the rules, so there are some rules commentary interspersed in the game report in italics.

The British moves one platoon up the to stone wall using the carriers.  They also move on the Churchill.  The Pak 40 fires and misses!  The second Churchill tries to spot the Pak, fails and speculatively fires in the direction of the Pak and pins it.
So, lots of rules in use here.  The Pak 40 firing used 3 dice (3 base dice + 5 dice penetration - 5 dice for Churchill's heavy armour).  The AT gun got no hits (1 in 8 chance).  The Pak has fired and so to spot it at that range required 1 success on a die (i.e. a 4, 5, or 6).  Failed to spot.  However, it could still fire speculatively at a target that fired/moved but failed to spot at a lower number of dice.   The Churchill had only moved 1/2 distance so could still fire. But it failed to hit with only 1 die for the main gun and 1 die for the hull MG.  In reality, because the AT Gun was dug in there really should have been one less die, bringing it to zero dice to roll, but thought I should let them have a shot!  a Pin means the PAK will fire with one less die next turn.

1st Gruppe in the closest building fires on the on coming infantry and kills one.

Another carrier loaded with British infantry (4 figures) comes on and the MG42 fires, pins it and a section with a platoon leader unloads.

Carriers are removed from the table once they have been used to transport the infantry to where they were going.  in this case, the carrier was pinned and so the infantry dismounted.  The German player decided that they were close enough they could walk from there.  If they really wanted to be used again, they could be put back on the table from where they were originally removed.

Two platoons of British infantry congregate behind the stone wall.  The Germans just could not get rid of them fast enough to stop them!
2nd Gruppe in the ruined building fires - 5 dice (3 figures, +1 d6 firing at close range, +1d6 firing at unit in the open) at a section coming on and only scores a pin (i.e. 1 hit.  I only rolled one 4+ across all 5 dice).

MG42 fires again at another section and kills a figure and pins a section (4 "successes" from 3 dice; a good roll to make it up from the previous poor roll).

A wider view from the German side after a couple of turns - The Brits have the Churchills on, and most of the infantry are in the field.
The German Gruppe deployed across the two buildings again fire at the infantry and KO another figure.
With 6 dice rolling you would think I would get a few more successes but no. I rolled better in the latter two games I played against L---

One Churchill fires at the Pak AT gun, and the other Churchill fires at the closest building.  For no effect.

The First British platoon jumps the stone wall and charges the building.  8 remaining figures in the platoon Vs my veteran 3 guys.  The Germans lost all the soldiers guarding the house.  The British enter the building.  Halfway to the victory conditions already!
Close combat is as fast and as brutal in these rules as my previous ones.  Previously I have vacillated between each side  rolling 1d6 per figure and comparing hits, or 1d6+no of figures and comparing scores.  I have come down on rolling 1d6 per figure.  Maximum loss on losing side is 3 figures and retreats and is suppressed..  Winner always loses 1 figure (unless only one figure).

The first building captured by the British.
The British call in artillery on the ruined building for no effect! (while writing this up I realised the occupants should have been pinned - the minimum result from this amount of artillery, even with no result rolled)

The Germans counterattack! The Zug charge from both the ruined building and the rear dug-in area into the British building.  Even had more men that the Brits.  But the Germans are fought off while losing two men.

The Germans counterattack!
The British in their "victory" building fire on the Pak and rout the crew. Ah well.  And now that the Pak is out of the way, the British finally bring on the Vickers MG by carrier to the T-intersection.  Excellent placement as it covers all the buildings and behind the buildings. Carriers also move so fast!  You can see why they were used so much in the war.

Now the first building is cleared and the AT gun is silenced, the British bring on the MMG
The other British platoon take the time to arrange themselves up against the stone wall, ready to storm the ruined building.  The Germans don't do themselves any favours - they roll to rally one of the Gruppe in the ruining building but have had enough and rout (three dice and all they need is a 4+ on any one of them to rally.  If no 4, 5, or 6s then if  least one 1 comes up this will cause a rout when rallying veteran units - This is about a 1 in 11 chance).

The ruained building and the German occupants, just before one Gruppe routs and the other pulls back!
Due to the number of losses in the Zug, the other Gruppe take a unit morale test and pulls back one move (6") and it suppressed.
Unit morale is roughly at 50% losses (60% losses for veterans, 40% losses for green) and roll 3 dice with 0 successes a rout, 1 success is a pull back, 2 successes all pinned and 3 success OK)

It is now turn 4 and it is not looking good for the Germans.  The MG42 is still in play and manages to fire at the 2nd British platton reading behind the stone wall and kills one.  But it is not enough to slow down the advance of the 2nd British platoon.  They jump over the wall, intent on occupying the ruining building.  The hitherto quiet dug-in Zug HQ  between the building opens fire at the advancing Brits - in the open and at close range.  They suppress a section.  The remaining 5 members of the British platoon occupy the building.

The British take the rusined building.  The Zug HQ dug-in bottom left manages to suppress a British section (the one in the open).

Game over and a win to the British and L---.

Firstly the game:  I had said it before but this vignette type battles are loads of fun.  They do not take long - I think we played the game above in an hour, and L--- is unfamiliar with the rules.  I did not hold back on my tactics and the Brits deserved the win.  Not sure what I could do better except not fire with every unit whenever I could.   I just did not get enough hits to force unit morale checks.

Secondly, the revised rules - they worked really really well.  Well, OK I wrote them so I would say that!.  Better to say they met all my expectations for the rules from all the thinking I have done over the last 12 months.  The mechanisms fit very well together, I think the rules are easier to play and lose none of the subtleties from the older versions.  So I just need to write them up properly - all I have at the moment is a QRS !

Friday, January 13, 2017

Musing on the state of play for my WW2 rules at end of 2016

This post is a very long winded ramble on why I changed from a single die roll mechanism for my WW2 rules to multiple dice rolls.  Feel free to ignore.

My latest incarnation of my homegrown rules has had a change in how I read the dice rolls.  It was worthy of a few paragraphs as part of my latest WW2 AAR featuring the new mechanism to help make them easier to play,  It got very long so I separated out to its own post. so take this post as a ramble on rules design to get to where I am.

The new mechanism is not radical - it is moving away from a single d6 with modifiers to rolling 1, 2, or 3 d6 where a 4-5 on a die is 1 "success" and a 6 is 2 "successes".  This mechanism is used in all the areas a single d6 was used - spotting, firing, calling for artillery and rally/morale.  To find out why I moved read this lengthy post.

To find out how the rules went on its first outings, wait for the AARs that should follow!

Background - the Take Cover!! derivatives 
I have been tinkering with the Take Cover!! rules (a Rapid Fire clone) for about 10 years now. Take Cover!! is designed for 20mm figures with 1-3 battalions on the table.  Scale is roughly 1 figure = 1 section; 1:3 for crew served weapons, 1 AFV = 1 troop (3-5 vehicles) and ground scale is 1:900.  My main tinkering was to speed up the rules and provide some consistency in the mechanisms.  I also went to card based activation rather than using a defined turn sequence.  What I really liked with my derivatives is that 1 figure fires with 1 die then you add or subtract modifiers.  This made it very easy to play – no tables to look at for fire resolution.  It has been one of my de facto design principles to try and stick with the 1d6 for a figure as multiple figures firing is so easy – just roll that number of d6s.  The battalion level rules worked really well at both 20mm and 6mm as at 20mm 1 figure = 1 section and at 6mm 1 stand - 1 section.  I play 6mm on a 2'x2' so I also reduced the distance scale by 2.5 simply by converting inches to centimetres.  So I have a set of rules that worked for both my WW2 gaming scales.

The dilemma foreshadowed
A few years ago I was finding while playing it was hard to resolve in my mind the 1:900 scale with a single 20mm figure representing 10 soldiers (and 1:2250 for 6mm!).  One solution would be to use my 6mm collection to play on larger boards than the 2’x2’.  But I have a lot of 20mm WW2 and 20mm terrain and really like to look of 20mm tables, so I then thought of scaling the game down to company level. I have done some testing of my 20mm WW2 rules at the company level and they have been OK.  All I did was double the moving and firing distances, infantry is 1:3 (3 figures to a section) and 1:1 for vehicles - just like Charles Grant's Battle rules. At the company level, I really want to have suppression occur a bit more than how it does under Take Cover!!. So I modified the 'to hit' result so now every successful infantry hit will have roughly a 50% chance of suppression and 50% chance of a kill.  The rules worked OK.

For 6mm company level, I mashed together the newer 20mm rules with the older rules (with the 1 stand = 1 section) and just played with inches rather than centimetres. I did need to halve the distances at 6mm to make it work.. It worked well for a few of the 6mm games I played. I combined all these rules into one ruleset that worked at both 6mm and 20mm and for battalion and company games...but morale was a bit dodgy due to different unit sizes, the 'to hit' was different as the 6mm had difference chances due to 1 stand = 1 section, and distances still ended up being different for 6mm and 20mm.  These were just a few of the workarounds required to make it work well across both scales.  I felt I was getting somewhere but it was still much the same ruleset and I was not really satisfied I had captured company level gaming very well.  I knew there was still work to be done but I just could not pinpoint where to next other that playing some more games to see what I could tweak.

An example of the to hit table (for all targets) from these rules -  Advance to cover  (this is the 6mm version).

To hit – 1d6 with 4+ to hit.
Die modifiers:
Firer moving or pinned or green; or infantry target moving in open.
Target greater than 18”
Target in soft cover +inf supp/pinned in open
Target in hard cover
Target within 3”
Vehicle target is its flank
Vehicle target suppressed/pinned/stationary
For 7+ to hit, reduce dice rolled by 1.
Infantry: if equal roll, then retreat 3" and suppressed, if greater; then rout
Note that vehicles have a subsequent penetration single die roll based on an attacking gun factor and a target armour.  

The Ah-ha moment to move away from modifiers
I also played a game of 20mm WW2 with my children (age 7 and 9 at the time of the game) in August 2016 using a simplified version of my rules. Note: some of the content from that post has made it into this section of this post, so it may seem familiar.  One of the first things I found out is that the children found it hard to add and subtract modifiers but found it really easy to add or subtract the number of dice rolled. 

I have come to realise that my children do so much better with adding and removing dice than with dice modifiers.  e.g. 5, 6 on a d6 is a hit -  roll 2 dice to hit, 1 dice if in cover (compared to roll 1d6 and a 4+ is a hit, 5+ if in cover).  I have been adding and subtracting modifiers to d6s for 35 years and it comes automatically to me - I just *know* what 4+2-1 is :-).  Not so my children. I can definitely see how not using modifiers can streamline games and if using only small number of d6s the odds of wild swings are not really there. Actually, I should have seen it earlier - we have played WarHammer Quest for many years now with modified combat rules: you roll x dice (depending on weapon and magic items) to hit and all 5s and 6s are hits; The target rolls x dice for saves (based on armour) with one save for every 5 or 6.  So they are quite familiar with adding and subtracting dice to a dice pool.  I don't really like buckets of dice - anything up to 5 regularly would be fine and more at the odd time is OK but 10? 20? Not for me.  I can understand the appeal but not fond personally.

Another game that crystallised the roll x dice and count the successes was the Arkham Horror boardgame that I played around the same time.  It simply adds and subtracts dice from a pool with a 5+ (or changed to a 4+ with a good card) for a success.  I see the attraction of this now, after 35 years of having a preference for single d6 with modifiers!

Another thing that stuck in my mind was that, even though we used card activation for the WW2 game, we also used a limited form of reaction fire for when fired on (1-2 fire back, 3-4 do nothing, 5-6 retreat 3") and I really liked that as I don't have reactions in my rules, except at a skirmish level and those are similar to NUTS!  I have thought about how to apply skirmish level reactions in the company games, but whatever I think of or write down just does not feel right, so have not done so.  I have NUTS! Big Battles and need to give them a go to see how that reaction system works with stands representing more than 1 figure.

The FiveCore revelation
I determined that the next 6mm game I played would be with a set of rules that does not use modifiers and adds and removes dice.  I have been looking to play Nordic Weasel's FiveCore Company Command for ages and it worked very well as can be seen in this battle report (I played a couple of games prior of the FiveCore skirmish game to get myself familiar with the FiveCore mechanics). I liked the Five Men at Kursk activation mechanism for both the skirmish and company games.

Five Core has a different reaction system to NUTS! - not better or worse, just different. It also has a novel approach to cover - either you are hiding in cover and cannot be hit (but also cannot fire) or you are peeking and can fire (but also can be fired at).  It ties neatly into the reaction system as generally when you go from hiding to peeking, an enemy unit can reaction fire at you, and firing has a good chance of making you hide again!  It is all about being in the right places at the right time to take advantage of the activation rolls you get.

Fire Core also has no modifiers applied to the dice.  The basic roll is two different coloured d6s - one Shock die and one Kill die with a 1 or 6 on each die producing a different result.  Additional Kill or Shock dice are added or removed in certain circumstances (such as resolving different artillery fire, weapons or anti-tank penetration).  One of the things I really liked about this system is that there is no "to hit" roll - you simply roll the Kill and Shock dice and apply the result.  I liked this so much I began to wonder how to combine single dice roll resolution (no 'to hit' roll and then a 'to kill' roll) and no dice modifiers for my rules across infantry, antitank and artillery fire (Infantry already was a single to hit roll, but anti-tank and artillery were not).

I started modifying the 6mm rules to produce different results based on a single d6 roll.   I already had pinned, suppressed and KO results built in the rules so I just went with 4 = pinned (harder to fire) 5 = supressed (no moving or firing and need to rally), 6 = KO.  But this does not account for cover etc and vehicles were a bit different so I ended up with this ugly "to hit" table.

To hit – roll xd6, 1 per figure, -1 die if greater than 18”
Firer pinned if target able to return fire
No effect
No effect
Target pinned
Move 3” if not in cover or enemy in 6” or already pinned
AFV suppressed
Target suppressed:
2nd infantry suppress no effect
2nd AFV suppress KO
Target destroyed/KO
Unless in hard cover then:
suppressed (already suppressed are KO) unless within 3” then always KO
+1d6 if infantry target in open ;+1d6 if target within 3”
Infantry firer moving or pinned: target in 12” and ignore 6’s
Vehicles also had to add penetration and subtract target armour to the roll.

The 1 result was an easy way to handle reaction fire - if you missed the target and the target could fire, then on a 1 you were pinned.

I do like the way it might work, even though it would require more thought to get it right. However, it will remain untested as I have moved away from this thinking.  I would just play FiveCore rather than if I was to continue down this path.

I also was thinking how I would apply this to 20mm on a 1:3 scale where 3 figures is one section and then fire as a section.  They would fire at another section  but then pinned and suppressed would be applied to a single opposing figure, rather than the section as a whole.  This would not really be what I wanted.  I then started looking at how to apply multiple hits to a section to best represent this but realised it was not great.  I needed a better system that would straddle 6mm and 20mm.

A brief sideline into investigating Pulp Alley type games for my children

My daughter (now 10) really enjoys mystery books, shows and stuff.  Over the last year or two, and especially in the last six months, I have been thinking how to run a mystery type game on a small table with a few figures – one for each of me, my son and daughter and maybe some hangers on.  The idea would be a co-op game against the system where you go around the table collecting some clues and figure out the mystery.  I started looking at RPGs and there are some good ideas there.  I was looking for a system that uses a number of dice per attribute rather than modifiers.  Pulp Alley looks good too, especially with the Solo Deck that can be used to play against the system.  It uses a lot of attributes and different dice types but I like the idea.  I was also looking on an easy way to randomly create a mystery rather than collect clues.  Finally, after acquiring at least a twenty or so new rulesets (RPG and miniatures), I stumbled across The Department based on the Goal System system (other notable Goal System based rules are Blasters and Bulkheads and Void Pirates).  The Department is BladeRunner like, but the thing that struck me was the Goal System dice mechanism – roll a small dice pool and every 4 or 5 is one success, and every 6 is two successes.  The reason this was a revelation as I was wondering how I can stick with 1 die but get different results, and also increase the severity of the result when rolling more than 1 die. And still give the chance of a single figure (with one die roll) inflicting different results (in my case a pinned or a suppression).   So 1d6 will produce 1 or 2 successes, 2d6 will produce 1, 2 or 3 successes (and a 1/36 chance of 4 hits) etc. and this seems like a good idea.  1 success could be pinned (penalty to fire), 2 successes suppresses (no move or fire) and 3 successes is KO.  

Bringing it all together

So what does this actually mean?  Where am I after 6 months of constant tweaking alongside a voyage of discovery and application of new mechanisms?  Well, one thing is I have never written down design principles for these rules.  In reality, for my company level rules I just wanted something that was like Take Cover!! but more streamlined and consistent.  These are some I came up with that I was seeking to implement in the latest rules:
  • 1 die roll for one figure
  • No modifiers to the die roll – add or remove dice in limited circumstances with a 4 or 5 being one success, 6 is two successes.
  • No to hit and then to kill.
  • Scale is about 1:300
  • Would play just as well with 6mm as at 20mm, with 20mm simply doubling distances
  • Implements some form of reaction to fire.
  • Keeps what I like from Take Cover!! particularly spotting and suppression
  • Reuse most of the ruleset I have already – apply the new mechanisms but keep as much of the old rules
  • Don’t change the armour and penetration value number categories (ie. Don’t force all the guns that were labelled “3” to have to now be labelled “2” due to the new mechanisms).  This is really as I am used to the broad armour and penetration values I already have.  One day I will go through and re-validate them.
I have kept the card activation as I really like it. Roughly it is put in a card for each unit on each side – Black for Axis, Red for Allies and pick a unit that has not activated when a card of that sides colour comes up.  There is the joker that is an end of turn card – pick the cards up and shuffle (like the I Ain’t Been Shot Mum Tea Break card).

I created this results table, including the number of d6 to roll. D6 are rolled per vehicle, crew serviced weapon (e.g. MMG) or per platoon (3 stands at 6mm) or section (3 figures at 20mm):

Infantry to hit roll xd6 bases/figures in 1”
+1d6 if infantry target in open
-1d6 firer moved greater than ½ distance or pinned

Vehicle to hit (vehicle no move)
Roll 3d6 + attack #d6  - defence #d6

Each 4-5 is 1 success; 6 = two successes

If target able to return fire then if one or more 1s rolled then firer pinned.
Target may return fire if any ones rolled
Target pinned; move 3” if not in cover or enemy in 6”
Target suppressed.
Pin and Damaged
1 target destroyed/KO 
1 target destroyed, rest pinned
(5+ rest suppressed
6+ two destroyed etc)
Soft/transport vehicles” pinned/damaged = KO
Pinned: ½ move OR fire with -1d6
Suppressed: no move or fire
Vehicle 2 x damaged = KO

The infantry was easy.  The vehicles were harder to figure out.  Gun and armour categories are rated from 0 to 6 with a Sherman 75mm being a 3 and Sherman armour being 3. So roughly a gun 3 can penetration armour 3 at about 500m and armour 4 at closer ranges.   I started with 1d6 +penetration value –armour value and read the result. This was in line with the current rules  But that was deviating from the principles.  So then I went for roll xd6 equal to penetration value and xd6 for the armour value and compare the successes on the table. But this meant that a gun rated “1” was not going to be able to KO a vehicle with armour “1”, and the chances of gun 3 penetrating armour 3 was not great either.  But then I hit on rolling 3d6 per vehicle (why 3d6?  Well, that is the number of dice you would normally be rolling for a full infantry section.

So how does this work at 20mm and 6mm? At 6mm the basic infantry unit is a platoon of 3 stands so firing is done by platoon. AFVs will be 1:1 and support weapons (MMGs) will be 2:1. At 20mm I am going to double all the ranges and the basic unit will be the section (3 figures) with 1:1 for everything else.  I do not believe the dice per figures will need to change.  I will just have to give it a go.  In my head it all works, but that does not mean it will survive contact with the table! (foreshadowing: it survived contact).

A useful effect of firing 3 infantry figures at once is that sections/platoons become less effective as hits are taken.  Hits can be reduced effectiveness (pin/suppress) or a KO.  I really like this.  It is like I Ain’t Been Shot Mum where, as figures are lost, the number of dice you get to roll is reduced (another great feature of the IABSM rules).   It is not deliberate but I did like that part of IABSM.  I even drafted a ruleset about 10 years ago based mostly on IABSM but 3 figures per section (never went anywhere as it would be easier just to play IABSM!).And the dice you roll are 3d6 per section/stand – similar to what I now have where you roll 1d6 per figure.

I also made spotting a 1d6 roll with 1 or 2 successes required to spot; calling artillery is 3d6 with a varying number of successes required based on the type of support; rally and morale is xd6 with a success required to rally (1d6 for green, 2d6 for regular, 3d6 for vets).  Everything is now based on die roll "successes".

I also like the idea - and this was my stumbling block to going to 1d6 per figure with no modifiers - that a single figure has a 1 in 6 chance of suppressing the opposition and a 2 in 6 chance of pinning.  I was racking my brains on how to give a single figure a chance of suppression without putting in some special rules.  So with a sort of special rule - all 6s are 2 successes - the issue was resolved and my brain is at ease once again.  It was very relieving how easy it all fell together, and the odd calculations worked out quite well - just on discovering Goal System and then having a "Eureka" moment.

The last year six months have been really great - I have been quite excited with having the concepts ticking over in my mind and playing them over and having the revelations while I am watching TV or on the train.  It has been a most interesting journey to move the rules from where there were (a streamlined take on published rules) to a ruleset that is fairly clean and based on dice roll successes rather than modifiers to the dice.

Did the rules live up to expectations? My next posts should be 20mm and 6mm AARs with how the rules went.