Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Scale of War: Part 2 - Forming the Line

Battle of Waterloo
Eriochrome back again for more discussion of the dimensions of the battlefield and how they influence the game design.

The M42 rules system is being designed primarily as a battle game. This implies large scale and lots of models, but also that models are treated in groups as opposed to a skirmish game where models are treated essentially individually. We have previously established in part 1, that our battlefield is on the small size compared to the effective ranges of the modern equivalents of the weapons of the common trooper. Now we will look at how our armies fit into this scale. Do we want to be fighting with Brigades, Companies, Platoons, squads, fire teams?

What makes sense to produce a fast paced tactical game for the 28 mm miniatures that we all love. Many tournaments in the US have now gone all the way up 2000 points for a game of 40K. Now 2000 points is a sizable number of points. To put it into scale, I can get almost an entire company of interstellar marines into that point level. They are without fancy upgrades or transports and also lack the command squad to go with the commander but it is still 101 "elite" infantry models in a game legal list.

These are not conscripts or little bugs where you can easily get 200 models before the Force Org restrictions cause problems, these are supposed to be the tough guys. You can see my unpainted forces lined up above in my work in progress basement (I know, shame on me for not getting them painted). Here we have them as densely packed as the models will let me while still maintaining neat lines like I was ranking them up for a game of Fantasy.  A sizeable number of models but nothing a 6 by 4 foot playing surface should not be able to handle.  Now lets examine how they look in a more battlefield appropriate formation instead of one for the parade grounds.

Each model is spaced evenly with the standard 2 inch model spacing between them. I left 1 inch on the outside of the formation and started building from the center line of my marked 6 by 4 feet of foamboard. Notice that they take up essentially a quarter of the board as a line 4 deep of space marines. I can make it worse by switching out one over priced fire support squad for 3 transports and a headquarters squad for a net loss of only 2 models with now 14 units.

While 25% of the table given over to models does not seem like an unworkable number remember that this is only one side of the game.  Add in the opponents 25% and the 25% terrain and you start to run out of space for real maneuvering.  Given that initial control zones are usually less than 25% of the board and they include terrain that might prevent model placement and movement, we can start to see problem with just trying to get the army on the board to start the game. How can we create a tactical battle game where movement and positioning is important when half the physical space is occupied by models? If we want to line up our miniatures and shoot at each other, we should be playing Napoleonic era historical games but we are hopefully working on a post rifle, post machine gun, post mechanized world for our game.

I would like to see a game where you can get in solid cover, suppress enemies, flank them, catch them in crossfires, assault them from the side of their cover, etc. None of which is really practical if models fill the whole board. Now we will look at 5 man sub-squads or fire teams with about a 6 inch zone of control around them. This 6 inch zone of control represents the approximate full unit movement range for charges and double moves when you include the 6 inches from both the attacking and defending units. Such a unit controls about 280 square inches of board space of 3456 total square inches or about 8% of the battle field. So only about 12-13 units total between both sides will control the entire battlefield. This is much closer to a platoon size force than a company sized one. For example, a mechanized infantry platoon has 3 squads each with a vehicle and a command group with a vehicle so that makes them eight unit strong.

So armies under 6-8 units should probably be the goal for most games. Some armies might have larger units for quality over quantity but if we want a game that depends on how you use your forces on the battlefield as opposed to what units you bring to the battlefield than the overflowing deployment zones of the current meta should be avoided. Armies might go to more units through reserves and reinforcements as units on the field are lost or advance into the enemy's initial zone. This might make for less cinematic images of massive armies facing off over the table but hopefully will produce a better game developed by people whose goal is not to sell more and more miniatures.

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