Balancing Game Design Inequality in Wargaming


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30 March 2023
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Ammo Dump

Have you ever been faced with the desire to run a game where your opponent has a better chance than you do? Where you think to yourself: “what can I do? In any straight forward fight, one side is going to get hammered?”. I suspect we all have.

In that event you do what anyone sensible does in that situation: you find – or invent – a scenario that that will make for a balanced game and give both sides a reasonable chance of wining.

WE NEED MORE AMMO

They say that it’s not tactics but logistics that count. One can argue that it depends on what level of the conflict one is aiming to represent on the table top. I once played a board game purporting to be about ‘20s gangsters in Chicago and I rapidly came to the conclusion that – sadly – the point of the game was not machine gunning one’s foes in February, up against the wall in a garage, but was more about keeping your books straight while booze running and floozie wrangling. It was probably accurate in a technical sense – after all Capone was brought down for income tax evasion – but it certainly wasn’t very exiting. Personally, I gave up half way through the game...

On the other hand, in combat the tactical need for ammunition – whilst getting just a wee bit ‘accountancy’ – does still leave room for drama in a way that hand-to-hand combat with double entry book keeping does not.

It’s not hard to see the tension and excitment in the scene in Zulu Dawn where Quartermaster Bloomfield is breaking open the boxes and – slowly – handing out the ammunition so hindering the British forces as they face a concerted – and ultimately devastating – attack. Switching to a non-historical story, in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, it is – classically – the last arrow that Bard fires that slays Smaug the dragon: the very last chance with his remaining ammunition.

“Ah ha” I thought to myself: “That’s what I want to achieve: drama through ammo”.

 

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BACKGROUND

The following scenario I wrote is set – just for a change – in the Hammer’s Slammers universe but, to be honest, that’s not overly relevant. It just so happened I was playing a game with Tony Francis of Brigade Models and that’s what we were using on this occasion.

It is inspired by a story written by David Drake (author of Hammer’s Slammers) where a particular force has access to a heavy tank but can’t work the main gun, just the secondary weapon. Whilst that weapon system is effective, it’s certainly not the main deal. As Audie Murphy proved, you can do a lot of damage with the secondary weapon of a main tank, but...

With that in mind, the scenario below can be easily ported to any system in any period providing a couple of things are still factors: one side at least (preferably both sides) need to have access to projectile weapons that require ammunition, however the side that has the greater number – or quality (or both) – of troops should also have access to secondary weapons which use a less effective form of ammunition (or are just less effective in general). They still need to be able to fight or it makes for a really boring game for one player. Just not at full effectiveness.

IT’S ALL PLASMA

In the scenario I was writing there are two forces involved, both mercenary companies. The defenders are the Waldheim Dragoons: they are a mixed infantry and armour company with some medium and heavy tanks plus infantry with towed anti-tank weapons. They are veterans and have two detachments: an infantry detachment comprising three medium tanks; an anti-air/artillery calliope; two towed anti-tank guns, their towing vehicles and a couple of APCs and the associated infantry (perhaps 30 men). The infantry are holed up in the village of Roahka.

The Waldheims use Powerguns on their main tanks, supplemented by missiles on their bigger tanks (which aren’t present at the start of the scenario). Powerguns use self contained ammunition – effectively shells. However their infantry use shoulder launched weapons which operate on a slightly different weapons system – the hilariously named ‘CAP Gun’. This is a similar system to the Powerguns but uses a liquid chemical to enhance the effect of the weapon (see the side bar, right, for more information). In consequence they have a supply truck with some of this chemical available to them in their village stronghold.

The Dragoons are facing three detachments of an elite Brazilian Mercenary company called the Brigada Independência (often known as the Cobras Fumantes). The Cobras outnumber the Dragoons at least two to one: they are better trained and have heavier tanks (compared, at least to the mediums that the Dragoons have at the start) although the Waldheims may be getting support from another detachment of heavy tanks if a fight starts...

The disadvantage that the Brazilians have is that all of their main tank weapons are ‘CAP guns’ and they have run out of the fluid they need to make them work. They do have secondary weapons, however: the tanks have a roof mounted gatling (a ‘conventional’ slug thrower) and a secondary turret weapon of a similar nature mounted along side the turret CAP gun. Additionally the APCs and so on have good, slug throwing support weapons and other assets: a light mortar, Anti-tank missiles and the infantry are available to bring in extra firepower. The Cobras even have a couple of Gauchos: scouts on horseback and a trained sniper with them. But – until they can get to the lorry full of ‘juice’ and top up their fluid ammunition – they have no main guns!

SCENARIO BRIEF

This outlines the positions and brief for the two commanders.

 

THE COBRAS

You are Commander Major Franciscus. You have three detachments of Brigada Independência however they have suffered a major set back. They have been in the field for some time fighting a battle against several other mercenary companies and supplies have been depleted badly. The liquid chemical they use for their main weapon – their ECAP weapons – has entirely run out. Until they can replenish their stocks they are reliant on their other weapon systems.

This means that – although your support vehicles have conventional ‘slug throwers’ – your Anjalika and Suharto heavy blower tanks are reduced to their just coaxial 2cm and 1cm railguns; the Bhima Armoured car can only use its 1cm railgun; and the Arjuna Calliope cannot fire at all. They need the juice!

You understand that the village of Roahka is being held by an infantry detachment of the Waldheim Dragoons and they use CAP shoulder mounted, anti-tank weapons. Information suggests that – as they use it themselves – they have a supply of the chemical that is needed by the Cobras, however they are dug into a defensive position. There is a strong suspicion that they know the Brigada Independência are coming and have called on support from a heavy armoured unit.

 

Objectives

The Smoking Cobras must locate – and preferably destroy – the Dragoons infantry unit and then – individually – draw vehicles along side the vehicle which will be in the industrial area. Two adjacent vehicles at a time may draw fluid into their AFVs and this takes one whole turn of doing nothing else: no shooting, no moving etc. Topping up noxious chemicals requires a lack of distractions! It also takes two Leadership Points (LPs) per vehicle to achieve this delicate task. However, at the start of the following turn the topped up AFV will be fully functional and has it’s main weapons back on line.

The Brigada Independência enter the table at the north side (the top) of the map and are represented by the lilac coloured triangles.

THE DRAGOONS

You are Captain Grouty and you have a simple task. You know that the Cobras are coming and you know what direction they will be arriving from you just don’t know when so you have dug in and lie in wait. Your job is just to stop your opponents. Your troops have been equipped with the latest, upgraded anti-tank guns but precious little else that will stop heavy AFVs. Their blowers might arrive at any moment but you have been promised tank support if the shooting starts!

The Waldheims are represented by red tokens. In the game we played (see later on) the triangles were AFVs, the circles were hidden infantry and the squares were hidden anti-tank guns.

 

Waldheim Support

As soon as the first shot is fired by either side (probably the first turn but who knows...), roll a d6 at the end of the following turn.

 

Result:

  • On the next turn, if a 6 on a d6 is rolled, the Waldheim’s get support in the shape of one troop (Waldheim player’s choice). A troop is half of a detachment which – in a ten element force like the Dragoons – will be five elements (or TUs). As the secondary detachment is a tank biased, heavy unit, the player will probably pick the heavy armour!
  • The turn after that, roll again: a score of a 5 or a 6 gets either another troop or the whole detachment (ten elements: tanks and infantry) if none arrived on the previous turn.
  • On the third turn after the shooting starts, bowl again: a 4, 5 or 6 gets the same result as the previous turn: either another troop or the whole detachment (if none arrived on the previous turns).
  • In the fourth turn, don’t bowl: any and all that are left of the support detachment arrive in the nick of time (as the cavalry should!)

Arrival point

When any troops arrive, bowl for the direction they arrive from when this happens. Using a d6:

On a roll of a: 1,2,3,4 pre nominate what of the four sides are numbered as per the map (numbers on a yellow circle) with 1 being behind the Waldheim infantry. A roll of 5 indicates that the Walheim player may chose where his troops arrive. However, if a 6 is rolled the Cobra player may chose (they obviously saw the reinforcements coming and were ready for them!).

THE GAME

The table layout was as you can see in the map, left. The village of Roahka sits at a ‘T’ junction and has a mix of the older village buildings along with an industrial plant in the village centre (where the ammo truck is parked) and some pre-fabricated light industrial units or sheds) scattered along the roadsides. There are trees and a couple of small ponds.

The buildings modelled are all scratch built (by the author) and almost all have appeared in Miniature Wargames as builds (though the ‘peasant’ village buildings was over twenty years ago...). Cloths are by Cigar Box and Geek Villain.

The Brazilians set up at the north end of the table in three detachments. Their objective was the ammunition truck parked by the industrial plant, right in the centre of the village. Sure the truck could have been more hidden but... one assumes the sophisticated soldiers of the future have some degree of detection equipment (and we wanted to play the game in under three hours, which we did). This fine model is a Konami pre-paint of the Joe 90 Explosives Truck, suitably plastered with ‘Explosive’ warning decals and – joy of joys – is a fine model that needs no additional work to get onto the table. Although there are some older vehicles in the Waldheim force, The Cobras and the rest of the Dragoons are all from the Brigade range of resin models in their 15mm range, although they make them in 6mm as well.

I set the Waldheims up in hidden spots or just behind cover. On the map, the red triangles were AFVs and the red squares were the two anti-tank guns hidden in the industrial sheds with a decent field of fire for the anticipated arrival of their targets. Finally the sheds half way up the road had some infantry hiding in them (the red circles) including the only anti-tank specialists they had with them, ready to leap out and strike fear and cyan-death into their enemies in the flanks.

The three detachments of Cobras made their way down the road (having won initiative) and the Dragoons opened fire (as with all anti-aircraft style weapons, a multi barrelled calliope is harsh on mere infantry), killing some scouts and triggering the dice rolling for reinforcement.

Over the next three turns the Brazilians moved forward with as much speed as they could muster, knocking out the lighter Dragoon AFVs when opportunity arose with their secondary weapons. Meanwhile the Waldheims sprung an attack from the sheds into the flank of infantry and armoured cars on the central road (with very little success) and took out some main tanks on both flanks with their two, previously hidden, Anti-tank guns although – by firing them both so fast – they risked burning out their barrels and this did indeed happen to one of them. Smoke ‘em while you’ve gottem, as they say...

Much to the consternation of the Dragoons, however, it was turn four before any of their support arrived. Just as the Cobras had reached the supply truck with two main tanks, four Waldheim heavy blower tanks arrived to (via a dice roll) their rear flank and the Brazilians lost two heavy tanks before they knew what had hit them.

However, the wheel started to turn. First – having taken severe casualties (over 50%) the Waldheim infantry at the south end of the table broke and withdrew, abandoning their anti-tank guns. At the same time the rest of their reinforcements – more infantry – arrived at the north end of the table and attacked the rear echelon of the Cobras, knocking out a light mortar that had been firing the length of the table (and had even taken out a medium tank with a lucky shot: in through the commander’s hatch, I suspect!).

The Waldheims took out a Cobra tank with ATGW fire and some other vehicles but the Brigada Independência had, despite their own losses, managed to get two tanks up and running. The Dragoons lost an APC with all of the infantry inside and more tanks so their morale began to waver. The Cobras took heavy losses too, on one of their three detachments, anyway... Morale rolls were made: the Brigada Independência stayed but the Waldheim Dragoons did not... Lots of jokes about ‘Brazilian whacks’ ensued and we packed away the models

CONCLUSIONS

As I said at the start, this is the sort of scenario that can be applied to many periods. Tony and I had a great day’s gaming in a dark and bleak February which certainly made my day. I was also rather pleased that Mr Francis won the game: he is notorious for bad dice throws and – as I use casino d6 dice – we can’t blame that on rotten cubes, just his awful luck. The scenario was balanced and on a knife edge until the very end. How close was it? Although I have little time for points costs systems, per se, they can sometimes be useful as a rough ‘rule of thumb’. So...

The Cobras had around 18 or so AFVs (including eight heavy tanks and a couple of nasty armoured cars). They also had as many as 20 infantry split into six or seven ‘TU’s or bases. They were of the highest training level – Elite – and had three commanders up to a Major. That amounted to almost 9000 points in game terms.

In contrast the Waldheims were slightly less well trained – being veterans – and had around half of the points cost at roughly 4500, with 10 AFVs (when they all arrived), two towed weapons (with towing vehicles) and around 30 infantry spread over 8 TUs.

The balance – with the Cobras handicap of non-working guns and the need to concentrate on reversing that problem - worked really well, But – more importantly – we both had fun! 

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