EXCERPT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Great Machine Gun Compromise

The Machine Gun is an iconic weapon for 1914. They were also an iconic toy soldier figure for most of the 20th Century so I needed to include MG models and have them be different from other infantry.

The Belmont Arms Factory fills another order.
My game is designed at a fairly abstract intermediate level with a grid square's worth of troops representing a company of between 100 to 200 men.  The basic infantry organization for the British and French armies consisted of 4 companies of infantry and a pair of machine guns. The German infantry battalions were also 4 companies but they had no integral machine guns, instead there was a 6 machine gun company grouped with 3 battalions to form a Regiment. The ratio of machine guns to men was the same but in one case the machine guns were concentrated and the other they were dispersed.

At first glance it seems easy enough, an old school set of rules would just mirror the organization and let players place their machine guns where they thought best. A modern set of mid level rules or a board game would just "factor them in". When trying to write a simple, mid-level gridded game with a certain sort of toy soldier feel to it however, its a bit harder.

I need to see the machine guns and have them be different but I can't really have a pair of machine guns holding the frontage of a company of infantry without any infantry support. My compromise was to include an MG in one of the infantry companies and give it more firepower when stationary but not be able to move and fire.

When I turned to the Germans I have been torn between two options. The simplest and most Toy Soldierly option would be to use the same rules for both sides and assume that all of the MG sections have been distributed in support of individual battalions, something that was done at least occasionally.  The other would be to stick to the book and have pure MG companies and no mixed companies for the Germans. In a multiplayer game this means that some German players will not get to use MG's when they play the game. More than that, I need to tweak the rules so that the all MG companies and the mixed companies have strengths and weaknesses.

Having failed to come to a definite conclusion, I had decided to dodge the issue by doing the German MG's in pairs and doing an extra pair of infantry stands to go with each. That way I will have 3 options:
1. Field 2 stand MG companies if I can get the rules balance right or
2. Field 2 game unit MG units each with an MG and a stand of infantry, just like the British and French ones. The assumption would be that they have been assigned infantry supports and the effect would be that all MG stands would have the same effect, just the distribution would change.
3. Issue one MG to each German battalion so that all players would get at least 1 MG unit and both sides would fight the same way, like Red and Blue armies.

So far I'm leaning to Option 2 but once I finish these 2 MG stands with crew and infantry supports, all options will be available on any given day.

10 comments:

  1. My current intention is to cheat - and pretty much treat a machine gun as an infantry battalion but on a smaller frontage of course - and counting it as 4 infantry for casualty purposes. This would be 2 crew and 2 for the gun itself. Not sure yet how well this would work, but don't see why it shouldn't.

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    1. I think it might feel quite appropriate esp in that context. It was nt my original intent to give each battalion its own mg model but here I am.

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  2. The doctrinal difference between the organic vs centralized mg elements is that the central version allows more flexibility in employment (in theory). Perhaps you might give the Germans an option whereas the allied mg assignment would be fixed. Might be easier said than done (you know your system & what might work better than I). Just tossing it out there.

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    1. Good idea. I was 1/2 way along that route but thinking from a different angle. The player with the Jaeger regiment will have his 2 unit MG company but the infantry players sharing an infantry regiment will have 2 guns and 2 MG between them. Either they have 1@ apiece or 1 will have 2 guns and the other 2 mg or one could provide fire support while the other takes more infantry and assaults. I could let them decide, may have to wait and see what sort of players I have re experience etc

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  3. Very nice bit of Scratch Modelling there Ross- well done!

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  4. Agree with Kev, awesome scratch building skillz!

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    1. Thanks Lee, they look pretty dodgy to me but within the spirit of the project.

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  5. It might be worth driving the allocation by situation rather than by organisation, working on the basis that regardless of organisation, machine guns would have been allocated to positions that they were most effective and from where they would provide interlocking fire zones. So in some regard, their location / placement is somewhat abstract to provide that effect. It would be one step up from saying 'there in there somewhere attached to a company' to actually having the lovely models on the table.

    So perhaps allocating per army and deploying as the situation / terrain warrants would give the right effect, while in truth not being that different in outcome to how you would deploy under organisation restrictions (i.e. it gets the job done without the mind being distracted by what is right).

    I would put pairs down to show fixed positions and a single model to show mobile capable or HMG's in motion. To differentiate the troop type, it might be worth having a 'gun jam' rule that would encompass jams, technical problems and low ammo events. In my own rules, I roll 3xD6 for HMG, hitting on 6's against cover and 5' and 6' in the open, but if the three dice combine to a total of 15 or more, the HMG is broken for the rest of the game, it just adds a brake to make the player use reasoned and more thoughtful fire instead of unrealistic none stop fire.

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  6. Thanks for those thoughts. 1914 is still fairly new for me as mg's were for the armies involved. Later the MG's seemed to have been increasingly grouped at higher levels and distributed to best effect but from the little I've read I have trouble seeing the Umpteenth Foot sending their pair of MG's over the the Such and Such Rifles a mile away let alone to support an adjacent French battalion.

    However my current practice is similar on a lower level as I do not have a battalion's MG section as a separate unit but have combined them with an infantry company which is providing support and covering the rest of that section (the grids being 150-200 yds across and a unit of 4 figures being 100-200 men )

    The 'jam' rule is interesting but from what I've read it was unusual for all the guns in a section to break down for an extended period of time so I assume any breakdowns are included in the turns when no hits are scored.

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