Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Optical Delusions

For me at least, the look of a table including figures and terrain affects my expectations.

An overview of the first game in progress. The Zouaves, seeing action for the first time, held their post to the last man, delaying the Government forces long enough for reinforcements to arrive and secure the town.
(To my great annoyance most of 6" squares that had been clearly delineated were covered by buildings and roads or were under hills  leading to delay and frustration.)

I can come up with any sort of theoretically sound rule but if it doesn't look "right" during a game I can easily go off track in an attempt to bring the rule into line with the visuals.  The larger the grid areas the more the visuals can play with one's mind. As an example, a firefight on the diagonal never bothered me when using 4 figure units on a 4" grid but did bother me when using 16 figure units on a 6" grid. In theory there was no difference but the large units on a larger grid just didn't  look right and it took me a while to get my head around it.

Buildings that only occupy half of a square have the been the big issue this week though a pointless effort to replicate the exact terrain on the map for a CS Grant scenario without much regard to how my rules work provides an example of another trap.

The 2nd game getting under way. The Government forces have a new, more effective, battle plan and some dice with 5's and 6's on them.

The result has been some enjoyable hours of thinking up and testing some variant rules as well as flirting with a return to off grid gaming. Two solo games have now been played using different proposed variants of the Square Brigadier once again exploring ideas such as attempting to differentiate between point blank firefights and bayonet charges in traditional fashion as opposed to the Square Brigadier which rolls both into one mechanism since the details of an attack are deemed to be the business of subordinates.   Both worked but neither was as good as the original approach.

Now the successful 2016 version has had some minor tweaking such as having troops in a town be either on the road passing through the town or, if infantry, occupying the houses. With the 6" squares now back on my table, most of my buildings can hold a unit but still leave enough space for a stretch of road. For the handful of buildings I still occasionally use that cannot hold troops, some form of marker will be needed.
The Second game. Rebel reinforcements have been slow to arrive and casualties have been heavy. On the next turn the Lifeguards will charge, break the remaining enemy cavalry and seize the bridge then in town another infantry unit is destroyed bring the Rebel Army Morale to the break point on the 2nd last turn.
(Note: Most of my current buildings only hold 1 stand but that is enough to mark a unit as defending the buildings in that block.)

So, on the next day that I am free and the temperature in my games room is bearable, I'll rerun the game a third time using the updated traditional Square Brigadier. At the moment honours are even at one win each so the last one will count for the campaign.


  1. Your 'full' table looks very nice and impactive. It is interesting how the having the 'right' mind is so important to our feel and experience, we both know from our use with grids that up / down scaling grid size should have no effect on the game as the mechanic remains the same, yet if the eye sees something different, then, well, it becomes different.

    I think mixing terrain in a square does change things, the smaller grid, due to size, forces us into a method that one square / hex can only hold one type of terrain and it can often be a problem to show both terrain and troops in the smaller square, but the bigger square does physically give room to breathe and we are tempted to use that.

    I think the only terrain mixing that works is to have a terrain feature in the square / hex and a linear feature along its edge, such as a hedge or wall, but outside of that combining terrains unhinges the principles that come from the smaller grid, so I don't think having road and building in the same square helps in this case. I do understand though that to do otherwise puts pressure on getting the same amount of terrain onto the same sized table.

    I find that grid size certainly impacts on WWII games, with questions such as can armour now enter building squares / hexes (because they physically can) and going the other way, the more hexes you can get on the table, the more granular the results in terms of things like getting flank shots to vehicle become, as more cells means more opportunities.

    Of course the opposite is true, do we write our rules to fit in with the limitations of the smaller grid i.e. a vehicle cannot enter a building and a road and a building will never be in the same cell and only one unit can be in a cell at any one time etc and then this feels odd when the bigger cell is on the table.

    I suppose at the end of all that drivel, what I mean to say is that in principle, up / down sizing the cell size should not matter at all, but in practice, the format has changed and that some rethinking of rules to meet the new environment are inevitable.

    Anyway, head scratching and resolving to such puzzles give much pleasure (and frustration) and would we have it any other way :-)

    1. Norm I agree with all that and especially the lat line!

      In this particular matter, there is another approach regardless of grid size which is to abstract it even farther. For example, apart from some very old cities and some downtown slums most town and city blocks comprise both roads and buildings so when a table ( or map/gameboard ) shows a town area as one terrain type the rules must allow for all the possibilities such as a tank or cavalry unit moving through the town by road since it often had to happen but the terrain should affect the tank/cavalry differently than it effects infantry since the buildings don't provide easy cover for the cavalry/armour except by blocking line of sight but do restrict the manoeuvrability of the cavalry/armour which is one of its strengths.

      I was heading in this direction on the old 4" grid but noticed that the bigger squares might be able to use a different approach. The jury is still out however.

    2. Yes, I have just been playing a Napoleonic boardgame and basically for movement, a town has the road through it and this negates movement penalties of buildings for everything, but in combat, artillery can only count 3 points of fire (restricted deployment), cavalry are half strength and cannot charge, while infantry gain protection from the town / chateau etc.

      I suppose for grids, a cell with a building does not also have to physically include the road (this is just an aesthetic that the larger cell allows), but rather it simply counts as a road hub for those roads that lead into and out from the town and so the same principle is true regardless if the size of the cell.

    3. Norm, I had that same thought as your second paragraph about half an hour after replying to your first comment and while I was still mulling the question of towns etc. A marker would suffice.

      I've rethought about it a bot and realized that I've left out the possibility of using dismounted cavalry (ACW etc) to hold a town or attach a gun to the defenders. That led me off on some more consideration of a few things and the rules are now a bit longer but simpler and clearer despite being more nuanced.

  2. I fully agree that visuals are important and do affect the game and the rules. Miniature wargaming revolves around the visuals on the table, and if the rules do not support that, the rules should be changed :-)

    I am a big believer in the design principle (for miniature wargaming at least) that the rules should serve the figures and the scenery, not the other way around. Too often people design a set of rules, then plop down some figures and scenery on the table, without thinking too much about their respective interactions. But the visual and tactile interactions between the playing pieces ARE an important aspect of the game, and so should be part of the design from the start.

    That's also why I think the best rules are rules you have designed for your particular collection and gaming table. Your table and toy soldiers are different from my table and toy soldiers, hence it's only natural that we end up with different rulesets that represent the perfect equilibrium to serve the interactions as mentioned above. The connection between the visuals of the game and the gaming rules is an undervalued aspect of miniature wargaming these days.

    I hope this makes sense ... ;-)

    1. It does and I agree. Its one reason why I have become content to modify other people's rules when I use them so they fit my needs and desires rather trying to modify myself to suit what they like.

      Of course it is best if one has friends with similar opinions to game with now and then.

  3. I don't know if I've commented on it before, but that's a smashing array of terrain.

    1. 1/2 the buildings were cheap, unpainted plaster Christmas village buildings I picked up at a clearance sale in 2000, the other 1/2 are home made foam core done a few years ago.

  4. Ross, sorry for the trivial question but what overall size is that table? I make it 4' 6" wide (?) but can't quite get the length. I like the way you disguise the grid pattern with various shades etc and with your large figures the table still seems to have plenty of room for manoeuvre.

    1. No question is trivial! It is 6' long giving me a 9x12 grid of squares.

      It has been jury rigged from bits and pieces of my old 6'x8' table and I have been experimenting with both table size and room layout and this is is the optimum and most satisfying set up. The plan is get it trimmed and framed by mid-September and move on to other things.

  5. Battlefield looks really good - very nice job.