British Cromwell hunts Whittman!

British Cromwell hunts Whittman!
A pic from a Fireball game at Fall In 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

New armor combat rules to be tested...and more thoughts on arty.

After playtesting the armor rules for about a year everyone seemd to feel they were right except for one item: tanks v. tank combat did not seem deadly enough at close range. My intrepid playtesters in Charlotte, NC pointed this out and all of the games at the cons illicited the same response. I have to agree. The question is how to fix it. That is where Jonathan Miller and his big math/science brain come in. He ran some number comparing our numbers to Cross of Iron and came up with a simple system that is not much different from what we have now. His initial calculations seem to point to results very close to COI. We are going to try them out on Tuesday...I will let you know how they turn out.

Creating rules with Jonathan is quite interesting beacause we create rules with a mix of artistry and science. I am a television/film producer and he is a genius scientist (not the evil kind.) I think this collboration leads to rules that appeal to a broad range of people.

Also - had a good conversation yesterday with Mark Tabbert about artillery (he was a former infantry man) and I think I can develop rules for calling in artillery. It will have to be scenario specific and mainly used in a prepared defense or as prep fire in an attack. The US used prep fire in the their attack on Haut Vents which I will be modelling in my next scenarios. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Artillery - the raging debate

Last night we replayed the scenario titled "Steel Curtain" which is the first time we see artillery in the rules. Everything played very well and people had a great time. The Germans lost on teh final turn because the interdiction effect of the off-board artillery caused their tanks to lose initiative. (In the game this is the ability for a unit to have two activations in one turn. Usually units only have one activation.) We are currenly playing that off-board heavy artillery can try to prevent an opposing player from using his initiative. So far so good on that one.

The on-board 60mm mortars were directed to fire indirect by the company commander which caused the German's attack to be a bit broken up....that was until the company commander was killed. The mortars had to redeploy to fire direct fire which they were able to do and held the German infantry (actually SS Combat Engineers) at bay. So far so good on that one.

But it seems that gamers (other than the ones that playtest with me and participate in the rational discussions) want the ability to drop 81mm and higher on the table. I have two big reasons not to model heavy artillery hitting the gaming board:

1. In the scenarios I am crafting it just didn't seem to be done. I have read broad histories, the official US Army history, the US debrief of General Bayerlein, commander of Panzer Lehr, and memiors (the best being 'Clay Pidgeons of St. Lo' by a US battalion commander.) They all talk about isolating the battlefield or firing before or after the battle. So it seems to me that if it happened it was the exception not the rule and/or gamers want to do it because they come from a gaming tradition that allows it. (ie. squad leader)

2. How do you model the effects? I have played many games where you are having a great time and then BOOM!...the artillery lands, wipes out everything and the game is over...not very satisfying.

What are your thoughts? I would love to hear them as I am crafting this game for all of you guys.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Scenario specific rules

Tom Poston commented on my posting titled "Incoming" where he expressed that there are certain specific instances were heavy artillery would inpact the tactical situation...he mentions Omaha Beach. That makes perfect sense and when/if a Fireball book is done on Omaha Beach there will undoubtly be rules for that.

The philosophy of the Fireball Forward is that each book will contain rules that will allow you to play the sceanrios in that particular book. So the artillery rules I am writing for the fight for St. Lo are based on the conditions at that battle. When a new book comes out (my friend is going to do one on Villers Bocage)the rules will be tweaked to fit that situation.

I am sure somewhere down the road the rules will allow for a barrage of 122mm howitzers to rain down and smash some poor bloody infantry.


Friday, February 19, 2010

Designing Rules: Engineers and Artists

In between playtest reportss and rules development I'll give some ideas behind the philosophy of the Fireball forward rules.

It is said here in Northern Virginia that wargame rules are like art. Some people like the Impressionists and some people like 18th Century Dutch Still Life. In gaming some Napoleonics players might like 'Carnage and Glory' and other might prefer 'Shako.' Both types of art and both sets of rules are valid and fine examples of their genre but people naturally gravitate to one or the other.

I have found that many wargamers tend to be quite partisan when it comes to rules. They expect certain game mechanisms, sequences of play and level of detail. This tends to cause most rules to follow a model that was created in the 1970s. I think of 'Combat Commander,' (remember that one!) 'Panzer Tactics' and 'Tac Force.' These rules were created (I would argue) from the point of view of an engineer. They focus on elements that can be quantified: range effects on weapons, penetration of warheads, armor thickness, etc. They steer away from combat situations that can not be measured: fear, heroics, training, etc. In recent years this has started to change with most rules have 'morale.' But I would still argue that 'leadership' is very much negelected. Caught in the 1970's model leaders exist to confer either a morale modifer or a combat modifier. They float around the battlefield and bestow their ability like Merlin. Good leaders do so much more than that. But how do you measure good leadership?

I am not an enginner, I am a television producer. What does not interested me about a battle is the penetration of an American 75mm gun against the front armor of a Tiger I at a range of 250 yards. I am interested in the tactics and the drama of a battle. When you read a memior of a soldier in Normandy he talks about laying down fire and then moving out. They worry about snipers and the opening in the hedgerow were the executive officer took a bullet in his head. For them the battle is a series of dramatic events. ie. 'We new the Germans were holding the farmhouse so we laid down some fire with the machine guns and dashed towards the hedgerow on the left flank.' That is the feeling we are trying to achieve in Fireball Forward.

We see the game as highlighting story-lines and dramatic events. This allows for some significant differances from 'traditional'-style (read 1970s) rules. Ultimately, these rules stand on the shoulders of all of the those 'traditional'-style rules but they are moving things in a different direction. I will address those in later posts. Next week I will blog about the infantry rules. I think in tuesday we will be playtesting a sceanrio with artillery rules I'll let you know how those are developing.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Incoming...initial artillery rules.

Ok...we started trying on the artillery rules last night. The scenario is titled 'Steel Curtain' and models a fight between elements of the 2nd SS Engineer Battlion and the US 1st Battalion, 120th Regiment. Historically, the dogfaces stopped an attack by the SS Engineers partly through the liberal application of heavy artillery. But according to the historical record (the US Army official history of the action) the artillery mainly pounded the road network that the Germans were using to support the main assault. Interestingly, the Germans were doing the same to the Americans. Both sides were trying to isolate the fight so reinforcements, supply and general movement would be hindered. Basically it seemed to be interdiction fire. The heavy stuff did not appear to be used in direct support...the US artillery even makes mention of how proud they were not to have killed any/many of their thier own troops. Mortars seems to have been the artillery weapon of choice for the tactical environment.

Based on that we break the artillery into two types: light mortars and off-board heavy artillery. Light mortars are placed on the table and can fire either directly at a target or indirectly if directed by a leader. This seemed to work fine although the numbers need to be scrutinized. The greatest thing about using them was the German player had the elements of a platoon all huddled up together against a hedgerow when a battery of 3 60mm mortars fell on them. After they all routed and were rallied by their intreped leader they returned to the hedgrow with sufficient spacing to avoid getting clobbered again. I love it when rules force players to adopt proper tactics!

Off-board artillery is used to affect the opponents 'initiative.' I'll do a write up about 'initiative' tomorrow as it is at the heart of the game. Suffice to say for now that it allows a player to move a unit (platoon) an extra move during a turn. Usually a player will use 'initiative' on a key unit on a turn for a key move. Heavy off-board artillery can be used to prevent an enemy player from using initiative. If a player has a leader that can observe the enemy unit trying to use initiative they can call for artillery. If successful the enemy can not use initiative. This is an abstract way to model the 'interdicting fire' effect of heavy artillery. Attacks would start to bog down and by preventing 'initiative' that it what tends to happen in Fireball Forward. I think we are on the right track here but it needs a few more playtests.

It occurs to me that if anyone is reading this you might want a little more about the design philosophy. I will blog about that later in the week.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Welcome to Fireball Forward!

Hi All!

If you love World War Two wargaming, you will love Fireball Forward. We are about a year from publishing our first Fireball Forward game which should be out at Historicon 2011. Each Fireball Forward book will have the rules and about 18 scenarios specific to the historical topic. The first book in the pipeline is 'Panzer Lehr at Saint Lo' which primarily follows the counterattack that elite Panzer Lehr launched north of St. Lo, Normandy in July 1944. Panthers vs M10 Tank Destroyers and Mark IVs vs Shermans. Small actions and large battles...we have it all. Games last from 1 hour to 3 hours...perfect for a evening game. (...and if you have figures for Flames of War...they are perfect for the game. You don;t even have to re-base them!)

I am so excited by these rules that I hardly know where to start. It all began a few years ago with the design philosophy of 'simple rules but comlex tactics.' Let's have a game where players are spending their precious time planning attacks and thinking tactically and NOT spending time digging through endless charts, rules and modifiers. My friend Jonathan Miller took up the challenge and developed the basic infantry rules for a group of scenarios based on the Battle for Hue, Vietnam 1968. He kept trying to pull me into the creative process but I was reluctant as I did not want to step on his creative toes. But the beauty and power of the game were seductive and gradually I was pulled in. We decided that he would focus on Vietnam and I would develop a Normandy version. After fits and starts the Normandy version has really matured and I feel that we are close to giving the gaming community a new game and a new vision of historical wargaming.

I will post new entries after each game and talk about the current state of the rules and what we are struggling with in development. The infantry rules are pretty well set and the armor rules are about 90% there. Artillery is the last big question. Tomorrow we are going to play a scenario with artillery. Here is the issue:

In the scale of our game heavy off-baord artillery (105mm and higher) would very rarely enter into the tactical situation. It would either be used as preperatory to the fight, used to interdict access to the fight or be called in after an attack had failed. It was not really used to bomb the 'next hedgerow' in the middle of a firefight. Mortars could do that. But gamers want to drop arty.... I will let you know what we are thinking after tomorrow's playtest. We have soem uniquie ideas.