Sunday, February 13, 2011

In Praise of Different Scales

Campaign Rules blogging will cease for a moment to respond to reader Jeff's comments, and one possible solution.

Jeff points out that if you have a deployment area that goes to the edge of the board, you will have players that will rest their flank there. This is true. I have seen players anchor one flank on the edge, and another on the back edge of the table, deploying obliquely so they do not have a flank that can be turned.

Now while we can't use the German solution to make a single breakthrough, create two flanks, and then turn both (you have to admit it's more efficient that way), there are two competing things, perhaps three going on.

First, gamers will be gamers, and if you give them the opportunity, there are some who will get every advantage they can out of the rules. I do and don't have a problem with this. Rules can be interpreted. However the interpretation should be backed up by historical evidence (even though this is a game), and should be consistent. The ones I don't like are those who will argue vehemently for Option A when it favors them, and then, just as vehemently, argue against Option A when it is turned against them. So when you write rules you have to take into account these people. One way is to do what Phil Barker did with DBA/DBMM and prescribe deployment areas to get a straight-ahead battle. This works in the Ancient and Medieval periods, but not so well in later eras where the whole point was to create an uneven battle.

Second, "Let the Bazaine's be Bazaine". Each gamer comes with some inherent military ability. It may be well-hidden, or strictly limited. But let them exercise it. Do NOT dictate anything to them that forces them to behave in an ahistoric manner. Do not get in the way of a gamer making a blunder. DO get in the way of one wanting to act in a way that is outside of the period. So the 18th Century gamer who wanted to move his men forward in loose swarms and skirmish lines was disappointed. That wasn't contemporary military thought.

Okay, let's look at scales; 28mm, 15mm, 6mm, and the like. Using V&B, RtG scale of 3" for 1500 men, my 8' wide table can hold 32 units in a single frontage. If foot, that's 48,000 men. That, by the way, is regardless of whether you use large figures, or small. If we go to the 2/3rds scale, that is 48 units, which is 72,000 men. That's just the first line. Double the numbers for the size of the army.

If, say, we went with the scale in Little Big Battles, a battalion taking up 1.5", a division of 10 battalions comes to 15" in a single line; 8" when deployed properly. There is nothing so beautiful as to see someone deploying a corps of three divisions of infantry, a division of cavalry, and guns, and realizing that he has two exposed flanks. Anchoring everything on hills/villages becomes sensible. And all of that beautiful cavalry gets sucked to the flanks for scouting and protecting, not available for thundering charges.

But as beautiful as the smaller figures are (I have a friend who painted glasses on his Marshal Davout figure in 6mm!), and they do get the spectacle you want of a large battle (I did a refight of the only major Austrian/Russian battle in the Invasion of Russia in 1812 and people were taken with the spectacle because the attack looked like two divisions going forward), the overall spectacle of miniatures was lost on the casual observer.

The guys in Oregon did Blenheim, Ramillies, and Oudenarde in 28mm. A 28mm figure, ostensibly 25mm, but my belief is that the figure designers longed for the old 30mm Surens, and so "scale creep" took place, which might explain why 15mm figures are now large 18mm, closer to the old 20s, is nearly five times the size of a 6mm figure. That's 25 times the volume with the requisite surface area. It looks big and impressive. This is what the casual observer expects to see when he wanders into a Con. And they look suitably impressed when you tell them that each figure was painted by hand.

Now, in my opinion, those larger figures look better when you have a large number of figures in a unit. In the smaller scales we can somehow get away with 6-8 castings equal a battalion, and people will "believe" it. I think that in the larger scales you need to go to 24-30 castings per battalion. Bill Protz fielded his Protzdam Grenadiers with 60 castings in the unit, and it was breathtaking. Mike Lonie did the Coldstream Guards in 25mm, a 60 casting unit, and it was like a red wall stretching across the battlefield. Gesturing at something that could be covered by a single sheet of paper, and telling people that that was the entire French Imperial Guard circa 1808 didn't seem as breathtaking.

And face it, the spectacle is important.

And this is the beauty of gaming. Every person finds what is "right" for them. If they want three corps on the tabletop with both flanks open, or they want enough metal figures that they have to get special shocks for their car (Isandlwhana in 30mm with all troops present on both sides!), there is room for them.


So how does this "fix" the problem with people resting both flanks on the edge of the world? Even "deployment areas" have their problem. At a DBA game in California Phil Barker found himself so hemmed in by an enemy built Up Area and impassable terrain that he could only send his troops forward in a single column one element wide, where he was promptly smashed by his clever opponent. An extreme example, mind you (and the rules for Built Up Areas changed right after that - go figure), but an example of what can happen. The other problem with a designated "deployment area" is there might be more troops present than the ground can handle. This invites what we call "rout in echelon" where Unit A runs backwards into Unit B; both then run into Unit C, and so on. Don't laugh. In the rules Shock of Impact I had that happen more than once, enough that I don't play those rules at all. Ever.

So what is to be done? Recall that the intended miniatures rules are Volley & Bayonet, Road to Glory with 3" linear bases for the foot, and 3" square bases for the horse. See the above point about the maximum amount that can be put on an 8' table. With that in mind, a deployment area of sorts becomes necessary. So, after all of this (hopefully not tedious) wandering, we come to the following:


Players cannot deploy within 12" of either side edge of the table, and cannot deploy closer to the enemy than 24".

This gives a "deployment box" six feet wide on an eight foot wide table, and two feet deep on both sides, assuming a six-foot deep table.

Now why V&B? Well, I like it, it's simple yet subtle, and it doesn't matter if you use 2mm figures, hair-curlers, or 40mm castings, as long as you use the same base size.

That said, I sill like the idea of players suddenly realizing that they have two open flanks on the tabletop. In a lot of gamers that induces a "fear of defeat" and they get cautious. In a few others, it makes them a lot more reckless and aggressive. Just one of those things.


Bluebear Jeff said...

I wish that limiting the deployment area (as you have done pursuant to my concerns) wasn't necessary.

The optimum solution, of course would be to have a large paper map that extended well beyond the table top in all directions . . . with the capability of constantly "migrating" the playing surface as needed . . . but sadly that is almost never practical . . . *sigh*.

While your solution is not one I like, I do think that it is better than allowing the "corner defense" that would surely arise without it . . . and I do not have any better solution to suggest . . . although I DO very much like the "odd" tabletop setups for the various Grant "Table Top Teasers".

-- Jeff

Maj_Gen_Stanley said...

I only reluctantly went with the deploment area option. I have run mini-campaigns where I center the tabletop on the point of contact. This has produced "unexpected" battlefields, much to the chagrin of the players. But we don't always have that option, so this is why a deployment area.

Bruce B.