Tuesday, June 21, 2011

WW II Skirmish Gaming: Mortars

WI 259
In my last post I mentioned talking about my thoughts on bringing in the heavy guns (indirect/off-board artillery fire, naval gunnery, and air support), but it occurs to me that before I tackle that I should say a few things about the kind of localized firepower that might not seem quite as random or overwhelming to a platoon or so of infantry - at least if they are somewhat aware that their commander can access the firepower of an integral or attached heavy weapons platoon.

Battleground World War II offered templates for explosion bursts for grenades, small mortars, and larger weapons. Furthermore, it gave guidelines for calling in assorted patterns of fire - ie. how to lay down multiple rounds. These seemed pretty good ideas for how to handle grenades and mortar fire (on table or off). Now compare that to the blanket area templates used in Flames of War - which, by the way, seems quite appropriate for a game that represents multiple figures (sections, teams) on each base. Now, at some point I think a skirmish game crosses the line from individual rounds to the blanket effect, depending on the amount of firepower that ranges in. When is a good time to try for something that may be a bit more abstract that may still provide the same net effect as plotting numerous incoming HE rounds (and maybe save some time)?

For me, I think if I'm playing a game with multiple tubes - and especially if they are off-table - then I'd go with marking a center point on the table and doing a simple radius - something between 6" and 12". It's easy enough to mark the incoming rounds' total area of effect with dice, and then simply make attacks or suppression checks as desired. But what about the guys that might not have been hit by an individual round? Well, I don't think soldiers necessarily have to be within a spray of shrapnel to be effected by the very real danger surrounding them. Also, that's why I think pin/suppression should be a more likely result than outright wounds or death - and that's another point in favor in Arty Conliffe's Crossfire where destroying a unit (a stand equaled a squad) happens with a mix of shock and degrading fire; wiping out a stand on the first try might happen, but it is not likely without overwhelming force.

Now all that said, I'm still in favor of small burst radii from a limited number of on-table mortars. Even the best team won't lay down the area saturation provided by three or more tubes. There is a more immediate feel to close indirect support - and least on the tabletop where the players can all see the figures firing and moving.

Next time, we'll take a look at artillery effects and game mechanisms. I'll say this offhand - I don't think they should be limited to seeming like a really, really, big mortar attack.

[At right - the cover to Wargames Illustrated 259, which featured Neil Smith's "Skirmish Envelope," which inspired some thinking on recent topic of combined arms]

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