Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Things That Go Bang! by Neil Smith

It seems only appropriate on July 4 to write about things that go bang, and Paul’s musings on artillery and aircraft have me pondering all things explosive. Paul has brought forward some very interesting ideas on what might be labeled “off-table interference”, so I hope my thoughts can add to his.

My first point is that if we’re skirmish wargaming we don’t really need artillery and air-attacks to enhance the game, and historically I cannot thing of many examples where a commander in a skirmish action has called in fire or air support. More often it is likely to be a stray shell or opportunistic air attack that comes into play – although to my utter discredit, my best “example” that comes readily to mind is the German plane attack in Kelly’s Heroes! Nevertheless, my point is that this event is in the lap of the gods, and we know they roll a d6 before every turn, don’t we?

Supposing we do have a stray shell come flying across our table, how can we work that into the game in a fair and hopefully realistic way? If there is no fighting at the time, then the soldiers would hear the sound of the in-coming shell and should be given time to take cover. Grant every soldier a 50mm move to cover or to hit the deck before the shell lands, so that after the event takes place that is their new starting position for the impending turn. If combat is underway, then no action is taken because no-one hears the shell.

Working out where the random shell lands has always been a problem of mine, but having the non-receiving player lobbing a grain of rice works as well as anything – it is hard to aim and has an unpredictable bounce. Whatever the means of delivery, the shell lands and has an impact radius of perhaps 120mm. The receiving player then rolls for damage on everything within that radius, with perhaps a radius of 25mm completely obliterated and replaced by a model shell-hole, or black cut-out circle if you haven’t mastered making shell-holes out of round beer-mats and modeling clay.

Aircraft are different because their intervention is targeted. In this case I advocate a roll of a d6 on a 360 degree circle – 60 degrees per spot running clockwise. I love Paul’s idea of a silhouette being place on the incoming line of the aircraft, though a model works too if you’ve made any Airfix investments lately. Now flip a coin to decide whose side the plane is on, unless you agree beforehand who has air supremacy. Whoever gets the attack may now decide on a strafe or bombing mission – i.e. the player is now the pilot – and he can attack anything on a straight line from the entrance point to the exit point on the opposite side.  But again, if no combat is taking place, the defender can make the impulse move to cover.

A bombing run should be one targeted bomb with a simple d6 to decide on hitting the target. The radius would probably be the same as for an artillery round, and it makes life easier. My strafing runs are 300mm long and 25mm wide for two guns at 75mm apart – as stunning coincidence has it, that is the exact measurement of the plastic ruler I bought out of the Dollar Store for the purpose! The intended target is located 150mm along the strafing line, it doesn’t matter which side, and damage is rolled for everything else that falls under the strafing ‘template’. While, yes, you could throw in friendly fire, the plane being shot down etc, why complicate a simple random event?

My final thought on things that go bang is on on-table direct fire artillery. I don’t want to overload my table with artillery, but I painted that 88 and I want it to do something useful!  And if you were a commander on the ground and had access to an artillery piece, you would want it firing. To slow down rate of fire, I advocate that your artillery piece is either firing, or loading, or traversing if it is capable, and even then the dreaded “1” should result in a misfire that takes another turn to clear.

When firing an artillery piece at the ranges you are working with on a skirmish table, deciding on if it hits the target seems superfluous. Although, you could roll a d6 to assess the height in cm at which the shell hits. Otherwise a simple straight line between barrel and target works easily enough. However, you must include a dead ground distance in front of the barrel where in heavier pieces the barrel cannot be depressed enough.

Having said all of the above, it seems that artillery has the propensity to decide a skirmish game – which makes me think of the super-weapons in GW games that made me wonder why anybody played the game with anything else. But, if you’ve set up your game with bucket-loads of terrain then the effects of artillery are much reduced: artillery then might deviate your game trajectory but wont kill the game, at least I hope not. If it does, adjust your random event tables accordingly!


  1. I know (next to) nothing about WWII but this seems like a breath of fresh air to me - seeing heavy artillery and airstrikes as 'random events' rather than something a commander (at that level of engagement) could control. I don't imagine the controller of the 'cab rank' of fighter-bomber squadrons calling in a flight of Typhoons because A platoon of D company was having problems with an enemy machine gun holed up in a farmhouse. On the other hand a Spitfire returning from another mission, seeing what (he thinks are) German infantry moving across a field in the open ... That would be another matter. Random event 'chance cards' would seem to be in order.

  2. I like the random event card idea. I suppose a deck could be stacked for whatever probability an air strike or artillery bombardment might happen. One thing I forgot to share on air power was a US Army report on Luftwaffe engagements. I will do that next week; the data made me think there would be certain situations which would increase the likelihood of the German air force showing up.

  3. I think generally - ooh, pardon that pun - there is too much player control in wargames, for those trying to get a feel for history anyway. So, the more randomization the better. I wonder what would happen if the officer in the skirmish game had a command radius of 300mm and everything else was manufactured randomly? That might be a two pipe problem.

  4. I can agree with that principle. I think that's why I like games that tie some measure of probability of failure to command and control. It almost doesn't matter why an order failed to be followed - communication error, distraction, disobedience (surely presented as some other reason...) - does any commander know the real reason at the time?

  5. A bit like the Go to Jail cards in Monopoly - who cares why, your ass is still in jail and you're trying to throw a double.

  6. "A bit like the Go to Jail cards in Monopoly - who cares why, your ass is still in jail and you're trying to throw a double."
    - Splendid!