Wargame Thoughts and Commentary
Large wargames

A Question of Scale: Initial Ideas

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In the development of Die Fighting there were several issues that came up that interested me, one of which is game scale. Not the ground scale, or figure scale, or figure to troop ratio, but the size of the game in units, players, and dice.

Truth be told, I am not a great fan of the “Monster” games with multiple players, multiple umpires, and a table that stretches more than 12 feet in length. My gaming background and preference is always for a more intimate game of 1 or 2 players on a side and maybe 16-20 units total per side. However, I have the privilege of a private war-game room, and little need to “travel” for my games. Many people who lack a venue often find their only choice is a club or shop locale which generally tries to maximize the number of players and usually ends up with at least three, and often more, players per side in a game.

My complaint about such games is that they, by necessity, often require “convention” style game rules that are dead simple, not very complex, and where everybody gets to “do” something. This rather flies in the face of the rules I tend to write, and also, I believe, history. Rare, indeed, is the battle where every commander was actively defending or attacking, as the attacks were generally focused in one area of the battlefield at any given time. In most of my designs, focus, and a single line of attack, using a very simple plan, are rewarded. In fact, general, all across the front, attacks are often punished, as they often were in history. The usual complaint from unmodified multi-player Piquet games, or Die Fighting Games, at conventions is “I didn’t get to do anything!” That is, the action was elsewhere, and consuming the available energy in the game. Rather the equivalent of being on Little Round Top during Pickett’s attack.

But, a designer must also serve his audience and customers, so means are found to accommodate the monster game without doing too much damage to the ruleset’s conceptual underpinnings. This is usually done by breaking the battle front up into discrete, quasi-independent, separate games being played side-by-side. In Piquet ,this means that separate decks are used in each discrete segment, certain “special rules” are created for any actions that cross-over into adjoining sections, and combat and movement systems are simplified and made fairer by using special dice,and rules requiring a leveling of impetus available to both sides-often creating nearly equal “chances” to move and fire. It works. People enjoy it. Some games, such as Maurice, are, by design, not scalable, and restricted to their delimited size of 12-16 units, but most games can make some concession to scaling up. Few games are very scalable downward from the initial design-say playing Empire on a quasi-3-4 unit scale, for instance.

Similar scale problems exist with Die Fighting, though of a different nature-since movement is generally a bit more flexible, and the card phasing is also less rigid in its application, both sides always get a chance to move and take action. The best approach for very large games remains breaking down the battle front into several sections, with a different gamer having control within each area, and being opposed by another section commander across the way. In effect, each side is a number of concurrent games being played with the outcome in each section affecting the army as a whole.

The problem of scale that needs to be addressed in Die Fighting is related to two things, the application of the sequence deck, and the allocation of dice and dice buckets. Essentially, do the sequence cards apply to the whole army on one side, or just to each individual segment, and how are the dice buckets created and affected in each section, and what effect do they have on the whole army?

Here are some ideas:

1. If there are more than three gamers on a side, break up the game into sections. Each section uses the core rules as written. Within each section the “local” commander has complete discretion as to movement and combat. Each section may have more than one command stand, but those command dice may only be applied to troops in that section. The one exception is the Commander and Chief figure who may assign command dice, subject, to the usual distance limited die roll, to any unit on his side.

2. The number of dice available (and thereby units) to a commander in a given section should be limited to between 150 and 250 dice. (Once an army has more than 300 dice on a side, gamers should consider doing this even with games with fewer gamers but lots of troops.) The very large dice buckets otherwise delay the effect of dice expenditure when spread over an entire army when they exceed 250 per side. The game works, but the crisis and resolution are slowed down making for longer games. (One on one games of 200-250 per side are perfect!) Each has their own discrete bucket of dice, which when depleted, prevents them from taking any action but retreat.

My recommendation is to calculate the over-all army dice total and divide it into the number of players plus 2. If you have 5 players per side you’d divide the total dice by 7. If you have 4 players per side you divide it by 6. If you have 6 players per side ( and a lot of troops and a huge dice total), you’d divide by 8, etc. Each player gets one bucket, but the Commander in Chief gets two equal “Virtual Buckets”! He may assign the contents of one bucket in whole or part to any of his player/commanders at the table prior to play, thereby adding to their dice count. His other bucket is the “reserve” that he may assign on any Rally, Restore, Reload action card to any section-but must use the desired commander for a measured die roll to transfer the dice. The contents of the reserve may not be broken down, but must be assigned to one commander and section. The reserve may be a number of troops equal to the new dice, that enter the field in a section, along with their dice, or the commander may deploy these units as part of the initial deployment, and add only their dice at a later time-to ANY section-not just to the one they are in. The starting dice buckets of the various section commanders are hidden, so neither side can be sure as to the support a section has in dice available, or exactly what troops, if any, are not on the table.

3. When any army gets a one section advantage on the other army at the end of a six-phase turn. That is, one or more sections of one side have failed and run out of dice, and the enemy has either all sections functional, or one fewer “failed” section, the game has ended and the victor is declared. Point totals of remaining dice may be done for both sides and compared to measure the degree of loss.

4. For reasons of clarity and speed of play-use one deck for each army with the active phase card affecting alls actions on one side. One might experiment with separate decks for each section, but I feel the single deck gives a better game, and allows the Commander in Chief a more focused role.

This method does several interesting things. It keeps the pressure of dice expenditure immediate regardless of the size of the battle. It cleverly enforces the orders of the commander in chief, by restricting certain actions in their actions and enabling others. This is done without written orders , but has a similar, and enforced, effect. It adds suspense to the game since no section commander can be quite sure of the enemy section commander’s capabilities (i.e. dice) or, for that matter, his ultimate number of units.

It also imposes a distinct difference between the allocation or dice (ersatz orders) prior to battle, allowing a commander to sub-divide and tweak the starting totals of each sub-commander, but enforcing a strict one section, concentrated, commitment of the reserve later in the game. It does this while also disguising the ultimate intentions of the commander and also the option to disguise the ultimate total number of units available. It should be noted that the movements of the CInC figure may be indicative of the reserve’s ultimate commitment, but, given the 4 dice range of movement (24&rdquoWinking could be disguised to some extent by both movement of command units and their ocation near a section dividing line.

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This idea needs testing and development, but, I think underlines the amazingly flexible, subtle, and historically valid mechanisms that Die Fighting’s Dice allocation, acquisition, and expenditure concepts will allow scenario designers and campaign moderators.