Saka Light Cavalry

Saka Light Cavalry

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Design over effect?

You know the score, you and a mate turn up and lay out for x points for each army. Terrain gets put down with each player vying for best placement based on what troops you or your opponent field. How many times have I tried to put difficult terrain between me and the other guys pikes. Well apart from both fielding the same number of points each this in a fashion is what happened in the real deal. But the equal points has been set in stone for years, after all it's no fun playing someone who outnumbers you, has the best terrain and will smash your army. The only question is how long will it take them? But recent rules seem to be playing with this a little. Polemos Napoleonic rules have variable force make up for the battles. It can supply some interesting situations where you are not well matched but in most cases you still have a fair chance to win. But sometimes you get a dog of a army that is going to get crushed. Problem is, if like me you only get a game every now and again you won't ever want to wast a night playing a game destined for the toilet, even as the stronger side.

First FoG playing last December
However you can have fun fighting historical battles if they are balanced to give a good game without you having to win the battle to win the game. I do it all the time in ASL, every scenario it has been attempted to make it equally winnable by both sides. I have won scenarios with just a single squad in good order facing 10+ squads all ready to grind them up. We do get this kind of scenario with figures but the hard fast practise of playing with similar numbers and the winner is the guy with the least number of destroyed, broken or disrupted units makes it difficult to see the other guy as the winner. Scenarios that have last player to hold x position is the winner is the easiest to use unbalanced forces. Another good idea is the steady drip feeding of extra units into the battle (especially if neither side know when their reinforcement's are coming on).

Campaigns are an excellent opportunity to pit unequal forces against each other. Sometimes the force difference is constant, whilst other times the mouse can become the cat. The campaign of Montrose in the ECW is a great example. He often faced larger armies in Scotland but managed to defeat most of them. It's how you would control the game to give Montrose a chance. Restricted movement of the enemy works but only if good reasons are given. Lets face it "you have twice the number of units he has so you can only move half of yours each turn" does not cut it. When a scenario is based on a real battle, this is often the biggest challenge. In many cases their is a good reason one side won and not the other. Good Generals rarely find themselves having to trust to luck for their victory. At the same time not all that many Commanders send their troops into battle expecting to loose, yet one side must.

So historical battles, first you need to pick something that either gives both sides a fair crack at the whip even if one side has less troops or you need slanted VC's. A points system works well with this kind of idea. The disadvantaged side gets say 1.5 points per broken enemy whilst the favoured just gets a single point. If the weaker side gets ahead you could see all kinds of manoeuvres to remain in the lead, whilst the weaker side falling behind could also see very aggressive play from the weakling whilst Goliath suddenly starts to back peddle.

Maybe next time you are thinking about a nice balanced game, think again.


  1. I think the equal points - problem comes mostly from tournaments, where it is important for both sides to have equal chances of winning the game.

    For playing "at home" there is only a few things more boring than having equal forces fighting against each others. for example, the "new" rule systems made by Warlord games (HC, PB, P&S) do not urge you to use a point system (although you can, of course) and I think this is a right way.

    ... and I think that, when it comes to historical correctness, there is nothing more incorrect than equal forces.

  2. The Memoir '44 approach is to make the game quick enough that you can play them twice - players swap sides and total up VP across both games. So both players get a chance to be on the 'winning' side, but the one on the 'losing' side is playing to get more points before they go down than their opponent did.

  3. The problem I've found is most historical battles are unplayable, who wants to turn up for a game to be outnumbered 3-1, with the enemy starting on your flank?? We tend not to play historical re-fights so much because of this, but I'm also not too keen on the same sized armies fighting a battle, when we've done that, one side has to go defensive while the other plays the attacker and proceeds to get his butt kicked.

  4. Would have to think about this a bit more but maybe an answer may be to have a smaller army that has a very lucky general. I'm thinking Caesar who faced much larger armies on many occasions but won through sheer luck- he wasn't really such a brilliant general but was known as one of the most lucky. I do like re-enacting actual battles and hope to take Ian on in several of Rome vs Celtic Brits- I'm looking to the Battle of the Medway and the Battle of Watling Street for example.
    Wasn't it Napoleon who said ' Give me a lucky general over a good one any day'- or something like that.

  5. Played a fair few Memoir '44 scenarios over the time but not used that method of play. Will do so next time James brings it over.