In my recent Battle of High Cark (previous post), I had another example of a medium-sized action which did not lay out nicely in the official play-across-the-table, left-centre-right sector format which best suits Commands & Colors. In fact, the battle did sort itself into across-the-table, but it might not have done.
Since it was also a solo game, there were a couple of reasons why I decided for this occasion to swerve my customised ECW set of C&C Command Cards for activation. I’ve done this on occasions in the past, usually replacing the cards with a semi-improvised dice system to fit the scenario. These systems have all worked tolerably well – my personal view on each of them is based on very short, Stone Age-man criteria.
(1) Does it restrict the number of activated units to about the right level (i.e. something comparable with what the C&C cards would give)?
(2) Is the extra overhead of labour and mental arithmetic acceptable, in view of the advantages offered (i.e. is it a pain in the butt)?
(3) Does it make sense (i.e. can it be explained in sensible, real-world terms, or is it just an obviously artificial game mechanism to limit each move)?
|Dice manufacture in the Stone Age - lack of a numbering system was a major problem|
Point (1) is simply that C&C provides the player with a hand of cards (usually the cards he doesn’t want), of which he may play one – typically, the sector cards allow activation of between 1 and 4 units, though some allow activation of a number of units equal to the number of cards in the player's hand. This gives an approximate idea of how much activation is appropriate for tested use with C&C’s movement and combat rules, and with the required (short) duration of each turn, to keep things ticking along.
Point (2) is obviously also about keeping the game moving, and a personal aversion I have to command radii (which, of course, are loved and embraced by a great many players whose views and opinions I respect). I have had unhappy flirtations with caches of Command Chips and similar – as soon as they become a nuisance, the Activation rules are abandoned, and I use tasteful application of Point (3) to justify this.
My latest improvisation came after reading some of Neil Thomas’ rules. It does not appear in any of Neil’s books as far as I know, but I find Mr Thomas invigorating for a number of reasons. First and foremost, he is not scared of doing something unorthodox in the interests of simplifying and speeding up the game – I frequently disagree with individual manifestations of this, but at heart he is definitely my kind of wargamer. I have a slight difficulty with the fact that he often has several different approaches for the same period, and I am never sure just how tested and proven these rules are, but once you challenge accepted thinking the gloves are off, and all sorts of new and sacrilegious ideas spring to mind.
All right, Foy – enough preamble, already – what did you do for the ECW battle?
Well, first off I applied my recently-developed “brigade order” rule. An “order” (activation counter) may be placed against a single unit, or against a Leader/General figure – and in my ECW games the Leaders go down to brigade level. Thus far it looks rather like C&C. The ordered Unit or Leader may then move, fight, whatever. However, if the order is given to a Leader, and if he is attached to a combat unit under his own command, then a contiguous group of units from this same brigade may be activated by this single order. Thus my armies have broken out in rashes of coloured counters, to identify the various brigades, and the need to keep them together to take advantage of this feature (an effect I term “daisychaining” when explaining it to bemused visitors) forces the army commander to keep his army organised. If a unit gets separated from its brigade, it requires a separate order – perhaps it will be moved back into contact with the brigade. In broken ground, or if a unit in the middle of the line breaks, or if (heaven forfend) the brigadier stops a bullet, the additional hassle of keeping that brigade under control is considerable.
A more senior Leader may take command of a brigade (only one at a time) if the brigadier is lost. All Leaders attached to units are, of course, at risk if the unit takes losses.
OK – that’s not really all that new – I’ve mentioned this before, and bits of it are sort of derived from CCA. The new bit was the Activation rule. The “phasing” player (don’t you hate that?) is about to take his turn, and he arms himself with a handful of my patent blue ACTIVE counters and a D6.
He is only going to get to place a limited number of Activation counters, so he had better prioritise, and he had better be selective. He gets the first one for nothing – place a counter against any unit or leader he wishes.
It gets harder as he goes along. For his second order/counter, he must throw a 2 or better on the D6. If he gets 2+, he places a second counter, and then he must get 3+ to place a third. And so on – he may stop whenever he wishes, and if he doesn’t make the next number (or successfully places a 6th counter) then he must stop. Yes it is crude – I am proud of how crude it is – but it works, on average it gives something like the number of Activation orders you might expect from C&C, but you don’t know how many until you find out the hard way. Ideal for a solo player - I found it easy, convenient and still with a good few stings in the tail. On four, possibly five occasions in the Battle of High Cark I decided to place an order against one of the C-in-Cs, to move him nearer to where he was needed (just in case). As soon as the C-in-C was identified, without fail, the D6 rolled a “1” and the C-in-C remained where he was. It became a bit of a joke – a sad, solo joke, but there you go.
For a bigger battle, I guess I might use a D8, or a D10, but the D6 might do for even very big actions if the brigade orders feature were available. Anyway, there’s the outline. I liked it the other day – it passed all my Stone Age tests. You can reject it out of hand, or improve on it, or try it out, or tell me that it actually appeared in an SPI game in 1978, but do – at least – think about it. Out of the mouths of fools and single-cell organisms cometh wisdom – when you are contemplating the unthinkably crude, you may come up with a few new wacky ideas of your own.
And, if you haven’t already, have a look at Neil Thomas – I read and shrugged at his Napoleonic book, and did pretty much the same with his One-Hour wargames book, but – by Gum – my mind was racing afterwards. Homeopathy for wargamers?