30 Oct 2022

Procedural Combat Series

Conflict Simulations LLC sells what they call their Procedural Combat Series of one-map theater level operations set in post-WWII (designed by Ray Weiss). So far there have been five games in the series:

  1. 1950: The Forgotten War
  2. 1987: On to Kaliningrad
  3. 1968: Tet Offensive
  4. 1995: Milosevic's Last Gamble
  5. 1973: The Yom Kippur War

The system uses a simple untried unit mechanic in which unit strengths are determined randomly after combat is declared - similar to SPI's Victory in the West and Operation Typhoon.

As of October 2022, only 1, 4 and 5 are available for purchase. 2 and 3 were withdrawn from the CSL catalog when the designer had second thoughts about them. This is a recurring issue with CSL in general - half-baked games rushed to print and overly optimistic production forecasts (i.e. Afrika Army Korps series). To their credit, CSL has offered store credit to purchasers of withdrawn titles. 

Despite these production problems, the game system seems interesting, so I decided to make a VASSAL module for the first game of the series and give it a try.

1950: The Forgotten War

Here's my vmod for 1950:
Download the 1950 module.

The module uses a trimmed version of the map, since most of the tracks and boxes on the paper map are not used in this module. The units are Game-Piece images that mimic the printed ones.

The Terrain Effects Chart from the printed map is provided as a Chart Window in the module. Normally my modules don't include charts and tables, unless they are from the map.

Note the following procedural differences in the module vs. the rules as written.

Static and Fresh

Instead of flipping units over to indicate that they are Static (i.e. performed an activation), the module places a white stripe through the NATO symbol, toggled by the F1 key. There is a Global Key Command (GKC) on the Toolbar to refresh all static units at the end of each action phase.

Supply

The F2 key toggles an Out-of-Supply indicator on each combat unit: a magenta stripe through a unit's strength and movement factors. 

Strength Chits

The module does not use separate game pieces for unit strengths (which can vary each turn). Instead, each piece has a right-click command to set the strength to a random value that is within the correct range for each Class of unit (A, B, C, D).

The layout of the combat units has been changed (from that of the printed game) to show a "?" for untried status. There is a small class identifier at the bottom center of each unit.

Ctrl-W = Set strengh to random value from class range.

Strengths thus determined are shown directly on the unit, temporarily replacing the "?" untried status. There is a GKC on the Toolbar to reset all unit strengths to "?" at the end of each turn (Game Turn step 3.ii).

Air Missions

There are no mission boxes on the main map as in the printed game. Instead, there is a separate Air Missions map window. Air units mission types are defined in rule 3.3:

  • "G" type - Ground Support, Strategic Bombing, or Interdiction
  • "F" type - Patrol/Escort only  

Note that (unlike ground units) air units DO have a flip side that is used to take a combat reduction prior to being routed.

CTRL-F = flip (toggle reduced/full)

Routed Units

Ctrl-X = send to the Routed Units area at the east side of the map.

Soviet Units

Rule 3.1.3 (Color Key) does not say what brown units represent. Rule 11.3 designates the foreign intervention unit for the Communists as a Soviet infantry unit, which is a brown A-6 labeled "Int" (intervention). This means that brown = Soviet. There are two brown air units in the counter mix without a turn of entry indicated in the top left corner. These should enter the game with the Soviet infantry unit when foreign intervention occurs.

1995: Milosevic's Last Gamble

Download the 1995 vmod file. In this game, the PCS system is used for a hypothetical conflict in the Balkans between NATO and Serbia (backed by Russia). 

Unit's are color coded and bear 2-letter country abbreviations. Some that may not be obvious are:

  • HR = Croatia (Republika Hrvatska)
  • RS = Serbia (Republika Srbija)
  • SI = Slovenia (Republika Slovenija)

Players have a choice of using the Air Mission sections of the main map or a separate Air Missions window. 

1973: The Yom Kippur War

Download the 1973 vmod file. This entry in the PCS (the 5th iteration) comes with a better-organized set of standard rules. It is a step up in complexity, with its dual map situation.

Errata

  • Stacking: Rule 3.6 says stacking to one infantry unit. Actually, this limit should apply to all units. Only one unit of any type per hex at the end of any movement or combat phase.
  • Arab air units: Air 1 and Air 2 are Egyptian, Air 3 is Syrian (per Ray Weiss on BGG 1973 forum). Arab air units may execute missions only on their own front.
  • Israeli air units may execute their assigned missions on either front.
  • Arab reinforcements: There are two Moroccan reinforcements designated (in the published games) as "MEF" and "Maroc" (sic). If the Arab reinforcement result is "Morocco" both Moroccan units arrive. They are labeled "Mor" in the vassal module.

Random Elements

The strength chit mechanic provides a second random element in combat (along with the die rolls for each battle), but lasts until the end of the current turn. Once you determine how good a particular unit is going to be in the first half of the month, you have that certainty in combat during the second half.

It must be said that having two random elements in combat resolution is superfluous. All random elements can be subsumed into the die roll. But creating another unknown before the odds are determined adds to the suspense. You could draw a good strength chit, but then get a bad CRT roll (or vice versa).

It could be that the only reason that the untried units mechanic was invented was to keep players from slowing down a game with factor counting in order to attain a particular odds ratio.

24 Aug 2022

U.S.N.

The first strategic level wargame on the WWII Pacific theater was Jim Dunnigan's U.S.N. (SPI 1971). It first saw the light of day as a magazine game in S&T 29.

The extremely long playing time of the campaign scenarios (using weekly turns) make it somewhat of a mini-monster. The game was indeed complex for 1971, but not so much now when compared to other games on the Pacific Theater.

The vassal module available at Consim Comment conforms to our typical approach of providing mainly just the map and counters. You will need the printed rules, tables, and air mission logs (or PDF versions).

Download U.S.N. vassal module.

The published components for U.S.N. were constrained to what the medium (S&T magazine) could accommodate. For example, Naval Air counters were left off the counter sheet because it only had room for 400 counters. SPI provided a work-around with Naval Air Strength Charts for each side. These are dispensed with in the vassal module, which provides actual Naval Air game-pieces.

The size of the printed map was limited as well: only the hex-grid playing surface is depicted. The charts, tables, and tracks one typically sees on an SPI map are relegated to the rule book.

U.S.N. is known for its tall stacks of counters. The module gives each side a "Forces" map window to allow stacks to be spread out. "Datum" tokens are available for assignment to each such force and these are placed on the map instead of fiddling with tall stacks. Each Datum token is given its own unique letter or number using the right-click menu.

You will still need to do some bookkeeping on paper (as in the printed game) to keep track of ship fuel status, damaged ship repair times, and victory points.

U.S.N. is a perfect example of what SPI was about in 1971. Functional, blue-print like, graphics. Game-play centric. Expanding wargame topics well beyond the offerings of Avalon Hill - the 800-lb gorilla wargame publisher at that time.

See also: Solomons Campaign for an operation-focused refinement of U.S.N.

U.S.N. Module Notes

Land and Air units are found in the Pieces palette. Naval units are found on each player's Forces map.

Forces maps can be used in any manner the players see fit to mitigate unwieldy stacking on the map. There is a generic "Datum" game piece in the Pieces palette for identifying groups of units. Use two Datum markers for each force: one on the Forces map and another (having the same identifying mark - i.e. a letter or number) on the main map.

11 Aug 2022

Iron Lady's Fleet

The first game of the Japanese Fleet Series published in 2007 by Technical Term Game Company is a treatment of the 1982 Falklands war using the 7th Fleet game system. It is a five-scenario Fleet mini-game having a small footprint.

No designers, developers, or artists are listed for any of the Japanese Fleet games on BGG. Were these all collaborative designs at Technical Term GC? If so, they put to the lie the old criticism regarding design by committee. These games augment the original Fleet games brilliantly, covering conflicts in smaller theaters. Iron Lady's Fleet (ILF) is the only historical setting in the entire Fleet library.

Before starting to build a vassal module for ILF, we looked at modules available for the original Fleet games to see if some design principles should be maintained. But these modules all provide for player sides, unit ownership, and hidden - even invisible - units (until detected). However, this runs contrary to the game designer's original intent:

The positions of units are always visible to both players during the game. This fact keeps the play mechanics simple and, more importantly, allows the game to be readily played solitaire. There is also a rationale for the open visibility of units: satellites and AWACS aircraft are considered to be in constant use throughout the game [...] providing continuous information concerning the approximate positions of units at sea. -- Sixth Fleet Rules, pg 15, Designer's Note

He also states that the The information displayed on the Logistics Rosters is open to both players at all times. (Sixth Fleet Rules, pg 34, section 18.1)

Consequently, any vassal modules we create for the Fleet series on Consim Comment will adhere to this simplistic intent. No player sides will be defined, and all units will be visible to both players. Just like playing the tabletop game: if something doesn't belong to you, don't touch it.

Components

PDF components were sourced from the groups.io Fleet group, which also has the rules and charts. The map and counters are adapted from these scanned PDF files and scaled for on-screen use in the vassal module. The English translation of the rules and components is excellent, with only a few areas of ambiguity.

Rules Notes

4.32 Each ground unit is defined as an eligible "base" target for Bombing or Close Combat attacks (4.37 [6]). Even though 7th Fleet rules prohibit SSM attacks against bases, ILF allows close combat against ground units.

4.33 The second paragraph of this rule applies to ground units that are attacked as a base. Rule 4.34 Applies to combat between ground units.

There are two scenarios (6.3 and 6.4) where the UK special forces unit (SAS+SBS) is available but is not given a specific set up location. Rule 4.4 states that it can make an Amphibious Assault within one hex of any UK AA unit.

Falkland Islands Hexes

ILF offers a highly abstracted depiction of the ground war. Don't sweat it.

Rule 4.10 says that the four Falklands hexes are connected for purposes of movement (except AG - and presumably UK - units aren't allowed to move or fight between Fox Bay and Goose Green).

Pebble Island is actually located in hex 0807 (the narrow islet off the north coast of West Falkland). ILF puts it in 0706 perhaps to set it off as a separate assault target for UK Special Forces.

AG units set up in 0707, 0808, and 0907. The only vacant hex available for UK amphibious assault is 0807, channeling the historic landing site at San Carlos (East Falkland) and permitting UK attacks on all three other Falklands hexes.

Air Notes

Strategic Air displays are provided for each side. Alternately you can just designate the mission of  individual each air unit using the right-click menu and then simply place them on the main map in their assigned zones. Similarly, you can place CAP units on the Forces display, or on the main map with "CAP" as their designated mission.

Air units with 10 or less movement points are not allowed to perform Strategic Air missions. This precludes UK Harriers from Ground Support missions (they will have to be content with bombing attacks in the UK air segment).

Detection

Instead of Detection markers, all ships, submarines and TF/TG markers have a game-piece layer which cycles though detection status levels: None, Local, and Strategic.  

Logistics

Players have the choice of using the paper logistics rosters of the printed game, or the Logistics Property Sheet in the right-click menu of most units.

Fog of War

The ILF rules suggest using FOW because AWACS and satellite intel were unavailable to either side in the Falklands conflict.

5.11 Surface FOW is easy enough to implement by allowing players to place empty TF/TG markers and using the Mask trait on each. Players only learn the contents of group markers that are detected. Remember: don't open your opponent's Forces Display window when using FOW.

5.12 The vassal module provides for submarine FOW by giving each sub a Mask trait (which means that the Submarine Storage Columns on the Forces displays are not used).

19 Apr 2022

1815 The Waterloo Campaign

Before 1975, if you wanted to play an operational game on Napoleon's June 1815 campaign, you were limited to Waterloo (1962) by Avalon Hill. Then two games game out in quick succession to provide a more sophisticated look at the situation.

  • 1815 The Waterloo Campaign (1975, Game Designers Workshop) by Frank Chadwick.
  • Napoleon's Last Battles (1976, SPI - also known as NLB) by Kevin Zucker.

Both games had similar unit, time, and hex scales as well as map coverage area. Game mechanics were mostly identical - order of battle, sequence of play, rigid zones of control, command structure. Key differences appear in three areas: artillery bombardment, combined arms, and national tactical doctrines.

Bombardment

  • 1815: Artillery may bombard from 1 or 2 hexes away, using their much-stronger defense values as the bombardment strength.
  • NLB: Bombard only from 2 hexes away.
  • In both games, bombarding an enemy unit adjacent to friendly infantry and cavalry relieves those units of their obligation to attack the bombarded enemy units.

Combined Arms (CA)

  • 1815: CA effects come from the interaction of artillery bombardment and cavalry shock factors.
  • NLB: CA is explicitly stated as having at least one unit of each type in an attack.

Tactical Doctrine

  • 1815: Manifested in the command structures, and stacking abilities unique to each army. Also in the ability of units to exit enemy ZOC's under certain condition. 
  • NLB: Limited to the command structure only.

Even though 1815 came first, NLB has outlived it by decades. Kevin Zucker's continued support and improving of the NLB system is still published today as the Library of Napoleonic Battles. But 1815 provides a valid alternative perspective on Napoleonic combat operations.

Vassal Module

Download 1815 vassal module.

Map: Suprisingly, there is no module on the vassalengine.org website for 1815. Perhaps because no full-sized scans of the original maps have been readily available. The module available here is a fork from the excellent Cyberboard module by Jim Priestaf and available on Limey Yank Games. The map image is divided into two sections, North and South - like the paper maps, comprising the default board layout and hex identification system. 

Units are vassal Game-Piece images. Two-step units have a layer to show reduced combat values. Combat factors on one-step units (and reduced two-steppers) are displayed on a white background (similar to NLB). Color-coding of units has been added to better show command structure within each army.

Charts, tables, and order of appearance cards are not included in the module. Use the printed versions that came with the game. If you need assistance with these, geekmail user rdmorss on BGG.

23 Mar 2022

Operation Jubilee

Operation Jubilee is the small step-child in the "D-Day at..." series of solitaire games by John Butterfield. This game depicts the disastrous 1942 raid on Dieppe by Canadian forces and Royal Marine commandos. A grim situation but a good first-step into the game system. The problem is, the game is out of print and hard to find, with no reprint expected.

The Allied goals in Operation Jubilee (as understood for many years after the war) were to (1) get ashore, (2) destroy some objectives, and (3) evacuate. This is akin to Operation Chariot of five months previous, i.e. the raid on the Normandie dry-dock at Saint Nazaire. Historical scholarship in the early 21st century has revealed that the actual urgent reason for the raid was to obtain one of the latest Enigma machines and related codebooks.

Evacuation is integral to commando raids, unlike all the other "D-Day at..." games in which you are trying to get ashore and stay ashore.

German action chits use "A" for the assault movement check, as in the printed game. However, instead of an anti-tank NATO symbol, the letter "K" is used for the armor hit bonus.

German at-start units are organized into Decks (for randomizing) ready for deployment to their starting hexes.

The module incorporates corrections and addenda published 10/19/2010. It also uses the following suggestion by the game designer:

It would be fine to make the backs of all German non-coastal and non-AT units have the same generic unit type. For example, they could all have an infantry symbol on the back and their actual unit type (for historical interest only) on the front. - John Butterfield on Consimworld Operation Jubilee forum, post 116

Designer-approved balance adjustments:

  1. Draw Op Chits on turn 1 until a German Action chit is drawn or three chits are drawn, whichever occurs first.
  2. Once evacuation goes into effect on the main map, no VPs can be earned for objective hexes.

Download Operation Jubilee module: jubilee-rdm.vmod

Commonwealth Unit Codes

2nd Canadian Division

(CT) 14 (Calgary) Tank Regiment

4 Brigade: (RR) Royal Regiment of Canada, (RHL) Royal Hamilton Light Infantry, (ES) Essex Scottish

5 Brigade: (BWC) Black Watch of Canada (Royal Highland Regiment) (3 platoons)

6 Brigade:  (FMR) Les Fusiliers Mont-Royal, (CH) Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, (SS) South Saskatchewan Regiment

British Army

(3C) No 3 Commando, (4C) No 4 Commando, (RMC) Royal Marine Commando

1 Mar 2022

HSN Scenario 6

Posting on the 2021 GCACW tournament in which Hood Strikes North scenarios 4, 6, 2 and 7 (in play order) are tested. I'm in the PBEM division. This is Round 2, with runs from January 15 to April 15, 2022.

See previous round comments here.

Scenario 6. "The Battle of Nashville Brentwood"

In this 2-day scenario, only the Union scores points, depending mainly on how completely the town of Brentwood is captured (or invested). It is designed to channel the historical Union attacks on the Rebel position outside Nashville. To prevent the Rebs from just running away, the scenario makes Brentwood the point of contention and last line of defense.

The Confederates start in a fortified line, but can't remain there when the scenario ends. So there is a dynamic situation created by the victory conditions. Union success on their right flank will set the timetable for how soon the CSA has to pull out of their trenches.

Direct Union attack (or assault) on the initial forts plays into the Rebel need to withdraw to the Brentwood area - using voluntary defender retreats of 2 to 4 hexes.  It is also expensive (casualty wise) for the Union. So flanking and infiltration through gaps in the line are a likely alternative. The Union can't rely on Brentwood points alone to win - some CSA casualties will likely be required.

March 1, 2022: My tournament game is nearing the end of the first of this 2-day scenario. One demoralized Union division got to Brentwood early in the day (ending a rout move there). Late in the day Schofield's corps turned the Rebel right flank and is poised to occupy Brentwood with one division in good order.

March 9, 2022: Game over after the Confederates won the first two initiatives on Game Turn 2 and had two +3 attacks and won both die rolls 5,2 and 5,3. Had the Union won the first two inits of Day 2, the game would not have ended so quickly - but it would still have been a long shot for a Union win.

Synopsis: In this game, I was playing the Union side. Smith's DAT Corps (Union) was unlucky from the start. In two early +6 attacks Smith lost both combat die rolls: 1,4 and 1,6 which meant that the defending CSA units did not take any losses, while Smith's corps was immediately out of action for the rest of the day. Also, the first two Union cavalry movement rolls were 1,1. There was to be no turning of the Confederate left in this game.

13 Feb 2022

Tannenberg

From the Great War in the East (GWE) series by David Isby (SPI 1978), a game system that portrays early WWI campaigns NOT on the western front - operations that had not been covered in any other wargames at the time of publication.

David Isby designed the core system for GWE, but when the original quad was published, the four scenarios were all designed by others. His own design - Tannenberg - was not included until later, as an issue of Strategy and Tactics.

The victory conditions in Tannenberg force the Russians to attack. The Russians have more units, but the Germans (only) are allowed to use hidden movement.

Download Tannenberg vassal module.

See also: To the Green Fields Beyond for Isby's take on the Battle of Cambrai.

The Tannenberg vassal module offered here has two player sides defined, with restricted ownership of units and a private map for handling German Gruppen. A Solo player is also available for full access to all units and maps.

Note that each unit in the module show the number of steps remaining to the left of the NATO symbol. Step reduction is handled with game-piece layers, as is out-of-command and out-of-supply status. The set-up for the historical campaign is attached below: a vsav file created as the Solo player and saved after changing to the observer.

20 Jan 2022

Frigate

One of the problems with naval wargaming is that there are so many published rules sets available (on all eras of naval conflict) which one do you choose? Boardgames of sailing ships fighting on hex maps are a subset of naval miniatures rules, and there are, once again, several to choose from. James Dunnigan's Frigate (1974 SPI) offers a distilled look at fleet command with a simplified damage model and generic classes of ships.

The vassal module available here is intended as a substitute for the board and counters. Movement plotting is still done on paper, so an element of trust is assumed. Players in a live session can show their movement plots to the camera for verification. You will need a copy of the rules because none of the tables are in the module.

Download Frigate vmod file.

There are five ship classes - shown at left: line, frigate, sloop, corvette, merchant.

Ships are grouped into four "mixes" to account for varying weights of broadside: a, b, c, and d. In the boardgame each "mix" has its own color. But in the module all ships are the same color, so a ship's "mix" is shown as a prefix to the number of guns. For example there is a 74-gun ship in each mix, so they are listed in the game-piece palette as a74, b74, c74 and d74.

In Frigate ships are identified by a letter, not by name. In the module a ship's ID is displayed in parentheses after its gun total.

Gunnery and defense factors are not displayed on the ship counters in the module. Gunnery is always subject to adjustment based on range and damage. There is limited space for information on the game pieces, so we chose to use that space for ID, command, and damage info instead of combat factors.

Here's ship "(A)": a mix "d" 74-gun ship with 2 mast hits (• black dots) and 3 crew hits (• red dots). It is the fleet flagship (FF) and is out of command control ( ? )

The blue dot amidships shows that it is in the blue formation.

Gunnery and defense factors are provided in a one-page table of ship factors attached below. Ship speeds are tracked on the written log, so they are not needed on the counters.

The game has six identical 8.5 x 11 inch hex-grid sheets to represent open sea, and the module provides for this. But instead of leap-frogging maps segments when the fleets move toward the edge (as described in the rules), simply zoom out in vassal to the point where you can band-select all ships and then drag everything back to the center of the map layout, maintaining relative ship positions.

- page 1 of 12