This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

Turn 7 of first playtest of St. Léonard 1: "Not Such a Bad War after All."
Turn 7 of first playtest of St. Léonard 1: “Not Such a Bad War after All.”

Just look at this mess. Three missions active, two of them called at or near the end of the turn. There would be two more as well had my opponent forgotten his amazing ability to roll 10s. What bothers me is that, at the moment of close assaults on the German objective, the moment for using artillery to suppress is well past, nor is there much concern for the  negative consequences (other than a short mission) for firing so close to friendly troops. Tsk, tsk.

It goes this way in every scenario I’ve playtested. There is a lot of isolated, vicious artillery fire at units just across the street from the objective you want to take. The two sides’ missions converge like perfectly coordinated trash compactor jaws. Not good. This made me consider doing away with artillery altogether and represent its effects in a more notional way. Yet artillery must still be represented because it such an important part of planning a successful tactical mission. Getting it right should be rewarding.

Perhaps some new rules are in order.

5 thoughts on “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”

  1. I’m waiting on those new arty rules…bring them on. Maybe my die rolls will get better too.

  2. For some reason I missed this the 1st time around. I agree that some sort of rule(s) would be nice o avoid outright gamey tactics.

    Maybe a rule to enforce ‘danger close’ range? What did you say it was? 12 hexes? That wouldn’t necessarily stop late shooting but it is very easy to implement.

    What was ‘danger close’ for mortars in WW II? They can barely shoot past 12 hexes.

    1. “Danger Close” is a rule I thought long and hard about–and may think long and hard about again. It goes against Jim Krohn’s basic vibe of “stupid stuff should punish itself”. In my defense, most games, especially tactical ones, are pitched to player interest which rarely aligns with artillery TTPs. Getting FTGU to square (slightly) with the historical record has really been a lesson this cold truth.

      Mortars are exempted from the “Danger Close” rule. Here’s why. Mortars as they are in the game are in the direct chain of command of the battalion commander. Fire requests do not have to go through regiment or division (or higher). There is no skeptical battery operations officer who must be satisfied before a mission might be fired. Remember, supporting artillery battalions in a US division had to prioritize requests across a regiment’s AO. Additionally, the requests were made by the battalion’s FOs sent forward, usually one per rifle company. Those FOs were unlikely to request danger close missions in the first place and, at any rate, would not normally request missions outside of predetermined zones. This in part meant to keep friendly fire casualties from happening (see “No Fire Line”) but also to help “deconflict” or ensure that a battalion’s fires are spread across the AO in an efficient manner.

      So these are the background considerations behind my revision of the artillery rules. In terms of game play, I really dislike how missions are saved for a final impulse and just throw against a tactical line wherever they might do the most damage. The mechanism doesn’t reward forethought. I thought about a hard limit of 12 to 14 hexes, but this wouldn’t be historical. Danger Close missions were routinely fired in bocage country. I’m at pains to depict bocage fighting in more depth than other games have done. I mean FTGU to be the cheapest way to visit Normandy without getting on a plane. Last month, I was amused to watch the game’s developer, Brendan Clark, navigating the terrain with my map rather than the more accurate ones I provided. This simply could be because Mr. Clark is deliberately perverse, but I’d like to think it has something to do with the game’s cartography being persuasive.

      As the game’s designer is without question deliberately perverse, I’ve also added a negative morale effect for suffering friendly fire (from which mortars are not exempt). Everyone in infantry battalions knew who the good FOs were and greatly feared the presence of a poor one.

  3. Ah, yes, the explanation you give for mortars makes sense, I didn’t think it through before.

    Personally, I don’t mind (a few) rules that go against Jim’s basic vibe if they eliminate gamey tactics. This said as somebody who certainly HAS saved OBA for firing vs largest cluster of enemy units, although I usually fire OBA very early on in a given turn, so if the art’y wreaks havoc I have later impulses to move in troops to exploit.

    1. (Pardon me if I repeat myself in the following; I’m on a long school project and haven’t had the bandwidth for FTGU for a while now.)

      Since the Germans are very often conducting withdrawals under pressure, they tend to fire first. The US would like to blast a hole in the lines and exploit as soon as possible. There is a subtlety that I’ve introduced with second-line US units which draws the historical actions into sharp perspective: US second-line cannot reduce the distance to a fire for effect marker unless they spend a command point to do so. There are lots of reasons for this being the case, both anecdotal and statistical. A number of senior German officers noted US reluctance to move with their own artillery or even maneuver through gaps in missions and made explicit comparisons with tactical maneuver in WW1.

      Until I wrote the “march to the guns” rule, the time and distance scales were way out of whack. One of the nice things about working with real terrain, aside from being able to walk it, is that time comparisons with game play become much easier. Developer Brendan Clark took a little run through Gourbesville every morning before our field visits which took him down the German LOCs, across the US LOD, and down an axis of advance which took three days to move maybe 350 meters. Wargames compress time horribly. Everything happens far too quickly.

      I generally dislike how liberally artillery is applied and actually took a month out to research how to modify the rules. They are workable as they are now, with still a few problems to resolve. I don’t think they come to more than three hundred words. Artillery is a whole new can of worms and, for the record, I don’t think any tactical or grand tactical WW2 games get it right. (TCS comes closest, though — and I’m looking forward to learning BCS.) It seems tactical gamers just don’t want to mess with them as, I guess, artillery procedures don’t deliver on Churchill’s observation that “nothing is so exhilarating as getting shot at with no result” as much as opportunity fire rules do. Bocage fights can be understood largely (not only) as contests between battalions for decent observation.

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