Artillery Angst, bis

Cannoneers from 9ID send some fear and loathing downrange.

Jim Krohn is perfectly explicit in his designer’s notes for BoB:SE: “This is not a game about artillery.” Fair enough. Representing artillery fire is left to scenario designers who have a basic mechanism and a palette of geomorphic boards to create an impressionistic treatment of various actions that are well separated in time and space. Okay. The lines of sight and engagement ranges can be very long. And it works just fine.

FTGU isn’t a game about artillery, either. But the weapons can take tall walks through your lines and sure can ruin your day. You can’t sidestep the subject, either, as it was (and is) the greatest producer of casualties in high-intensity conflict. Doing so would make no more sense than avoiding the role of armor’s employment at the tactical echelon. Everyone should get a look at Henri Levaufre’s collection of concussion-shattered helmets that he has recovered over the years from the four battlefields depicted in FTGU. I have never seen such artifacts in museums. Here’s the English-edition cover of his book. It seems to say, “Whoopsie. Where did my cover go?” But here’s the French.

I don’t want to tiptoe around the reality of this. From a design standpoint it really is a problem of scale. A game about artillery needs, at the least, 100-meter hexes, if not 500-meter ones. One day, I’d love to play that game for all the insight it would deliver. How to make a powerful aspect present yet maintain focus? An ideal solution would avoid any more overhead than the original rules. I’ve read a few technical books, gazed at manuals, solicited a few expert opinions, and balanced this against my personal knowledge. Nothing has impressed me more than Henri’s roomful of shattered helmets. There’s a reason why artillery is a whole separate branch of the military, too. The subject is as complex as it is diabolical.

I suppose asking players to bear up under a little more overhead for historical reasons, or simply out of respect for the demon, would not be out of order.

3 thoughts on “Artillery Angst, bis”

  1. Sets out well the designer’s dilemma of designing artillery into a tactical level WWII game. Most of us tactical gamers see WWII combat through the movie camera lens, where victory is won by tanks and heroic, gun-totting soldiers. So I guess it’s no surprise that tactical game designs satisfy that appetite. Artillery is mostly crudely portrayed. Yet in fact it was a vital – if the not the most dominant weapon – on the battlefield, causing most of the casualties.

    1. Back in my Panzer Leader/Panzerblitz days, artillery was always well used–well, by the US/UK/Germans, anyway. Even in BoB I always want some OBA because it can hit multiple hexes in one attack without requiring me to expose one of my units. While I don’t always fully grok the FtGU arty rules/nomenclature, I am looking forward to playing with them.

      1. Well, I’m trying to serve two masters here, however subversively. First wargaming tradition seems wide and deep with respect to artillery mechanisms until you start comparing it to data and practice. FTGU very selectively reflects the options available as fire support to battalions. I don’t want to do too much violence to the elegant dispatch of the basic game. At the same time managing supporting fires was the bedrock of US and German tactical maneuvers. So, my first question is “How well do BOBSE and BOBGP square with battalion level actions?

        Second, I mean to push back against wargaming traditions of depicting a radius of effect for artillery fire, traditions which go back all the way to HG Wells, who drew out an area of effect from screws shot from toy cannons. (Magnet toting servants must have been obligatory for clean up after any session. Think of the parquet!) I’m really not inventing anything new, but I do want to try to move the conversation along. In the early 1990s I was impressed with Dean Essig’s rules in the TCS game Objective: Schmidt. Also, today friend reminded me to look at an early S&T game Grunt and I was bemused to find that converged sheafs (where all the guns of a battery attempt to fire on the same coordinate, are depicted with a six-hex beaten zone, just as I’ve decided to do. In playtest right now, I’m certainly at the stage where I’m simplifying, even though my mechanics don’t seem overly elaborate. Hard to gauge that, though.

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