Sunday 27 January 2019

TF-ON design problems with rivers

Last year, I took a slice of action from a boardgame and transferred it to my Hexon terrain with figures and used my Two Flags - One Nation rules. It played fine, but the question arose as to whether a smoothbore musket could fire across Bull Run.

With the waterway not being crossable and smoothbores being limited to a range of 1 hex, the result within the system seemed to disadvantage smoothbore muskets and carbine, but what to do?

This has brought about so much thought and deliberation that I thought it worthy of a post, just to demonstrate design problems and the compromises that can fall out of putting sticking plasters on gaps that appear in rules.

Please use the ‘read more’ tab for the rest of this post.

The Bull Run post referred to and more importantly the commentary that followed from helpful readers who know the terrain, can be accessed via the Resource Section at the foot of this post.

Firstly the Two Flags - One Nation rules system as it stands. Smoothbore muskets fire 1 hex (i.e. into the adjacent hex) and a rifled musket can fire out to a range of two hexes.

The issue is that in my Hexon terrain, the rivers / streams are an in ‘in hex’ feature (not hexside as in the boardgame). That is, they fill the hex and have small banks.

Above, this is how units are currently represented that are on the banks of a waterway, rather than in the water hex itself - that is the units are either side of the river hex.

So for such units to fire upon each other, the target will be at range 2. One to cross the waterway hex and another to enter the target’s hex beyond. In effect, this stops smoothbores and carbines being able to fire across the waterway as their limited range of being able to only fire 1 hex stops them firing beyond the river hex tile. This is true whether we class the waterway as either crossable or non-crossable.

From a game mechanic perspective, this is not a problem until there is a need to represent a narrow waterway over which a smoothbore could fire and reach units on the other side, but the system won't let it.

I should say at this stage, that the rules currently allow the hex to hold a single regiment, which we may assume, typically has a frontage of 200 yards, which in turn gives us our hex scale of 1 hex equates to roughly 200 yards and as such, the smoothbore should not be firing beyond an adjacent hex, so the weapon range of 1 is right for the game scale.

So, what to do?

It seems like this should be an easy fix, but the more I have dwelled upon in, the more convoluted the fixes become. What we would really like to simulate is units being able to fire directly into what is and what looks like the opposite bank (see Photo above)

As well as defining a waterway as being either crossable or non-crossable, perhaps we also need to define in the scenario whether it is either narrow or wide. Wide being something that smoothbores could not fire across. If wide, then the rules as they stand work perfectly, if narrow, we need to ‘invent’ something that makes close range fire across the waterway work.

If crossable and the waterway is entered, the unit in this system is assumed to be actually in the process of moving into the hex (i.e crossing the water) and the fire range for both sides drops to 1 (adjacent, close range) and again, this works with the rules at present, though often, the unit will be doing this as part of a charge move action and so will have foregone the chance to use a fire action and there is little chance therefore of softening an enemy up before putting a charge in (unless another regiment that has weapon range, does so). But the important thing is that having a mechanic of ‘entering the water’ being given the same meaning as ‘entering the hex’, preserves the current game mechanic, or rather, does not put it under pressure.

If we start to consider whether a unit should be able to occupy just their bank as part of the river hex then we have immediately ‘invented’ three locations within the hex, the friendly bank, the enemy bank and the waterway itself. This multi location aspect does not occur with any other type of terrain.

We could say that only one unit can occupy a hex (see above photo) and that accords with the rules as they are and that this unit can be thought of as being on their own bank, so the range into the enemy in the adjacent hex is now just at a range of 1. That would work as per the rules if the feature was a non-crossable waterway.

For crossable water, the anomalies that this produces are that if the unit on the bank wants to advance, it must first do that by leaving the bank and going into the water (and testing for disorder) and again take fire, at range 1, which it already did when it sat on the bank.  But more problematic is that if the unit holding the bank is happy to stay there, how does the other player attack it. Does it first need to move onto it’s own friendly bank, which it can’t because the hex would then have two units and we have created another in hex location and then how does it go about entering the waterway (a third location ?) to attack the enemy on the far bank, this becomes ‘in hex’ combat, which does not naturally occur anywhere else in the system.

There are of course ways to rule for this, but the peculiarities of the multiple situations that could arise would likely need at least another couple of full pages of rules and examples, which would by their nature be pretty much just giving exceptions to the main mechanics, increasing complexity for something that should be more intuitive.

Another possibility is for neither unit to enter the waterway (see above photo) which is how it works now, but from their respective hexes, which we must think of as including banks, be able to fire onto an enemy immediately on the other side of the waterway and ignore the river hex itself for range purposes. This would allow close range fire (1 hex) which gives 4 fire dice, so maybe a new modifier of firing with a -1 D6 penalty over a waterway, to reflect the compromise in range and to preserve 4 fire dice for when unit actually enters the waterway and becomes ‘really’ adjacent.

The qualifier needs to be available to both rifled and smoothbore muskets, as otherwise the rifled musket, when in the same situation, will be firing at a range of 2 with a reduced number of fire dice and consequently would then be disadvantaged in terms of range compared to the now ‘exceptional’ smoothbore / carbine.

Also, the ‘thing’ of hexes means that the smoothbore is now really firing at 2 hexes distance and because of the arc of fire that our hexes gives us gets wider, this means that the firer would be able to legally fire into one of three hexes, rather than the one of two hexes that would result from range 1 adjacent fire.

This is a problem, because we have now given our smoothbores yet another benefit, when really, the circumstances of firing over a waterway probably demands that it is the target immediately ahead that is hit and so we must prise in another forced rule, that of targeting just the unit directly 2 hexes ahead (see graphic above - a smoothbore could usually only fire into A or B, but we will be letting it hit the centre unit ((only)) instead) and another substantial paragraph of rules or two, to give our new exception to fire arcs, plus of course the above example.

Plenty of these sort of things can be sorted out between players who are playing to a ‘you know what I mean’ principle, but when things have to be tightened down into properly presented rules and be robust enough to stand scrutiny and Q&A and mitigate impact on other parts of the rules, it becomes altogether a more difficult task.

I have probably ‘thought’ myself or even designed myself into a corner and no doubt need to think a bit wider. I am pretty sure that when I finally decide what to do, it will be a compromise that in no small part will be driven by according with the main system as much as possible so that it minimises lengthy rules of exceptions. Hmmmnn, I might take up golf instead!

EDIT - a poster at Consimworld suggest just counting the river hex as zero, whilst that option is generally covered above, the change in language of calling the river 'hex zero' did make me think again about that, but calculating the fire as though it was coming from the river hex, which would have the effect of preserving fire arcs and as such, mitigate a chunk of rules needed to cover that aspect.

The post for Ball’s Ford, Link