Friday, 17 January 2020

Sidi Rezegh using BKC 4 leads to questions of scale and spectacle

Carrier Platoons of the Motor Companies shelter in a wadi, Sidi Rezegh.
Two carriers to carry a 'platoon' looks far better than one, though they only count as one for hits, etc.

As you know, I'm very lucky in that I have a war games room with a permanent table. This means I can leave games set up between weekly gaming sessions enabling big battles to be fought out over two or three weeks. All well and good but, sometimes I wonder if this arrangement leads me to be a little over ambitious to the detriment of some of my games.

II Battalion 104th Schutzen with engineers in tow (red edged bases) attack the Second Escarpment, Sidi Rezegh. 

Getting down to cases: Battles in the desert in late 1941 tended to be 'Brigade Group' affairs, or larger. Sometimes several hundred tanks could be operating in what might be regarded as my war gaming table space; to a degree, to my mind, I have to think 'Big Battle'. The battle at Sidi Rezegh on the 22nd November 1941, for example, involved four 'battle groups' (200 tanks) operating on a battlefield measuring about two miles by three. We are currently playing that scenario using Blitzkrieg Commander 4 rules and the game looks great but, so far, we have played just 5 turns in about 5 hours. My scenario has 112 Blitzkrieg Commander combat units fighting it out, and that is a lot of units for a one player a side game.

22nd Armoured Brigade (depleted) begins to arrive, Sidi Rezegh.

The mechanics of BKC 4 can handle games this size, for sure, but the dice rolling on multiple activation takes a lot of time to get through without the help of many hands. We have had several dozen units activating three or four times each turn - a single battalion rolling 100+ dice in a turn has happened at least four times: A big, two player, BKC game equals a slow turn game, and there is no getting around that fact. I like the level of detail and easy game mechanics in BKC 4 but, twenty units a player would be much better than fifty plus.

A13 command stand representing Brigadier Davy, 7th Armoured Brigade, Sidi Rezegh

The problem is, I don't want to play tiny bits of actions - which is certainly doable - because I want to see how one bit of the battle interacts with the other bits. I've never quite got on with scenarios which have narratives that go something like "...and there is a massive tank battle going on just off table to the west but, don't worry about it, it will not affect this action...."; though, inevitably, that kind of scenario is sometimes the only way to do an action. 

A15 Crusader in racing to the rescue, Sidi-Rezegh.
Those red and white Operation Crusader stripes will give the Germans something to aim at!

As I said in the first paragraph of this post, sometimes I think my ambitions are to the detriment of the game. The answer is easy, just hard for me to swallow.

German command stand representing Major General Ravenstein, Sidi Rezegh 

Having recently reassessed how I'm going to tackle the 'Peninsular War' project going forward by 'downsizing' the size of my divisions, I'm now pondering a scale reassessment for my Operation Crusader 1941 non-project (it's not a proper project, it's a 'now and then' sideline). 

25 pdr in action, Sidi Rezegh.

Currently, I'm playing my WW2 games at a figure scale of about 1:5 with about ten model tanks to a tank battalion and a dozen or so infantry stands to an infantry battalion. Now, I'm wondering, if big battles are my intention, should I halve my numbers and go for a figure scale of 1:10? Are five strong tank battalions big enough? Five or six 'units' are normally big enough for a 'command' but, are five or six stands?

Looking north east, Sidi Rezegh. End of turn 5.

The downside is obvious. Can I bear the loss of aesthetic spectacle? As a game, I think it would work much better if the game involved less stuff. Can I square my circle?

PzKpfw IV D, Sidi Rezegh. 

More upsides to downsizing: 

  • Downsizing would mean I have enough tanks to field the whole of 7th Armoured Division, representing about five hundred tanks and its supporting units, including the hundred or so 25 pounder field guns, at the same time (there would be no room to manoeuvre, even on a 12' x 6' table, but I could do it). 
  • It would mean I could field the best part of a British infantry division when required to do so. It would also mean I could field two Panzer Divisions (15th and 21st) instead of only one, which would be quite useful for some scenarios. 
  • It would mean I could probably afford to add the Italians to the collection, at divisional strength, at some point in the future - I probably couldn't afford the painting time or money otherwise. 
  • It would mean a more open battlefield, my desert (table) would start looking much bigger and more open, like a desert. 
  • It would mean I have surplus stuff (some of which is already painted) which I could sell to buy Italian stuff - now, that's a definite upside!

But, the loss of spectacle.

Brigadier 'Jock' Campbell's HQ, and officer commanding 4th Field Artillery, Sidi Rezegh.
Do I keep things as they are but keep the option to go half scale when required, or do I plumb for 1:10 and go for it, full steam ahead? 

Oh, the loss of spectacle.

10.5 cm L28 howitzer. Something meaty for close support, Sidi Rezegh.
Strokes beard. A lot to ponder. At 1:5, the spectacle is 'ambitious'.

On parade, the teeth of 15th Panzer Division at 1:5 (approx).


Steve J. said...

Whilst I love the spectacle of your 1:5 set up I know, from bitter experience, that there are too many units for a one player a side game. With the amount of units on the table, I reckon you have a good 3 player per side game. For my games, I have broadly limited it to a Battalion per side, roughly speaking, with supports etc. Anything bigger than that and it takes so long to play, plus you lose track of your plans etc.

Peter Douglas said...

Always a careful balancing act. Your toys look lovely!

pancerni said...

Spectacle, spectacle, spectacle. If you ask me.

L'Empereur Zoom 13 said...

So beautiful figures and tanks!
Especially the Davy blue tank!

Archduke Piccolo said...

I'd suggest 'go for the spectacle', and simply the game (somehow). By the sound of it, the activation system would be the first place I'd look.

A couple of years back I lit on the activation problem in our 'Operation Uranus' game (using a different rule set). We solved it ad hoc by rolling for formation or sector, rather than by 'unit'. This simplification did no harm to the game system or the play, and sped things up considerably.

rct75001 said...

James I face the same dilema as you are - but I was starting with Comand Decision rules.

With my 1/285th minis I want to play multiple division actions - Goodwood as an example.

But to me the spectacle is why I moved from reading history and playting board games. I have come down on the side of spectacle and am building the terrain that the scale allows and adds to the spectacle. Just my decision. Good luck with yours.


Dave Gamer said...

I know you're a Piquet fan - I wonder if Field of Battle: WWII might be faster for this size of a game (with some loss of granularity)...

Der Alte Fritz said...

The smaller units will give you more table space which should lead to wide open desert warfare games. Your figures and terrain look wonderful.

Yarkshire Gamer said...

I think a bigger room is needed ! I keep dropping hints to Mrs R to allow me to knock the odd wall down, I'm sure she's close to cracking !

I am a fan of the larger numbers of figures, it would be a shame to downsize such a great selection. Rules tweak ?

Regards Ken
The Yarkshire Gamer

Richard Naylor said...

I’d second what Steve J said and it’s too many units for BKC. You’d probably need something like WW2 Spearhead to be able to use the numbers you’re looking at using as that’s got a simple firing resolution system compared to BKC and is more about the planning and control of entire divisions. All that said it’d be a shame to loose the spectacle of it as it does look great.


Bluewillow said...

Always a challenge when you have a lot of kit, you want to use it all!


Sgt Steiner said...

Hi yes when you want ‘spectacle’ over playability you must try to choose a rule set that can cope.
You are certainly pushing BKC beyond its scope of playability i fear :-)
Once using such big forces the rules need to be more ‘streamlined’ or abstract such as Rapid Fire, Spearhead or indeed FOB WW2 (there may be others ?) in order to retain balance between spectacle and playability.
As to which best suits is hard to say as a lot depends on how much detail you want to sacrifice to abstraction to achieve the balance you seek ? Am beginning to sound like Yoda :-)