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Subject: Lock 'n Load Impulses and Realism rss

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Jay Richardson
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In a recent thread in the ASLSK #1 forums:

ASL - How realistic?
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/134133

...Lock 'n Load designer Mark Walker made the following comment:

Mark Walker wrote:
I believe ASL is a brilliant design. I enjoy playing it and believe it creates a reasonable fascimile of small unit combat. I'm not, however, a big fan of it's phases. In my WWII tactical game Lock 'n Load: Band of Heroes (www.locknloadgame.com), I use impulses, to better portray the ebb and flow of combat at this level.

This raises some questions in my mind about how the impulse system in Lock 'n Load actually works in various situations, so I thought I would come here to see if Mark, or other experienced Lock 'n Load players, would be willing to discuss this further.

I have never had the opportunity to try out a Lock 'n Load game, so I have very little knowledge of it. Hopefully you'll excuse me if I ask a really stupid question with an obvious answer!

First, I will readily agree that it would be easy to find tactical situations that are better portrayed by an alternating impulse system than by ASL's alternating, multiple phase, turns. But there are other situations where an impulse system would seem to be problematical...

* How does Lock 'n Load model the concentration of firepower? In ASL, squads and machineguns can fire together at a single target, increasing their chances of causing damage. If they were forced to fire individually at a target, many defensive positions would be nearly invincible. That is, in ASL, a 24 point attack from four squads will do far more damage than four separate 6 point attacks. Does Lock 'n Load allow multiple units to combine their fire in a single impulse? If so, can units in different hexes combine their fire in this way? Or is the firepower of a single squad sufficient to damage even a dug-in defender?

* I find scenarios where one side greatly outnumbers the other to be highly interesting. For example, one of the most popular ASL scenarios has 50 Russian squads attacking 8 German squads! How well could Lock 'n Load's impulse system handle a huge mismatch like that? How would it play out (in general terms, of course)?

* How well would the impulse system scale with the size of a scenario? My thinking here is that (a) an alternating impulse system would tend to play a bit slower than one where a side's units all move or fire at once, and (b) you would need to mark every unit as it activates, to keep track of who has moved/fired and who hasn't. Obviously, neither of these are a problem with small scenarios, but as the number of units in the scenario increases, is there a point of diminishing returns where the impulse system causes more delay than players might accept? For example, would a Lock 'n Load version of a massive ASL Red Barricades campaign game be playable, or not? Perhaps the question I'm really asking is if it would be more or less playable than the existing ASL version?

* How does one execute a flanking maneuver with an impulse system? For example, in ASL, I could send a number of squads off to occupy an empty building on my opponent's flank. Assuming that they survive any defensive shots he might have at them as they move, they'll present him with an unexpected problem that he will have to react to on his turn.

But with an impulse system, I don't see how an effective flanking maneuver could be conducted. If I send a squad to that empty house, my opponent could react immediately and send one of his squads there as well, etc. Instead of catching my opponent off-guard with an unexpected maneuver, we end up instead with a big melee in that house.

Without the ability to move a large number of troops at once, it seems that one's maneuver options would be sharply limited; that your opponent could always react instantly to anything you do. Is this true?

* This is sort of a continuation of the previous question: How does one conduct a fallback defense with an impulse system?

This is a situation in which you need to delay your opponent while minimizing your own casualties. So you set up a defensive position, fire on your opponent has he moves up to prepare to launch his attack, and then fall back to another defensive line before his attack can get started. And then the process usually repeats... very frustrating for the attacker who has to chase you clear across the map before he can finally come to grips with you.

With an alternating move system, my defenders would all move back to the next defensive position at once. But with an impulse system, it seems I would have to move them back one at a time, which gradually weakens my initial defensive position... which the attacker could possibly exploit with his own impulses at some point. Again, the inability to move a large body of men with a single command would seem to be an unrealistic detriment here.

* And finally, if Lock 'n Load was to add a title featuring the Japanese in World War II, how would a banzai charge be handled?

***

Looking back over these questions, I fear that someone might feel that I'm trying to start up another of those "my system is better than your system" arguments, but that is NOT my intention! I am genuinely curious about the impulse system and its capabilities & limitations, nothing more. I'll be more than happy to return the favor and discuss ASL's limitations over on any ASL page!

Thank you for any comments you might have.
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Martin Moyer
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I may not be the best person to answer these questions but I've played a little LnL and I can probably give you a pretty good initial answer.

Concentration of Firepower: This doesn't really work the same way that you describe it for ASL. A leader can activate units in his hex and all adjacent hexes but the attack from each hex is resolved separately and not as a whole. Attacks from a single hex do get combined into a single attack, but you can not combine separate hexes.

Basically, you do get a greater chance to damage a dug in unit with three attacks than you do with just one but that is the only way that concentration of firepower really works.

Mismatch Scenarios: I tried to look at this myself by creating a scenario where about 10 American soldier had to hold a town for a few turns against a hundred or so Germans. The problem with LnL arises from the fact that units only get to take one action per turn and that means that a unit can only fire once a turn. Furthermore, there are no rules for residual fire so if all the units in a hex have already fired it is possible for an enemy unit to charge into the hex and engage the units in melee without the units getting to fire at them (although they would get a defensive melee round).

There is something called "opportunity fire" in LnL which is when a unit can fire at an enemy unit that is moving during the opponents impulse but that counts as the action for that unit.

I guess the point that I am trying to make is that mismatch scenarios can be tough to make balanced in LnL because three squads are only going to get to fire at three hexes and once they have fired there is nothing else they can do to hinder the other side. This is somewhat balanced by the fact that a side can pass on their impulse and try to save their actions for more appropriate times but it can still be tough to hold off a larger number. In my mismatch scenario that I created I basically made the scenario rules in such a way that the Germans needed to take as much of the town as quickly as possible (meaning they would have to ignore the Americans somewhat) because I felt like it would have been too easy for the Germans to just charge the American position and eliminate them.

Scenario Size: I do feel that LnL would be a little slow for large scenarios because you would end up with potentially dozens of impulses per turn. Units that have taken their action are noted by a counter noting "Fired", "Moved", "Ops Complete", etc.

Flanking: This is not really covered except for the fact that a unit that gets surrounded could be in a little bit of trouble (there is no inherent combat bonus for flanking). Basically in LnL your example might play out like this:
1-You send units into the building to try to flank your opponents position.
2-Your opponent has the right to opportunity fire (if he has units that have no used their action) at you as your units move. If your units are shaken or wounded they must stop in the hex they are in, otherwise they can continue to move.
3-You would make it to the building if you had enough movement points.
4-Then on the next impulse your opponent could send units into the building to melee your units and since your units had already used their action (to move) they would not be able to opportunity fire although the moving units could be opportunity fired on if there was another unit on the board with LOS and an available action.
5-Those units would then engage in a round of melee combat (with each side getting an attack round) and they would continue to be in melee for each turn until only one side had units left in the hex or one side successfully broke off from the melee.

I would argue that the big melee in the house would be a more realistic result since one side should be able to react relatively quickly to what the other side does. If I see squads moving to surround me, I would probably try to do something to stop them instead of just sitting there and letting everybody finish moving before I reacted.

Fallback defense You will basically have the problems that you described. As I said before, a leader can activate all the units in his hex and all adjacent hexes so you could have multiple hexes move in the same impulse if you had a leader there. Otherwise, you would have to drop units back a hex at a time, and that would leave your position weakened.

I think that the issues that people have with the LnL system may have to do with the fact that they've developed certain tactics for ASL that won't work the same way with LnL. It isn't that either system is better but just that each system uses a different system to try to simulate the reality of battle and that you need to use different game tactics with each system.

Hopefully I've managed to give you some sort of insight and I'd be happy to try to answer any more questions that you might have.

martin
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Ethan McKinney
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Well, the basic rules are available online for free, as part of the LnL demo kit. They might go a long way toward answering your questions...
 
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Trevor Murphy
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"I think that the issues that people have with the LnL system may have to do with the fact that they've developed certain tactics for ASL that won't work the same way with LnL. It isn't that either system is better but just that each system uses a different system to try to simulate the reality of battle and that you need to use different game tactics with each system."


I think Martin hits the nail on the head there. I haven't played LnL, but I've dipped my toe into ATS (which uses impulses) several times and enjoyed it. I'm no rules guru so you might want to take this with a grain of salt:

In ATS, firepower can be concentrated in the form of firegroups of adjacent hexes led by a leader. It works pretty well. For big, mismatched scenarios, I don't really see how ASL phases would model 'reality' especially better than impulses, since the defender is essentially forced to look at a big wave of units swarming in and pick where to shoot. I do see how this could be annoying, though, since there's a tendency to wait before firing in case your opponent is trying to draw your fire with sacrificial lambs. In either case, the guy with a lot more units is going to have more options. Also, I think there's something called 'platoon movement' that lets large groups of squads move forward together in special conditions.

Like Martin says, being able to respond instantly to an attempt at flanking doesn't feel unrealistic using impulses. Moreover, the fallback defense you describe would arguably feel more realistic if you use impulses, since part of the line can retreat while a few remain behind to offer some resistance before falling back themselvs to the newly-fortified position.

I've been reading Ledig's 'The Stalin Organ' recently, and one thing it drives home is that ASL and ATS and LnL can't really hope to model what really happened in something as chaotic and horrible as the real war, so it's better to go with the system that seems the most satisfying and fun to you.
 
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Jay Richardson
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Thanks for the replies... this has been very helpful indeed!

Martin Moyer wrote:
In my mismatch scenario that I created I basically made the scenario rules in such a way that the Germans needed to take as much of the town as quickly as possible (meaning they would have to ignore the Americans somewhat) because I felt like it would have been too easy for the Germans to just charge the American position and eliminate them.

Right... a common feature of mismatch scenarios is that the attacker is often placed under time pressure. In the ASL scenario I mentioned (50 vs 8) the Russians are forced by time pressure to charge forward, and it takes about three turns of running at top speed just to reach the initial German positions. So while the Russians are running the Germans are firing anything that can shoot: it's a race to see if the Germans can break enough Russian squads to avoid being overwhelmed when the survivors finally do reach the German positions.

In ASL, defenders can fire at least twice and, under certain conditions, several times. So it appears that we have our choice of seemingly unrealistic events: in Lock 'n Load you can apparently see a unit stroll safely past a defender who has already fired; in ASL you can see a defender fire 10 or more times in a single turn while an attacker can only fire once.

But while the ASL method might sound unrealistic, in actual practice it works quite well with a very realistic feel. Additional defensive shots occur with less effectiveness, and more risk to the defending unit... which can actually panic and break just from attempting an extra shot. I think this gives ASL the edge over Lock 'n Load when it comes to mismatch scenarios... but this "advantage" comes at a high price: the ASL defensive fire rules are some of the most complex and hard-to-learn rules in ASL. I don't doubt for a moment that some potential ASL players, upon encountering the defensive fire rules, have simply turned away in disgust and gone looking for an alternative game system... like Lock 'n Load.

Ethan McKinney wrote:
Well, the basic rules are available online for free, as part of the LnL demo kit. They might go a long way toward answering your questions...

Yes, since I posted my questions here I've downloaded the demo file and have looked over the rules. But experienced LnL players will have insights on the questions I asked that I would not see just from reading the rules or playing the small demo.

In looking over the demo's rules, I picked up quickly on the ability of a leader to activate several hexes at once. That sounds like an excellent rule, and it pretty much addresses my concerns about the viability of flanking maneuvers, etc. Requiring that a leader be present to coordinate the movement of many squads at once makes perfect sense.

I've actually been thinking about these questions for a while; I was hoping to find an opportunity to see if some ATS players would comment on them... but, as you may know, threads that talk about both ASL and ATS often erupt into flames. So I've been reluctant to take a chance. Mark's post on the ASL thread reminded me that ATS isn't the only popular impulse-based game around.

Martin Moyer wrote:
If I see squads moving to surround me, I would probably try to do something to stop them instead of just sitting there and letting everybody finish moving before I reacted.

A problem that almost all wargames suffer from is that the player has telepathic mind-control over all of his units: they will do exactly what you want them to do, exactly when you want them to do it. In a real battle you, the opposing commanding officer, could certainly react quickly to a flanking maneuver... but your reaction is likely to be: (a) figure out what those moving troops are trying to accomplish, (b) decide if the correct response is to retreat, hold firm, or counterattack, and (c) having decided to counterattack, issuing the appropriate orders to the appropriate units. In the meantime my units have reached the building and are setting up firing positions. But I don't think this proves anything, because ASL's alternating moves can be equally "unrealistic" in other situations.

Martin Moyer wrote:
I think that the issues that people have with the LnL system may have to do with the fact that they've developed certain tactics for ASL that won't work the same way with LnL.

I agree that different tactics are required. I would jump at the opportunity to play LnL with an experienced player, just to really see what the game is like... but I would be a complete newbie blundering about trying to figure out what to do to play effectively.



Trevor Murphy wrote:
For big, mismatched scenarios, I don't really see how ASL phases would model 'reality' especially better than impulses, since the defender is essentially forced to look at a big wave of units swarming in and pick where to shoot. I do see how this could be annoying, though, since there's a tendency to wait before firing in case your opponent is trying to draw your fire with sacrificial lambs. In either case, the guy with a lot more units is going to have more options.

Well, in ASL, the ability of the defenders to shoot multiple times, and leave residual firepower in a target hex that will continue to attack anyone else who moves into it later in the turn, really goes a long way in terms of keeping a numerically superior attacker from just having everything his way. But, as I said, the rules that make this happen are long and complicated and, when first encountered, actually do not seem to make much sense at all. There's much to be said for simplicity as a virtue... even though I will, of course, prefer the ASL treatment anyway.

I think I should note that ASL's defensive fire rules do not prevent a numerically superior attacker from charging an out-numbered defender and overwhelming them in melee... but they do make it likely that such an attack will suffer very heavy casualties, which is what one would realistically expect, given the historical lethality of WWII small arms & machine guns at close range.

Trevor Murphy wrote:
I've been reading Ledig's 'The Stalin Organ' recently, and one thing it drives home is that ASL and ATS and LnL can't really hope to model what really happened in something as chaotic and horrible as the real war, so it's better to go with the system that seems the most satisfying and fun to you.

Agree! I firmly believe that the best game in the world is the one that YOU enjoy playing the most.

(Which means I can't claim that ASL is the best game in the world, because it is only my 2nd-favorite game!)

***

From this discussion, and looking over the LnL rules, and reading some of the LnL reviews and session reports here, the image I get of Lock 'n Load is that it is what I would call a "firefight" game: small number of units involved; fighting mostly at close range; swirling, chaotic action (as opposed to a more static battle with a regular "front line" and limited opportunities for movement); and fairly bloody, with casualties mounting up quickly.

Would that be a fair assessment?
 
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Martin Moyer
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Quote:
the image I get of Lock 'n Load is that it is what I would call a "firefight" game: small number of units involved; fighting mostly at close range; swirling, chaotic action (as opposed to a more static battle with a regular "front line" and limited opportunities for movement); and fairly bloody, with casualties mounting up quickly.


I would agree with your assessment of LnL being more of a firefight game than anything tactical. Some may not agree with that but the length of the scenarios (usually six turns) and the size of the maps (15 by 8 hexes - hexes are technically 50 meters wide but just seem smaller) do make this game more of a chaotic firefight than about a grand battle.

Casualties can mount up quickly in this game, but I also think that the combat system does a good job of "protecting" units that are in defensive terrain by having the terrain modifiers essentially modify both the "to hit" chance as well as the "damage" result. This makes it very dangerous to send men into open terrain but that is also where people have a problem with the impulse system and the "single shot" rules since you could send multiple squads across open terrain in different impulses and a single squad would only be able to fire at one enemy squad even if they all passed through the same hex.

Quote:
A problem that almost all wargames suffer from is that the player has telepathic mind-control over all of his units: they will do exactly what you want them to do, exactly when you want them to do it. In a real battle you, the opposing commanding officer, could certainly react quickly to a flanking maneuver... but your reaction is likely to be: (a) figure out what those moving troops are trying to accomplish, (b) decide if the correct response is to retreat, hold firm, or counterattack, and (c) having decided to counterattack, issuing the appropriate orders to the appropriate units. In the meantime my units have reached the building and are setting up firing positions. But I don't think this proves anything, because ASL's alternating moves can be equally "unrealistic" in other situations.


Just to touch on this one last time; I think the main difference here between LnL and ASL is that in LnL your squads in the building probably don't get the time to set up fire positions whereas in ASL you do.
 
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richfam wrote:
i* I find scenarios where one side greatly outnumbers the other to be highly interesting. For example, one of the most popular ASL scenarios has 50 Russian squads attacking 8 German squads! How well could Lock 'n Load's impulse system handle a huge mismatch like that? How would it play out (in general terms, of course)?


I like these scenarios too. There are several sceanrios like this in LnL. I think to "Undeniable Courage" or "Brothers In Arms". These two ones are maybe my favorites. And it works. It's maybe not a 50/8 ratio, but it's near. If I had to design this sort of scenario, 10 against 100, the 10 men will be represented by 1 or .2 half squad, one or two heroes, one leader with a MG, and some special skill card like "Decisive", or "Fanatiscism" etc. These scenarios are possible with LNL, and pretty funny, and tense.

richfam wrote:
* How well would the impulse system scale with the size of a scenario? My thinking here is that (a) an alternating impulse system would tend to play a bit slower than one where a side's units all move or fire at once, and (b) you would need to mark every unit as it activates, to keep track of who has moved/fired and who hasn't. Obviously, neither of these are a problem with small scenarios, but as the number of units in the scenario increases, is there a point of diminishing returns where the impulse system causes more delay than players might accept? For example, would a Lock 'n Load version of a massive ASL Red Barricades campaign game be playable, or not? Perhaps the question I'm really asking is if it would be more or less playable than the existing ASL version?


I don't know. I'm testing some pretty huge scenarios (nothing like Red Barricades, but pretty big) for LnL. It needs maybe more concentration than with a sequenced game if you want to achieve what you planned, because you always have the opportunity to react to the ennemy's actions and diversions but it well render the chaos and tension of the battle. I don't think there is an issue with the spent time.

richfam wrote:
* How does one execute a flanking maneuver with an impulse system? For example, in ASL, I could send a number of squads off to occupy an empty building on my opponent's flank. Assuming that they survive any defensive shots he might have at them as they move, they'll present him with an unexpected problem that he will have to react to on his turn.
But with an impulse system, I don't see how an effective flanking maneuver could be conducted. If I send a squad to that empty house, my opponent could react immediately and send one of his squads there as well, etc. Instead of catching my opponent off-guard with an unexpected maneuver, we end up instead with a big melee in that house.Without the ability to move a large number of troops at once, it seems that one's maneuver options would be sharply limited; that your opponent could always react instantly to anything you do. Is this true?


I'm not sure to understand the problem here, sorry. First, with a leader activating his hexes and all the adjacent hexes, you could virtually activate 21 squads (3 squads per hex = maximum stacking) and move them together (in the same impulse). I never saw that hapens (!) but it's possible. Second, when your opponent send his squad, you can react too and stop him with an opportunity fire. Actually, the impulse system makes that you always have to cover your men and manoeuvers if you want to succeed.


richfam wrote:
* * This is sort of a continuation of the previous question: How does one conduct a fallback defense with an impulse system?
.


In several turns. Part of your men fire and cover your retreating men. They will exchange their roles in the next turn.

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