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Thunder in the Ozarks: Battle for Pea Ridge, March 1862» Forums » General

Subject: Possible tweaks to the system? rss

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Rick Altemose
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As a Civil War buff, I judge regimental-level games primarily by how well they provide players with the “feel” of Civil War combat. The “blind-swords” system used by Thunder in the Ozarks is, to me, fantastic at giving the player a taste of what it was like to command troops at the regimental and brigade level. That it simulates history while being much simpler and more elegant than its competitors makes it a truly great job of design and development.

For me to make suggestions for improving the system in future games is a lot like me telling Michelangelo how to paint, but for what it’s worth:

FLANKING FIRE. Civil War soldiers rarely stood up to flanking fire, be it at close or at normal range, so a key tactic was to maneuver to achieve such flanking fire. Simplest way to show the importance of this tactic might be to increase the flanking fire combat shift from one column to two, bringing it in line with the close combat shift.

HIGHER GROUND. Many infantry and artillery tactics revolved around gaining higher ground than the enemy. The two or three column close combat shift reflects this nicely at the close combat level, but currently firing up or firing down is the same, no reason to gain the higher ground unless you are anticipating close combat.

The simplest fix might be a one column shift to the left whenever engaging in fire combat with a target at a higher elevation than the firing unit. I like this better than the alternative, a one column shift to the right when firing down, since my impression is that the current combat system is sufficiently bloody.

OVERSIZED UNITS TOO POWERFUL? A large unit firing at the enemy is likely to cause more casualties and morale disruption than a small unit firing, and the current combat system reflects this advantage. For example, a 12 SP unit firing at a 6 SP unit is much more likely to cause depletion and morale disruption than a 2 SP unit firing at a 1 SP unit. I suspect that this advantage of massed fire might be overstated by the combat system, but there is no harm done, in the sense that the worst thing that can happen to the firing unit is that it misses.

Not so in close combat, where the attacking unit can and often does suffer casualties and morale hits. A 12SP unit engaging in close combat with a 6SP unit has a massively greater chance of inflicting damage without receiving damage than a 2 SP unit close combating a 1 SP unit. All other factors equal, the 12 vs. 6 SP close combat will be resolved on the 17-19 column, whereas the 2 vs 1 SP close combat will be resolved on the 4 column. Though both of them are twice the size of the defenders, the smaller unit would have to come up with a 7 column shift to the right to have the same chance of success as the oversized unit!

This discrepancy means that the tactics that work in the game (always close combat with oversized units, never close combat with small units) are somewhat unrealistic. Unfortunately, this is a difficult fix; the current fire and close combat systems greatly reward unit size, and oversize units are rewarded massively.

In future games, perhaps consideration could be given to limiting infantry and cavalry units to 8SPs, using a second (b) counter for oversized units, as is currently done with artillery. This would eliminate the worst effects of over-sized units being excessively powerful, at the cost of increasing the number of counters, no small disadvantage, I admit.

Less effective but less disruptive would be to make mandatory for oversize units the optional rule that prohibits a unit that has ever been broken from being rebuilt all the way to its FR side. There are not that many oversize units that the bookkeeping would be burdensome, and it would somewhat reduce the number of oversize units in the later stages of a game.
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roger miller
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Rick one of the interesting things about making such games is the research. For example was higher ground actually an advantage in fire combat? It was for visibility and seems to have been so for close combat but for fire combat it actually was not an advantage but a hindrance. All black powder weapons tended to be fired a bit high and firing down on your enemy tended to have a lot of shots miss. Firing at a slight uphill on the other hand tended to inflict a lot of casualties.
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Rick Altemose
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Point taken, I'll stop using my house rule of a one column shift when firing upwards.

The problem with oversized units is more worrisome. When these units have high cohesion and can be used with the CIC rule, they become almost game breakers.

For example, before I adopted my house rule of replacing the 12-5 4th Iowa with two separate handmade counters, an 8-5 and a 4-5, I always used Curtis to activate Dodge, which most of the time gives the 4th Iowa two chances to attack/close combat per turn with that 12 SPs. Supported, at 3-1 odds in close combat, which isn't hard to get, the 12-5 unit is almost invulnerable. If it does suffer damage, I withdrew it from combat and rallied it. With 4 cohesion on its BW side and usually two chances per turn to rebuild, it doesn't take long to fix even severe damage. So basically, I had a little Panzer Grenadier unit running around the battlefield attacking and crushing whatever units Price managed to move up. It changes the complexion of the game.
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Steve Carey
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If over-sized units can present their entire SP for Fire Combat, then there should also be a column shift(s) when they are fired upon.

Either have a single simple modifier (e.g., if the target is an over-sized [9+ SP] unit, 1 Column shift right] or have a scaled modifier based on the unit's size.

A different way to deal with over-sized units is to make it harder for them to Rally and Recover (additional -1 CR modifier), representing the command and control difficulties of such a large body of men.

I understand that there are a lot of modifiers already, and we certainly don't want to turn Blind Swords into GBACW, but over-sized units are one of the (very) few things that bug me just a bit with this fantastic system.
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HERMANN LUTTMANN
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Thanks for the thoughtful list of suggested changes, Rick! You can certainly modify your version of the game as you see fit - I would never claim that the system is perfect. I appreciate your and Steve's remarks about large units. As you see, we did toy with the idea of splitting large units, as with the 36th IL. I would actually prefer doing that where practical but countersheet space limitations don't allow that possibility. By the way, I just checked on the Longstreet Attacks countersheet and there are a very few 10 SP units, but the vast majority fall into the normal range of sizes. In fact, there are a ton of smaller units in that game.

Again, any suggestions to improve the system are welcome and Roger and I would certainly consider altering it if we felt the change would help the system overall.

Thanks!
Herm
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Mike Willner
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Great discussion about a great system that has made it into my top 10 favorites.

I think large units being too effective could probably be addressed by making them more vulnerable to defensive fire. Some kind of density column shift for units over 8 SP. This would make repeated "Panzer Division" attacks much more wearing and the unit would spend a lot more time recovering and rebuilding.

Easier and more economical to add a lime to the CRT than to add counters to the game.
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roger miller
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Large units are not an advantage in this system over having two smaller units. I know that seems counter intuitive but its true, we tested a number of units split or not split in the game and any time you split a unit it becomes more powerful.

Reasons why.

First it now has twice as many steps and has much more staying power in combat. This is huge in that when that 12 is depleted it loses 6 sp and some cohesion and is often then pulled back to rebuild so the USA loses 12 sp from the line. Put same loss on an 8 and you only lose 4 sp and still have the other 4 untouched. One can pull back while the other holds the line which makes rebuilding much easier.

Second it has more frontage and it is harder to flank. Big deal in Clemons field where this unit is often fighting against many CSA units.

Third the combat table is not a straight mathematical progression. A 12 firing has a 75% of getting a result on a 4 cohesion. A 6 firing has a 50% of getting a result on a 4 cohesion. So two sixes, or an 8 and a 4 put out more casualties then the 12 does. This can not be overstated in this game. Massing fire does increase your chance some on that combat but if you are trying to wear down an enemy's line keep your fire spread out for as many shots as possible.

In close combat the 12 has a disadvantage over two units in that if two units attack defensive fire can only stop one of them. (barring panic) With 12 its all or nothing. The 12 is not harder to stop by defensive fire then any other unit, its cohesion not strength that a unit defends against fire with. The 3 to 1 to avoid loss due to BD is same if you have one unit or two. So the only advantage the 12 has in any combat is it is two columns higher in close combat for being a bigger lead unit then say an 8. That is 16.6% better against an enemy cohesion of 4. Or, expressed another way, one in six combats it matters. Having a different result one in six times is a quite modest difference.

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Claude Whalen
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rmiller1093 wrote:
Rick one of the interesting things about making such games is the research. For example was higher ground actually an advantage in fire combat? It was for visibility and seems to have been so for close combat but for fire combat it actually was not an advantage but a hindrance. All black powder weapons tended to be fired a bit high and firing down on your enemy tended to have a lot of shots miss. Firing at a slight uphill on the other hand tended to inflict a lot of casualties.


An example of this problem can be seen at the Battle of McDowell during Jackson's Valley Campaign. The larger CSA force was on a hill but an aggressive spoiler attack by the smaller Union force put Jackson's troops on the defensive. During the battle, the 12th GA was silhouetted on the top of the hill and became easy pickings for the better sheltered Union forces. Though the Union forces withdrew from the battlefield that night, they only suffered 259 casualties while the CSA forces lost 420 men.

A nice discussion on rifle fire/range is included on pages 98-100 in "The Gettysburg Companion" by Mark Adkin. Adkin has a nice drawing of a rifle bullet's flight and in this case, the picture is worth a thousand words.
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