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Subject: Can someone help explain hex/counter games and stacking? rss

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Stephen Slotten
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I've only been playing wargames for about a year now. I have no problems with CDG's, point to point systems, or hex and counter games where the stacking limit is one unit per hex. I'm running into problems with hex and counter games where you can stack more than one unit per hex. I'm not grasping intuitively from the rules on how these games should be played.

For example I'm attempting to play Meatgrinder from ATO Magazine (Vietnam, the battle of Xuan Loc). Each infantry battalion in the game is made up of four companies (represented by counters) and the rules give a stacking limit of four companies per hex plus a leader plus a headquarters for a total of six counters that can be in a hex. So, in a hex battlefield where I'm trying to capture objective spaces, does a game like this play out with a bunch of counter stacks roaming the board? Or am I supposed to be splitting these stacks out into formations to form a 'front'?

How do you guys play hex and counter games where counters are allowed to stack in a hex? Do you keep all your units together, up to the stacking limit per hex? Or do you send them out one counter per space? I hope I'm describing this correctly. I'd appreciate some insight. I think what's hampering my understanding is that beyond block games or CDG's I play these types of games solo so I've never actually seen a game like this played out. I'm just trying to figure it out all on my lonesome.

Anyway, thanks.

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The answer to your question is situational. Sometimes stacks are a plus, sometimes they are a liability. Depends on objectives, enemy defenses, your supporting units, etc. Your answer is also dependent on each system and its particular ruleset.

I don't mean to be vague, but from my three decades as a wargamer, that is the most honest answer I can give you.

FWIW, and this may be obvious, but the stacking rules for a particular game are usually intended to simulate maximum unit concentrations, either physically or historical standards, for a given area.
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Seth Owen
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skslotten wrote:
I've only been playing wargames for about a year now. I have no problems with CDG's, point to point systems, or hex and counter games where the stacking limit is one unit per hex. I'm running into problems with hex and counter games where you can stack more than one unit per hex. I'm not grasping intuitively from the rules on how these games should be played.

For example I'm attempting to play Meatgrinder from ATO Magazine (Vietnam, the battle of Xuan Loc). Each infantry battalion in the game is made up of four companies (represented by counters) and the rules give a stacking limit of four companies per hex plus a leader plus a headquarters for a total of six counters that can be in a hex. So, in a hex battlefield where I'm trying to capture objective spaces, does a game like this play out with a bunch of counter stacks roaming the board? Or am I supposed to be splitting these stacks out into formations to form a 'front'?

How do you guys play hex and counter games where counters are allowed to stack in a hex? Do you keep all your units together, up to the stacking limit per hex? Or do you send them out one counter per space? I hope I'm describing this correctly. I'd appreciate some insight. I think what's hampering my understanding is that beyond block games or CDG's I play these types of games solo so I've never actually seen a game like this played out. I'm just trying to figure it out all on my lonesome.

Anyway, thanks.



I don't know that specific game, but it sounds like it's a tactical game and in that case you'll probably tend to spread the units out rather than stack them unless the rules give some benefit for a stack. (In some games, for example, the morale of the unit or its firepower might be greater if all the units in a battalion are together.

As a general rule in hex-and-counter wargames you'll tend to spread units out to cover a front if the unit density is high enough to allow it. Zones of control can help units cover more territory defensively. Units will tend to concentrate into stacks when you need to attack a position and occasionally you may put a big stack on a key defensive position.

The key factors are the terrain, unit density, unit mobility and the rules in play. At one extreme you may have a game with very low unit density with highly mobile units in which case your forces will tend to operate in "clumps" of stacked units. At another extreme you may have a game with sufficient units to cover the entire front and in that case you'll tend to spread the units out in order to do that.

You might try getting one or two of the Victory Point Games Battlelesson games which will help make that more clear -- Assault on Sevastopol would be a good one because it involve stacking.
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Leo Zappa
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First - welcome to the world of hex-and-counter wargaming, which to me is the best form of wargaming!

Now, somebody will do a better job of explaining this than me, but I'll give it a shot.

The decision as to whether or not to keep a set of counters stacked or spread out will depend on what you need to accomplish with those units. If you are defending a single hex on the map, it may make more sense to keep all of the counters stacked in that hex. However...

If you are playing a game where you need to defend multiple points, you will obviously need to break the stack into smaller bits, each defending a particular point. On the other hand...

If you are attacking multiple points, you will also need to break up your stack, but be careful. If the game has supply line rules, you may need to cover even more ground, perhaps placing single units in a number of hexes to prevent enemy units from cutting your supply lines by moving around and behind your units. One thing to consider here - does the game include rules for Zones of Control (ZOC)?...

Zones of Control, or ZOC's, usually indicate a ring of the six hexes adjacent to the hex in which a counter(s) sit, into which the counter in the center hex is considered to exert some kind of influence. In many games, a unit must end its movement when it enters an enemy ZOC. To your question regarding stacking, in a game with ZOC's, you can essentially create a continuous line by placing units in every other hex, allowing you to cover more ground with less units and still preventing enemy units from cutting your supply lines. Continuing on...

If you are attempting to attack an enemy position, it is often advisable to split your counters off such that you can at least partially surround the enemy unit. That's because in many cases, the combat results table will force the enemy unit to retreat, rather than take direct losses. In games with ZOC's, units forced to retreat through enemy ZOC's are generally destroyed instead. This kind of rule provides a powerful incentive in such games to attempt to surround the enemy unit, rather than to place all of your attackers in a single tall stack!

At the end of the day, the answer to your question depends in large part on the particular rules of the game you are playing, and the particular missions on which you are sending your stacks of counters. Supply lines, zones of control, the nature of the combat results table - all of these factors play into how best to answer your question.

Hope this helped, though it probably didn't!
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Michael Power
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I suspect you may also be having a problem understanding the scale of the game. This is a reference to how much time a turn represents and the size of a hex. Look toward the beginning of the rules. There should be some mention of the scale.

If you can put an entire battalion (600± men) in a single hex you may be playing on a scale where the hex represents 400-600 meters. Also, visualize a unit's movement factor as to how far he can move in a turn.

In open terrain troops should be able to move 2 miles (3520 yds./3.2 km) to 2.5 miles(4400 yds./4 km) per hour. Calculate movement in forest or jungle at about 1 mile (1760 yds/1.6 km) per hour. Imagine the distance and time to get a feel for the scale.
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Igor Kwiatkowski
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Perhaps you can look at stacking like a tool at your disposal: just as your units are able to move and attack to achieve a goal, they can also stack. So if you think you need multiple counters in a hex you do it, if you don't you don't. Just like when you want a unit elsewhere you move it, if it's fine where it is you let it stay.

Also point to point systems and block games allow stacking as well, except the components are not always physically stacked. You have the Julius Caesar by Columbia Games microbadge. A group of blocks in a single location can be called a stack.
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Enrique Carro
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I'm no expert, at all, but I have played Tunisia (from the OCS system of MultiMan Publishing) and the ASL Starter Kit 3, and the stacking in those games is intended for advantage.

In ASL, to form a stack allows to sum all the firepower from the units belonging to that stack, to make a better attack. If a leader is included, he modifies all the dice rolls. But, it also makes all the units vulnerable to an attack on that hex, so stacking units or not is a choice you have to make, depending on the objectives of the scenario.

In OCS, the operational level means that in each hex of the map, a lot of men, vehicles, HQs, etc. are supposed to be (each hex can cober several square kilometres). The attack dice rolls are made counting the odds firepower of the attacker/firepower of the defender, rolling, and then checking on a table the result, so stacking units allows for a better chance on the roll.
The stacking of supplies is basic to this system, because for every attack and defense you must supply your troops.

Hope this helps.
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Igor Kwiatkowski
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kikerl wrote:
I'm no expert, at all, but I have played Tunisia (from the OCS system of MultiMan Publishing)

Now THAT is true humility. I would say OCS is an expert system if I ever saw one (admittedly I haven't seen WiF or The Campaign for North Africa).
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LEUNG CHI KEUNG
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Welcome to Hex/Counter wargaming!
"Stacking of multiple units at a location" is for concentrating the fire powers from the units, and to provide better odds, for better winning chance in a battle. The drawback is these units could not cover large area and subject to being cut off from the main army, and have great penalty of being "isolated". These concepts were first introduced by Avalon Hill's wargame.
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olivier R
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This is actually quite a complicated question, but usually there is some sort of trade off involved. Of course it depends on the scale and also to some extent on the period. A lot of games will punish you or discourage you from stacking too much. There is often a price you have to pay for concentrating all your firepower. For instance, it can make you more vulnerable to preparatory fire or artillery because all units in the same hex will be subjected to a single combat result. This can be compounded by modifiers for density like in OCS for example. In this game the penalty for bunching up against an artillery barrage can be so severe that you really want to avoid doing that.

Generally speaking when attacking, you want to concentrate your firepower against a small portion of the enemy force, aka a schwerpunkt. But that doesn't necessarily mean stacking in a single hex. If you can manage to have your units spread out but in a position where they are able to contribute to the same attack together then it is often the best option. You are less vulnerable to return fire or spoiling artllery barrage which are sure to come your way when the opposing player sees you massing for an attack.

In defense, you have the same problem but you are also torn between the need to maintain a front line and cover as much ground as possible or to hold key positions and the necessity of forming a group of units that you will use to counter attack or react to the moves of the enemy. This is the classic fire brigade tactic : a group of mobile units behind the front line with freedom of maneuver aka not in a zoc, which will be used either to maul enemy thrusts or plug holes as a reserve. And this can lead you to thin out some areas of the front to constitute this reserve.

On the other hand though, if you spread out too much, sometimes the enemy can gang up on isolated group of units and defeat them one after the other.



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Enrique Carro
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Quote:
Now THAT is true humility. I would say OCS is an expert system if I ever saw one


Thanks for the undeserved remark.
I played Tunisia against
Antonio B-D
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the chap that makes the monthly list on MMP preorders, he's the expert, and he helped me a lot.
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Robert Stuart
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As said earlier, the advantage of stacking is greater concentrated power; the disadvantage a narrower front and loss of flexibility. When and where to stack your units, and how much, is one of the elements which goes into brilliant play and winning. Whether on the offensive or defensive, you want to place your enemy in a dilemma -- hard to do if you have a small number of big stacks marching around, or if you're holding only a few key points, allowing the enemy free access to your flanks or rear. At the same time, you want to have large stacks defending key hexes, if you're on the strategic defensive, or to overwhelm the enemy at points of weakness, if you're on the strategic offensive.
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Remember - always practice save Hex with your counters - the amount of hex you have on your counters is dependent on the ability of the counters to deal with Hex activity.

In tactical games, it is generally risky to stack - more targets for incoming fire.

Too many Hexual relations in one place can create an orgy of violence.

With larger scale games a well stacked hex often provides a massive amount of support for that Hex, but the other Hexes will have no support as the other Hex objects lacking adequate support sag.

This can allow an end run around the Massively Support hexes resulting in an unclasping of that Hex and/or unexpected rear area penetrations.
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Warren Bruhn
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In the old SPI/TSR Great Battles of the American Civil War tactical system (Terrible Swift Sword, Richard Berg) there was a limit on how much firepower could come out of each hexside. More firepower stacked in a hex could fire out of different hexsides, but it often didn't pay to stack more than what could fire out of a single hexside.

In The Devil's Cauldron there is a disadvantage in stacking too many units because a more dense force in the hex becomes a better target. I believe there are other games that modify the target's vulnerability based on density in a hex.
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Hugo Olsson
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Well if you're unsure how to begin, why not start one side with maximum stacking and the other with no stacking at all? Just for practice. That way you'll probably quickly figure out for yourself the pros and cons of stacking and dispersal.

My guess is that you'll find that the stacked side will have to spread out a little to protect flanks and avoid getting surrounded, while the dispersed side will have to concentrate at some points to get a little extra oomph where it's needed.

Just my 2 cents
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Robert
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desertfox2004 wrote:
... welcome to the world of hex-and-counter wargaming, which to me is the best form of wargaming!


...almost moved me to tears thumbsupthumbsupthumbsup
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Ted Spencer
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skslotten wrote:
...in a hex battlefield where I'm trying to capture objective spaces, does a game like this play out with a bunch of counter stacks roaming the board? Or am I supposed to be splitting these stacks out into formations to form a 'front'?
Your question goes to the heart of wargaming: how do I use my forces, when and why?

You first question should always be "How will I know when I've won or lost the game?" What are your victory conditions? You say capturing spaces is an objective, but it isn't clear how meeting that objective moves you closer to victory.

A space might give you points towards a victory point range. Or a specific number of captured spaces might give you victory. Victory points and victory are very different. Does having a presence in the space bring victory or bring you closer to victory?

Sometimes you have to hold the space for at least a turn. Sometimes you only need to be the last side to pass through it. All that will go into your decision to be a monster stack roaming the board or splitting the stacks.

The clock is also a consideration. How many turns do you have left? Are reinforcements expected on a dependable or undependable schedule? If you know for a fact that reinforcements are coming in on turn 2, you might take a chance you wouldn't take if you weren't sure.

Your question truly is the heart of this fascinating hobby, and for that reason it is the right question to ask. Let your available forces, the condition of the board and the time you have left give you an answer.

Best of luck. Great question!
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Stephen Slotten
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Thanks to everyone for the replies, I really appreciate it. I know I didn't respond to everyone's posts individually, but you've all given me a lot of great stuff to think about. Thanks!

So lots of great advice here. One thing I'm taking away from this is that I need to read the situation and use my units accordingly (duh, right?) So for my game of Meatgrinder, one thing I need to consider is the ZOC. The rules state that a stack of at least three companies in a hex exert a ZOC that will hamper enemy movement. So if I stack my units I can take advantage of the ZOC, if I don't stack, then I get no benefit. However, this particular game has artillery bombardments that happen at the beginning of each turn. So If I have units stacked and that hex is targeted and hit by artillery, well then I run the risk of having an entire battalion wiped out.

So I guess to understand hex and counter games I have to take it game by game, look at the objectives and victory conditions, and use the ruleset to determine how stacking really affects the game. Since I use my solo sessions as a more of a study of the rules system and the game as a whole as opposed to playing competitively against someone, I'll try out a few ideas with stacking and let them play out to see what happens. I guess that's how we learn eh?

Again, thanks.

edit: added a few more thoughts
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bruinrefugee
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skslotten wrote:
Thanks to everyone for the replies, I really appreciate it. I know I didn't respond to everyone's posts individually, but you've all given me a lot of great stuff to think about. Thanks!

So lots of great advice here. One thing I'm taking away from this is that I need to read the situation and use my units accordingly (duh, right?) So for my game of Meatgrinder, one thing I need to consider is the ZOC. The rules state that a stack of at least three companies in a hex exert a ZOC that will hamper enemy movement. So if I stack my units I can take advantage of the ZOC, if I don't stack, then I get no benefit. However, this particular game has artillery bombardments that happen at the beginning of each turn. So If I have units stacked and that hex is targeted and hit by artillery, well then I run the risk of having an entire battalion wiped out.

So I guess to understand hex and counter games I have to take it game by game, look at the objectives and victory conditions, and use the ruleset to determine how stacking really affects the game. Since I use my solo sessions as a more of a study of the rules system and the game as a whole as opposed to playing competitively against someone, I'll try out a few ideas with stacking and let them play out to see what happens. I guess that's how we learn eh?

Again, thanks.

edit: added a few more thoughts


Congrats on joining the way! And you're dead on.

I find it helpful to visualize actual situations...or at least my flawed memory of them. Like in Normandy, the U.S. breakout was triggered when the remnants of Panzer Lehr on the front line got bombed into oblivion with no reserve. (stacked too close)

And the 6th Army found itself surrounded in Stalingrad when it's flank protection was thinned (not dense enough) and was hit by massed Soviet forces (big stacks). Or something like that.
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