Monday, March 28, 2011

Die Franco Prussian Fighting

Sunday afternoon, a few us arrived at Bob Jones’ house to play a large Franco-Prussian War battle.

When I say large, I mean large. We used Bob’s 10mm FPA troops (which are spectacular, by the way), so, with the “little fellas” out there we had 33 French units and 41 Prussian units involved (72!). Yes, the units were of all types – infantry, cavalry and artillery. This resulted in 472 French dice and 559 Prussian dice.
We have not yet played a Die Fighting game with this many troops, or dice for that matter. So, we really didn’t know what to expect.

It took us about an hour to rate both armies and talk about the terrain and point values. We were not “business-like” as we did this as we talked about numerous things (even non-game things) during this time. The battlefield was arranged as shown in the below image. The blue icons show the terrain class (I, II, etc.) and the points value of the terrain – paid in dice should it change hands.

The scenario began with the French deploying in the area indicated on the map image. More on this in a moment. The Prussians marched onto the board with their infantry and artillery on the roadway. They were allowed to come on deployed and up to 12” on either side of the roadway. The Prussian cavalry, 6 heavies and 4 lights, could enter the board anywhere along the Prussian side of the table.

Back to the French deployment, because of the unknown entrance of the Prussian horse, the French deployed one long thin line of infantry along the entire length of the board. Their horse (6 heavies and 4 lights) was deployed to either flank of the Chateau area but with no infantry to their front screening them from fire.
Now, I think that this is a poor deployment – and this game makes you pay for that, as it should. In a game were resources (time, speed, energy, etc.) are infinite, the French simply could have moved out, captured terrain or reinforced their primary position – opposite of the Prussian entrance.

At this point, I should apologize for the calling deployment of my good friends “poor” – but they know I mean no harm to them. We’ve all made tabletop errors, but we’ve always had a good time regardless of outcomes!

A better deployment may have been to concentrate on defending the area opposite the entrance of the main Prussian army. Defending it in depth, having a reserve and having units that can threaten our flanks. Sure, this would have left portions of the battlefield undefended to the Prussian cavalry, but who cares. Part of a general’s job is to identify where the battle will be. Besides, the French cavalry could be placed in a position to counter the movements of the Prussian cavalry.

Another point on the French deployment: Suppose that the French had simply conceded the woods to the Prussians by not defending it at all. If the Prussians were to capture it, they would gain 15 resource dice. That’s not that many dice, let them have it. There is no guarantee that they would have captured it, or even would have tried to capture it (after all, Prussians make mistakes too). If you defend too much, you defend nothing.

Anyway, along with the battle, images and more thoughts.

I forgot to bring my camera along with me this day, bummer, but I did bring along my iPad2 – which has a built-in camera. As you will see, these images suck. The quality of the iPad2 camera is just below conscript militia armed with pikes being sent to defeat a Panzer company. OK, maybe that is extreme, but it does, sorry about image quality.

We battled each other for about 3 and one-half hours – and – completed 1 and one-third turns. Yet we reached a decision in the battle. The French had 56 dice remaining and the Prussians 280. We were astounded by reaching decision in such a short number of actions (the French conceded, but too late to salvage a “win”). On the surface, I am thinking “gee, this is odd – not even two turns. But there were a couple of factors that played a part.
  1. The Prussians moved up as aggressively as possible (and began shelling the French in the Chateau areas). This gave the Prussian army depth and mass at the point of decision. We simply could overwhelm the thin, local resistance with artillery and infantry.
  2. The French, having blown their deployment quickly got desperate and threw in the cavalry without any support whatsoever. Recall that the woods were 15 dice value if taken by the Prussians. That would have been a bargain to the French considering that the heavy horse losses gave the Prussians 16 dice each. This was the chief cause for the depletion of French dice and the drastically higher number of remaining Prussian dice.

To be sure, the French heavy cavalry charge in the center did drive a hole into the Prussian lines and did cause a delay in that segment of the line’s advance. A couple of Prussian artillery and infantry units were driven back and 1 artillery and 1 infantry unit were destroyed. The depth of the Prussian lines would be their undoing. It was – in the end – without any tactical gain and the chief cause of the strategic defeat.

So, given the circumstances, I don’t have an issue that we reached resolution so quickly in terms of actual turns. Interviewed years later, a Sioux participant at Little Big Horn said that Custer’s men were wiped out in the time it takes “a hungry man to eat his dinner”. I think that a better French deployment could have placed the game in a more “typical” number of turns. But, the Prussians did use half of their dice pool in 8 action segments (and this is after getting many, many dice from the French), so we did think that some scenarios may benefit from some additional dice allocated to the armies.

With regards to the size of the battle, like any rule set, the length of a turn is most often equal to the size of the army involved (more units to move, more to shoot, more to rally, etc.). But the core mechanics of the game were fine – they did not buckle under the weight.

No matter how many charts or protractors you have, our little battles can never really simulate actual battles. But, I enjoy the fun of looking at a tabletop battle sort of “archaeologically” afterwards. In Die Fighting, there are enough dice being rolled over the course of the game to mitigate the extremes of luck. So, I don’t believe that a player can say “hey, I really rolled a lot of ones.” If that truly is the case, then it comes down to player decision making – deployments, maneuvers, battlefield awareness. I love making decisions in games, even bad decisions!

When digging archaeologically into a tabletop game, I think that if you can discover player mistakes and possible remedies and identify player heroics and their causes – and relate them to actual game mechanics and the flavor of the period’s history – then you have a game worth playing.

1 comment:

  1. "As you will see, these images suck. The quality of the iPad2 camera is just below conscript militia armed with pikes being sent to defeat a Panzer company."

    Had to laugh (and agree) with that comment!

    Nice post Tony!