Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fighting Formations - The Rest Of The Rules

Matt R came over on Monday evening to give Fighting Formations it's first go. I've discussed the game earlier in some respects (components and the Order/Initiative/Command complex, or OIC as I will call it), but I haven't discussed how the rest of the game works so I'll cover it now. I'll give my thoughts on tactics in a different post.

There are ten different orders that can be given, and their cost changes depending on which side you're playing, but in reality there are four activities that those ten orders result in: Movement, Combat, Morale, and Assets. These are my terms and organization, not the game's, btw.

Dice in FF are not modified by adding or subtracting numbers, instead they are modified by changing the dice pair you use. Everything starts at 2d10 (two ten sided dice), with penalties moving you down to 2d8 or 2d6, or buffing you up to 2d12 or 2d20. As you can see, that last bump is a pretty big one. Dice are used for rallying, combat, and occasionally for assets, as well as for sniper checks during the end of turn sequence.

I should also mention the importance of the Deploy and Muster mechanisms at this point. Deploying is taking a Platoon unit (one with three bars to the immediate left of the unit name) and replacing it with three squads of the same type (one bar next to the name). You can do this after you announce the order type you are undertaking but before actually taking any actions. Initiative cost is paid before you deploy, so it's relatively cheap. Mustering works the same way but in the opposite direction - three squads can reform into a platoon, but require three initiative expenditures and the hex must be under command, either Mission or Tactical. I'll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each in the orders where it's appropriate.

Movement is pretty straight-forward once you understand two concepts - the difference between terrain types and terrain features. A "type" is the predominant element - woods, buildings, marsh, open. A "feature" is an element that is not dominant physically, but that does override some of the facets of the terrain type - roads, walls, hills. The key thing to realize is that the feature will probably affect or override some aspect of the type in the hex in question. For example, it normally costs 2 or more MP to move into a building hex, but if you are on a road then that cost will be reduced. For most experienced wargamers, this will seem pretty standard, but by breaking up terrain into two sub-types it allows the rules to be more elegant as there are assumptions made based on the presence of features.

The other difficult concept has to do with pivoting. Because there are vehicles and guns for whom facing is an essential part of their nature, you need to understand how this works, and it's a little overwhelming at first. For MP-related movement, you can pivot to any hexside for 1MP. If you move into a hex you are facing (and for vehicles and guns this is the only option), you may make a 60 degree pivot for free (and before Op Fire). If you are Advancing (which does not involve MP), you may pivot before you move one hex or after, but not both.

A third complex topic is having vehicles in Column. Buildings and woods that have the center dot over the terrain depiction cannot be entered by vehicles except by road, and only if they are in Column, which is noted by a marker when the unit enters the hex. Buildings and woods that don't have the center dot over the terrain depiction may be entered, but again only in column. Column messes with melee combat, ignores any cover benefits of that terrain, and has a strict stacking limit at all time of three vehicles total in the hex, ignoring guns and infantry. Believe me when I say the last thing you want is to have the enemy's infantry in a building hex with your armored units and the ability to engage in melee combat.

Movement comes in three flavors, Movement, Assault, and Advance orders. Movement is exactly what you'd expect, just movement. Activated units show their movement allowance as well as type - leg, tracked, or wheeled - which determines the cost to enter a given hex. Infantry, of course, is not directional, but guns and vehicles are - basically, anything with a double-wide counter is going to require specific facing and extra rules. Movement is the only way a gun can enter a space containing enemy units. Vehicles may use "reverse" movement to back up one hex at triple cost.

Assault is movement with two caveats - your allowance is halved, retaining fractions, and you may use one MP during your move to engage in fire, whether that's direct or melee, albeit at a hit in dice size. It is also the only order that allows vehicles to enter into melee. In both movement and assault, any MP expenditure, whether it's a stationary pivot, moving to a new hex, or firing in Assault orders, can trigger Opportunity Fire, or OpFire.

Finally, there is the Advance order, which allows activated units to move one hex, providing it is a permitted hex for regular movement, without expending any MP, and thus not allowing your opponent to engage in OpFire. This is the only order that allows infantry to enter into melee.

Rallying is the second general type of order, and there is only one - the Rally action. When a unit has a hit marker generated by an asset or combat, you want to get that marker removed even if it isn't harshing your buzz by limiting fire or movement. If you take a second hit, that unit is eliminated, which means different things if the unit is a platoon vs a squad. Squads are simply removed from the game on the second hit, but platoons are replaced with two corresponding squads, one left fresh (unhit) and the other gets the old hit marker. In general, it's a good idea to deploy your platoon into squads if you get a particular nasty hit type, such as Unconfirmed Kill. At the same time, if they are taking fire then deploying without spreading out the units will only give your opponent more chances to wipe them out quickly as combat affects every unit in a hex under direct fire or barrages.

To rally, all you do is activate the units you wish to rally, then roll the target number or higher that's on the hit marker. There are die modifications for being in cover or with a command marker (not in range but in the same hex), and nerfs for being in melee. Thus, it's possible to get all three mods, which would result in no effect! Some hit markers have a target number in red, which means that if you fail the roll the unit is eliminated (so platoons become two squads as above). Target numbers range from 6 to 18, with the larger numbers tending to be the red ones. If you are going to take a chance on an Unconfirmed Kill hit on a platoon, believe me when I say you want to deploy first so as not to pass that bad boy onto another squad.

Asset management takes, surprisingly, the most orders. Asset cards come in two flavors, Orders and Reactions. You can play a reaction asset any time the card says you can, but you can only play an Order card by taking an Asset Order from the matrix. While playing an Order asset can be cheap (it's a 1 Initiative cost for both sides, assuming there are cubes in that slot), *getting* the cards is exactly the opposite. You can draw 1, 2, or 3 cards for 8, 9, or 10 Initiative respectively, again assuming that there is a cube in that slot on the matrix. In general, you will want to pay 10 if you can as it's more efficient, but there will be times when paying less is required or advisable (such as if the Initiative marker is on your 10 space and you'd like to take another action and your opponent has the Fate card).

Assets range in effect based on your deck, and sometimes assets are given to you at the start of the game, either randomly or specifically. They include artillery that makes Barrage attacks, affect Command values of markers or unit costs, lay smoke, conduct air attacks, or get special weapons like the Soviet anti-tank rifles that make otherwise wimpy infantry into flanking threats on your vehicles. You also need asset cards to discard if you wish to use any Special Actions, which are allowed if the unit in question has the corresponding letter code visible on it's counter. They range from special AP rounds that improve firepower ratings to LMGs in squads that allow for extended range, to laying smoke, to three or four other things I haven't needed to look at just yet. As with everything in this game, assets are great but you need to consider how and when you get them carefully in the context of the OIC.

That brings us at last to combat. While there is only a single order that is specifically combat, Fire, at the same time about half of the other actions can result in combat, whether it's OpFire, Assault Fire, or Return Fire. There are three types of fire, all managed differently - Direct Fire, Melee, and Barrages. Direct Fire is by far the most common.

Direct Fire is done via a differential system that should be fairly familiar to anyone who's played Combat Commander, but with some twists. The system is pretty simple - you state your target and firing unit, you figure out what type of dice you'll use (mods are for range, if the unit is Assaulting per the order, or if your unit is firing outside of it's fire arc and whether or not it has a loose arc (has a turret or swivel) or a strict arc (doesn't) and needed to pivot before firing. Next, you figure out any hindrances between you and the target, based on smoke and terrain features. Figure out if you're firing High Explosive (HE, which correspond to "soft" targets that have Morale defensive values in white-filled boxes) or Armor Piercing (AP, against "hard" targets with Armor defensive values in black-filled boxes), which of course is determined by the unit(s) you wish to target. If there are units of each type in a target hex, you have to pick which type you fire, otherwise it's set for you. Note that not all units can fire both types of rounds, most only fire one.

You roll two dice of the required type and see if either die is at or below the hindrance value (it's always at least 1). If so, you miss. If not, then you add the number on the dice to your attack number for your attack total. The defender then rolls defense for each unit in the attacked hex, adding in any Cover values, always rolling 2d10, and adding in their Morale or Armor value. If the attack total exceeds the defender total, you draw a hit counter from the pool and place it on the unit on it's appropriate side based on the defensive type of the unit. Hit markers that have an F or M on them prohibit the unit from firing or making any movement action, including pivoting or advancing.

Melee fire is very different, but is extremely clever given how complex this could be. In melee, you don't use any of the values on your counter, you simply ask your opponent to pick a target unit in the hex (the reason why you have infantry accompany tanks into building hex melee), look up a target number based on the unit types involved, modify the dice based on vehicles in column, whether or not the attacker is in a platoon, a couple other things I forget, and then roll the dice to see if you hit the target number and generate a hit. This is a brilliant design solution to what has been a consistent bugaboo for tactical wargames - how to deal with this special situation where all the normal rules no longer apply? Infantry can attack tanks, special unit types are suddenly much more effective, but without having to fuss with counter factors. The hit system works exactly the same way as with direct fire, making everything very streamlined and quick-playing.

Barrages come from assets, or occasionally from units. A barrage is very similar to melee in that you compare the two unit types on a lookup table, but with the additional step of determining accuracy. Unlike Combat Commander, you can actually hit the hex you are aiming for. ;-) I also like that you can throw in the Fate card, if you have it, for increased accuracy in some cases. Asset barrages require a command marker in the LOS of the target hex, although some assets like light mortars use a fresh infantry unit instead. Most barrages affect the target hex and the six surrounding hexes, but Soviet rocket attacks affect all units *two* hexes out, so best to be sure you're pointing those things in the right direction.

Finally, a Fire order does not allow OpFire because no MP are expended, but it does allow Return Fire. After the fire attack of a unit is finished, regardless of whether it hits or not, one unit of the inactive player in the LOS of the firing unit may fire on that unit's hex. OpFire, on the other hand, is always used during Assault or Move orders, and can have as many firing units as the inactive player wishes that are unspent, and if they continue to be unspent may fire at the moving unit each time it expends an MP.

At this point you are thinking that anything moving in the open is going to get chewed up pretty good if units can OpFire at will. Except for one thing - Rate of Fire. Each unit has, on it's inactive side, a Rate of Fire rating in a diamond (where the movement allowance box is when the unit is on it's active side). Rate of Fire works exactly like hindrance does, except instead of negating the attack it means that the unit can't OpFire or Return Fire for the rest of the order. The numbers seem to range from 2 to 4, at least in the learning scenario.

The astute among you have noticed that a Fire order doesn't allow for group fire. Nope. I assume that massed fire has the advantage of creating additional hits rather than improving the chance to hit. I'll also note that vehicles have two defensive ratings, one if you are firing at them from outside their fire arc (also called flanking), and this number is often half of what the frontal number is. For example, the StuGIII has a defense of 22 Armor from the front, but only 12 from the flank. So yes, this is a game of maneuver as much as brute force.

There is one final Order that I haven't covered, which is the Sniper action. Taking this Order allows you to do any order underneath it (which means it's cheaper for the Soviets but they can't do an Assault or Advance order as part of a Sniper action), as well as flip the Sniper counter to their side. That's important because during the end of turn sequence, before command levels are cycled (pending to available, tactical to pending, mission to tactical), whoever controls the sniper can roll 1d10. If the number is at or below the number of command markers your opponent has on the board, they have the choice to remove one permanently (of the rolling player's choice) or lower their command range by one for the rest of the game. As good a reason as any to keep your command focused!

I'll also note the Sighting markers, which were not in the learning scenario. This is a brilliant way to show all sorts of negative fortifications (like wire, AT ditches, etc) in a way that keeps your opponent guessing exactly where the problem will be, but also allowing for a very elegant way to set up hidden units without the pain of having to look up hex numbers and/or keep track on a separate sheet of paper. Interestingly, sighting markers are subject to barrages, and possibly direct fire (by the time you're in melee, you know what's there).

And that, along with OIC, is the game. Every scenario is going to have different victory conditions, some of which will involve killing units, some of which will involve taking objective hexes, some of which will involve getting your units off of the board, all determined by the specific scenario. One of the fun parts of CC was that sometimes you didn't know exactly what you got VP for during a game, at least in terms of the objective hexes, but FF is much different in that these are specific maps for specific historical battles at a slightly higher level of command, so having very clear objectives makes more sense than with a squad-level action where the goals are much more localized and often subject to individual initiative or leadership.

In practice, while that seems like a lot of description (and it is, wargames are not simple beasts for simple minds), the game flows very quickly at a pace very similar to CC, although some of the scenarios are much larger and there isn't as much digging for the right cards in your deck. Taking the time to figure out which units to give orders to seems to be the biggest timesink, although deciding which order to take comes in a close second. I'll talk more about my first ftf game in another post, but we were getting in about one turn per hour. I'll also note that we had almost no rules lookups other than for some of the chromier elements (such as whether that second hit on a platoon moves the existing hit marker to the squad - correct - or a new hit marker - incorrect) and exactly what the negative effects of being in column were. The play aids allowed us to conduct barrages and melee without even looking up the rules.

For anyone with any tactical-level wargaming experience, this is a very quick game to learn, although I think it's going to take some time to get good play habits locked in. As someone on the 'Geek said, Chad likes games where you think you need to do what is right in front of you but what you really need to do is remember your victory conditions. In FF, that has more to do with the OIC complex than in building up the orders you have in hand (as in CC), but it's still there. The player with a plan who executes it most efficiently and effectively is going to win games, and that's the way I like it.

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