Saturday, 18 January 2020

More 4

Two actuaries are grouse shooting. They see a grouse in the air and they both shoot. The first actuary’s shot is 5 metres wide to the left. The second actuary’s shot is 5 metres wide to the right. The actuaries congratulate each other, because on average they hit it.

So, back to BKC4. The following needs to be read in conjunction with the previous post. Once again our imaginary target is an infantry unit with strength 6 and saving throws are ignored.

In the open attackers need 4,5 or 6 to hit. They therefore expect to kill the unit by rolling twelve dice. For every hit that doesn't kill the unit a dice is re-rolled and the same result (i.e. 4,5 or 6 in this case) on any dice will result in the target being suppressed. They therefore expect to suppress the unit by rolling four dice. There are therefore three suppressions per kill.

In light cover 5 or 6 is required. The equivalent figures are 18 dice, 9 dice and 2:1. In heavy cover, with a 6 required, the figures are 36 dice, 36 dice and 1:1. The progressions are therefore:

Suppress:  4, 9, 36
Kill: 12, 18, 36
Suppressions per kill: 3, 2, 1

So, does it require nine times more firepower to suppress someone in hard cover than someone in the open? Maybe it does. Perhaps the rule designers arrived at that conclusion scientifically following much research and designed a mechanism to deliver the required effect. Or possibly they designed a mechanism that happened to give that result and left it at that. Your money your vote.

Would the ratio of suppressions to kills drop as the target moved into heavier cover? I'm going to come right out and say no; in fact I'm going to assert that the exact opposite would be true. And do you know what, I'm not going to offer any evidence beyond saying that it's bleeding obvious. Now, once again it is possible that after much research the designers have established that I am wrong and have designed the perfect system to deliver the result that they want. On the other hand it is also possible that they have not noticed the arithmetic implications of their design, not understood them, or don't care. Once again you can choose for yourself.

As I said in the previous post, whilst this issue irritates me (and let's be fair I'm a grumpy old man in the first place) it's not that important unless one finds oneself in the fifth circle of hell condemned forever to refight Sidi Rezegh by charging pointlessly at infantry dug in on an escarpment. But overall it does seem to me  that the authors are more interested in the ease of playing the mechanisms contained in their rules than the results which arise from them.

 I will return at some point to the issue raised by Hopalong Freitag as to the size and cause of the intersection between the set of mathematicians and the set of wargamers.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Linear versus exponential in BKC4

I have been asked to expand on my statement yesterday that "the benefits of being in cover increase in an exponential manner while the benefits of better quality or greater quantity are linear". Before I do so, let me clarify a couple of points:

  • The sentence in question is constructed using the rhetorical form of antithesis largely for literary effect. It's really only the cover bit that bothers me. Even then it's the least of the reasons that I don't like Blitzkrieg Commander; it got on the list because it features a lot in the Sidi Rezegh scenario.
  • I haven't actually read the latest version of the rules. I have read BKC2, but for BKC4 we are relying on James, who is umpiring. If there is some error in the way we are playing then I will be the first to hold my hand up and acknowledge that it's all his fault, although obviously I will not be angry with him, just disappointed.
  • I am well versed in the higher mathematics, but clearly can't be arsed to do any heavy number crunching, so have therefore limited myself to first order approximations; specifically I have chosen to ignore the impact of saving throws. Should anyone wish to take me on in the area of probability theory I feel obliged to remind you that my first degree was in Mathematical Sciences and to warn you that in doing so you will be entering a world of pain.
  • As a contrast I claim no particular knowledge of Second World War tactics, equipment, combat or anything else battlefield related really; I'm more of a grand strategy sort of guy. Some things don't look right to me - which is why I'm going to mention them - but if you tell me they are OK then I won't argue.

Blitzkrieg Commander is a D6 based game. Units have a number of attack dice and a range, either or both of which may be different for anti-tank and anti-personnel firing. There are slightly different rules for off-table artillery, but they don't change the overall point being made. As the quality of units increases (e.g. better types of tanks) they gain extra dice and/or longer range. Any unit firing within half of its range gains an extra dice. If more than one unit fires at the same target they add the number of dice together. All this is recognisable, perfectly sensible and, I believe, fits being described as linear.

When a unit or more fires on another the dice are rolled. In the open any 4,5 or 6 counts as a hit. If insufficient hits are made to eliminate the target (hits are only cumulative within the firing players turn; they are removed before the owning player's turn begins) then a number of dice equal to the number of hits made is rolled and any 4,5 or 6 causes the target to be suppressed i.e. it can't activate on its next turn. (Suppression markers are not removed until then end of the owning player's turn.) It is, in essence, a game of suppression; make the enemy keep their heads down and then carry out your own objectives. We can see that, in the open, we would expect to suppress a unit once for every four dice rolled against it. Four dice would, on average, result in two hits, and two hits would, on average, result in one suppression.

When in cover two things happen: the to-hit throw required becomes harder and there may be a saving throw (actually armoured vehicles in the open get a saving throw as well). I'm going to ignore saving throws in the calculation because they complicate matters and actually work to skew the thing even more anyway. So in the next type of cover the roll required is a 5 or 6 to hit, and also subsequently to suppress. The same logic as above shows us that we expect to suppress the target for every nine dice rolled against it. In the hardest cover we have to roll a 6 to hit and afterwards to suppress. We therefore expect one suppression for every thirty six dice. It is my contention that the progression 4, 9, 36 is exponential in the everyday sense that the increase is becoming more and more rapid.

It is also my contention that something isn't right. An infantry unit firing at close range at another infantry unit rolls four dice. The target requires six hits to destroy it. So if you get caught in the open you would expect, on average, to get suppressed if the opposing unit activates and fires once and destroyed if it activates and fires three times. If the target is in hard cover then in order to expect to suppress it on the first activation (I use the term 'expect' in the sense of probability theory) you would have to fire at it with nine units. Now, clearly one would anticipate using a larger number of units, but does nine seem right to you? That point is to some extent moot, because the real problem is how many turns you would expect it take you the eliminate the target. The answer is, of course, also one. Having thrown the thirty six dice one would expect six sixes. In other words firing against infantry in hard cover it is as easy to kill them as to make them keep their heads down; or, if you prefer, it is as hard to make infantry in trenches keep their heads down as it is to kill them. Does that make sense?

In reality I am well aware that if you repeated this unlikely 9 vs 1 scenario many times you would on occasion suppress some units without killing them because the other side of the distribution curve contains a whole number of units killed without being first suppressed. To which I reply, so what? 

Thursday, 16 January 2020


Firstly, commiserations to Jonathan Freitag over at Palouse Wargaming Journal, who, in case you hadn't heard, has broken his leg. Get well soon old chap, and I trust you will find a productive way to use the time.

Last night was day 2 of Sidi Rezegh Day 2. You may have formed the impression that I didn't like either the scenario or the the rules, and you would be correct in doing so. I'm not going to say any more about the set up of the game, except to remind you that it involves the Germans charging onto the table, the British moving towards them and then eventually someone winning. I am however going to be rude about the rules. Now, clearly James really likes them, and he is a person of high standing within the wargaming fraternity, whereas I am just some chap who dabbles in toy soldiers in such intervals as a heavy schedule of cultural activities and wanton women allows. Nevertheless, I don't like Blitzkreig Commander.

In no particular order:

  • I don't like the way the benefits of being in cover increase in an exponential manner while the benefits of better quality or greater quantity are linear.
  • I don't like the lack of a target priority rule, which inevitably results in ganging up on the opposition's strongest unit.
  • I don't like the key role played by command radius, a spurious concept at the best of times and one that seems out of place in the period. In practice it is a significantly greater handicap to attackers than it is to defenders and makes it difficult to co-ordinate close assaults with artillery support. There is a small tweak in the rules to somewhat ameliorate this issue, but James has taken it back out of his house rules; wrongly, in my opinion.
  • I don't like the activation mechanism. It is crude and offers the player no real choices; one simply keeps rolling until one fails. I would compare it unfavourably with, for example, the process used in To the Strongest!, which achieves a similar objective, but relies on the player making some real decisions. 
So, to recap, I don't like it.

Laser cutting continues, and I am pleased to say that I think I am beginning to get the hang of the various programmes and machinery involved. Which makes it all the more surprising that my first attempt at a corner for the wall didn't fit together and had to be thrown away. In happier news I have produced another attempt at a warband base, which is shown above squaring off against a couple of Roman units. 

This is it compared to the base I have previously been using; much better I think.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Peace Studies

A number of people seem to have assumed that I was being metaphorical yesterday when I described my film going companion as having a degree in Peace Studies. But no, not so, she was awarded a B.A. Peace Studies by the University of Bradford. It used to be a unique course, in the UK at least, although I don't know if that still obtains. There is a department of War Studies at Kings College, London; the two used to hold an annual football match, maybe they still do. It was a widely held view amongst students reading other subjects at the university in the 1970s that Peace Studies wasn't what one might think of as a 'proper course'. Indeed it was universally accepted that the only timetabled activity that they had each week was a requirement to spend an hour or so one afternoon in the department, lounging on bean bags and drinking herbal tea. My acquaintance, who I only met a few weeks ago, demurred when I put this to her, but she studied in the 1980s, so maybe things had changed a bit by then. I do know a number of excellent stories about one Peace Studies student contemporary of mine - I shall call him Raif - and will perhaps return to them in another post. One of my favourite memories is of him putting theory into practice by attempting to convince two sets of angry football supporters (of Bolton Wanderers and Tottenham Hotspur as it happens) that they should refrain from aggression towards each other because they had more in common than they had differences. Fortunately we managed to rescue him in time.

My new friend is plugged in to the circle of Bradford graduates who remained in the city after graduation and we have discovered that among them are some that I knew back in the day. Very sadly one of those died between Christmas and New Year, before I got a chance to renew our acquaintance. It's a salutary reminder that life is short and getting shorter.

Going back to Peace Studies, as far as I am aware the course hasn't produced any notable politicians. There are however two alumni of the wider university in reasonably prominent positions in the UK at the moment. The first, Clive Lewis, is standing for the leadership of the Labour Party. His flagship policy seems to be the abolition of the monarchy. Whilst I'm all for that, I'm also well aware that it isn't a vote winner; indeed it isn't going to win my vote as a party member for him. The second has appeared in this blog before. At one point the two main parties seemed to be competing as to which had the worst MP named Williamson, and the Tory entry was Gavin, also an ex-student in the Wool City. In the topsy-turvey, Alice in Wonderland world of British politics he, despite being both useless and a self-serving toad, was actually fired as Defence Secretary for being on the right side of an argument. Still, you can't keep a bad man down and he is currently Secretary of State for Education.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

1917 and all that

I have been to see '1917', as I'm sure many readers will have. ["I cannot refrain" interjects the long absent Rhetorical Pedant "from pointing out that you don't have many readers."] Fair point, no offence taken. I have been to see '1917', as I'm sure a high proportion of my readers will have.

"What I am about to order you to do makes no sense at all. Do I make myself clear?"

I went to see it on an IMAX screen, which I think was a good decision because the film is all about the spectacle. The set-up, and therefore the plot, is frankly ridiculous. The first comment by my companion for the afternoon, a woman with so little interest in military history that she actually has a degree in Peace Studies, as we left the screen was "Why didn't they drop the message from an aeroplane?". Why not indeed? Still, I - and she - thoroughly enjoyed it and so would you. It is a feast for the eyes, full of tension and with emotional moments that ring true rather than being overplayed. I do wonder who milked the cow though.

As I am writing about films can I say that I have also seen 'Little Women' and 'Knives Out', both of which were also excellent. Both adopted a non-chronological approach to the narrative and in both cases it worked to great effect despite one being a classic, the fate of whose characters is well known to most viewers before it starts, and the other being a whodunnit, with the need for key details to be kept back until the end. They featured a number of British and Irish actors doing American accents and the only one that didn't wobble at all across the two films was Daniel Craig. I am inclined to believe that's because he wasn't so much attempting a real southern US accent as performing some strange concoction of his own; highly entertaining whatever it was.

Still, it was good to watch Christopher Plummer without constantly expecting him to whip out a guitar and start singing 'Edelweiss', something that always spoils 'Waterloo' for me.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

One half mass times velocity squared

I'm partial to both military history and physics and so was delighted when they were combined in the latest Royal Armouries talk, which was on the development of very large guns since the Crimean War, with (some) reference to the science behind them. Subject's covered ranged from Mallet's Mortar to the Iraqi Supergun, via the Paris gun, Gustav and Dora and the V3.

Mallet's achievement was perhaps the most impressive, given that he started more or less from scratch in his application of the scientific method to the problem which he faced; namely how to destroy the fortress at Sebastopol, the task which was to eventually be completed by Schwerer Gustav nearly a century later. He successfully reverse engineered the required shell size (anticipating Barnes Wallis in his calculations), overcame the problem of circumferential stress in the barrel, and used a modular design for ease of transport. All he didn't manage was to complete the task before the war ended; the gun was never fired in anger.

The weapon that really caught your bloggist's attention was the Pariser Kanone, not least because its range was so great that when aiming they had to take account of the rotation of the earth, a subject which of course has often featured here before. According to the speaker, Paris moved four miles between the gun being fired and the shell landing; it was not a precision weapon.

One interesting analogy used was that the kinetic energy of a projectile leaving the barrel of a WWI 7.5cm field gun (i.e. those included in my Square Bashing games) was equivalent to that of an articulated lorry travelling at 100 mph.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Laser-less focus

Despite Bruce Lee's advice of the other day I couldn't really call myself a wargamer if I didn't wander off topic occasionally. I am still making progress on the modular wall thingie, but I have allowed myself to consider what the laser cutter could do for another of my in-hand projects. As I'm sure I have mentioned before I have decided to beef up my Romans and Ancient Britons. Having made To the Strongest! the rules of choice, and the size of the table therefore determining the size of the squares, I find that the units I have now look a little on the small side. It is easy enough to upgrade most things - just paint some more - but the warbands are more difficult. They are already based in the largest available movement tray that Warbases make, and sticking two together doesn't look good at all. So, what could I knock up myself?

For reasons I have since forgotten, most figures are based on pennies, while those bearing standards, totems and musical instruments are based on 2p pieces as are the chieftain type figures that I use to represent heroes, and casualty markers are on 30mm circular bases; hence the different sized holes in the above.

Add a base layer and one has a movement tray. My idea is that, instead of standing behind the tray and getting forgotten when they move, heroes and casualty markers will be on the same base, at the back. Incidentally, the stuff in the background is what I think will be the production version of the wall tower.

This is the painted up version.

And this is it standing next to the existing movement tray. I think the concept is good, but the design still needs work. One problem is ironically that in trying to represent a 'deep' unit in  TtS! terms, I have made the base too deep. I shall have another go, flattening out the oval a bit  and squeezing the figures together.