Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part V - Off the Grain Defenses

So far I've discussed defenses going with the grain.  On the grain defenses are generally better than "off the grain" defenses, and this article will discuss why Off the grain is worse, and compare the only truly effective "off the grain" defense.

Optimum Off Grain
Other than placing a unit on every hex, similar to the "ideal" defense, the next best defense is to place a unit with one hex gap between each unit.  This arrangement looks like the following:
Optimum Off Grain Defense
Although it looks similar to the Most Efficient On-Grain defense, there is an important difference in the hexes surrounding the unit.  In this configuration each defending unit may be adjacent to three enemy units.  In a best case scenario, the enemy attacks each unit 2:1, but one unit may be attacked 3:1, as shown in the diagram below:
3/2/2 Attack on Optimum Off Grain Defense
 I consider the above to be best case only in relation to the worst case scenario in which every other unit comes under fire at 3:1 odds and the remaining units come under 1:1 attack.  This configuration is shown below:
3/1/3 Attack on Optimum Off Grain Defense

When attacked with a 3/2/2 it will usually lead to a "roll up" of the flanking units.  In the 3/1/3, it will create multiple breaches at a time.
Breaching Optimum Off-Grain Defense
A breach anywhere along the Off-Grain Defensive line leads to a difficult to contain situation:
Off-Grain Breach
If two or more of these breaches occur along the line simultaneously, not uncommon given a 3/1/1 attack, it can lead to isolated units which can be quickly surrounded and destroyed.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part IV - Most Efficient Defense

This article will describe the most efficient arrangement of units for defense.  I have heard this referred to as the "optimum defense", but I consider it the most efficient as that is what it is: It provides the best maximum coverage with minimum exposure to fire.

Most Efficient Defense
The most efficient defense consists of units with one hex distance between them.  It is rare a player has enough units to perform the "ideal defense".  Usually the player has a limited number of units to cover a given area.  The objective then becomes, how best to make use of these units.  The Most Efficient Defense (MED) does just that.  A sample of the MED is shown below:
Most Efficient Defense
Normally, games have a zone of control (ZOC) which prevents units from moving from directly between two units on the first turn.  Thus, on the first turn, each unit may only be attacked by the units directly in front of it.  If a unit does manage to penetrate in the space between two units, it now finds its self being attacked from the front and the rear, an unenviable situation.   In most cases, a good player will have a "reserve" unit hopping between the gaps and bringing withering fire down on any unit attempting to move between two units.

In a purely mathematical exercise, a line of X units can "take up space" equal to 2X+1 hexes wide, but can only come under attack from 2X opponents on the first turn. Thus, 3 units would form a line capable of defending line 7 hexes wide, but they would hold off 6 units on the first turn.

Breaching MED
The MED is a great static defense for holding space with limited units.  However, being outnumbered 2:1 every turn will eventually lead to a breach, as depicted below:
 If left without maneuvering, the defense falls apart.  Each of the remaining units can come under attack from 5 sides, and a 'corridor" exists which leads to the hard of the units.  Units are rarely immovable.

The best counter to the situation where a breach occurs is for each unit to move one hex to "close the gap". If performed, this effectively restores the line to its initial condition, albeit it the 'ends' of the lines are shortened by one space.  In the example diagram, the two units would move one hex closer and the situation is restored.

Proactive Movements
Many defenses are not static, but allow the units to "move".  The MED forces the opponent to choose an area of attack, and the defender may quickly react to "close the line" into an ideal or hybrid ideal at the point of greatest threat.  The following diagrams shows how the lines can quickly collapse to protect from a threat from any direction.

Collapsing lines to the Left (Collapsing to the Right is a mirror image)

Collapse to the Center
 This brings the maximum amount of firepower and depth to quickly come to aid of units under attack.  If necessary, units may also "collapse backwards" to achieve the same results with a loss of one hex of territory.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part III - Nuclear Defense

Back in college (and before) I played lots of hex grid war gaming against various opponents.  Against one opponent in particular the armies would "advance" in a very wide formation with lots of space between units. I finally couldn't understand why he advanced his units in that way (and only in certain game), so I finally asked him what the heck was going on.

The answer was one I never suspected, "Because we have nukes."  I stared at him dumbfounded until he explained, in great detail, how the nuclear/chemical rules greatly affected his thinking.  We debated (argued more likely) passionately about the benefits/cost of the units until we agreed on few neutral points:
  1. It provided a minimal benefit in a static situation
  2. If maneuvering is not performed, it is easily overcome.
  3. It usefulness in any game which does not include Nuclear/chemical weapons is questionable
  4. It does count as a 'defense' in the strictest sense of the word.
  5. It became known as the 'Nuclear Defense', although I tend to call it the 'Nuclear Advance'.
For completeness of the discussion on Hex defense, this article will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of the 'Nuclear Defense'.

Nuclear Defense
The idea of the Nuclear Defense is to prevent large numbers of units from being wiped out by nuclear or chemical weapons.  Other than a single unit by itself, this is probably the worst for of defense along the grain possible.  A Nuclear Defense consists of units separated by two hexes of distance, as shown below:
Nuclear Defense/Worst Line Defense
This defense permits each unit to be surrounded and attacked on five sides at a time.  If the distance were any greater, the attacking units could move to completely surround each unit and attack on all six sides.  It is from this slight reduction in number of attacking units that we determined it was a form of 'defense'.  This configuration does provide some defense, albeit not much better than none at all.

Nuclear Defense Uses
In war games occurring in the modern era, there is one advantage to the Nuclear Defense.  Usually the game permits the release of 'tactical nukes' or 'chemical weapons'.  These nuclear/chemical weapons have an incredible impact on groupings of enemy units, usually wiping out or severely damaging all areas in the central hex and adjacent hexes.  In situations where nuclear/chemical weapons are potentials, it is advisable to not group units.  In this case, the 'Nuclear Defense' usually prevents the destruction of more than a single unit with nuclear/chemical weapons.

The question becomes, are nuclear/chemical weapons that much of a threat.  Testing this invovled my friend and I setting up several conditions for releasing nuclear weapons and seeing what effect it had on the battlefield.  Normally, we employed the following rules:

  1. We ignored terrain effects for movement prior to nuclear launch.
  2. We permitted firing of nuclear/chemical weapons without penalty.
  3. Friendly units could not be within 2 hexes of an affected hex.  

Under these conditions, the Nuclear Defense worked reasonably well at preventing a tactical nuclear warhead from devastating an army.  I would typically lose 2 or 3 units in Nuclear exchanges, while my opponent would lose only a single unit.

The problem became one of maneuver, when a breach occurred.

Breaching the Nuclear Defense
While space protects from unconventional weapons, it doesn't protect well from conventional attacks.  When breached, a huge gap in the line five hexes wide is formed.  This is usually large enough to drive whole divisions.  After this, the breaching units can quickly wrap around and destroy the remaining units, rolling them up from the inside out.

In test with my buddy, we found this to be a major danger to the Nuclear Defense.  If he managed to time my advance correctly, he could close the gaps and get units into a tight formation which (per our rules of engagement), prevented a nuclear launch.  However, on more than one occasion the Nuclear Defense could not close the gaps fast enough.  One memorable occasion involved the very center unit falling.  Next turn his remaining 5 units in the division were wiped out as my swarmed them.  Now, rather than having six division to protect a front, there were only 5, and the others were too busy trying to get into fighting formation to be of much use.

But not all Nuclear Defenses were unsuccessful.  I have one solid memory when I really would have preferred to use a tactical nuclear weapon, but never found the cost worth the return.  By game end he had launched all his nukes, and I still hadn't fired mine.  The loss of my units were painful, but they managed to slow the assault, not stop it altogether.

Best Use of Nuclear Defense
Overall I'd have to rate the Nuclear Defense as effective for what it is trying to achieve.  It does present greatly diminished returns in using a nuclear/chemical weapon. However, as a static form of defense, without Natural Terrain, it is not successful.

Perhaps the best use for the 'Nuclear Defense' is prior to combat engagements on the way to battles.  This is similar to "column marching" in non-modern war games, where units marched in line formation at higher speed.  If ambushed, those units in "marching order" usually suffered higher casualties than those in "fighting stance".

While moving forward, the Nuclear Defense allows units to advance forward with minimal impact from nuclear weapons.  As the units approach the combat zone, the units need to compress the space between them, reducing the gap as the front is reached.  Natural Terrain may complement or render inviable the a Nuclear Defense.

If Nuclear/Chemical Weapons are not present in the game system, this form of defense should be avoided if at all possible.  If on the Front Lines, this defense should also be avoided.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part II - Hex Combat - Ideal Defense

In the previous entry, we defined Terrain, discussed how the Hexes which partition the boards into spaces may be viewed as terrain, and discussed the three primary ways hexes are used to affect movement.   'Terrain' we defined as "something which affects movement or combat".  "Natural Terrain" has a real life counterpart, whereas Hexes do not.  We then discussed the ways in which various game systems have implemented Hex Style Movement.

In this article we will discuss the impacts of hexes on combat in.  A few grounds rules will be made for this discussion:

  1. No Natural Terrain is considered,
  2. Ranged units (such as artillery) are not considered, combat is only from one hex to an adjacent hex,
  3. Units must end movement if they are adjacent to an enemy unit and, lastly,
  4. Units starting adjacent to an enemy unit may only move 1 hex at a time
This allows us to review the impacts of Hexes on combat.  It also provides a baseline to review the impacts of various Natural Terrains in later articles.

Hexes and Grain
For many of the discussions, it is necessary to discuss "Grains".  A hex normally has six (6) grains.  A Grain consists of a straight, continuous line of hexes crossing only hex sides.  When arranged "along the grain", a series of units are aligned in such a way the units could move from one to the other without having to execute any "turns".
Grain Lines
Combat Limitations
Hexes reduce the impact of combat by limiting the number of units that may impact it at once.  In the case of single unit by itself, a unit may only be attacked on a maximum of six sides.  Normally, such a situation will result in the destruction of the unit.

The objective in combat is normally to breach the enemy's lines to reach some objective.  As such, it is first useful to describe the different forms of defensive arrangements and what happens when the loss of a unit creates a breach.

Ideal Defense
The ideal defense consists of a situation where all units are lined up along a grain line.  The ideal defense means only two units can attack any given unit at a time.  A major drawback to this type of defense is it does not provide any greater means of the defender to counter attack.
Ideal Defense
The best a player can hope for is to wear down the enemy units through attrition or by extending the line faster than the opponent.  In the first case, the battle will usually go to the player with the greatest production capability or the fastest healing rate.  In the second situation, the players will rush to add units to the end of the line until it can "wrap around" the other player's units.

Essentially, this is what occurred in The Great War (or World War I as it is known today).  The weapons of the time (machine guns, artillery and barbed wire) outpaced tactics (large infantry groups).  These led to strongly defensible positions.  These positions were practically impregnable if infantry were entrenched.  The best the generals could hope for was to extend the lines beyond that of their enemies.

When a breach occurs, it usually is a single unit, often with severe damage.  The breaching unit, if lucky, can now bring greater firepower on the enemy line and widen the breach. More than likely the breaching unit will be destroyed, probably by any units held in reserve and the line will be restored.
Ideal Defense Breached
Breaking the Stalemate
The ideal defense ends in a stalemate.  Normally, the only way to break the stalemate is to introduce an element which changes the conditions.  In games, the change in elements could be a technological change, a change in tactics, or a sudden surge in strong units.  Otherwise, it will end with a production battle.

The Great War experienced many of these changes, to greater or lesser extents.

Technological Advance
First, the introduction of Armored Tanks allowed allied units to breach the enemy lines.  However, the armored vehicles of the time were not reliable and the tanks available were never deployed in great enough numbers to make a difference.  When the breaches did occur, they were never adequately followed up, and so the results was essentially the situation described in this article: a minor gap was created, quickly driven back, and the gap filled.  Theoretically, the introduction of the tank in sufficient numbers could have swayed the balance of power, but in The Great War they were ineffective.

New Units
When the Americans entered the war in April 1917 , three years after the war had been going on.  These fresh units allowed the Allies to gain some ground.  Potentially the greatest benefit these units presented to the war effort was a reduction in Germany's soldier's will to fight.

New Tactics
All country's in The Great War fought using antiquated tactics for the advanced weapons of the time.  Germany developed the Ludendorf Offensive, a change in tactics and strategy which made fantastic gains after several years of no advances.  It is arguable at least a portion of these gains were caused by low morale on the allies soldiers, but the gains would not have been possible without the development of infiltration and stormtrooper tactics.  These changes in tactics came too late to save Germany, as the American's arrived on the scene.  However, the change in tactics did manage to disrupt the "Ideal Defense".

Production War
Germany lost The Great War when it gave up its will to fight.  The collapse occurred mainly due to an inability to produce more soldiers, food, and material for the war.  In short, it had lost a production battle.  With starving civilians, ammunition shortages, and the introduction of new weapons of war (Tanks), the end for Germany became obvious.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part I - Movement

I've been playing some Weewar, a hex-based war game.  I've decided write about some of the things I've learned about hex war games.  Some of this I've picked up from reading, most notably The Complete Wargames Handbook by James F. Dunnigan.  Most of it is lessons I've learned through simply playing games.

Terrain Types - Natural and Hex
For war games, terrain is defined as an element of the board which affects movement and combat.  Usually terrain resembles a real-life counterpart: Woods, Houses, Mountains, etc.  Games attempt to simulate the effects these terrains have in real life.  Forests generally take longer to traverse than the same amount of open ground.  Mountains and hills are difficult to traverse, but provide better defensive positions.

One terrain feature found in war games has no real life counterpart: the Hex itself.  We will call the hex inside the terrain "natural terrain" as it represents something found in the natural world.

Hexes and Movement
There are different types of movement used in war games: 6-side movement, 12-side movement, and Intersection movement.  Hexes limit movement by forcing units to usually move in 6 directions. A sample of moving in 6 directions is shown here:

6-Side Movement
6-Side movement means every unit moves across Hex sides.   Units move from one hex to an adjacent hex. Normally, the cost to enter a hex (move cost or MC) is based on the Natural Terrain in the hex being moved into and is modified by any Natural Terrain which might run along the hex side, such as rivers, roads, or bridges.

Units moving in 6-side Movement always begin and end their movement occupying a hex.  It is also easy to see where each unit is in relation to other units, and it is easy to follow.  If using air units in 6-hex movement, each unit can "turn" in increments of 60 degrees.  A sample of 6-hex movement is shown below:
6-Sided Movement (Hex-Side Movement)

12-Side Movement
At least one game I am aware of,  Star Wars: Star Warriors,  uses hexes for 12 point movement.  12-point movement introduces some complexities.  Units may not only move from hex to hex, as in 6 side movement, but they may also move from Hex-to-Hex Line or Hex Line-to-Hex.  The issues with this form of movement is if a unit ends movement on a Hex line, how is range calculated?  Does the unit occupy the hex to the right or the hex to the left?  Games using this movement require special rules to handle this scenario.

A major advantage of 12-Side Movement is it now allows turns in 30-degree increments.  Changing direction can now take significantly more time unless the unit "banks" or hard turns, which usually has more negative consequences.
12-Sided Movement

Intersection Movement
Only one game I'm aware of uses intersection for movement, and it is not a war game in the strictest sense, Settlers of Cataan.  In this case, the unit's move along the lines from intersection-to-intersection.  If it were adapted for a war game, each unit would move in an unnatural jagged line, with turns of 120 degrees.  Its obvious why this movement option isn't used regularly, but for Settlers of Cataan it works wonderfully.

In Settlers the players build Roads from Cities.  Every city may only reside where the lines of the hex converge.  This permits the game to use the cities to gain benefits from the three hexes which surround it.
Movement Along Hex Intersection Points

Relationship Between Triangles and Hexes
A board of triangles is another way of representing hexes.  In this case, moving from a corner of a hex is identical to 6-side movement in a hex.  A game which uses this "triangular" movement system is Chinese Checkers.
Relationship between Hexes and Triangles