Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part XIII - Furthest Back First

With all things being equal, players should begin their turn moving and attacking with the unit furthest away from a conflict first.  This is not always possible, but it should be the first consideration.  Why?  Because it provides more options and better reactions to the upcoming battles.  This is particularly effective in Unit-By-Unit games.

The Situation
The attacking units are A and B, the defending units are 1 and 2, as shown in the diagram below.  

Initial Position
 The following rules apply:

  • Every unit may move up to 3 hexes and make 1 attack
  • An attack may be 50% successful
  • A successful attack destroys the defending unit
  • Every unit has an ZOC which stops movement (Interrupting ZOC)
From the initial position provided, the attacking player may move either unit A or unit B first.  These two options examined in detail below.

Moving A First
If Unit A moves first, the following diagram shows the end position of the units.
Unit A Moves First
Regardless of whether the Defender at position 1 is destroyed by Unit A's attack, the furthest positioning Unit B can travel is the hex shown due to movement limitations.  If Unit A's attack is unsuccessful, unit B may attack Unit 1.  Thus, Defender 1 has a 75% chance of being destroyed at the end of the combat round.  However, Unit B has a 50% chance of making an attack at the end of its movement, only if Unit A's attack is unsuccessful.

The Attackers could do much Better.

Move B First
If Unit B moves first, Unit B may attack Defender 1 at 50/50 odds.  There are two possibilities here, Unit B is successful or unsuccessful in the attack.  In a worst case scenario for the attacker, Unit B's attack is unsuccessful.  In this case, Unit A may then move into position and attack as shown in the diagram below:

Unit B Moves First But Attack Unsuccessful
This diagram looks like the one before it, except in this case both Unit A and B make an attack.  The odds of Unit 1 being destroyed haven't changed, 75%.

However, this configuration will only occur 50% of the time.

Move B First - Attack Successful
The real advantage here is if Unit B's attack is successful.  In this case, Unit A may now move adjacent to Unit 2 and make an attack against it.  In this case, there is a 50% chance Unit 2 will also be destroyed.  The diagram for this position appears below:
Unit B's Successful Attack
Final Analysis
The following table summarizes the results of the combat odds based on if unit A or unit B is moved first:
Defending Unit
Odds of Defender Being Destroyed

From this example, by moving Unit B first the attacker gains significant options tactically.  By moving Unit A first, the attacker removes these options.

There are times when this advice may be ignored, usually due to tactical considerations.  Perhaps there is a counter attack capability of Unit 2 which Unit 1 does not have?  Are there enemy units capable of attacking Unit B next turn if it advance too far?  It remains up to the player to decide if the tactical issues outweigh which unit should move first.  But generally, the player's first instinct should involve moving and attacking with the unit furthest back first.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part XII - Know the Units

Offensive Advice -- Finally!
Given the feedback I've received, I should probably make the title larger and italicize it.  However, this article may not cover the 'tactics' everyone is interested in, but again, we must start with the basics.

Know the Units
Knowing the individual units is critical to any form of offense and defense.  In some games, there is little to no difference.  For example, in the game 'Here I Stand', all units are effectively the same based on type.  All Naval Units have the same value, all ground units have the same characteristics.  Only the Ottomans have any different 'types' of units with their Cavalry and Pirate ships.  This does reflect the organizational units of the time.

For most games, units exhibit significant differences.  Regardless of era, these can usually be categorized in the following way:

Infantry - Infantry form the basic unit of every army.  Infantry perform nearly every task equally well, except for naval actions.  Infantry can hold a position defensively, and are expected to assault enemy positions with equal vigor.  Normally, the basic infantry are better at defending a position than attacking a position and so in infantry 'Quantity beats quality' tends to exist.

Armor - Armor units represent units with heavier armament and usually take more effort to bring down.  In modern usage, armored units consist of tanks, self propelled anti-tank guns, and armored personnel carriers.  However, I would argue armor has always existed.  In ancient times Chariots could be considered armor.  During medieval times, Heavy Knights would constitute as armored units.  When looking at ancient Greek city-states, the Greek Heavy Infantry (Phalanx)  could be considered armored units.

Armor units usually do well in offense and not so well on defense.  Usually armored units must travel in larger groups for safety, and so they don't do well where terrain would force the units to space out too much.  Forests, Mountains, and Broken Terrain are anti-thesis to armored units.

Cavalry - Cavalry units perform the role of recon, scout, and follow up after an attack.  Cavalry rarely engages in fights until the battle is over, or nearly over.  Cavalry units tend to move fast and perform 'hit and run' tactics.  Left on their own, cavalry forces will fall to any other unit quickly if it is a sustained operation.  This makes cavalry effective as an attacking force, but not in a 'head-to-head' way.  Cavalry should strike behind enemy lines, at the baggage train or supply lines of the enemy.  They move faster than other units and should strike quickly.  Cavalry can operate over most terrain types effectively.

A common misconception is 'units on horses = calvary unit'.  Heavy Knights often lack the long term speed and endurance necessary for cavalry.  They may execute a 'cavalry charge', but that does not make them cavalry.

Sappers/Engineers - Sappers, or Engineers, perform very specialized roles.  Their combat ability is often rudimentary, if not worse, than common units.  However, they make up for it by having better fortifications or being able to assault fortified positions.  In game terms, these units often have superior attack and defense values than other units in the game.  Sappers require extensive training and specialized equipment to perform their job.  Sappers/Engineers usually fortify a position, or prepare the assault on a position, and then other units perform the defense/assault.  In proper use, Sappers/Engineers will be committed to a battle only after all other units have failed and success hinges on sheer numbers.

Skirmisher Units - Skirmishers, at their most basic, are slower moving cavalry.  They move quicker than the main body of infantry, but are not as strong in either attack or defense as other units.  Skirmishers operate best in difficult terrain and over longer distances.  Skirmishers don't 'hold the line' but 'extend the line'.  A common use for Skirmishing units is to fill in the defensive gaps of the main units.  However, this is not how they are designed to be used.  Skirmishers should harass the enemy from the sides, provide flanking attack bonuses for other units, or exploit a newly created hole and attack unguarded artillery.

Archers/Snipers (Ranged) - Archer units are units with exceptional attack range which are not armored.  Archer units are often weak up front, but their power is to support the main units, bringing fire to bear from a distance.  In the case of modern warfare, where every unit carries guns, the Archer can be considered 'snipers'.  Snipers typically can shoot from much further away than their rifle armed comrades, and with great accuracy.  There is a fine line between Archers and Artillery units, usually depending on the era.  In Ancient times, bowman may be considered as Artillery, whereas in medieval times bowman would be Archers and canon fill the role of artillery

Artillery - Artillery units are another unit I would argue have always existed.  The primary duty of Artillery is to fire from a distance on enemy units.  Later uses for Artillery include the ability to assault, or soften, fortifications.

Traditionally, artillery units affect large areas of space over a long distances, and are weak, or useless, in a close fight.  In some ways, ancient bowman fit this bill as they were used to rain down arrows over an area from a distance.  English Longbowman could be considered an artillery unit of its time, although they also performed the Sniper role.

Siege - Siege units perform the roles necessary to assault enemy fortifications.  Many other types of units may perform the siege role, including artillery and sappers.  Regardless, siege units are required for the taking of fortified objectives.  Catapults, Trebuchets, explosive barrels, and towers are all forms of siege weapons.  Siege units need extra protection from attack.  Even Sappers, which may be a good fighting force normally, usually require extra protection when they constructing tunnels (sapping) under the enemy walls.

Naval - Naval units move on, or under, the water.  That seems pretty basic, but usually naval units are critical to a war plan either as fire support or to protect the supply lines.  Naval units come in many types, but often they perform the same role as an equivalent ground unit (ex: Battleships = artillery, destroyers = Cavalry, etc.)

Air - Air units move through the air.  Like naval units, they may perform other roles (helicopters = cavalry, bombers = artillery/siege, etc.).  There are two major distinctions with Air units, however.  First, Air units normally require a base to which they must return, whereas naval units can remain at sea for extended periods of time.  Secondly, Air units are very responsive and have an incredible reach.  Terrain does not affect movement of Air units, although weather might.  However, Weather affects ground, sea, and air units.

Submarines form an interesting blend of naval and sea units.  Submarines travel beneath the waves, much as aircraft travel above them.  Submarines can remain at sea for extended periods of time, unlike aircraft.  Submarines perform the duty of skirmishers and sniper.  Unlike other units, submarines rely on stealth and the ability to slink away unseen.  They are the only unit which may be completely bypassed without incident, moving unseen to strike without warning.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part XI - Why Study Defense?

I've received several emails asking to start talking about offense.  A few comments from emails received include (I will not reveal who emailed them, and spelling mistakes are included):
  • 'Why study defense, offense is where it is at?'
  • 'Come on!  Get to the Offense!'
  • 'Enought with the Defense, get to the good stuff.'
  • 'Defense is booooorrrrinnnnggg!'
First, thanks for all the feedback, emails and comments.  I enjoy hearing from everyone, so please keep it up.  Second, starting next week we will begin studying the basics of Offense, but I'm taking this time to describe why understanding Defense is so critical.

Defense: The Universal Constant
Defense is the one aspect of combat all sides of a conflict are involved in, even the attacker.  The reason being not every unit can attack at all times.  A player who constantly attacks without repair and refit results in understrength units that cannot maintain the impetus for battle.  Even attackers must, at some point in time, stop to gather their forces together at a common location.  During this time, the attacking units are vulnerable unless they can effectively defend themselves.  So everyone, even the side which was the 'attacker' must go defensive at some point in time.

Defense Wins Wars, Offense Wins Battles
In long, drawn out affairs, it is possible to achieve a Pyrrhic Victory, a victory in the battlefield which eventually leads to the destruction of the war.  Indeed, the term "Pyrrhic Victory' comes from the King Pyrrhus of Epirus when fighting the Romans during the Pyrrhic Wars (c. 280 BC).  After two battles in which King Pyrrhus attacked and defeated the Romans, he had insufficient men to continue on, and this led to not only to the defeat of his nation, but to the conquering by Rome of all of Italy and Greece.1

But what of more modern cases of Defense winning wars and Offense Winning Battles?  In WWI the Germans attacked brilliantly with the Ludendorf offensive in 1918.   Their offensive operations tore through the countryside and defeated the enemy.  Unfortunately for the Germans, their units overextended their supply lines and they had to come to a halt.  By the time they were ready to renew the offensive, the Americans had arrived with over 250,000 fresh troops and the French had time to prepare a trap for the Germans.  When the German assault began again, the Germans were disastrously defeated.  In the first phase, the Germans lost near 230,000 casualties, in the renewed offensive they lost 3 times that number.2

Understanding Defense Leads to Better Offense

If, in the process of gaming, you develop 'The Ultimate Defense', simply wait.  Eventually someone will come along and ask you to play 'the other side' in the game and use your own Ultimate Defense against you.  Knowing the Ultimate Defense and how it works, you should have a better idea how to defeat it.  Of course, once your opponent sees how to defeat it, she will use that against you in the next game.  And so 'The Ultimate Defense' will need to evolve.

The key here is understanding how the defense works leads to better ways to counter it.  Warfare, like game play, evolves.  Only by playing and understanding both (or all) sides in a conflict does game play improve.

I remember often playing as the Warsaw Pact forces in a game called FEBA (now Tac Air).  The game was horribly unbalanced in terms of units.  NATO Forces were virtually undefeatable even when outnumbered 3 to 1.  Placing two NATO armored units next to each other created an impregnable wall and so my opponent always chose that option.  The key, as I learned, was to pick a sacrificial unit of mine and use its ZOC to force the NATO units to either separate or engage that single unit.  If separated, I would then overwhelm first one unit then the other.  If they came after the sacrificial unit, the rest of my army would bypass them, leaving the unit to its doom, but continuing the advance to the objective.  Only by understanding the defense could I shape my strategy to overcome it. 


I hope this explains the importance associated with understanding defense.  If looking for 'better offensive tactics to win', I recommend reviewing the defensive blog entries again and indepth.  Understanding how the defense works, its limitations, and why the opponent moves units into a particular place will better assist in determining how to defeat it.

With that, I promise the next blog entry will begin covering Offensive Operations.

I recommend researching the above battles at the local library.  Given the propensity of the web, I suggest reading the sites if library research is not desired.
2: Ludendorf Offensive

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hex War Games - Game Types

Prior to this article, many of the articles dealt with Defensive Positions.  However, before proceeding further, it is necessary to understand the different type of Hex War Games available.  I hope to regularly update this page as new games are 'discovered' by me, but I will also list them on the Definitions page.

Many times games join various elements together from multiple "types".  Russian Front, for example, is a Timed and Objective style game.  The player must achieve certain objectives within a given time frame to declare a victory, but as the game 'time' advances, the objectives change as well.  Other games involve different objectives for one, or more, players.

Move and Shoot Games
Most games follow the "Move and Shoot" variety.  In these games players take turns.  During a player's turn, the player moves all of her units and then, after the movement, all resulting combats are resolved.  These type of games benefit the defender in the game, as if a breach in the defensive line occurs, the player has the ability to react to the attack.  If units are lost, the defender has the ability to move other units into position.

Advance After Combat
Many games have an "advance after combat" rule.  Usually found in Move and Shoot Games, these games permit a unit to move into an enemy space immediately after the combat if the opposing unit was destroyed/forced to retreat.  In some games the units may only move into the same location the opposing unit occupied.  In other games, the distance units may move after combat differs based on the type of unit.

Follow Up Attacks
Similar to an Advance After Combat, except in this case the attacking unit may engage in another combat.  Another well used concept is found in Napoleonic games.  In these games, if the attacker has a cavalry unit adjacent to the enemy unit which retreats, the cavalry unit may 'follow' the retreating unit, inflicting additional damage on the unit.

Unit By Unit
Unit by Unit games are where a player selects a unit, moves the unit, combats the unit.  After finishing with a unit, the player selects another unit and repeats the process.  Many computer games provide Unit By Unit style mechanics.

Production games, such as Weewar, involve the introduction of new units at cities or bases.  This differs from most games, where the number of units available to a side is fixed.  Fixed side games may have reinforcements, which arrive at a specific turn, or when a specific condition occurs and from a certain location, but these are not Production games.  In Production games, there effectively is no limit to how many units may exist on a side.

Objective Based
Objective based games end when a certain condition is met.  This may be one side occupying certain hexes, the destruction of a number of enemy units, or some units exit the map.  These games end immediately when one side achieves an objective.

Time Based
Time based games end when after a certain number of turns.  At the end of this time, the players add up their "score" based on reaching objectives (towns taken, units exited, etc.), and the player with the highest score wins.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Hex War Games - Strategy Part X - Oblique ZOC Defenses

The previous article discussed ZOC defenses from a Head-On assault.  This article reviews the same defenses, but from oblique assault and rear assault angles.

Assault Positioning
A Head-On assault occurs if the shortest distance between the attacking unit and the objective hex is parallel to the defending unit's retreat path.  An Oblique assault occurs when the attacking unit's shortest distance to the objective is not parallel to the defender's retreat path.  There are generally two oblique paths: Forward Oblique and Rear Oblique.  In this case the attacking unit attacks 'at an angle' to the defender's line of retreat.  Lastly, the attacking unit may come directly along the defending units line of retreat, this is called a Rear Assault.
Assault Positions

Superior and Inferior ZOC Defenses
In oblique assaults, the location of the defending unit has an additional element to consider: Positioning.  A position may be in either Superior or Inferior position.  A diagram of the Inferior and Superior position is provided in the diagram below:
ZOC Defenses on Forward Oblique Assaults
Superior defensive positions allow the defender to immediately counterattack if the defender must retreat.  Inferior positions means if the defending unit retreats, it must move before launching a counter attack.  Another way to view superior/inferior positioning is if the defending unit is forced to retreat, does the objective hex remain in the defender's ZOC?  If the answer is 'Yes', it is a Superior Position, and if it is 'No' it is an Inferior Position.
Rear Oblique Assault ZOC Defense Positions
Rear Assault Positions

Normally, assaults along the defender's line of retreat are considered ideal for the attacker and bad for the defender.  This is definitely a situation to be avoided if possible, but when viewed on a unit-on-unit basis, rear assaults leave the defender with all superior positions.  This is because if the attacking unit forces the defender to retreat, the defender moves to a location adjacent to the attacker and may counterattack next turn.
Rear Assault ZOC Positions
Rules Benefiting Superior ZOC Positioning

Two types of rules in games are greatly affected by Superior/Inferior positioning.  The first type of game is when the player has a limited number of units which may move each turn.  In this case, having a unit in a Superior position means the player does not have to spend vital points moving the defending unit into position, allowing the player to move other unit's, hopefully bringing them closer to the objective hex.

A second, and more common game rule, is when a unit may either Move or Fire on a turn, but not both.  Usually this impacts artillery units, but some games have infantry units which are 'green' or 'low grade' and may only perform one of the actions.  In this case, being in a superior position is critical to ensuring the unit may counter attack next turn.  If the unit retreats from an inferior position, it will not get to attack on the following turn, as it will spend it's turn moving into position.

Lastly, games with 'line of sight' combat restrictions for artillery may suffer from a type of Superior/Inferior effect.  Normally, artillery units cannot fire 'blindly' at the target hex, it must be in line of sight by a friendly unit to come under fire.  If the defender is hoping to 'call in artillery' on the enemy unit, but the unit is forced to retreat from a position and, in doing so, loses line of sight to the attacker, then the position may be considered 'inferior'.

Choosing Not to Attack
In games where the Attacking unit has the choice of whether to attack a unit or not, the player may choose not to attack if the defending unit is in a Superior Position.  In these games there is usually a possibility of the attacking unit being damaged during the assault or retreating.  If the attacker attacks a superior position, it risks damaging the attacking unit twice, once during the attacker's turn and a second time during the defending unit's turn.  If the objective is to take the hex, why take a second risk?

For inferior ZOC defensive positions, it is usually recommend the attacker make the attack unless the odds are the attacking unit will be wiped out, or if the defender occupies strong defense bonus terrain.  In this case, the attacker may drive the defender away from the hex and force the defending player to spend valuable time or resources moving the unit before the attack.

The decision to attack or not, if permitted, will depend on many factors.  But Inferior/Superior positioning is an additional consideration.

Games with Definite Superior/Inferior Effects
Nearly any game with retreat rules has some form of Superior/Inferior effects.  One of the more basic version is Memoir '44.  In Memoir '44, Artillery units cannot move and attack.  Thus, if forced to retreat, they may not be able to counter attack on the enemy unit, at least, not at full strength.

There are several other games I've played, most of which I can't remember the name of, whose retreat rules caused Superior/Inferior effects.  One whose name I can't remember was a Napoleonic battles game.  In the game I remember there were limited number of unit's permitted to move, and artillery required line of sight by a friendly unit.  I vividly recall placing a unit in good natural defensive terrain, but in an inferior position.  Odds were the unit would survive the combat untouched.  As the dice would have it, the unit was forced to withdraw and I spent many precious actions trying to get the unit back into position and attack.  I would have been better of placing the unit in a superior position and letting the attacker drive the unit into a position where it could automatically counter attack.  Eventually I lost that game, but learned a valuable lesson.

I'm curious what other games exist which have superior/inferior type effects.  If you know of any, please leave a comment with the name of the game.