|(c) Skirmish Campaigns|
Used by permission
Thursday morning saw me command one of two German rifle platoons in Pouppeville, France, on 6 June 1944. A company of the American 501st Airborne sought to open a road for an armor column to advance from Utah beach. Our German rifle company was assigned to hold the town long enough to stall the armor advance. My platoon occupied buildings in the southeast part of the town, the other rifle platoon the southwest, and the German company commander set up his headquarters in the main building in the center. The Americans approached from the south, having air-dropped in the German rear the night before. Utah Beach was to the north, whence the armored column would come if we couldn't hold the town. The Americans got an early start (the result of a secret die roll at the beginning of the game that gave them an extra turn to complete their objective). We had a second sniper (the result of our own secret die roll).
The Americans took a couple of the outlying southern buildings pretty quickly and used them as bases for covering fire for their advance. We were able to slow the advance to the center of town rather well with overlapping fields of fire. My fellow German platoon commander held off repeated attempts at house-to-house close assaults. I maintained a substantial cross-fire and managed to stall the American advance through an orchard in the eastern part of town. American superior firepower made it impossible to hold out indefinitely, and we gradually lost one house after another until the last of my platoon was holed up in a corner building off the central square, near the company HQ. But overall the Americans were too cautious, and despite their early start, we were able to hold out long enough to forestall the American armored column advance.
Game Master (GM) Curt Daniels had set up a nice table of rectilinear terrain depicting the town in 10mm scale with hedgerows and French country buildings. We played with a new set of rules called Fireball Forward (designers Mark Fastoso and Jonathan Miller, publisher SkirmishCampaigns). Rifle combat includes a "range die" that improves hit probability on a much more granular basis as a function of range than the typical "short/medium/long range" banding method of so many other games. Also appealing is the roll of a small number of dice to resolve an attack (unlike a number of other miniatures games where dice rolling seems to be a ritual of excess). To win, we needed to hold eight or nine of 16 buildings to secure the town, but only four or five buildings if one of them included the main central building where we set up the company HQ.
|(c) Worthington Publishing|
Used by permission
The scenario took something like two and a half hours to play (including rules explanation), and that was after Curt had probably spent a good hour setting up the table beforehand. By contrast, Band of Brothers would take less than an hour to play out the same scenario with the same decision depth. (Morale and suppression rules are remarkably similar between the two games.) So in a head-to-head comparison, what boardgames lack in three-dimensional visual appeal, they make up for in convenience and time. We could easily have played two or three rounds of BoB in the time it took to complete one FF scenario.
In general, I feel as though boardgames provide much greater opportunity for gaming depth. All the games I played at HistoriCon provided relatively small decision spaces. I wouldn't call them opportunities for serious gaming. And that's okay. At the risk of generalizing, miniatures gaming isn't necessarily about deep game-play. At its heart, it is essentially a context for displaying and interacting with physical models that depict a battle in progress. It is certainly satisfying to see lines of troops or ships make progress over a battlefield, or to see them evaporate under withering gunfire, as the game unfolds. Game quality factors - how balanced the scenario or clever the rules set or agonizing the choices are - play a secondary role to the visual and interactive experience of moving the models and rolling the dice to resolve their fate.
Also played at HistoriCon
"Borg Attack: The Battle of Wolf 359, 2274 AD" (Science fiction starship combat using Ogre rules)
High Noon demo (19th century Western skirmish)
"Battle of Manila Bay" (Spanish-American War naval combat, using When Dreadnaughts Ruled the Seas)
I also heard two lectures:
"A Submariner's Life: Captain Edward Beach Jr.," by Dr. Edward F. Finch
"A Gathering Storm Upon My Left: The Battle of Bennington," by Dr. Michael Gabriel