Ugh, Tank Platoons

2016-03-24 19.57.32

I played a pre-league game last night with my French Resistance vs. Chris H’s Italians.  Although we had a good time, I don’t think it was satisfying for either of us.

We checked against the Operation Torch theater rules and, with the layout of the table, selected Hold Until Relieved, with the crossroads piece as the objective.

Chris was running a Tank platoon: two M14/41s (light tanks) and three AB41s (armored cars) and some other stuff.  I was running my Partisan list.  One of the rules they’re using for the league is that Tank platoons are always Attacker against Mechanized and Infantry platoons (and Mechanized platoons are always attacker against Infantry platoons). (I suspect that my French Resistance, as almost all of it can fit in those trucks probably counts as ‘Mechanized.’)

Here’s the thing: he (almost certainly) could not win.  With 3 units and maybe 14 models that could claim or contest the objective (vs my 8 units and 40 models).  What’s the point of playing if you can’t win?

Similarly: although the game was effectively a lock for me, I had next to no agency in it.  Those cars and tanks might be lightly armored, but that’s still enough to reduce my options for dealing with the vast bulk of his force to next to nothing (2 panzerfausts, a bazooka, a flame tank, and a mortar), none of which are Great (panzerfausts being 1 shot and Mortars being criminally unreliable leave me with hoping I get lucky on activations and maybe get to roll well with the bazooka and flame tank).  What’s the point of playing if you can’t do anything?

(In the end, I killed one car, with the bazooka, and one tank, with a panzerfaust. I did get a lucky mortar shot, on another car, but it wasn’t enough to take it out.)

Like I said: it was a good time, but was unsatisfying.

Chris asserted that the difficulty he would face in winning the game was a balance to my difficulty in stopping him.  He’s not wrong: it’s a balance, but it’s a rotten one, and dependent on the scenario.  If we’d played a scenario out of Tank War, the tank platoon wouldn’t have the same challenges, but the infantry platoon’s lack of agency would still be present.  More importantly, though: it’s Harrison Bergeron-style balancing.  “Both of you are screwed; thus It is balanced” isn’t fun.

I’m not sure what the fix is. I simply believe Tank and non-Tank platoons should not mix, but a lot of the guys at the store have a lot of tanks and they want to play with their tanks, and I respect that. The leagues at the store are always going to permit Tank platoons, so refusing to play against other Tank platoons isn’t going to work (and would send the wrong message). I suppose I could play a Tank platoon myself, but I don’t want to do that right now.

Anyway, I’m mostly thinking out loud here.

2016-03-24 19.57.41

Related/unrelated – I did have a lot of fun playing really aggressively and tactically with my trucks.  Instead of just using them to rush up a bunch of grizzled partisans (and inevitably getting them blown up while doing so), I scooted them around, blocking approaches and providing cover. In the picture above, the truck really locked down that M14/41 from getting where it wanted to be for half the game.

  • Sean Parker

    Flames of War? or another rules set?

    • Bolt Action.

      I haven’t played Flames of War (well not very much, and what I have played has all be WWI), so I can’t comment on it. Bolt Action is a pretty solid, straightforward game (basically 40K) that IMO works really well when played primarily with infantry (supported by tanks) and (as above) not so much the other way.

      • MVBrandt

        And we’re back to 40k tactics of suicidally patriotic transport drivers.

        • It’s us smashing the prison bars for our brothers,

          The hatred on our backs and the hunger that drives us, the misery.

          There are countries where people are dreaming deep in their beds,

          here, we, you see, we’re marching on and we’re getting killed, we’re getting whacked…

          Yes, we’re getting whacked…

          Here everyone knows what he wants, what he does when it takes place,

          Mate, if you go down, a mate out of the shadows takes your place.

          Tomorrow black blood will be drying under the sun on the roads,

          sing, colleagues, freedom is listening to us in the night…

          • MVBrandt

            Exceptionally well played, mon frere.

          • Drathmere

            Without a scenario most war-games devolve into suicidal attacks. I don’t think Bolt Action plays anything like 40k.

          • If anything, scenarios can encourage unrealistically suicidal play because “I just need to say within 3″ of _this_ spot, no matter what for six activations” never mind the consequences for whatever might happen on that seventh activation. (One of the things I liked about Foy was Steve gave us orders to hold our positions if we’d taken a certain level of casualties: yes we needed to take the town but not at All Costs.)

            Anyway, Bolt Action has scenarios, and the scenarios are interesting enough. They’re no more (and possibly less) paintbally than 40K’s scenarios.

            I really like the way BA plays: it’s a simple, solid framework for the sort of games we play and is perfectly solid-enough for pickup/tournament play.

          • Drathmere

            I think we might be using scenarios to mean two different things. Your description matches my view of tournament play, not scenario or narrative driven play. To me, scenarios tie battlefields and troops to potential end states. There is a narrative that glues it all together. The armies and the battlefield and the missions make sense.

            I think what you are describing in terms of WTF who cares about turn 7, is just a style of play more consistent with tournaments. You don’t have to do that. On the other hand, if you are in a tournament then you know what you are getting into. Alternately, I could just have a different view on what a scenario should be.

          • MVBrandt

            I was purely making fun of the very 40k tactic of carefully driving a throwaway transport into a carefully parked position in front of a tank you want to block. Things that are frantically suicidal and unrealistic to achieve needed game outcomes. Bolt Action is like 40k in being a game, I suppose, but wasn’t drawing any deeper conclusions.

          • Drathmere

            Sorry that wasn’t what I was responding to. The suicidal attacks are hard to mitigate unless players want to do so. That takes a different type of player.

            The comparison between 40k and bolt action does not work for me because other than being a war game, there are very little similarities. I see bolt action as something recognizable, and 40k as a Rube Goldberg Machine of special rules. One almost needs a Phd in 40k to understand the complexity at this point. I don’t want to turn players away from Bolt Action if they are fleeing the 40k scene. I know if somebody told me that a game were like 40k, that I would view it as a negative. This wasn’t always the case, but my tastes have changes, and 40k has evolved.

          • I think you’ve gotten more soured on 40K than I have, which is weird because I think the last time we talked about it you were still into it and I’ve really gotten to dislike it (I still _love_ it, but I don’t _like_ it, you know).

            Anyway, the 40K engine isn’t too bad. The fundamentals are solid, straightforward, and are directly analogous to the way BA works. (I agree that there’s a teetering nightmare of special rules stacked on top of that simple, straightforward ruleset, though.)

          • Drathmere

            I’ve definitely soured on it more and more over time. I do not like IGYG systems that much, but the main problem is that the 40k engine never works properly. Nearly every unit breaks the core rules with X number of special rules. That makes it a game of rules exploits versus rules exploits. What I like more is 30K, since there are fewer exceptions, but that is changing as forgeworld introduces more codexes.

          • I don’t mind IGYG so much. I like the way BA handles activations a lot, but other interleaved activation mechanics tend to leave me cold and add complexity for little value beyond supporting the claim that the game is !IGYG. But tastes are tastes.

            Completely agree about the special rules issue with 40K. Just _thinking_ about them flat-out fatigues me.

          • In this case, I don’t think it’s necessarily all that gamey, unrealistic a thing.

            “Pierre! We must stop that fasciste tank or the Americans will lose this part of Tunisia!”
            “Merde! We are out of le Panzerfausts! Quickly, mon frere: block the approach with a truck. That just might buy us enough time!”