Sunday 17 March 2024

The Joy of Hex

Steve over at Sound Officers' Call has been using and hacking Peter's ww2 hex rules for a while now, and we have really got excited over the potential of these to use old Command Decision/GDW First Battle scenarios at multiple tactical levels - a solution to problems at Battalion right through to Brigade/Division level, that we have been looking for, for a long time.

Existing rules of course solve this issue to a large extent, although with caveats - not least of which is (1) ease of disagreement - not only between players, but on the basis of design decisions made - such that experts hack the systems because there are so many variables - and (2) players rarely focus on one system, UNLESS said system offers a multiplicity of outcomes at different levels and within different C20th periods/locales, and thereby encourages familiarity, without simplicity.

These hex based rules (assuming we have access to hexes of course - which I have luckily had at 60mm wide for decades, machined onto MDF and also at 100mm loose) offer a beautifully simple means of doing the following:

  • I can do a very large scale ww3 group game in the Fulda gap - movement is controlled and 'un-cheatable' as we use hexes to delineate. 
  • I zoom in or out in terms of scale, and add rules/ranges/capabilities to reflect same. This means i can do 73 Easting at one tank/unit, OR I can do Market Garden on multiple 4x3 boards at company or battalion/unit level.
  • Does it seem like a hex board wargame? Yep...i don't care.
  • The rules are kept deliberately simple. but not simplistic - what they do however , is zoom in on the differences between the opponent's weapon systems on the day - so no, I don't have lists of factors which outline the difference between a T34 and an M1 Abrams - I don't need that. What I do need to know is do systems / command make a difference for one side over the other, then design accordingly. 
  • Thereby, what I can do in a single scenario environment is (1) work out how differences in command - or equipment - may allow one side to fire/move while another can fire or move; (2) outline the differences between relative weapon systems on the same battlefield.
  • Recon units are harder to hit.
  • 1 hit requires a quality check (I took this out to make it simple in the trial game below - but it would work in a longer game); a 2nd means disruption which limits disruption and can be removed with reorganise roll; a 3rd denotes destroyed.

  1. Play Sequence is Game clock; Indirect Fire; Combat; Move; Reorganisation/Rally
  2. Steve has adapted the original to hit with a very flexible system involving (1) no. of dice and (2) then to hit numbers for said dice.
  3. Modern weapon systems can move and fire - ww2 can move or fire.
  4. I adjusted command in the game below based on flexibility, so though Syrian systems were using T72s in the Bekkaa, they would fire or move, whilst Israeli M60s could fire and move. we could translate same to Fulda Gap, whilst changing the number of units that can activate in an earlier ww2 situation. All of this is easily hacked.
As movement and range is hex based - this all remains very flexible.

A setup whereby units are platoons, Syrian armoured and BMP companies moving against Israeli M60s and ATGWs

1/300 Heroics and Ros M60s

Israeli units move to take high ground, and pour fire on advancing Arab units

On the Israeli right, armour moves to take high ground - utilising command flexibility, plus advantages of high ground and falling shot, to increase probabilities of first shot hate and kill. This would blunt the Arab advance on that flank quite quickly.

M60 company takes hits from ATGW fire (min range applies)

This system remains very flexible, time-friendly and critically easy to teach to younger gamers and conversely to groups drinking beer!


  1. Looking good, Darren! Once the Kasserine game is over I'm going to switch to cold war I think. Wonder if it's time to resurrect that pre covid firestorm map of the Fulda Gap!?!?

    1. I see the beauty of the system Steve - in terms of hacking for ww2 and then modern. Massive potential for (1) activation rules and (2) move/fire shake ups. It's great not to be restricted to having to read a bunch of rules surrounding movement and terrain - everything is very intuitive here, especially since it is only the 'disparity' between competing weapon systems which is the concern, not having to delineate everything from 1900 to 1999.
      I have a decent map for Fulda / Frankfurt too, and the firestorm map would be absolutely stunning. I do seem to remember my Soviet doctrine plan for that game

  2. Boardgame hex style is fine (I mean who has not dreamt of Squad Leader with minis !!). What is unit representation ? assume its 1 model = 1 Platoon+ ?.
    Boiling Tank era warfare down to 'heavier tank with bigger gun ' vs 'lighter tank with wee gun' whilst certainly simplifying matters can lead to blandness if too extreme ?
    I find Spearhead WW2/Modern system is about as simple/abstract one can go whilst retaining some weapon system flavour eg I find the FOB WW2 system a bit too restrictive with its 5 dice type system so AFV categories become very broad indeed (arguably fine for level represented) but you cant beat the cards and other stuff :-)
    Is this a D6 system ?

    1. It's d6 , but Steve's amendments add a dice pool (very modern rpg actually) wherein (1) multiple dice can provide a factor and (2) scores on dice add a factor.
      For me, the simplicity vs Spearhead is with the variable scale and large battle. Spearhead can be bland once you take away the planning map - the advantage here is that multiple players can 'grock' the rules within seconds and focus on a form of plan , and yet do a full Fulda Gap game in a few hours. Added to that, using the Canadian Wargamers Market Garden scenarios - you can have all three scenarios simultaneously set up on one large table, with 'feeder' boxes for reinforcements - bases being companies (perhaps battalions), and it can work.
      The focus is on the turn sequence and activation. It keeps it simple, and not simplistic.
      to be fair, the variability in rulesets is there to keep players happy, so that the can do 100 years of 'meh'. Black powder is the ultimate iteration of this - which is why it doesn't really work unless there is beer.
      Here. the variability is judged by 'on the day' mechanics.

  3. I have always been a believer that boardgames and figure games compliment each other, rather than compete. There are also a lot of tactical boardgame system that are essential ready for porting over to provide alternatives ….. and a tone of tested scenarios.

    1. Agreed Norm. I remember the first week i started wargaming at age 11 - I played WRG5th Ancients followed by SPI's October War - I have been confused ever since :).
      I think the dichotomy lies somewhere between modern boardgame designers (hex n chit right through to Euro style boardgames) having the basic understanding that there is a 'game' in there, and thereby, rules must make the players think, whilst realising that it is far from simulation and need not have complexity (for the most part) - whilst wargaming rules writers seem to be fixated upon historical characteristics and mechanisms, thereby attempting to bend dice and rules to fit a reality which gaming does not always fit.

      Many boardgames with hexes have a more simplistic and playable approach to the problem (if problem it be), and yet make for a better tabletop experience.
      Volley and Bayonet gets a lot of abuse for instance, yet it works as would a hex n chit game - allowing for 'stuff' to happen in the game without devolving to book flipping.
      At the other end of the spectrum - we see overly complex wargames rules, which seem to give the same result with more hassle, and which can be least in terms of larger games or campaigns.
      Granted, a lot of this is being resolved with games like Blucher.

    2. Lots of boardgames also follow the 'simulation' style of rules such as ASL or some of the mega East Front games so not entirely a minis thing.
      Certainly the higher the level of command/larger the game you want to do the simpler the rules need to be if not to bog down.
      In my experience both 'genres' have in last decade or so mostly gone down the playability route (no longer purely hex and counter or the WRG styles).
      Sam Mustafa produces very innovative rules and you can see a definite boardgame 'influence' (Rommel a case in point or as you say Blucher which can even be played sans minis).
      As you may have noticed (?) whilst I have my favourites I do desire variety in games, universal/broad brush type sets (the dread BP or the sublime FOB) have their appeal but sometimes a more specific or grungy set is preferable (certainly for WW2 I like armour thickness to be relevant at lower levels).
      I only ever played original V&B many moons ago and at time found it uninspiring/bland but of course tastes change with age so likely more attractive now for big games.
      Also as an avowed historical gamer the history aspect if very important to me otherwise might as well play 40K or similar type games if its the pure gaming aspect that is important.
      You pays your money and takes your choice over whatever level of complexity/simulation/playability/historic veneer one wants combined with scale of game you wish to play whether with plastic, lead or cardboard (or wooden bits as is current trend) not to mention use of cards (a favourite of mine in both genres), varied dice, IGO UGO or whatever :-)

    3. Thought I would chime in here and further confound, confuse, and infuriate you all on this topic.

      There is a certain appeal and charm to playing a "big battle" in a small space, with simple rules that don't bog down with minutiae and rules overhead and allow you to play sweeping actions while preserving the feeling of a minis game.

      I certainly agree that armor thickness and vehicle survivability are essential when a tank equals a tank. But when a tank model equals 16 to 40 tanks, there is plenty of room to create a challenging system that abstracts combat into buckets of results, like on a CRT (ie retreat, disrupted, destroyed), but without using a CRT.

      We've used this system very successfully and I would argue it gives similar results to games at or just below its scale that have much higher rules complexity.

      We wanted a game that allowed us to refight larger battles (think panzerblitz scenarios with 1/2 less vehicles)with low overhead, in 2 hours or less, and still feel like a combined arms engagement . Peter's rules really fit that bill and we felt our modifications added just the right flavor that we were looking for.

      When we want crunchiness we play Battlegroup or Crossfire.

    4. A lot of good discussion.
      I'd argue that WH40K is simple but unsubtle. there are lots of things that can be done with activation that keep things simple, yet make rules difficult to master. By the same token, activation can be poorly done and ruin a game (you know how I feel about BP LOL). FoB gets it just right, and a larger game developed to be hacked for a period based around large scale fast-play works well - which is what we have here - hexes make the minutiae simple, the systems can thereby be as subtle as we like.

      At the other end of the spectrum, traditional games tend to be needlessly complex (if not altogether insane). Steiner will remember last year's Command Decision game where 3x Panzer IV's fired their main gun, their bow MGs and their turret MGs with buckets of dice. I think I had lost touch with reality by that made absolutely no sense in any purview of gaming environment.

      No matter how crunchy and apparently 'accurate' that end result is - it misses most of the key points surrounding usage of those weapon systems simultaneously, ammo, crew capability etc etc. ...not to mention the fact that one tank model suddenly forgets that it is a platoon in the game. I would say thought given to abstracting what you actually want from the game, and simulating the chaos of the battlefield at whatever scale, makes for a more satisfying experience.

      I think in our group games we have been guilty of making the rules suit the time limit - i.e., if it is not crunchy and lasts 8 hours on a Saturday then there is no point. Understand this completely, but multiple tables/boards, campaign play, epic sweeps and results which are all to play for, might be both more original and satisfying. Hence what we have above. Are we Captain or General etc. I'd rather experiment than take the traditional 1980s rule-writer's word for it at this stage.

  4. Got to love them PzIVs ! and why I prefer SH system at this level as stays within its abstraction level without trying to add in lots of low level tactical fluff (Rapid Fire does this too but with less impact than in TOB/CD).
    A multi-player system can be problematical as it sort of needs to engage all players (no-one wants to stay inactive all game) whilst being playable within a time frame.
    For horse and musket FOB fits that bill pour moi but its a marmite set (no accounting for tastes), others sets do to lesser degree and we often have to compromise for greater good (BP is at least playable).
    WW2/Modern (if cold war still classed as such ?) bit more problematical due to inherent complexities of weapon systems, scale of conflict etc I think MSH is decent in this regard overall with restricted ranges/moves etc (otherwise it can be a period of little more than 'bang your dead').
    As you say scale of game is a key component no point trying to play Kursk with a low level 1:1 system but the further up you go the command level the more... um.... er..... 'experimental' rules need to be.
    Multi-table seldom practical although attractive (Snappy Nappy campaigns always look excellent) which is where boardgames can come to the fore for me for the more strategic approach.
    80s certainly era of 'crunchy' detail oriented rules (for younger minds ?) but sometimes I get nostalgic for them (to read not play !!) and current trend for ultra cut-down 4 page sets brings its own problems as simply cant cover all eventualities :-)
    In the end it all about personal preferences and there is no set 'To Rule Them All' (well we both know there is)

    1. Forgot to add that hexes certainly streamline a lot of measuring/millimeters matter issues as do several minis sets that now utilise square grids but at cost of sometimes jarring zig zag movement/firing.