Notes on Game Mechanics and Related Topics
Q: When should a force be given the benefit of a surprise turn? For example War in the Desert gives a surprise turn to Operation Torch but not to other amphibious landings.
A: In general, a force can get a surprise turn when its plans and preparations greatly outstrip those of its opponents. If the opponents have serious preparations for a countermove, they can get a reaction phase between the surprise turn and the regular player turn, like the French and British do in The Fall of France. Otherwise, there's no reaction phase, like what happens when the Germans smash into Yugoslavia in Balkan Front.
The start of the campaign is usually when a force gets a "plans and preparations" jump over the enemy, and the more military proficient and professional the army, the more likely they are to get it, especially against the less proficient and professional. (In the early war years, this means the Germans can get it often but the Italians, for example, are unlikely to —no surprise turn for the Italian invasion of Greece!) Beyond the actual starts of campaigns, combatants would plan for offensives during campaigns, attempt to deceive the enemy about their preparations and the targets of the offensive, and try to achieve surprise at the start of the offensive.
- Poland 1939: The Germans get a surprise turn. The Poles are mobilizing but are not at war and not in contact with German forces. Although they have a defense plan against an invasion, events quickly overtake them; no reaction phase.
- Finland 1939: The Soviets in effect expect a surprise turn (much of the rank and file of the Red Army, for example, believed Soviet propaganda about capitalist exploitation in Finland and expected the Finns soldiers to give in without fighting) but the Finns, not Soviets, have much higher military proficiency and hence no surprise.
- Denmark and Norway 1940: The Germans get a surprise turn. Neutral Norwegians and Danes don't get a reaction phase. (Yes, I know Storm Over Scandinavia handles things differently. I'm looking at this from a wider Europa context.)
- France 1940: German forces not in contact with Allied forces (i.e., forces north of the French-German border) get a surprise turn. Neutral Belgians and Dutch do not get a reaction phase. French and British forces, planning for such a German move, do get a reaction phase (and it was their tough luck historically that they used it to put their reacting forces where they could be cut off).
- Egypt 1940: The Italians do not get a surprise turn in September. Later, in December after weeks of inactivity by the Italians, British forces launch a raid that gets a surprise turn; the less-that-proficient Italians flub getting a reaction phase.
- Greece 1940: The Italians do not get a surprise turn.
- Greece & Yugoslavia 1940-41: The Italians do not get a surprise turn against Yugoslavia in 1940. The Germans get a surprise turn when they intervene. The neutral Yugoslavs don't get a reaction phase. You can argue either way whether the Greeks and British should get a reaction phase or not.
- Syria 1941: The British don't get a surprise turn against the Vichy French.
- USSR 1941: The Germans get a surprise turn. The Soviets historically got a reaction phase but botched it by trying to implement an unrealistic counterattack plan rather than actually reacting to the situaiton on the ground. (FITE/SE handles this by simply ignoring a Soviet reaction phase, but I've designed another ways to handle this in the draft Blitzkrieg Unending.)
- North Africa 1942: The Allies get a surprise turn. The neutral Vichy French don't get a reaction phase.
- Sicily, Italy, Normandy, etc. 1943-44: The Allies don't get a surprise turn in their amphibious invasions.
Now, you can argue endlessly whether or not one side or another achieved a surprise turn at various times within campaigns, such as Operation Typhoon in 1941 (very likely), parts of AG South vs. the Soviets in summer 1942 (maybe the northern half of AGS, probably not the southern half), the Soviets in Operation Bagration in summer 1944 (very likely), etc.
I've experimented with an in-campaign surprise rule at times but I'be been reluctant to include it in any single game because it tends to be a lot of work for an event that doesn't occur much or at all in the game. The experimental rules section of the draft Blitzkrieg Unending has a theater-wide in-campaign surprise rule, although it really needs to be revised to "army group" level, which seems certain to make it rather complicated.
Q: The special replacements rule lets you make hopeless attacks with unisolated units that otherwise are doomed to be isolated and destroyed. This lets you generate some replacement points you otherwise would not get. For example, I played a 2-week turn version of First to Fight using the Polish early mobilization option. At the end of the German Sep I 39 regular player turn, there were some stray Polish units that German forces had bypassed. These were going to get isolated, overrun, and defeated anyway on the Sep II 39 turn and would not help the Poles at all by awaiting their fate. (The main German forces were already way past them.) I moved them so that they would not be isolated in the combat phase and then attacked adjacent German units at hopeless odds, hoping for AH or AE to get their special replacements. Is this tactic abusive?
A: The situation you describe—hopeless attacks to try to get some special replacements out of what would otherwise be totally lost units—does sound a bit gamey, but it does have some correspondence to what actually went on. Forces that were encircled or about to be encircled would sometimes make desperate attempts to breakout. The attempts would usually fail, and the soldiers would then sometimes abandon most of their equipment and try to exfiltrate out. Actions like this often occurred in 1941 during Barbarossa, as you well know, but they happened elsewhere, too.
However, there's room for adding an option where a player can have his units simply abandon their equipment and try to exfiltrate/evacuate, as this did occur (without first launching a desperation attack). I've never yet seen it important enough to include it as a rule in a game, but there's nothing in principle wrong with it, either.
Europa will probably have some form of an "abandon equipment" rule. By abandoning equipment, the men of the unit historically often had a better chance of escaping a pocket or other hopeless situation. Had FTF such a rule, I'm sure you'd try abandoning equipment (which might get out half the infantry RP cost of the unit) rather than trying for special replacements.
Q: Would a variation of the disbanding rules cover this situation? (I know the disbanding mechanic really tries to represent something different. I seem to recall that most games won't let you disband a unit if it's isolated or in an enemy ZOC.)
A: There's some similarities between abandoning equipment and disbanding, but the differences are significant, too. Disbanding occurs in "safe" areas and where all of the manpower and equipment is available (100% RP recovery). Abandoning equipment means a units is discarding everything that can slow it down, in the hopes that the mobility can get it to safety. (Also, there's much less need to maintain a cohesive unit organization, so that unburdened men can split into small groups that can more easily pass through enemy lines.)
Some rules I've looked at in this regard require you track inf RPs gained by abandoning equipment as "unsupported inf RPs." Such RPs can be used for replacing unsupported units or for no more than half the replacement cost of supported units.
Q: Doesn't abandonment of equipment, in a sense, shows up in The Fall of France emergency evacuation rule? In that game, however, once the units evacuate, they are permanently out of play.
A: Yes. In that game, the Allies (especially Britain) lacked the stockpiles of equipment to reequip such manpower and quickly return them to action.
Q: Would you consider an abandoning equipment rule for a "France fights on in 1940" scenario? The army does what DeGaulle and others want, evacuating en-masse.
A: Yes, I think such a rule would be very useful for such scenarios.
Fighter Extended Range
Q: Basically every game in the series except Second Front does not allow fighters to use extended range. I suppose disposable extra fuel tanks (drop tanks) were introduced in great scale at some moment in 1943? In an scenario covering a longer time frame when would you allow applying this rule to fighters? And, will every country's air force have this ability at roughly same time ?
A: By the Second Front time period, most of the major air forces could use drop tanks to extend fighter range. Drop tanks were developed earlier, sometimes much earlier, by some air forces. For example, the German Luftwaffe had drop tanks for some Me 109s in the Battle of Britain, while the Soviets developed drop tanks in the 1930s and supposedly started using them during the Russo-Finnish War. However, the early German drop tanks were troublesome to use and were dangerous to the fighter in combat situations, so they were not used much. Soviet drop tanks, as far as I've found, were not produced in sufficient quantities in the early war period to warrant representation. So, giving the Germans or Soviets fighter extended range in 1940 would be inaccurate.
The simplest and perhaps best way to do this is to is to pick one "magic date" (Jul I 43 is a good choice) and let all fighters fly extended range from then on. An alternative scheme I've considered is to have a separate magic date for each nation. When the majority of the fighters of that nation are equipped for drop tanks and are routinely using them, that nation gets fighter extended range. This alternative, however, is likely to be difficult to use, since you'd have to check which air force can do what all the time. If it was just for fighter extended range, it might not be so bad. However, there will be a set of magic dates for various aspects of air power. For one example, as I recall, the ratings penalties for using fighters as bombers drop over the course of the war.
Q: Is the War of Resistance guerrilla system applicable to the Balkans? Obviously China has different conditions than the Balkans. However, the WOR faction system may be applicable to Europa, particularly in reducing the multilateral situation of the Yugoslav guerrilla war (many separate factions that can be roughly organized into 3-5 different groupings) into a system applicable for a two-player game.
As a quick overview, in China the Communists (CCP, Chinese Communist Party) would identify a remote, rural region where a political vacuum existed. Units of the CCP Red Army would be sent into a region and would set up a base. WOR focuses on the military aspects of a base.
- Lowest Tier: The bases organized village militia, which essentially consisted of part-time soldiers. WOR shows this tier similar to partisan activity in SF, with each base getting a number of sabotage attempts.
- Middle Tier: As bases grew they raised regular regional militia units. WOR shows this tier as actual guerrilla units which can be placed on map and can operate within the base's region.
- Top Tier: Finally, the Red Army would recruit the best of the regional militia units as reinforcements or replacements to their own conventional army ranks. In WOR, on-map guerrilla units can be used to replace regular CCP forces (or rebuild cadres to full strength).
A: At one level, the CCP 3-tier base system is similar to what went on in some guerrilla movements in Europe, but in other ways it isn't. The similarity is that, ideally, active guerrillas in Europe would move from harassing the Axis to exerting varying levels of control over the countryside (in inaccessible areas) and eventually would build up strength to drive the occupiers out, either by themselves in conventional or semi-conventional operations or in conjunction with friendly regular forces entering the area.
The dissimilarities, however are large:
- The CCP was not only resisting the Japanese invaders/occupies, they were trying to seize control of as much as they practically could from the legitimate but weak KMT government of China.
- China then was mainly a pre-industrial agrarian society—while there were large cities, the great majority of the population lived in the countryside mostly as impoverished, uneducated, heavily-exploited peasantry. (Exploited in the senses that a) their excess agricultural output, if any, was appropriated in various ways to feed the cities—with people other than the farmers mainly profiting by this, and b) the corrupt warlordism typically meant the peasants stoically endured whoever was currently "ruling" them, rather than feeling any national loyalty to the remote central government.)
- This goes to say that the CCP, when taking control of an area, had to set up basic political and economic infrastructure to secure an area in any lasting way, and consequently the CCP's military strength was rather immobile—the first two tiers are essentially tied to their bases.
- Add on top of this the large size of China and the rather low force levels the Japanese used to secure their occupied areas, and the CCP could invest in building up bases in remote areas which the Japanese were unlike to bother about.
Guerrilla wars in Europe varied from the above factors:
- Few major guerrilla movements were trying to resist the Axis occupiers and gain control of the country from the legitimate government. The big exception to this, Tito's Partisans, did not face a legitimate government with conventional forces in place in the country—the Yugoslav government itself was in exile, and its conventional military forces had been routed. The Partisans thus contended against various guerrilla forces that professed varying degrees of loyalty to the legitimate government but mainly were not controlled by the government (witness the occasional cooperation of Mihailovic's Chetniks with the Axis against the Partisans). Elsewhere, most other major guerrilla forces were loyal to varying degrees to their country's legitimate government. (The pro-Communist Polish guerrillas looked to Moscow and not to the Polish government in exile in London, but they were a small movement, dwarfed by the pro-government Polish guerrillas. Similarly, other communist guerrillas elsewhere, such as in France, were not per se particularly loyal to their governments, but given the USSR's need for western aid and for western troops to open other fronts against the Germans, Moscow was hardly going to order western European communists to try to take over western European countries like France.)
- Hardly any place in Europe was a pre-industrial agrarian society, except for Albania. (Many places in North Africa and the Middle East were, however.) Instead, they were either mixed semi-industrial/agrarian societies or industrial societies. Overall, urbanization was greater and education of the populace better than that of China's peasantry, control of the country by the central government was much greater, and most people had a sense of nationalism (although this varied greatly among Soviet ethnic groups, and Yugoslav ethnic groups felt loyalty to their group more than to Yugoslavia). Even in countries with large peasant populations (peasants almost always being the least educated), you had a population more nationalistic, more loyal to their government (or ethnic group), and thus less accepting of foreign occupation.
- Many European guerrilla movements tended to be rather mobile. The basic infrastructure was already in place to support guerrillas (essentially a population willing to hide them and not turn them in, while supplying them with food and information about the occupiers), so they didn't have to build up bases in the CCP sense. They did have "bases" where they could, but these were more HQs for guerrilla forces rather than political-economic entities. When circumstances demanded, usually because of Axis anti-partisan operations, the guerrillas would simply abandon their current area and move on to a new one. The guerrilla's success in getting away depended on how tightly the Axis had sealed in the guerrillas with reliable troops. (It is true that many Soviet guerrillas forces tended to stay in the same location for most of the time, but this I believe was due to the lack of German forces to flush them out of an area and not an inability to move.)
- Many areas of Europe were much more constrained in size than China. Although guerrillas typically operated in the most inaccessible terrain they could, they typically weren't remote from Axis forces, which correspondingly could fairly quickly go over to anti-partisan operations when the need arose. This varied throughout Europe—less so in the USSR, where the Germans would go after guerrillas astride communication routes but often not those in remote forests and swamps, more so in places like Yugoslavia, where the Partisans had to flee back and forth across the country several times in 1941-43 to escape anti-partisan operations.
Accordingly, for Europa, I think a version of the current partisan rule from FITE/SE will work well. For a wide Europa context, there probably needs to be three levels of guerrilla activity, none of which is tied to CCP-style bases:
- Resistance or Inactive Level: This is "resistance" warfare, with potential guerrilla forces being organized but not used much (the men remain in the civilian occupied economy rather than taking to the hills and forming guerrilla bands). Intelligence gathering goes on, as does sabotage, but probably nothing shows up at Europa level (no rail breaks or airbase hits). Instead, the guerrilla forces are building up strength slowly and occasionally appear as actual guerrilla units for Europa-level operations. The 1939-44 Polish Home Army (before the Warszawa Uprising) and 1940-44 French Forces of the Interior (before the liberation of France) are at this level, with very few forces in actual guerrilla operation at Europa level but many men preparing for "the Day."
- Guerrilla or Active Level: The guerrillas are in the field, organized in small bands, and engaging in various unconventional warfare operations. This level corresponds to the FITE/SE partisan rules. Soviet and Yugoslav guerrillas are mostly at this level from their appearance in 1941; a portion at least of the French Forces of the Interior go to this level around D-Day (the cities don't activate much but various countryside forces do); the Polish Home Army activates and concentrates at Warszawa in 1944.
- Conventional Level: Instead of operating as dispersed, small bands, the guerrillas concentrate and operate as conventional military units. I believe I outlined how this would happen in an "Inside Europa" column in The Europa Magazine some time ago. Soviet guerrillas mainly do not convert to conventional units (but instead mostly are disbanded and absorbed as replacements in the Red Army), so this level is not really needed in FITE/SE. Tito's Partisans convert to conventional forces in 1944, and the Warszawa Uprising might possibly be represented by Home Army guerrillas converting to conventionals at Warszawa (although alternately the uprising might be represented by the Polish player moving lots of guerrilla-level partisans into Warszawa and the Germans doing anti-partisan operations against them).
Now, these three levels do bear some level of similarity to WOR's three tier guerrilla bases, but there are sufficient differences to prevent it from being directly applicable.