Saturday, January 21, 2012

Solo Gaming and Reaction Systems (2)

When one thinks of a "reaction system", one usually thinks of Two Hour Wargames (THW), as it is probably the most touted systems on forums like The Miniatures Page. So, what exactly is a reaction system? I discussed this, and a couple of other aspects of THW games, in my last blog entry. But, in a nutshell, a player's actions can force a reaction by the opposing forces, whether controlled by a player or not. These reactions are controlled by dice, charts, and modifiers. Last time I looked at NUTS!, but this time I will look at Rally Round the King (RRtK).

The Basic Mechanics

The game feels like a traditional ancients, medieval, or fantasy game. Units has attributes that determine its offensive power with missiles and melee, defensive power (armor), movement, morale, and training. In some ways it feels like Chainmail or Warhammer, with movement rates, armor classes, and special rules, but the similarities quickly disappear. As with most THW games there is generally one core attribute, Reputation or REP, that largely determines how good a unit will be in combat.

REP is a numeric value, with average soldiers having a '4' (higher being better). The idea is to roll your REP value or lower on a D6. Most tasks will have you rolling 2D6, but rather than adding the values together, you compare each die rolled to the REP to determine how many successes (or "passes") you achieve. Passing on two dice means great success, on one die it is a partial success (and partial failure), and passing on no dice means a total failure. Simple and elegant. Some of these tasks will have modifiers, which raises or lowers the REP value making it easier or harder to obtain a success.

In some regards, movement in RRtK has a DBA feel to it too. Units are single bases (elements) and they can be moved in groups. There is a command point-like system – you activate units/groups equivalent to your general's War Rating – but units/groups have a much more logical "body in motion tends to stay in motion" behavior than in DBA, which feels much more like the General has his army on a leash.
By the way, this behavior is not a part of the reaction system, but an addition peculiar to Warrior Kings, Warrior Heroes, and Rally Round the King. It is not found in other THW games that I own.
The important point here is that once a unit/group is put into motion, it follows a set of loose rules on further movement, until it hits an engagement range (either within charge distance of an enemy unit/group or when in range to shoot its own missiles), at which point it follows a much stricter set of rules for movement, if it is not following reactions.

As it is possible for units to halt their movement after they have started (due to a reaction check, coming close to a friendly unit/group blocking its path, impassable terrain, reaching terrain you want to occupy, and coming into range where you can shoot), Generals do have some use with the War Ratings after the battle lines have been launched, but for the most part they are only used afterwards to commit the reserves. Given these restrictions, it is pretty important that you have a reserve to commit, in order to plug gaps where the battle has not gone so well, or to exploit a success. Again, I find this very realistic and a major difference between RRtK and DBA, where committing everyone at once (in order to have a longer battle line) is the norm.

Missile fire is handled by rolling 1D6 per foot or mounted skirmisher unit  and 2D6 per foot missile unit, applying modifiers to each die, totaling the amounts, and then inflicting one hit for each ([AC value] + 1) pips. However, the number of hits inflicted cannot exceed the number of units firing.

Melee works the similar to missile fire in that each unit rolls 1D6, each die is modified, then you inflict one hit for each ([AC value] + 1) pips. There is no limit on the number of hits inflicted, however.

Hits represent not just casualties (dead and wounded), but the loss of morale and effectiveness. The primary effect of hits are that they lower the REP of the unit point-for-point.

The Reactions

Of course, this would not be a THW game if melee and missile firing only caused hits. There are reaction tests associated with each too. So, what is a reaction test? Simply, it is rolling 2D6 against REP and determining how many passes are obtained. The dice rolls may be modified, in some cases more or less dice may be rolled (but you still only determine whether you have 0, 1, or 2+ passes), and the number of passes are compared to a chart to determine how the unit reacts to the triggering event.

The triggering events are:

  • Enemy Threat - when an enemy unit starts a move outside of 4" of your melee unit and ends its move facing and within 4" of that melee unit.
  • Received Fire - when fired upon by missiles, whether hits were taken or not.
  • Wanting to Charge - when a unit wants to contact an enemy unit.
  • Being Charge - when an enemy unit successfully charged your unit (after the enemy had passed a Wanting to Charge check or due to some other result).
  • Involved in a Melee - when in a melee, whether hits were taken or not.
  • Leader Lost - when a Leader is lost due to rout, death, or wounds.
The results of these tests often force the checking unit to perform some involuntary action, such as advance forward, retreat, return fire, or halt. It is this part of the game that leads most people to the conclusion that reaction systems are good for solo play, as it puts the soldiers on "auto-pilot". I generally disagree. My first miniatures game was with Column, Line, and Square and there is little difference between fighting in a melee and taking a reaction test that tells me to pull back, and taking a post-melee morale check, failing it, and being forced to fall back. Most games also have morale checks to charge, receive a charge, and for the loss of a general.

What is generally unique is a unit's reaction to missile fire and to enemy threat. I would say many rules do not have reaction to missile fire, or else they term that the unit is "pinned", "suppressed", "disordered", or "shaken". Threat tests, however, are pretty rare in rules. The only three that spring to mind are Huzzah!, Patriots and Loyalists, and a set of free Tricorne-era rules from Jackson Gamers. (It is an idea I was thinking of working with in my own rules.)


Given that units have a limited means of reacting to changing events in these rules (discussed further later), and the General has a limited number of units in reserve, this RRtK plays greater emphasis on getting your deployment the first time. (The authors even stress this point in the rules.)

Deployment is affected in two primary ways, both of which have random elements in RRtK: terrain placement and "Battle Tactics".

Setting up the battle consists of the following steps:

  1. Calculating each side's scouting values.
  2. Determine who is the attacker.
  3. Roll for the terrain type in each of the nine sections of the board. The defender places the actual terrain piece.
  4. Determine baselines.
  5. Attacker has the right to refuse the terrain setup twice (starting the process over at step 3).
  6. Both sides place their units.
Steps 1 and 2 are pretty automated. Step 4 is the defender choosing the baseline they prefer, which is also a fairly easy choice without many rules needed. Step 5 is also pretty easy to determine the answer without needing many rules. Step 6 warrants its own discussion. That leaves step 3, of which the hardest part is determining the size and exact placement of a terrain piece. (Interestingly, this problem comes up in my solo DBA development project.)

Troop Placement

Another comment I have read is that RRtK is solo-friendly because it tells you how to deploy your troops. No quite. In the Solo Gaming section of the RRtK rules it discusses Battle Tactics, which is a rating on the type of troop deployments and attacks each army type made. There are three army types: A (heavy dependence upon melee troops), B (fast mounted army with strong missile component), and C (defensive army with strong missile component). A die roll cross-referenced with the army type determines the army's battle tactics (basic plan of action) and the percentage of troops devoted to the left flank, right flank, center, and reserve. That's it. No indicator of which troops go in which section. No indicator of how troops are to be grouped, or placed in their sections. No discussion of which troops should be used for what missions.

But, it is a start, and it is better than nothing.

Decisions, Decisions ...

So, now that you have the basics of RRtK, we can look at the decisions that a solo gamer must still make for the Non-Player General (NPG), which I will do in the next installment.

1 comment:

  1. Good article. I'll have to go back and look at your solo DBA article on terrain placement. I vaguely remember reading it. I'm assuming you meant step 3 here " That leaves step, of which".