Friday, 25 April 2014

Crossfire: Spanish Civil War game with WW1-style trenches

Fulfilling a long-standing intention to see how well the Crossfire building complex rules could be applied to WW1-style trenches, I set up a Spanish Civil War game with three companies of Republicans holding a trench and walled cemetery while they were attacked by four companies of Nationalists. I reported the experience on the Crossfire Yahoo Group which led to a highly informative but inconclusive debate about trench warfare and how best to represent it.

This was a very sparse set-up for Crossfire. The Nationalists are attacking from the left. The Republicans hold the trench. There is really only one line of approach - through the fields.
Crossfire was not designed for WW1, but I think the use of the building complex rules - i.e. treating trench sections as if they were contiguous buildings - basically feels right and basically works. Having said that there was s fly in the ointment. As I will explain, this fly was not peculiar to the extension of these rules to trenches, but is inherent in the building complex rules.

View of the Republican right from the Nationalist left
If a good unit with a good PC can penetrate the flank/end section of a building complex or trench system, it stands a very good chance of rolling up the entire complex/system in a single initiative. Now that may be fair enough, but while building complexes might be modelled with say three or four sections, a continuous trench system potentially encompasses the whole width of the table with that side's complete force contained within it.

Carlist Militia hold the Nationalist centre
When this has happens in my urban 'Crossfiregrad' game, the assault burns itself out at the end of the particular complex and the attackers are then obliged to cross open ground before repeating the assault on another building or complex. But in this game the attackers were able to munch their way through most of the opposing force. So dramatic was the effect that we decided to abandon the game.

Anarchist Militia manning the trenches opposite the fields. The trenches are from Ironclad Miniatures.
Now the attackers were Spanish Foreign Legion rated as Veteran with a +2 PC while their initial opponents were Anarchist Militia rated as Raw and enjoying no PC or CC bonuses. Once the Legionaries had consumed the Anarchists, they encountered a company of the International Brigade - Trained with +1 PCs. These were tougher to digest and there the rampage ended.

International Brigade troops hold the walled cemetery. I got this splendid piece of 15mm scenery from S&S Models but they had discontinued it last time I checked.
What was lacking in this trench game was any stopping point. Following discussion in the CF Yahoo group, three possible solutions emerged:

1. Allow trenches to be interrupted by natural features so they are not completely continuous. This directly addresses the problem, but does not seem entirely appropriate to the relatively small scale that Crossfire models.

The Legion advance through the fields. The Nationalist tank was knocked out by the Republican tank. (It was actually going forwards but someone seems to have turned it around!)
2. Allow trench sections to contain 3 rather than the default 2 squads. This would make the defenders more resilient but it's rather fudgey and adds nothing to reflecting the specific nature of trenches.

Anarchist militia suppressed by artillery and about to be attacked
3. Allow only 1 squad to attack along the trench line owing to restricted access. This was suggested by Steven Thomas (of Balagan fame). The corollary of this is that defenders should also defend with only one squad. At first I thought this might just delay the inevitable, but I think on reflection that (a) in any event it is entirely appropriate to modelling the narrow confines of a trench as opposed to a structure, and (b) should help to stem those runaway advances. Given the essential design of Crossfire, every increase in dice throwing increases the chance of the initiative switching to the other player. So although the veteran Legionaries will retain their advantage over the Anarchist Militia, their killing spree will be twice as likely to be halted. This needs playtesting.

The Republican tank is knocked out by artillery near the village