Just imagine, it is 1944, Hitler has sent his armies into the Ardennes. You, a young determined major, have pulled together a scratch force and prepare to hold this little Belgium town for as long as possible.
What to do about the Panzers? You position a battery of 3” anti-tank guns 400 yards to the North. You know your German adversary, should he have half a brain, will look at his map, see your guns, and divert southward.
"Huh?! What was that?"
What that was, was play by mutual omniscience, a basic problem in wargames. There before you lies every platoon and battery, identified and deployed. Every element of command (complete with an accurate assessment) that will lead and inspire them is in plain view. What commander would not have gladly given a “pound of flesh” to see what you can see? To further the problem, the armchair commander across the table from you sees exactly the same thing! The most intractable problem from Tactical Game 3 to Panzer Grenadier has been mutual omniscience.
Everyone will recognize this scene. Everything is on the map, regardless of woods, fields, and other "limiting" terrain. You even have a window into the soul (ie: morale and modifiers) of the enemy command staff.
OK, enough of my carping, let's talk about a solution! Such a solution must not add more time to game play. It needs to be workable without a referee. Why without a referee? Because no one wants to watch other people play for 4 hours, and your referee would get a bad case of MIIGO ("my eyes glaze over"). So here is a workable solution for 2 players. Now would be a good time to have a quick look at the rules, perhaps even print them. Now let's go through how they work.
The first thing you need is 2 sets of the scenario components. Next you need a view block or some distance (as in phone or VoIP). Finally, you will need trust. I don't mean trust as in “no cheating”, if that is an issue, you shouldn't be playing. I mean trust in regards to your faith in your opponent's competence. This is important because both of you are responsible for informing each other as to what is observed.
The main idea is to use Observation Points. Observation points are what do the “seeing”. Seeing or observing is distinct from spotting or spotted. Observation points are restricted by normal LOS and spotting rules. Observation points are either created by players, or are intrinsic to observed units and leaders. Unarmed transport and demoralized units and leaders are never observation points. All undemoralized combat units must be observable by an observation point at the end of a player's action segment. This is important for dealing with collisions. Note that once play begins, the observation requirement need not be fulfilled by the owning player's observation points or observed units.
Any undemoralized combat unit or leader may create an observation point in its own hex. Stationary infantry units (not HMG or WPN), cavalry, and reconnaissance units (such as armored cars) may create observation points in adjacent hexes.
At the start of a game, players will need to create observation points to observe their own units. An example of this process using the same starting layout as in Figure 1 follows:
The Germans create 3 observation points:
- The armor in hex 0509 create an observation point in their hex. This also fulfills the observation requirement for the INF and HMG in hex 0707.
- The Captain in hex 0910 creates an observation point. This can see the INF in hexes 1007 and 1009, and the 81mm Mortars in hex 0911.
- The INF in hex 1007 creates an observation point in hex 0907 to watch the front of the field.
You may have noticed I use NATO symbols and colors. Blue is for friendly, red is enemy, and lastly green is for allies. So from the perspective of this example you and I are playing as the Germans.
The Soviets also choose to create 3 observation points:
- The INF in hex 0403 makes an observation point in hex 0504. This keeps the units in hexes 0303, 0304, and 0403 under observation. It also fulfills the observation requirement for the INF in hex 0804, but not of those in hex 0904.
- The INF in hex 1004 create an observation point in hex 1003 to keep the remaining units in the field, and the mortars, under observation.
- Lastly, the units in hex 1211 (right map) create an observation point. Doing so fulfills the observation requirements for all the remaining Soviet units.
Once the initial observation points are placed and before beginning play, players reveal to each other what can initially be seen. Observation points see units as per the line-of-sight rules 8.3 and 8.4 in the series rulebook.
In practice, one player tells the other which of his units are visible to the opponent's observation points. The second player then tells the first about his. Then they each tell the other what newly revealed units can see, and back & forth until every one who can be seen is on both maps.
Now would be a good time to point out that the observation of leaders has some conditional restrictions regarding when they are actually seen, and to what extent. If a leader (or Kommissar) is in the same hex as a personnel or weapon unit, the leader is hidden in the unit and not revealed to your opponent. Leaders can be seen and must be revealed if they are alone in a hex, unloaded with non-combat vehicles, or present in an assault hex.
An example revelations sequence follows:
Moving Observation Points
If an OP is in a hex with a unit or leader, it may move with the unit or leader, or it may be removed. Keep in mind that you may need to create more observation points at the end of your action segment.
Units which created adjacent observation points lose them when the unit moves, unless the unit is reconnaissance infantry (Soviet recon and American I&R for example). Place the OP onto the moving unit or remove it.
In Figure 12, a Soviet recon in hex 1204 has an observation point in 1205. The recon platoon moves to hex 1105 while shifting the observation point forwards into hex 1106. Through careful use of observation points, the RCN has revealed the Germans in hex 1007 while maintaining its own concealment.
OPs alone in a hex with an enemy unit are removed or placed on the creating unit, at the owner's discretion.
Now imagine, scouts do scouting, armored cars have purpose, AT guns aren't useless, and most importantly, surprise happens. That channelizing with the AT battery I talked about in the beginning... won't happen. The German player will have to scout the position or blunder into them.
This system lends itself to remote play much better than email does. Free weekend minutes, free network calling and VoIP make this quite possible. After a couple games, playing double-blind does not take any more time than the normal play method, and I dare say once you've taken your opponent completely by surprise with an AT gun ambush you'll never go back to regular omniscient PG!
Tips & Thoughts
- There is an old joke, “You only need to remember 2 things in life, #1, don't tell anyone everything you know.” In the example situation above, the Germans in hex 0707 have an INF, an HMG, and a Lieutenant with a combat modifier of 1. You can fire with 14 points or 15. Both give the same result, so be sneaky with modifiers until you need them.
- Be conservative with observation points. An OP on a hill can see the enemy coming and watch your units on the reverse of the hill. Just don't be so conservative that you don't watch the approaches to your positions.
- Keep in mind that a couple of armored cars can demonstrate like a mechanized battalion, or vise-versa. Take a look, or kill the scouts, it depends on if you are the deceiver or the deceivee.
- A scout tank is a dead tank. Beware of that infantry screen in front of the woods. OPs with the infantry can fulfill the observation requirement of that AT gun in the woods. Kinka-kinka-crash-boom is a bad song!
- Take notes, use markers. The personalized leaders for C&C work well. As the German player in the article, I would expect to see Alexi, Boris, Carpus and Dimitri to show up eventually. Watch for multi-hex fire teams and units passing moral checks with high rolls.
Have a question about this system or need a clarification? Contact Peter