Hi all, I'm a newcomer here, but present on lots of other forums. I joined here because I wanted to talk about what I view as missed opportunities in gaming at Panzer Campaigns scale, and see if I am alone (or if someone has beaten me to it).
I think the PC games scope/scale is very good - I like the big scope/Btn scale games, particularly France '40. I would get more, but for a couple of things: the armies feel like a collection of battalions rather than divisions, and the armies all feel the same. A subsidiary issue is I really don't like the artillery...
What do I mean by a collection of battalions? Well, the game has HQs and a command chain, and you have to keep within a command radius for best effectiveness. There is a combined units penalty on combat. Other than that, battalions are just some firepower/assault/quality stats. You can put together beautiful division, corps or army assaults with no notice. In reality, it took time to get a division to put in a nice coordinated attack with 6 or so battalions, all taking advantage of eachothers' ZOC, pinning units, exploiting gaps etc. But in these games, one turn, drive across the map, and bump into the enemy. Next turn (2 hours later usually), one brilliantly coordinated assault, limited only by artillery set up, and movement points. Two different divisions, even from separate armies, or corps can do a lovely double envelopment of an enemy they didn't know was there 2 hours before. in fact, given the correct use of recon, an enemy force can be attacked by the full division that same turn.
The struggle with modelling the collapse in France in 1940 is that I believe the issue was a failure of command, not a failure of the troops. The French/Allied command loop never recovered from German troops appearing opposite Sedan, and breaking through. Any scenarios have to fix large numbers of Allied troops to stop them using their superior numbers, tanks and (on hand) guns to punish the Germans. The only other lever available is to have very slow or low quality troops on the Allied side. I will return to this issue in a moment, but first i need to discuss artillery.
The artillery in the game manages to be simultaneously too flexible, and not flexible enough. In France 40 this might not be a killer, but this is the reason I haven't bought any late war western front PC games. What do I mean? Too flexible: any artillery in range can fire at any target spotted by any spotter (ignore air recce for now). Not flexible enough: in the British and US army, any artillery in range could be used to attack any targets, in the case of the British (at least), routinely on the fly. But automatic defensive fire doesn't use more than 1 or 2 artillery (ever). The effect of the artillery in game is (I think) weakened, to counter the 'too flexible' aspect (otherwise it becomes a death star tool). The number of defensive fires similarly. Even the French in 1940 could bring down astonishing amounts of artillery in defence (but only when they had time to prepare fire plans for 24 hrs first). German artillery was never this flexible, but could be allocated to regiments/battalions for small amounts of responsive fire, just not to everyone). Fatigue of the gunners, and ammunition is the limitation - a field artillery unit in 2 hours could easily fire 8 or more 'bursts' of say 5 rounds per gun without things being hard on the guns or men. This would only be 400 rounds per day per gun - not excessive for a maximum rate. Normal rate when firing for 25pdrs was 3 rounds per minute, intense was 5 rounds and maximum physically possible was 6-8 (but only for a few minutes). In game, for there to be 8 different assaults in range every turn means the division is very busy!
A final thing about artillery is it wouldn't need to be so strongly neutered if its effect was more similar to RL: somewhat temporary unless it was very heavy guns and destroyed things like bunkers. British 25pdrs are small by modern standards (84mm?), as are everybody's 75mm. This was deliberate because temporary neutralization was the aim. If most artillery effect was only for the game turn in question, it wouldn't need to be toned down so much - bombard then assault, and have the benefit. However the target recovers most of the effect at the end of the go... To continue my 5 rounds gunfire example from above: As a guide, an 8 gun 25pdr unit firing 5 rounds over 2-3 minutes should (if concentrated and on target) cause 2% casualties to dug in troops in a 100 yard circle - in other words maybe 2% of a platoon or 2, or say 1 man. Not dug in, it should be maybe 10 times this, or 10 men... Not so different to in game... However, it ought to neutralise (i.e. prevent movement through, or most weapons fire out of) maybe 2-5 times this area, or maybe a company. If accurately delivered in a timely manner, 3 such batteries can convert a regimental assault on a battalion much more likely to succeed, by temporarily preventing resistance from the defender - one company gets overrun whilst no one can intervene and the defender falls back (unless dug in well etc). However, the effect wears off once out of the hex - the defender should have a small fatigue increase and not much else. Of course, in defence, the same thing works on the attacker - except attackers tend to be standing and cannot be dug in. Consider 3x casualties, and similar neutralisation - so 3 identical defensive batteries kill maybe 3 platoons (100 men, max) if all on target, and no attack is going to survive that.. The casualty fatigue is permanent, but the batteries might not be on target, so maybe only 10 casualties would be more a normal result . The neutralisation stops the attack (defensive fire 'knows' where to block approaches so should neutralise more effectively), but next turn, they have reorganised and try again with no lasting effect.
I haven't fully finished my thoughts on artillery, but I see both these issues (artillery, and lack of 'divisional planning') as having possibly similar solutions. Divisions should have 'modes' and readiness within those modes. Again, this is very much an aunt Sally, but something like:
Mode: General, or movement. effect: just like today, but with organic artillery only (i.e. regimental mortars or infantry guns), if set up, can fire. Only a single stack can assault an one target hex. This simulates attacks from the march, and with no divisional plan, no artillery surveyed in etc, so most cant fire in support, even if set up.
Mode: Attack. This allows definition of a linked group of hexes for each division, but cannot have friendly units in them. if an assault is on a target hex in this group, unlimited assaults in terms of number of attacking hexes (subject to stacking) are allowed. Artillery support depends on the degree of readiness.
Readiness 1: set up artillery units may be allocated to specific regiments/brigades, and may fire on any unit spotted by that regiment, or in support of any attack or defence by units of that regiment. However only 1 artillery unit can fire per target hex. For all readiness levels, Player can manually fire batteries at any valid target, this will be say 3-4 times more effective but this 'uses' the artillery for the turn - used for counterbattery etc, as artillery used for assault support is best left automatic.
readiness 2: as 1, but any number of attached artillery units may fire in an attack on a hex, but only 1 in defence
Readiness 3: all guns in division may fire in an attack, and any number of attached units in defence
Readiness 4: all guns in range may fire in attack or defence.
Readiness would be built up by the majority of the division remaining stationary with the same attack objective, aiming to typically achieve max readiness in 24 hrs (say)
Differentiation of nationalities could be achieved by setting larger thresholds for achieving each state, or even preventing them achieving certain states. For example, Germans limited to 3, Russians 2, French 3, British (pre 1942) 3, (1942 on) 4
There would be a similar set up for divisions on defence, except the grouped hexes should be within the division footprint. Attacks would still be allowed (these would be counterattacks when the defence is penetrated). The speed of readiness buildup could be different in attack and defence.
Whether and how many guns are actually fired at a melee should depend on the readiness, and the basic odds of the melee - if the assaulting units are already at good odds, only 0-1 battery fires. If the situation is critical - very adverse odds, or a very good target (max stacking of troops or tanks), and readiness is 4, you might get every battery in range firing (irrespective of higher HQ).
These ideas undoubtedly have flaws, but they would allow differences in army capability, not just troop capability. For example, Germany could be given quicker build up of attack readiness. Britain noticeably slower. France in 1940 would be a special case: to reflect the slow expectation of tempo, and the odd (!) command and communication style, could have even slower attack readiness buildup and limitations on the turns that a division can change to an attack mode (say only allowed every 2nd or 3rd turn?). We need the French player to be much less restrained in units that can be moved, but always struggling to launch a coordinated attack before the Germans have moved on.
Russian improvements 1941-44/5 would also be able to be modelled with things like this.
Oh, and British artillery regts should be capable of being split in France 40- in 1940 it was very rare to fire a regimental concentration - the batteries were split amongst the supported division's brigades - as 2 batteries of 12 guns. The lack of flexibility this gave (and failure to match the 3 btn brigade) caused the late 1940 reorg to 3 batteries of 8 guns. Whilst in game, the OOB could give 6 12 gun batteries per division, I wouldn't want the axtra units all the time. If the regts can be broken down on demand, we have the best of both worlds... Again, I a trying to give the player options with snags, rather than 'fix the units in place'
Any thoughts anyone?