Miniature Ordnance Review looks at the world of historical and fantasy miniatures wargaming and model building. From 15mm Flames of War, to Warhammer 40K, to 1/35th scale tanks, with some potential surprises on the horizon - you'll find them here!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spam - or How to Max/Min your Army Without Even Trying

Once upon a time a long time ago, there was a canned meat product called "Spam," that turned out to be easy to deliver to American troops during World War II. It became ubiquitous during that conflict and its popularity continued post-war. Eventually "spam" referred to more than just the branded product and ultimately referred to various canned meat (or "mystery meat") products. Then in the 1970s, the British comedy group Monty Python took up the call...

In honor of this sketch, with the advent of the internet, unsolicited emails became known as "spam." Not to be left out, the gaming community (online and otherwise) adopted the term for any repetitive action or repetitive use of an item - usually to create some advantage in the game.

One of the beauties of Flames of War in V3 and earlier was generally players were required to build their force from a single army list. Because the force levels in any particular list were fixed, it became very hard to "max/min" lists to gain an advantage in the list creation step. This began to change in the Team Yankee rule set which permitted players to take multiple formations, and has been carried through to Flames of War V4. Now players are not limited to one or two force organizations and can instead bring, theoretically, as many as they like as long as they meet the minimum requirements for each force.

From a game design perspective, this makes it very hard to balance the respective forces. While an overall single formation list may be balanced, enterprising players will find ways to take the minimum number of points for multiple formations to maximize their firepower on the table. In general this technique is referred to as MSU, or "Multiple Small Unit" (no offense to my fellow Mississippi State University alumni!).

For example - a single unit of three Leopard 2 tanks costs 33 points. Playing East Germans, I could use multiple small formations to create the following list:

T-72M Panzer Battaillon
1x T-72M (3 pts)
3x T-72M (7 pts)
3x T-72M (7 pts)
3x T-72M (7 pts)

T-55AM Panzer Battaillon
1x T-55AM (1 pts)
3x T-55AM2 (2 pts)
3x T-55AM2 (2 pts)
3x T-55AM2 (2 pts)

...and still have 2 points to play with to use for Spandrels, AA, or recon...

While this is an extreme case (among the most expensive NATO MBT facing off against the least expensive Pact MBTs), in a larger tournament or campaign, it wouldn't be unreasonable for a player to go such a route. While it is accurate that Pact forces typically outnumbered their NATO counterparts, it wasn't by that large a degree.

In a tournament setting, such lists are often self-correcting. Because they contain many small units, they will "bleed victory points." It will be hard to get 6:1 victories because you will almost always tend to lose a few units. That being said, it will likely be easier to win with such formations, and if you're good (and fast), you may be able to stave off enough casualties to score well.

So what is the solution? Well, honestly to pose a solution there has to be some consensus that there is a problem. While you may be able to get more individual units at 100 points by using MSU, you're not going to get more space to deploy them - which means you're going to run out of space in some missions. Quantity also has a quality all its own - large units can be hard to break. So an argument can be made that one or two formation lists can be equally effective.

In the end I think we're going to need a fair amount of data to understand the actual impact of MSU on game play. I'd hypothesize that they will be more effective at small point values - especially if the opponent has taken high-priced units - than they would at larger point values. That being said, I do think we'll see some tournaments experimenting with limiting the number of formations allowed in lists.

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