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Infantry Attacks:
On Artillery

When I decided to give our Infantry Attacks series a new Second Edition rules set, I had a couple of different reasons. I wanted to give it the same style of color play aids that the new editions of Panzer Grenadier and Second World War at Sea have received with their upgrades, and since the charts had to be laid out all over again, that meant they could be changed.

I also wanted to bring some of the procedures in line with the Fourth Edition of Panzer Grenadier, so that players of Infantry Attacks who also play Panzer Grenadier (which seems to be almost all of them) would find things intuitively the same and not be frustrated by doing something one way in this game, but doing the same thing differently in the other.

Mostly, though, I wanted to address artillery.

I’d never been satisfied with the artillery rules in Infantry Attacks, and it turned out that many players disliked them as well. Artillery dominated the battlefields of the Great War, but that wasn’t the case in Infantry Attacks. For the first games in the series (August 1914 and Fall of Empires), taking place in the first weeks of the war, that wasn’t as great of a problem as it would be for scenarios set even a few months afterwards.

Artillery fire in the first edition wasn’t very deadly. That forced players to emulate the tactics of August 1914, sending their infantry forward to grapple with the enemy. For decades wargame designers have justified that sort of outcome as “design for effect,” as opposed to “design for cause.” I’ve never truly understood those terms and they always seemed like hand-waving attempts to excuse poor design logic. In a military simulation (what we call a wargame), if the causes match up with historical events, then the effects should do so as well. Stuff should happen in the cardboard world for the same reasons it did so in the real world. If that’s not happening, then there’s something wrong with your model. And there was something wrong with the Infantry Attacks model.

Artillery units were also, mechanically, just very fiddly to use in game play. Every artillery unit had a written “plan” for use during play and that seemed neither accurate in terms of historical events nor a whole lot of fun to play. It’s one thing to write down mission orders in naval games, where that gives the feel of admirals plotting out courses and issuing orders. That doesn’t evoke the feel of a division commander ordering up his artillery to support the infantry.

So, given the chance to do it all over again, I did. Mostly by reverting to ideas in the original draft rule for Infantry Attacks, but fixing them the way they should have been from the start.

First, I restored a difference in artillery from the original draft. When the designer is also the publisher, it puts the developer in a squeeze and I’ve always tried not to use that publisher authority to overrule changes made to one of my game designs. That was a serious mistake here; in this rare case the designer actually was right and I should have invoked that power.

So now field guns (for the most part German 77mm, Russian 76.2mm and Austrian 8cm) are different than other artillery. They can only shoot at stuff they can see, just like any other unit. And they do so on the same Direct Fire Table as infantry and machine-gun units, which makes them much deadlier. They need no pre-planning; you just move and shoot with them like any other unit (well, it’s a little harder than that since you have to limber and unlimber, but you don’t have to write anything down). They’re fantastically vulnerable to infantry fire and close assault, so you won’t be putting them in the front lines as unarmored assault guns. Instead they’ll be behind the infantry, on a hill or slope where possible. You know, the way artillery was actually used in August 1914 - cause and effect.

And that change instantly simplifies at least two-thirds of the scenarios in August 1914 and Fall of Empires, where all of the artillery involved are field guns (these weapons made up most of the guns of August). Some scenarios in the first edition of August 1914 had these weapons firing from off the map (which never should have been in the game), and I re-worked those for the second edition to put all of the field guns on the map. Nothing needs to be written down or planned in advance - just set up and play.

The bigger guns show up much less often in 1914 than in 1941; for one thing, there weren’t nearly as many of them. When they do show up, either on the map or as off-board artillery, they’re a little harder to use (as it should be). First you have to spot for them, then on the next turn they can shoot. So the enemy might have moved on by then. When they do fire, they spray their fire over a cluster of three hexes (I stole that from another game) instead of just one. You can shift their target later, but that’s not instantaneous, either.

In some scenarios you can skip all of that and utilize pre-planned fire, which is pretty much what it sounds like. For both medium artillery (the bigger guns in Infantry Attacks) and field guns, the need to track artillery ammunition is removed and instead you use a version of the logistical shortfall rule from Panzer Grenadier (Modern). You’re not a battery commander, you’re a general in charge of a whole division, and it’s not your job to keep track of each individual shell. You’re the one who gets the report that says the shells are all gone.

Fall of Empires is a little simpler than August 1914, since none of the Austrian batteries could conduct indirect fire; in effect, even the medium artillery batteries are field guns that are harder to handle. The Russians still can use indirect fire, and at times do so to deadly effect. The Austrians have the special ability (one they’re at times required to use) of forming “storm columns” that let them jam three companies into one hex instead of the usual two, at a cost of additional vulnerability to enemy artillery fire. It’s a very bad day for the Dual Monarchy when a storm column blunders into a pre-planned Russian barrage.

Sinai-Palestine uses the standard artillery rules for the most part, but picks up additional special rules for the more sophisticated artillery methods seen in the Battles of Gaza, more akin to the Western Front than the Middle East. Those rules will also show up when we move to the latter years of Western Front.

Black Mountain is the easiest of all: there are no artillery units, on the board or off it, that can employ indirect fire. Everything’s right there where it can shoot and be shot at.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects. He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.