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"Flank Attack Bonus, "Closing the door", etc" Topic

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883 hits since 22 Sep 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
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Queen Catherine23 Sep 2017 6:18 a.m. PST

I'm pondering some of the mechanics of my gang's foray into One-Hour Wargames.

One issue that keeps cropping up, for me, is the issue of moving a unit into melee by full edge-to-edge contact, that which is often referred to as "closing the door".

In most battle games, a unit is on a rectangular base, and it usually moves along a straight line into contact with its charge target. Since it is not always exactly parallel to the charge target, the first part of the attacking unit to touch is usually the corner. The unit then gets free or measured movement to finish contacting with the other corner as well, so it looks like a wheel / door closing.

I'm presently pondering the mechanics of either closing the door or NOT closing the door, in other words, just leave the unit in corner contact [Arty Conliffe's Tactica did that]. However, it just doesn't look right, and I think that there's an aspect of conforming to the defender in periods where melee is an actual closing into contact and a stabbing scrum.

So I do like "closing the door" for Ancient, Dark Ages, Medievals, and into Renaissance, anytime where actual hand to hand combat is what the melee phase means.

Given this, I'm considering if the bonus of double Hits [double damage] in a small-battle dark ages / medieval game is really warranted. I know, I know, it is a cherished mechanic of the hobby, HOWEVER…

Our take on the OHW rules has units of about 50 mounted / skirmishers, and 100 formed foot, sort of a small battle / big skirmish scale game. With the small size, and the lack of drill and formations in the period, PLUS groups of foot formed pretty deep, so I've trouble seeing that a flank contact is a guaranteed devastating win like it might be for a later, more linear period like Horse and Musket, where the formations go from 6/10 ranks deep to 2-4 ranks deep.

So I'm now thinking of ditching the bonus for flank attack, but keeping the bonus for an attack on the rear.

So overall…

1) do you like the look of full edge/edge contact, i.e. "Closing the Door" or would you be ok with just stopping a charger at the initial point of contact [probably a corner]?

2) in a small battle game, should units get a bonus for attacking the flank? Or is the bonus of having additional units attacking enough, and the doubling of Hits should be saved just for a full-blown attack and contact onto the rear?

Thanks in advance, I'm going to try and get my pal to post on this at his blog in case I'm not being clear…

Personal logo Great War Ace Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2017 6:42 a.m. PST

Flank attacks only work when the attacked formation is already frontally engaged. If a flank attack comes in without frontal engagement already occurring, then the flank simply turns to face. No bonuses, since it is no longer a flank attack, but rather a narrow facing frontal attack.

There may be some exceptions for excessively deep formations with pikes, that cannot turn and present pikes in time. A flank attack, where the pikes are already presented and supporting a combat to the front, would be especially devastating to the pike in this situation.

I don't use element basing. All of my combats are with individually based figures. So the visual conundrum you posit does not come up. Each figure has its own combat value and engages enemy figures usually one on one. A flank attack bonus only happens when a figure cannot face. Same holds true for rear attacks. And yes, we cut a flanked figure's combat value in half; while a figure attacked in the rear is zero combat value.

Queen Catherine23 Sep 2017 6:47 a.m. PST

Hey GWA, Thanks for the reply.

What rules are you using?

CATenWolde23 Sep 2017 6:59 a.m. PST

For what it's worth, in my house-ruled version of Lion Rampant that we use for Arthurian skirmishes/raids, flank attacks 1) are tough to set up, as your center point has to start behind his front flank line, and 2) generally just make it hard to react. Specifically, trying to counter-charge or evade takes a 9+ instead of a 7+, and likewise pivoting to face while retaining shieldwall formation takes a 9+. After that you fight normally (having pivoted to face), but your Courage is also at -1 (making it slightly more likely that you will retreat afterwards).

MajorB23 Sep 2017 7:36 a.m. PST

Hey GWA, Thanks for the reply.
What rules are you using?

GWA uses his own rules.

coopman23 Sep 2017 8:30 a.m. PST

You could make it less devastating than double hits, like +2 to the rolled hits or something like that. Now if the unit is fighting enemy that are to their front and their flank or rear simultaneously, that's way more serious and some routing away could be expected via increased hits.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP23 Sep 2017 9:13 a.m. PST

Most pre-20th century armies worked hard to have their lines remain parallel to the enemy's--one reason for re-aligning and dressing lines on the advance. Having said that, some games rules like Volley & Bayonet don't
close the door. Contact is contact. AND if the attacker or defender retreats, they retreat directly back regardless of the angle of attack.

Flank attacks are generally fairly rare because armies really wanted to avoid that situation, regardless if they were frontally attacked or not. Small unit tactics often do refuse a flank or respond to flank attacks, regardless of frontal engagements, like the 20th Maine at the Little Round Top, but they certainly are devastating when successful. At larger scales, it is more difficult to actually get a 'flank attack.' At Leuthen, Frederick did achieve a flank attack, but the Austrians were able to reform their lines--twice.

So, part of the question is what scale you are working with.

Ottoathome23 Sep 2017 10:24 a.m. PST

Dear Queen Catherine

The answer is simple if you are inclined to make the mental leap.

In my rules, "Oh God! Anything but a six!" All combat is simultaneous, and the range of combat is 8" All units with 8" can fire or melee. Some units can fire from beyond 8" but they are rare.

There is no flanking.

All troops within 8" are in close combat range, but troops can ONLY melee or fire on troops to their front and within 45" degrees to each side. If the enemy unit isn't within that arc, no fire or melee. The flanking fire aspect comes in when unit A is within that restricted arc but B who is attacking it is not. This B fires on A but A can't fire on B.

The only time flanking comes in is if a unit must retreat from the enemy zone of control and can't in which case it is eliminated.

The game places figures on large stands. Stupid things like refusing flanks or making squares, or turning one flank to face an attack are the job of lieutenants and sergeants, not the general of the army. Each turn represents an hour. During that time it is assumed units can make all sorts of moves and maneuvers, from hand to hand combat to standing there and hurling nothing but insults at the other side.

Thus all this base to base folderol which seems to be like a square-dance where people shuffle their bases around in extreme unhistorical elements of gamesmanship aren't needed. "Swing your flanks stand left to right, Pass your front from front to year, swing your partners once again, nod do-se-do, do-se do, and promenade.. promenade….

At the general level poor foolishness.

Guthroth23 Sep 2017 10:32 a.m. PST

From a re-enactment POV, flank attacks can either be devastating or make no real difference. As Great War Ace said if the target unit is fully engaged you are in trouble. If not I'd suggest an "awareness" check.

If the defending unit passes the attackers roll to see how disordered they have become in the charge.

If the defenders fail, double hits/casualties for 1 turn and then run morale or whatever. If they survive they fight as normal in subsequent combats.

Blutarski23 Sep 2017 12:29 p.m. PST

Perhaps I'm reading the wrong history books, but my impression is that the first effect of a flank or rear attack upon the defender (especially a surprise attack) would be a morale check. Flank and especially rear threats seem to have been taken quite seriously, particularly in the H&M period.


Sobieski23 Sep 2017 3:35 p.m. PST

I seem to be swimming against the current, but it's my impression following quite a few decades of reading that getting onto a flank and hanging on is the most important of all tactical desiderata. Not just in H. and M. either.

Queen Catherine23 Sep 2017 6:14 p.m. PST

Well, as is being raised, the TIME a turn represents, and the SCALE of the Unit are all important parts of it.

For a medieval "blob" that is 5-10 ranks deep, and no very well organized and therefore not very flank sensitive anyway, I don't see it as a game winner.

For a trained line unit in the H&M period, sure, I think they were "flank sensitive, mainly because they didn't have any depth. HOWEVER, they also worked to have companies in reserve to counter a flanking maneuver, and if so I return to my original "no big deal – someone else's problem" attitude, since the reserve will take care of it.

I think rushing to aspects of a flank attack like "ambush, surprise, etc" is take this a full step too far. Just like the 20th Maine refused a flank, any moderately trained unit can do the same.

So how long is a turn, and how big is the unit?

As Guthroth and Blutarski mention, it is certainly a threat of varying proportions. As for OHW, there are no morale checks, as they are not needed in the mechanics. If a player gets charged on the flank they either didn't think something thru or turned down an opportunity to do something about it or missed something coming, so deserve any problems they run into without an additional mechanic like a "morale check". If you are in melee to the front, and in melee to the side, you will be taking hits at a 2-1 ratio, which will certainly result in you breaking and being removed from the battle first, all other factors being equal.

So one might say that the OHW shooting mechanic self-contains the variable known as the morale check, because you don't know how fast you will take hits and be removed, altho you can guess the parameters of the problem just as you can with rolling 2d6 on the bell curve.

CATenWolde24 Sep 2017 12:56 a.m. PST

Specific to OHW (in keeping with the simple mechanics), if you want to reduce the effect of flank attacks you might try rolling two dice and taking the best score. Of course, you *could* still be doubling (or more) the number of hits anyway, i.e. if you roll a 1 and a 6 or so on. However, the total number would still be capped at the original maximum (i.e. 6 not 12) – it's just more likely that you would get a "high roll" on a flank attack.

I would be in favor of something like this (or giving a +2), rather than eliminating the effect of flank attacks entirely. No matter your scale, having the enemy show up where you aren't looking for them is disruptive to some degree. Specific to the Dark Ages and Medieval period, it often meant "Oh crap, the enemy is behind our line of battle!"

For horse & musket periods, it was often lethal, as it wasn't until very late (ACW) that individual units started to (sometimes) keep a local reserve, or had the flexibility to refuse their own flanks. Games like V&B that ignore flank attacks are usually scaled at a very abstract level – V&B assumes that the "second line" built into its big-block units is probably reacting to the flank attack over the fairly long time period represented by the turn. This is why, in my more tactical house-rules for V&B in the ACW, I have increased morale penalties for unsupported lines, and flanked units impart a save on all combat rolls.

However – that's the theory … The most important rule is what feels right to you on your table. ;)



Personal logo Great War Ace Supporting Member of TMP24 Sep 2017 6:31 a.m. PST

Hey GWA, Thanks for the reply.

What rules are you using?

The Art of War , as Major B said, our own.

The main threat of a flank attack is the implication that the flanked unit is outnumbered. Without any bonuses at all, the outcome is usually easily a foregone conclusion. Of course, there are exceptions where an outnumbered unit faces in all directions and holds an overwhelming enemy off. But without being rescued by intervention, such a unit is doomed unless (like the Swiss) it can fight its way off the field.

Ottoathome24 Sep 2017 7:56 a.m. PST

I have often wondered if the effect of the flank attack was not on the units, but on the mind of the commander commanding the wing the units are in.

Olivero24 Sep 2017 9:58 p.m. PST

Personally I consider flank and rear attacks to be the same thing. No matter what period you are looking at, armies would always present itself more wide than deep. Combatants attacking a flank would always flow around the enemy and attack the back of that Unit (and THAT would be a problem). Also I reckon that the best men would always fight in the front of a unit, especially in irregular armies, so attacking the flank/rear means attacking less competent and less ambitious men more prone to run.

Queen Catherine25 Sep 2017 7:00 a.m. PST

@ Olivero
I think it depends what sort of unit it is.

The larger the unit in the game [50, 100, 1000?] the more likely it is to be deeper and / or have it's own backup of people, whether they are a proportion of fully trained soldiers or the squires, spare mounts, and knights taking a rest or getting bandaged up before renewing the fight.

Some pike blocks were fully prepared to fight to the flanks and it was intentional in the formation design that this would be a possibility.

Finally, a flank attack on a unit is itself in danger of being flanked itself! So if there is a reserve, and it is visible to the attackers, they may not be so eager to run around on their own to the back of a formation, unless it is also fully engaged to its front.

All of which are unit, period, and game scale / design specific questions, which is why I'm re-thinking this game design convention of the flank attack as a devestating game winner.

Thomas Thomas Supporting Member of TMP25 Sep 2017 1:05 p.m. PST

Interesting question about flank attacks. I've debated this in the DBX community for years. At present the rule favors Great Ace's view that a flank attack in and of itself isn't fatal as the unit can turn and face. But if trapped between two contacts you get a No Recoil "Hard Flank" which can be fatal. In addition DBX has the Recoil mechanic so that even though a Stand turns to face it may be eventually Recoil back into the flank of the rest of the line – also fatal.

So DBX has managed to have it both ways and in general handles this situation pretty well. Still I stubbornly cling to the idea that an intial flank attack should have some consequence.

As to "conforming", it has some hassles but many benefits: it looks better it makes it clear what facing a stand be be hit on if additonal units appear and makes Recoils and Prusuits easier to resolve. Its the rule overhead of how to conform that does need some work (I'm doing that right now as a DBA 3.0 umpire and for Knights and Knaves).

Thomas J. Thomas
Fame and Glory Games

Queen Catherine05 Oct 2017 6:35 p.m. PST

Thanks for replies.

I've decided to go with "close the door" for Ancients to pike and shot, and initial contact for Horse and musket on.

For some examples of how door closing looks, we've played a bunch of games, and our blogger has done some more games at various odd hours of the day when he isn't doing "military work" of some sort [all very suspicious to me – I figure he either games for the government think tank or is a 00].

Anyway, some new posts with our thoughts and conclusions about the original rules and how they can be best played in medievals are here:

With two recent posts with rules and a playtest.

happy gaming!

Simo Hayha11 Oct 2017 10:46 a.m. PST

my group plays custom rules.
Flank attacks are not generously given. must be solidly in his flank well beyond his frontal 45.
flank attacks are at 1.5 casualties
Rear attacks are at double
Huge morale negatives for both.

units flanked do not have to have a unit to their front to be flanked, but units attacked in the rear have to be stuck in their current position.

Personal logo Frank Wang Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Oct 2017 6:25 p.m. PST

I think it depends on how many men does 1 base represents. as you said, a small game(skirmish level),1 base represents 1 man, flanking is not an issue. the man could quickly turn to the attacker unless he is surrounded by many.

if 1 base represents several men,20 or even more, flanking is surely provide extra bonus

Whirlwind13 Oct 2017 9:49 a.m. PST

I think a lot of this underestimates how damaging a flank attack can be. If the unit can turn and face, let it, but that is pretty hard at most periods, especially for large units of un-drilled troops.

Queen Catherine13 Oct 2017 4:48 p.m. PST

@ whirlwind

I think it also depends on what you mean by "flank attack".

If it is a true "mugging" from the side, sure, it can be pretty nasty…but that also assumes some sort of surprise factor. This looks kinda silly IMHO when it is just a unit coming in for an approach from a steep side angle, but there's no front threat. So you can get into the "turn to face reaction" mechanic.

As most units in undrilled armies had a bunch of hangers-on helping to their rear, the question is how attentive are they, even to a rear attack? A medieval unit didn't fight the way most games portray then, with a uniformity of weapons, skill and morale. They were usually a collection of "Lances" of several people, sort of a squad, gathered under a more important knight's banner who'd command 50 or 100 of them. They usually had squires and camp followers who would aid them during the battle.

The mistake most gamers make is in thinking that ALL units in ALL periods are drilled automotons like Frederick the Great's infantry. My personal opinion is that most medieval "formations" were just a blob in a rough sort of line, and quite deep.

So I would actually say that drilled troops are the ones vulnerable to a flank attack – they aren't ALLOWED to look around! Medieval people are just hanging out, there's no formation, no drill and very little discipline beyond "follow the flag".

So depending on what your understanding is of the period, flank attacks can vary in severity.

I have been playing with no flank attack bonus, and find that the second unit, outnumbering the target 2-1, is usually easily enough to knock out a unit quickly. So you still get a bonus, which is more units ganging up, and they still do the job, but the magical evaporating Unit effect is much diminished.

Presently, I'm leaning heavily to only having a front and a rear, and the rear is behind a line drawn to each flank off the rear of the base. So in effect, the two flanks of a base are "front".

I like it thus far.

Whirlwind13 Oct 2017 8:50 p.m. PST

The mistake most gamers make is in thinking that ALL units in ALL periods are drilled automotons like Frederick the Great's infantry. My personal opinion is that most medieval "formations" were just a blob in a rough sort of line, and quite deep.

So I would actually say that drilled troops are the ones vulnerable to a flank attack they aren't ALLOWED to look around! Medieval people are just hanging out, there's no formation, no drill and very little discipline beyond "follow the flag".

On the contrary, the lack of formal movements makes it much more likely to be devastating; sure if it is open people can see (and of course, SYW infantry could and did look to their left and right) – but what are they going to do about it? Are they going to refuse the flank? Or wheel? There are no sub-units to order separately. Medieval armies weren't so deep that it is going to make much of a tactical difference when being hit in the flank.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP14 Oct 2017 7:00 a.m. PST

Well, during the Napoleonic period, it was common practice to have skirmishers on the flanks as an early warning system as well as delaying a flank attack.

I would agree with Whirlwind, a form infantry unit would be far more 'under control' than a 'mob' or Medieval unit. And standing in a battalion line, that is a front of between 100 to 200 yards long. A number of the men would see any enemy troops coming in from the flank, Particularly in the first and third ranks.

Queen Catherine04 Nov 2017 6:45 a.m. PST

@ whirlwind
I think you're incorrect in thinking that only organized sub formations mean there's a reaction.

I see a medieval unit as being made up of a few knights, several retainers / men at arms, and some poorly armed but useful servants and squires who are there to help their knights, and it is documented that they did help them. These sub-units didn't wait for permission to do anything. If they saw some guys coming towards them with hostile intent, they'd turn and face them and shout some warnings to others what they were doing.

Just like it doesn't take a lot of practice to get new rugby players to keep their attention on where the ball is and react to it, I don't think these sub-units awaited some VIP to tell them to face an enemy. Especially in smaller battles and skirmishes.

That being said, it is quite different in all periods if you are being pinned down on your front, and your attention is being held there, and then you are "surprised" by an attack on you flank or rear.

So overall, the key problem is the ganging-up issue, not who was more attentive on the battlefield in general, an argument that is hard to prove, altho I think modern re-enactors would say that they are free to gaze around as vikings and not free to gaze around as drilled 18th century units.

So the game mechanics will need to closely consider scale of the game [easier for smaller units to react] and if one is focused to the front by a distraction, whether melee or shooting [in which case I think double casualties is logical].

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