Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Setting Up a DFII Game: Step by Step


After reading a few initial attempts at setting up a DFII game, it occurred to me that a little experienced advice on that process might be of use to new players-especially GMs. DFII is not difficult in any way, but it is unique and different enough from many other designs that perhaps a few pointers might be helpful.

The first step in setting up a DFII game is the choice and arrangement of the battlefield. DFII is designed to reward the smart use of terrain and what was historically called the Coup d'oeil, an eye for the ground. A good battlefield for DFII is not a flat plain without any variance-a literal billiard table without hills, forests, rivers, hedges, farms, or streams, but a field that has a wide variety of terrain to consider. Look to real battles for guidance. Since terrain is also the place where the very important objective markers are placed it also provides reasons for tactical choices and allows dice replenishment other than just the 4R card.

Here's a typical battlefield set up by me for a DFII game:

Note the use of woods, a number hills, farmer's fields, Roads and road exits,
and the central village. This not a barren field!

Unlike many wargames, DFII is quite comfortable with additional terrain, for several reasons; it provides for variance of sight lines, movement, and combat situations, and, of course, provides a rationale for the placement of objectives. The most obvious means of replenishment of red dice in DFII is, of course, the 4R card, where the potential is delimited by the command quality of the force, but another method of replenishment is the taking of objectives which may provide a greatly variable amount of dice dependent on the perception of its tactical value by the Game Master, and a variable roll by the capturing commander. A 6 dice objective would yield an average of 21 dice, but could range from 6 to 36!

These objectives give a reason for tactical choices in the line of attack, and which commands may be given the responsibility for taking them. They allow the game master to shape the battle, and reward the gamer that when observing the field of battle can see where the key objectives are and the best route for attack. They add immense interest and decision making opportunities to the initial set-up and the priority of moves. If its nothing but a flat ground, then the most likely outcome is two lines advancing without much more reasons for doing so than that's the only thing to be done. It produces a low interest game-more dependent on die rolls than any other factor. This is true of any rule set, by the way.

When I plan a DFII battle, I usually start by setting out the terrain well in advance of the day-either by placing the terrain pieces if it's a "home" game, to having a small sketch map for an "Away" game that allows quick terraining of the battlefield.

Here are the steps for setting up a good battle field:

1. Think of the battle field in terms of sectors either right, center or left, or a sector for each probable player/command. Think of the three depth Zones ,or thirds, of the field as described in the objective slides 24 and 25 as being friendly, neutral, and enemy.

2. First, lay out a few hills. Try to distribute them in a meaningful way. They may be clumped into any sector (right, left, or center) or zone (Friendly, Neutral, Enemy) on the able top or laid out across the sectors. Some may be in one army's zone, but at least a few in the neutral ground.

3. Then lay out forests in the same manner. Few battlefields in Europe or America lack a few forested areas. Most of my games have forests as they provide interesting restrictions on movement and line of sight that provoke thought and planning for movement.

4. If a stream or river is to be placed, they are now put on the field avoiding, obviously, hills and high ground, and most forested areas. I don't over do this as streams and especially rivers can really divide a battlefield and make some of it useless for play. For these reasons, I usually use low level, crossable streams, rather than raging rivers, and they generally run from one short end to a long side of the table, seldom straight across or along the length of a table.

5. Then place the roads. They will naturally conform to the terrain, though they may run through a forest, cross a hill, or a stream. I usually provide a crossroads or two for interest, but that is not required. At least one or two roads-especially on a long table, should run from one side to the other-though seldom directly. Bridges are placed on water crossings, unless the stream is very shallow and a ford is simply declared.

6. Finally, structures are placed. Cross roads and road exits are excellent for villages of two or three houses or a church. Villages are also common at bridges and fords. One or two generally suffice. Additional placement of independent farm houses and adjoining fields are then considered. This may include a wind or watermill. Any earthworks, or walls are the final touch.

That crossroad objective is probably at least an 8, as is the church.
The houses may be 6's. Village combat is hard fought and costly, but
the reward in red dice may be high!

Your objective as a game master is to provide, a fairly balanced field, with a variety of advantages and disadvantages to either side. This is then enhanced by you by assigning objectives and their values. There is no fixed number of objectives or their value, but I generally like to provide at least one in each sector and zone. Certainly hills, road exits, cross roads and any structures, whether bridges, farmhouses, or village houses demand an objective value. Some may even get two, as the rules allow a value for the original taker, and a value, usually higher, if they are retaken.

The key thought is that the expense of moving and fighting for these objectives are paid for by acquiring dice for successfully taking the objective. Remember, you only get dice for objectives taken in the neutral zone, or in the enemy's zone. Road exits are usually rated quite high (10 or more!) , Hills vary from 6 to 8, Structures may vary from a 4 point shack to an 8 point stone church, to a double digit fortification. A bridge may be a rickety 4 point wooden bridge to a 6 point stone bridge. Values may be taken up or down by where they are on the battlefield-a road exit in neutral ground on a flank may be lower than the exit which is the enemy's primary line of retreat. Judgement is required here. Some surprises for reasons of the scenario, that are concealed from the players, are certainly possible and encouraged.

Please note that woods or river lines are rarely an objective, but usually a hindrance to getting to objectives. The same is true of walls and hedges, etc. They are obstructive to fire and movement, but not truly objectives.

Of course, Historical battlefields may be used. My greatest fun was setting out a Marlborough at Waterloo scenario for the guys, without telling them what the battlefield was. The AAR is here on the blog and other materials in the files section of this site. The key is scaling it , or a part of it, to your tabletop, and assigning objective markers and values. Hougoumont, The English high ground, La Haye Sainte, Plancenoit, the various road exits, and, of course, La Belle Alliance, must all be given a value.

Creating and Using The Armies

This is actually pretty straightforward, much more so than the challenge and fun of setting out the battlefield.

The process should be:

1. Either assign commands and their make-up by scenario, or use the tables to roll for command sizes, and then rate the commanders, including the CinC. There is absolutely no reason, with a little experience that you cannot assign the commander's rating to suit the scenario needs or history. The rating systems are there solely as a convenience. I have come to prefer using the historical commanders/card draw method. It allows greater input from historical descriptions of commanders and game master control. Either method is fine, but I would put a proviso on first games by inexperienced gamers and game masters. In your first games use average commanders and avoid inept commanders, and for that matter Superior commanders until you see the mechanisms at work. Having the other personalities are just fine, as it adds a lot of color to the game, but a CinC or Sub-commander rolling just 2 dice on a 4R card, or another with the advantages of a Superior commander is better done when one has a firm understanding of the effects of these rare, but disruptive, leaders. I would also allow an extra roll on the pre-game rolls. This allows for "stupid" mistakes and rule misunderstandings causing a very quick end to play.

2. Roll for unit ratings. Remember units stay within their commands, and under their assigned commanders. You may end up with great troops under a less than sterling lead, and vice versa. This just adds to play, and forces new players to begin to understand the phrase about using the right tool for a job!

3. Historical deployments are pretty much set, but in non-historical engagements use the step by step deployment. In DFII deployment is VERY important. It is difficult to compensate for a very bad initial deployment. Look at the ground before you, as you become aware of the enemy deployment, make sure to consider your next placement carefully.

The initial placement of officers is crucial, especially where on the field the CinC is located. You must USE command! Command in DFII is not some passive, well painted, diorama stand, it is an integral part of your army's capability. In many wargames they might have some role in rally, or troops that get too far from them may have some restrictions on movement, but in DFII they are crucial to every aspect of an army's actions, from movement to attacking-especially for melee, as well as rally. They also directly dictate the command "energy" and willingness (capability) to advance on the enemy and fight, as expressed in the red dice.

The troops do the fighting and their ratings, type, and deployment, strongly influence combat outcomes as in any game, but it is important to realize that DFII is much more of a command game than many wargamers are used to.

As a special aside, try to use discretion in launching cavalry attacks willy-nilly about the table. As in most of the Horse and Musket period, cavalry is literally a double-edged sword. Yes, it moves rapidly. Certainly, it can mix up very soon in a battle-especially against other cavalry. But it is amazingly brittle! It can burn up a ton of command and red dice in a twinkling of an eye. Holding ground with it against infantry is very hard as the infantry firepower can be telling. It is far too tempting to be wasteful of resource dice, and lose a critical amount of them to no good purpose. In pursuit later in a battle, they can be crushing, but as the point of the attack-be very, very careful. I've seen too many games lost by players who got their horse and guns too far in advance of the infantry, and too early in the battle.

4. DO NOT DO GENERAL ATTACKS! This is especially true in early turns as they simply burn up too many dice, the potential for dice loss from combat overwhelms certain commands that are not suited by command or quality of troops for the aggressive attack, and it just won't work. Seek to attack with one command, or a part of one command,at a perceived weak spot in the enemy deployment or their selected ground. When ,and if,that has succeeded in achieving the effect of damaging the enemy, and providing you with dice from their retreat and captured objectives, THEN other commands may exploit the enemy's sad situation and add their weight to the victory.

Think of Gettysburg or Waterloo, Each day of Gettysburg had a separate specific attack, ending with Pickett's Charge on the last day. General attacks along the whole Union line did not occur. Surely there were feints and threats, but the energy invested in battle on each day was focused. At Waterloo there are separate, distinct attacks. First the wasteful attacks at Hougoumont, the French attack on the British Line, The British foolishly overextended counter attack with cavalry, The struggle for La Haye Sainte, and the crucial Prussian attack from mid-battle on at Plancenoit, until the final assault on the British ridge by the Guard, and the final collapse. Neither side attacked everywhere, all at once, no general advance by the British occurred until the French collapse occurred in the dusky twilight.

DFII is designed to reflect this pattern. Many wargames do not punish everybody (on both sides!) for simply advancing to the attack like the two gangs in the movie of Gangs of New York; Die Fighting II does…harshly!

5. You want to win your early tactical battles as they will deprive the enemy of dice, and possibly gain you a number. Not always, but often, these wins can start a snowball effect against the enemy with objectives and routed units strengthening your army in a growing and ever more dominant manner. Pick your initial fights carefully. These are not casual decisions. Certainly, added reserves, an unexpected bad card, especially a missing 4R card, can reverse a situation rapidly, and a counter-attack against an overconfident attacker can shift things in a striking manner, but each firefight and melee, each movement, is to be done with a purpose. Unlike most wargames, each move does have a cost! What is its reward?

I hope these bits of guidance will ease the way for newbies into what I believe to be a unique and very rewarding game design. It is different, in a very good way!

Die Fighting 2
A recent WSS game: Note the objective markers and the proximity of the command.