Skirmish Scale

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Skirmish Scale by Len Krol

We have always been told that there are three scales in war gaming. They are tactical, operational, and strategic.
Actually there seem be six scales. They are skirmish, tactical, battle, campaign/operational, theater of operations, and strategic. In this article, we will concentrate on skirmish.

Unit: individual or single ship, or aircraft.
Formation: Squad to Platoon
Turn: 2 seconds to 30 seconds
Duration: 5 to 15 minutes

Skirmish is what many people think war is. It is Sergeant Saunders ordered to take his tired soldiers to go out on another patrol. It is a little child pointing sticks and saying “Bang, Bang.”

Now there are many skirmish game systems. In the 19th century, wargames were developed to train senior officers. They would give orders to regiments, brigades and divisions. Skirmish scale is the war of the non commissioned officers and junior officers. They do not need wargames. They train their soldiers by practicing exercises in the field. This is an example of live action role playing before that term was invented.

The first skirmish games I knew of were SPI’s Sniper, and an addition to the Chainmail rules. I had Sniper first. Almost immediately, we created a campaign game. We would play a series of scenarios and at the end we would judge which side did better. If one side did really well, the squad would improve. You could lower the panic level or improve the preservation level. No thought was given to determining individual skill and improving them. Dave Arneson had thought of that. He gave individuals ratings for dexterity, strength, and so forth on his way into creating the first fantasy role playing game called Dungeons and Dragons. If only I thought that far ahead, I could have invented role playing games!

Other games can be skirmish games. Any air combat game where a counter or a figure is one aircraft is a skirmish game. All aircraft have ratings for speed, maneuverability, rate of climb and so forth. Richthofen’s War is an example of this. That game also had a campaign game, the first I had ever seen. This would inspire me to create other campaign games. Naval games can be skirmish games. The Constitution vs. Java is an example of a skirmish game, even though each ship has hundred of sailors manning them.

Designing a skirmish game is difficult. You have to make many decisions.

Sequence of play: Should it be alternative movement, or simultaneous movement? Should you roll for initiative or should some criteria like leadership or skill level determine the order of action?

Weapons: alike or similar?: In Sniper all the rifles are the same In AH’s Firepower the rifles are different. One has a longer range, while another has a higher rate of fire. Is the difference important? Maybe, but sometimes it depends on the scenario or the time period.

Effect of the weapons: In AH’s Firepower, if a person is hit, they are eliminated. In other systems you determine if you hit and then determine the effect. If you hit, you determine if the target is killed, serious wounded, lightly wounded, or stunned. Sometimes you determine the hit points inflicted.

The terrain: I always felt that Metagaming took the coward’s way out when they set Melee in an arena. However when this combat system was the basis for the GURPS role playing system, they were ready to deal with terrain. In a skirmish game you have to ask questions about the terrain and its effect on movement and combat. You have to decide how many movement points it costs to wade waist deep in a stream, or how mud slows you down. Does a rose bush stop bullets from light machine guns? Buildings present their own problems. Ships may have to deal with shorelines and shoals. Aircraft may have clouds to deal with and low level flying has its hazards.

How complex should a skirmish game be? If I were planning a military game I would go for simplicity. Part of the reason is that military players want to eventually use more and more soldiers. I remember playing a battle in Sniper where we each had 40 soldiers per side. The Cry Havoc series by Standard games is an example of this. It is simple so you are able to play a large number of characters.

Role players want complexity. Since you usually control one character, you want special abilities or handicaps.

Skirmish gaming covers all periods of history. Patrols, raids, and ambushes and attacks have been taking place since the beginning of time. Even in big campaigns there are these little battles and they may shape the larger campaign.

Skirmishes have happened throughout history. Assyrian soldiers had to protect supply convoys. Romans had to defend against Goth raiders or they raided Goth areas.

I tend to play skirmish games set in the 20th century. I like the choice of weaponry and am more familiar with the historical situations.

While skirmish games may be hard to design, they can be easy to play. They can be small and not take up much space. They also can be quick to play. I have often played a skirmish game in less than a hour and enjoyed it.

1 Comment

  1. Nice article Len!


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