How one moves a unit in a wargame is, to my thinking, integral to how that game plays and, perhaps more importantly, how to understand the game. Game designers give us clues about the best use of units and potential strategies via the movement rules.
Movement allows you to bring your units to (or away from) combat in a manner of your own choosing. You can maneuver to assault the weakest point of your opponent’s line, make spoiling attacks to prevent his or her strongest units from operating at peak efficiency, or waste your forces in ill-advised sallies against well-fortified positions. Conversely, movement allows you to withdraw to better terrain, cut off enemy supply, and occupy vital territory, furthering your aims without attacking.
Combat is only part of a wargame. One of the hobby’s most venerable publications is called Fire & Movement, after all. Without movement, you’re simply rolling dice to see who wins. At that rate, just play Yahtzee.
One of the most succinct expressions of “how to move” can be found in the Standard Combat System (.pdf) (Multi-Man Publishing/The Gamers).
The SCS movement rules are a distillation of years of “best wargaming practice”—someone who has only played Avalon Hill or SPI games from the 1960’s or 1970’s wouldn’t have much trouble picking up an SCS game.
Let’s see what the SCS rules (as drawn from version 1.7) tell us about how to move—and how to play:
3.1 How to Move Units
3.1a The player can move all, some or none of his units.
We have no obligation to move everyone, or anyone. If we find a place we like, our units can stay there. Static defenses and piecemeal offenses are allowed. Specific games that utilize the SCS rules (for SCS is a series of games using the same basic rule framework) might well provide us with good reasons for moving everyone, or no one, but it’s up to us.
3.1b Each unit has a movement allowance (MA) on the counter. A unit cannot expend more movement points (MPs) in a single phase than its movement allowance (EXCEPTION: see 3.1e).
Different units have different movement allowances. This ain’t checkers. Some units are fast, others slow, and our plans will have to take speed into account. Our Egyptian infantry brigade from the SCS game Yom Kippur has a MA of 5, about on par for foot soldiers in SCS. Units with some form of mechanized transport or armor tend to have MA values of 8 or higher.
3.1c Calculate movement using Movement Points. According to the Terrain Effects on Movement Chart each hex or hexside feature costs a special amount of MPs. The player must keep a running total of the number of movement points each unit expends while it moves.
MA doesn’t translate directly nto the number of hexes we can move. We have to take terrain into account, including terrain along hexsides, like rivers and bridges. Marshes and forests cost us more to move through than clear terrain, while following roads from hex to hex allows us to ignore the other terrain in the hex for movement purposes. So plan the attack or defense with an understanding of how long it will take to get to the point of conflict, and look to see how we can force our opponent into taking the long way around.
SCS also has provision for “zones of control”—a one-hex radius around combat-capable units representing their influence, slowing down enemy units that pass through it. Maneuvering units such that their ZoC extends into paths that the enemy wants to take can severely hinder their movement. If they have to pass through an already-expensive terrain feature, adding a ZoC movement penalty can undo a carefully plotted path.
The second sentence here does not mandate that one unit must finish moving before another begins, only that each unit’s movement be accounted for. There is no “touch rule”—you can take your hand off a unit and then return to it in SCS. As a practical matter, however, finishing with one unit’s movement before moving another unit, especially in games with high counter density, makes for smoother play. Many wargames do have a requirement for each unit to be declared “done” before another one starts, and in practice, my matches of SCS have all adhered to this communal norm, despite the lack of a written rule to that effect.
3.1d Movement allowances are independent and one unit’s expenditures do not affect other units. A unit cannot save unused movement points or transfer them to another unit.
No sharing! Each unit has its own movement potential that has nothing to do with any other unit. Movement allowances are time-bound. Within the time-frame represented by the movement portion of the game turn, we can move as far as our movement allowance, moderated by terrain, will take us. So planning moves in advance becomes essential. If we need that Static Division with 2 MA in a fortress on the front line in five turns, and forests are in the way, it better already be en route.
3.1e A player can always move a unit (with an MA greater than 0) one hex—regardless of the MP cost involved. Such movement cannot be through or into prohibitive terrain. Movement allowance modifications (such as from supply) and EZOCs have no effect on a unit’s ability to use this rule.
Also known as the “minimum move,” this rule confers the ability to move one hex regardless of all the supply issues, terrain perturbations, and enemy zones of control that outrageous fortune has thrown our way. It’s good for crossing a river, sans bridge, into rough terrain or escaping a gauntlet of enemy units.
Breaking these movement rules down, we don’t learn anything earth-shattering about secret tactics in SCS. As befits a set of rules honed over several versions (and drawing inspiration from wargames from the 1960’s on), the SCS movement rules remind us to be aware of the capabilities of our units, to plan ahead, to understand the implications of terrain and zones of control, and to remember that we always have a safety valve, even if it’s only one hex.
The rules, written in concise language, promise us good, solid, beer and pretzels wargaming. Nothing wrong with that.