Musing on Reconnaissance Scenarios for Crossfire

Recent focus on my Russian Scouts Crossfire Scenario has prompted me to look again at Reconnaissance Objectives. Generally play testing of this and other recon scenarios is that they encourage the attacker can go all out to kill the opposition rather than scout. I thought I’d revisit the goals of a reconnaissance, show how my ideas on recon scenarios have evolved with play testing, and share other things to try in the future.


Purpose of reconnaissance

In a reconnaissance the attacker attempts to locate enemy troops and positions in the smallest amount of time, and whilst minimising their losses. The defender attempts to inflict enemy losses, minimise their own losses, and deny information.

Ivan Kobets, a Russian Scout officer, mentions a few “Recce” type activities that his unit undertook:

  • Acquire information about the enemy and terrain.
  • Patrol ahead of the parent unit when the latter is moving.
  • Observe enemy movements.

Design elements for reconnaissance scenarios

There are four elements that make designing a reconnaissance scenario difficult. These elements conflict with each other and can unbalance the scenario and/or give it the wrong feel for a recce. I admit that juggling these elements is challenging, prone to error, and invites further tweaking.

The scenario needs to:

  1. Reward the scouts for spotting enemy troops, fortifications and vehicles/guns
  2. Discourage the recon troops launching an assault
  3. Make it difficult for the defending troops to launch a counter-attack
  4. Allow the scouts to sneak about

Element 1. Reward the scouts spotting enemy troops, fortifications and vehicles/guns

I’m trying to simulate the accounts I’ve read where the recon troops are trying to spot enemy troops, fortifications and vehicles/guns if present. In Crossfire that means the defender has to start hidden to they can be revealed in the game.

Talking about reconnaissance raises the issue of how spotting works in Crossfire. There are two methods: Shooting and RBF (see Crossfire FAQ: Spotting). With the defenders hidden the more important of these is RBF. I have house rules for Recon Troops that give a bonus on RBF to Recon troops (spot on 5+)

Surprisingly Reconnaissance before Pontecorvo (the HTD Scenario) doesn’t emphasise spotting enemy. The victory conditions include spotting fortifications but not enemy troops. My own scenarios give points of spotting all enemy.

Element 2. Discourage the recon troops launching an assault

In play tests of Recon at Pontecorvo, Russian Recce and Russian Scouts, the “scouting” side have consistently gone for broke and tried to “defeat” the enemy rather than “spot” them.

I’ve included victory conditions to combat this tendency:

  • That -3 VP for a dead attackers is to discourage this; discourage but not deny the possibility of. If the attacker is tempted to go for it they have to be careful not to sacrifice early spotting gains by losing troops in combat.
  • They also get no VP for killing defenders, only for spotting them (the exception is capturing the tongue in close combat). Earlier play tests did give VP for killing the defenders but this encouraged an assault so I dropped it.
  • I also restrict the attacker’s indirect fire to smoke to encourage moving and discourage attacking.

Element 3. Make it difficult for the defending troops to launch a counter-attack

Often reconnaissance patrols were quite weak, but in Crossfire they can’t be so weak that the defender can just thump them. I tried to make it difficult for the defending troops to launch a counter-attack and wipe out recon troops before any recon has happened. For example, I have not weighted the forces in favour of the defender because if they have 2 to 1 odds (for example) they could just jump out of their fox holes and charge the scouts. I want the defenders to be able to repel the reconnaissance but not by exterminating the scouts.

This is also one of the reasons the attackers in my scenarios gets VP for revealed defenders. It discourages the defender from revealing everybody and swarming forward.

Element 4. Allow the scouts to sneak about

Reconnaissance troops were good at sneaking, concealing themselves in hiding and moving so as to reduce their visibility. The point is to spot the enemy but remain unobserved.

My starting point is that sneaking is implicit. The Recon troops are visible but assumed to be sneaking. A successful shot by the defenders represents:

  1. Spotting the enemy
  2. Opening fire
  3. Inflicting a PIN, SUPPRESS or KILL

In a straight up fight this is fine. For a reconnaissance this keeps the game simple but is not super realistic. Over time I’m increasingly doubting the utility of this approach.

Russian Scout Platoon

Russian Scout Platoon


Play test history of reconnaissance scenarios

The starting point for my thinking on reconnaissance objectives was the HTD Scenario called Reconnaissance before Pontecorvo. This was the starting point however details have evolved over time.

Reconnaissance before Pontecorvo

In Reconnaissance before Pontecorvo the Canadians are trying to reconnoitre a German held position in Italy. It was the first recon scenario I tried and inspired my own subsequent attempts.

The attacking Canadians have a full infantry company. The defenders have a weakened company with only two squads per platoon. They also get a bunker, minefield, three wire, and three entrenchments. The defenders deploy hidden. This configuration formed the basis of my own recon scenario.

The victory conditions were:

The Canadian player accrues victory points (VPs) as follows:

VPs   Reason
1   Each squad, CC, or MG that safely exits the east edge [Canadian base line] by game’s end.
1   Each German position – building or emplacement – successfully observed.
1/2   Each German stand, including commanders and FOs, destroyed.
1   Each full hour before noon that the game ends.

John McClennan and I had two games of Reconnaissance before Pontecorvo and discovered some oddities in the victory conditions. We found the Canadians don’t have to push hard to win, as they can just leave the table to get most of their VP. In our first game John came on and left again immediately but this gave him 16 VP and a win. Bit silly really.

There was also no incentive for the German player to use or man his emplacements (bunker and entrenchments). As the defender I put them at the back, out of the way, so they were hard to find. They were also unmanned, so technically weren’t worth any victory points anyway.

These observations, albeit sensible given the victory conditions, led to some conclusions about how to play it next time:

  • We decided the defenders must be obliged to man all emplacements (bunker and entrenchments) at deployment. This would encourage the defender to place them forward and/or reduce the number of stands available to block the approaches to them.
  • The attacker should get points for spotting/entering all buildings, bunkers, trenches, wire, and mines.
  • The attacker should need to achieve more victory points to win. This is to compensate for the fact there are more objectives to spot.
  • Lastly, it might be worth giving VP for spotting German stands – not sure about this.

Russian Recce

Russian Recce was my first reconnaissance scenario and was based on Reconnaissance before Pontecorvo. The orders of battle and victory conditions were very similar. However, I emphasised the spotting aspect of the victory conditions including giving VP for spotting defending stands. I also included a “Touch down” victory condition, the scouts got VP for reaching the defending base line. “Touch down” was an attempt to simulate passing scouts into the enemy rear area with associated reconnaissance benefits.

Here are the victory conditions with new bits highlighted in bold:

The game ends at 0830 hours or when all surviving Russians have exited the eastern table edge.

The Russians get victory points (VP) as follows:

  • 2 VP for spotting the German bunker
  • 1 VP for spotting each German entrenchment, wire, and/or mine section.
  • 1/2 VP for spotting each German stand of any type.
  • +1/2 VP for killing each German stand. (i.e. 1 VP in total with spotting and killing)
  • 4 VP if any Russian stand reaches the German base edge (line B-B).

And just so it isn’t all one sided:

  • -3 VP for each Russian SMG squad, CC, or HMG killed.
  • -1 VP for each Russian PC or FO killed.

The Soviets get win if they get 6+ VP; they lose on 0 or less; other results are a draw.

Following the play test I abandoned the “Touch down” rule and substituted a Breakthrough element. I would give them 1 VP for each PC or SMG squad that exited the defending base edge (up to 4 VP). The idea was that it would make it trickier for the attacker as they have to decide whether to lose stands to get those extra VP. It also more accurately simulates having scouts penetrating into the enemy rear zone. With that tweak I thought it would be fine for a rematch.

Russian Scouts v1

My Russian Scouts Scenario had basically identical victory conditions to Russian Recce but replacing the “Touch down” rule with a Breakthrough option. Again the breakthrough aspect was to reflect getting guys into the enemy rear areas.

Here are the victory conditions with new bits highlighted in bold:

The game ends at 0830 hours or when all surviving Russians have exited the eastern table edge.

The Russians get victory points (VP) as follows:

  • 2 VP for spotting the German bunker
  • 1 VP for spotting each German entrenchment, wire, and/or mine section.
  • 1/2 VP for spotting each German stand of any type.
  • +1/2 VP for killing each German stand. (i.e. 1 VP in total with spotting and killing)
  • 1 VP for each PC or SMG squad that exits the German base edge (line B-B) – up to 4 VP.

And just so it isn’t all one sided:

  • -3 VP for each Russian SMG squad, CC, or HMG killed.
  • -1 VP for each Russian PC or FO killed.

The Soviets get win if they get 6+ VP; they lose on 0 or less; other results are a draw.

When I play tested both Russian Scouts and Russian Recce the reconnaissance turned into a blood bath. The attackers realised they’ve lost too many stands so then had to kill all the Germans to have a chance of winning or at least drawing. And that isn’t a reconnaissance. As a result I replaced the defender casualties victory points with the “Tongue” special rule.

Original victory condition:

+1/2 VP for killing each German stand. (i.e. 1 VP in total with spotting and killing)

New victory condition

1 VP for capturing a “Tongue” i.e. killing a German stand in close combat. (at most 1 VP no matter how many Germans are killed)

Russian Scouts v2

Mark Bretherton play tested Russian Scouts. In his game the scouts could score enough VP to win without being spotted. That suggests the victory conditions were too easy. But rather than take the easy option the Russian player went for the kill – exactly the response the victory conditions are meant to make unattractive.

On reflection I made these changes to the Russian Scouts Scenario based on Mark’s play test:

  • Dropped the morale of the Russian Scouts from Veteran to Regular
  • Give a +1 to rallying for troops in fortifications (nod to Concarti for the suggestion)
  • Changed the Russian PCs to provide +1 for rallying but not for close combat; the reverse of normal Soviet PCs
  • +1 squad for the Germans; -1 squad for the Russians
  • Changed the victory conditions
    • No Draw
    • Germans get VP for holding the Collective Farm and killing Russians
    • Any Russians left on table at the end of the game are counted as “dead” for Victory conditions

Russian Scouts v3

Chris Harrod and I play tested Russian Scouts. The big change is I reduced the morale of the Russian Scouts. Making them Veteran encourages them to go in and I don’t want them to. I wanted to see if Regular would be better. We adopted Concarti’s suggestion of the +1 to rally when a stand is in a fortification – although it didn’t come into effect in our play test.

Superficially I used the same tactic as the Russian player did in the previous Battle Report by Mark Bretherton. I climbed the hill to enable RBF of much of the table. But unlike Mark’s opponent, who won, this tactic lost me the game. Okay, I played poorly, by using assault tactics with troops that weren’t good at assaulting and victory conditions that discouraged it. However, I also believe something was wrong with the scenario.

Chris thought I should change the composition of the Russian force. Give them a smaller force (two platoons) of Veterans. I’ll consider that but I would be more inclined to leave the order of battle the same but make the PCs +1 for both close combat and rallying.

We agreed the map needs a tweak. I found, once I was committed to the right flank, that I couldn’t switch to another line of advance when I discovered this one was too “hot”. The table gave the Germans several lines of fire to my base line. I’m tempted to change the map to correct this.

But the big thing was that my Scouts couldn’t sneak. Particularly as it was nominally night time. I’m tempted to give scouts some such advantage in the normal CF spotting rules. It might be as simple as giving the scouts an extra level of cover while sneaking. I’d be tempted to restrict this to the period before the alarm is raised (say a Russian squad is SUPPRESSED or KILLED) or dawn comes; after that normal rules apply. To compensate the Germans probably need to benefit from the Reveal on a 1 house rule. This would make the scenario more complicated but would also give it more of a reconnaissance flavour.

I haven’t made these changes to the scenario yet.


Other possible tweaks

Here are a few other things I’ve thought about trying to get better reconnaissance scenarios.

Get rid of the hill

Russian Scouts Scenario is greatly influenced by the two hills. It the scenario would play quite differently without them.

Attacker Morale

I’ve tried both Veteran and Regular for the scouts Russian Scouts Scenario. A full strength company of veterans is too strong. A weak company of regulars too weak. The answer is somewhere in between. On option is a hybrid morale, e.g. Veteran to rally and Regular in close combat.

Attacker Commander Ratings

The ratings of the platoon commanders makes a big difference to the Russian Scouts Scenario. The normal Russian platoon commander with a +1 in close combat and 0 in rally encourages an assault. Flipping those around discouraged an assault. I’m increasingly inclined to give the platoon commanders a balanced +1.

Make fortifications useful

One of the grievances in play testing is that there is no reason to use the fortifications. This is a general weakness of Crossfire and comes to the fore in these scenarios were victory points are awarded for spotting these features. So, not surprisingly, canny defenders put them at the rear. Sensible and silly at the same time.

Couple of ideas here:

  • Concarti suggested giving troops in fortification a +1 rally modifier.
  • Assume the fortifications are camouflaged so are harder to spot. For example, scouts RBF on 5+ but fortifications only revealed on a 6.

Sneaking before the alarm goes up

In his play test of Russian Scouts Mark Bretherton hit the nail on the head when he said:

flip the roles on their heads – the Russians become the ones who want to sneak around and be concealed and the Germans the ones aggressively on the lookout for prying Russians

I mentioned above that I’m tempted to give scouts some such advantage in the normal CF spotting rules. This could be the scouts getting an extra level of cover while sneaking. For example:

  • 1d6 cover in open
  • 1d6 and 1 pip cover in a feature

Or maybe only let the defender RBF (on a 6 to hit) before the alarm goes off.

In both cases I’d restrict this to the period before the alarm is raised. The alarm would be raised when an attacking squad is spotted in RBF or when it is SUPPRESSED or KILLED. After that normal rules apply.

To compensate the defenders probably need to benefit from the Reveal on a 1 house rule.

This would make the scenario more complicated but would also give it more of a reconnaissance flavour.

Hidden movement (Ghosts) / Concealed shooters

Hidden movement would allow the attackers to sneak. Probably using ghosts. The attackers might get, for example, six ghost markers at the start of the game. The troops are assigned to these although some Ghosts can remain “dummies”. Regardless these all RBF with 2d6, can move, and rally.

The attacker would gain VP by spotting defenders. But would also lose VP for having his own troops revealed.

To reveal a Ghost you need to:

  • do successful RBF against the feature or
  • take a successful shot (SUPPRESS or KILL) representing successful spotting followed by actual fire.

The trouble with either of these is that the defending player would have to reveal stands to do it. So this is a good scenario to use the house rule Reveal on a 1, i.e. Hidden troops are only revealed if they throw a one on any dice when firing or RBF.

I think it would have to be harder to spot the attacking Scouts than the defenders and their fortifications. Needs thinking.

The defender might even get a Ghost, representing a patrol. Again this might be a dummy or it might be an entire platoon going out to counter the attackers.

Night

Reconnaissance was often at night so that the recon troops were concealed. Russian Scouts Scenario is nominally at night although I ignored this to keep the scenario simpler. With a bigger emphasis on sneaking the probably need some rules for sneaking at night.

I have some Musing on Night Fighting in Crossfire but nothing concrete.

Two Games: Attack and Recon Options

Another thing I’ve considered is giving the attacker a choice (perhaps random) of two missions:

  • Reconnaissance, like the existing scenario,
  • Attack. They’d get bonus troops (e.g. a valentine and halftracks) if they choose to attack.

The main reason for this is to encourage the defender to use their fortifications. If threatened by a potential attack they might need them and hence put them in the front line.

Bag Counter Hidden Deployment and Scouting

Ross Kearns mentioned this house rule for hidden deployment and scouting:

[There are four kinds of token: `TROOPS’, `ARMOUR’, `TROOPS and ARMOUR’ and `NOTHING’. At the start of the battle, the defending player places the appropriate token face-down in each and every terrain feature. He must also record on his map the actual forces and where they are positioned. If he needs to remind himself where his forces are hidden during the battle, he is best advised to consult his map, and to leave the face-down tokens alone.]

[Recon: a squad can hold their ground whilst they scout a terrain feature in LOS. This sacrifices initiative, but there is a chance of finding if it contains hidden troops. The defender places the token from the terrain feature in a bag with two `NOTHING’ tokens. The attacker draws one out at random, secretly looks at it, and places it back in the bag. The defender then takes the three tokens from the bag and puts the correct one back on the feature. This feature may not be scouted again for the rest of the battle.]

[Later in the game, the attacker may declare he is shooting at previously spotted forces hidden in a terrain feature. The defender must place all hidden units in the feature, and then play continues normally.]


And for something completely different

Nikolas Lloyd has some house rules for pre-battle scouting. This is a game before the game and features scouting formations of a couple of men. Quite a different goal and quite a different approach to what I’ve described about. But worth a try.

5 comments to Musing on Reconnaissance Scenarios for Crossfire

  • Chris Montgomery

    Hi, Stephen! Thanks again for another excellent article on Crossfire. My experience with the game is too limited to offer any suggestions, but it occurred to me that other than the “pregame recon game” I am not sure the design was meant to include recon-type engagements . . . or rather I suppose what I mean is that the game seems to be about combat and maneuver against an enemy that has already been reconned . . .

    So I am not sure – with the exception of the “pregame recon game” – the design is meant to handle these types of engagements with any alacrity.

    • Steven Thomas

      I agree Crossfire is more optimised for attack/defence. But I believe it is possible to get a recon game out of it; it is just a more challenging scenario design exercise.

  • Richard Burnett

    Sir
    I suggest an umpire to solve the problem of hidden units/movement
    I also suggest that vision is cut down due to dust, smoke
    Also, a great fault in wargames, is the fact that units in motion are in motion, even though thry seem to “stop” at the end of a move
    it is laughable to have a charge “stopped” because of some move distance based on a time scaled turn, which even Crossfire does
    and it gets worse
    at Kursk, the russian tanks intermingled with the german, making discreet targeting impossible
    and the motions of the soviet tanks spoiled many a shot, along with german fatigue, smoke, dust
    In infantry combat, indian rushes and evasions cut down on casulties even in open terrain
    But the best advice to make a realistic game of reconnaissance, prisoner taking and infiltration is the umpired game in which only part of a sides troops are on the table, and only for that side

    yes, it cuts across all traditional miniatures, the battlefield is mostly empty of figures so yhat the old dodge of a seen figure but not spotted can be voided, with the panic that ensues because you dont know very much, with the umpire not only resolving the combats and observations, but also presenting, in secret, the scenarios

    look. at bougainville, the japanese bunkers were so well concealed that marines didnt know of them until they opened up at 25yds
    same for the russians, the finns and more

    • Steven Thomas

      Richard, fair point. And umpire would help. Our problem is there are normally only two of us. So I tend to look for solutions that don’t require and umpire.

  • Richard Burnett

    only the two of you??!!
    then you havent seen, as i have when umpiring, the panic and shock that a gamer, brought up on crossfire or flames of war, when he knows very little and must do a recon, must have an advance guard and flankers, or see poor results from his elites, or nothing at all because he is in a shellhole ir bunker.
    also, while it is assumed that in crossfire the rifle or mg can shoot across the board and that terrsin is required to prevent automatic hits infantry would crawl or do rushes from such cover there is to reduce casualties

    oh yes, at Edsons Ridge the japanese did infiltrate so well thst our marines would unecpectedly encounter them behind the marine lines..they didnt know they were there
    and then theres the problem of combat willingness. according to max hastings, there were four groups of troops, those eager to gight, reluctant to fight really reluctant to fight, and shirkers..all this in most armies and before any shots fired. so only a quarter to a third fought, a quarter tried to desert..i suggest a teview of bernard falls hell in a very small place, the rats of the nam yum river the internal deserters
    this applies less to the german and japanese as their discipline was far more brutal, however, they would do suicidal things, lacking discretion

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