Phased-based Play vs. Turn-based Play
Whenever you start a new game the first thing you must do is address what rules you are to play with. The very first rule the system asks you about is whether you will play with “Manual Defensive Fire” on or off. This is, by far, the most idiotically named rule possible. It’s the equivalent of them renaming “Speed Limit” signs something like, “Insurance Rate Increase”. Sure, I mean, they are related in a “third-cousin twice removed” sort of way but hardly would you guess one had to do with the other. Welcome to the dilemma of Manual Defensive Fire – which has to do with, what else, Phased-Based Play and Turn-Based Play.
Forget about why it is called Manual Defensive Fire for a moment and let us discuss what this option is actually letting us choose between – Phased-Based Play and Turn-Based Play.
Intro to Phased-Based Play
We will begin by looking at Phased-Based Play which requires that you check the Optional Rule Manual Defensive Fire. For this method of playing there are actually two alternate play styles. We will refer to them as 1A and 1B. Whether you are playing Phased-Based 1A or Phased-Based 1B depends on – and I am not making this up – whether or not you check Automated Defensive Fire along with the already checked Manual Defensive Fire. (No, not confusing at all!)
1A: Phased-Based Play (Checked Manual Defensive Fire Option and Unchecked Automated Defensive Fire)
Once upon a time all our games were played using Phased-Based Play (PBP). This was the common style until HPS altered that with their series of games and options. PBP separates each phase of the game into distinct parts to be played separately. Below you will see the order of phases as they would be using the PBP system. The Union player would have his Movement Phase and then email the turn to his opponent who would conduct their Confederate Defensive Fire. They would then return the gaming file to the Union player who would then do his Offensive Fire and then his Melee before ending his turn and emailing it back to his opponent. The process would then repeat itself with the Confederate player going next – and so on and so on until the end of the game.
This is ideal. In a perfect world all games might be played like this as it allows each player full autonomy over their defensive fire. But we don’t live in a perfect world and the fact that the number of email exchanges are doubled using this method makes it inconvenient to do. The vast majority of Members dismiss it out of hand as simply “too long” to consider doing.
Because it is so unrealistic to use the game designers did us a favor and added a new Optional Rule named – wait for it – Automated Defensive Fire. Because Manual Defensive Fire and Automated Defensive Fire are a perfect set of options to have on the same list, right? What’s even more ironic is that they work together!
So, you don’t want to double your emails and the time your game will take to complete – what can you do? You can check the Automated Defensive Fire Option. I know what you’re thinking, “You want me to check BOTH the Manual Defensive Fire option AND the Automated Defensive Fire option?!” Yes, yes, I do.
1B: Phased-Based Play (Checked Manual Defensive Fire Option and Checked Automated Defensive Fire)
By checking BOTH Manual Defensive Fire and Automated Defensive Fire you will actually achieve a fairly enjoyable style of gameplay.
With both options checked the game still conducts the phases as stipulated above in option 1A. Each phase will be separate from the others and each side will have a separate Defensive Fire Phase outside of their opponent’s Movement Phase (as will be covered in Turn-Based Play). The difference is that the Defensive Fire Phases will be conducted by the A/I. This reduces the number of emails being sent by half and creates a much quicker game than the 1A option.
The “downside” to this was that the A/I fired constantly and tore through your ammunition supply. To try and remedy this the designers added an “Adjust Auto Defensive Fire” option to the game. The words in red below come straight from the User’s Guide explaining this feature.
The Auto DF Dialog is used to control the frequency of Automatic Defensive Fire when that Optional Rule is in effect. The Auto DF Dialog can be used during a player turn to establish the Automatic Defensive Fire values for that side. Values may be established for infantry and artillery. There are two possible settings for infantry: Min and Max. At the Max setting, Automatic Defensive Fire will fire at any target within the maximum range of the infantry unit. At the Min setting, the ADF will only fire at units within the minimum range for infantry as established by parameter data. This minimum range is usually 2 hexes. There are three possible settings for artillery: Min, Med, and Max. At the Max setting, ADF will fire at any target within the maximum range of the artillery unit. At the Min setting, ADF will only fire at units within the minimum range for artillery as established by parameter data. This minimum range is usually 4 hexes. At the Med setting, ADF will fire at any unit within the minimum range but only randomly fire at units between the minimum and maximum range.
If Members in the Club do play with Manual Defensive Fire checked then the 1B option is, generally, the more popular of the two options.
Intro to Turn-Based Play
Phased-Based Play does seem kind of confusing with its Manual Defensive Fire and Automated Defensive Fire working together like some sort of unholy WWE tag-team. The more popular method of gaming in the Club continues to be Turn-Based Play. But not because it is easier to understand. If anything… it might be harder to understand! Its main advantage is that it completely automates the Defensive Fire phases by default and runs them simultaneously with the enemy’s turn. Like Phased-Based Play it also boasts two different styles of play based on a secondary optional rule – Optional Melee Resolution.
[Sidebar: The Automated Defensive Fire Option is completely irrelevant when playing with Manual Defensive Fire unchecked – and Optional Melee Resolution is also irrelevant when playing with Manual Defensive Fire checked. Both optional rules only work in relation to Manual Defensive Fire and nothing else.]
2A: Turn-Based Play (Unchecked Manual Defensive Fire Option and Unchecked Optional Melee Resolution)
Brother, if you like Offense, this is your baby! The game no longer uses separate phases for each action and instead mashes the Movement, Defensive Firing, Offensive Firing and Melee, all into a singular phase. Below you will see the only two phases that this set of options triggers.
The A/I controls all Defensive Firing using something called Opportunity Fire. This system of Opportunity Fire is one of the most hated, loathed, and mysterious actions in the entire game. All Opportunity Fire is conducted at just 50% effectiveness. This is to make up for the fact that a unit may fire numerous times defensively during a single turn.
The downside of this style of play is that it is purely offensive in nature as it allows a stack of units to move and then melee during the same phase. This fostered a “blitz” filled strategy of players charging and driving back enemy units and then moving more units through the gap created to melee again. Then moving more units through that gap and so on until they finally ran out of Movement Points. By the time the opposing player got the turn back his defensive line might be completely wiped out and captured. This seemed so unrealistic to the realities of 19th Century warfare that many members just lost patience with it completely.
Once, again, the designers came to the rescue and added the Optional Melee Resolution option to the game. The checking of this rule creates option 2B which is, still, the most popular form of gameplay in the Club.
2B: Turn-Based Play (Unchecked Manual Defensive Fire Option and Checked Optional Melee Resolution)
The checking of Optional Melee Resolution brings back a separate Melee Phase for each player after they finish their movement/firing phase. The cycle of phases is shown below as it is conducted in this mode of play.
By separating the movement/firing phase from the melee phase the “blitz” tactics of 2A were neutralized and a fairer battlefield was created for both sides. Opportunity Fire is still in place using this mode – along with all of its controversy and confusion – but this game mode is still the most popular.
All the styles of gameplay can be enjoyed and used in the right circumstances. There is no “right or wrong” way to enjoy the game. If you find a style you prefer, and can find a willing opponent, you can use it to your heart’s content.