Saturday 21 May 2011

The SAW Debate

One of the things that attracts me to playing skirmish level - individual/squad/platoon level games in the late C20th and beyond over say Crimean War is the range of weaponry available.

No, I'm not a 'gun nut'. Neither is this a prediliction for a particular firearm or love of firepower. I'm a firm believer that the man maketh the weapon. In fact, see this interestiung article in The Marine Corps Gazette that demonstrates this - the lack of training for SAW gunners reducing their effectiveness in the fight, whilst the cursory training metered out to their assistant all but means that the loss of the prime SAW gunner meant the los of the weapon to the firefight.

A range of different weapon systems within our skirmish games provides tactical and leadership challenges that having the single weapon "well it is as powerful as a SAW and has a grenade launcher too" argument does not. In effect not giving you a range of weapons at squad level is tactically consigning you and me to a pre 1917 tabletop. Even in the final years of WW1 the British  were organised into rifle, 'bomber', Lewis gun and rifle grenade teams.

So the question is, are you playing Sci Fi or Retreat from Mons with space helmets?

OK, so you may argue that the character/characteristics given to the figures themselves in a game makes the difference. Yes it does. I don't disagree. But think how much richer your game is when you have a range of different weapon systems with different deployment, combat ranges and effects to add into the mix. The weapons take on characters themselves and at the very least become character multipliers.

Of course, I'm not just talking SAWs. According to Rethinking The 'Rifle' Platoon again from The Marine Corps Gazette:
The SMAW (Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon), particularly with the thermobaric round, has proven to be one of the most effective weapons used during urban combat in Iraq. Many observers have pointed them out as one of if not the key infantry weapon during the battle of Fallujah in November 2004 and have recommended that their numbers be increased or that one be provided in support of each squad.
Yes, but what about future weapons which will put out a lot of rounds like a SAW and have integral Lasers and grenade launchers. With set Lasers to 'dead leg' or 'a bit of a sniffle', and all that future stuff? Sure, but there'll always be more alien greeblies, always be a bigger alien tin can to defeat.

Take a look at the Zas Mercs (Critical Mass Games: Merc 13) in the banner at the top of the page. In a single pack you get two riflemen, a sniper and a SAW/LMG gunner. Even before you've assigned the first Veteran, Average, Novice character to these figs, you have three different military roles and characteristics on your tabletop.

Right, so let's take a pack of say, Rebel Minis' Earth Force Armoured Troops or Drop Troopers. Am I stuffed then? Luckily NO!

Jon at GZG has brought out a wide range of remotes, drones and bots over the past two years which can augment the firepower and reach of the basic riflemen figures. In fact we can create an opportunity out of a pack of just riflemen to think outside of the squad box by embedding a combination of remotes/drones/bots or even androids and walkers/battlesuits into our small level combat formations.

GZG 15mm Sci Fi:
V15-70 Mini Hover Drones

Suddenly our squad or platoon level battle takes on a greater complexity with aerial, armour and artificial intelligence characteristics. We now enter a multi-D (multi-dimensional) combat environment.

"We're on the Grid, five by five"

The provision of squad and support weapons may even leave us with a false sense of futuristic complacency on the tabletop.  When in fact the human element of a platoon sized combat force in the future may be very small indeed and only need weapons for personal defence as the bots do the rest.



  1. I've been entertaining some of these same thoughts lately. Particularly I've been looking to add an armed drone to each of my 4-5 man fire teams in my main human armies. While some of those do already have heavy weapons support, I really like the idea of the gun drone or 'bot.

    I think the weapon that bothers me the most in sci-fi lines is the mortar. Do we really expect that, with the likely advances in UAVs, air-burst rifle munitions, smaller and more precise guided munitions from vehicles, etc. that we're going to need the same short-range siege weapon that we've used since 1915?

    The only way I can justify a "mortar" in sci-fi gaming is using that model as a launcher for something like the Switchblade smart weapon system:


  2. Heya

    Been eyeing up some of these beauties for a while an now the shop is back online they'll be getting an order soon. Spider drones 15mm for 28mm squad support, automated sentry guns.

    Human element... mechanic, operator and most importantly even future weapons will jam or need ammo reloads.... how does a drone do that?? Another drone or a multipurpose cheap as chips squaddie!!!

    While SAW's or LSW's etc may be interesting they eat ammo which needs to be carried/reloaded no matter how high-tech which means you still need enough section members or a utility mule to share out the load distribution.

    Logistic resupply and maintainence also gets more interesting the more types of weaponary available especially if they're high tech. sometimes the most relaible weapons are the simple single function single purpose weapons that even the greenest grunt can make work when crawlin in the mud.

    The mortar still has a place, so does the shotgun and the pistol, each fulfils a specific role that while others may duplicate will never do as well. Modern mortars and future mortars will have tech advances even if its something simple like delayaed drop on the shell so the firers have a chance to relocate before being counter-shelled. Or perhaps more realistically because they're cheaper!

    Happy musings.

  3. In the past I've considered the use of drones in various capacities. Ever since I read an issue of Alien Legion and say them moving through the jungle with a "point bot", I thought I wanted a unit sometime with such a thing.

    Up until recently, there weren't many minis to support this so the point bots ended up being things like beads on a wire flight stand or a converted model bit.


  4. While we can count on military technology to change over the coming centuries (and frankly, it will probably change in ways and to a degree that none of us can imagine), we can count on one thing to remain constant: When it comes to armaments, cheap is good. This is especially true in developing nations that don't have much cash to begin with. For this reason alone, I believe mortars will be with us for a long, long time indeed. It just doesn't get much cheaper than a mortar tube.

    Add the versatility of the mortar to its cheapness and you've got a wonder weapon!

    In the future, wealthier countries will probably have all sorts of amazing munitions they can deliver by mortar tube - sensor clouds, ECM particulates, low trajectory rounds, etc. Spending money on munitions that can be delivered by a cheap weapon system is alway gives bean counters a warm, fuzzy feeling.

    On the main subject, though - Right there with you Mark! The US Army orgs in the upcoming TW book make extensive use of 'bots to keep human casualties down. The Japanese, who in our future setting are even more casualty averse than the US, field forces almost entirely composed of 'bots and 'synthetics.'

    It only makes sense. The USAF already has plans to remove human pilots from all combat aircraft within our lifetime. The remote operations were considered during the Stryker's development. Robotic MULEs and gun platforms are in development or in field testing today. UAVs are all the rage. It seems clear that 'bots of varying degrees of autonomy are a sure thing in the future.

  5. The organization I'm using for my Terran Confederation the squad is a four-person rifle team and one of the GZG spider drones as the "weapons team."

    I'll have a weapons squad with four SAW teams as the fourth squad in the platoon and an HQ section with the PL, PSG, and RTO (and a rifleman if I have enough to round out the section, need to recount my figures).

    I think having the drone as the weapons section makes perfect sense as IMHO a squad leader would have no problem sending an armed drone into an advantageous position that would place a human weapons team in more danger. That and the drone would probably be able to carry more ammo that the assistant gunner would (or batteries as the case may be).

  6. Eli, I'm pleased to see I'm not the only one drawing inspiration from Alien Legion, heh.

  7. Hey,

    Nice post...This sort of thinking helps me a lot, especially since my OCD kicks in and I feel that every single squad MUST have a Team Leader, Rifleman with UGL, Rifleman, and SAW gunner. It gets quite frustrating seeing figure lines released without the above mentioned support weapons...HOWEVER, I have to say THANKS! I wasn't thinking "outside" the box as you say!

    I'll give it some more thought..this also means I can order some minis that I was waiting to be developed further!


  8. Maybe we should call it "thinking outside the pack".