Mechanic Monday – Zone of Control Closer Look

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Welcome back to the second Mechanic Monday! This week we’re giving Zone of Control a closer look. I want to plug a book before we dive in though. Please check out Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming if you’ve not already done so. There are some excellent essays in here from commercial designers and the growing number of scholars!

Zones of Control Book Cover

Around the Hobby

I posed the question on Twitter back on the 8th about this and want to run down the great responses that resulted:

Napoleon’s Triumph (Simmons Games)

Interestingly, this was a concept that come up quite a bit. Non-hex games that feature zone of control rules. This is of course the natural progression of historical miniature wargames that included concepts like Zone of Control even if they didn’t share the term.

Wellington’s Victory (Frank Davis) & Silver Bayonet (Gene Billingsley)

Volko points out a particularly interesting example here with Wellington’s Victory. Typically, Zone of Control is a concept seen in non-tactical wargames at the operational or strategic level. So, seeing it in a tactical sense, and in a Napoleonic title in this way makes good sense, but also provides a level of planning that many other tactical titles might not consider.

The second nuance provided here is the concept of units that ignore the typical Zone of Control rules. This feature is particularly compelling in the case of modelling an insurgent forces who can move undetected or uninhibited through an area.

Empire of the Sun (Mark Herman)

Empire of the Sun features a unique Zone of Control and Zone of Influence (ZOI) which acts as an extended Zone of Control in some ways. Zone of Influence is used to reflect air power two hexes out from an in supply carrier unit. What sets this apart is how ZOI affects things that make logical sense like:

  • amphibious landings – prevented in non-neutralized ZOI
  • supply – blocks a supply path
  • HQ activation – blocks the path
  • strategic movement – unable to move into or through
ZOI example from Empire of the Sun rulebook.

The power of a carrier unit is therefore properly reflected. Interlocking and cooperating carrier units create necessary coordination of naval units. Savvy play means that players can effectively use air power projection from carriers to cut off units or to prepare for an amphibious landing. Further, in the island dotted south pacific, ZOI can create bottlenecks and need to be attended to by both players.

‘4x Games from Mark Simonitch (Holland ’44, Ardennes ’44, France ’40, etc.)

Simonitch games feature the concept of Zone of Control Bonds. These deal with the offset and alternating nature of hexagonal grids. Simonitch gives additional strength to hexes AND hexsides shared by multiple units instead of simply expressing ZOC as a function of the hexes surrounding a unit.

ZOC example in Holland '44 Rules
From the Holland ’44 Rulebook

This also allows for rules that govern how the bonds might be broken like when two city hexes lay between the units, BUT a straight line between units is along the hexside. Normally, this would create an impenetrable bond, but Simonitch’s take allows for nuance that otherwise wouldn’t exist.

While no hex-grid system gets ZOC perfect, Simonitch’s approach feels right and that cannot be undersold.

Here I Stand (Ed Beach) & Wilderness War (Volko Ruhnke)

Point-to-Point movement games, traditionally the domain of Card Driven Games (CDGs), feature the concept of Intercept. As Irishhistoricalgamer points out, this isn’t a traditional Zone of Contol. It does, however, express the ability of units to extend their reach or to counter-move.

Wargames are by turns static and while struggling to give off the impression they are kinetic. Static in the sense that units move and react in phases. The units, between phases, remain in place and largely inert. Designers have found numerous mechanics to combat the ways players exploit this dual nature of units. CDGs have developed the concept of Interception.

ZOC for Fun & Profit

Zone of Control offers gamers the opportunity to increase their reach. This has never been more true with hex & counter board wargames. These tips, provide you with a few things to consider regarding unit placement.

Tip 1 – Maximize your ZOC

ZOC Example 1

Here we can see a unit that is probably misplaced. The left side of the blue army’s line remains wide open and free from ZOC for advancing units. The difference between getting flanked and not is often in how well you know the boundaries of what you influence via ZOC.

Tip 2 – ZOC Overlap is a GOOD thing (usually)

ZOC Example 2

Here we see a continuous line of unbroken Zone of Control. The problem is that the left side of the line is much weaker than the right. This CAN be used as a baiting tactic depending on the terrain or reserves who can respond behind the front line. However, this is generally a bad idea since there’s little other units can do to assist if one of the blue units is defeated.

Tip 3 – Consider Local Terrain & Movement Rules

ZOC Example 3

The scenario didn’t give you as many units as you might have liked? You need to take a close look at the map for any terrain that you might be able to use to your advantage! Here, we’re using a lake to extend our line.

Tip 4 – ZOC matters for reserve units!

ZOC Example 4

Here we see a problem when a reserve unit has been smashed into the front lines. they only affect one hex. further, if there was a breakthrough to the unit’s left, they would have to make up for any depth of the line breach in movement.

Using your ZOC for reserve units can be incredibly powerful, especially in cases where the attacker is on a strict time limit in the game or scenario.

Tip 5 – Understand your opponent’s movement and ZOC

ZOC Example 5

Here we see that the red units have advanced to face the line, despite a blue unit that subsequently moved to create a supply and/or retreat threat for the red units. While the red player may have considered the threat of attack and realized that the blue unit couldn’t make it, they were stalled south of the lake.

The blue player’s turn begins and they moved their unit into position before launching their attack. This is dependent upon the game sequence of play, but a lot of games follow the move and then fight rule or give the phasing player the option of how to proceed.

Summary

There is a lot to Zones of Control in wargaming! They come in as many variations and game types as you can imagine from area based (Napoleon’s Triumph) to hex & counter as well as Point-to-Point (Wilderness War / Here I Stand). Taking the time to understand how Zone of Control works in the game you’re playing can make a big difference in the outcome of the scenario.

In the immortal words of Master Sun:

Ponder & deliberate before you make a move.

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