EXERT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Desperate Measures

Its interesting how a fairly minor issue can begin to feel like a desperate situation if it stalls progress and threatens what's already done. The more I struggled to reconcile half a dozen command control options with historical organizations, varying sizes of battle, my understanding of what they represent in terms of process, friction and history and what bits of solo gaming I like most and least, the more frustrating it all got. Switching gears I pondered various older school approaches especially Featherstone, Charge! and Big Wars and  also reread a number of my own related posts. The result was  a surprise to myself.

A full division of Oberhilse troops encounters the vanguard of a mixed body of Hougal rebels and their Faraway allies.
The first thing I tackled was unit structure. The original plan was for a 4 man battalion as a unit but having decided I needed an option for companies as units I made the 4 man units into nominal companies and proposed following historical organizations. This then quadrupled the number of proposed units and added a 3rd and potentially 4th layer of command which in turn broke the command system. To be fair it was already ailing a bit in larger and smaller games.

It didn't take long after my last post to realize that I was not going to write orders nor was I going to pretend that I didn't know what my solo game opponent was planning. To cut this short after intensive thought and some digging I came to the following conclusions about my real preferences :

1. The 4 man unit works and I wish to keep it.
2. I don't get alot of enjoyment from trying to manage 3 or 4 levels of command but neither do I wish to ignore all structure.
3. An obstacle or two or a bit of friction adds interest  to a game but too much becomes a burden and hindrance whether through monotony or frustration. The exact form of this uncertainty is not important to me as long it does not dominate a player's decisions which should be focussed more on defeating the enemy.
4. While I prefer to duplicate historical organizations, long term, esp. in a fictional setting, I would rather have a consistent organization and scale even if its wrong.  In this respect I follow Lawford and Young who explained that while their regiments had 3 companies instead of the historical 8 or 10, that 3 could do the same evolutions so they saw no point in having more.

Translating thoughts into a game I avoided innovation and decided on the following:

1). Wargame units are 4 man "companies". 4 to 8 companies plus support and a Commander form a Brigade.  Intermediate levels may exist but are not shown while my companies represent around two real ones. Units not within 3 areas of their commander must score 4,5,6 to move. The Commander is assumed to have orders from the General and to be in communication to report and get order changes without this being shown.

2) The general's role is focussed on the higher plan and on trying to maintain the initiative assisted possibly by staff, observation balloon etc. This translates  into a return of the initiative roll at the start of each turn. Winner choosing to go first or second for thst turn.

3)The return of initiative means I need to ensure that in the age of rifles, the defender can shoot at an attacker so I have also reverted to an older sequence: A moves, B shoots, resolve charges, B moves A shoots, resolve charges.

Old fashioned but simple. So far so good.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Has Someone Blundered? Revisiting Command Control.

I seem to have hit a snag that will have to be cleared before my early 20thC gaming moves on, and an old snag at that: Command Control Wargame Mechanics. Plenty of ink and pixels have been dedicated to this topic by wargamers over the years, including by myself in this blog and elsewhere. In case anyone has managed to avoid the topic, the trite version is that real command systems are designed to get troops to do what you want while game versions are designed to do the opposite.

Rather than launch into a 5,000 word essay on the historical case for and against various sorts of command control roles, let me just say that modern games that present a player with difficulties can be fun or frustrating or both all at once.  Of all the various systems I've played, the oldest, that of simultaneous moves to written turn orders is still probably the best at capturing Generalship, especially if there is limited time for order writing as under pressures many players will misjudge their opponents intentions, forget minor but important rules, estimate distances incorrectly or just plain forget units. Enemy actions and combat results are then what add friction and prevent a player's tidy plans from coming to fruition. I've never been able to properly capture this in solo play though.

The current Orders (or PIP) dice  system I use (inspired by DBA) where you roll a die to indicate how many groups of units you can move has a nice "boardgame" feel to it and it has worked well with the Square Brigadier where each unit was a battalion. Now that I am using companies as units, grouped in battalions based on historical OB's, no matter how I tweak it, I am having trouble getting it to work seamlessly with scenarios that might range from 6 individual companies up to 8 or more battalions of 4 companies each plus a number of supporting units. I could probably solve it by ignoring historical organizations or having various systems depending on the size of the game but its not really doing a good job of "feeling right" at the company level anyway.
An Oberhilse cavalry patrol approaches a Rebel held town c 1904
So, for my next game, I am going to experiment with an older method, allowing the player as General to give orders to his direct reports at the start of a game, be they a battalion commander with 4 companies or a battery commander with 1 gun etc. Orders will last until changed or no longer relevant.. When orders are issued there will be a roll to see if they were received and understood, delayed, or lost  with penalties for being engaged or too far away without communications etc.  Normally orders to a battalion commander will apply to all of his units but if an individual company is "out of command"  then it will have to dice each turn to move. In all other cases, dice and combat reaction rules will indicate determine how well units are doing in carrying out orders. So if a battery misses, perhaps they off target or perhaps  the battery commander decided not to fire or there was a problem in the battery site. Obviously in a solo game both sides will know the others orders but it will usually be fairly plain for example, if an enemy battalion is dug in around a village then they are probably planning to hold it at least initially.

To test the upper limits a bit and add a dash of colour, I think I will head back to Atlantica and break out some red and blue coats. I should jot down some actual rules to back up the concept while I am at it, especially since I've realized that I need to tweak the unstated ground scale to accommodate the .4 man companies. The goal is to play either on Sunday or the next cold rainy day.