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

Friday, June 22, 2012

Cards, Pips and some practical thoughts on Command Control & friction.

When DBA's  PIP's command control system was first introduced via Slingshot, I was quite taken with it then with DBA itself and have tinkered with variations on the PIP idea at different times, even attempting to bolt it onto HofT once or twice. There are some aspects of the idea that don't appeal to me though and I'm not currently using it anywhere.

The Warmaster/BKC etc system of activation was also briefly of interest when I first encountered it but I never warmed to it thoroughly despite having been using some form of activation/command control roll for decades. In fact, BKC & Black Powder together got me re-visiting the whole topic of Command Control & Friction two years ago.

In light of all this, I was expecting to dislike if not outright hate the card activation system used in Memoir 44 and other Battlecry derivatives. The fact that I didn't has increased my respect for the game designer and has led me to do some pondering.

The first thing that comes to mind is that like the Pip system but unlike the Activation system, no matter how  bad your luck is, you can always do SOMETHING. Maybe not exactly what you wanted or needed and maybe you are going to have to more or less waste a card but not only do you have a selection of cards to choose from but the cards are designed in such a way that most allow you to activate one unit if you can't use use the card's prime purpose.

The second thing is that the cards don't just limit your ability to act, they give you bonuses that allow some units special capabilities for that turn. The Warmaster style of activation do this to some extent by allowing repeated activations but I find this just aggravates the jerkiness and rags or riches aspects of the system, two things that don't appeal to me though I can see that they do appeal to others.   PIPs don't usually have this enhancement quality although there some exceptions such as extra moves for some units in some circumstances. I'm not sure what it represents but it adds to the game enjoyment and uncertainty. For example in the last game, on the last turn, the card I played gave my units an extra die each when fighting. Without that, with the best dice in the world my troops could not have clinched the game. Even with slightly average dice they would not have done so, they needed both. 

The third  aspect is that having a hand of cards allows you do some planning, especially if you know the deck and have been paying attention to what has been played. All of the systems do this to some extent because you can maximize various aspects of PIP or Activation rolls but largely by paying attention to the order an formation of your army and the positioning on commanders, things Generals have to attend to. The cards do it in ways that don't relate to any battlefield activity at all except that a General has to be aware of circumstances and his deployment and how the two mesh. This card sharking aspect was what I really expected to hate. Only the well thought out nature of the deck, which seems to usually allow you to make it work with your plan with only minor adjustment, makes it work for me. 

So where is this going?

Well , I've been playing around with ideas for my RCW and Ancients games, both of which are now 1 stand=1 unit at the moment. I'm using the HofT C&C system with the Ancients right now and it works OK but more so for Heavy Infantry armies than ones of light troops who one end up rolling for almost every unit every turn which is tedious.  For that and the RCW game, a PIP system where spending an extra point on a unit/group could be used for special bonuses, 1 pt for a group to move double perhaps (Greeks at Marathon e.g.) or 1 pt to allow a special maneuver or a combat bonus for one stand/unit. 

Needs some thought. It definitely falls under the Game aspect but it could speed some things up while adding a bit more spice. I'm not planning to  reopen HofT to consider re-introducing PIPs by brigade again but having gotten over my snit against the artificial nature of the concept, I'm not opposed to the idea if it might be faster/easier/more fun than the current Order Check which is purely negative or neutral and which some people have trouble remembering.   Or possibly the order check could be modified slightly so that a 6 gave a bonus? hmmm. .


  1. The "problem" with a card system like C&C and its ilk uses is it gets tricky when it comes to solo play. As someone who pretty much plays all of my miniatures games solo that's a big issue for me. (I do own Battlelore, which I think is in that same family of games? and I like it enough to hang onto and wait for chances to play or even to try solo with some solo card managing ideas when I happen to come across them and have time to set up and play)

    1. Yes, like the old "Simultaneous moves with written turn orders", solo play CAN be done but it loses 1/2 the point - guessing what your opponent might be planning.

  2. For HoT I've been thinking of adding a 6" zone-of-command for each Brigadier with units outside of that having a negative one modifier to their command checks.

    -- Jeff

    1. Hi Jeff. By all means give it a try. It would give you 3 levels of CC range:
      6"- no penalty + Brigadier can intervene, 12" penalty but Brigadier can still intervene, and over 12" - screwed.

      I used to have something similar but have found that even with 1 chance on 6 my guys fail more often than I like these days so dropped all penalties beyond not eligible for a re-roll but that's purely personal preference.

  3. Ross ...I never thought about C & C solo however I play all of my games solo so an event card system is a must have. Ross I do love the pip system DBA employs and it was my second favourite gaming system when I first started wargaming ancients. I am now looking at the George Gush rules for biblical ancients. Yes, like the old "Simultaneous moves with written turn orders", solo play CAN be done but it loses 1/2 the point - guessing what your opponent might be planning. <<<< No problem here and I like writing orders but not for every turn! I continue to contemplate the ideal of using a version of Sudoko for solo to eliminate dice when defending and I'll let you know if it works ... Jeff

    1. "orders" is a a misnomer really for the old style simultaneous move games. They were no more than a jotted indication of what each unit was going to do. No artificial methods needed for fog of war needed when using the system, as long as you had an opponent.

  4. I find I'm comfortable with units occasionally dragging their feet but not so much with them going into overdrive, so I'm fine with the current HofT order check system.

    Interesting post, which made me conscious of how many prejudices I have which may well be the result of habit and conservatism rather than careful consideration. Don't like PIPs, don't like zones-of-command, don't like using cards (for anything other than a simple black/red sequencing). I suppose if there's a pattern, it is a resistance to most C&C mechanisms and just wanting to walk about with the tape measure making my own mistakes.

    Just ignore me :-)
    Old Stick-In-The-Mud Steve

    1. Odd you should go there Steve, over the years I've often been annoyed at my rules for making me roll for every unit every turn. Its a resentment that I usually put down to laziness but have noticed that I'm not the only one who tends to forget to test. At conventions etc its constant vigilence to get players to do so. It finally occurred to me last week that most systems which require a roll include a carrot as well as a stick, even with PIPs, you start with none so if you don't roll, you don't get to move anything. My systems were only a stick so no wonder people including me are less than eager to remember.

      So, I spent several hours on a rainy afternoon yesterday, trying out various command/friction ideas for my ancients. The final result was a realization that as long as I don't clutter the rules with too many reaction options, then the Initiative system which allows one side to occasionally get a double move, is all the friction one needs to interfere with a general's plans and allow units to be caught out or to be just too late.

      1 opposed die roll per turn, carrot & stick built in as well as competition and the need to make a decision. Of course I got that mechanism from Don Featherstone.

    2. When I said I was comfortable with the previous order checks, I might have expressed it better to say that I didn't mind or could tolerate them, but there's no strong attachment.

      Completely get your point about them being easy to forget (always a strong hint that a rule might be non-essential) and the initiative system being sufficient friction.