EXCERPT 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, 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.


  1. Ross Mac,

    Could you continue to use your PIP system but with more D6s? My thoughts are that if you had 1d6 for every six companies/troops/batteries in an 'army' you could still use PIPs.

    All the best,


    1. Bob, I did consider the PW method of PIP dice based on the current number of units since that prevents armies from getting more efficient as they take losses but it seems to ignore the battalion organisation which was 4 companies in 1914 and when the game gets up to 20 or 30 units, keeping track of the allocation becomes an administrative chore big enough to distract me from the battle. I have tried using PIPs either 1 company OR a battalion commander and those companies within 2 squares of him. It usually works ok and is the leading contender if I don't like the old way when I try it.

    2. Ross Mac,

      I see your problem ... and your reasons for not going down the route I suggested.

      I look forward to reading your forthcoming battle report.

      All the best,


  2. I tend to use "Being an Idiot" as my CC system.

    But I do realize not everyone can pull that off.

    1. I like to keep my opponent off guard by making clever moves when it doesn't really matter and keeping the stupid moves for when it's important.

  3. Dear Ross,

    Thank you once again for explaining you thinking behind your rule choices. I want to offer a non pip solution which could be employed with your square drawn gaming map. Each commander has the potential to order all the companies in his command but that will differ over distance. First, you would determine the command value of your officer from brilliant to bilious. The range would have been translated into a numeric range of from 1-5. With a brilliant commander, orders could be received up to five squares away and then interpreted by the recipient on a die roll of 1-5. This represents the ability of a brilliant commander to foresee events on the battlefield and react to them with clear and decisive orders.
    Commanders who would be less effective would have their command radius reduced with successful transmission of orders being subsequently reduced. Probably,the worst commanders would have an effective radius of two squares away and a probability of a die roll of 1 or 2 for successful transmission.
    None of this is new but it is simple.
    Enjoy the autumn weather.