Tuesday, August 23, 2005

How many hats can fit on the head of a wargamer?

I have a small collection of wargames magazines which I never throw away and have re-read many times over the years. One particular article is this one from Volume 29 of Historical Gamer (which I believe is now defunct) from all of 10 years ago, which I am surprised to find is actually available online.

In the article, the
author looked at the issue of simulating the general’s point of view in a wargame, and how this could be achieved with various command structures and mechanics.

Here’s a
post I made myself on our forum a couple of years ago on the issue, presented slightly retouched:

Another topic which brings out the wargame-theorist in the Napnuts. Believe me, I have difficulty deciding which side of the fence to be on.

Phil Barker wrote in the preface to DBA that the aim of a command system in wargames is the opposite of it's real-life counterpart - to prevent a general from moving his troops as he wants to rather than to facilitate it.

We enter another level on the discussion on realism. As mentioned in my previous post, there was a school of thought few years ago emphasising the 'commander's perspective' and the 3000-foot general is an oft-criticised entity.

In order for the game to be realistic, the player must only be allowed the scope of information and options and influence of his historical counterpart. However, this cannot be achieved for either skirmish-scale games nor grand-tactical games, short of a multi-level game where each player is part of a team and makes decisions only at his level. As it is, even as WW2 Division commanders we decide where the next barrage will fall, and as platoon commanders decide for Klaus whether he will shoot his K98 or throw a grenade this 15-second turn! That is not to say that it is impossible to implement this to a certain level - some rules have mechanisms which 'lock' a player out of minute decisions, so you will just be moving units around without being able to tell them what formation to be in, the classical example being DBA. However, even for a game as simplistic as DBA, the player still gets to decide which elements to use his PIP on, and even the order in which melees are resolved!

Now the second aspect of this is: is it desirable to implement control? While the wind-up toy model may be closer to reality, it's not my idea of a FUN game (yes, we return to the same few parameters here; surely those of you who have done Economics can come up with some suitable models?). As I mentioned in my Equation, Decision plays an important part of the wargaming process. Now the Decision bit can be a one-off event (like in bowling), or require a player's constant input (juggling), or somewhere in between (ping-pong and chess). Let's just say I can't juggle, I have only bowled once, and I used to play ping-pong and chess for my class (though not at the same time or on the same table). We should go bowling someday.

Whichever era, and whatever scale, the problem of commander's telepathy is an unavoidable one. And let's face it: you like the idea of toy-soldiers moving to your command.

In some of the WW2 games we've played which did not have hidden movement, it took good gamesmanship to not react to an unseen flanking force, radio or no. Now it is debatable whether or not a phalanx threatened from a flank (surely hoplite Lekoles is not going to ignore those cavalry on his left despite what the command is?) will turn to face the enemy. We can either roll a die, modified by the unit's training, initiative, and so on, or we can leave it to the player and save some time (provided he doesn't take fifteen minutes thinking about it!). The problem comes when the unit to the flank is some peltasts hidden in the woods. Then it becomes completely unrealistic for them to turn. Now as wahj mentioned, this is when a player who turns his phalanx gets verbally-bludgeoned by the others until he retracts his move. So far we have had relatively good success, especially with an umpire. Frankly, this is my favourite system, as I will never check another Napnut's map orders or his written orders, so it all comes down to an honour system anyway. Also, my favourite way to simulating sub-commander's initiative is to let another player take a wing and not influence his decision.

In any case, a written order/map order system with reaction tables for each encounter faced by each troop type only guarantee realism IF the system was sound in themselves. It doesn't matter than a set of rules say such and such would happen if such circumstances matched with such die-rolls. It's not realistic if the Nuts say it's not.

Unlike the rules for chess, wargame rules are not water-tight. That's why we like to have an umpire most times. Chess games do not need one, and football matches cannot do without one. If we can trust each other to play 'realistically', then we don't really need an order system. If we can't then no system will ensure fair play.

Er, actually, that's it. Despite the long preamble, my real point is the paragraph above. So let's all just get along, play cricket, and bash the guy who turns to face hidden ambushers, eh?

Confucius he says: where the wargame rules end, wargamer's honour, it must take over.


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