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"How few units would you happy commanding? " Topic

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GreenLeader21 May 2017 3:03 a.m. PST

The more I tinker with my Boer War / Age of Rifles rules, the more I tend to think they are heading in the direction of a player only have three or four 'groups' of units to command. A typical 'group' / 'manoeuvre element' might be a pair of battalions with a battery in support, which have been tasked with (eg) storming a hill, or a single battalion (of the same brigade), held in reserve, awaiting result of said attack.

To use this example, and after much tinkering, I see no real mileage in considering the 'attacking group' as three (or more) units, but am thinking to rather consider them as a whole: it is not as though one battalion would suddenly start doing something different halfway through storming the hill, or the supporting guns would suddenly limber-up and gallop away somewhere else.

If we look at (eg) the Battle of Belmont, the 'groups' in that case would really only be the 9th Brigade (with supporting guns), the Guards Brigade (with supporting guns) and a small cavalry element. Lord Methuen was not sending battalions (or companies) hither and thither; nor, indeed, were his brigade commanders: it was pretty much a case of 'that's your objective line up and let's go, lads'.

Similarly at Elandslaagte, the 'groups' Ian Hamilton had that day would be the Devons (attacking frontally) plus supporting guns, the flank attack (Gordons, Manchesters and, later, the ILH) and two small cavalry groups on either flank: they were really the only 'manoeuvre elements' that Hamilton had to worry about.

Indeed, once his attack was launched, the only thing that Hamilton did (in terms of changing it) was to permit the ILH to dismount and join the flank attack, instead of remaining with the cavalry. Hamilton's major part was to be in the very thick of the action, and to keep the men moving.

But how many wargamers would enjoy playing a game where they really only have 3 or 4 such 'groups' to command? Each of the said groups would be formed of multiple bases, of course, but each would, for all intents and purposes, be treated as one large unit. Would this attempt at 'realism' (I know many people hate that word) turn players off? Do players, when assuming the role of a Divisional or Brigade commander, really prefer to place individual companies in a certain position?

ChrisBBB2 Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 4:43 a.m. PST

Funnily enough I posted some musings related to this on my blog last week:

To answer your question more directly: 3 or 4 'groups' is OK so long as there are enough interesting things for me as a player to do with / within each group. The game should be about making decisions, so it has to give me enough new and interesting decisions, preferably every turn.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

GreenLeader21 May 2017 5:03 a.m. PST

Thanks Chris

I enjoyed your thoughts on your blog.

Any ideas on how to stop a player from trying to break down these groups into more and more units? I was thinking to put a cap on the number of sub-units he can command, but that felt a little artificial / arbitrary.

Players being players, they will want to drop companies off here and there and detach a section of guns from the battery for no good reason: I don't want to 'ban' this, but want to push / prod / coax the player to think and act more like his historical counterparts did.

Maybe the answer is to say a player can only 'command' 5 groups / manoeuvre elements, and any 'extras' can just hold positions rather like one gets 'fixed' units in certain computer wargames? A player is welcome to detach sub-units as he sees fit, but basically loses control of them until they are re-attached to the parent battalion or something.

Alternatively, say that for every manoeuvre element over 4 (eg) that he breaks his command down into he needs to roll x to issue orders to any of these groups. This would abstractly represent an overly complex plan of attack / command structure, and encourage a player to think more logically.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 5:28 a.m. PST

Good thoughts, both of you. I've been working on some related things lately, and had about come to the conclusion that a "quick" game involved a command of 4-6 units which needed to have different characteristics: 4-6 units of 3-4 types, perhaps. A "long" game would be 8-12 units of perhaps 4-6 types. Just as examples, look how "One Hour Wargames" meets the "quick" standard and many of Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames" the "long" criteria.

Note that this assumes units capable of changing formations and absorbing some losses. If the "units" are more like DBA elements, the game sizes become more like DBA--12 elements basic games and 36 element "big battles."

As for players dispersing units--well there is always the restriction on how many orders the player can give each turn, and the infamous "command radius" but an objective they'll need to concentrate to take works nicely too.

FlyXwire21 May 2017 5:29 a.m. PST

One thing I like about what Sharp Practice has done, and which I've borrowed for my own home rules, is the use of specialist figures unit leaders, standard bearers, musicians, and commander figures. The first three types can be parceled in or out of a "unit's" original strength to reflect more elan and/or training, and the CO fig usually reflects the player. Now, these specialist figures grant extra capabilities, some to be used only once in a game (such as like performing heroic actions) when a player feels the great need to expend their special attribute (for rallying, or for an extra intervening action). As a result of their "heroic deed" in regards to a standard bearer or musician the figures are removed when used. The inclusion [or not] of these specialists figures in a unit, grants some of that RP effect you've mentioned liking before GL, but with real consequence in the game, and if used for their special duty, the figures suffer the ultimate sacrifice, and therefore are called upon usually at a particularly important point in the battle's action. Beyond their special functionality and almost RP-like affect, the inclusion of these figures can add game longevity to their units.
So, the reason I've mentioned these specialist figure types, is that they can allow players to command smaller numbers of units, but the units still have some staying power and interactive gameplay functionality contained within them, which allows smaller unit forces to exhibit more gaming "weight".
Another specialist figure I'm toying around with adding to the rule system are ammo carriers/porter figures. Ones which would be used to resupply ammo to depleted units during a game. This would make supply trains more important in our games, where they have the direct function of ammo replenishment during the action [the carrier figures needing to move up to depleted units], and at their own peril (as described in the sacrifices effected above with the other specialist figures mentioned).

Personal logo Great War Ace Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 7:10 a.m. PST

I'm happy with one. In a multiplayer game. Usually six will satisfy me when I am running an army by myself.

pzivh43 Supporting Member of TMP21 May 2017 8:00 a.m. PST

I really think it's more about the number & type of decisions a player makes with their units. Working on a set of zombie rules where each player is one character. But the player must make many decisions during a turn---move, or fire or both, run fast, help a player, scavenge, etc. So far, players seem to have fun.

martin goddard Sponsoring Member of TMP21 May 2017 11:09 a.m. PST

I would prefer to control the whole force for 8 out of 9 games. The ninth game can be a multiplayer with each player controlling a bit(3/4 units).
Big multiplayer games are great socially, but can be a problem if you wish to use a plan of battle which minimises some units but maximises others. If i control the whole force i do not feel bad about using some units on a flank as a "tempt" or throwing some units in to the battle which i know will be burned out quickly. I like to plan my attack/defence holistically.
Just opinions.


21eRegt21 May 2017 6:59 p.m. PST

Totally depends on the style of game. A "grand tactical" game like Empire I want a corps or more under my command. For games like Flames of War, 2000 points worth. For a game where I have to move lots of individual figures of any scale 2-4 units.

GreenLeader21 May 2017 8:59 p.m. PST

Thanks for the interesting responses so far.


I think that is a good idea: if the impact of one of these 'heroic deeds' will apply to all the units in a group, then the player will be more inclined to keep his units together.

Alas, the flip side is that I also have a list of 'random events'… maybe after a few games of suffering these, players will be spreading their units far and wide!

UshCha Supporting Member of TMP22 May 2017 2:15 a.m. PST

To me the answer is about 10 elements. However I want to play a period where the influence of the prime leader to create and then modify his plan is key.

The battles described have no appeal to me nor would changes make it so. If that was how it worked, rules that change it from that would not be acceptable as then its a game not a simulation. Even mote unappealing.

If you want a simulation of that period you are stuck to that regime. I doinot play ships of the line for the same reason there is little in tactical flexability. Line astern is about it to keep any sort of formation. Tacking with guns run out is bad (see Mary Rose).

It depends on the players requirements.

ChrisBBB22 May 2017 4:09 a.m. PST

As the various responses above show, there's a bunch of different ways to limit what players can do. You might consider some kind of 'Cohesion' rule that would not stop players fragmenting their force but would impose realistic penalties for doing so. The more Cohesion a formation lost:
- the harder it might be to get individual elements moving (eg if you use an activation-roll mechanism), or there might just be a limit to how many could be moved (sort of command-pip approach);
- the less effective their fire might be (hit them with a -1 or whatever);
- the shakier their morale might be (if you have a separate morale test mechanism),

That way you're not prohibiting players from doing unhistorical and foolish things, just making them pay a suitable price if they do. At least it lets them make the decision.


Bloody Big BATTLES!

FlyXwire22 May 2017 5:43 a.m. PST

That's it in a nutshell for many of us present command decision points/triggers (enabled by the game system and drawn upon by the scenario's design), promote the use of period tactics (but not limiting variations on a theme), and if a battle scale/scope has been determined for your ruleset, possibly break down the player game positions based on historical levels of command. The last is not imperative of course, as much of this depends on the playability and/or interactive quality of the game system, and the scenario design too (or targeted player group size).

Murvihill23 May 2017 9:28 a.m. PST

Much as I love 'tables bowed with lead' I just don't have time to complete games that large. Last TSATF game I ran the British had two units each and the Mahdis had three (that rapidly became two). The time spent was appropriate for a Saturday evening.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP23 May 2017 3:48 p.m. PST

My Elandslaagte,


Lion in the Stars23 May 2017 4:10 p.m. PST

Span of control for a single person is 3-7 "things".

How big those "things" are doesn't matter.

A Brigade of 4 battalions and an artillery battery could be as little as one "thing" or it could be 5 "things", or even more than that.

I try to avoid having more than 12 "things" on the table (12 platoons in Flames of War, 12 vehicles-or-squads in smaller games)

Mick the Metalsmith23 May 2017 4:58 p.m. PST

4 unit,s unless role playing , aircraft or age of sail in which case one is fine. Even if in a multiplayer game.

Henry Martini24 May 2017 5:41 p.m. PST

Ideally at least four, with some variation in type to generate tactical flexibility.

bgbboogie25 May 2017 2:48 a.m. PST

Each player I assign units they are capable or managing some lore some less, to me its not about thing its about ability. Most ex mil guys will same the same.

bgbboogie25 May 2017 4:31 a.m. PST

sorry can't edit the above meant to press preview and pressed submit by error. I meant to say more not lore and say not same.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP25 May 2017 8:56 a.m. PST

The criterion for me is not the number of figures or units, but the decision space.

For a rich decision space, two or three decisions per turn is fine, assuming I am moderately engaged during other players' turns (i.e., I am paying attention to what they are getting done tactically, not what they are doing (like moving figures and measuring)). For simpler decisions, a half a dozen or so.

If I have a lone gunfighter on the board, but I am planning many moves ahead to achieve the objective, working two or three maneuvers ahead, optimizing both my next shot (offense) and cover (defense) as well as trying to coordinate my position and gunline with three or four allies while trying to factor in complex terrain and changing environmental conditions, that is fun for me.

Lion in the Stars25 May 2017 8:39 p.m. PST

I think I got distracted before finishing my previous comment.

When I was playing 40k, and particularly my Tau army (which focuses on maneuver to good places to shoot the crap out of a target), even though I had about a dozen squads and vehicles on the table, I grouped them into "platoons" and would send pairs or trios of squads forward in their vehicles to shoot at one target per "platoon."

In Flames of War, I usually only move 3-4 platoons around and leave the others where they were deployed (or only advance them a little to where they need to be). Mortars and other artillery don't move, they just drop fire where ordered. AT Guns and HMGs usually stay put and defend the objectives, while my infantry and tank platoons go forward.

Infinity doesn't really work that way, necessarily, since you get a number of orders equal to the number of units, and can issue more than one order to a unit in a turn. So sometimes a unit does nothing during my turn and just waits for ARO/opportunity fire, while another unit moves twice.

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