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"What does "Elite" mean in a game?" Topic

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Action Log

26 Jun 2017 11:25 a.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Crossposted to Game Design board

1,275 hits since 26 Jun 2017
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 6:20 a.m. PST

I'm currently working on a TSATF mashup for AWI. I'm calling it tongue in cheek Flames of Liberty. The title is so cheesy no one is likely to steal it. grin

I have two Morale grades I'm borrowing from TSATF for regulars. "British" and "Egyptian". For militia, I use Boers.
But here's the thing. I can use British for line troops. But what about units like Grenadiers, the 33rd, Guards.
I can make up a new grade, but that's not really my question.
I play Empire regularly, which has about a dozen ratings. I don't want to go down that path.

My question is about what "Elite" really means.
Compare Guards to a simple solid regiment like the 27th.
Do they shoot better?
Do they fight better in melee?
Are they more likely to charge?
Are they easier to rally?

The British Grenadier scenario book for Eutaw Springs lists Lee's Legion foot and Grenadiers as Elite. What should that mean in game terms?
I have no problem giving the 64th Foot advantages over the 3rd North Carolina. Or the 1st Maryland over de Lancey's Lads.
But why are the Guards better than the Delaware regiment?

VCarter Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 6:32 a.m. PST

For me, Elite only gives a moral type bonus. As in "They won't run and it will take time to kill them all".

I may give an extra +1 on melee or matching score wins to also show their determination to fight.

boy wundyr x Inactive Member26 Jun 2017 6:47 a.m. PST

I've seen a few games (Polemos ECW is one off the top of my head) where elite is a combat quality, separate from a veteran/average/raw morale rating. So you can have cavalry for instance that are Elite/Raw – good in a fight but flakey.

I've also seen games where Elite is a quality rating above Veteran, usually in a Elite-Veteran-Average-Militia-Green sort of sequence, usually encompassing both fighting quality and morale.

Does history give you a hint of which better applies to the Guards? Were they sturdier, or did they fight better?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 7:01 a.m. PST

I don't really want to keep adding grades. Then I'm tinkering with Empire, rather than TSATF.
Empire sees a continuum. Age of Reason adds a die. Or two.
I can add "wins ties" or +1 to melee tables. Etc.

But are Guards that much better than Delaware, to give them such a radical game changing bonus? They aren't Superheroes.

One joke mechanism I've been thinking of a lot lately is giving units a "Mulligan". You can re-roll a die roll, but you must accept the new roll.
Maybe Elite would simply get more Mulligans.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 7:08 a.m. PST

I figure "elite" may involve morale, training or both, since most rules already give advantages for superior equipment. So, depending on the rules elite troops may better endure casualties or be less disturbed by being attacked or by other friendly troops panicking (Morale) or they may form and reform faster (training.)

Firepower is iffy. In colonial or modern combat, elite troops may actually be better marksmen. I have my doubts about that in the smoothbore era, but I think, when given a choice of ranges, elite troops are more likely to withhold their fire until effective range. So if everyone's blazing away at 89 yards, all you can say for elites is that they are less likely to break. But if they're being charged, elite troops are more likely than others to wait and deliver a volley at 20 yards. As attackers, they won't fire muskets into the air while closing, and they won't refuse to close and go to a firefight instead. They'll either go in with unloaded muskets, or deliver a volley just before closing.

Melee is even worse. Certainly elites might have a morale edge. "Ancients" might have a training edge, but I'm not sure how much melee training is worth after maybe 1600. The training might get you to close, and make you less willing to run away, but will it help you to kill more men once you do? I just don't know.

mwindsorfw Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 7:21 a.m. PST

In an AWI game, or any game where the armies line up across a small field and bang away at one another, I think unit quality is mainly a matter of staying power or will power. I think this is illustrated by the instructions to the (green) militia, "Two shots, then run like hell." I think morale checks is were elite units of this area become elite. Maybe an elite unit could load and fire faster, and might get a firepower bonus, but I'm not sure. I'm not so sure about a melee bonus. Close quarter fighting is one thing that a green unit might do much better than stand in a firing line (think Indians, frontiersmen).

Martin Rapier26 Jun 2017 7:29 a.m. PST

In the Horse & Musket era, 'eliteness' is more about morale and cohesion. They are more likely to press home an attack, less likely to run away etc, but no, they aren't bullet proof supermen. However, it does mean they are very likely to beat any opposing troops of lower quality in a firefight or or melee, just because they will hang around longer.

In more modern periods, elite units will often inflict more casualties (due to better fire discipline) and suffer fewer losses (better use of terrain, fire & movement etc). Put them in crew served weapons systems like tanks or aircaft, and these effects are multiplied further, which really makes them very, very dangerous indeed, with kill ratios of 20:1 etc.

VCarter Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 8:06 a.m. PST

Because of the way melee is handled in TSATF (roll 1 KIA – 2 WIA – 3 thru 6 runs to the rear), I would keep the melee bonus and use "tie wins".

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 8:50 a.m. PST

If you want to keep it to just a small number of quality grades, such as green, trained and vet, then elite could get just what you describe – some other bonus. For example, if you roll 2d6 to check morale, let them roll 3d6 and choose the best 2. Or let them reroll any 1 for morale. That kind of thing. But apply it to just the unit/scenario.

Ed Mohrmann Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 8:50 a.m. PST

'Elite' in my mind refers to superior discipline, which
has effects in fire and melee combat, morale (especially
recovery) and unit cohesion (charge/stand and fight;
unit losses don't affect morale until extreme).

I think your idea of a 'Mulligan' die role (forcing
acceptance of the re-roll) in any of those circumstances
is an elegant way to reflect 'Elite' status.

However, as the unit's numbers dwindled (say to 50 % and
below) the 'Mulligan' option could be taken away to
reflect the loss of performance which would be reflected
by the reduced firepower, etc.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 9:13 a.m. PST


Listen to Martin Rapier, robert piepenbrink, and mwindsorfw!

"Eliteness" in the AWI era is not about better marksmanship (non-existent with MLSB weapons in any event), and not in "melee" (whatever that is) when training was entirely limited to marching, formation changing and keeping, and basic bayonet exercises, most of which were never used once in a career infantryman's life.

In some ways, you're trapped by the excellence of TSTAF for it's original purpose: Allowing close quarters fighting between various enemies whose numbers and cultural traditions made it at least possible physically to close with the Brits. Thus it's "melee" system of man-to-man face-off's and individual figure results. This becomes problematic when you recall that there may not have been even five incidents in the entire AWI where bayonet-to-bayonet combat actually inflicted decisive, battle winning losses on anybody. People of Anglo-Saxon (very broadly speaking) origins were no more keen to stick one another in a face off than you or I are now.

In some ways, worthwhile discussions on what "eliteness" would be are fine, but whatever it was, it was not about Rambo-like mastery of the bayonet, sticking the enemy and pitching him like hay over your shoulder, then killing the next guys in fine movie tradition. This simply was--is--the rarest form of combat, at least this side of the gunpowder age.

Not to say the bayonet wasn't often decisive--it was, and particularly so during much of the AWI, at least until even possession of a bayonet began to become common among the Rebels (but never common among militia/Minutemen types). Whether a soldier has a bayonet or not, when an enemy so armed approaches, and the defender comes to the realization (possibly not even true except by reaching that "realization") that he's about to have those enemy bayonets in his face, 90% or more of the time, he bolts.

The key is determining why one force can get close enough to the other (or allow the foe to approach close enough) to force that "realization" on one or the other.

Since this is about "eliteness," the relevant answer is, in game terms, entirely about "morale." It has always been true that the side that EXPECTS to win, almost always does. This expectation comes from many factors, most of which I'll ignore here, but "training" isn't a really important one.

Experience--positive experience--is an enormous source of confidence in anything, and no less with the prospect of close combat. But humans are highly social creatures, we depend on one another at emotional levels far more profound than anything that can be taught, especially in moments of crisis. Believing--not merely hoping--that the men beside you will not run away, leaving you alone to face a life-or-death moment, is vital to success. Secondarily, it is the fear of what your mates will think if YOU run away. Soldiers live together not only because they are concentrated in camps, but because they become communities of themselves. Fail the community, and you are condemned to isolation, scorn, and the greater likelihood that in the next crisis moment the community will not defend YOU.

In the British Army, especially, a soldier's regiment was his HOME for 20 years (if he lived so long), and that home has its own rules and traditions built over a century or more, for some Regiments, with new rules and traditions being formed and old ones confirmed by new experience. It was faith in your Regiment, the men around you, and the all important tradition of VICTORY that made the Brits generally the winners on most AWI battlefields.

The Continentals had no such "homes" or traditions for most of the war, and they certainly had no tradition of "victory." Yet, by 1780, it could generally be said that the Continental Army could stand up to the Brits, but the reasons for this are best saved for another day, though they can be laid almost entirely at the feet of one man--George Washington.

Militias/Minutemen had only one social binder for standing in combat--they mostly knew one another, coming as they would from a specific area or community. Fleeing before friends and family would be a shame never lived down. This, of course, applied to individuals. But when thrown together with a only a veneer of military discipline, almost certainly no bayonet, and facing that unknown red animal of battle, it could almost become a mass understanding that there was little or no shame if they ALL boogied before bayonets (which, again, they rarely had many of) could cross.

SO… Given that bayonet fighting has always been the rare exception, "marksmanship" for smoothbore weapons a non sequitur, and that some Rebel units developed, and essentially all Redcoat Regulars already possessed, most of the emotional/social/and experiential foundations, it should be obvious that any consideration of "eliteness" in the TSATF game system must be limited to whatever die roll modifiers as seem appropriate at every stage of Morale checks in play.

Stand-and-Fight and Charge Home would likely be the most important checks which could be modified beyond the arbitrary distinctions of troops types. Major Morale and all other morale tests could also apply some die roll modifiers, but these are less frequently needed in play--it's the results of the first two checks that most often decide the game.

So, blathering aside, do you use the original 2D6 Morale Tables, or do you use those converted to use of a single D20? The advantage of the latter is that there is far more room for nuance in adding/subtracting modifiers to the D20 roll than are possible with 2D6. To the degree that you want to represent degrees of "eliteness" (and "rabbleness"), you may not be able to do much with TSATF as written when applied to conflicts outside it's original subject.

And, just to be clear, I think TSATF is possibly the best overall game system ever to appear in this crazy hobby. It is--or at least feels--adaptable to almost any purpose, and while it can be applied to any subject, that doesn't mean it should be--at least without serious consideration to adjustments outside the scope of the original version.

Thus Pontificates

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 10:16 a.m. PST

We added another category = "elite Veterans." These were men who had earned the right via combat to be called Elites.
Then we had just plain "elites" = men who were elite because they were told they were or because of birth -- they tend to be very fragile if people don't run away from them right away just because of their impressive size, hats, or pedigree.

Russ Dunaway

saltflats192926 Jun 2017 10:28 a.m. PST

Give the elites Regulars morale but Let elites reroll a failure once.

Rallynow Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 10:30 a.m. PST

It is scenario driven. It depends on when the battle takes place. In the early New York campaign I rate most of the Maryland and Delaware Continentals as just above regular or average troops. Other Continentals in NY I rate at as average. Every other American unit I rate as bad or worse.

In the Southern Campaign the Delaware Continentals are rated very good, near elite as are the 1st Maryland Continentals

Militia (either side) are near the worst rated troops. But some in the Southern Campaign gets just above worst but not quite regular.

The only units I rate as Elite in any scenario are the British Guards. Highlanders, Line Grenadiers, Line Lights and their German counterparts are just below Elite. The British as a whole in our rules remain consistent. Ranging from regular or average to Elite (only the Guards). Loyalist are difficult for me to categorize. They are similar to the Americans (they are Americans too).

So WHEN you are rating an American unit makes a considerable difference.

When using BG scenarios I have to convert their rating system to our rules. We don't have as many rating levels as BG.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 12:09 p.m. PST

In the Horse & Musket era, 'eliteness' is more about morale and cohesion. They are more likely to press home an attack, less likely to run away etc.

I agree with Patrick Wilson, Martin Rapier, robert piepenbrink, and mwindsorfw!. Having said that, the questions are what constitutes 'elite' status and 'So What?'

When asking 18th and 19th Century military men, they rarely speak of 'elite' units, rather units that demonstrate superior discipline and what we now call 'elan' when compared to the typical line unit. They did attach names to elite units like Grenadiers and Guards, but any number of units were considered excellent units without those monikers.

I do disagree with Patrick about the effect of elite status on musket fire. Not with the lack of accuracy demonstrated by the smooth bore musket, but in its disciplined use. Holding fire and delivering regular volleys was something that 'elite' units were known for.

A whole lot of things went into developing an elite unit. You will find that elite units, regardless of the period often share common traits:

1. Special uniforms, names, leader's names denoting particular skills, regions or status. [e.g Morgan's Riflemen or Highlanders.]

2. Experience. No units were ever considered superior before their first battle, regardless of the expectations.

3. Along with experience is longevity. Having a history, a successful history was important, not only for unit cohesion, but for expectations on entering the unit.

4. From a particular region or enjoyed a special selection process. [light units on both sides]

5. Obviously, being recognized as elite by the military organization was important.

What one finds is any unit considered elite shared a majority of those five elements to some degree. You certainly see that in the AWI.

What did military men expect from elite units? Overall, Better performance than the norm, more dependable, but in AWI/TSATF: [Different from National differences given for Colonial rules and scenarios]

A. Staying power. Regardless of fire losses or melee, elite units will stay in the fight longer.

B. Fire discipline. The ability to deliver organized fire on command at close range was important… not something all units could do.

C. 'Bayonet attacks' Most all 'melee combat' was a bayonet attack for this period. It involved playing chicken, one side leaving before the other made contact. It is a matter of who flinched first.

In general, the British were better at this at the beginning of the war for a variety of reasons not necessarily tied to elite status, but the 1st Delaware [that 'first' designation is significant, like the Big Red One] and the later American Light regiments fit those expectations.

I think it would be reasonable [and fun] to give units one, two or all three benefits of the above elite qualities depending on one's take on the unit. As to the degree of superiority in the rules, that is a matter of taste. It is very subjective to determine 'how elite' a unit was. Contemporaries certainly found it so. Unit history--length of time and number of successes--certainly is one gradient.

Just my thoughts on it.

VVV reply26 Jun 2017 12:51 p.m. PST

Yes to me, they fight better and are more reliable. They are the equivalent of selected, well trained and equipped troops who have fought in many battles.

Elenderil26 Jun 2017 2:45 p.m. PST

I'm with Martin Rapier and co in that I see being elite as a state of mind. It is separate to training and experience. Elite troops see themselves as better than the rest of the army. This may be because they are from a higher social class with an ethic of standing and fighting come what may, or due to superior training. The key is elite status is additional to any factors for training or experience. Put a unit who feel they are better than an equivalent unit of the same training and experience along side that second unit and they will stand for longer and be more likely to advance to combat. Putting it simply their honour demands that they do so. Think ECW Royalist Cavalry or Napoleon's Old Guard.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 4:42 p.m. PST

I had the opportunity to talk to a British gentleman who'd survived the first day of the Somme in 1916. He ran a very quaint B&B [House built in the 1680s] outside of London. He said he was one of only 86 out of his battalion who weren't casualties. I believe he was part of the Yorkshire Yeomanry, but I talked to him in 1972, so…

Being an ignorant college student at the time, I asked him why he'd braved the machine guns and shells, just walking towards the Germans. He said he did it because of this 'Mates'. "You didn't want to let them down."

Now, his battalion was fresh out of training and hardly 'elite.', yet advanced and the took casualties expected of an elite unit….

It may well have been a state of mind, for that British gentleman and any elite units. The question is what can capture the battlefield consequences of that state of mind in a wargame like TSATF?

USAFpilot26 Jun 2017 4:56 p.m. PST

Elite means whatever the game designer wants it to mean. If a unit is designated 'elite', than there should be some quantifiable difference between it and a similar 'regular' unit.

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP26 Jun 2017 6:58 p.m. PST

Elite is the most over-used word in the military lexicon; kind of like excellence for an academic

I think it is highly period and army dependent; for much of history I agree elite is a state of mind; for some periods it meant troops who had actually trained for battle rather than just showing up and currently for many developing world armies elite only means they get a regular pay cheque and a steady supply of ammo

USAF pilot is right – it is what the game designer wants; for me most times elite means more staying power

VVV reply27 Jun 2017 2:52 a.m. PST

Now, his battalion was fresh out of training and hardly 'elite.', yet advanced and the took casualties expected of an elite unit….

Yes that one is easily covered raw troops can fight bravely because they have no experience and think that that is what war is like and that everyone else is doing the same. Veterans know when things are going wrong and stop advancing.
So I will throw something else into the fire. SAS in British army. recruitment only from current soldiers, ruthless selection process, tough/realistic training, get to select their own weapons and a regimental history of great achievement.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP27 Jun 2017 6:57 a.m. PST


Yep, so there are behavior differences between elite and raw troops. It is just a matter of determining what those are for the game system.

And of course, as USAFpilot says, elite is whatever the designer wants.

So, if the designer wants to capture what it meant to be elite in a particular era, that is the specific battlefield behaviors that were identified with 'elite', it will take some considered study… otherwise you simply get an overused word like Frederick's 'excellent.'

Supercilius Maximus Supporting Member of TMP27 Jun 2017 9:06 a.m. PST

To throw a spanner into the works, I would hesitate to rate the British Guards as elite in the AWI. They recruited "at large" like the rest of the army, and there was nothing special about the recruits, beyond a minimum height. What tended to make units elite – at least on the British side – was the quality of the officers and NCOs (the latter especially), and the level of training and discipline that they instilled into the men. Thus you could label the flank battalions (picked NCOs and men, commanded by picked officers) and certain units described by others (ie outsiders) as well disciplined and well led – the 33rd, trained by Cornwallis, or the 24th trained by Simon Fraser.

To my mind, the difference between elite and veteran is that the latter will recognise when things have gone horribly wrong and decamp (as the Iron Duke himself put it: "Even the best troops run away sometimes."); the former will recognise the same circumstances, but fight on – at least to the point where there is no hope of turning things around, and sometimes even beyond that.

Personal logo The Virtual Armchair General Sponsoring Member of TMP27 Jun 2017 9:29 a.m. PST


You are perfectly right about the importance of fire discipline!

I thought about including that issue in my peroration, but it is completely irrelevant to TSATF.

The fire effects in those rules are predicated on rifled, breech loading rifles firing fixed ammunition. There are also no shadings for the effects of range. Jezails and Boers get a small range advantage over the presumptive Sniders/Martini's of the Redcoats, but X number of figures can inflict Y number of casualties with equal probability at all ranges. And there are no moral effects for delivering/receiving a volley in the teeth.

Since for the musket era, "fire discipline" is limited to when a unit might deliver its fire--too soon for reduced effect, or last minute for maximum effect--there is no mechanism for this in TSATF.

And at the risk of appearing to criticize "Winston's" long standing project of applying that game system to the 18th Century, the fire tables inflict more casualties (due to the weapons they represent) than MLSB muskets. These rules were never meant to represent the most important aspects of combat in any era, the psychological, social, and key physical aspects of how men actually perform in combat, so only figure losses and forcing moral checks on the enemy determine the winner.

That said, if fire discipline as an element of "eliteness" is to be included, then some further fiddling with the original rules is required.

First, allowing for "eliteness" is only a way to justify creating units of Super Troopers (the most common fallacy among war gamers that battles are won by such), unless something like "rabbleness" is also included so as to provide a more balanced and realistic (the dreaded "R" word) game system.

As so well expressed above by several, it's fairly obvious that if "elites" have advantages, "rabbles" must have comparable disadvantages, and these are easily represented by adjusting the Morale ratings, etc.

If fire discipline is to be introduced into the mix, then there would need to be a mechanism that determines at what range fire is delivered during a Charge--the only occasion when this would be important. As essentially all weapons in TSATF have the same range, the simplest route would be to use the Stand and Fight morale roll to determine the range fire at which it is delivered.

Thus, it would not be enough to pass the test, but for "elites" the use the amount by which the morale point is successfully made to determine effects.

If a unit fails it's Stand and Fight test, it simply doesn't get to fire at all--simple. If it does pass, then the degree by which it went under its point could be used to determine what modifier to apply to its hit dice.

Since this would be subjective anyway, I won't waste time or space by providing a suggested scale, but I would recommend allowing up to as much as -3 to the firing dice depending on which third of the range below the fail point was rolled during the test. So, if a unit's test point was "5," and the player rolls "1", he passed with such effortlessness that his unit would get the maximum benefit to his fire. If he makes his point exactly, no benefit at all.

Of course TSATF as written allows only a D6 range of results with no real room for nuance. If adopting the D20 range for Morale Tests, shading of results would be a lot easier, but that's probably just me.

So, "Fire Discipline," YES, but in TSATF as written, NO.


PS: Your point, McLaddie, about "elite" units tending to distinctive uniforms is a good point. But I would definitely not ascribe this to Morgan's Rifles. An "elite" unit if ever there was one among Rebel forces, but their dress had nothing to do with it.

The "rifle" or "hunting shirt" was commonly worn by soldiers in virtually all units. They were the closest thing to a universal dress in "native" American troops, even worn by the Continentals--as well as Tories--in some numbers through most of the war--hardly distinctive.

On the other hand, you may recall that at least one contemporary Brit recorded that so great was the fear of Rebel riflemen--especially after Saratoga--that simply seeing any Rebels in hunting shirts had the cold-swimming-pool-effect on British soldiers of all stripes, even though the vast majority of those wearing them actually carried only the same MLSB's as everyone else.

Not sure I'd add this to AWI games based on TSATF….

Korvessa27 Jun 2017 9:19 p.m. PST

Rules author's favorite regiment?

Winston Smith Supporting Member of TMP27 Jun 2017 9:49 p.m. PST

In my case, that would be the Wyoming Valley minutemen.
Closely followed by the Philadelphia Light Horse.

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