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"Command Elements" Topic

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525 hits since 12 Nov 2017
©1994-2017 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

thistlebarrow212 Nov 2017 9:24 a.m. PST

Some years ago I read somewhere that for a wargamer to enjoy the game he should not have too many command elements to control. The number of figures was not so important, but rather the number of command decisions you had to make each turn or round. It was suggested that the element itself was not important, whether a battalion or a corps.

My armies are organised as corps of four infantry brigades, one cavalry brigade and corps artillery. So when I have four corps on the table I have 24 command elements. That is the most I can comfortably control for long periods.

I would be interested to hear how other wargamers feel about this suggestion

Personal logo Extra Crispy Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 9:56 a.m. PST

Agreed. There are a few variables but in my mind an upper limit is 12 elements. More than that and players lose track, the game slows, and it generally makes for a less satisfying game. There are some modifiers so to speak:

If the game is very simple – all D6 no charts etc – players can handle more.

If players only get to activate a few units at a time, they can handle more.

If elements are multi-based they should have fewer.

Normally to keep a game moving along at a snappy pace, I keep each player's command to about 6 units/elements. But I normally play in a club setting with 6-10 players per game…

attilathepun4712 Nov 2017 10:26 a.m. PST

I think you are essentially right. For any given set of rules there will be an upper limit of separate units (call them what you will) that one player can control without the game bogging down. But Extra Crispy is right that the exact number will vary with the complexity of the rules. In particular, much depends on whether or not you have to write out movement orders each turn for each of your "elements." The first set of Napoleonic rules that I played back in the seventies had simultaneous movement mechanics which required written orders for each battalion, battery, or cavalry regiment every turn before any actual movement on the table. It was rare to play a game out in a long evening if any player had to control much more than six such elements. That made for laughably small battles by Napoleonic standards.

Personal logo Unlucky General Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 10:28 a.m. PST

For any sizeable game I'm always keen to hand over brigades to other players – I enjoy the co-operative effort and having to think too much about everything.

Personal logo War Artisan Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 2:12 p.m. PST

To quote from my own essay on Scenario Design (which can be found here: ),

"The forces allotted to each player should be kept within a range bounded on the low end by the minimum number of units needed to execute the tactical maneuvers typical of the historical period of warfare in which the scenario is set (a good indication of this is the way units were actually grouped in historical orders of battle), and on the upper end by the number of units that can be comfortably handled without taxing the player's cognitive capabilities. This is generally considered by psychologists to be in the neighborhood of 7, plus or minus 2. The number can be pushed into the teens if the units are grouped into two or three larger formations that can be maneuvered as single, articulated units; thus, two battalions of six companies each, or three brigades of four battalions each would be more manageable and less overwhelming to manipulate than twelve independent units."

It is also helpful if the number is large enough that the loss or incapacitation of a single unit doesn't prevent the player from participating meaningfully in the remainder of the game.

Bandolier Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 3:21 p.m. PST

It is also helpful if the number is large enough that the loss or incapacitation of a single unit doesn't prevent the player from participating meaningfully in the remainder of the game.

That can be a real issue with multiplayer games. The benefit of having an umpire means they can implement deus ex machina with unplanned 'reserves' showing up over the horizon…

I haven't really thought much about the limit of what commands players can handle. The sizes of tables, number of players and painted armies normally dictates that for me.

Personal logo ColCampbell Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 5:23 p.m. PST

When I was in the US Army in the 19702 through 1990s, the number of subordinate elements that a commander could realistically control was pegged at 5 to 7 (as War Artisan stated above). More than that tended to compound control difficulties in a geometrical increase rather than an arithmetical increase.

Just my nickel's worth.


Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP12 Nov 2017 7:50 p.m. PST

Marmont, Foy and others stated that six command elements were nominal for control.

evilgong12 Nov 2017 7:52 p.m. PST

My most enjoyable game has been DBM, in ancients, where armies would be 60-100 'things' (elements).

Those rules have simple mechanisms, no book-keeping or memory via markers. Players of that system know that 'things' can move together in collections as groups doing the same move.

Those 60-100 'things' can be activated to move with an average of 10.5 to 14 pips which can be used on individual or group moves.

So the actual complexity of the game was partly in the hands of the player's tactical decision to break up groups for localised advantage.

I see no reason why a Napoleonic rules set could not work on a similar scale with 'things' being battalions and so on and your army scale up to say 35,000 men.


David F Brown

attilathepun4712 Nov 2017 10:32 p.m. PST

Good Lord, gentlemen, a thread where everyone (so far) is basically in agreement!

advocate13 Nov 2017 1:03 p.m. PST

I'd expect to be able to command more than 6 elements on the table. It's simply not the same as real life.
For a decent game I would usually want a dozen elements at least, and often more. But I tend to lay fairly simple games. Thinking again, I enjoy Chain of Command, and will usually have fewer that 12 units – even counting teams rather than their constituent sections.

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