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"Action/Reaction in Miniature Wargaming" Topic


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28 Nov 2019 6:06 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Removed from Historical Wargaming in General boardRemoved from 19th Century Discussion board

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John Michael Priest28 Nov 2019 5:49 p.m. PST

I am introducing a proposed miniature wargaming ruleset on Ramblings of a Military Historian in a blog entry "Action/Reaction in Miniature Wargaming (part 1).

link

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2019 11:01 a.m. PST

For want of socks, blistered feet disabled men as much as bullets. I study battles from the ground up. I interpret battlefields the same way. Fog, smoke, rapidly undulating terrain, high humidity, and very faint breezes transformed bucolic farm fields into separate fields over which no general had control. That is what I wanted to simulate in a game. I believe to a degree, I have achieved that objective.

I also wanted to get minimize charts and make the outcomes of engagements far less predictable.

John:
I applaud your goals and the reasons for them. I didn't expect the article to go to formation changes, but I agree that in the ACW and before, forethought was important in deciding which formation/change to make going into an engagement. Not knowing the formation, or calling out the wrong one can create all sorts of problems. The one brigade at Perrysville that deployed backwards is a good example.

I also think that action-reaction was much more the pace at which battles are fought, much like a fencing match. Rarely do opponents attack at the very same moment. [I fenced in college]
With pre-20th century battles, the lag time between decision and action made the action-reaction time even more likely.

Have you thought about the frequency of such chance events as well as the organizational joints that suffer most from such events?

It wasn't some trooper's horse that lost a nail, but a courier with a critical message.

If you are inserting a level of unpredictability far higher than the reality faced by the participants, that's no better than too little. Piquet is a good example of a high level of unpredictability, with that game, spread over the entire table an inch deep. I enjoyed the game and thought it raised good questions about generalship, but I question whether that is or was reality on the battlefield.

John Michael Priest01 Dec 2019 11:38 a.m. PST

My idea came from the small unit action I have written about in my books on Antietam, South Mountain, the Wilderness, and Gettysburg. Most of the actions I play are what we would call firefights today.

Battles today are mostly nasty actions seldom lasting all day. For instance, with the rolling terrain, the high humidity, lingering fog, heavy smoke and incessant artillery fire reverberating overhead during the Cornfield fight generals could not see their flanks. Men could not hear the man next to them screaming at them.

The Cornfield fight lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes. Visibility by 730 was 5 – 10 feet at the most. Men fired at shadows. No one had real control. 8000 men fell during that time, most of them shot down in formation. Artillery fired at shadows. The Corfield, because of the terrain consisted of four contiguous, yet separate battlefields.

It was a battle directed by cols down to sergeants with nothing coordinated. It only got organized after it was over and the generals had to explain how they controlled the kaleidoscopic action.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2019 3:03 p.m. PST

Okay. Is that all cornfields? All battlefields? Only during the early war? Or just at Antietam?

It happens, but how often???

John Michael Priest01 Dec 2019 3:48 p.m. PST

All Civil War battlefields at one point or another lent themselves to situations where no one had real control of the situation. What I wanted to do is to provide mechanisms where gamers could pick and choose the parts of the system which they could adapt for their own use as they saw fit. I have observed over the years how gamers tweak systems.

I like randomness and unpredictability where Murphy's Law has a free hand.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP01 Dec 2019 6:47 p.m. PST

All Civil War battlefields at one point or another lent themselves to situations where no one had real control of the situation.

John: I agree, at what point or another…the question I posed was realistically, how many points?

I like randomness and unpredictability where Murphy's Law has a free hand.

Murphy never had a 'free hand'. Any situation you want to pick, you find that Mr. Murphy has a limited effect, however annoying, and at 'on point or another', critical.

John Michael Priest02 Dec 2019 3:55 a.m. PST

I am not sure of how many points. I think it varied from situation to situation. I think the place to introduce the limits on reaction and Murphy should depend on the specific scenarios written to recreate specific engagements.

For instance, if I were recreating Pickett's Charge I would give the Federal officers more control and would make it harder for the Federals to react on their own.

For the Confederates I would keep the reaction in place because my research indicates that a lot of them faltered during the attack.

I hope I answered your question. Every battle was different as far as the officers' ability to control the tactical situation.

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP03 Dec 2019 5:19 a.m. PST

John, it's great that you are giving thought to the mechanics of formation changes, so few rules sets do. That said, some of the movements you show in the diagrams are just not anything that Civil War regiments were trained to do. The School of the Battalion is an amazingly flexible tool kit for the battalion commander to get his men from one place to another and faced the way he wants them, but it does have some limits.

I publish a formation change matrix which you might find useful in visualizing what can be done. You can find it here:

link

John Michael Priest03 Dec 2019 5:36 a.m. PST

Thank you.

Blutarski04 Dec 2019 1:16 p.m. PST

Hi John,
I have not had an opportunity to study your article closely. Have you referenced lack of easy access to water as an issue when fighting in hot weather?

B

John Michael Priest04 Dec 2019 1:29 p.m. PST

Blutarski, No I have not. What I am trying to do with this rules set is to offer gamers an idea on how to factor in smoke, fog, and unanticipated reactions without making the process too complicated to play.

I am not a statistician. I can only speak for the battles about which I have written. I do not have the greatest set of rules, but they are good ones and very playable without making the system too cumbersome, which it why I use only D6s and D10s.

The idea is to introduce the factors which frustrated officers to no end.

From piecing battles together from the ground up I have learned that the frontline soldiers' experiences often did not match the observations made by their superiors. I blame that interpretation upon the combat vets among whom I grew up and Bill Mauldin.

I appreciate your input and am always open to suggestions. There are four more section in this blog series. Each one concentrates upon a specific aspect of the rules.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP04 Dec 2019 6:05 p.m. PST

I am not sure of how many points. I think it varied from situation to situation. I think the place to introduce the limits on reaction and Murphy should depend on the specific scenarios written to recreate specific engagements.

I hope I answered your question. Every battle was different as far as the officers' ability to control the tactical situation.

John:
You answered my question. Thank you. Every battle was different. The officers' ability to control the tactical situation was dependent on circumstances, which can be captured to a certain extent by scenario rules.

Of course, I have to have my 'However."

For instance, if I were recreating Pickett's Charge I would give the Federal officers more control and would make it harder for the Federals to react on their own.

For the Confederates I would keep the reaction in place because my research indicates that a lot of them faltered during the attack.

I would ask if that represents the typical Union/Confederate command and it was simply circumstances during the battle itself that produced those effects--at random--rather than some overall/blanket condition of the Union or Confederate officers or their men on July 3rd.

For instance, the CSA troops on the left faltered because they had taken serious casualties during the first two days and faced flanking fire as they drew near the Federal lines… [that and cannon fire from Cemetary Hill.] Is there a need for any differences if a good portion of the Federal troops 'faltered' during the attack…being unwilling or slow to advance like the regiments of the Philidelphia Brigade?

You might be trying to induce/guarantee specific Murphy effects that were in reality random effects and/or battlefiled conditions that any Union and CSA troops in 1863 would responded to in a similar manner. Just a thought.

I certainly support your ideas concerning chance, the lost of control and the pervasive chaos of battle. It is just a question of capturing them in a realistic manner. Not a complicated manner, but providing the actual control officers at the level of your game enjoyed…and the loss of control, some time complete.

Blutarski04 Dec 2019 7:48 p.m. PST

Hi JMP,
Wasn't by any means trying to stir up a controversy. In fact, I find your approach to this topic quite refreshing and interesting, not to mention important.

B

Trajanus05 Dec 2019 2:58 a.m. PST

I increasingly wonder when considering rules in any period how writer's can best model the frequency of events.

Like John I am no statistics expert but I'm more and more dissatisfied with rules that rely on the humble D6 and the apparent lack of granularity that comes with it, when allied to the +1/-1 modified roll approach.

Those with a better head for numbers might tell me it's how it's used but that feeling just adds to another, perhaps more central point. That being the judgement on how to properly include something that undeniably happed in battles but qualified by, how often.

Thus we get British Infantry in Spain that are virtually impossible to defeat or Prepared positions in the Civil War that are impossible to take. Things that were generally true that in gaming terms become a 98% certainty (if that's not a contradiction).

So we move from the player view of "that never happened" to the actual position of "that can't happen" within game terms.

John Michael Priest05 Dec 2019 3:43 a.m. PST

Blutarski, no problem on my end. I have observed through my years of research that nothing is impossible on the field. Veteran troops shatter like glass. Green troops stay where they are put believing they will actually be relieved. Officers shout orders which only the men in their immediate vicinity hear. Despite regulations of marching with empty veterans men deliberately halt to load their weapons.

One fellow snaps off a round and the entire battalion fires. Too many games are too predictable and that goes against what I have learned. I wanted a game where players have to constantly deal with not knowing what will happen despite the objectives.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP05 Dec 2019 9:33 a.m. PST

I increasingly wonder when considering rules in any period how writer's can best model the frequency of events.Like John I am no statistics expert but I'm more and more dissatisfied with rules

Trajanus:

I am not sure why you have to be a statistical expert to use statistics. Regardless, you can't approach real-world frequency of anything without using a statistical approach, whether crude or minutely detailed. If you ask "how often did troops break under fire?" or "How often did an advance faulter because of some SNAFU?" or "How often did officers completely lose control of their troops?" simply can't be answered with one battle study or a few antedotes.

While, as John says, "Nothing is impossible on the field", the impossible didn't happen a thousand times a minute, nor were plans, organization, training and command always trashed in battle. It all comes down to frequency and how military men attempted to meet such threats to control.

If John feels that most games are too predictable, he his making a statement about the 'frequency' of certain events.

John Keegan has said that the winner of a battle is the one who is last to lose control, the last to succumb to the chaos.

We can't reasonably model any of that without knowing something of the real frequency related by history.

Trajanus06 Dec 2019 9:53 a.m. PST

I am not sure why you have to be a statistical expert to use statistics

I'm not sure that you do either, I'm just saying I'm not one. However, if someone collects a large data set on pretty much anything, there is always the temptation to launch off into statistical analysis which can leave others behind in a flash.

That said its really "frequency" and how its used which I am talking about too. That in turn can apply to how data is used to determine it.

Don't take this as a definitive example of anything but this is the kind of thing that gets my goat. Lets say you take the Old Guard Infantry (yeah I know this the ACW Board but roll with it for now).

Battle record, outstanding in terms of results. Amount of action seen as an entity, not so much.

Rules treat them as a force of nature, either by upping their plus factors, or their opponents negative ones and sometimes both.

They were never beaten (as far as I recall) by Prussian Landwher so to ensure this can't happen in their rules, writers give the OG a thumping melee bonus and the Landwher a negative one and leave it at that.

The spin off is that the OG melee better than anyone they face and the Landwher are universally rubbish.

The former maybe true but there's plenty of evidence around to suggest the Landwher were not as bad as generations of gamers think but the simplistic approach to keeping the reputation/facts around the OG intact, has created a false negative within the rules elsewhere.

Of course this can be balanced a bit by a +/- here or there for differing troop grades but with my old chum the D6 its very hard to create a balance between the various opponents that keeps the relative differential and ensures that at the end of it, the chance of landwher beating the OG is next to nothing.

Of course it also ignores the frequency of actual melee combat too but that's another assessment as you know.

Now I appreciate this may not be a good example of anything other than what hacks me off but its the kind of thing I'm on about.

donlowry06 Dec 2019 10:40 a.m. PST

John Keegan has said that the winner of a battle is the one who is last to lose control, the last to succumb to the chaos.

I believe it was Napoleon who said that the battle is won by the side that has the last reserve to throw in, which is saying pretty much the same thing that Keegan is saying … kinda … the reserve being the one unit the commander still has control over (kinda).

ScottWashburn Sponsoring Member of TMP06 Dec 2019 10:59 a.m. PST

I remember back in the 70s and 80s a lot of rules sets seemed to have the philosophy that if something happened even once, it needed to be modelled into the rules. As a result, once-in-a-lifetime events happened in almost every game.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2019 11:33 a.m. PST

I remember back in the 70s and 80s a lot of rules sets seemed to have the philosophy that if something happened even once, it needed to be modelled into the rules. As a result, once-in-a-lifetime events happened in almost every game.

Scott:

Yes, and those inclusions really skewed reality and command challenges. I remember at least two games/rules covering the 1870 war and the battle of Mars-la-Tour. The designers wanted to 'recreate' von Bredow's cavalry charge, so his brigade got this magic ability to show up anywhere [once] and charge with extra modifiers. So, all through a game, the French player was worried about this stealth brigade and the Prussians thinking far too much about this one might brigade and how to use it. That might be fun, but it ain't history or 1870's combat.

Game designers in our hobby really have not gotten clear of this idea of recreating 'events', which is basically scripting decisions and results in very unrealistic ways if you are trying to produce realistic decision-making challenges.

Movies recreate events, the same event over and over again. Wargames only function as history and a game when the goal is to recreate an environment containing the same possibilities as the original environment…where players make decisions faced by the actual participants.

Mixing the two, such as the von Bredow brigade or the infamous "McClellan rules" for Antietam skews history and the decision-making challenges the gamers face.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2019 11:46 a.m. PST

…Don't take this as a definitive example of anything but this is the kind of thing that gets my goat. Lets say you take the Old Guard Infantry (yeah I know this the ACW Board but roll with it for now).

Battle record, outstanding in terms of results. Amount of action seen as an entity, not so much…

Rules treat them as a force of nature, either by upping their plus factors, or their opponents negative ones and sometimes both.Now I appreciate this may not be a good example of anything other than what hacks me off but its the kind of thing I'm on about.

Trajanus:

It's as good an example as any. I think it was Wellington who said 'all troops will rout as some point or another.'

Considering when and why the Old Guard was used in battle…and the 'aura' that Napoleon purposely built around it, doing a statistical analysis of Old Guard performances would have to take that into account.

The Old Guard was used sparingly, so the number of times they were actually in combat are relatively few, but still around 20 from what I've heard.

Then there would be the type of combat that the Old Guard participated in. I have yet to read where they were involved in a serious exchange of volleys. They generally simply 'went in'. There are instances of where they didn't break the enemy line, resulting in a rout, so there were variations on success. You can compare the numbers of time and circumstances where that happened against the total times in combat. One rough 'probability' of the Old Guard not routing the opponent. With a base of all the engagements, we can see how the results compare to the type of troops and their condition [Napoleon rarely sent in the Old Guard against fresh troops].

Anyway, there are lots to suss out of a nominal base of engagements once you have them.

Trajanus06 Dec 2019 1:18 p.m. PST

Indeed.

Its the fact that writers don't that's the irritant!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP06 Dec 2019 7:53 p.m. PST

Its the fact that writers don't that's the irritant!


Trajanus:

For me it's not that the designers/writers don't do it--no rule says they have to. the irritant is that they then claim to have captured such history without doing it, which isn't possible. That is just guessing without any testing of them…and then you get such empty phrases as 'historical flavor' and 'feeling.' Fine for the gamer if they 'feel' that way, but not for the designer.

John Michael Priest07 Dec 2019 5:37 a.m. PST

When I started this topic, I never imagined such a vigorous response. I am a retired history teacher and a Civil War historian not a professional game designer. While I have found myself lost at times in the terminology of the discussions, I really have learned a great deal from this thread. If I understand what I am hearing, I am learning the distinction between a "game" and a "simulation." Not to insult anybody, but they seem comparable to the difference between popular history and scholarly history. Both serve different purposes.

Please, clarify this for me.

UshCha07 Dec 2019 9:35 a.m. PST

John Michael Priest, not sure I understand your comment about popular history. Its still history.

I would have said its like the difference between "Hollywood History" in which some of the names are the same but any connection to reality is absent for the most part.

Simulation is aimed at getting at least somewhere close to a plausible historic performance of the model. How you demonstrate that is an interesting debate. My way is easyer because I model more recent warfare, so it is possible is to compare optimum game tactics with real world tactical manuals, if they arrive at similar solutions then you have a plausible model within the demonstrated limits.
In the end to me that is what a wargame is about. Historians that attempt to recreate weapons using historical tools my have some analogy to a wargame designer.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2019 10:41 a.m. PST

Not to insult anybody, but they seem comparable to the difference between popular history and scholarly history. Both serve different purposes.

John:
No insult at all. However, that comparison confuses content with purposes. First off, both a game and a simulation can be and are created for entertainment as well as training, research and other scholarly and practical pursuits.

How much of a simulation is seen as entertaining is up to the designer and consumer. Obviously there is a range of desires when it comes to simulating in a game.

Here are some quotes from professional game and simulation designers about games and simulations:

"A game is a series of interesting decisions."

--Sid Meiers, Designer of Civilization I-IV

"A game is one or more causally linked challenges in a simulated environment"

--Ernest Adams and Andrew Rollings,
On Game Design.

"A simulation allows players to safely make real-world decisions and develop skills in an unreal environment."

--David Bartlett, former chief of operations,
Defense Modeling and Simulation Office.

"Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time . . . Simulation is used to describe and analyze the behavior of a system, ask what-if questions about the real system. Both existing and conceptual systems can be modeled with simulation."

--Jerry Banks, Engineer, Introduction,
Handbook of Simulation, page 3-4, 1998

"The Primary Rule of Wargaming: Nothing may be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war."

--Fred T. Jane (Of Jane's Fighting Ship's fame)

A game is "a system in which players engage in an artificial conflict, defined by rules, that results in a quantifiable outcome…."

"A simulation is a procedural representation of aspects of 'reality.' Simulation represent procedurally and they have a special relationship to 'reality' that they represent. There are many kinds of simulations that are not games. However, all games can be understood as simulations, even very abstract games or games that simulate phenomena not found in nature."

--Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman,
Rules of Play, Game design Fundamentals

And no, none of these quotes are specifically about computer games. You can see that while diverse, there are common concepts and themes. How are games and simulations alike in Katie and Eric's explanation above?

both are artifical environments, systems in which players act according to specific rules towards specific goals. Both CAN use the same medium to create those environments. In this case, tabletop game mechanics. Even 'non-real' simulations are possible…such as games simulating the "Lord of the Rings" war. It is simulating because it is recreating that fictional environment.

Here is my working definitions of games and simulations where player conflict is involved:

"A game is an artifical environment/system where players make decisions to achieve established goals."

"A simulation game is an artifical environment/system which mimics a real environment where players make decisions to achieve real-world goals."

The question you asked is how a game system can recreate part of an historical battlefield environment: Chance and confusion. Within a game design, a procedural system, there are established and tested tools for doing that.

If you are going to build a system like a internal-conbustion engine, you need to know certain concepts and use particular tools. Creating a simulation game isn't nearly as complicated or confusing unless you try it without the tools and concepts.

I hope that helps.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2019 10:51 a.m. PST

The first effort at chance being included in a wargame was when the use of dice to determine outcomes was introduced back in the 1780s.

However, the old Avalon Hill D6 combat chart [with AR, DR, EX and D or A Elim] was the first to use research, in this case the US Military's statistical analysis of combat after WWII.

That current Military research is what I think UshCha is talking about as the basis for his game.

John Michael Priest07 Dec 2019 1:40 p.m. PST

In regard to the Civil War and 18th and 19th warfare has anyone done a statistical analysis of of those eras similar to those of World War II?

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP07 Dec 2019 2:26 p.m. PST

In regard to the Civil War and 18th and 19th warfare has anyone done a statistical analysis of of those eras similar to those of World War II?

John:
I'm doing one for the Napolonic period. Paddy Griffith did some in the 1980s-90s when he could get the OR on the computer. He was interested in the distances at which fire fights were fought and how that compared to pre-rifle exchanges of volleys.

Now it is much easier. If you have the OR on the computer, you can simply do it by using key words, though it is still work. If there are others, I don't know about them. Dupey [or is it Duprey?] did analysis of battles as a whole in an effort to create a predictive model, but that isn't what we are talking about here.

Lee49408 Dec 2019 9:33 p.m. PST

I think we error in trying to make our games too statistical. A good simulation allows for not only the frequency of what DID happen but also allows for what COULD happen. And yes I do use modified d6 rolls in my game along with a STUFF HAPPENS element which works very well. And keep the number of dice rolls high. That gives you your traditional bell shaped distribution with most results in the normal range but with just enough events at the extremes of the curve to keep gamers alert and games interesting. Cheers!

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP08 Dec 2019 11:03 p.m. PST

A good simulation allows for not only the frequency of what DID happen but also allows for what COULD happen.

Lee494:

That is what statistical analysis does. How do you establish what COULD happen unless you find out the frequency of what has happened??? Prediction is part of a probability study.

And yes I do use modified d6 rolls in my game along with a STUFF HAPPENS element which works very well. And keep the number of dice rolls high. That gives you your traditional bell shaped distribution with most results in the normal range but with just enough events at the extremes of the curve to keep gamers alert and games interesting. Cheers!

All you are saying is that you use die rolls that 'works well enough' [for the game supposedly] and it keeps the gamers interested. That's fine, more power to ya, but don't suppose that a bell-shaped distribution is what happened historically, depending on what is being analyzed. And where do you think the 'traditional' bell-shaped curve came from? Statistical analysis.

For instance, I have been looking at how often units engaged in just fire fights withdrew and/or routed.

Apart from a few units being surprised or suffering very low morale/training, out of fifty examples, I counted one. Units didn't retreat/rout unless something else happened on top of volley/skirmish. Volley fire might halt and disorganize a battalion or brigade, but it didn't retreat or rout until reinforcements arrived, a flank attack or they were charged.

That isn't a bell-shaped curve. It is far closer to the historical probability of such results.

Wolfhag09 Dec 2019 11:24 a.m. PST

I think we error in trying to make our games too statistical. A good simulation allows for not only the frequency of what DID happen but also allows for what COULD happen.

I think the best way to address what COULD happen is to outline that in the scenario notes. Certain terrain features could be a trigger or when the game progresses to a certain turn number.

Wolfhag

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP09 Dec 2019 12:18 p.m. PST

I think the best way to address what COULD happen is to outline that in the scenario notes. Certain terrain features could be a trigger or when the game progresses to a certain turn number.

Wolfhag: On one level, that is one way to handle those "possibles", on another, it is like telegraphing where the SNAFUs can occur with a particular scenario. It is sort of like John's example of unexpected loss of control where in the scenario the players are warned [given the rules] that in THIS scenario, smoke and confusion can produce a loss of control for the players. The actual participants had no such warning, or if they did it was a general idea from experience, but little knowledge of how severe the situation could become… Or the CSA player knowing how the McClellan rule works… or the combat odds etc etc. What did the commanders know as opposed to generally supposing or guessing?

We have to go back to what we want the players to experience in the game and how that can effect their decision-making.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP09 Dec 2019 12:24 p.m. PST

John:

If you wanted to go generally, and find out how often commanders of X troops lost control for all reasons, not just smoke or terrain etc., then it is just a matter of collecting instances where that happened. You would want @ 50 for a solid statistical base, the incidents evenly spread between East and West theatres and the four years of war.

You then will start to see themes of when and how such things occurred. If you want to see how often, then pick five battles--or engagements within five battles and see how many examples of 'loss of control' you can find. That will begin to show the frequency of such unexpected, loss of control events. [It appears you might be defining 'loss of control' as absolute loss of control, which works, but defining it would be necessary.

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