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"Are wargamers control freaks?" Topic

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18 Feb 2023 6:14 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Crossposted to TMP Poll Suggestions board

22 Dec 2023 1:49 p.m. PST
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Zookie18 Feb 2023 4:24 p.m. PST

How is that for a click bait title? :)

Seriously though I wanted to discuss the concept of control and friction in wargames (particularly, but not limited to historical war games)

At its heart hobbyist wargaming is meant to be fun, or at least interesting. But some wargamers really bristle at playing games that have limitations to command abilities. They want a chess like game where an order is given and executed (I am sure many a real life general would wish the same!). But others prefer a game with vagaries and surprises. Maybe unit X will advance and maybe it won't and if it won't then I need to move to plan B.

I think what it boils down to is, are you a player wants to complete against an opponent? Then you want evenly matched games with a high degree of control.

Or do you want to play against a situation? Where you opponent is just another obstacle to be overcome. Then you want a game where your main obstacle is actually the rule set and how you work with it to achieve a goal.

Both can provide for interesting gameplay. But I am curious what most people prefer.

Do you prefer rules whereas the player you have a lot of control? Or do you prefer a game with a lot of unpredictability? Or is there a place in the middle you think is best?

What are examples of games where control, or unpredictability or a balance are done right?

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP18 Feb 2023 6:14 p.m. PST

Balance, obviously, but also obviously, that is not just one thing. The degree of control vs randomness is different for different scenarios. Randomness and control are not necessarily diametric opposites.

For most historical games, mostly I like to face the same degree of challenge that historical combatants faced. That does require ceding some control to things other than randomness in order to recreate the constraints the original combatants faced. Randomness, however, becomes a tool to create the decisions faced by the real combatants, who don't have GEV, perfect knowledge, or hindsight for the events they faced.

For scifi or fantasy h2h(2h2h…) I like a little more randomness, but also a lot of control. Randomness should not interfere with facing your opponent, it should augment it.

If it's a collaborative game, then I like a high degree of randomness, but not open randomness. This helps compensate for the predictability of fighting an automaton.

I think our scenarios do this well. link Those are two of the main considerations in designing them.

raylev318 Feb 2023 7:29 p.m. PST

Some are control freaks, some aren't. I'm not. I like rules where I can't control everything…that's reality in warfare. Friction is the norm. And not controlling everything means you need to always have a plan B if things don't go like you want. Reserves are the most obvious Plan B.

Keep in mind that in the game, like in a battle, you're playing against an opponent who is doing everything he can to upset your plans.

Personal logo Old Contemptible Supporting Member of TMP18 Feb 2023 10:41 p.m. PST

This is why I prefer historical scenarios rather than a point-based rule system. In actual warfare, both sides are never equal. Even if you are heavily outnumbered, if the victory conditions are set properly, you can still win. The person in control is the GM.

UshCha19 Feb 2023 2:18 a.m. PST

I think that control friction like randomness is good in moderation. What is controll? Well for us our movrmrnt systing is a bit diffrent to the classic Featherstone system so it's possible to get inside the oppositions decision loop by promt decision making and carefull planning, thats control and sort of friction in that things take time and that is without issuing formal orders.
On top of that we have some control friction, there is always some responce to the enemy and the situation, but there is some variation, somtimes a planned responce is not a quick as you might hope.

Well obviously the perfect example (not biased in the slightest ;-) of course) is us Maneouvre Group.

Randomness in excess I do hate, shooting with huge standard deviations on the mean I personnally detest, but each to thier own.

Points level games particularly in my period, moderen using 2 equal sides just means if the rules work even vaugely relisticaly, its a stale mate. If its not the rules are pointless (personal opinion of course).

A good game is not perfect reponce like chess nor is it random and it must encourage long term planning so creating some friction without the pointless recource to die.

I treasure a quote made to me that illustrates the point. I said our rules can generate traffic jams without extra rules. One player reponded he did not want that, he just wanted to dice for it. Wildly diffrent opinions on what is a requirement.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP19 Feb 2023 4:35 a.m. PST

I understand this quandary, different people like different levels of control. What is right does not matter, what is fun is.
I remember an old quote, I cannot remember who first coined it, 'Achieving an equality of dissatisfaction' in rules is the best we can hope for!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP19 Feb 2023 5:25 a.m. PST

As said, some are, some aren't. But it's easy to blame the wargamer when the problem is the rules, and the actual difficulties involved in giving an order and getting it obeyed can be very tricky to model. Get it wrong, and you wind up with a messy, sometimes literally unplayable game. More often, you wind up with a game only a bookkeeper could love, or a "game within a game" which becomes more important than sound period tactics.

Such rules are not invited back to my table.

advocate19 Feb 2023 7:04 a.m. PST

I'm happy to play scenarios (historical, or generated by a campaign system) or points-based games.

Wolfhag19 Feb 2023 7:07 a.m. PST

Commanders hardly ever have all of the control over their units they would like. However, there are historical exceptions. I recall in VN there were Army Battalion Commanders flying around in a helicopter telling Platoon Commanders exactly where to place their squads. Alexander the Great led his shock cavalry from the front so was able to micro-manage them. It is not unusual in the heat of battle for a Company Commander to attach himself to a unit to get things going either. So I guess there are some historical examples of command micro-management but it is not the norm.

At its heart hobbyist wargaming is meant to be fun, or at least interesting.

and I would add also has some basis in the historical performance of the units or weapons platforms, at least for me. A game that has rules that state a unit must pass an "activation test" or can execute a finite number of orders each turn is not historical either and is not found in any manuals. However, it can still be a fun game but the only historical aspect may be the models and terrain. Any other perception of reality is in the mind of the players and their imaginations. Social interaction in the game counts towards enjoyment too.

Balance: It rarely exists in a battle. You don't fight fair or at 1:1 odds. Taking the side outnumbered 3:1 is not going to be fun either.

Reality: Reality sucks, it's not fun. Getting your units ambushed 10 minutes into the game and taking 50%+ causalities is not fun but it is historical.

Control: Military units, especially at the Company and below level, are trained to react without needing to be "activated" or ordered by their commanders. They generally have a standing order to carry out which they will normally attempt to accomplish until confronted with enough enemy force to stop them.

No combat unit sits still in the face of enemy fire and/or maneuver waiting to be told what to do unless their intel and Situational Awareness are terrible or the enemy is not in their LOS. Upon enemy contact, a unit should be able to react. However, to change their standing order or objective would need an order from their commander. That may take a while to arrive or it may never get through due to a number of factors, some of which may be random.

Unit Reactions: When making contact with an enemy a unit will do something eventually, not randomly. How quickly depends on their current situation, formation, posture, recon, initiative, and suppression. Command & Control is important but most units do have a battle plan or immediate action drill to respond without the need for higher command. I cringe when I see a unit being fired at by multiple enemy units and they just stand there and take it because they already used all of their actions or it is not their turn.

Timing: How quickly and efficiently they can accomplish this depends on the level of expertise of the troops, commanders, and their initiative. If they have been assigned the right supporting assets for their mission they have a better chance of accomplishing their mission. If you continue to execute your orders before the enemy (OODA Loop) you have seized the initiative. There are some random factors that can govern timing but initiative overall is not random. You use your strengths against your enemy's weakness and "Risk-Reward Tactical Decisions" to seize the initiative.

Randomness: My opinion is that situations that occur on a battlefield are rarely random. Someone, somewhere, hesitated, made a right or wrong decision to change the situation that now occurs. Randomness can create friction making it harder for units to shoot, move and communicate which degrades the ability of a unit. How long it takes to react or execute an order could be defined as a variable on a bell curve with a roll of the dice. There can be unexpected situations that may arise based on a historical scenario. We call them "SNAFUs" and they are based on historical occurrences.

I don't see any one set of rules gaining dominance in the miniatures community because what many players want is entirely arbitrary and abstracted. There is nothing wrong with that. However, I think many game rule publishers take advantage of the arbitrary and abstracted to "create" a new version of abstraction and randomness in their game. We all know of the main offenders are.

For further reading, The OODA Loop and the Infantry Company Commander:


Personal logo Dye4minis Supporting Member of TMP19 Feb 2023 11:11 a.m. PST

There are many things that can influence Command and Control. Command and Control is a process-NOT a radius! It consists of 5 elements:

1. Commanding Element(s).
2. Downward flow of communications. (Orders)
3. Commanded Elements.
4. Upward flow of communications. (Actionable Intel, reports form subordinate commanders, etc. to the next level of command.)
5. Friction at all levels. (Literally there can be thousands of instances that falls under the heading of "friction" Just a few examples like time and distance; how long did it take for the staff at the next level to comprehend the reports from subordinate units, devise a plan of action, prepare the appropriate communication to subordinate commands, how long did it take for the subordinate command to receive, translate to new directives to subordinate units, transmit these new changes, etc. down the line- again and again time and distance comes a big part of Command and Control.

Even in todays world of nearly instant communication, information is only as good as what the staff does with it- how long it takes to act.

Wolfhag20 Feb 2023 5:04 a.m. PST

I totally agree, especially at higher levels of command. Although C&C could be a radius if radio communications are involved. That means in WWII the radius might be 1-3 km.

Once a unit is assigned an objective it normally did not need additional commands to continue. However, a unit being out of communication with its HQ and flank units may need to take a morale check and fall back because they may think they are being cut off and abandoned. They might also send runners to see where they are too. Runners and messengers should count as communication.


UshCha20 Feb 2023 6:13 a.m. PST

Wolfhag. I hate to say this but the morale check thing is really not credible. Who or how would you define a none arbitry grounds for a Morale check? In WW2 if communication is down on what groundds would you even begin to assess how much data a unit has on its flank. I have played table wargames when I have asked who won as I had little time to assess what is beyond my own units flanks. So the grunts on the front line just won't know either way. So the decision is now up 1,2 or even 3 levels whether to retire through lack of information. Now you want runners to get information that can take from minutes to hours, when do you take the check after houres or minutes? I put it too you this is the typical case where the rules will only ever be 50% right. But having no rules is then equqlly valid and less implementation so will overall make a better game as it plays faster for no loss in resolution.
To me this strikes me as the typical whe have always done this even though like many old fationed rules it has no decent foundation in reality. Like you must shoot the nearest rule that is utter noinsence in the real world, Rven romans attacked the guy to the side not the guy infront.

This plays into what is control and what is it you just fancy in a game for the hell of it. This latter is not control its adding myth without grounds.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP20 Feb 2023 11:55 a.m. PST

I hate to say this but the morale check thing is really not credible.

I have played table wargames when

So … have you every actually been shot at by a hostile force?

Many parts of a force will not have an objective assessment of the current tactical advantage they hold and how that is likely to play out in the immediate future based on enemy state. Everyone, however, will have a perception of how things are likely to go in the next few seconds.

I put it too you this is the typical case where the rules will only ever be 50% right.

Since your post talks about empirical data, where's yours for that?

UshCha21 Feb 2023 2:12 a.m. PST

Reading up om manny accounts few if any involve retreats until actual enemy action breaks the troops. Very few accouts cover retreats untill fire forces it. Even in Ukraine its not clear how you would model when troops have had enough and that is more of a rabble than a trained army.

Wolfhag21 Feb 2023 12:56 p.m. PST

You and I agree on most aspects and details of gaming but we have some differences in this discussion. The level of control you give to a player is very hard to pin down because of so many variables, historical periods, scenarios, etc. There is no right or wrong way but I try to use historical guidelines and my unremarkable military experience to guide me.

Reading up on many accounts few if any involve retreats until actual enemy action breaks the troops.

You need to do more research.

Even in Ukraine its not clear how you would model when troops have had enough and that is more of a rabble than a trained army.

I think it would be fairly easy to model it as the Ukrainians have been holding out in Bakhmut for 7 months against the tactics the Russians have been using so there is a lot of historical data to draw from.

This "rabble" as you say is fighting for their country and family making the ultimate sacrifice. Desperate enemies are very dangerous in the defense even if they are a rabble which in Ukraine they are not based on what people that have fought with them have told me. They also catch on very quickly. Some Ukie leaders do leave a lot to be desired, others are excellent.

Now the people manning the checkpoints just behind the front lines are too young or physically unfit for combat operations so you could classify them as "rabble" but they are rarely in combat.

History has shown that even motivated but green and inexperienced troops can hold out in the defense if appropriately led. If not led well they may panic. How a game designer wants to reflect it is up to him.

In Ukraine, the units manning the front-line trenches are not their top-of-the-line troops either. Those are held back for counterattacks. I guess they are just plain stubborn but most are older and have gained a lot of experience. The troops in the trenches are normally recycled in 3-day shifts to ensure fresh units are there.

Westerners that I know that are in Ukraine on the front lines said the Ukies are great in the defense but lack the training and experience for small unit tactics, patrolling, recon, and assaults. This is why many small-scale attacks are led by Westerners and the Ukie training is concentratating on offensive operations. This is what they are getting trained for in other European countries.

What both sides have been up against in Ukraine is that as soon as you have an assembly area for a large offensive it gets detected and squashed by artillery. That's the main reason for the stalemates.

In Bakhmut, the Russians are now doing 10-20 man Wagner Group convict rushes that gain some ground with most becoming causalities which are followed a few minutes later with another 10-20 man rush that gains a little more ground. When they get close enough they crawl up to the Ukie trenches and assault in a WWI trench fighting scenario.

By this time the Ukie defenders are low on ammo and have suffered causalities that have not been replaced. The convicts don't need any training to do this but I'm sure adrenaline and self-survival make them dangerous adversaries in close combat. I'm sure some of them were very nasty guys. to begin with. Let's just say they are "highly motivated" by their Russian handlers by the threat of outright execution. If part of a trench line is taken everyone else may fall back even if not attacked, especially if a counter-attack is not forthcoming. The Russians always reinforce advances.

Sometimes the Russians are accompanied by vehicles but experience has shown using vehicles attracts more artillery. Small unit rushes without vehicles are harder to detect and generally too short to call in artillery and not a priority target. This tactic is what appears to be working. Sometimes the defenders have a chance to fall back and sometimes they don't. Using these tactics, the convicts don't normally fall back, they die and more just keep coming.

In the last few weeks, the Russians have been advancing and slowly cutting off Bakhmut with only one road open into the city. Sometimes units in the trenches fall back because of enemy action and others fall back without being attacked because the Russians have taken trenches to their flanks.

Sometimes the Ukies are able to counterattack and take back the trenches but not often enough. I've been told that on more than one occasion a Ukie commander withdrew his force without permission or being attacked. Fear of the unknown, the Fog of War, and self-preservation (something we rarely see in games) can be the main driver in decision-making. I think this happened when defending Soledar a few weeks ago.

In WW2 if communication is down on what ground would you even begin to assess how much data a unit has on its flank? So the grunts on the front line just won't know either way.

I don't know what military you served in but knowing where your friendly flanks are and who is there is just Command 101. At the Platoon level (my personal experience) if you are out of communication you send a runner and make sure any gaps are filled, it should not take very long. If there is a gap you fill it ASAP. This is an ongoing responsibility mainly to the squad leaders that occupy your flanks and send out patrols when static. Enemy suppression of course makes it more difficult or even impossible. Again, hard to simulate in a game so do it however you want.

We've had rifle platoons get lost in the woods of N. Carolina and even with radio contact we could not get their position until they fired a burst from their M60 machine gun and we told them what direction to move in to link up.

So the decision is now up 1,2 or even 3 levels whether to retire through lack of information.

I'd agree in a large-scale battle but a Regimental Commander is not going to tell a Platoon Leader what to do nor would the Platoon Leader ask permission from the Colonel.

If a Platoon Leader feels he's cut off, out of communication, and without any support, he may make the decision to fall back (unless maybe told to defend to the last man) as there is no one to get permission from or tell him yes or no. I'll agree that it's hard to model in a game so do it however you like.

Now you want runners to get information that can take from minutes to hours, when do you take the check after hours or minutes?

It's a game, design it however you want to be based on historical or fictional actions. My games are small unit actions up to a battalion in size that historically took no more than a few hours so it usually does not come into play. Because of the god's eye view of the game players unrealistically detects being flanked to fall back without a Morale Check.

You can also have a situation where a unit makes an advance further than its flanks so needs to fall back to dress up the lines and not get isolated when not under attack.

The historical accounts I'm aware of units falling back without being attacked are mostly from WWII Pacific where at night a unit loses contact with its flanks. It was generally SOP that anyone moving at night was the enemy so sending a runner may not work. The unknown and fear generate panic and Japanese night infiltration tactics could be successful enough to create a gap. IIRC it was not unusual for US small units in the VN jungles to fall back because of the "threat" of encirclement. As etotheipi said, it's about perception, not necessarily reality.

One more recent account I heard about in a lecture by Peter Panzeri, a former Army officer in the Gulf War. His armored unit lagered in for the night but was out of communication with the unit on the right flank. His commander told him to take a HUMVEE and locate them. After driving around for an hour in the dark he found them. He drove back and reported to his CO who was surprised to see him. Evidently, he had driven right through their defensive perimeter without being detected even by thermal or NVGs, fortunate for him. He said even the craziest and most unexpected things happen in combat so almost any game design or rule could have the chance of occurring in battle. Have fun with it.


Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP21 Feb 2023 1:44 p.m. PST

Reading up om manny accounts few if any involve retreats until actual enemy action breaks the troops.

It's good to know most people are following that sage military advice, "Engage the enemy on their terms."

Very few accouts cover retreats untill fire forces it.

Also not true, but not sure how its relevant when it is true. Does the fire physically force the people backward into a retreat or does taking casualties break the morale of troops? In which case, morale causing retreat is highly credible.

And it's still based on individual units' perception.

UshCha23 Feb 2023 3:24 a.m. PST

The original issue was a morale check when a flank was out of contact for unknown reasons so a morale check was required. My statements were that the time betweed the start of the unsureness and some decision somewhere to retire or not and under what conditions makes a realistic, not arbitary die roll unjustifieable. It is unlikely to be better than 50% accurate so worthless. Nothing here has yet convinced me otherwise.

Wolfhag23 Feb 2023 6:10 a.m. PST

The original question was:
Do you prefer rules whereas the player you have a lot of control? Or do you prefer a game with a lot of unpredictability? Or is there a place in the middle you think is best?

What are examples of games where control, or unpredictability or a balance are done right?

"Done right" will be an opinion to which we are all entitled. I try to base mine on historic actions. It seems as if some people prefer to base it on how it should play out in their game.

My statements were that the time between the start of the unsureness and some decision somewhere to retire or not and under what conditions make a realistic, not arbitrary die roll unjustifiable.

There is no real way to quantify that for a game unless there is a specific battle or scenario you are playing where it could come into play. As etotheipi said it's about perception. Model it however you desire.

To really model perception you need to take away the god's eye view of the game (practically impossible for a multi-player miniatures game) and model the Fog of War, Limited Intel, and player fear of the unknown. So in the end it is going to be arbitrary and how much control the players will have over their units depends on the design.

The level of control I like in a game is for the player to issue an order for a unit to move from point A to point B or attempt to seize an objective. The units continue on their mission unless ordered otherwise or enemy action stops them. There are no activation or initiative rules to slow down the game. It's up to the enemy to stop or slow you down.

The battlefield is normally no more than 3000m which is normally going to be within radio range so I don't model command radius.

During combat, there is a small chance for something unpredictable to happen or for equipment to break down. Since my games involve Company level engagements that historically lasted no more than an hour I don't model a lot of morale checks or at least I have not run across situations that I would need to.

In my 1:1 system players do have a lot of control over what they want to do so can issue almost any historical order they like. However, unlike most games where an order is unrealistically executed immediately, in my system an order takes a certain amount of time (based on historical actions) to execute as opposed to an arbitrary "chance" to execute with a die roll. As long as the player can execute before his opponent he'll have the initiative (no die roll for initiative) and force his opponent to be a step behind in his OODA Loop putting him on the defensive. Better crews are quicker and poor crews are slower.

When you lose the initiative because the enemy is quicker or from suppression, it will be obvious you need to fill back and regroup so no morale check is needed. If the player wants to stay and get slaughtered so be it.

Personally, I don't like games where multiple die rolls tell the player what he can or cannot do in any given situation. Too much of the tail wagging the dog. I've seen other players like it because it creates "chaos" and unpredictability but has little room for using real tactics. I just can't play games anymore where the dice run the game.

So in my system, both players do what they want. The player with better Situational Awareness, maneuvers for a tactical advantage and suppresses his opponent will generally be able to seize the initiative and execute first even if his crews and weapons are inferior.

That's my opinion.


dapeters23 Feb 2023 2:09 p.m. PST

Going in a completely different direction, "Are wargamers control freaks?" Of course, the best example I can think of is after the game, the players will ask if they can help pick up 60-75% (antidotally) of the time the GM will say no Because he insist on packing up just so.

As to the above if it's not fun nothing else matters.

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP23 Feb 2023 5:14 p.m. PST

It is unlikely to be better than 50% accurate so worthless. Nothing here has yet convinced me otherwise.[/quote[

If you're just going to make up numbers without empirical data to back them up, then nothing will.

UshCha24 Feb 2023 1:04 a.m. PST

etotheipi – Wolfhages last post says it all. If you want a perception, that fine just don't justify it with technobabble. It MAY be more plausible in othert periods, but even Tuluclidadies book is not full of such events.

Wolfhag24 Feb 2023 1:59 a.m. PST

UshCha said, "It is unlikely to be better than 50% accurate". I take that as an opinion and subjective estimation. I don't think it's anything he needs to quantify for the sake of discussion unless he wants to. I'm fine with it.


UshCha24 Feb 2023 1:44 p.m. PST

wolfhag, I read lots of accounts and as a bare minimal anecdotal evidence by it lack of appearance in accounts of retreats. Not sure when anecdotal evidence becomes more than that, 2 accounts, 10 accounts?

Personal logo etotheipi Sponsoring Member of TMP25 Feb 2023 8:51 a.m. PST

I take that as an opinion and subjective estimation.

No, because he uses the number to support a conclusion based on the number. If you're going to voice an opinion, don't justify it with made up numbers.

If you want a perception, that fine just don't justify it with technobabble.

Point out the technobabble that I used.

That said, there is a huge volume of research in the military on how perception affects decision processes.

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