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The Trojan14 May 2024 5:59 p.m. PST

Having lately purchased numerous ancient wargaming rules and watching countless YouTube videos of how to play the games, I still have no idea what "activation" is suppose to be modelling. Activation rules cannot be termed an abstraction of ancient command and control, as all activation rules are nothing but introduced chaos, something ancient armies wanted to prevent.

Take for example, Mago's ambush at the Trebbia, in which Mago with 1,000 cavalry and 1,000 infantry appears on the board and because he had successfully been activated, his force is now in motion. Yes, 1,000 cavalry are fast moving to attack the Roman rear. Next turn, Mago fails his activation, and 1,000 cavalry, which were in motion, are now suspended in time. This is ridiculous!

In another YouTube video, the left wing had four infantry units. The middle unit was successfully activated and it moved forward. However, the unit on its left, failed to activate, and that meant the rest of the left-wing units could not activate. The end result is one unit moved forward without any flank supports. That is not ancient warfare, and tells me the designer has no idea of ancient command and control, which installed methods to minimize confusion and to maximize order.

Command and control are interrelated but different concepts. Command relates to making decisions and control (the execution of command) is concerned with putting decisions into effect and monitoring the progress and results. Without control, commanders cannot exercise command effectively, and control has no function without command to direct it. According to the ancient sources, ancient armies had a limited number of communication methods to use during a battle.

Acoustic: are given by acoustic instruments (cornu, horn, trumpet or drum.)

Voice: given in person by heralds or messenger.

Visual: are given by the raising of a standard, battle flag, shield or helmet.

An example of how the acoustic method operated is given by Cassius Dio (47 43) in his account of the first battle of Philippi in 42 BC:

"One trumpeter on each side sounded the first note, after which the rest joined in, first those who sounded the "at rest" and the "ready" signals on their trumpets, while standing in a kind of circular space, and then the others who were to rouse the spirit of the soldiers and incite them to the onset."

At the battle of Pharsalus in 46 BC, Appian (Civil War 2 78) writes that: "he (Pompey) was the first to give the signal for battle, and Caesar sounded in answer. Immediately the trumpets, of which there were many in the different units of so large an army, roused the men with their high-pitched blasts and the criers and officers hurried among them urging them on.

Hannibal divided his army into divisions and bought them out for battle under these orders: when the battle signal sounds the first time, the first division attacks; when the trumpets sound retreat, after the first division has paused, the second attacks and in succession the third and the fourth. In this way he won the battle. Polyaenus Stratagems (6 38 6)

According to Vegetius (2 2), the tuba called the soldiers to battle and sounded the retreat, while the cornu directed the movements of the standards. In camp, the tuba was used to announce the watches, fatigues and drills. In Maurice's Strategicon (3 2), the horn player was placed in the centre of the second rank of the century so as to be better placed to receive instructions directly from the centurion.

A cornu excavated at Pompeii, when tested, was found to only produce three rudimentary sounds, which Isidore (Etymologica 18 4), seems to confirm when he writes the cornu "sometimes it sounds for battle to be joined, sometimes to chase the fleeing enemy, sometimes for retreat." On Making a Roman Cornu, Peter Barton (in M Dawson ed. "Roman Military Equipment: The Accoutrements of War" (Proceedings of the Third Roman Military Equipment Research Seminar, 1987). Originally published in "Fellowship of Makers and Researchers of Historical Instruments Quarterly Number 36 (July 1984)

The challenge faced by a commander was to direct thousands of men to move on the battlefield towards its destination in an orderly manner so as to arrive at the required moment in unison. Another problem was for units to change formation in common time. Such undertakings demanded an effective and accurate method of coordination to prevent the units from colliding, diverging, or breaking up the battle line. To overcome these problems some armies developed systems of synchronizing the units by the introduction of a directing unit, as described in Aelian's Hellenistic Military manual and Maurice's Strategicon, while others relied on the use of battle flags (large banners sometimes referred to as standards) to synchronize movement and drill. The advantage of a coordinating system was it eliminated the need for a commander to micromanage the movements of his units spread over a vast distance. This is what Maurice has to say about unit coordination:

"Orders should be given to the officers of the first or combat line to conform their movements to those of the centre meros, where the lieutenant general is usually stationed. They should keep abreast of it and make their charge at the same time." Maurice's III. 12

"Orders should be given to the second line to follow and conform its movement to those of the centre unit in which the general normally takes his stand." Maurice III. 15

"In the centre meros raise the general's standard, which all the others should use as a guide." Maurice XII. 8

"They should be instructed to use the centre meros as a guide; for it is there that the standard of the general is posted. It was for this reason that military men in the past referred to the centre of the battle line as the mouth or the navel, because the rest of the formation followed its lead". Maurice XII. 17

Following Maurice, the centre meros (unit) is hereby termed the directing unit. The directing unit is the steering wheel of any command. This means each unit in a command will immediately follow or imitate the manoeuvres of the directing unit.

Therefore, returning to my example of the middle unit of the left flank passing its activation, if that was the directing unit, then it moves as so does the rest of the units in the command.

However, if you examine all the ancient battle accounts, how many times will you find a reference to a unit failing to act on its orders?

I'm sure many will defend the activation rules in their favourite rules, and try and say it represents some the friction of war, or some other ungrounded reason, but it does not, it is nothing more than a gimmick to supposedly add excitement and unpredictability to the rules, with the end results being unhistorical. Simply put, activation rules show a lack of historical content and imagination.

Eumelus Supporting Member of TMP14 May 2024 6:17 p.m. PST

In my experience, very few if any ancients rules require the writing of orders. Instead, by some method of telepathy known to the ancient world but lost sometime after gunpowder was invented, the will of Alexander (at the head of his Companions far out on the right flank) is instantly communicated to his Thracian light horse on the left flank, two miles away.

Stryderg14 May 2024 9:08 p.m. PST

I think activation is a solution to the problem of only having two hands. ie. I can't move all of my minis at the same time, so there needs to be a mechanism that allows my opponent and I to know who is moving next.

BillyNM14 May 2024 10:55 p.m. PST

It's a mechanism for making a turn based game out of a wargame and the randomness is designed to inject an element of fun. However I agree with you over how such rules can result in crazy effects like unit ordered to attack repeatedly stopping and starting.
Ideally forces should continue to follow their last orders until it is overturned by circumstance (e.g. getting defeated) or a new order. The gaming problem here becomes one of record keeping and interpretation, not to mention adjudication of interference if ‘moving' simultaneously.
If you want a system more tied to actual ancient warfare, try the blog below:
link
It has free rules that go a long way to eliminate the activation issues albeit IGO-UGO.

Personal logo Herkybird Supporting Member of TMP15 May 2024 12:02 a.m. PST

I wish more rules would use Joe Mculloch's system in Oathmark, where if you fail an activation you get a simple action anyway, which allows a move/shoot or Manoeuvre. It takes away the situation where units in prime position stops for no reason, which I hate as well.

My own rules (7YW) allow you to change an order, and the unit keeps on doing that till something happens to it. Each order gives a range of things it can do – with constraints. link

Dagwood15 May 2024 3:18 a.m. PST

I would allow the entire main line to activate as one, until it contacts the enemy. Similar to DBA units in a group moving together.

Martin Rapier15 May 2024 10:43 a.m. PST

As Clausewitz observed: In war, everything is simple, but the simple things are really difficult.

Activation systems are one way of representing that, but they aren't for everyone. It sounds like they aren't the OPs cup of tea, but other C3 systems are available.

The DBA PIP system is surprisingly effective, as it models more of a span of control type approach. There are some brilliantly simple C3 rules in Phalanx: a maximum of three groups of units may activate a turn. Everything is fine and dandy prior to contact, but once a few units have recoiled, you suddenly find you've got a lot more than three groups of units…

Anyway, many ways to skin the cat, and avoid being the 100' telepathic General, master of all they survey.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP15 May 2024 10:47 a.m. PST

Not a big fan of activation systems, but I'd concede that new orders are sometimes delayed or misunderstood.

MichaelCollinsHimself16 May 2024 1:13 a.m. PST

Activation is a game concept which represents orders on the battlefield.

Ironically, "activation" is are often made more complex than the actual means of command and control on battlefields really were.

The Trojan16 May 2024 1:22 a.m. PST

Returning to my question, how many times were orders delayed, went missing or were misunderstood? And how many orders were issued during an ancient battle? Ancient battles did not have turn phases that allow more orders to be written. Generally, a battle plan was made and put into action. Nothing I have read in any ancient source resembles an ancient wargame in relation to command and control. I'm told the pip system is good, but, I want to know what it actually is modelling. I have no problem with abstracting an historical methodology, but most of the command and control rules in ancient wargaming are not abstracting anything historical. Interesting to find that the concept of directing unit or leading unit can be found in many of the military manuals of the armies during the Napoleonic wars. Dagwood is right, activate an entire line as one. That is a simple improvement. And when a unit is activated, no need to be activated again. Still against activation, but that would be an improvement.

MichaelCollinsHimself16 May 2024 3:56 a.m. PST

"And how many orders were issued during an ancient battle?" – Very few other than pre-planned manoeuvres.
My rules, ancient and C19th (not available at present), all have C&C rules with regulation and directing units, the positions of the generals is key to all this. Orders stand until they are changed – moving forward is easy – and so is halting – unless contact is lost bewteen units in line (historical example: Caesar`s legions at Gergovia). In anncient warfare; delayed or missing orders must have been incredibly rare unless the message was sent over an incredibly long distance, or the general sending it was surrounded. There`s an example of disobeyed or ignored orders at the 1st battle of Mantiniea, but I suspect it was a porky pie made up to protect the Spartan commander Agis II after his attempt to manoeuvre in front of the Mantineans and their allies had failed, his insudordinate officers (Aristocles and Hipponoidas) were punished with exile after the battle.

Decebalus16 May 2024 5:03 a.m. PST

If you are trying to critic activation rules without trying to understand them, you will not go anywhere.

Activation rules are the attempt to model command, friction and unit initiative in a simple system.

First, in a good activation system (DBA IMO) you dont fail your activation, you prioritize activation. So Magos Ambush would charge, if it is important.

Second. Having no activation can mean different things. Mago stops to check the situation. Mago needed to wait for some slow moving troops. Or Mago didnt stop at all, he started his move later than other troops.

I dont see, that Phil Barkers explanation for activation is wrong: The rules "started from the assumptions, that the results of command decision could be shown rather than the minutia of how orders were communicated and interpreted".

evilgong16 May 2024 4:53 p.m. PST

As Mr Barker also said, the role of a command system it not to allow the player to move his troops, but to stop him doing so too freely.

Marcus Brutus16 May 2024 5:10 p.m. PST

There are many variations in activations systems so it is tricky to attack or defend the concept at large. I think it is a necessary feature of a game system that doesn't want to get bogged down in written orders. In Mago's case there are so many variables that lie below the perspective of the commanding generals. For instance, perhaps Mago stumbles across a small gully that hadn't been noticed in the initial scouting reports. He is held up by this gully for a period of time as his commands works its way through. These kinds of events happened all the time in battle. Long before Napoleon said this Caesar exclaimed that he would prefer a "lucky" general to a "skillful" one.

The Trojan16 May 2024 10:24 p.m. PST

Decebalus" If you are trying to critic activation rules without trying to understand them, you will not go anywhere.

Oh truly, I have tried to understand them. Has anyone truly tried to understand ancient command and control?

Decebalus: Activation rules are the attempt to model command, friction and unit initiative in a simple system.

Ok, every discussion I have on activation, the replies are all generalisations. Please define command and friction and then can you give examples to back it up from the ancient sources.

Decebalus: First, in a good activation system (DBA IMO) you dont fail your activation, you prioritize activation. So Magos Ambush would charge, if it is important.

So, what defines "important?" To answer my own question based on your understanding, the player decided what is important. That means a battle is a series of stop motion in some areas and movement in another. How is that historical? Oh, wait on, Polybius Book 3 chapter 4, Hannibal, releasing that if Mago's cavalry completed their charge into the rear ranks of the Romans, the Roman rear ranks would push on the Roman front ranks, and therefore, knock his front-rank Africans over, stopped Mago's charge because it was not important.

The bottom line is, all those who support activation rules, have no consensus as to what activation is. And there lies the problem…it is not modelling anything.

Decebalus: Second. Having no activation can mean different things. Mago stops to check the situation. Mago needed to wait for some slow moving troops. Or Mago didnt stop at all, he started his move later than other troops.

This is what I was expecting from the activation school. I have seen this dozens of times in games, the players imagination kicks in to hid a bad design, or try and find a way to understand what had happened. And yet, imagination has no consensus. In your analogy of Mago, Mago is a bad commander.

Decebalus
I dont see, that Phil Barkers explanation for activation is wrong: The rules "started from the assumptions, that the results of command decision could be shown rather than the minutia of how orders were communicated and interpreted".

Activation represents neither command or control or how orders get communicated. It's a fudge to ignore the real issues, so a designer is free to go his merry way. It is also not an abstraction of ancient command and control or how ancients managed the battlefield.

Fekundar: Frankly, I've always found "activation", no matter the period, a solution in desperate search of a problem. The game designer is trying to handicap the player, simply to show how clever and innovative he is.

Well said. Activation is an absence of logic, a poor simulation, a hack job at best, due to a failure by the designer to understand ancient command and control, or if that is not the case, then the designer knows little about game design in general.

Brutus" There are many variations in activations systems so it is tricky to attack or defend the concept at large.

Disagree. Activation has no idea of what it is representing. All those who have defended it, have proven that.

Brutus: I think it is a necessary feature of a game system that doesn't want to get bogged down in written orders.

Why do many associate ancient command and control with order writing on the battlefield? I have already listed the methods of battlefield communication as found in ancient military manuals. It's the game designer that needs to show more imagination that writing orders.

Brutus: In Mago's case there are so many variables that lie below the perspective of the commanding generals. For instance, perhaps Mago stumbles across a small gully that hadn't been noticed in the initial scouting reports.

Ok, so Mago's cavalry are now disordered. Therefore, if cavalry fail their activation test, does that mean they are disordered.

Michael: And how many orders were issued during an ancient battle?"

Add this to my question of how many orders failed and still no answer, just lots of conjecture about activation.

There is no historical basis for activation in wargaming, and yet, designers are quick to say how their rules gives that "ancient battle feeling." Alas, activation rules, like a virus, have spread and are now in most of the ancient rules I have purchased. To the unknowing, they produce unpredictability, and excitement in itself I imagine. However, it amuses me when wargamers get upset over the lack of historical fact in a Holly wood movie, but are more than happy to accept unhistorical concepts in their wargames.

Dexter Ward17 May 2024 2:46 a.m. PST

I feel you are rather missing the point.

There is command friction in battle; not necessarily in the orders from the CinC, but in the ability of units to do what they have been ordered to do. Maybe the men are hesitant, or there is terrain not seen by the commander, or the enemy do something unexpected, or the orders are not clear, or the unit commander panics. Who knows. The point is that units do not always move as and when the commander desires.

Modelling that using the actual command and control process is very hard. But you don't have to; you just have to model the outcomes, which is units sometimes not moving, or charging when you didn't want them to, or whatever.
That is what PIPs or activation does; it models the outcomes, not the process.

The Trojan17 May 2024 6:06 p.m. PST

Dexter: I feel you are rather missing the point…That is what PIPs or activation does; it models the outcomes, not the process.

Oh, it not I that is missing the point. Activation only models two outcomes, you succeed or fail to move. During a game, calculate the number of times you succeeded or failed to move, and then cross-reference this data with the ancient battle accounts, to determine the data's historical accuracy. So far, the activation school has shown no consensus on what is actually being modelled, and yet claim it has that "ancient battle feel."

Now, referring back to real ancient history, Pliny (Natural History 10 5) writes:

"Caius Marius, in his second consulship, assigned the eagle exclusively to the Roman legions. Before that period, it had only held the first rank, there being four others as well, the wolf, the minotaur, the horse, and the wild boar, each of which preceded a single division."

So, what can be gleaned from Pliny? His comment that the legion originally had five standards and each standard was preceded by a single division, points towards the legion's organisation, and also, the legion's frontage must be divisible by five. Second, there is a ranking system of the standards, which also must apply to those divisions allocated a specific standard. Those five legion standards are for co-ordinating the legions movements so that while advancing, each of the legion standards in the battleline would be regulating its movements with the nearest standard, and in doing so the legion maintained an unbroken front. Also, who commanded those five legion standards can be gleaned from the ancient sources?

Taking the battle of Pharsalus and Philippi again, the activation process of the armies proceeded in this fashion:

Cassius Dio (47 43) in his account of the first battle of Philippi in 42 BC: "One trumpeter on each side sounded the first note, after which the rest joined in, first those who sounded the "at rest" and the "ready" signals on their trumpets, while standing in a kind of circular space, and then the others who were to rouse the spirit of the soldiers and incite them to the onset."

At the battle of Pharsalus in 46 BC, Appian (Civil War 2 78) writes that: "he (Pompey) was the first to give the signal for battle, and Caesar sounded in answer. Immediately the trumpets, of which there were many in the different units of so large an army, roused the men with their high-pitched blasts and the criers and officers hurried among them urging them on.

So, how does a legion on the battlefield, in the activation school fail to move, when using acoustic instruments? How many units at Pharsalus and Phillipi failed to activate? So, far not one question I have asked has been answered.

Martin Rapier17 May 2024 11:48 p.m. PST

"Activation only models two outcomes, you succeed or fail to move."

Is that so? I believe this is what is called a Straw Man, and bears no relationship to any dice or card based command system I've played, with the notable exception of Blitzkrieg Commander and possibly Fire and Fury and its various clones.

Dexter Ward18 May 2024 2:53 a.m. PST

You keep asking when a real unit failed activation, but that's a pointless question, because real units don't activate that way, as you are well aware.
Activation is not modelling the process, as has been pointed out several times.
Activation is a statistical thing. A certain percentage of the time the unit moves, and certain percentage it doesn't.
So the net effect is that the unit does not make steady progress.
Real units on the battlefield don't make steady progress either; there are delays due to terrain, command issues, casualties, enemy action causing hesitation, all sorts of things.
The result is that real units don't always do what the commander wants when he wants.
Activation achieves the same result; nobody is suggesting it is modelling an actual battlefield mechanic.

Stryderg18 May 2024 4:52 a.m. PST

THE TROJAN:

Take for example, Mago's ambush at the Trebbia,…

I'm legitimately curious. If you were playing the 'perfect gaming system', how would you play out the battle? Especially since you would potentially have dozens of minis on the table, and no activation mechanism.

The Trojan18 May 2024 6:19 a.m. PST

Dexter: Real units on the battlefield don't make steady progress either; there are delays due to terrain, command issues, casualties, enemy action causing hesitation, all sorts of things.

If activation includes terrain affects, then why have separate terrain rules? Basically, activation can be anything, and it isn't modelling anything. Activation can be whatever you want it to be. Sorry, I don't buy it and never will. But you guys love it, so you have found your happiness and good luck to you.

Stryderg: I'm legitimately curious. If you were playing the 'perfect gaming system', how would you play out the battle? Especially since you would potentially have dozens of minis on the table, and no activation mechanism.

This is funny, and I mean that in a respectful way. To answer your question "if I was playing the perfect gaming system" means I will have to design the perfect gaming system, which would not be perfect due the various sensibilities players have to gaming mechanics. A kind of mission impossible. My philosophy would be to design a game solely and selfishly for me, with all my likes and none of my gaming dislikes.

To answer your question (hopefully), I would model what I have read in the ancient sources. Number one, in a set piece battle, an army must have a battle plan. The battlefield communications methods to implement the battle plan would follow the sources, acoustic, vocal and visual. Such methods will be determined in the battle plan. One does not need to write order out, there are other imaginative methods. Next: the interjection of a "situation awareness" test for a commander to act on an any unforeseen event. I'm talking here at the higher command level. The situation awareness test doesn't stop you from having the helicopter view, but it does, if the distance is great, prevent a commander from immediately being able to respond to an unforeseen event. Situation awareness test applies also at the unit level. In certain situations, a unit that fails it situation awareness test will be "thrown into confusion," a command term found in the ancient sources.

For movement, a command group will have a designated directing unit as per ancient military manuals, so as to keep an unbroken front. A variable morale system so units winning melee can improve morale grade, even when their cohesion value (combat punishment) has been reduced.

I would use square bases for figures, so that a unit changing from column to line or vice versa, occupies the same space. There's more, but the list will go on and on.

madaxeman18 May 2024 11:08 a.m. PST

I believe many people have now attempted to provide perfectly reasonable, coherent, well informed and well intentioned answers to the OP

Unfortunately the OP appears to be unwilling or unable to understand them

Perhaps it is time for everyone else to take a commander-level decision and decide to allocate their limited command and control capacities to replying to other posters on other parts of the forum where they believe that their impact on the overall debate may prove to be more decisive and useful ?

The Trojan18 May 2024 2:49 p.m. PST

Madaxman: I believe many people have now attempted to provide perfectly reasonable, coherent, well informed and well intentioned answers to the OP. Unfortunately the OP appears to be unwilling or unable to understand them. Perhaps it is time for everyone else to take a commander-level decision and decide to allocate their limited command and control capacities to replying to other posters on other parts of the forum where they believe that their impact on the overall debate may prove to be more decisive and useful ?

That response is uncalled for. And who are you to advise what members of this forum should do or not do. Just because I do not agree with the assessment of the activation school does not mean I am wrong. You may believe people have provided "perfectly reasonable coherent, well informed and well intentioned answers" but I disagree.

In my last post I wrote "Sorry, I don't buy it and never will. But you guys love it, so you have found your happiness and good luck to you." That was my way of closing the discussion.

Marcus Brutus18 May 2024 5:07 p.m. PST

In my last post I wrote "Sorry, I don't buy it and never will. But you guys love it, so you have found your happiness and good luck to you." That was my way of closing the discussion.

That is a bit of a strawman argument IMHO. I accept activation as a game mechanism that limits my ability as a player to influence the course of a table top battle. I don't think it in anyway provides an analogy for how real units and real commanders interacted in a real battle setting. But then table top gaming isn't a true simulation. For one thing, I know in advance that I get to go home to my wife and my dog after every game something that can't be said for real life participants in an ancients battle.

The Trojan18 May 2024 10:18 p.m. PST

Brutus: I accept activation as a game mechanism that limits my ability as a player to influence the course of a table top battle. I don't think it in anyway provides an analogy for how real units and real commanders interacted in a real battle setting.

Not sure if axeman will let this discussion continue. I am in agreement with you, and thank you for your honesty. If activation does not model as you state "how real units and real commanders interacted in a real battle setting," then I for one would want to know how to replace it with better mechanics that actually has some historical content. I believe the ancient sources have provided this information, and yet it is mainly ignored.

Brutus: But then table top gaming isn't a true simulation.

Agreed. In the end it comes to being a game, but that does not mean historical military practices get thrown out.

Brutus: For one thing, I know in advance that I get to go home to my wife and my dog after every game something that can't be said for real life participants in an ancients battle.

I can remember watching some WRG 7th edition games, that left me wondering which player was going to go home in one piece.

Erzherzog Johann19 May 2024 6:24 p.m. PST

This discussion has echoes for me of the 'no dice' discussion a while back. For some it is a good way of simulating uncertainty in war, for others it isn't.

I have seen 'activation' as a tool in Napoleonic systems. Players attempt to activate a brigade or other formation and if it fails, it stops. In Ancients games I have played, there have been PIP style activations, where Mago would get priority, so he would not stop and start. He would be encouraged not to disperse, which could result in some of his troops stopping and starting. I am not personally aware of the "Napoleonic" approach (which I don't like) in any Ancients set. Certainly none I've played. I've also played orders based games (like old WRG etc) where there was no risk of confusion, just poor orders. Some had scope for screeds of standing orders to give players even more micro-control.

I think most if not all more recent game designers have "truly tried to understand ancient command and control". Activation is one attempt to deal with it. I would be interested to hear other options. Whatever it is is an abstraction of sorts.

I know Sam Mustafa's Napoleonic rules use interesting variations on PIPs. Blόcher has the opponent know how many PIPs you have and tells the active player when they have run out, so a 'Napoleonic Mago' would get first dibs on any activation poins PIPs). Lassalle 2 has a mechanism to determine PIPs, but the passive player has moments when they can 'interrupt' and begin their own activations. This typically seesaws throughout the bound until both players have exhausted their PIPs. All of these are abstract, intended to add game tension and fun, but also, in some way, reflect the reality that the best laid plans do not survive contact with the enemy.

Cheers,
John

Erzherzog Johann19 May 2024 6:28 p.m. PST

The Trojan originally wrote:

"In another YouTube video, the left wing had four infantry units. The middle unit was successfully activated and it moved forward. However, the unit on its left, failed to activate, and that meant the rest of the left-wing units could not activate. The end result is one unit moved forward without any flank supports. That is not ancient warfare, and tells me the designer has no idea of ancient command and control, which installed methods to minimize confusion and to maximize order."

I don't know what this system was and I agree, it doesn't sound right. In most PIP based systems these 'units' would move as one block, so the problem would typically (there are always exceptions – mixed troop types etc) not arise.

Cheers,
John

perfectcaptain20 May 2024 5:24 a.m. PST

I guess all of this depends on what kind of game you want to play- fast/recreational or maybe something with a little more historical grit. Some players just want to throw dice and have a good time, others are looking for a little more of the period feel. Both have their place, and tastes vary. I started on 6th ed WRG where we wrote out full orders, which eventually fell out of favor with rules writers over the years, but never completely.

Our team were not big on activations ever since an incident about 15 years ago, when an Austrian brigade was about one inch away from the flank of French brigade in Italy 1796. A bad roll meant the Austrians just sat there and missed their chance while the French brigade finished off the brigade in front of them. There was a "discussion" which got fairly warm, but when we cooled off everyone agreed that it was not for us, since this "frozen" problem happened several times in the battle. In fact I think it was our first and only experience with that type of all-or-nothing activation rule.
Someone already mentioned a hybrid solution, where units that do not activate still get to act in a more restricted way. I think that makes a lot of sense and would probably work for everybody who enjoys the activation system.

"Friction" is always hard to model but very easy to fudge and explain away. Maybe the key is to think of why friction really occurs rather than explaining when it happens after an unfortunate roll…. and build it into the rules that would be satisfying to players. There are many examples of generals receiving orders and not carrying them out- either they felt they were unwise, out-of-date, or they were just jerks..! A solution could be to build some autonomy into a system where the player do not get to chose how a general acts, the general does. Small scale units stopping and starting is harder to work in and to justify, unless you're playing at a much smaller scale. Injecting as much personality into units and generals is a good road to follow for this, if you can do it without slowing the game down too much.

Either way, keep playing, Folks!

Bolingar20 May 2024 11:07 p.m. PST

@Trojan: I absolutely agree with your summary of how C&C worked in Antiquity (and later). But I've had this bunfight – euh…discussion – before. You're up against playability (chance-driven variability is the lifeblood of most kinds of games) and inertia (dice/card driven activation is universally accepted as the standard). Good luck trying to change anything. wink

A little history might help though.

As I understand it (the Venerable Elders of the Society of Ancients may agree or not agree) in WRG days armies were assigned orders, which – in WRG7 at least – were given to groups or units each with a minimum of 5 figures (i.e. a bit more than the contemporary equivalent of a stand). This had the result of an army fragmenting into a chaotic mess of independently operating entities each on its own Lone Ranger mission (the same kind of thing happens in Rome Total War with AI run armies). Phil Barker invented the PIP system in an attempt to address this problem.

Originally applied to DBA and later to DBM it meant that a player could not count on being able to move a fragmented army and so was encouraged to keep his stands together in as few groups as possible, ideally one for DBA and 2 – 4 for DBM. An army now looked and moved like an army, and when armies contacted each other, the recoil mechanism broke up the groups which meant that only a small percentage of the army could move thereafter, also a desirable result. Once you were engaged, you basically slogged it out, with higher dice throws enabling you do something with your unengaged stands (like get recoiled stands back into the fight) even if not with the army as a whole.

It was a clever indirect approach which did solve the problem posed by the WRG mechanisms, but IMHO it created problems of its own. Firstly the inability of large parts of an army to move that were not in as few groups as the minimal PIP throw. Historically, armies usually had between 3 and 6 independently-operating entities: one infantry entity plus two flanking cavalry entities was pretty much the norm. Hannibal at Cannae (arguably the most tactically complex battle in Antiquity) had 6: the front line of Gauls/Spaniards in a wedge, the second support line of Gauls, the two units of Poeni infantry on the flanks of the second line, and the two groups of cavalry on the wings.

For DBA it's hopeless: you really need a minimum of 3 PIPs per turn but that is only the average throw (actually 3,5 PIPs) so often you will have parts of your army immobile that should be able to move. It's probably better for DBM with a minimum of 2 – 4 PIPs and an average of 11,5 for a standard 3 commands – in fact it's probably too good, as a DBM army should historically have 3 – 6 operating units just like a DBA one, so players tend to fragment their armies in DBM and we are edging back towards the Lone Ranger days of WRG.

But the main problem is the fact that stands that are out of command can do nothing. They just sit there, neither attacking, nor retreating, nor turning to face the enemy that is approaching their flank. Historically, a small subunit – supposedly what a stand represents – should at least have enough initiative to engage nearby enemy. More recent rulesets address this problem – MeG for example has stands in groups and each group is given a card and can do something in a turn, no matter how limited. The DBx activation mechanism is by no means standard any more.

I do something very different for activation in own system but that's another topic.

Marcus Brutus21 May 2024 3:12 p.m. PST

I think you missed my overall point Trojan. There is no easy way to accurately reflect command friction in wargames because what we are doing on the table top is far removed from anything like a simulation. So we fudge in order to make gaming a relatively fun experience. I think that is what madaxeman way getting at in his post. You seem to struggle with this concept.

I should note that my group looked at MeG and found the system unnecessarily complicated so if that is what it takes to get a "good" activation system we are not interested.

The Trojan21 May 2024 4:44 p.m. PST

Bolingar: But I've had this bunfight – euh…discussion – Good luck trying to change anything.

Well, truthfully, I'm not interested in changing anything. Been out of the wargaming scene for some 20 years, and after buying a proliferation of rules, I wanted to know what the consensus of what activation now meant and was modelling. Apparently, it's anything and everything, which goes against my criteria that in wargame design, it has to be modelling something.

I am also well aware of the pitfalls of going against the popular narrative, as was my experience with madaxman. Nowadays its conform or be cancelled.

Bolingar: This had the result of an army fragmenting into a chaotic mess of independently operating entities each on its own Lone Ranger mission.

That, I could never understand. For me, is a concept alien to ancient warfare.

Bolngar: Historically, armies usually had between 3 and 6 independently-operating entities:

You're on dangerous ground here when you talk about history, some don't seem to like it.

Bolingar: I do something very different for activation in own system but that's another topic.

Well, I am happy to hear what you have to say, and whether we disagree, that is part of debating. And I am happy to start the conversation.

As I cannot identify with the command-and-control rules of every game I have recently purchased, I have designed my own command and control rules based on the ancient sources. Still a work in progress, but coming along nicely, because I am keeping it simple. Battlefield communication methods are acoustic, voice and visual. For this to work, a battleplan is essential. No need for written orders, just use acoustic or visual game markers, like a cornu player figure for acoustic, which has a colour coded base. So, for example, I have four different colour coded acoustic markers, and decide during a game, to designate the blue marker as the "move to engage" order. To get things rolling, the supreme commander places a blue cornu marker next to his command stand, and every directing unit in the army that has been allocated a blue acoustic marker, now acts on that marker (move to engage). No activation test to determine if some will act or not. Did it this way as I cannot find historical references to unit's failing to activate when using acoustic communication. I want to model the norm, not the exception. Any units not allocated an acoustic or visual marker do nothing. However, I must stress that a battle plan is essential.

The armies command and control mode can be either "unified" or "factional." Armies with a unified command structure have two command modes that determine the method of interaction (autocratic or autonomous) between each commander in the army. Armies with a factional command structure are composed of mixed nationalities, city-states, tribal groupings or an army under multiple commanders with equal powers. Both command modes have their strengths and weakness.

Movement is governed by the directing unit within a command group. The directing unit forces each command group to maintain an unbroken battleline of units. A player that has four or more command groups in his front line can elect that one command group will act as the directing command group and all command groups will follow the actions of the directing command groups. Napoleonic armies had directing battalions, directing regiments, directing brigades, directing divisions and directing corps. A leader can directly attach to a unit and implement the follow me command, which is useful when adapting to a changing situation.

So, basically, there is no artificial mechanics like activation tests thrown in to ruin your battleplan, that is the role of your opponent's battleplan.

Army command follows the ancient sources. So, as there were three Roman commanders at Lake Regilus, there are three command groups. At Cannae, there were two consuls and two proconsuls present, meaning a player can organised the army into four command groups. I personally would have the allied cavalry as one command group, the Roman cavalry as another command group and the infantry organised into two command groups.

Being fully aware, one cannot stop the helicopter view of the battlefield, I have introduced a "situation awareness" test. Situation awareness is another component of control and is the process whereby a commander or unit tries to develop a clear understanding of events taking place in an environment of constant unpredictability and uncertainty (the fog of war). This fog of war constitutes a major source of the "friction of war." The test is simple, and it models command tempo, which is a commander's intuitive ability to "read" the battlefield and to implement and communicate decisions faster than the enemy can react to, and therefore over time, gain a significant advantage. Ah, but alas, your opponent is trying to do the same thing.

Another area I don't like in many rules is morale. I don't have the willingness to add and deduct values for every damn morale situation modifier. Some morale situation modifiers I find in rules irrelevant. Start at six, minus 2 for this, add 1 for that, oh, I'm back to 5, add 1 for this, deduct 3 for that, oh, where was I.

I have made three categories for morale tests, expressed as ‘shock' levels. So, shock level I could be a unit is disordered, shock level III could be a rear attack. Morale is resolved using three tables, Shock level I, Shock level II, and Shock Level III. Roll on the appropriate table and apply the modifier according to the die roll. Shock Level I have three different results, Shock level II has four different results, and Shock level III has five different results (getting worse). It's basically random modifier results. I just find it mentally easier for me to do.

Ok, over to you Bolingar.

MichaelCollinsHimself22 May 2024 2:42 a.m. PST

I recall one or two lengthy discussions here on TMP (it was around 10 years ago possibly) regarding the relative merits of "regulation" in Napoleonic wargames rules verses activation.

Think I said then, exactly what I`ll say today!

And that is that the actual means of controlling armies in line of battle in that period and in ancients` periods too was far easier to understand and impliment in a game than the convoluted representations being used today to represent them. But that said, as each new author tries to put their stamp on the ancients gaming hobby, the mechanisms/methods employed since seem to have become ever more fanciful as time has progressed: bags of dice, alternating movements within turns, grids and cards and/or dice, etc.

A commander`s "situational awareness" was a concept discussed amongst the VLB group and I think it has some value in ancients gaming, but only where battlefields are large and/or commands are isolated or there`s limited visibility.
For my own rules, I`ve always had subordinate`s initiative tests which make for semi-automatic decisions, but these are based on existing orders, and the ranges/visibilty to potential threats.

Here`s one of those threads:
TMP link

…the OP posted 6 earlier discussions on the subject.

As one of the "Regulators", I hijacked the "The "Command Radius"" topic too…
TMP link

madaxeman22 May 2024 3:48 p.m. PST

" But the main problem is the fact that stands that are out of command can do nothing. They just sit there, neither attacking, nor retreating, nor turning to face the enemy that is approaching their flank. Historically, a small subunit – supposedly what a stand represents – should at least have enough initiative to engage nearby enemy. "

I fear you've completely and utterly failed to understand what such systems are doing, and in particular how abstract they actually are, and instead are making a whole heap of incorrect assumptions all of which appear to be based on an overly literal view of what is happening which bears no relation at all to what the game designers intended.

Units are not "doing nothing" when they have no pips.

First up, you've messed up as commander of an important unit has no pips


Secondly such units are doing nothing "important" or "significant" to affect the outcome of the battle – that's very different ti doing nothing at all. The pip system plays with time as well as space and command – it forces you to only get involved in the areas of the battlefield where Important things are happening or might do so.

If it's a sideshow the game mechanic of activation points says that it's not worth rolling dice or the commander spending time or effort to exercise control over it – and the pip system creates exactly that concertinaing of time and space so you only "play" the important stuff

Each base also isn't really a "unit" either – the whole concept of "units" is somewhat flawed when applied to ancients anyway – but a mass of bases moving and fighting together is what these systems are about. Losing a base in the middle of the line doesn't represent a unit being wiped out while the guys next to them stand firm, it's an abstraction that represents on the tabletop the gradual thinning and weakening of the battle line that unit is part of.

If you like all of this is a bit like this thread really – loads of words but very few bits actually worth reading … and the waffle and nonsense adds absolutely nothing other than pointless distraction, so in a better designed version of this thread most of this stuff would simply be blurred out so you could skip straight over it and get to the meaty bits

If you want a literal bottom up orders system there are plenty of them and have been since the 1960s… but for many of us game design has moved on since then.

Bolingar23 May 2024 9:40 a.m. PST

@The Trojan and Madaxeman: I'll come back to this later. Rather tied up at present.

The Trojan25 May 2024 4:59 p.m. PST

Bolingar: I'll come back to this later. Rather tied up at present.

Playing dominatrix again?

Bolingar30 May 2024 11:27 a.m. PST

Finally got back to this (when I said I was tied up I was tied up: work frenetic and other distractions – I have a real life). I thought it a good idea to do a blog post on the topic and I'm not going to recreate the whole thing here.

The Trojan30 May 2024 4:21 p.m. PST

Brutus: I think you missed my overall point Trojan. There is no easy way to accurately reflect command friction in wargames because what we are doing on the table top is far removed from anything like a simulation.

Sorry, I had missed this posting. If an army had 40,000 men, that is 40,000 causes and effect, so yes, difficult to model all of them. However, I disagree with your comment "that there is no easy way to reflect command friction." That depends on the imagination of the game designer. Today, I feel many designers are just following the crowd, so basically, the sheep mentality.

Brutus: So we fudge in order to make gaming a relatively fun experience. I think that is what madaxeman way getting at in his post. You seem to struggle with this concept.

Yes, I struggle with the activation rules in many rulesets because I do not know what is actually being "fudged." However, from this thread, it can be whatever you want it to be, which for me, is not good enough. And to be honest, I believe the game designer does not know either. Activation has been introduced to create a false sense of unpredictability, or according to some designers, excitement.

For the record, I also dislike command radius rules. They fall into the same category as activation rules.

Over many years I have participate in discussions on command and control from some very imaginative and highly interesting people. Just recently I have perused Michael Collin's Napoleonic command and control rules, which adhere to many of the concepts myself and others have researched and discussed. Basically, it all comes down to "situation awareness" and it is not hard to model. Well, maybe a designer lacking imagination might struggle.

A designer can for simplicity's sake abstract ‘situational awareness,' which I have seen done, and what I like about it is that, although abstracted, I understand the intent. I cannot say that with most activation rules. Bolingar's blog has some interesting command and control rules. Bolingar's rules are similar in concept to many other command and control rules that are based on situational awareness. This has come about because their design foundations are governed by the laws of situation awareness.

Brutus: I should note that my group looked at MeG and found the system unnecessarily complicated so if that is what it takes to get a "good" activation system we are not interested.

Each rules system should be treated individually, and not tard with the same brush, so MeG only speaks for MeG. After examining the many rulesets, I have recently purchased, and still more to purchase, what seems to emerge is that many a designer has taken all the concepts he/she likes from various rules, made some personal modifiers to many, and then blended them into their own ruleset. Some designers even admit to doing this.

When I was designing my own ancient rules, I would, for example, via the university library, study the concept of morale, and from my research related to military psychology, develop my morale rules. My approach to wargame design was to work from the ground up, in order to find my own originality.

Bolinger: If his opponent's plan was better than his all he could do was watch helplessly as his army was taken apart. For a wargamer that's not much fun.

And here lies the great unmentioned. Many wargamers don't like rules that show them up as being tactically incompetent. These players make good corporals, but not captains. The mechanics of many rules today allow a player in each turn, to easily react to their opponent, so being locked into a battle plan is irrelevant, just grab the opportunities when they arise. The player never loses the game due to incompetency; it was bad die rolling.

If wargaming correctly modelled ancient warfare, then Hannibal could not accomplish what he did at Cannae. Every turn the Roman player could react to Hannibal's manoeuvres and move troops to prevent any encirclement from happening. Historically, the Roman army was locked into its battle plan due to it command and control on the battlefield. It was like a bullet that had been fired, and its course could not be altered. The Romans had no independent reserves to react.

So, personally, if I gamer, including myself, made a bad plan, or the opponent made a better plan, and all I could do was "to watch helplessly while my army was taken apart," I would come out of that game, excuse the pun, knowing I had to come up with a better plan.

Bolingar31 May 2024 6:25 a.m. PST

@The Trojan:

Many wargamers don't like rules that show them up as being tactically incompetent. These players make good corporals, but not captains. The mechanics of many rules today allow a player in each turn, to easily react to their opponent, so being locked into a battle plan is irrelevant, just grab the opportunities when they arise. The player never loses the game due to incompetency; it was bad die rolling.

Wellll….not quite. More than any other aspect of game design, C&C reveals the dichotomy between historicity and playability. A rigorously historical wargame will not be fun to play, and the most popular – because the most fun – wargames don't try to be too historical. DBA and Triumph are fun. Memoir '44 is fun. They're games with a bit of historical flavouring, nothing more.

For any game the player must have enough control throughout the game to be able to make decisions that significantly affect the course of the battle. If the Roman player at Cannae realises that Hannibal's Gallic and Spanish cavalry are going to smash through his right flank cavalry and envelope his rear, and that he can do nothing about it because this is a 100% historically accurate game, he'll call it a day and push off to watch a rugby game. And he'll never play that game again.*

This means that you have to tweak strict C&C limitations to give the player enough control to make the game interesting. I try to do with a pretty generous freedom of action given to subcommanders and captains, combined with the importance of tactical nuances in a chanceless combat system where every advantage counts. It seems to work.


*Which is why historically accurate recreations of historical battles are not games, but simulations.

Erzherzog Johann31 May 2024 3:02 p.m. PST

"The Trojan" wrote:
"If wargaming correctly modelled ancient warfare, then Hannibal could not accomplish what he did at Cannae. Every turn the Roman player could react to Hannibal's manoeuvres and move troops to prevent any encirclement from happening." Surely if "wargaming correctly modelled ancient warfare, then Hannibal *could accomplish* what he did at Cannae" because he did in fact accomplish it. Incidentally during early play testing for the first iteration of DBMM, Cannae was used as a playtest game, at standard figure ratios, so a huge game, and Hannibal did indeed "accomplish what he did at Cannae". PIPs, for all their abstraction, achieved the right result. Hannibal, being brilliant, and constructing a plan that played to the various strengths and weaknesses of his disparate troops, was able to defeat an inert Roman army that could only *inadequately attempt* to "react to their opponent".

Since then, DBMM (and before it, DBM) reenactment games have been played at numerous SOA Battle Days, and they have generally resulted in plausible results. That doesn't make PIP based systems the be all and end all, but it does suggest that they often work. It certainly doesn't make PIP based games (DBx, ADLG etc) "better" than other systems. But to write them off as lazy, or not the result of research into primary sources is unjust. All serious rules writers, I venture to suggest, have attempted the same approach you state for yourself. They have read extensively in the primary and good secondary sources, and attempted to produce a game that feels and looks credible. There is always a trade off between simulation and playability and where any game falls on that continuum is a factor of the designer's intent and actual play.

As for, "The player never loses the game due to incompetency; it was bad die rolling", I personally have met many players, myself included, who are more that willing to accept being beaten by a better player or a better plan. I think you give us players too little credit for being basically decent human beings.

Cheers,
John

The Trojan02 Jun 2024 1:21 a.m. PST

Bolingar: More than any other aspect of game design, C&C reveals the dichotomy between historicity and playability. A rigorously historical wargame will not be fun to play, and the most popular

Again, this comes down to the imagination of the designer. Michael Collins has designed some very imaginative components for situation awareness, that are not complex or taxing.

Bolingar: – because the most fun – wargames don't try to be too historical. DBA and Triumph are fun. Memoir '44 is fun. They're games with a bit of historical flavouring, nothing more.

And yet, many designers claim their game capture that historical feel, whatever that is.

Bolinger: If the Roman player at Cannae realises that Hannibal's Gallic and Spanish cavalry are going to smash through his right flank cavalry and envelope his rear, and that he can do nothing about it because this is a 100% historically accurate game…

Arh, but he only knows this will eventuate because his Roman cavalry is losing. So, before that point, he is hoping to defeat the Carthaginian cavalry to his front. Your example can be said about any game, as in all games, there will be a point when the player knows he is going to lose. Take chess as an example.

Bolingar: This means that you have to tweak strict C&C limitations to give the player enough control to make the game interesting.

I wouldn't say ancient command and control was that rigorous. Take Cynoscephalae as an example, 20 maniples from the Roman right wing move to the Roman left wing so as to support the failing Roman left wing. So, why didn't they do something like this at Cannae? My answer would be the formation the Romans were arrayed in at Cannae was more prohibitive. My belief is the formation they adopted was due to as Livy claims, a large majority of the infantry being raw recruits. So, more influences played a part and not all was about command and control. In fact, I would say command and control was easier, due to the Roman frontage being much shorter than if the Roman army had arrayed in their standard arrayment. Also, the army was under the command of two consuls and two proconsuls. My calculations on Cannae show, that by following Polybius' comment the depth of the maniple was greater than its frontage, the infantry of the four consular armies' at Cannae occupied the same space as two consular armies arrayed in their standard frontage.

John: But to write them off as lazy, or not the result of research into primary sources is unjust. All serious rules writers, I venture to suggest, have attempted the same approach you state for yourself. They have read extensively in the primary and good secondary sources, and attempted to produce a game that feels and looks credible.

I have gone back over what I have written, and you need to show me where I have written that designers do not research primary sources. Please help me here.

It's not about researching primary sources; it's about copying other game designs. At the moment, command and control rules are either pips, cards, dice in bags or chits. It's like going to any restaurant and getting the same thing on the menu. Designers research other games, and take what they like and add some variation. So many rules lack originality, just the same old concepts rehashed ad nauseum.


John: As for, "The player never loses the game due to incompetency; it was bad die rolling", I personally have met many players, myself included, who are more that willing to accept being beaten by a better player or a better plan.

And I have met quite the opposite also. In a nutshell, some players don't like rules that fix them into having a battle plan. I have seen this too often. Such players prefer a game in which they are free to react in every turn to their opponent's move. Such players I would say are in life, not very aggressive, and tend to have jobs in which they hold a subserviate position. The reactive player makes a good corporal. Others, who hold positions of responsibility or run their own business, I find are more prone to take risks, be assertive, are more confident in themselves, and do not hesitate to step up and be the leader in a group and do not hesitate to form a battle plan.

John: I think you give us players too little credit for being basically decent human beings.

You have thought wrong John. I am not inferring anything about a person's lack of decency. You are going down that road (putting words in my mouth) on your own endorsement.

Bolingar03 Jun 2024 4:34 a.m. PST

@The Trojan

Bolingar: More than any other aspect of game design, C&C reveals the dichotomy between historicity and playability. A rigorously historical wargame will not be fun to play, and the most popular

Again, this comes down to the imagination of the designer. Michael Collins has designed some very imaginative components for situation awareness, that are not complex or taxing.

Sure. Designers can be imaginative. But if they want to be strictly historical they will have to remove so much control from the player that the battle will be largely a mechanical process determined by the battleplans made the night before and the deployments. There's no way to make that fun unless you're a historian and get a thrill out of watching Caesar beat Pompey on the gaming table in exactly the same way he beat him on the battlefield.
Bolingar: – because the most fun – wargames don't try to be too historical. DBA and Triumph are fun. Memoir '44 is fun. They're games with a bit of historical flavouring, nothing more.

And yet, many designers claim their game capture that historical feel, whatever that is.

Historical feel is the addition of enough chrome to enable player to exercise his suspension of disbelief and be happy with the movie he is directing that gives him a sense of fighting a battle in Antiquity without obliging him to read a history book.
Bolinger: If the Roman player at Cannae realises that Hannibal's Gallic and Spanish cavalry are going to smash through his right flank cavalry and envelope his rear, and that he can do nothing about it because this is a 100% historically accurate game…

Arh, but he only knows this will eventuate because his Roman cavalry is losing. So, before that point, he is hoping to defeat the Carthaginian cavalry to his front. Your example can be said about any game, as in all games, there will be a point when the player knows he is going to lose. Take chess as an example.

In a game between two roughly equal chess players it takes some time before one player gains a real advantage over the other. Cannae was different. I've done a study of the battle. The Romans didn't have much frontage between the Aufidus and the hills and deployed in depth: not only their infantry but also their cavalry. Unlike for infantry, depth doesn't help much in a cavalry vs cavalry fight as the rear ranks can't support the ranks in front, and Varro (or more likely Paullus) probably expected that that would negate the Carthaginian numerical superiority in cavalry.

The Iberian and Gallic cavalry deployed much deeper that the Roman cav opposite them, but as soon as they reached the Romans they dismounted and fought on foot. This obliged the Romans to dismount as well and now the numerical superiority of the Iberians and Gauls told, and the Roman cavalrymen were driven back.

This all happened right at the start of the battle, and with the Roman right flank cavalry guard gone, the Romans had no answer to being enveloped by the Carthaginians. The legions could do nothing except press forward. A wargamer with hindsight will know that that won't work, but what can he do? Play the game through and lose, that's what.

Bolingar: This means that you have to tweak strict C&C limitations to give the player enough control to make the game interesting.

I wouldn't say ancient command and control was that rigorous. Take Cynoscephalae as an example, 20 maniples from the Roman right wing move to the Roman left wing so as to support the failing Roman left wing. So, why didn't they do something like this at Cannae? My answer would be the formation the Romans were arrayed in at Cannae was more prohibitive. My belief is the formation they adopted was due to as Livy claims, a large majority of the infantry being raw recruits. So, more influences played a part and not all was about command and control. In fact, I would say command and control was easier, due to the Roman frontage being much shorter than if the Roman army had arrayed in their standard arrayment. Also, the army was under the command of two consuls and two proconsuls. My calculations on Cannae show, that by following Polybius' comment the depth of the maniple was greater than its frontage, the infantry of the four consular armies' at Cannae occupied the same space as two consular armies arrayed in their standard frontage.

The legions at Cynoscephalae were a very different animal from those at Cannae. The Roman infantry at Cannae were citizen troops, newly-recruited and barely trained. They could form up in ranks and files and execute line relief (which was a much simpler process than the checkerboard theory), and that's it. The infantry at Cynoscephalae were quasi-professionals who had spent years in the army and were capable of other manoeuvres, notably their century subunits wheeling right or left to turn the line into an instant column which could then march off. Scipio Africanus was the first Roman general to have an army of this quality, since they, like he, were in the field for years. This is how he won Ilipa and and final phase of Zama.

Before him however the Roman army was essentially an amateur entity with a limited tactical repertoire.

Even if the legionaries at Cannae had been professional veterans, they could not have moved off to the right since their subunits – notably the century – were deployed too deep and too narrow to wheel into column. They could do nothing other than advance straight ahead.

Wolfhag03 Jun 2024 11:15 a.m. PST

Take for example, Mago's ambush at the Trebbia, in which Mago with 1,000 cavalry and 1,000 infantry appears on the board and because he had successfully been activated, his force is now in motion. Yes, 1,000 cavalry are fast moving to attack the Roman rear. Next turn, Mago fails his activation, and 1,000 cavalry, which were in motion, are now suspended in time. This is ridiculous!

Yes it is. I think historically units were issued an order and/or an objective before the battle and attempted to execute without needing further supervision. If they ran into problems the local commander would normally use his initiative and experience to react.

If the overall commander observes a change in the battle, tactical opening or initiative change he may issue new orders or change them which could take time unless he's leading from the front. By the time the command arrives and is carried out the situation may have changed. There should be some dependence on local commander initiatives.

Regarding scenarios like Cannae. You could have a pre-game check to see if Mago was spotted or a spy gave the Romans info on his location. Reality sucks which is why we mostly play historically unrealistic balanced game scenarios.

I think the main use of activations is to break the IGYG game sequence. It comes down to design for cause or design for effect: link

Generally, I want to know why something happened and not have to use my imagination or as the GM attempts to explain what happened.

Wolfhag

Erzherzog Johann03 Jun 2024 3:37 p.m. PST

Responding to The Trojan:
"I feel many designers are just following the crowd, so basically, the sheep mentality."

"many a designer has taken all the concepts he/she likes from various rules, made some personal modifiers to many, and then blended them into their own ruleset. Some designers even admit to doing this.

When I was designing my own ancient rules, I would, for example, via the university library, study the concept of morale, and from my research related to military psychology, develop my morale rules. My approach to wargame design was to work from the ground up, in order to find my own originality."

I apologise if I misinterpreted this but it read to me as you counterposing your researching primary materials with their taking "all the concepts … from various rules", ie not relying on primary sources.

Again, I read "The player never loses the game due to incompetency; it was bad die rolling" as a pretty absolutist statement. I've met players who claim that too and I find it irritating – of course we all sometimes have a run of bad luck that ruins a good plan (my favourite example is an old WRG WWII game I witnessed where all my friend's 17 Panthers were destroyed by my brother's Soviet artillery bombardment in a single bound.)

An absolute statement like that does tend to suggest some kind of failing on the part of the individual. Again. I'm happy to accept that I read too much into your comment,

Cheers,
John

The Trojan11 Jun 2024 9:22 p.m. PST

Wolfhag: I think historically units were issued an order and/or an objective before the battle and attempted to execute without needing further supervision. If they ran into problems the local commander would normally use his initiative and experience to react.

Yes, like this example given by Caesar (De Bello Gallico 1 52):

"On the left, the German battle line was routed, but on the right, with sheer weight of numbers, they were pressing our men hard. Young Publius Crassus, who was in command of the cavalry and therefore able to move about more easily than the officers who were fighting in the line, saw what was happening and sent the third line up to help our troops in difficulties. So, the battle swung once more in our favour."

Wolfhag: Generally, I want to know why something happened and not have to use my imagination or as the GM attempts to explain what happened.

And that is my exact sentiment. Reading back on the activation school of thought, activation is just that, whatever your imagination conjures up.

John wrote: I apologise if I misinterpreted this.

Thank you John. Not many admit they got it wrong, so take a bow.

Dave Crowell17 Jun 2024 5:14 a.m. PST

On Hannibal's performance at Cannae: If the rules do not permit this to happen then the model of the rules is fundamentally flawed. "Let nothing happen in the war-game which could not happen in real war." Cannae unfolded as it did. Therefor our rules must permit it to happen.

I have played games with written orders or general order tokens. In my experience they do not bog down play at all. What they do is move my rifle closer to that of the overall commander in a battle. I devise a plan and set it in motion. Weighting the outcome of the game so much on the pre-battle planning is perhaps not the "fun" most players are looking for. We like to play several levels of command down and move our chess pieces about the board as we like.

I am curious what rules the Trojan is playing. Especially after a twenty year hiatus from the hobby. If activation based rules are unsatisfactory, what are they playing instead? Or has this whole discussion been a thought experiment in which one side is playing actual games and the other side is only thinking about war-games theory?

The Trojan20 Jun 2024 4:31 p.m. PST

Dave: We like to play several levels of command down and move our chess pieces about the board as we like.

Yes, very much in agreement.

Dave: I am curious what rules the Trojan is playing. Especially after a twenty year hiatus from the hobby. If activation based rules are unsatisfactory, what are they playing instead? Or has this whole discussion been a thought experiment in which one side is playing actual games and the other side is only thinking about war-games theory?

My posting on 21st May in this thread will answer your question. My rules are real and even have a title "A Noise of War" taken from a comment by Marius and found in Plutarch:

"Marius was once rebuked from granting Roman citizenship illegally to 1,000 men of Camerinum who had fought for him in a recent battle. Marius answered that the law spoke too softly to be heard in such a noise of war."

The rules deal with only Roman warfare as that is my specific interest, and I have no interest in making them commercial. They are a low priority project at the moment and that is why I am looking into Bolingar's rules "Optio" to play as I like the idea of someone else doing all rowing while I take in the view.

Bolingar21 Jun 2024 5:47 a.m. PST

@The Trojan: fancy trying an Optio game online some time? We can do with with a VASSAL module I designed. The technical side is not difficult to master and if we do it in conjunction with a WhatsApp or Zoom call I can talk you through everything. Otherwise I'm happy to pass you a copy of the rules. Critical input of course is expected, don't hold back. ;-)

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