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The 200 Foot General

As miniature wargamers, we have far more knowledge and far more control over our troops than any historical commander has ever possessed. We tower over the battlefield like a 200 ft. general, taking in all and responding instantly.

Is this a problem? Do game designers need to solve it in order to create historically reasonable games? If so, what mechanisms have designers used to overcome the problem? What are the advantages and drawbacks of these various mechanisms?

At Historicon '00, seven respected game designers tackled these questions in a freewheeling roundtable discussion, telling how they viewed the issue and how they dealt with it when writing their rules. Participating in the event were: Matt De La Mater (Legacy of Glory), Jim Getz (Empire III, Chef de Piquet), Bill Gray (Napoleonic Fire and Fury), Rich Hasenauer (Fire and Fury), John Hill (Johnny Reb III), Bob Jones (Piquet), and William Keyser (From Valmy to Waterloo).

Thanks to Mitch Osborne and HMGS East for permission to publish this transcript of The 200-Foot General roundtable:

Mitch Osborne:

I welcome you to the first of what I hope is going to be a continuing series of wargame designer roundtables. We are fortunate to have six distinguished game designers here: Matt DeLaMater, Jim Getz, Bill Gray, Rich Hasenauer, John Hill, Bob Jones and William Keyser.

The evening's program is being recorded, and a written transcript is going to be prepared courtesy of Jeff Knudsen and Crusader Games, Ltd., designers and publishers of miniatures rules, including Napoleonic Command and Rifle Wars. I want to thank Jeff and Crusader Games for providing the transcript at no cost.

I would like to claim that this roundtable was all my own idea, but I can't. It is only my execution of a suggestion made sometime last year by Bob Jones. Bob put out a whole list of ideas for improving HMGS conventions, and this idea in particular struck me as a keeper. A discussion of that perennial favorite, the 200 Foot General (or his cousins, the 100 Foot or 1000 Foot Generals as well) showed up on a historical miniatures newsgroup which is part of the Internet. When the topic was raised a few months back, it struck me as the perfect topic to launch the series, and that's why we're here tonight.

As miniature wargamers, we have far more knowledge and far more control over our troops than any historical commander ever possessed. We tower over the battlefield like a 200 Foot General, taking in everything and responding instantly. It's really kind of natural that that's going to be the case. We paint our soldiers and we build our terrain. We don't want to hide them, we want to show them; we want them out there. If we didn't care about how they looked, we'd be board gaming or computer gaming, or something else. As a result of that, our view is really very god-like, and that was brought home to me this last month. I was able to pick up as a "bargain book," an old Greek poet's book, The War of Troy: What Homer Didn't Tell You.

A fellow named Quintus filled in the gaps between the Iliad and the Odyssey, telling the story of the Trojan War, right up to the sack of Troy. What I found interesting was that the Greek gods would get together at this special place on Mount Olympus and they'd look down on the war, almost like wargamers viewing a tabletop. They would intervene; they would jazz up one side or another; causing them to lose heart or to gain heart; in fact they literally (from what I read) would pump up some of the heroes so that they would be stronger than normal. Just to give you an example: one set of gods endowed the Amazon Queen named Penthesiliea, who was fighting for the Trojans, with greatly enhanced strength and energy. (Reading this story, it occurred to me that she was probably the model on which Xena was based.) She starts cutting through the Greeks like a scythe through wheat (or like Xena, through whoever the bad guys of the week happen to be) and the Greeks essentially failed their morale check; they went running back to the boats. Meanwhile, another set of gods goes over to Achilles, who for some reason isn't in this battle; he's hanging around his friend's grave and the gods say, "Hey, get on over there; there's a fight to be fought." Achilles then goes charging out, getting his god-boost, too. Well, his fighter stats are way better than Penthesiliea , and in short order, she's toast. The Trojans fail their morale check and they run back into the city. Game over, Greeks win.

At the end of the story, it occurred to me that the Greek gods were the first wargamers, except they happened to use people instead of lead soldiers.

Now, we don't do that. We don't want to be god-like in our powers over our soldiers. We want to make decisions resembling those of a battlefield commander.

How to accomplish this is what our panel of designers is going to talk about tonight; but first, Colonel Bill Gray is going to tell us how the Army War College views the problem of the 200 Foot General.

Colonel Bill Gray has recently entered civilian life, having retired from the Army after 23 years of service. Bill holds BAs in both History and Political Science from Clemson University, as well as a Master's Degree in International Relations from the University of California and a Master's in Strategic Intelligence from the DIA Joint Military Intelligence College. His Military Education includes tours at the US Army Intelligence Center, the US Army Command & General Staff College, the DIA Post Graduate Intelligence Program and the US Air Force Air War College. Bill began his wargaming career in 1972 and became an HMGS East member in 1992, serving as a Board member and Secretary for 6 years. He has written over 30 military history and gaming related articles for such magazines as Strategy & Tactics, Napoleon, and Historical Gamer. He has also served as the historical consultant for several military board games to include Decision Games The Emperor's First Battles, GMT's The Battles for Waterloo (a Charles Roberts Award Winner) and the upcoming GMT game Austerlitz. He has recently published a well-received Napoleonic variant for the popular Fire & Fury ACW rules, which are available free from the Internet.

Bill Gray:

By way of a quick introduction to this little three page thing I've written up here, the way this thing got started was with the discussion on the 200 Foot General, in terms of the Napoleonic era. What I've got here is just a couple of thoughts which I've discussed with members not only from the Army War College, but also with the Command and General Staff College on the Napoleonic Era: what worked, what didn't work, what were the differences between armies, and why it became this way. Basically what I'm trying to do is simply give you at least one point of view (not necessarily the correct point of view, but one point of view) about why, perhaps, the 200 Foot General is a problem that needs to be solved.

The disease is well known in miniature wargaming circles, particularly those that delve into battle before the advent of the radio. The symptoms of the malady are likewise very pronounced. The miniature wargaming commander can see the entire battlefield represented on his tabletop, whereas the actual general he represents could not, this poor individual instead having to rely on reports that were often incomplete, late or both. This in turn means that the miniature commander can make adjustments to his scheme of battle with a degree of speed and accuracy that would have astounded his historical counterpart. And while such a situation will at least not impart a particular advantage to one side or the other in eras, such as the American Civil War, where the Command & Control systems were similar, the infestation becomes near terminal in the age of Napoleon. This is because most historians (certainly not all) give a significant edge to the French in terms of the battlefield decision-making process, (and please notice what I've said; not necessarily battlefield command and control, but the battlefield decision-making process) particularly in the early years of the Empire. Thus failing to produce an appropriate rules antidote to counter the 200 ft General theoretically deprives Napoleon of a significant battlefield advantage.

Before a cure can be introduced, however, it is necessary to determine what constitutes a healthy patient. In other words, what did the command and control, or decision-making process actually look like, how did it work or how did it not. Only then can rules be devised to replicate it. The following comments constitute one point of view, and generally come from the courses of study out of the Command and General Staff College, as well as the US Army War College. In particular, I am specifically grateful for the notes from and many conversations with Dr Jay Luvaas, COL Len Fullenkamp and my personal favorite, the redoubtable Dr Steven Blank of the Army's Strategic Studies Institute. Again, this is geared towards Napoleon and his foes, they are equally applicable to any era of history before electrons ruled the battlefield.

In general and on the surface, the actual process of getting a commander's orders transmitted and implemented was remarkably similar regardless of whether the army was commanded by Napoleon in 1806 or French Marshal Maurice de Saxe in 1745. Theoretically the Commanding General would dictate his wishes to his Adjutant General or Chief of Staff, who would then produce written orders, provide a copy for the archives, log them out in the journal and then send them along with a messenger to the appropriate destination. That was the theory. In reality, however, often the process merely involved the Army Commander scribbling some orders on a piece of paper, giving them to a messenger personally and then sending him on his way. Even here the process was more likely than not abbreviated as the spoken word often substituted for the Army Commander's pen, leaving his poor Chief of Staff to figure out as best he could exactly what exactly his boss had said. Yet this so-called system differed little regardless if the army in question was that of France in 1806 at Jena, or their Prussian adversaries under the Duke of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen on the other side.

So why did author Neil M. Heyman in the Winter 1967 edition of Military Affairs refer to Prussian leadership at Jena-Auerstaedt as "command by Sanhedrin, by its very nature incapable of rapid decision-making, not to speak of being able to alter decisions efficiently to fit a shifting military situation?" The answer lies in two permanently interrelated areas, the first being the rise of the military staff and its associated doctrine, the second in the fact that the battlefield decision-making process included far more than the transmission of orders across the chain of command.

Command and Control became a serious military concern during the Lace Wars, the era of Saxe, Frederick the Great and their contemporaries. Larger, healthy populations allowed larger armies to be fielded, and the success of the new fangled contraption called the musket ushered in the age of linear warfare, both insuring that battlefield would be wider than ever before. This meant that commanders would often be unable to see all of their troops, much less directly lead them. The solution to such nonsense did not lie in the expenditure of State funds to create a permanent military staff above the regimental level. For one, such an organization had no useful function during peacetime, the regiment being quite suitable to maintain law, order and the loyalty of the citizenry. Likewise, the aristocrats who would have commanded such elements had other issues on which to spend their time, including commercial trade, politics and not a little debauchery besides. Instead staffs at brigade level and higher were formed during times of war only and were completely ad hoc in nature. Commanders drew their staff officers from the regiments they commanded, organized them as they saw fit and instituted staff procedures that suited their own personal whim, not because there was a sanctioned staff doctrine that gave guidance on how to do so. Thus staff operations varied from unit to unit within an army and changed often within a headquarters as well for when regiments left to join another battlefield command ' and this happened quite a bit ' the staff officers assigned from them returned to their units and left as well.

Operating successfully under such a system could be accomplished in two ways. The first was to insure that the Commander was always positioned with the decisive wing of his army; hoping things would work out elsewhere. As Ferdinand of Brunswick found out at Krefeld in 1758, this procedure was not an optimal solution. Brunswick accompanied a flanking force and left the rest of his army under General Spoercken to pin the French in place. In doing so, however, he lost overall control of his army, all contact with General Spoercken and as a result the French were able to shift reserves and escape the trap in time.

A more palatable solution was found in the concept of detailed planning, as epitomized by the battles of Frederick the Great. Author Martin van Creveld in Command in War noted that "Frederick the Great's battles were always offensive and always carefully thought out in advance, requiring precise, machinelike movements and highly trained, strictly disciplined troops to carry them out. The king as a rule would ride out ahead of the approaching army, observe the enemy at close quarters, and then assign each unit its direction as it passed by. From this point on the machine was supposed to function automatically."

Often it did, of course, but often it did not and here Frederick was fortunate to have such superlative subordinates such as General Wilhelm von Seydlitz (notably saving the day at Zorndorf in 1758) who could retrieve the situation at a local level. Nevertheless, the records show a spotty resume at best. As van Creveld noted, "Frederick's system of tactical command, one of the earliest in which a commander attempted continuous control of the whole army, and relying for this purpose on as robotlike a body of troops as has ever been put into the field, cannot be called an unqualified success even when wielded by its inventor's masterly hands. In those of his less competent successors it led directly to disaster."

The disaster, of course, was one young General Bonaparte, a commander referred to in Army War College circles as history's paramount intuitive general. This means that as opposed to intensive planning, Napoleon relied on general guidance and then mid-course corrections within the battle in order to take advantage of enemy mistakes or counter enemy success. It was a type of tactical warfare where change was not only expected but also desired. That this became possible was due in great part to the development of the permanent military staff at levels above the regiment. The catalyst was the French Revolutionary Levee en Masse which dropped 732,000 ill trained soldiers into the collective laps of French revolutionary generals whose experience level was little better. Regulations were needed to substitute for experience and the final result appeared in 1800 as Adjutant General Paul Thiebault's Manual for Adjutants General Employed with General Staffs for Divisions and Armies, the virtual bible for all French staff elements to include Napoleon's vaunted Grand Quartier-General Imperial (GQC). The document directed how a staff element was to be organized, the specific responsibilities of each position within the staff, what reports were to be generated and when, with detailed records keeping procedure thrown in for good measure.

Given German historian General Bronsart von Schellendorf's point that the Prussian staff in 1806 "existed hardly even in name," the result was simply that the French had a functioning staff and their opponents did not. The result was devastating, particularly at the campaign level of war even a miniatures campaign as the author found out when stationed several years ago in San Francisco for the Army. Playing the role of Field Marshal Gebhard Bluecher commanding the Army of Silesia in 1814, I ran my campaign and my human subordinates using established US Army staff procedure, reporting formats and operations orders. Three weeks into the fighting the author was informed by the gamemaster that he had been unilaterally shot dead by a sniper [laughter] and replaced by another human player whose lack of military staff expertise would "help level the playing field."

At the battlefield level US Army historians point out the situation was nearly as bad, but point out the fact that the basic problem was not whether one staff or the other was faster moving orders up and down the chain of command, but rather which staff system could provide timely, accurate and complete information to a point where a commander's comfort level was high enough to risk a significant decision. Consider the following four issues as regards the armies that faced Napoleon from 1805 to 1809:

  • Staff Interpersonal Relations. While the fact that a staff element manned by trained staff officers operating under an approved doctrine is superior to that which has neither, that is only part of the equation. At the Army level decision-making was often hampered by the various aristocrats who convened endless councils of war as a means to furthering their own political ambitions. Yet even this paled in comparison to echelons below the Army level where staff officers were drawn from the combat units that were assigned to the command. Since the mix of units changed (a lot) on campaign, so did the officers that formed part of the staff. Not only did this mean there was significant turmoil because of a constant influx of new officers "learning the ropes," these specimens were by no means the best soldiers available as any commander worth his salt would be loathe to give up his quality officers to a staff position. Further, new officers were an unknown quantity to the personnel of other staffs with whom they were required to coordinate; making any legal authority they carried tenuous at best. Consider Lieutenant Anatole de Montesquiou at the battle of Austerlitz in 1805. It was quite easy for him to bark orders to three French cavalry colonels as they all recognized him as a permanent member of Prince Joachim Murat's staff, one who spoke with the authority of their commander. It was likely not nearly as easy for a comparable Russian officer, newly assigned from the Chernigovski Dragoons.
  • Messengers. Putting together a headquarters was tricky when a commander had to broker for personnel with combat leadership that was both aristocratic and none to eager to degrade their own combat power by releasing officers to man a staff element. The problem was particularly acute with messengers, unfamiliar as they likely were with routes and personalities, as these individuals had to be mounted. Yet there were few mounted personnel in infantry formations while some major commands lacked a cavalry formation of any sort. This was the situation that Russian General Miloradovitch found himself in at Austerlitz, commanding a Column of 12,000 + and not a cavalry trooper one. The good general had to beg a Hussar Regiment for 20 horsemen to act as couriers, dealing with a colonel who coldly noted that as Miloradovitch was not in his chain of command, he might consider his request.
  • Reporting. While the Marshal Ney's of the world were busily scribbling orders to subordinates, something marvelous was happening with the rest of their staffs. According to a pre-set schedule and standardized format they were continuously moving information reports up to Napoleon's staff, all in accordance with Thiebault's wonderful staff manual. As there was no equivalent doctrine on the other side of the battlefield, reports seem to arrive too late or not at all, and were often incomplete or inaccurate. Thus even when enough couriers and staff officers were available, it is unlikely that Russia's General of Cavalry Levin Bennigsen, for example, ever had as clear a picture of the battlefield, as did his French opponent. This made committing to a change of plans an extremely risky proposition, especially when considering his own military culture's. This is one of the more important things that I got out of my conversations with Dr. Luvaas, by the way.
  • Command Personality. Simply put, commanders in the tradition of the Great Frederick were practiced in a type of battlefield management where extensive planning solved all issues and accounted for all contingencies. Given the difficulties with ad hoc staffs as noted above, proper planning both alleviated all staff shortcomings and made mid-course corrections to battlefield operations unnecessary. If the Army War College is correct, such a perception may have eventually manifested itself into a command mentality where changes to battlefield orders were not only thought unnecessary, but undesirable as well. This means that a Duke of Brunswick or a Prince Kutusov may have hesitated in making critical decisions for the unfathomable reason that their military backgrounds had drilled into them that it was most inappropriate to do so.

This then is the environment that would seem to constitute the anti-virus for the 200 Foot General. It is an environment that has plagued generals from the onset of the radio, with Napoleon and his staff being one of the first attempts at effective first aid.

If miniature wargaming is to be considered seriously (at least by some people) it seems fitting the toy soldier commander be plagued as well.

Thus while Frederick the Great could boast that he only needed seven staff officers to manage an army of 60, 000 (vice Marshal Michel Ney in 1805 who needed 45 to deal with a corps of 16,749), the doughty Prussian would also note towards the end of his illustrious career that "while the army functioned well enough, it was often in need of a good Quartermaster's General Staff." Meanwhile Napoleon insisted the best officers were those who were "lucky," those who were able to effectively deal with the unknown or the unexpected. He seems to have been correct in what Carl von Clausewitz noted, and I quote: "In War, more than in anything else, things do not turn out as they expect. Nearby, they do not appear as they did from a distance. With what assurance an architect watches the progress of his work, and sees his plan gradually take place. By contrast, a general in time of war is constantly bombarded by reports both true and false, by errors arising from pure negligence or hastiness, by disobedience born of right or wrong interpretations, of ill will, a proper or mistaken sense of duty, of laziness, or exhaustion, or by accidents nobody could have forseen."

This latter statement provides the key for miniature wargame designers. Controlling the 200 Foot General does not mean reproducing staff procedure as a measure of battlefield efficiency. Instead, it means reproducing the many roadblocks to a commander's battlefield decision-making process. It means reproducing battlefield doubt.

Thank you.


Mitch Osborne:

Thank you, Bill. What we're going to do at this point is turn to a nuts-and-bolts approach to how the panel here in front of you has solved the question of command and control and the 200 Foot General phenomenon. What we're going to do for the next 30 minutes or so is have each of the panelists give you a five minute presentation on their approach, in games, to this problem.

The first person who will be presenting his views to you is Bob Jones.

Bob Jones started in miniature wargaming in 1965 after five years of Avalon-Hill games. He founded the Colorado Military Historians in 1966 which has now existed for 34 years. In 1972 he published Le Jeu de la Guerre-Napoleonic rules, which was one of the earliest sets to use decimal dice, variable C.E., and imbalanced sequence. He also designed a Napoleonic Naval ruleset-Tars and Spars-which many of you have probably played under another name.

He left the hobby in 1977 - not to return until 1991 - with the publication of Rebel Yell! ACW rules, which experimented with RPG style umpiring and "Unknown" table parameters. In 1994 began work on Piquet, which was published in March 1996. He wrote several of the supplements (Les Grognards, Cartouche, Archon, Band of Brothers, Din of battle, Hallowed Ground and POA I) as well as a second edition of the core rules in 1998. He also encouraged other player/designers to write and then published several additional rule sets and supplements by Jim Getz, Eric Burgess, Jim Mauro, and Brent Oman, in addition to five current scenario books. Barrage, Eric Burgess' Piquet supplement for WWI is premiering at this convention.

Mr. Jones has spent a career in television primarily in production, and program management positions in broadcast television, audience research, as well as cable networks. In March, 2000 he founded his own company, High Wire Media, which presently consults for the Scripps Networks, The All News Channel, and several broadcast stations as well as producing programming for HGTV, The Food Network, and the Do It Yourself network.

Mr. Jones lives in Denver, Colorado.

Bob Jones:

Now I hope I don't say anything that would upset anyone, so I'll try to be very careful as we go along here. I'd like to make a few comments about what Bill just said. I think the core message of your remarks, Bill, was just dead right on, in terms of the games. We must find a way to accommodate the 200 Foot General.

I think we all come to gaming, like the famous story of the blind men who each touched a different part of the elephant, then came back and reported what the elephant looked like. The one who grabbed the trunk said it felt sort of like a snake. The one who grabbed the leg said "No, no, no the elephant feels exactly like a tree", and I guess somebody else must have grabbed the tail and said "No, I'm sure it's like a rope. The whole animal is just like a rope". And they all go on. Of course, the moral of that story is that all saw a part of the elephant. I think when you look at a subject on human behavior that's as complex as war, you can count on one thing: everybody will just see part of the elephant.

Now, we all make a decision on what part of the elephant we choose to portray in our games. For me, they are all games. That's another comment I want to make. We all make these decisions and we end up doing what makes us happy: that's fun... The big thing is to have an enjoyable game. That's the central thing. Anything that comes after that are choices that we're all free to make, but it's not central to what we all wargame for; we wargame because it's a lot of fun. But, having said that, everyone who doesn't use a 200 Foot General rule is undoubtedly wrong. [Laughter]

The two people who probably influenced my views of wargaming the most are Wellington and Clausewitz. I remember that famous quote by Wellington when they asked him what is the central skill of generalship and he says "knowing what's going on on the other side of the hill"; this is something that never occurs in wargames. We know exactly what's going on across the hill. We know how many troops we're up against. We know just how far they can move. There are no other sides of the hill in wargames. And we have ignored, in the past, Clausewitzian friction. That's another part that I think I've always been heavily influenced by; Clausewitz's comments on war, and specifically how all the best plans fall apart the minute the bullets start to fly. Things that should take a half an hour, amazingly take an hour. Troops that were supposed to have been on the left fork - whattya know, they went down the right fork! It's just a fact of war, of all battles.

You can't look at a battle. I was just down in Tennessee (the Scripps networks are located in Knoxville). I drove down to Chattanooga and Chickamauga and I walked around both of those battlefields. I'll tell you, I've not been to them before, and when I walked up Chattanooga, at Lookout Mountain I was sitting there saying, "How did they do this?" Then, when you read the accounts of the fog, and the dispirited troops and the thin line, and the mistakes, it's one story of misapprehension and mistakes and "Where are we?", "I don't know, where are you?"; and then, whattya know, they're on top of the mountain and everybody's surprised. On both sides.

The same thing with Chickamauga, a perfect case of a battle in which (and if you're ever at that battlefield, you can't see sh--, uh, you can't see ... [laughter]) everywhere you look, guess what the range is ... couple hundred yards. It doesn't get any better than that.

I think the 200 Foot General is made up of two factors: Vision; that is, the ability to see what's going on on your side as well as the other side. Don't forget, in most cases the general didn't have a totally clear picture of exactly what his own troops were doing, let alone what the enemy was doing. Then the other part is, (let's say you have some idea of what's going on, or think you do, and that's generally the case; you think you do), the ability to influence events. I always think of that party game, you know where you start at one end of the line, whispering, and it gets to the other end and strange things happen.

What I try to do in Piquet to capture this. The technology of most of the horse and musket period (and we can expand this out to Ancients, or whatever because I think a lot of these things apply), is pretty equivalent, it's very balanced. It isn't as if somebody had a tremendous advantage in those areas. Doctrine, certainly, developed over time, the usual pattern being that somebody got a little bit ahead of somebody and everybody said "Oops, we've gotta try that now, too; and it works!" and so, that was always in flux.

I wanted to put gamers in a position where they had to deal without all the advantages of the 200 Yard (or, 200 Foot; we don't want to make him too tall, sometimes it is like a 200 Yard General) that they have in games. I decided it really came down to the nature of the decisions that are made in a game. It's all about "what are the decisions being made?"

I come from a management background, and every day I have to make decisions on incomplete facts. I don't know perfectly how much money has been spent in some accounts, at that moment. I don't know every time what a shoot crew is doing out there in the field. I try to see the rushes when they come in, I try to deal with some guy in New York who wants to change the program at the last minute, and he's an idiot and I have to say that without upsetting him (like I do some people on RMGH; that's where I let off all my steam in that regard...)

It's not dealing with fixed constants where all you have to really worry about is one more die roll and everything else, you can predict. It's about managing change, it's about managing things, and it's also about being comfortable in an environment in which things are happening that you can't control, and you must manage them.


Mitch Osborne:

Next up we have John Hill.

Over the past twenty years, few wargame designers have influenced tactical design as much as John Hill. In the 1970s, as a wargame publisher, his Conflict Game Company quickly became noted for innovative designs, such as The Brotherhood, Kasserine Pass, Verdun, Overlord, and Bar-Lev, all of which still remain "classics." In 1977, John designed Squad Leader, which represented a major advance in the modeling of the human factors of morale, tactical competence and small unit leadership. Even today, many still consider Squad Leader to be the finest tactical boardgame of all time.

In addition to being responsible for starting the Squad Leader phenomenon John also found time to bring forth other ground breaking titles, such as Jerusalem and Hue for SDC, and Battle for Stalingrad for SPI, and Tank Leader for West End Games. In 1979, for his contributions to the art of simulation design, John became the first freelance wargame designer to be inducted into the Charles Roberts Hall of Fame.

In the field of miniature wargame design John is best known for his popular Johnny Reb, which when it was brought out in 1983, was hailed as a major step forward in miniature simulation and won the H.G. Wells award for Best Historical Miniatures Rules of the Year. The third edition, Johnny Reb III, continues to grow in popularity. For the past four years, John has served as President of the Origins War College and continues to expand the contribution of military history to that annual convention. John continues his simulation and modeling work as a senior military analyst for the US Government.

John Hill:

I'd like to take a different tack here, in regard to the issue we're addressing. I think the problem is seriously overstated. There is, perhaps, a problem of the 200 Foot General, but it's not nearly as severe as some of my colleagues have suggested, or that they will be quick to jump on me in further presentations [laughter]. So I will go forward first and be the target for the rest of my colleagues.

The concept is the mechanic if you want to introduce more "fog of war", more uncertainty. The mechanics are well known. Over the decades, we all have used them.

They're pretty much like flavors in pieces of cake. You can have an overturn, you can have black unit counters, you have various kinds of these in Squad Leader. Many miniatures games use hidden movement on maps. It all comes down to "how much of this do you want to interject?" Everything from hidden movement counters, markers, map movement, or even if you just want to design for effect, which was one of the hallmarks of Squad Leader. It's not very different from Bob and the effects of Piquet, which controls the effect of knowing what is happening.

So all the mechanics are there. You all know them. You almost all have used them. This suggests that there's not so much a systemic problem with wargame design as it is with scenario design. Structure this area to reflect what was the appropriate "fog of war" at that time, at that moment? As Bob pointed out, at Chickamauga (which is quite correct) General Rosecrans had no idea where his army was, or where the Confederates were. However, at Fredericksburg, with the entire Union army laid out before them on a bright, sunny, snow-covered field, Robert E. Lee could see exactly where the Union was coming. So, flavor to choice.

The main thing I want to make is the point that the problem is overstated. The solution to it, if you perceive the problem, is already there - the wargamers themselves. They will have, instinctively (and I think everybody will come to... examples of this), when the battle starts, if he is a subordinate commander, he will see, psychologically, his own little tunnel vision. He will just focus on his part of the battle and he really can't affect the rest of the fight. Whether it's by mechanical command control, or by having sent orders, but in any case, he's just going to focus on taking that farmhouse or that ridgeline. It is a built-in system of command limitation.

One of the more simple ideas was developed by Dean West (who is one of the few people who have run more Johnny Reb games than I have). Simply give the supreme commander also a tactical command - a little group of tactical soldiers, his praetorian guard, his imperial guard, or whatever. That will significantly distract the supreme commander [laughter] and he will get totally wrapped up in running this little tactical element, and he will voluntarily come off his 200 foot perch, and have all sorts of fun with that little thing.

You might say "well, that's somewhat artificial." No. Frederick the Great would lead cavalry charges, Longstreet would operate a cannon, and at the battle of Missionary Ridge General Grant had to chastise one of his corps commanders "Please get away from that cannon and take charge of your Corps!" [laughter]

The point is, the gamers themselves, with a structured scenario, will totally negate the effect that they're all 200 foot tall, because physically they may be looking down on the board, but you can fix that with any of the mechanics I've touched on. Very quickly, you will notice that in the swirl of battle they become little higher than the little figures on the gaming table.

Thank you.


Mitch Osborne:

Thank you.

Next up we have Matt DeLaMater, who is the author of the (fairly well-known, I believe, and well-played) Legacy of Glory rules. Matt and, actually William as well, have decided to maintain a bit more air of mystery about them, so I don't have biographies to tell you about right now. But I know his game, and the fact that the new set, I believe, is coming out sometime in the near future, Legacy of Glory II. He will speak for himself.

Matt DeLaMater:

One of the advantages of being the youngest guy on the panel is that I don't have a long biography to bore you [laughter] but hopefully someday I will be half as distinguished as some of the people on this panel, each of whom has been a tremendous influence on me, as a gamer. I owe a lot to each one of these individuals, to some extent, but I do disagree with Mr. Hill. [laughter] And to those of you who are going to be disappointed because you came here to see me argue with Bob Jones [laughter] I'm afraid on this one issue, here, we agree.

I want to ask a question. How many of you guys feel that the 200 Foot General is a problem? So, at least two thirds of the audience. That's good. That's good. So, let's take a step back and I want to talk about what the typical wargame is like, and why I became bored with it.

You're probably familiar with the Talonsoft computer games, and your commanding a Chickamauga, you're making every single decision across the board. You're moving every skirmish company, you're moving every battalion, you're doing everything and it's all coordinated with information coming from every direction. How many of our miniature games are still biased in that direction? You get to make lots and lots and lots of decisions. And there's a reason for that, because games are supposed to be engrossing, entertaining, and making decisions is what they're all about. However, if you share high-fives for historical accuracy, you should realize that making all these decisions is not going to lead to historical accuracy, because it's going to distort it. The more decisions we're making that the real commanders were not making; the more options that are available to us that real commanders didn't have, the less and less our games are going to resemble history.

It occurred to me to - what if we went at this from the other end? What if we do what I call a "perspective-based" game? What were the decisions commanders made?

How many decisions did a Napoleonic Corps commander make? How many decisions did Napoleon make? And what were they? We get down to a very small number. Five to twenty. Not many.

We could look at Davout at Auerstadt, and see a micro-manager. All wargames are open to micro-management. I'm arguing that our games should be built from the top down. They're about management. I'm going to make the important decisions the focus of the game, and the small decisions are going to become less and less important. We've got less impact as players on the small decisions. That's not how battles were really won or lost.

I played a certain Napoleonic ruleset one time where somebody, as Corps commander, moved a skirmish counter. This triggered an opportunity charge that led to the rout of his entire army at the end of the game. That's not the cause and effect I've encountered in history. If it's true that that's a good model, then, I guess we'll never find that out.

I agree that, obviously, games have to be fun. The thing I'm afraid of is that if we start to limit people's decision making, limit the information they have, and introduce all these other elements, things are going to go wrong. Orders I write aren't going to get there. I don't get the information immediately (like I do in most games). We fire in most games and get the information immediately. We know the effect. We can do something about it, and can make more decisions and take advantage of tactical situations. But does a corps commander do that? No.

Legacy of Glory was designed to put you in the shoes of a corps commander and pull the whole design from that perspective, so it's like a piece of interactive fiction. Most wargames are third-person omniscient, everything all known, all seen, all the information's there. Why don't we make first-person wargames? A lot of smaller level games, skirmish level games are first-person. They're role-playing games.

It seemed to me that it would be possible to design Civil War, Napoleonic, 18th Century wargames from a single perspective - from the commander's perspective. These guys were on the field, they saw what was going on, to an extent. We can start to build a game that would be interesting from that perspective.

One of the concepts that I think is really interesting is the whole issue of time on the battlefield. I think George Jeffrey's ideas (those of you who are familiar with variable length bounds) are very interesting. I don't think they work, or it's very difficult to make them work, but there's an awful lot of thought going on there.

One of the concepts I've been playing with is this idea perceptual acts. Rather than write orders and have them go on moving or not, they're going to take time. We don't know how long they're going to take - eventually things start moving.

Remember that one of the key things about 19th century warfare is that you might have a great idea when you're looking out across the field, you might only see a handful of guys, but by the time Burnside launches an attack, all of a sudden that line that used to be empty is filled with guys with rifles, and here's how we have military disasters. Most gamers aren't stupid enough to go charging across a field against a well-defended line, but they might do that if they don't have all the information ahead of time.


Mitch Osborne:

Jim Getz has been wargaming for 40 years, having been introduced to the hobby by Duke Seifried.

I've got to tell you a personal story, actually. I got into wargaming in high school, way too long ago, and originally got interested in miniatures through the New England Wargamers Association Newsletter, the old Courier and I still have my old copies. At the time, I was interested in WWII and tanks and naval stuff, and so I wasn't particularly aware of him, but I like to go back and reread them sometimes. Over the past few years as I've gotten to know some of these people, and their names are in these old magazines, talking about the same kind of issues we're dealing with right now; from a different perspective, still at it. I was amused that these guys were out there and I was just graduating from high school and they were already heavily involved in the fray.

Anyway, Jim's first venture into publishing was in 1970 when he developed and wrote Napoleonique. This wargame became one of the most widely played games of its time having sold over 20,000 copies.

In the late 1970's, Jim and Scott Bowden developed and then published Empire, 3rd Edition. This rule set, extended through two further editions, sold many thousands of copies and was dominant in Napoleonic gaming systems. Jim and Scott Bowden, developed and wrote Chef de bataillon, a very different look at Napoleonic warfare, this time at the tactical level.

Jim's interest in the challenges of modeling the tactical combat environment that has resulted in the publication of another rules system, Chef de PK, which builds on the Piquet system developed by Bob Jones.

In addition to his work in rules development and publication, Jim organized the first Empire Symposium, featuring David Chandler, has written numerous articles for the Courier and Midwest Wargames Association Newsletter, and has put on games and lectures at Origins, Cold Wars, Historicon, Fall In, and other wargaming conventions, and was inducted as a charter member in the HMGS Legion of Honor.

In the real world, Jim is employed as a senior software developer for the country's highest rated mutual funds financial services organization. Jim lives in Columbus, Ohio.

Jim Getz:

Thank you and good evening everybody. We are here to consider the question of whether the 200 Foot General is a problem in recreational wargaming. Looking at current rulesets and comparing the quantity of text devoted to the elimination of the 200 Foot General to that of other activities, it would seem that the General probably takes a back seat to the generation of combat results, if not other factors. This is not to say that nothing is being done. Most rulesets make at least a nodding reference to the problem, including some mechanics roughly grouped under command and control. The stated purpose is to limit the ability of the gamer to react to the positioning and moves of the opposition, and as such, provide the equivalent of invisibility to these actions.

Most of these mechanics revolved around two basic approaches. One: forcing the gamer to commit in advance to an action or actions through the use of written orders, order chits, statements of intent to other gamers or umpire, etc. and Two: enforcement upon the gamer of delays in the execution of these orders, through activation casts, formations, random movement, or the control of a number of actions at a particular time as some form of initiative limiting system.

Unfortunately, while more and more games have been exhibiting such mechanics, the approach taken tends to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. This is a problem because, if it is true that form follows function, then it necessarily follows that function must, to some degree be constrained by form. If you want to chop the 200 Foot General down to size, then you must be ready to surrender the current standard form of wargame. In short, rather than "thinking outside the box", we need to throw the box away.

To illustrate the dimensions of the causes of form, I invite you to consider in your mind, one or more of the rulesets you play, or have played over the years, as I ask you a few questions concerning its form. One: does the game have a fixed ground scale, a fixed troop to casting ratio, and a fixed time scale? Does the game have fixed turns consisting of a fixed sequence of mechanics? Does the game have fixed quality classes? Fixed morale classes? Fixed ranges for weaponry? (and we won't bring up "901 yards" here. [Laughter] (I don't know how many people here are on the internet) Fixed effect by class of weapon? Fixed terrain classifications with fixed effects and fixed movement distances? Does the game assume that the forces are set up on the table at the start and that the ratings of the units are noted by all at the start of the game? Does the game assume that the battle was fought to the death, in which the last man standing wins, rather than having specific mechanics forcing and carrying out the withdrawal from the field of one of the armies without there having to be a campaign game exiting beyond the tabletop? Does the game use percentage chances to determine outcomes? Is the most important determinant and indicator of the unit's status and success causing casualties?

The degree to which you tallied a "yes" to each of these questions indicates the degree to which the game you are considering conforms to what I view as the standard form of recreational wargame. Please understand that I am not making a value judgment. Rather I am attempting to illustrate the dimensions of the problem of the 200 Foot General as I see them.

To this end, you probably noticed that few of my questions dealt directly with the man who controls the mechanics. My exclusion was intentional, to illustrate that the 200 Foot General problem is more than one of geography. The 200 Foot General can see things that were blocked to his real world counterpart not only by distance and terrain, by also by time. If you're into metaphysics, in that as gamers, we can see into the hearts and minds of every soldier in our army, and the enemy's as well, and know how steady and reliable they are going to be today.

How do we improve our approach? In each of these questions there is an opportunity. Each time I said "fixed" I identified a building block of the 200 Foot General. The degree to which the "fixed" can be changed to "variable", "not yet determined" or "unknown", is the degree to which the 200 Foot General can be shrunk into a more manageable size.

How do we do that? Well, that is really the question we're here to decide. Just to give an example, so you have something more to take away than the remembrance of all the hot air that the panel will be putting forward to you here today, I'll leave something up here on the table. I've brought something for an outline of an idea I've had called "Corps de Movement", subtitled "An Absurd Idea for Determining Starting Positions", which will give you some kind of idea of the kind of mechanical approach that I'm recommending and saying you should take a look at.

Thank you very much.


Mitch Osborne:

Next up is William Keyser who also has chosen to veil his past in mystery, but I can tell you a couple of things. I've been coming to enough of the Historicon and Cold Wars conventions to have seen William putting on From Valmy to Waterloo games for a good many years. In fact, William's games were the first ones to show me that you can get really good looking armies in six millimeter in the Napoleonic period. I had always player microarmor and the drab colors on them were really not too bad, but I had always been skeptical about how good figures would look when they needed to be colorful and stand out. William's games have always been excellent visual spectacles. I always enjoy at least stopping by and taking a look to see what he's doing. Currently he is playtesting a set of rules which I believe is "Age of Bonaparte" which I guess when he's got that satisfactorily under control, will be published.

William Keyser:

Thank you.

Like Matt, I don't have a great resume in the hobby.

I think I'm not going to attach too much onto what he said because what he said is the kernel of what the 200 Foot General is about. There are many levels in a corps game, from your overall command to pushing the battalions. No matter how you want to say "I have got one perspective that I'm looking at", you're still moving battalions (if that's the scale that you're playing on.) There are games like Napoleon's Battles and Age of Bonaparte in which there's no longer a battalion; it's brigades. But on the battalion level, the gamer is essentially playing a brigade commander.

What I have done is, I've taken the idea that the command and control that corps and division commanders had, is a decision that's made on (in many ways, like Matt) what is perceived to be the situation. You send out an order, and you're not sure how long it's going to take to get to him, you don't know how long it's going to take for a certain army to activate it. Certain armies are much quicker to make decisions, like Bill Gray was mentioning about the French; we all know that the French about 1805, 1806 were the most flexible in the period.

But, the problem with many games on the command and control level is that they give it what I call the "Bonaparte Factor" to the battalions. All of a sudden the French battalions are much better than anybody else. The Prussian battalions are not as effective. If you look at what's actually happening on that mini-level, the old games that came out in the 70's were trying to focus on the command and control level by giving each battalion the abilities of the army.

What I've tried to do is take that away and, say you are a brigade commander in Valmy; you are also a divisional commander and a corps commander. Those things don't connect. What you do is you send out an order and certain things take a certain time to get to your formation. As a commander, what you see on the table is obviously not what is going to happen by the time division or the corps gets from point A to point B. You are trying to address the issues of time and space.

Bob Jones has talked about the elephant, the many aspects of the elephant. However, if we have a good zoology book we can see what the elephant looks like. Are we trying to design certain elements of the elephant, or are we trying to capture the whole aspect of the elephant?

Matt DeLaMater spoke about the aspect of 18th and 19th century warfare being something that we try to capture. The problem I see in many games is that they're not trying to capture the historical effects of decisions, by making the decisions so random that by the time a gamer moves something, it's a random effect.

John was saying that you don't need that aspect because the player will focus in on the tactical aspect, or make mistakes. What happens is exactly the effect that John was talking about on the tactical level. The gamer focuses on his tactical level (and I guarantee you, I've run enough games and seen so many mistakes done by gamers, it's astounding. And you think the Prussians were bad in 1806 [laughter]) The concept of combined arms, or just basic tactics is sometimes something that the gamer completely misses.

What John is saying as far as the tunnel vision the gamer has, is absolutely true. However, on the higher level you must somehow restrict the gamer from reacting to the things that the general will never see. The way I've done that is the order system, in that every formation must have an order, so your formations do certain things and they act within the parameters of the divisional order. So if the division has an attack order, there are very fixed parameters. But as a gamer, I back off, because we all like to push the little figures that we've painted. We all like to game a certain level of skill and maneuver elements and think that we're learning the tactics of the period. If you take too much away from that, you lose the aspect of the game where the skill which the brigade commanders have in the period is not being represented.

The aspect of the command and control and the tactical level can be removed by changing the formation that you're using. Napoleon's Battles was probably the first one to do that in that the formation is now a brigade. Your decision should not be a tactical one. It should be on the higher level. In the Age of Bonaparte rules that I'm working on now (and hopefully will have for Cold Wars) shows that the game is the command and control aspect. How do you get your troops from point A to point B? How do you make sure that those poor Russian slobs in 1807 can actually move that reserve division when it's needed? How can you show that the Russian artillery park is being committed or not?

In conclusion, I just want to say that I think I'm somewhere between what John and Matt were saying as far as where the command and control is. There has to be some limiting factor on what the gamer does, but then again, you also have to allow for the skill of the gamer to represent the tactics of the period.

That's all. Thank you.

Mitch Osborne:

Next up is Rich Hasenauer, designer of Fire and Fury, The American Civil War in Miniature, published in 1990.

This popular wargame has seen three print runs and two scenario books. Rich is currently the owner and lead designer for Fire and Fury Games, a direct sales internet based company featuring the newly published Battlefront WWII, which is making its debut at HISTORICON 2000. Depending upon the success of this venture, Rich and his friends/co-designers hope to publish a series of supporting scenario books for World War II. Rich is also considering a regimental version of Fire and Fury for the American Wars between 1775 and 1861.

A graphic artist with over 25 years experience, Rich works for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. He has volunteered his time and talents to HMGS since 1984, designing artwork for convention programs and advertising literature. A native of Philadelphia, at age 46, Rich lives in Columbia, Maryland.

Rich Hasenauer:

Thank you very much.

First, I'd like to say that I'm in total agreement with John Hill (in fact I think we had the same mother but different fathers [laughter] ) that the 200 Foot General is in the scenario design. I think that more effort should be placed in simple game mechanics.

Historical miniature wargaming is merely a politically correct way of saying we're playing with little toy soldiers. That means we're playing a game and we want to have fun. I think the emphasis should be on that. If we can do some things that give that flavor, that feeling that "I've just fought the battle of Antietam", that's good enough for me.

Wargaming is kind of like a religious experience. There's no right or wrong set of rules. You play a game, and it's just "right" for you. Somewhere along the line, you're going to find a set that you're comfortable with. Fire and Fury's not a very sophisticated game, and I'm not a real smart person, I'm an artist. And I just want to have a good time, but I have a few mechanics that account for that 200 Foot General. Any of you that have played Fire and Fury know you take morale and movement and combine them into a die roll that doesn't always let you do what you want to do with your brigades - it creates a back-and-forth feeling. All the big problems of getting a division to do something, or a corps to do something, I control by doing a lot of research. Personally, I only play historical battles. I spend a lot of time researching, and I just try to get the gist of that battle, why this division was committed when it was, and it gives you that feeling. I want to walk away saying "I've been to Gettysburg" or "I've been to Antietam".

As far as good and bad generals, this guy may be a reincarnation of Davout, or Robert E. Lee, or Dan Sickles [laughter] or an Erwin Rommel wannabe, so I'm just saying if they go up against each other, the good general's going to beat the bad general. And really, you want to beat each other. You want to best the other guy in the battle, and so youíll be the good general (or the bad general).

Again, I said it's like a religious experience. For instance, I've played a lot of Empire. Empire to me is like the Catholic Church, and Fire and Fury is more like a TV Evangelist [laughter]


Mitch Osborne:

And finally, we have someone who's written a Napoleonic variant of Fire and Fury, Bill Gray. But before he comes up here, I want a show of hands if you've ever wanted to be Dan Sickles at Gettysburg [laughter] . . . nobody?

Bill Gray:

Real quick, before I get into Fire and Fury because that's what I'm going to concentrate on for the next five minutes - if you really want to have a great time, do boardgames, because "Austerlitz" has just been released. It's on sale, and I got two copies of the game for free, and they're sixty-five bucks a pop, and that's only 'cause I was the historical consultant - so that's cool! [laughter]

Working with boardgames actually put me in contact with a gentleman named Richard Berg. Iím thinking of a couple of things he said to me as we've corresponded back and forth, helping him with his boardgames. (If you ever get the Battle for Waterloo by GMT, look at the chit system it used, that was me and him working together, as well as some other things.) Richard Berg stated that friction was necessary, because if you don't have something to control the 200 Foot General, then Robert E. Lee will never stand a chance at Antietam. So something's got to be done, whether it's scenario design, whether it's an absolute rule or not. The other thing that he also put into perspective when he basically talked to me about some rules he had for squares in the Battle for Waterloo was that "never deprive the player of the opportunity to do something stupid." [laughter] So I always took that to heart.

To be quite honest, one of the most delicious games I have ever played in my life, and I like a lot, is Fire and Fury, American Civil War. The fact that Fire and Fury, American Civil War didn't really have a higher level command and control system didn't bother me a whole lot, for a couple of reasons. Number one, there was not a whole lot of difference between the way Robert E. Lee ran his army in terms of the staff element, as opposed to U. S. Grant, Rosecrans, Beauregard, or whatever. People were sort of operating under the same set of parameters. There was a difference between generals, true. I mean, McClellan was not Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee, and so on and so forth, but at least the playing field was level in that regard.

Next thing was the fact that American Civil War has been pretty well researched. There's a lot of books on the American Civil War in the United States. If you really need to have something in there to give a disability to one side or the other, such as at Antietam where you've got McClellan thinking that all the Confederates in the world sitting on the other side of the hill, you can build it in.

I wanted to apply Fire and Fury to the Napoleonic era, but I felt that you had some problems just letting it go as it was. That was because I did think the need for friction and some control was there, and that players would take the system and were not necessarily going to have the knowledge of how they're going to apply the sources and actually come up with the scenarios, but, I also wanted to keep it fun and keep it simple.

I did it a couple of ways, and I'll go through the mechanics and you can decide for yourself. I ripped off and Avalon Hill boardgame (believe it or not) on strategic Napoleonic warfare and I put in a determinant at the beginning of each turn, to see which side moved first. That was basically geared toward the French, so that theoretically the French could turn down moving first and move second, then move first the second turn and therefore have two turns in a row, reflecting what I thought was the dynamic of command in their army at that time.

The second thing was I left the simple system of brigade activation in tactical combat alone. If the forces were within twelve inches of the then you could get shot at and your plans are already into effect and it's too late to change them now. The brigadiers and colonels that you pay to do this job are controlling it for you, there's no need to have a command and control system separating Austria versus France versus Charles versus Bennigsen.

Outside of twelve inches I instituted something called "reserve zone". It's a third little table on the same maneuver table. If you wanted to move a unit, no matter what size, either in the reserve zone, or from the reserve zone into the tactical zone (which was twelve inches forward) or from the tactical zone out, you had to make a die roll. It was weighted more on personalities than on actual countries, but obviously Napoleon, if he has Berthier with him, gets like a plus five; he gets a plus four if he's not there. The idea was that if you wanted to do that one big commitment, commit the reserve, you had to roll a die, and it was basically geared so that if Napoleon was there you'd probably get it the same turn; anybody else, first or second turn; Prussian 1813 or British, second or third turn; Austrians or Russian, third or fourth turn; Spanish fifth or sixth turn [laughter] Basically, that's what I did.

I remember reading (and I don't remember whether it came from Clausewitz or not) but it was something to the effect of the only thing a general can do is decide when and in what direction to push his troops and once he makes the decision, they're gone. The concept of having certain countries make that decision after a delay, was my concept of those guys getting incomplete information because their staff system is not used to giving them the materials they need to make a decision, so that after a certain period of time, now he's comfortable enough to make a decision, and he makes the decision an hour and a half later, where Napoleon makes it thirty minutes later. That's the way I did it, and it seemed to work.

Thank you.


Mitch Osborne:

Now we're into the question and answer period. Does anybody have any questions?

[lengthy question about multi-player games. I think.]

William Keyser:

I disagree with that. I've heard this thing for years, that you can only go one or two levels up or down. The problem is that most games where you do that, when you have the multiple levels, the decisions that the general is making don't affect the tactical level. It's very simple; all you do is make sure that the decisions that the generals are making, that the corps or army commanders are making, are not tactical decisions. In other words, if a division is given an order to attack, the divisional commander says I want this division to move here, draw on a map, you give it movement speeds (you go half or full move), you've got to get within a certain distance of the enemy. Fine; that's finished. Then the player goes to the tactical level and he's playing (and again, we're talking about a Napoleonic game) those battalions as a brigade commander, using the skills that he's learned in one, two, three, four, five games, whatever, to accomplish the mission that the divisional commander has.

Now, the mistake that he makes on that level will only affect his command, but it will impact on the divisional level whether the mission is successful or not. I don't think that necessarily has to happen all the time, although in some games it is, because when a general makes a decision on one level, it can impact all the way down. You just have to put a "firewall", I guess you would call it, between the different levels of command.

Bob Jones:

I think we have to do it in any set, because I do not buy that in multi-player games, the gamer or group of gamers making mistakes; they are making mistakes, they are playing the games badly, as generals do play the game badly, but what they're not experiencing is what happens to the generals that makes them make mistakes. What happens is, you don't have all the facts, and the troops aren't doing exactly what you think they are. So, you're getting an effect of the multiple player mistake and error, but the player himself is not experiencing it because he has complete control and he sees everything on the board. The difference is what are you're creating in the mind of the gamer.

[inaudible question]

Jim Getz:

One of the things that I think this discussion was touching on, and that we probably got statements but I'm not sure anyone really identified clearly, is the gamer's responsibility in dealing with this as well, and the gamer's ownership of the 200 Foot General problem may be even larger than the designer's. The point you made about a "I'm a corps commander and a company commander" kind of thing; why do we do that? Because gamers like to putz around with companies; what I call the "Grenadier problem". You include a company of grenadiers, even though it's a 150 thousand man army, you want to do something with that darned company of grenadiers. [laughter] Don't blame me! That's what gamers want to do! There is something, in the sense that the gamer has to want to solve the problem. If the gamer doesn't want to, the problem isn't going to get solved, regardless of the machinations of the designer put into the rules.

[inaudible question]

Matt DeLaMater:

I disagree with that. I really enjoy making decisions not knowing what's on the other side of the hill. What's he got back there? What is he up to? I'm going to commit to a plan with limited information and I'm going to find out what the consequences are. I'm going to do my best to fix all the problems I've created by making decisions with limited information.

Bob Jones:

Except nobody wants to be Burnside, and some of you guys are. [laughter]

From the audience:

Most of us. [laugher]

[inaudible question]

Jim Getz:

Part of that is, if you happen to get into the "standard" form of the wargame as we know it, you play with the same group and you play with them all of the time, you know that unit is exactly worth "x". And it's been worth "x" for the last seven and a half years and probably, today, that's not going to change. Again, this is how far are you willing to step outside of that box? Suppose that no unit had it's value determined until it went into action, except in some range such as this; that on that day, the Old Guard may turn out to be (son-of-a-gun!) just average line. Are you willing, as a gamer to deal with that, or must you have the Old Guard as your knockout blanket, that it will always come through exactly as you want them to so you can overcome anything that happens in the cards. Again, this is where are we willing to change our mindset on how we do this little thing. You can leave all the pretty troops on the table, but what if do an attack move and it suddenly ain't there. It's an illusion. It's a mirage.

William Keyser:

I would like to disagree a little bit with what Jim's saying, because I'm damn sure that Napoleon knew what the quality of these troops was, in just about every battle that he went in. And I'm sure Napoleon knew who were the conscripts and who weren't. I think that the random element in troops is perfectly acceptable the more tactical you get. On the larger level, I think the commanders knew essentially what the value was, how long these were going to stay, because these were guys (and we're talking about the Napoleonic period), who were out there for maybe twenty-some years, fighting constantly, every year. They knew this. There was an interesting note a number of years ago, relating somewhat to this, on one of the Napoleonic boards from a veteran Australian trooper that was in Vietnam. He said when he got there, the first day of combat, he didn't know what the hell was going on when the shooting started. Within six or seven months, he started to hear and know what was going on when the shooting started, what was happening. That's only six or seven months. You're looking at guys who were fighting for years and years and years. I think that the random troop quality is absolutely correct; however, how random was it? That's the issue. You have to be a little bit careful with that kind of thing.

[inaudible question]:

The problem implied by the 200 Foot General is a visual problem (and this is what the gentleman was talking about). I've tried playing every one of the games whose designers are represented up here, although I typically play Empire and I'm fortunate enough to be able to play on a twenty foot by six foot table. Now, when down there at the other end, twenty feet away, a cavalry unit comes on that I have reason to believe in one or two turns is going to be able to engage me, and I have troops that are under my control, I can (if there's not some element that prevents me from doing this) put them into square. When, in effect, I should not have been able to see these guys in anything like the time; and that's the problem for me. I don't know of any rules that can rectify that. Maybe Bob's because of the chaotic element that's built into it, but even that, you can still see. It's a question of do they get there, or not. I don't know if there's a good solution to that, other than playing with an umpire.

Matt DeLaMater:

What happens is that it gets back to decision making. Why are you allowed to put those guys in square? Probably because you're the battalion commander and the corps commander and the division commander and the skirmish company commander, and you're the cavalry commander. Why would a commander make that decision? You have to build a system with decision triggering events.


The problem is that I don't see any rules that prevent me; the rules I'm playing allow me to do that kind of thing. It's not historical, but I do it.

[inaudible question]

Bob Jones:

The point you've hit on, I think is a real important one; it gets right to the center of things. A lot of wargamers, many that I've known, hate surprises. When you're actually in a situation in combat, one of the things that goes through all of these battle reports and everything else is that surprises were not infrequent. They were not often major. Sometimes they were. But wargamers hate surprises. So they want an environment in which it never really happens. Unless it's some very controllable, one to nine I know my chances, they're really pretty poor that this is going to surprise me and if it does happen, I can act surprised even though I'm really not surprised. And so it's sort of like Pogo; "we have met the enemy and he is us."

[inaudible question]

Jim Getz:

Let me say a dirty word, I guess, "role-playing". I played for years with Napoleonique with the same group and we knew each other like the back of our hands. This was in college we had time, you know, and we played every weekend. I don't remember the 200 Foot General being a serious problem with us. In Napoleonique, for those of you who go back that far, know there was absolutely nothing in that ruleset to get away from it. So, what the difference was is that it was a group of people who were interested in creating a Napoleonic battle, not in winning a wargame. As a result, we "played dumb" when we had to.

From the audience:

(For some it's easier) [laughter]

Jim Getz:

The gamers responsibility on what product do you want to produce. The designers design the rules, the gamers make the final product.

[inaudible question]

Matt DeLaMater:

I think you make a good point about one way to introduce uncertainty is in your combat tables, to make them volatile. But as any designer here knows, there's a fine line between chaos and absurdity. Making those charts to be very chaotic and not crossing into absurd territory is very challenging.

Bob Jones:

I don't know that to be the case. I think that a number of people in this room treat games more like books, in that we're different writers with different styles and different interests in different periods. You're free to choose, as our customers so to speak, what book you want to read, what book you keep, what book you wait until it comes out in paperback. That's the choices that you have. A lot of people play multiple games and one of the dangers is, I think, that people can get so locked into their preferred author or game that they miss some wonderful experiences with other designers.

[question about absurdity]

Jim Getz:

To follow up on what Matt said about the designer's responsibility and absurdity; one of the reason that I subtitled this throw-away "An Absurd Idea" is that the older I get the more tolerant I get of absurdity, because I keep seeing a whole lot more of it. [laughter]

And that's a real thing that we have to deal with. And it's not for everyone. That's absolutely right.

Matt DeLaMater:

That's what's the point about that fine line between chaos and absurdity - according to their tastes.

Bill Gray:

Can I address that as one of the inherent problems in running a campaign with miniatures? I've got you covered; but, I've played two campaign games. The bottom line is, we didn't know anything either. There was a lack of knowledge, which I think made for a realistic campaign game, because we didn't know what the army was doing, we didn't know what Schwarzenberg was doing. It was basically confusion, and we were guessing because we were never together. The thing is, we weren't playing a miniatures game. We were playing a mail or email campaign game. Here we have a hobby which is, by its very nature, a spectacle. You want it to look good. And so if you are going to play miniatures, you are accepting the fact that you're going to be able to see the table, all of the table, with all of the pretty red coats and blue coats (and if you're Neapolitan, the yellow coats with the streaks down the back, and things like that) [laughter] one of the problems we have in our hobby that I think, perhaps, computer gamers don't have, and campaign gamers don't have, because their particular system in not necessarily spectacle-based.

From the audience:

You want to take your beautiful toys and take it for a ride.

Bill Gray:


Matt DeLaMater:

I've seen table after table after table with wall-to-wall lead. It's cool the first few times; I'm willing to wait a few hours to get all my lead on the table, it's not a big deal.

From the audience:

But if you've got wall-to-wall lead, you want to be able to do something with it.

Bill Gray:

My point is that you're going to have the wall-to-wall lead to begin with. You've got them out on the table to look pretty and obviously if they're there in front of your hands, you want to do something with them. Therefore, you don't want some sort of mechanic, whether it be a card, or a dice roll, or a different type of turn sequence to bring in that element of realism which is command balance. I would hope that you realize that if you're doing it strictly on more of a fun basis, that you realize that historically it was there, and you're just not playing it. Because another thing I got from Richard Berg in one of his games on Antietam, he made the point, if anybody was on the other side of the battlefield but George McClellan (which means probably anybody out there in terms of you guys are as smart as George McClellan) there wouldn't have been a battle at Antietam because Robert E. Lee wouldn't have stayed there. Therefore, he felt obligated to put what he called "idiot rules" in there, because if "idiot rules" were not in there to bring in that point of realism, the battle of Antietam would not exist.

Matt DeLaMater:

I guarantee, Bill, that if you did a campaign game, and Antietam developed, and no one had ever heard of it before, you'd get somebody out here to do everything that McClellan did. [laughter] Guaranteed.

end of transcript