Unfinished Games

A blog by BenthamFish, alias Alan Paull, sometime games designer, sometime games developer, sometime games player.

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The burden and rigour of battle – Part 4

Alan Paull
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HUNTINGDON
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Continuing my battlegroup wargaming article, “The burden and rigour of battle”.

Command, control and communications difficulties

Information could flow from sections, platoons and companies to battalion or brigade fairly quickly, owing to proximity, so decisions on action could be fast, usually verbal, and these levels of command could exploit tactical success rapidly. From there, communications upward to division and onwards were often slower. Distances were greater, the volume of information was greater, as it was coming from many subordinate units, and there was more analysis of the significance of information by staff on the way up. High command needed an overview of the situation, rather than excessive detail, so that it could give orders at divisional and corps levels, and this usually meant waiting for the big picture to come into focus. So, intervention from high command hour-by-hour was not usually carried out, and a wargame at higher command level can avoid the clutter of immediate communications friction by having longer game turns and representation of only larger scale units.

Examples include, on the Allied side, the need to wait for clarity of outcomes of the initial assaults on D-Day before changing orders (Dempsey’s halt order is one example). On the German side, the whole question of tardy intervention at the level of corps and above was influenced by a perceived lack of good quality information at that level of command, and particularly by Allied deception measures. Battalion, regiment and division commanders found this extremely frustrating, because they sometimes had clear and urgent information that they were unable to impress upon higher commands.

Information flow at battlegroup level was extensive. It was up, down and sideways to the flanks. Representing these information flows and their impact on decision-making at battlegroup level in a wargame model is tricky. In reality, communications took time. Either a commander or runner went to a command post to make or receive a personal briefing, often resulting in changes or clarifications of orders in response. Alternatively, telephone (landline) or wireless contact had to be made. Time was spent encrypting and decrypting messages, or in rare cases risks were run with messages in clear, using forms of verbal coding, such as code names for locations and units. Communications upwards went through many levels of the organisational hierarchy, with each level adding or taking away (or distorting) the messages, and each step adding to the time taken between initial transmission and receipt, let alone decisions on action in response. While direct communications between flanking units could be carried out relatively quickly, for example via liaison officers appointed to the task, co-ordination of the actions of units in different battalions, regiments, brigades or divisions, often required messages first going up the hierarchy, then back down a different strand of it. For example on 7 June 9th Canadian Brigade’s advance guard was unable to communicate directly with its supporting artillery regiments, and was also unable to liaise with additional available units that were not directly attached to it, because routing communications through brigade, division, corps, then to the full artillery command and control hierarchy proved impossible to carry out. This type of situation led to common difficulties in the meshing of activities at the joins between different divisions, corps and armies, and the vulnerability of troops at these joins. The British breakthrough in Operation Bluecoat was caused by a “joins failure”.

In place of this necessarily imprecise and sometimes flawed communications network, wargaming can have the problem of the “bird’s eye view”, where all those involved can see much of the contextual information about the situation on the tabletop or the board without the necessity for formal communications at all. Instead of difficult communications and combinations, it is often readily obvious to wargamers what actions could and should be taken, and an informal chat – “out of game” as it were – can resolve these difficulties without the modeller’s knowledge.

Command and control of subordinate units in the field was usually exercised in a formal sense, with command instructions flowing down the hierarchy, even though discussions between levels of command could and did happen. Wargaming, particularly hobby wargaming, is less serious than the real business of war, and the authority of senior versus junior commanders can be diluted, or in some cases, dissolved by the “game”. It’s rare that sanctions – such as dismissal on the spot! – can be taken, even in cases of gross violations of command and control norms, as this type of intervention by senior commanders or umpires could be seen to violate the social aspects of wargaming, and could wreck the continuation of the exercise.

Even more, the changing intentions of a group of players as a team on the same side, may be continually moulded and clarified by informal commentary during the wargame, in circumstances where communication and the exercise of command and control in the field would have been impossible. It is certainly possible to address this issue by arranging for the separation of command teams, or individuals, though difficult in hobby wargames. In one of our wargaming groups, we have regularly attempted to remove commanders-in-chief from direct interaction with the tabletop, so that communications about the current situation can only be via player interactions and reporting, but this is difficult to enforce. This should be easier in a professional wargaming environment with trained military personnel.

As we would expect, command, control and communications in a face-to-face wargame may be easier than on the battlefield, yet a wargame should attempt to model the real life difficulties. Typical solutions to this problem in analogue miniatures wargames have used player initiative points (PIPs), or some other method of randomising the vagaries of command, control and communications. In short, a dice is rolled or a card drawn, and the result is the activation of more or less units, or a specific but not predetermined sequencing of activation. This can reflect the inability of all units to act all of the time, or in the “right” order. However, there are difficulties with these outcome-based design solutions, because, though the effect may be to make the activity or inactivity of combat units look more “realistic”, a randomised method leads inevitably to the gaming of the probabilities concerned – “I calculate only a 1 in 6 chance of failure”, for example – rather than addressing the genuine concerns of communications, which were about both predictable and unpredictable delays, and friction caused by known factors, as well as by random ones. For example, the exercise of command and control during intense combat was more difficult than well behind the lines. A response to a request for artillery support may be delayed because of conflicting demands, but this is rather different from “I failed to roll a 5 or 6”, and seems pernicious if, in fact, the artillery was a dedicated support asset, on-call and with no conflicting demands.

Next…Capabilities…
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Thu Jan 18, 2018 12:28 pm
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The burden and rigour of battle – Part 3

Alan Paull
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Continuing my battlegroup wargaming article, “The burden and rigour of battle” – for earlier ones in the series, see the sidebar.

Here are few illustrative examples of what I mean about the significance of combat outcomes at various levels, drawn from the history of the early part of the 1944 Normandy campaign.

The D-Day assault itself was planned at high level, and plans cascaded down to units at all levels of command prior to the assault. In terms of the fighting, it was the actions at company level and below generally that established troops on the beaches. At the initial assault stage the higher levels of command, including battlegroup level, were very much dependent on their smaller units carrying out their assigned tasks within a matter of hours and even minutes. However, I suggest that it was decisions by battalion and brigade commanders (particularly the latter) that led to exploitation with decisive effect during D-Day itself. Decisions on where to put reserves were taken at divisional level (for example 3rd Canadian Division on where to put their reserve brigade). Decisions on where to push battalions were often taken at brigade and even battalion level (for example manoeuvres on the day around Courseulles, Bernieres and inland). The timing and precise routes of commandos coming off Sword Beach moving inland were directed on the basis of leadership from officers, such as Lord Lovat. 3rd British Division, it has been argued, was hampered by the more cautious than expected approach from its battalion and brigade commanders, so it wasn’t able to follow its plan. However, it was decisions at this level that were critical. Reports that ‘enemy tanks were advancing from Caen’ were relayed back from the Staffordshire Yeomanry via 3rd British Division to 2nd British Army. The divisional commander “ordered a battalion of 9th British Brigade to hold at Perriers-le-Dan and ensure that the Sword bridgehead could not be rolled up from the west”. Despite the fact that the German attack was stopped, the reports of German tanks directly influenced Dempsey’s decision to issue the order to halt his 3 assault divisions in place at some time after 7pm, in case of further counter-attacks. Here we have an example of battlegroup level command decisions and reports directly affecting higher command decisions, at variance to the overall plan.

6th Airborne Division’s brigades and battalions were mustered by battalion as they landed on 6 June, and led off on their missions at the instigation of battalion commanders. Precise timing was decided by battalion COs (or other staff if COs were absent), using their judgement as to how long they could wait for assembly prior to moving off to their positions. It was also battalion and brigade commanders who made the decisions about the details of their deployments, within broad constraints of divisional and brigade plans, but necessarily adjusted to the real-life circumstances on the ground that were sometimes at variance with the plans. Similarly, when US battalions were landed at the wrong places on Utah Beach, it was commanders at battlegroup level that adjusted the deployments to meet reality.

A potential counter-argument might be Operation Deadstick, the taking of the bridges over the Orne and the Caen Canal, which was a company level action, and was decisive. But it’s worth noting that this was a tactical implementation of a coup de main within the context of the wider Operation Tonga (the airborne landings) and subsequent vital relief operation at battalion and brigade level by 7 Parachute Battalion, 5th Parachute Brigade and commandos of 1st Special Service Brigade that converted the company level action into a firm left flank for 2nd Army. Battalion and brigade commanders made decisions on how to set up their defence within the context of the divisional plan, and brigade made decisions on how to manage reserves and switch manpower in the light of attacks.

The German side also provides illustrations of the importance of this level of command, and I’ll return to these examples in the context of wargaming later. 21st Panzer Division’s activities on D-Day were heavily constrained because, in the view of regimental commander Hans von Luck, vital decisions about movement were not taken; delays were imposed by paralysis from above. But, I would argue that there is a useful comparison between the relatively supine stance of 21st Panzer Division during the morning of 6 June, and the more pro-active command decisions by 12th SS Panzer Division. The latter’s assembly was accompanied by extensive reconnaissance and planning for deployment, whereas 21st Panzer Division’s reconnaissance battalion was almost its last unit to be deployed. Management of the 21st Panzer Division’s probes during the morning and early afternoon were handled entirely at regiment and battalion level, in the absence of coherent senior direction. So, actual combat decisions were taken at regiment and battalion – battlegroup – level, while more senior commanders were critically unable to impact the combat, and I would argue it was failures at battlegroup level that contributed to the Division’s relatively poor showing. The handling of the late afternoon and early evening counter-attack was by kampfgruppe commanders, even though the main force was initially accompanied by the corps commander. Each of 21st Panzer Division’s 3 kampfgruppe had from roughly a reinforced battalion to roughly regimental strength (brigade in British parlance). In response, British defence decisions by elements of 3rd British Division and supports, were taken at the same level. These included deployment on Periers ridge, movement of supports, the balance of infantry and tanks, and assessment of threat and risk.

Next… a bit more on command, control and communications difficulties…
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Sun Jan 14, 2018 8:48 pm
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Photoshoot 2

Alan Paull
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HUNTINGDON
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The photoshoot was successful! Many thanks to Neil and Pete. I now have over 200 images to fiddle with. In fact, thanks in advance are due to Charlie, who will be doing the fiddling .

Our photos will be designed to illustrate the mechanics of the game. Looking at other rules I find it a bit surprising that there’s a tendency towards pretty diorama style photos that don’t really show the workings of the game, rather than illustrating how a more normal wargame might look. I suspect that’s because people like Osprey have a different focus; though Osprey does some nice drawn diagrams for their’s.

The “after” shot of the Panzer IV breitkeil is:

Distance overlay to be added. I prefer this because it’s more active and less like a diagram than the previous one.
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Fri Jan 12, 2018 11:08 am
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Photo-shoot

Alan Paull
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I'll shortly be setting out across country from Warboys, Cambs, to Frome, Somerset, for a couple of wargame-related matters. Tomorrow (Saturday 6 January) we have the Abbeywood Irregulars monthly game - an American Civil War battle run by Jer. Recently, I've been restricting my outings to Frome to Mission Command games and occasionally Napoleonics, largely because it's a bit of a trek, and also I've been focusing on design rather than playing. However...

On Sunday we have a photo-shoot for Mission Command, courtesy of Neil, for the photographic expertise, and Pete, for the miniatures and layouts. This is the first time I've really got involved in photographic illustration for a game. The idea is that the illustrations in Mission Command's Reference Manual and Players Manual will be a combination of Vicki's half-page illustrations for each section (more of that another day) and photos of examples of how to play - plus some generic pleasing action shots. I've done a few piccies with the iPhone of the kind of thing that I think we want, but our team should be able to come up with a professional "look and feel" for the production version.

Our beta version of Mission Command: Normandy (release date - April 2018, at Salute) will have black and white inside. However, we'll have some samples of colour and a full colour cover. Final version will be colour throughout.

Here's an example of my iPhone version (NOT the final version) of a photo showing a company of Panzer IVs in an inverted wedge. Hopefully I'll be able to show an "after" shot for contrast!

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Fri Jan 5, 2018 11:18 am
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The burden and rigour of battle – Part 2

Alan Paull
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Why might the modelling of combat at higher or lower levels be less problematic?

At higher levels (corps, army, army group, theatre), the focus of command was on the operational and the strategic. Decisions were vital at this level, but people in the higher commands relied on their subordinates at division and below to report on the situation on the ground and to carry out the nitty-gritty implementation of plans and variations on them. So, higher command decisions during a battle were dependent on the flow of tactical information to answer questions about how battalions, brigades and divisions were doing, and to provide information about the enemy. There was inevitably a loss of the granular detail of combat events in the transmission of information upwards, if nothing else to prevent overwhelming the senior commanders and their staffs with information, and thereby paralysing decision-making.

Reflecting this flow of information upwards in wargames at operational and strategic level means modelling through abstraction, typically through providing fewer unit representations (for example, counters in board wargames, elements, stands or blocks in wargaming with miniatures, unit graphics in computer wargames), and using numerical values to represent combat effectiveness, rather than delving into the characteristics of weapons or even of weapon types. In addition, time scales in game for operational and strategic level models are usually longer – a day, a week, a month – skating over detailed tactical events. These abstractions reduce the complexity of the combat aspects of an operational and strategic model, even if other elements, such as political context, logistics and strategic deployments, might make the overall strategic model more complex. Combat doctrine and the details of the organisation and utilisation of units below division level are generally not included, though they might be reflected in tweaks to the numbers. Examples of WW2 hobby wargames at this level include: World in FlamesRise and Decline of the Third Reich, Axis & Allies, World War II: Barbarossa to BerlinWar in the East.

At a lower level - section, platoon, company – combat events were important for purely tactical outcomes, and there was only rarely operational or strategic impacts from the result of any single action. For the soldiers concerned, this was the sharp end of their personal experience, so I wouldn’t belittle its importance to them as individuals and small groups. However, in terms of the wider picture of combat outcomes and their impact on the results of operational and strategic engagements, decisions at the battlegroup level were vastly more significant. It is noteworthy that reading first-hand accounts from frontline soldiers who were not commanders at battalion or higher level, reveals little about the impact of small scale tactical engagements in the wider context of an operational or strategic action.

The complexity and type of wargames at the tactical level varies from the introductory (for a recent example, see Airfix Battles) to the highly detailed (for example Advanced Squad Leader) to the innovative (for example Up Front, Fighting Formations). The details of combat at the individual level are relatively easy to come by through the vast array of memoirs and first-hand accounts published and popularised. In addition, there is the canon of secondary sources to read and popular films to see. When we talk about World War 2 wargaming, this is very much the typical experience for players, and there are well-worn design mechanics, as well as significant innovation, in this aspect of the topic, with a lot of variation in the accuracy of the models, many preferring a good thematic feel and a high level of playability over realistic modelling of tactics. What might be referred to as “Hollywood wargaming” is the mainstay of tactical World War 2 commercial wargames design in board wargames, miniatures wargames and computer-based wargames.

There is a flood of examples of popular hobby board wargames at this level, including: [=Panzer Blitz]Panzer Blitz[/], Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander, Memoir ’44, Tide of Iron, Conflict of Heroes and many more. Popular World War 2 miniatures wargaming rules include Flames of War, CrossFire, Bolt Action and many more.

There is also a small number of simulation wargames, rather than only thematic offerings. One example is Phil Sabin’s simulation game Block Busting, which models an attack by a reinforced infantry company in an urban area with the intention “to reflect more directly the key variation within the urban environment, namely the difference between the buildings, on one hand, and the open spaces…on the other.” This game is a variant of Professor Sabin’s game Fire and Movement. An important point about Block Busting is that it was designed with a specific purpose in mind, namely to model the problem of infantry combat in urban areas in World War 2, whereas the game systems of the earlier examples tend to be more generically about what could be termed “skirmish level” combat, often using unit sizes of 1 vehicle and a handful of men.

To follow, some examples from Normandy...
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Thu Jan 4, 2018 8:05 pm
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The burden and rigour of battle – Part 1

Alan Paull
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HUNTINGDON
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As I’ve been developing Mission Command over the past 10 years or so, I like to believe that I’ve learnt something about wargames design, particularly in the field of WW2 land combat. There are probably some wider lessons learnt more generally, but I thought I’d focus a bit on some thoughts about modelling battlegroup tactics. Wolfgang Schneider has a relevant quote in his book Panzer Tactics: “The technical literature includes countless competent presentations at the level of operational / strategic command (army and higher). That also holds true at the tactical / operational level of army corps and division. Totally underrepresented are factually correct descriptions of the level of command that bears the actual burden and rigor [sic] of the battle, that of the regiment – generally, the brigade in modern usage and the battalion.”

In World War 2, the level of command from battalion through regiment or brigade up to division was the level at which combat decisions and outcomes occurred that translated into decisive operational and strategic results. It was the foundation of, and implementation method for, operational and strategic decision-making interventions by the higher command levels. I have called this ‘battlegroup level’, as it encompasses formations variously called ‘kampfgruppen’, ‘combat commands’ or ‘battlegroups’, varying in size from a few companies up to whole divisions, and usually containing troops with a combination of different weapons systems.

I argue that designing wargames to model with reasonable accuracy the principal elements that impact decision-making with respect to combat at this battlegroup level is very challenging. It is perhaps more challenging than at higher, operational and strategic, command levels or lower intrinsically tactical command levels. Why this is so, requires some explanation, and may help to provide an insight into World War 2 combat and the modelling of it in this context. My approach is primarily using board wargames and miniatures wargames, rather than computer-based models. However, some of the general insights should also apply to computer-based models.

More to follow…
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Wed Jan 3, 2018 2:30 pm
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Finished game: Snowdonia Expansion - The Siege of Petersburg / The Channel Tunnel 1881

Alan Paull
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Here's a few pictures of our new stuff for Essen Spiel 2017:

Snowdonia Expansion - The Siege of Petersburg / The Channel Tunnel 1881



The Generals:


The Cousins' War: Events Mini-expansion
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Sat Oct 21, 2017 12:12 pm
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Dolphin Adventures: new prototype

Alan Paull
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With Gary Hampson and Charlie Paull, new prototype for our Dolphin Adventures game. Now stream-lined & spruced up. Best version yet!

Pic showing setup. Fish will be smaller and blue. Tokens smaller too. Shoals will be a cluster of fish.

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Fri Jul 14, 2017 3:42 pm
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Politics By Other Means: new card designs

Alan Paull
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Conference of Wargamers is coming up next weekend. I'm planning to run a session with Politics By Other Means, my micro-game based loosely on Clausewitz' On War.

I played it at the last CoW, but now it's had a face-lift. New iconisation of the cards will, I hope, make the play a bit slicker. It will at least require less reading, which is a good thing.

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Sun Jul 2, 2017 8:30 pm
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The Cousins' War: arrival

Alan Paull
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We have some copies!



Available from Surprised Stare Games stand (T9) at UK Games Expo in just over a week's time.
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Wed May 24, 2017 11:58 am
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