Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wargames rules and realism, part one command and control

One thing that often tends to crop up in debates about wargames rules is how historically accurate they are, with often more 'rules dense' systems being claimed as more accurate than other systems simply because of the volume of rules included. One problem with many sets is a lack of clarity about the actual part of warfare or level of command that they are simulating. This leads to the games lasting maybe a dozen turns which according to the scales in the rules would actually be less than three hours for the action. Another factor will be excessive concentration on details which may not be relevant to the level of command being represented as an army level game should not be trying to include a detailed simulation of combat at platoon or lower levels.

An example of a popular game system where I feel one key element of simulation is omitted despite there being an abundance of 'chrome' in other areas is Advanced Squad Leader.My main objection is the telepathic communication between groups that may not be in Line of Sight of each other and the ability of the player to have pretty much total control of their good order units (it is true that broken units will only rout to safety if possible). The advocates of ASL would maintain that it is a highly realistic system because of such factors as ammunition depletion numbers for ordnance, multiple versions of support weapons such as bazookas and panzerfausts for different years and the different unit and national characteristics for squads. That said I have all three of the Starter Kits for ASL and will happily play using those, though I feel the whole game system is too much for me.

Another problem for ASL has been the fact that it is used in competitive gaming where it is important to make rules unambiguous in meaning requiring a more detailed and legalistic style of writing that unfortunately makes it harder to learn the system.

This problem of rules becoming less clear and more legalistic in their content has been apparent with the Wargames Research Group ancient rules, which due to their early success and adoption for competition tended to a more legalistic drafting in the familiar 'Barkerese'. Ironically more complex detailed drafting continues to create or leave gaps that can be exploited by the dreaded rules lawyers. The best option is probably to have umpired games, but unfortunately it is hard to find many people eager to give their limited gaming time up for running games for other players.

Probably the two biggest problems that reduce the realism of wargames are the lack of the 'fog of war' where all troops are visible all the time and telepathic command where units are able to receive and obey perfectly orders and changed orders from a general that is physically distant from them. Both of these are easily addressed in the traditional umpired Kriegspiel where players give their orders to the umpire who then records the movement onto the map and only reveals the presence of opposing forces at appropriate times.

The 'fog of war' is something that can be represented by use of blinds which represent bodies of troops, but do not actually show what is present to the opposing player. The actual units will be revealed when the opposing player is able to spot them. It is not a perfect system, but this does at least create an element of uncertainty that is workable in a game without an umpire or referee and using dummy blinds increases the level of uncertainty.

Limiting command and control can be achieved in a wide range of methods from written orders which will be followed until a messenger figure is able to move from the general figure, to limited numbers of moves based on a die roll (e.g. DBA) or drawing cards from a deck (most Too Fat Lardies rules). I think that will be worth discussing in a separate post as this is quite a lengthy topic in how they can affect the play of a game and I would like to include quite a large number of games including Crossfire and Song of Blades and Heroes.

As an example of a ruleset that tends to include the elements of limited visibility and command limitations that I desire I'd use Troops, Weapons and Tactics from Too Fat Lardies. In these rules a card driven system is used to control which units can move or act within a turn, though at turn end all units are able to fire if they have not already used all the dice allocated to them. In TW&T all units will normally start the turn represented by blinds, which are standard shaped cards with each side having a number of these depending on the size of the forces involved plus a number of dummy blinds. Leaders are important in being able to motivate units to take additional actions or to un pin units. I'm going to make a more detailed comment about these in the next post on this topic to avoid this turning into a vast essay.

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