Anatomy of a war-game

4 12 2010

War games are two things; games with a war theme and simulations of conflict.  Now, I could paint a pachinko machine grey and blue and call it a “war themed game”.  That’s easy, and, if it’s a good pachinko machine, and you like pachinko, it’s a good war themed game.  Simulating conflict is trickier (but manageable.)

One way to develop a simulation is to think of what a battle might have been like for an individual soldier and extrapolating this to units of several hundred.  An individual can walk, run, and crawl.  He can use a weapon and be harmed by one.  He can bravely advance or run away.  Units of men would have these same abilities and restrictions so a simulation, at a minimum, must handle Movement, Combat and Morale.  It’s a bit tempting to list these three items as the table of contents for your rules and to start writing.  The problem is that battles are not quite fought at the individual level. 

To simulate an army in combat, particularly the organized armies of the nineteenth century, you have to take into account the way they managed their affairs.  At each level of an army hierarchy, there was a commander and his staff that struggled to understand what was going on around them, to get soldiers to do what was wanted and to coordinate with other units to be sure their flanks were protected and that support would be available when needed.  The key word here is “struggled”.  Rarely did this go well for officers during the Civil War, even when they weren’t being fired at. 

  • Officers frequently imagined giant bodies of troops that didn’t exist or did not see formations that were very nearby.  Based on these misconceptions, orders would be given.
  • Orders where carried by adjutants on horseback, many of whom never arrived with their instructions either being lost of killed.
  • Units frequently did things without being told and did not do things despite being told to. 

You can imagine that a game that only bothered to provide rules for Movement, Combat and Morale would have players moving around units, always at full speed, stopping in the best possible cover and launching brilliantly coordinated attacks.  The winner would be the player that did the best in combat (invariably measured by rolling dice).  What we need to simulate warfare in this period are rules that will prohibit us from moving units when and where we want to. We should NOT know everything happening during the battle.  We need a way to simulate NOT doing things.  Collectively this is known as Command and Control and is core to a simulations of this era.

To this we must add a little Chrome.  Chrome are those rules added to a game to provide period flavor.  Civil War chrome would include some of the following:

Improvised cover – Soldiers of this period, when not moving , shooting or running for their lives, tended to chop down trees.

Officer Casualties – Officers died at an alarming and disproportionate rate during the civil.  Battles frequently turned on an officer’s misfortune.

Period weapons – Rifles rocked.  Shotguns rocked too if you got close enough.

Officer Quality – Some officers were clueless while others could see through walls.

Formations – Units fought in different formations based on the situation.  Sometimes men where formed to do as much damage as possible, move as quickly as possible or not get shot as much as possible.

Artillery – Cannons of the period came in basically two varieties; smoothbore and rifled.  Both had advantages and disadvantages.

…and much more.

Simulating conflict is tricky and requires some thought.  Having said that, it does me no good to create a good simulation that is a bad game. I have played many games that were tedious or frustrating but must have been very realistic.  They had to be… they sucked as games.  I do not consider simulation to be more important than gameplay.  In fact, I would far rather play a mediocre simulation that was fun than an accurate simulation that was not much of a game. 

Next time…  Painting pachinko grey and blue!




One response

21 01 2015

Did you ever write up your ACW rules in a cohesive manual? You have a lot of interesting concepts…

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