Sunday, 1 December 2013

Wargaming Uneven Battles

This week’s problem is how to tackle uneven battles in the PBEM campaign.

The role of the campaign is constantly changing; the latest was a change in the role of the players from corps commander to army commander.   As corps commanders most of the battles were one corps v one corps.   As army commander they have four corps, and naturally attempt to bring greater odds to bear before they will fight a battle.

With twelve players campaigning over six different campaign areas there are a lot more battles produced than previously.   In addition there is the new problem of uneven battles, where two corps attack one.

We wargamed two or three of these battles, and found that the wargame was predictable and pretty boring.   The player with the smaller side simply started to retreat before the attacker could pin them.

I tried making the weaker side hold their position, but this resulted in the destruction of the weaker side.   The mechanics of the wargame being that the greater number quickly cause more casualties, which increases the odds in favour of the attacker.

I then tried to avoid such battles, by allowing the smaller force to retreat.  This seemed a perfectly reasonable solution.   I feel that most corps commanders faced with such odds would do so, if it were possible.   It has always been possible in the campaign, because such battles tend to be by accident, not as the result of a clever strategic move which cut the retreat of the smaller side.

However this was unpopular with some of the players, particularly those with the larger force, who felt it was unfair to allow the weaker side to retreat.

I then went on the wargames forum to ask if anyone had found a solution to this problem.   Perhaps there is a rule set which allows uneven combat, and I could adopt it to my rules.   Or perhaps someone running a campaign had found a solution.   The answer appears to be no.    There does not seem to be an easy way to fight a wargame at odds of two or more to one.

So back to square one.

The campaign is designed to provide interesting battles for Jan and I to wargame.   I then post a full battle report, with photographs, so that each player can see why he won or lost the battle.   They are less keen on a fictional report on how the uneven battles were resolved.

I am not sure that there is an answer that will satisfy everyone.  But it is good that it has made me question the campaign rules and how it is fought.   Even if I fought each uneven battle as a wargame there would still be dissatisfaction because the weaker side would escape without any damage at all.   And there would be little point in fighting a series of wargames where one side is doomed to destruction right from the start.

So no easy answer.  But an interesting problem.


  1. This is where a shifting of 'scales' is important.

    For it is possible for 3000 men (say a brigade or damaged division, to slow down or even stop (for a day) up to 5 times their number.

    This happened a number of times in 1805, where Russian forces were detached at a hilltop, to 'dig in' and this would in turn cause the French to have to 'set piece' attack this dug in position. Winning the day, only to find that they managed to capture 4 guns and 2 colors, while 1500 Russians fled into the night and Kutuzov was another 12 miles further away across yet another river or line of hills ...

    The question here is one of 'rear guard' action or sacrifice. If you are able to account for 'strength points' or other accounting in the larger game of Corps sized battles, then you may be able to account for this sacrifice and permit the 'retreating' player to decide what/who/how much to risk in the rearguard.

  2. I realise that it could, and did, happen historically.

    The problem is how to fight it as a wargame.

    The mechanics are such that the smaller side quickly takes more casualties and the odds increase against them until they break and run.

    In our campaign the retreating side always makes a clear break anyway, so the sacrifice is to no avail.

  3. The sacrifice comes in the attrition of such a constant retreat, whittling away your army without every gaining anything for it.

    There must be some 'strength point penalty' for such actions on the part of the retreating force, such that they will (perhaps after 3-5 such forced retreats) have no more effective fighting force.

    Thus having to choose to early on fight at the long 1:2 odds (on ground suitable for defense) or face the prospect of a melting corps in successive retreats.

    The tabletop challenge in such smaller actions comes more in the two important rear-guard questions: 1) how long can they hold off the larger force moving on ... in columns that could hope to catch the force that the rear guard is protecting and; 2) how dearly does the rear guard make the enemy pay in blood for the advance.

    A well positioned 2 brigade defense force with some artillery and a brigade of cavalry could make it impossible for a Corps sized for to move at all, indeed with luck (by the artillery) or with really good defensive positioning (like a river ford or a dominant hilltop on a ridge) such a force could inflict 2x casualties and cause the full halt of the two corps that are attacking it.

    While the attrition battles are boring on the tabletop, they become critical in the campaign functioning, as these are the actions that wear down larger opponents that may have more mobility and striking power.

    Indeed it is always the way that a smaller force could ever hope to overcome a larger one.

  4. What you say makes a lot of sense.

    But I think it might be better to fight the rear guard actions in an abstract way?

    I have introduced a simple method which should have the same effect. I have a simple chart showing casualties to both forces. I then roll one D6. The higher the roll the more casualties to the rearguard.

    Unfortunately when I first used it I got a total of one. This shows equal casualties, 400 men, to both sides!

  5. The quality of the commander and nature of the ground must also come into force.

    As a river ford may be completely blocked by a determined brigade which on open ground will simply have to surrender.

    Likewise, light troops facing cavalry in broken or mountain terrain my be able to halt the horsemen completely until more foot troops come forward to clear the terrain.

    It all matters.

  6. abstractions of the rear guard actions could work, you might even still be able to include terrain issues

    Have you seen the SCRUD system?

  7. I had not seen SCRUD before.

    I was interested to see it was developed by Tom Mouat. We used to wargame together in the late 1980s. He was always very inventive and loved developing new games.

    It would not fit my present campaign system, but I must try to develop something similar to resolve battles which I don't want to wargame.

  8. One more post I recently discovered, that connects with the 2:1 odds of the uneven battles.


    link in clear (in case my html is not correct)

  9. Thanks for the link

    I did read the battle report, he seems to have changed his rules a lot just for that one battle. I think that would defeat the object, it seems like changing the goal posts after the game has started (in campaign terms).


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