Sunday 3 December 2023

Wargame Command and Control

The welcome response to my recent blog on our new wargame rules has made me consider how best to represent command and control in wargames. As always this is a very personal response, based entirely on our wargame experience and the type of wargames which we enjoy.

When we first started Wargaming, way back in the late 1960s, we had no understanding about Napoleonic warfare, let along Napoleonic wargame rules. Our first set was “Charge, or How to Play Wargames”. This was a splendid hard cover, glossy page with lots of black and white photographs – what used to be called a “coffee table book”. The rules were pretty simple, and very easy to grasp. I remember that it was a very well written book, and very easy to follow.

Our next rules were Wargames Research Group 1750-1850. These were the very opposite, with lots of charts and very difficult to understand or use – or at least that was my impression. It was fortunate that we did not attempt our first wargame using these rules; it might very well have been our last wargame.

Then came Peter Guilder’s “In the Grand Manner”. Probably my favourite rules, certainly with the warm glow of distant memory. We used these rules for many years, including two visits to Peter’s Holiday Centre in Scarborough. These were the first rules which we adopted until they became what used to be known as “house rules”. That is to say based on the original, but adopted to overcome problems encountered due to repeated use.

Our next were Le Feu Sacre, which really caught my imagination. I really liked their approach, which seemed so fresh and new. Once more we adapted them over the years, and they became the basis of our own wargame rules used for our 1813 campaign.

Our recent rules were my first attempt to write rules completely from scratch, without any influence from a commercial set of rules. It took me a very long time to feel the need to do so, and I really wish I had done it much sooner. I had been very happy using commercial rules, but always became frustrated with what I considered failings. This was usually due to something feeling wrong in a game. I would change the rules to meet this challenge, but usually found that in doing so I created a whole set of new problems. This was, of course, because I did not fully understand the intentions of the writer of the rules.

So with a blank sheet I could create my own rules, and should be able to modify them as this time I did understand the intentions of the writer. I once read that there are almost as many Napoleonic rules as there are Napoleonic wargamers. If you could modifications I suspect this is probably correct.

First I wanted a fast flowing and fun wargame, but it had to feel like a Napoleonic wargame. This meant what used to be called “National Characteristics” However I also wanted a Spanish army to be capable of defeating a French army. Otherwise what is the point of having a Spanish army at all? However this would mean that aspects of the campaign, such as lines of supply and ambushes, would have to be taken into account.

I soon decided that the answer lay in a combination of combat and morale charts, adjusted by luck in the form of dice. For example infantry combat would be decided by the type of troops, their skirmish and their musket firing ability. This would be adjusted by any casualties and finally by rolling one six sided dice.

Morale would be decided by type of troop, supports, how close the commander is and casualties. Once more adjusted by the dice roll.

It sounds simple, and it is. But it also works really well. I keep charts to a minimum, and only adjust them after a lot of consideration and play experience. The most important aspect is the dice roll.

My objective in writing these rules was to allow the player to react as an army commander would in the Napoleonic Wars. There are three levels of command in my 1813 campaign. The theatre commander (for example Wellington) commands three armies each commanded by a commander in chief. Each army has three corps commanders. The first two are concerned with strategic planning and command, and this is confined to the 1813 campaign on the computer.

On the wargames table there are four commanders, the CinC and three corps commanders. The CinC has a tactical role on the table; he can take command of any brigade on the table, or created a reserve by taking brigades from each corps.

I believe that at this level each commander would be allocated a role or objective, and then left alone to achieve it. His main role would be to deploy his corps taking advantages of their various strength and weakness. Once deployed his role would be to direct and control each of his brigades in action. I don’t believe that any commander would rely on luck, though it might well influence the outcome of his battle plans.

So in my rules the dice roll is the element of luck. It should not win or lose the battle, but it should be capable to creating an unexpected crisis for the corps commander to react to. The player can prepare for bad luck by moving close to a threatened brigade, and making sure that they have steady supports. These will add to his dice total. Poor quality troops or casualties will detract from the total. By using one six sided dice the player can easily calculate the odds in favour of his planned move.

Total 1 – rout full move away from the enemy
Total 2 – retreat shaken full move away from the enemy
Total 3 – retreat disordered full move away from the enemy
Total 4 – remain in place, but is disordered
Total 5 – pass morale test
Total 6 – pass morale test

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