Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Officers-Salute the Rank!


In writing my last blog entry on “The Battle of Mouzon,” and thinking on the way both the FOB game and the DF game were affected by the quality of the officers, I began to reflect on larger issues of game design where officer quality impacts our view of battles, and our wargame designs.

I’ve often felt that game designers and players seem to reflect in their choice of rules their attitudes on many things, including the role of officers. In many games, especially during the Horse and Musket period, the officers are a slight up modifier or a penalty for the units they command. Gamers are very willing to give great consideration to all sorts of minor differences of drill, exaggerated “national differences”, conjectured capabilities of various units, or very slight advances in technology, but officers? Not so much.

Part of this stems, I think from the very simple fact that most present day gamers have not served in the military, and of those who have, the great majority have been enlisted ranks, with the highest command level of sergeant. This accounts for the great popularity of skirmish and squad level games, and the limited role of officers in larger battle’s gameplay. It also explains a certain lack of understanding and appreciation of the officer and the intricacies of command both organizationally and in terms of leadership.

And yet, when we look at the history of battles, officers on all levels, but especially of divisional, corps, or commanding officer responsibility, and their capabilities, are usually the surest predictor of success or failure of a fighting force, not the vaunted fierceness of a few troops, or the dominance of a particular organizational or technological advantage.

Gaston Bodart wrote a book called “Losses of Life in Modern War” In which he analyzed the losses of French and Austrian officers in those two armies over a 300 year period, and found that the French lost more officers in the period 1805-1815 than the Austrian’s did from 1618-1913! He used this information to suggest that the success of French arms in the Napoleonic Wars may have had something to do with leading from the front!

I have slowly come to the conclusion that Officers are another class of units that are important, and often unique, to an army’s functioning and chances of victory. Most rules have very elaborate and defined roles for the infantry units, the cavalry units, artillery, and even the engineering and support units, but officers, are, at best, a plus or minus 1 or 2 and often denote units that can move or not if they are located nearby (in command, etc.).

In DF they are MUCH more than that. They are the source of very necessary command dice to be added to rolls for movement, combat, and even more for morale. They can often determine the successful reaching of an objective, success in combat, and the alacrity of a rally. They are, however, not unlimited in initial number, they can be used up in a turn, and the distance that they may be “transmitted” to a unit is very much determined by the quality of a commander.

There is much more to them than just the command dice, as flawed generals, or exceptional leaders are given distinctive differences in their battle behaviors, and additional ways they can affect units.

They are now “units” in the game, just as the combat arms are, but their offensive capabilities are expressed through the movement, performance, and morale of units-just as they were in actual battle.


If anything, in the first iteration of DF there were too many officers allowed on the tables provided. As we gamed over the years, we discovered the profound affect they have on battle in the DF rules. This has led to increasingly lower numbers of officers allowed. Our typical games in the WSS now have a ratio of about 1 officer per 6 units-plus a CinC. This is for armies of about 25-30 combat units. Certainly, even a very good army should not be at a ratio of less than 4-1including the CinC. In DFII one of the significant changes will be these ratios, which will probably be 5-1 for “the Best”, to 6-1 for average, to 7 or 8-1 for poorer armies (The Russians at Narva, The French in 1870, the Prussian 1806 army, etc.) This effectively halves the officer units from the initial DF rules.

I have also added a new method of profiling the officers. Rather than just rolling them up-which is still quite viable-I now write profiles on each officer stand that are based on history as to their overall capability and any flaws or advantages they may have. Each such profile is associated with a certain card in a suit (Hearts for French, Diamonds for allies-though sometimes other suits are used for Spanish, Bavarian, or Prussian leaders). Prior to the game the players pull cards from a deck of cards-this establishes their command structure (officers) for that game. They can then assign them to the various commands. Each officer profile has a priority number-the highest must be CinC. This insures that Marlborough, or Villars would have precedence in our WSS battles, for instance.


In any case, my officers-each mounted-sometimes with staff-on a single 2 1/2” circular stand are thought of as units to be used intelligently in planning the battle-just as we think of where certain units of cavalry and infantry are placed, and guns are sited; so we also consider which officers should be given certain tasks, given their personalities, and just where they should be located to best serve their command. Leading from the front is still rewarded.

There is the danger of an officer being lost. This is usually caused by a test which we now use; If any unit in an officers immediate command acquires a black die, he must roll a D6 for each such occurance- a 1 indicates immediate death, with newly rated or chosen officer appearing on the next RRR phase; A 2 roll indicates a wounding-he loses 1 command die for each wound suffered. If all his command dice are lost he is dead of his wounds.

In any case, these profiles allow the great historically-based personalities of a period to enter our games, and also makes each officer stand a thoughtfully used unit of battle, and not just an afterthought. It gives our officer corps a little more respect!

In the latest game we played, The “A Different Battle Along the Alva,” posted yesterday on this blog, we took the roles of the officers up even further! Instead of calculating the Red Dice for each army based on the assigned troop values prior to the game as a combined total of usually hundreds of dice, we, instead, rolled each commands and the CIC’s command dice prior to the first turn, and then again on each RRR card, thus generating their Resource Dice throughout the game based on officer dice rolls. This meant each player had far fewer dice at any given time, and the danger of overextending himself, or being too rash, and having his command’s dice bucket go empty was much more an issue.

The CIC also rolled at the same time as the sub-commanders, but his role was to apportion his dice to commanders as he saw a need. He had to do this on an RRR card. The method of distribution was made identical to the distribution of yellow command dice. He had to roll his command dice to transfer a designated bunch of dice. If he failed, the dice were lost, if he made the roll they were placed in the sub-commander’s bucket. This meant the CIC had to consider his position relative to other commanders, and a better commander had more latitude than a poor one.

If a sub-commander’s bucket went empty, his command’s units were considered disorder/out of command and thereby gave a one die advantage to any attacker. They also, obviously, had no Red dice to add to their rolls , but could add yellow and green dice as warranted. Any losses were as usual with possible black dice added to his problems. If, at any later point, red dice were acquired the units would lose their disorder without rally and be considered under command again. However, any black dice acquired and distance retreated remained.

Any commander with disordered/out of command troops could move them away from the enemy and toward his own shortest line of retreat from the field using green and yellow dice, and ADD any black dice to this roll. They COULD NOT move toward the enemy or initiate any form of combat, but only respond if attacked.

This system worked elegantly, I think, and all gamers seemed to like it. It cut set-up time to near zero, as no calculations of dice needed to be made, fewer dice are required overall, and game resolution was, if anything, shortened. It added great tension to the game, and made the “energy” to maneuver and fight contingent on command, not the units themselves. The units assumed a more proper role as the instruments of battle, not the motivator of it. It accented better command in a way few games presently do.

It is such a striking advance in game play that It has made me more committed than ever to do Die Fighting II soon. Very soon! There will be an announcement in a few days concerning this matter-that may prove VERY surprising!