Wargame Thoughts and Commentary

Combat In Wargames

Repique and Piquet have both stressed different methods of treating time in the play of a miniature wargame-using cards to make the flow of time unpredictable, and, in Repique, adding variability in the extent of movement within any move time frame as well. These mechanics bring back suspense, and the need for the gamer to deal with some level of risk in sending troops forward into battle. They nicely mimic some of the angst of command in battle, and require some level of courage in decision making by lowering the unrealistic levels of “Knowns” in many wargames of EXACTLY when, and how far, a unit may may move.

But movement is only part of the factors of battle that a wargame must address, there is also combat. Most wargames fail miserably in this area as well, and for much the same reason, they simply make too much known to the gamer, make the decisions of battle too controllable, and allow gamers to make decisions where the outcome is depressingly predictable. The worst extreme of this was that staple of boardgames often brought over to the miniature wargame the classic CRT with the 3-1 arbiter of near sure success-allowing gamers to control the factors of a combat down to the last combat factor. In how many board games have the counters been carefully nudged to get that “Sure” victory? Or who has not seen some miniature wargames where the combatants use pocket calculators to get down to the last digit of the factors at play, where command becomes a skill not unlike being an accountant, not a general.

This “Comptroller Accountant” attitude in many wargamers robs their games of not only accurate perceptions of history, but most of its fun and gameplay enjoyment. It is a curse on the hobby far greater than the “rules Lawyers,” though there is possibly much overlap in those two groups!

Instead of counting hits in terms of Prussian musketry tables on a drill ground against a bed-sheet, we MUST become more interested in the behavior effects combat has on units and what they do in combat situations. It really doesn’t matter on a bullet by bullet basis-it is the aggregated effect and the response of the target unit. Does it continue advancing? Does it Hold its ground? Does it retreat or rout? Does it counter charge, or respond with a surprising counter-volley?

These results may be modeled to take into account various advantages of one side over another, their inherent qualities and strengths may be compared, but we do not need to model the particularities of combat on a level below the unit-just the result on the unit’s battlefield behavior. This allows many innovative and fun mechanics once we are freed from slavishly enumerating the steps of arms drill, the bullet by bullet accounting of spurious musketry accuracy tests on a drill field, and the concentration on process over results. It is the result that matters, and the sooner a game design gets rid of this anal-retentive fascination with misleading and uninformative details and moves on to treating only factors that are easily deduced from the historical record, and the resulting effects-results-consequences on the behavior of units, the sooner miniature wargames will be fun and more informative than many games are today. Get out of the trees, start looking back at the forest!

This change will bring more positive effects to the table-top as did the reframing of time through the use of sequence cards. Zouave will be a sure example of a design that that uses new approaches in both areas.