Whose Go Is It Anyway?
One of the key design features that can be found in all of TooFatLardies rules is the card driven system that we use to introduce an element of uncertainty to our games. This is especially so when it is combined with a Turn End card; the Tea Break card in our first rules, IABSM, Tiffin in Sharp Practice and Snifter in Mud & Blood. There can be no doubting that this is an area that on first examination can divide gamers; some love it, some hate it. Manuel from Spain’s comments on this Blog were enlightening when he says, regarding IABSM:
First time I test it, I really hate it. What is that of no turns? Why I cannot move that troop in danger? Why the hell those MG open fire to the enemy?
And, let’s be honest, the first time many gamers try our rules the systems can come as something of a culture shock to those used to a more conventional alternate move, IGO-UGO games. Fortunately Manuel stuck with the game, as we can see from his subsequent comments:
But I realize that you were right. We, as gamers, used to be as god-like beings controlling everything on the tabletop, deciding who makes what, at what time and reacting to the opposite manoeuvers. Far from reality, indeed. The battlefield is a chaos, and what saves the day most of the times is planning, training and experience, luck is out of the question most of the times, it is just a factor, but not the most important one.
I can tell you that the more I play IABSM the more I like it.
I am glad that is true. Manuel has hit the nail on the head when he says that we gamers are used to assuming a God-like role, where we have far more information than historical commanders ever had, where we expect our orders to be obeyed instantly and entirely in-line with our intentions. Of course, the truth is that war is not really like that, whereas wargames can be.
To my mind the key question here is “What do we want from our games?”, and of course the answer here will be a very personal one. For some that ability to play games with miniature armies and have them respond instantly to their every whim is appealing, possibly the ultimate command trip, whilst others are looking for more of an historical experience. Whether we are seeking to simply play a game with toy soldiers, or looking to create a game that attempts to reflect some of the truths of warfare will, by its very nature, split the hobby, and no answer is inherrently “right” or “wrong”; wargaming has always been a broad church with room for many different strands of thought and types of game.
For me the purely “game” approach of the former leaves the thought that we may as well paint up our toy soldiers and use them as counters on the Monopoly board. “My Scythian Charioteers are building an Hotel here”, “My Waffen SS have just won a beauty competition, collect £10”, “Damn, my NVA need to pay their school fees!”. The alternative, more historically orientated, route is, I find, more appealing.
Of course by saying that I leave myself open to the nay-sayers who regularly like to remind us that wargaming will always be just a game. We are not being shot at; our best friend has not been killed next to us, our men are just toys. This is, of course, all true, however were we to accept their argument lock, stock and barrel then we fail to explain why military organisations around the world use wargames and military simulations to train their personnel?
The truth in fact lies between the two camps. Wargames can simulate some aspects of warfare, and fortunately for us gamers those aspects tend to be the ones that we are interested in. After a hard day at work there are probably few of us who want to get involved with a live fire exercise, we would rather unpack our model soldiers and become generals for the evening, and here our wargames can do that whilst being both fun to play but also historically plausible.
But how do we achieve that combination of fun and “realism”? Well, for us the starting point here is to replicate two key factors. Firstly to create a game where the wargamer as commander, of whatever rank he is representing, is obliged to make the same decisions as his historical counterpart. At the simplest level this is to say that a general should not be worrying about what each and every platoon is doing, at a more complex level it means that the information he has regarding his troops must replicate that which he would have in reality. What is more, he must also have the same doubts, concerns and worries that he would have, and this is potentially a far more complex issue, that of “friction”, which I believe requires specific modelling.
Battlefield friction is something that users of our rules will be familiar with already, but what is it? Probably the best person to ask is the man who coined the term, Carl von Clausewitz.
In Vom Kriege Clausewitz reflects thus:
Everything in war is simple, but the simplest things are difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.
Friction is the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper. The military machine – the army and everything related to it – is basically very simple and therefore seems easy to manage. But we should bear in mind that none of its components is of one piece: each part is composed of individuals, every one of whom retains his potential for friction. In theory it sounds reasonable enough: a battalion commander’s duty is to carry out his orders; discipline welds the battalion together, its commander must be a man of tested capacity, and so the great beam turns on its iron pivot with a minimum of friction. In fact, it is quite different, and every fault and exaggeration of the theory is instantly exposed in war.
This tremendous friction, which cannot as in mechanics be reduced to a few points, is everywhere in contact with chance, and brings about effects that cannot be measured, precisely because they are largely due to chance. One example is the weather. Fog can prevent an enemy from being seen in time, a gun from firing when it should, a report reaching a commanding officer. Rain can prevent a battalion from arriving, make another late by taking it not three but eight hours on the march, ruins a cavalry charge by bogging down horses in the mud.
We give these examples simply for illustration, to help the reader follow the argument. It would take volumes to cover all difficulties. We could exhaust the reader with examples if we truly attempted to deal with the whole range of minor troubles that must be faced in war.
An understanding of friction is a large part of that much-admired appreciation and understanding or warfare that a good general is supposed to possess. Indeed the best general is not the one who is most familiar with and takes to heart the idea of friction, indeed he is likely to be overly anxious, as can often be seen with experienced commanders. The good general must understand friction in order to overcome it whenever possible, and not expect to operationally achieve that which friction makes impossible.
So, there we have it. In essence, Clausewitz is saying that a commander should expect the unexpected, to never take for granted theoretical “facts”, such as march speeds, and, in order to be a successful commander, it is necessary to accept that nothing goes to plan, and then plan accordingly.
From a wargames perspective I believe that this friction needs to be present on the table-top. It is wrong for a commander to have any certainty that force X will arrive at point Y at Z o’clock. He may want it to do so, he may order it to do so, indeed it may well do so, but certainty must be removed if we are to truly place ourselves in the commander’s shoes.
The way that we replicate this friction is with the card driven system. In most of our games this is combined with the “Tea Break” card to remove that certainty of troops complying exactly to the commander’s wishes. No longer can gamer A know that his column, moving at 6” per turn, every turn, without variation, will get to the ridge before his opponent. Instead he may desire to achieve that goal, he may order his forces to do that, however in the back of his mind he is obliged to work with Helmuth von Moltke axiom in mind, “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy”. Instead he needs to factor into his plans alternatives, he needs to consider what he will do if his first plan is thwarted from the outset. In short he needs to think like a real commander.
I mentioned two key factors in achieving a game that models friction, and above we have examined how we achieve the backdrop of uncertainty against which the commander must perform. The next, and equally critical, step is to model in the commander’s ability to overcome the chaos of the battlefield. Without this key factor the game will simply represent pure chaos rather than warfare. We need to provide the mechanisms to allow the commander to fulfil Clausewitz’s criteria for a successful general; to accept the existence of friction and to work to overcome it. How he does this we will look at next week.