Saturday, 20 November 2010

A Second Stab at Rules

What happens if we change the basis on which we generate the rules? Following on from last week, where we took the hoplite to be the typical soldier against whom all others are measured, what happens if we change that?

Suppose we take the really typical soldier of the era, the Persian infantryman. A bloke with a bow, spear, maybe a wicker shield, and some sort of sword or long dagger. Again, we shall use Marathon as our yardstick.

Now, in our D6 based rule set, this chap would rate a 3. Opposing him, in the centre at Marathon, are 4 deep hoplites. Our Persian is elite, so gets a +1, and has an initial shield from the front rank, so gets another +1 on the first round of combat (assuming he doesn’t move into contact). So the Persian gets 3 + 1 + 1 = 5 on the first round.

The Greeks lost, so we’ll give them a 2, and then +2 for charging onto contact, giving them a 4 on the first round, and 2 on the second while the Persians get 4. The Greek centre should, on average, lose.

On the wings, the Persians rate 3, while the Greeks are 8 ranks deep, and so get a (say) +1 for that, and +2 for charging into contact. So in total they get 2+1+2 = 5. The Greeks should win on the flanks.

So, comparing this with last week’s numbers, in the centre we get from last week:

Greeks 3 –1 (for being thin) + 2 (for charging) = 4
Persians 2 + 1 (for being the best) + 1 for shields = 4

in the first round, and then

Greeks 3-1 = 2
Persians 2+1 = 3

in the second.

This week, we have

Greeks 2 +2 = 4
Persians 3 + 1 + 1 = 5

in the first round, and

Greeks 2
Persians 3 + 1 = 4

on the second.

What difference does this make?

Well, on the face of it, not much, but I’d be willing to lay a little money (if I were a betting person) that a statistical analysis of these numbers would suggest that the Persians have a bit of an easier time of it if they are the ‘average’ infantryman. That is, if the Persians are normative, they have a slight advantage, while if the Greeks are, they do.

On the wings the story is similar: The Greeks are 3 + 2 = 5 from last week, while the Persians are at 2. This week the Greeks are at 2 + 1 + 2 = 5, while the Persians are at 3. In other words, again, the Persians do slightly better (on average) if we take them to be normative.

In both schemes, the battle should be reproduced, more or less, on average. But the ease of victory, all other things being equal, the side which has been taken to be the norm does slightly better.

There doesn’t seem much to be done about this. As far as I can see, this is an inherent bias in the way the rules are set up. And I suspect that it isn’t just these rules, but pretty well any rule set. The designer, it seems to me, has to take some troop type as the basis type – English billman, Saxon huscarl, Union rifleman, whatever. But doing that, by matching others against this type seems to generate an implicit bias.

It is entirely possible that I’m wrong, here. Please do point it out to me if I am, but at the moment I can’t see it. Of course, there are many other factors apart from the raw numbers which come into play – the tactical situation, numbers of bases in contact, supports and so on, but it does seem to me that if the basis in inherently biased, the overall rules are going to be, however slightly and however much other factors might cover it up.


  1. On the specifics - isn't there a change between this week and last week in that last week you gave the hoplites +1 for being Greek and this week you took it away? That is last week Greek base '3' vs Persian base '2'; this week Greek base '3' vs Persian base '3'. Surely the sum for comparison between the two should be done on the basis of Greek base '4' vs Persian 'base' 3?

    Or to put it another way, should 'lost in the historical encounter' be counted in itself as a tactical factor?

    Hmm, reading back I'm not sure I've expressed myself very well, but off-hand I can't think of a better way of putting it.

    On the general point, I find this a fascinating idea. I've been speculating as to what you made your paradigm troops for the ECW set, which troop-type was Phil Barker's for DBA/DBM and which vehicle was Battlefront's paradigm for Flames of War.


  2. "Now, it is clear that, in hand-to-hand combat, the hoplites had the upper hand against the Persian infantry (bow, spear, kitchen sink etc – what Phil Sabin calls in Lost Battles “the elusive heavy infantry archer”)"

    That is, you have accepted this premise on week 1 and rejected it on week 2. I'm not sure therefore that changing the base troop type made the difference, rather it was rejecting the idea that Greek infantry in 8-ranks was straightforwardly better in hand-to-hand fighting than their Persian counterparts?

  3. Ah, yes, I knew there must be a flaw somewhere.

    It all comes down to how you read the evidence: the Persians broke the (presumably) 4 deep Greek centre, but lost in the wings.

    So the Persian centre troops get 2+2 vs 2+2 and hope to hold out to the second round and win 2+1 vs 2. Or they get 3+2 vs 2+2 and win a bit more easily.

    On the wings the Persians get 2 vs 3+2 and lose big, or in week 2's numbers 3 vs 3+2 and lose slightly less big.

    While I admit the flaw in my initial logic, I'm a bit concerned that either route is arguably correct, and could produce the historical outcome.

    The real problem is that it is unclear that the Greeks were, ipso facto better than the Persians - about the only solid data Herodotus supplies is that the fighting went on for a long time. That could mean anything, from heavily outnumbered Greeks to closely matched troops in close combat.

    In Lost Battles, Phil Sabin comments that the decisive factor is the number of Persian foot, which suggests the length of the battle was due to Persian numbers, not closely matched capabilities (which fits with what we know about the Persian foot), so I'm back to favouring the balance of week 1.


  4. Another question:

    '+2 for charging into contact'. With a modifier that size, why would any troops/wargamer not charge? Unless the troops lacked the courage/discipline to charge, in which case it is really a troop quality modifier rather than an 'impetus' modifier?


  5. Hm.

    I suppose I was simply thinking in conventional terms about charging into combat.

    The Greeks advanced rapidly at Marathon, and so are presumed to have charged into contact.


    Krentz argues they advanced rapidly to hit the Persian line before the cavalry advanced.

    Conventional wisdom suggests they advanced rapidly to avoid the arrow storm.

    Either way, they might have needed to dress their lines before impact, unless they fought in a looser formation than we think, much like Caesar's legions at Pharsalus.

    So maybe there should be no bonus for charging hoplites, but they should start from +4?

  6. Maybe give a +1 bonus to charging (so it always makes sense for the Greeks to get stuck in) but make the archery/shield+archery factor a random possibility (say 6 on a D6 per turn). The Persians optimal strategy is then to wait until the archery tells before charging?