… just add water for an instant battle?
Well, perhaps not. What I do want to consider is the issue of the granularity of our wargames, but first I had better explain exactly what I mean by that.
Wargames, I have argued, are based on sets of models, which we then apply to a situation on the wargame table. The models are scale models, representative models, interaction models and computational models, covering aspects of our toy soldiers, terrain, rules, dice rolls and so on. These models interact (or perhaps conspire) to give us a wargame.
In science, models, usually mathematical ones, conceptual models or, possibly, computational models are used to give some insight into the ‘real’ world. Now models in the sciences are applied within a known set of errors. I can apply, for example, a magneto-hydrodynamic model of a tenuous plasma in a tokomak, but I would not expect it to give exactly the right answer. The reason for this is that, in order to make the model even slightly tractable and intelligible, I have had to make a number of approximations. My model calculation needs to be compared with real life and, if it does not fit, I need to adjust the approximations to make it so.
Normally, of course, reality is not adjusted to fit the model, although some attempts have been made.
In terms of wargaming, therefore, we need to consider the scale of battle to which our models, approximations as they are apply. Our battles, obviously, cover all levels of conflict from small skirmish games (or even role playing games) at a one to one figure representational scale, to major battle where a figure can represent perhaps scores, possibly hundreds of original soldier or pieces of equipment.
Within this, of course, lies one of the problems of wargame rules. I have mentioned before that certain behaviours emerge at different levels, and I do think this is true. Isaac Asimov wrote a number of short stories (the titles of which escape me) having fun with the idea that humans only panic in large groups, while the humanoid aliens stayed calm in large groups but panicked in isolation. Either way, the behaviour in larger groups was emergent; individuals did not behave in the same way.
Thus, I think that wargame rules can sometimes use models in inappropriate ways. For example, some skirmish rule sets I have seen suggest that we can simply apply larger group morale rules to individuals. Thus, if an individual figure in a skirmish game is, say, shot at, a morale check is made using the same sort of rules that would be used for a unit in a battle rule set. The question here is: is this appropriate?
It is an interesting fact that role playing games, which a close equivalent of skirmish wargames, so far as I know, do not have morale rules. The reliance is upon the player’s identification with their characters and hence, their desire to keep them from too much harm.
One of the most amusing things I ever saw as a role playing game umpire was a group of player characters running away, as fast as they could, from a machete armed non-player character, from whom, in fact, they needed to extract a vital piece of information. The game was Call of Cthulhu and, of course, in that game there were no healing spells. This meant that the players fled, rather than fought.
So, if role playing games need no morale rules, why do skirmish wargames? Why cannot a set of skirmish wargame rules rely upon the player’s instincts to look after their figures to reproduce small group dynamics?
I suspect that the answer to that question is that there is no particular reason. As wounds build up, both in skirmish and role playing games, the tension builds and players become more reluctant to take risks which might mean further problems for their characters. However, I do think that when the game is undertaken, a skirmish wargame has different connotations to a role playing game.
A set of wargame rules comes with an expectation of certain items in its model, one of which is a model of morale. Morale rules, are, of course, needed in most larger scale (by which I mean battle) wargames, and so a set of wargame rules is expected to have them.
But the point I am vaguely attempting to make here is that, at the individual level of granularity, morale rules may not be necessary. It is only at higher levels, bigger formations, that such behaviour as running away in a group emerges. At a skirmish level, such behaviour becomes ‘obvious’, in that a single figure is not (sensibly) going to stand its ground when all its friends are running away. We do not exactly need to roll dice to establish this, the player, as the figure’s character, is quite capable of making that decision for themselves, on the figure’s behalf. In some circumstances, running away is an entirely rational thing to do.
So the point is that not all items of a traditional set of models which make up a set of wargame rules are necessarily, applicable at all levels of granularity of the wargames which we might play. We need, perhaps, to be a bit more discerning, a little more analytic about which models apply at the level at which we are playing.
Which, I suppose brings me to a last point, which is that sometimes, it seems to me, wargame rules are not that good at deciding on a level and sticking to it. Some wargames are, in fact, skirmish games even though they claim to be big battle games. I dare say that the converse is true as well. This seems to me to indicate serious flaws in the design, even though the mix of models might result in an acceptable, in terms of fun, game.
But, perhaps, I am too much of a purist for my own good.