One of the things I have often banged on about here is that rules which cover a long period of time cannot represent a given, much shorter period, very well. Thus, I would contend that DBM cannot really represent a Romans vs Gauls battle in anything but the most abstract, bland and sweeping manner. The fact that it can even try is a testament to the utility of the rules, that fact that it is a allowed to do si is a testament to wargamer’s ability to accept something that is not chocked out with period ‘flavour’.
I recently commented to someone that sweeping rule sets have a place in wargaming. Given the above, the response was ‘OK, well, what is it, exactly’, and I have been pondering my response ever since. Not that I think I have a particularly original or clever response, but I do think that it throws up something to be considered, even if I cannot manage much about it.
Anyway, for what it is worth: history has both continuity and discontinuity. For thousands of years, until roughly the widespread use of handguns, battles were decided by men with pointy sticks. I know that this can, of course, be highly nuanced, and that the type of pointy stick can also be relevant. Further, of course, the pointy stick brigade can and were more or less ably supported by assorted chariots, horsemen, skirmishers, archers, elephants and so on. Context is important, naturally, but the fact is that most men on a battlefield at a given time had some form of pointy stick with them.
The pointy stick bearer is, therefore, a sign of continuity across history. We could, in fact, argue that pointy stick holders are still with us, that they did not vanish after about 1700 in Western Europe, but were subsumed into the musketeer with a bayonet. The combination of ranged fire and the staying power of the pointy-stick (or assault value, if you like – it depends on how you view the pointy-stick) combined to make the infantryman more or less irresistible. If we accept this argument, we have to accept that the bearer of a pointy stick, in all its guises, signifies continuity across military history.
The corollary to this, in terms of wargame rules, is that if we can get our rules for the bearer of a pointy stick right, across all ages, then we can have a go at creating a truly universal set of rules, valid for all time from Ancient Sumerians to the Ardennes and beyond. Of course, we recognise some breaks in this continuity. Gunpowder made people change stuff, as did the advent of the machine gun and tank. However, we can just then divide history into broad sweeps, such as ‘Ancient’ (to 1500), ‘Horse and Musket’ (1500 – 1875) and ‘Modern’ (1875 – present). Instead of writing one universal set of rules, we need three sets.
Of course, the continuity implied in this view of history also suggests that we only, really, need one set of rules, with bolt on extras which add to the basic set, say, gunpowder weapons, and then another add on automatic weapons, and then some extra bits for air power. The idea here Is still that continuity is stronger than change.
A set of rules that covers a broad period, as described, is focussing on the continuities of history. The fact that a man from 1500 BC and one from 1500 AD is armed in more or less the same way, or at least is deployed and used tactically in more or less the same way, allows us to sweep history up into a few abstract categories. The man is the universal solider – PS(O) – and everything can be derived from him.
This does, of course, miss an awful lot of nuance. A Roman legionary was not the same as a French Medieval Knight. The world views of the two were poles apart. The details of their training, deployment, expectations and so on were simply not the same. At one level we can subsume them both into a ‘swordsman’ class, but at another we cannot. A subsuming set of rules is missing an awful lot of change as it focusses closely on the continuity of warfare.
We could ask whether this matters at all. A wargame, at the end of the day, is just a game. Historical accuracy is less relevant than having fun. If I like to play Vikings against samurai then that is my decision. I might even accept that it is ahistorical, a match up has no bearing on reality, but if the game is the thing, and I have fun, no-one is seriously going to challenge me, are they?
Of course, no-one is going to challenge anything in particular. It is a game, we do not have to grant history that much respect if we do not wish to. But the wargame is only then a bit of fluff, a romantic comedy at Cannes. There is no particular meaning to a Viking against Samurai match; it simply lives in a world of its own, cut off from any meaning.
If we wish to take things only a little more seriously, we have to have some regard to the changes that are implied in the less sweeping views of history. These are the things that make history to be history, after all. Prince Rupert’s cavalry did not behave like the Chasseurs a Cheval of the Napoleonic era. They did not behave like the Gendarmes of the previous century. They were, in short, themselves. Attempting to fit Rupert’s cavalry into a different category will simply result in bits being chopped off the original’s behaviour.
So, yes, there is a place for sweeping rules which emphasise the continuities across history. A solider in 1501 did not behave differently, particularly, from one in 1499, even though we might sweep the two into different eras, different rule sets. In which case a set of rules covering 1499 – 1501 would be more accurate, at least in some uses of the term ‘accurate’. But what they are will have to wait for another post.