Saturday, 24 March 2018

What to Consider

In wargaming, as in life, there are limits to the factors we can actually consider. We might suppose (and some people argue) that there is no such thing as free will. Everything, they suggest, would be accountable for if we knew enough about the causes. Thus, by this reasoning, I am a wargamer for a certain set of reasons. If these were known in sufficient detail, then it would be obvious why I am a wargamer.

The problem with this is, of course, that the causes can never be known sufficiently. By analogy, the mechanistic universe also fails, not because of quantum mechanics (although that, of course, does not help) but because too much has to be known about the initial conditions to be able to predict the future. Given that we cannot know the location and momentum of every particle in the universe, we cannot predict the future.

You might well, and quite correctly, object that we can and do make predictions, and some of them are quite accurate. This is not done, however, by a mechanistic approach, but by modelling. And the trick in modelling is to model those bits which are important, approximate those bits which have a visible effect, and ignore the rest. Models are, of course, quite scientific. The creation of models, however, is more of an art form.

Switching back to wargaming, of course none of this should be a surprise to the regular reader of this blog. A rule set, I have suggested before, is a set of interacting models which pick out the bits of the real world battles that seem important. How accurately they do this (whatever the term ‘accurate’ might actually mean here) depends on how well we have done the job of picking out the important bits, and how well our models cohere both with each other, and also with our ideas of how battles are supposed to go.

I read on someone’s blog recently (sadly, I cannot recall which one) some comments about how playing a wargame and playing a wargame campaign differ. In a wargame, a stand-alone action, that is, we can commit the Guard Cavalry because they might swing the final conclusion. In a campaign game we might keep them in reserve to cover a retreat. Our perspective differs according to the context.

Thus a set of wargame rules really should, if it is to hold a mirror to reality, be asking the sorts of questions of a wargamer in a stand-alone action that reality would ask. But, usually, they do not. I imagine that this is because the wargame rule set is more focussed on the battle, rather than its context. Blasting away at the enemy with a grand battery is a lot more fun than ordering them to limber up and move out because the left flank has just collapsed.

The question then is what is important to a campaign game, and how are those things modelled. Here, of course, we can delve into the details of logistics, reinforcements, replacements, training and so on. There is a huge field out there of possible factors. The problem is, of course, that it all starts to get far too complex and collapse under the weight of administration and, at least relative, lack of interesting stuff going on.

So we need to try to pick things that are both relevant and interesting. Many a fascinating wargame has been fought around supply trains and relief of forts, I know. But I suspect that these have mostly come about through scenario choice rather than a campaign game, certainly one which tracks the supplies a fort has in stock. We might decree a situation, manufacture it, but relatively rarely, I suspect, does it arise organically.

I have, over the years, tried a number of different approaches. I have tried out the full Tony Bath Hyboria approach, and concluded that he must have enjoyed bureaucracy very much. I have tried linked games, where the next wargame depends on the previous one, and these have worked, at least insofar as I have managed to guess the broad parameters of the outcomes.

I have mentioned before other things I have tried. I once indulged in a campaign game set in the Japanese Samurai era invasion of Korea, where two Samurai armies fought their way inland, beating off Korean and then other armies until they ran out of men and were overwhelmed. I have had a ECW campaign where the two sides pursued each other up and down a valley, neither, because of losses, quite able to deal a knockout blow.

All of these campaigns modelled some aspects. Some included logistics – if your supply line was cut you had to stop. Some modelled attrition – how do you get reinforcements and recruits? Some modelled movement. Most of them had the previous battle affecting the next one, at least in numbers of troops deployed.

Currently, I have abandoned most of these models. The games are linked, true. But, thus far at least, the Spanish invaders have not suffered from attrition in their march inland. In my ancients campaign, (which has also stalled, by the way) army sizes tend to get diced for when a battle is indicated. I have also abandoned map moves. It is not that my armies zip around in some imaginary space, or turn up where they want to, but that my reading suggests that, in general, defending armies adopted defensive positions, and attacking armies tended to attack them, more or less in situ.

The key, then, is deciding what to include into a set of models for a campaign or a battle. We tend, as modern Western people infused with a worship of numbers and things we can control, to aim for the things we can enumerate – numbers of men, rounds of ammunition, and quantities of rations and so on. These are, of course important, but actually our ancestors rarely seem to have considered them too much. The Ancient Greeks, for example, simply made sure they stopped for the night near a market. Should I really need to model that?

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