Saturday 26 November 2011

Orders and Actions

There has been a little discussion over my ‘Chains of Command’ post from a few weeks ago, and also a question about orders in the Polemos: SPQR system, so I thought I’d try to expand on these points.

Essentially, the question boils down to the effect of generals on battles. I argued in the original post that the New Model Army generals at the battle of Naseby took, between them, less than half a dozen decisions during the whole action.

For those of you not familiar with Polemos: SPQR, the command system distinguishes between general orders, such as ‘advance’ and unit orders such as ‘open fire because the enemy are in range’. The general orders require resources from the commander of the army to start, while the unit orders are ‘free’, in the sense that the unit commander issues them.

Someone raised the question of how much a unit with ‘advance’ orders has to advance. There is no minimum in the rules, and I did not expect there to have to be one. But, my correspondent pointed out, there is nothing to exclude ‘cheesy’ moves such as advancing by one millimetre. Presumably this sort of thing is used so the unit can ‘wait’ for a suitable opportunity and then pounce of a convenient enemy flank or something of the case.

Now, I proposed previously that it was just as well that rules give wargamers command at various levels, as general and also as assorted unit commanders. The command and control system within a wargame is thus to prevent wargamers as generals having too much power and influence directly over their units, while at the same time permitting wargamers as unit commanders some flexibility and input, if only to keep interest in the game between the big decisions.

The upshot of this, however, is that the determination of an individual unit’s moves is still undertaken by the army commander, as these people are the same wargamer.

My initial reaction when this issue was pointed out was along the lines of ‘well, if people insist on playing like that, don’t play with them’. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, however.

The historical issue is a live one, though. Units did lag; commanders did drag their feet. This was not usually to gain some tactical advantage (although it did happen; think of Nelson) but through cowardice, political intrigue, incompetence and so on.

In a historical scenario, the offending commander would probably be relieved of his command on the spot and, in some cases, executed either on the field or shortly afterwards. Some, of course, may well commit suicide first; this was the honourable way out for Roman commanders accused of cowardice, such as the commander of the Second legion in Britain in the aftermath of Boudicca’s revolt, Poenius Posthumus. This, the honour school of warfare, is not covered by the normal run of wargame rules.

There is another issue here, as indicated in a comment by Timeshadows. There is a reception period for the orders from high command, before the unit commander can react, and then, indeed another one before the unit acts. It was suggested that there should be a dice for reception, interpretation and implementation of the orders. Our wargame units react almost immediately to the reception of new orders; it was not so historically.

So, how on earth can we try to get out of this maze? We need to allow some unit commander flexibility without permitting the misuse of this for cheesy gamesmanship. Furthermore, we need to build in some delay due to the reception and interpretation of orders, and also some mechanism to account for the fact that orders could be lost, or misinterpreted. And, on top of that, the system we adopt needs to be fool proof, simple and transparent.

Various systems have been adopted that I have seen. One is Piquet, where the movement of units and resolution of combats is determined by the use of a card deck. This seems to work OK, but the construction of the card deck simply shifts the problem elsewhere, if you ask me, aside from the fact that all this special production of components pushes the price of the rules up to that of a decent meal out for two.

Another system is the use of courier cards, which is suggested at least in Featherstone’s ‘Solo Wargames’. This does allow for the orders to be delayed or go missing, but as Don himself admits, it seems a little unlikely that the courier will be waylaid by bandits in the rear areas of a major army. The system also does not allow for misinterpretations, although something could be done, I’m sure, with the option of the courier arriving early and the unit moving too soon, but the wargamer would probably prevent that from happening.

The only realistic and feasible system I can think of is a combination of a mild set of courier cards with some sort of unit commander personalisation, which yields a probability of him understanding the orders and carrying them out. This requires a degree of pre-game preparation, in deciding on the characterisation of each of the commanders and recording them all, and then making the rolls during the game. This is probably too much effort for a straightforward “pick up” game, but may well be worthwhile for a campaign or series of connected wargames.

So, what do you do if you play against someone who issues ‘advance’ orders but hardly advances at all? Firstly, as I said, you can threaten not to play against them again. Secondly, you can remove his officer figures for disobeying orders. Thirdly, people who engage in this level of detail often get engrossed in one small part of the overall picture and lose anyway, so perhaps it simply isn’t worth worrying about.

Finally, you could incorporate a personalisation system into your officer characteristics and roll for reception of orders and implementation. That would require us, as wargamers, to have a more hands off approach to our units, and I’m not sure how happy most of us would be with that.

Saturday 19 November 2011

Wargaming as Boxing

In boxing, two adult humans enter a ring where they know that someone will be waiting who will attempt to do them harm. While there are some rules, even a referee, to ensure that the harm attempted to be delivered is limited, nevertheless the boxers, by climbing into the ring, have given their informed consent to the possibility of physical harm, even brain damage or death.

Boxing is an occasionally fairly controversial subject, both in terms of the spectacle, the violence and the possibility of physical harm. However, the usual defence of boxing is that the participants have consented to the rules and to the possibility of harm befalling them. In a sense, then, there is a mutual, implied agreement or contract between the boxers to engage in the activity, accepting the possibility of harm.

It is this aspect which makes boxing a possibly useful analogy for wargaming, rather than strict parallels between the spectacle and the violence. In wargaming, the violence is abstracted away and implied (this might be an issue for wargaming, but that is not the focus here), and the spectacle may or may not be an issue, but the contractual aspect could be a useful one.

In a wargame, two players agree on a set of rules, models, and so on, that they will use. As in boxing, there are two defined areas. One is the ring, or table top, the other is the rest of the world. The rules are different in each of them. In a sense, then, wargamers in agreeing to the parameters of a game, agree to the suspension of real world rules on the table, for one in which violence, even abstracted, is determinant of outcomes.

This can be used for a contractarian defence of wargaming. As an ethical theory, contractarianism has a venerable history, starting with Rousseau and Hume and continuing today is modern theories of justice such as those of John Rawls. However, contractarianism is not straightforward.

The idea that the boxers, or wargamers, enter into a contract is, mostly, an implied one. When this is used at a social or political level, as in a ‘social contract’, of course, a counterargument can be made that no-one has any choice about signing up to it or not. You are party to the social contract whether you like it or not. In the case of a boxing match or wargame this is not the case, clearly. You can choose whether to fight or play, or not.

This is not enough, however. A boxer may feel, against his free choice, that he has to fight. Perhaps he feels he needs to fight for his honour, or for the money, or because of obligations to his trainers or agents or other actors. Thus, it could be argued that the boxer has less of a free choice than the implied contract suggests.

This could also apply to wargaming. Suppose you arrive at your game with your Hittite army and meet your opponent. He is dressed as an Assyrian king and, as the armies are unpacked he shows you that he has many bases depicting Hittites being tortured, executing and lying on the ground, dismembered. “Casualty bases for you”, he says.

Now, clearly, your opponent has gone to a lot of effort for the game, but do you still wish to play it? Indeed, are you under a contractual obligation to play it? You might feel offended by your opponent’s attitude, uneasy at their approach, but is that sufficient to breach the implied contract to play a wargame? If you do feel that it is, of course, there is no wargame to play.

Now, suppose the scenario were replaced by one where your opponent was the US Cavalry, and you were an AmerIndian tribe. The casualty bases are now depicting women and children, as well as warriors. How would you fell then? Has the implied contract been broken? If so, why?

The important point is, I think, that while normal rules are suspended in the boxing ring, not all the rules are, and some are replaced by other, similar, rules relating to boxing specifically. Outside the ring, gouging people’s eyes and biting them is against the rules of society; in the ring, there are specific rules against this behaviour, while punching is forbidden outside, but positively encouraged inside the ring.

Thus, while you might have entered into a specific, implied contract with your opponent, not all the rules of the outside (off table) world are suspended. There is some sort of rule of acceptable behaviour. The depiction of prisoners being tortured, non-combatants being murdered, and so on, makes us uneasy, no matter how accurate the historical representation might be. Somehow, we do not want to know that the US Cavalry killed civilians, or the Assyrians tortured, enslaved and executed prisoners.

The problem, it seems to me, revolves around the non-explicit nature of the contract. The rules of boxing are fairly clear and penalties are imposed for breaking them. In wargaming, the rules for conducting the game are clear, what can be fuzzy is the overlap between these rules and those of normal ‘polite society’, that is the rest of the world and the combat being depicted.

We could argue, again with boxing, that ‘what happens on the table stays on the table’. Thus we still get our battle with the Assyrians, accepting the casualty bases as weird, but arguing that the game itself is more important.

But then what if your opponent, instead of giving you a casualty base each time you lose one, removes the base and smashes it with a hammer, while replacing it with one of his casualty bases. To be fair, let him to the same with his bases.

Somewhere between the unpleasant casualty bases and the smashing of losing bases a line has, I think, been crossed. Unfortunately, due to the implied contract to play a game, it is a bit difficult to say exactly where that line is. Maybe it simply depends on the participants.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Polemos: SPQR Q & A Part II

Some more Polemos: SPQR questions and answers this time. Normal service will be resumed next week, but I’m trying to keep all the Polemos stuff together. Hopefully, the rest of the rules are so well written that there won’t be any more questions!

Q1 I'm having difficulty finding the suggested small/medium/large sizes for each army. The closest I've found is for the two scenarios. Can someone please point me to where these are?

A1 I'm not sure they are there; they do refer to the scenarios. The original had a lot more very short scenarios with S/M/L armies, but they didn't make it to the final edition.

Q2 Just got my copy of SPQR, and am also just getting into 6mm historicals. I would like to use my 6mm figs for 25mm based DBA as well, but am curious how the variant base depth would impact the game.

A2 So long as the bases are all similar and you work on a 2:1 aspect ratio, there should not be a problem, I think. Sabot bases or a measuring stick should sort out any problems.

Q3 I had two forces facing off against each other, each of three bases of cavalry. There was an overlap on each sides right flank. The Gauls had the tempo and were in charge range of the Roman allied cav. Both Gallic cavalry bases got a 'charge home result', but what does the 'overlap cavalry base do? Does it do its own RC charge die roll even though it will only contact the corner of the Roman cavalry?

A3 It may not be terribly clear in the rules (it was supposed to be) but charges are resolved per group if the bases are in a group. So all would move into contact, but only on the result of one of your dice rolls.

Q3.1 So if the group charging gets a 3+ result all of the target bases get the same result? Eg 4 frontage base group of tribal infantry charge a 6 frontage base group of legionaries. Dice are rolled with a 4 result in favour of the tribal infantry charging, does that mean that all 6 bases of legionaries get a Target shaken result?

A3.1 Yes.

Q4 The Move Sequence shows 8. Make compulsory moves (both players). What does this mean? It states later in the rules that routers move in their next movement turn?

A4 It is a sweep up to make sure that everything has been done at the end of the turn - the recoil before a rout, recoils, halts and so on.

Q5 Infantry that fight 2 or more bases deep get a +1 support bonus (up to+3) for each base behind the front base, Can't see the same for cavalry is this an omission, is there a reason behind this or has this been factored in to the charge?

A5 So far as I know, cavalry didn't fight in depth, so they wouldn't get a bonus from doing so. I imagine that cavalry in depth could quite easily get disordered. If anyone has any evidence that I'm wrong, do let me know.

Q6 Why -1 to the firing side per additional unit firing and not to the target (page 27 Ranged attack table '-1 "Each extra base shooting at same target" ')?

A6 This is a bit ambiguous, but the intention is that -1 is applied to the target for each base over the first shooting at it.

Q7 In the example on page 36 (Brigantians v Romans) I notice that there is a -1 modifier for unformed in the first round of combat. This is at odds with the modifier list on p 31 and the reference sheet at the back of the book where Unshaken unformed in first round of combat get +1. In each of the combats on p 36 the -1 modifier is applied.

A7 The rules are right; B1 should get a score of 10, making the difference 4 and thus the recoil shaken result.

Q 7.1 Also the second combat on p 36 (B2 v R2) has a final result being a difference of 1. The outcome in the example is that "Neither side has gained an advantage and both bases must continue in combat fir the next phase", while the table on p32 shows that a difference of 1-2 would be a recoil.

A7.1 Actually, B2 should be on 10 again, so R2 recoils.

Q8 On p32 (risk to Generals and Officers) it states that "...close combat produces a 0-1 result (a draw)..." yet in the results table you have 0 = no effect (a draw?) with 1-2 a recoil

A8 The idea is that generals are at most risk when close combat bogs down – they are quick enough to get away if things go pear shaped and bright enough not to go charging off in pursuit and get isolated (not strictly true, of course, but near enough).

So I'd leave that as a 0-1 result and delete the bracketed phrase.

Saturday 5 November 2011

Virtue Wargaming

Some of you are probably aware by now that I do some worrying about the ethics of wargaming. I’ve written a bit about utilitarianism and wargames, and somewhere in the system I’ve got a somewhat incoherent discussion about contractarian considerations.

In this piece, however, I’m going to consider an aspect of virtue ethics. This came about in a serendipitous way, while reading a book called ‘Working Virtue’ edited by P. L. Walker and P.J. Ivanhoe, which I got cheap a while ago. Anyway, within that is an essay by Nancy Sherman called ‘Virtue and a warrior’s anger’, which got me thinking a bit.

Now, Sherman argues that, often, soldiers in battle are, or get, angry. They are angry at seeing their comrades killed; angry at the political machinations which have meant that they have had to leave their homes and families to go into battle and, in some cases (e.g. peacekeeping) angry that they cannot intervene at some events. So there is a fair bit of anger flying around on the battlefield.

The Stoics argued that it was virtuous to abstain from anger. Their ideal sage was not angry; nothing should be able to anger him (they didn’t, I think, do ‘hers’). Anger inhibits reason, and the stoics prized reason above everything else. They also argued that if only external things anger us, and external things are only passing phenomena which will fade away, we shouldn’t let them upset us. There is quite a lot about that in Marcus Aurelius, by the way.

So, anger gets a thumbs down from the stoics. Indeed, Seneca argues that the horrors of war, both just and unjust conflict, are the work of unconstrained anger. Anger makes us irrational, and, while in an irrational state we can do things which, when returned to rationality, we regret or cannot believe we have done. These, then, are the states where real life atrocities occur.

Now, our toy soldiers are the perfect stoic warriors. They never get angry or carry out atrocities. They cannot behave in an irrational or dangerous manner. Thus, according to the stoics, they are, in some sense, the sages of the warrior world.

Further than this, our rules, in general, do not allow for our models to carry out atrocities. Most atrocities, after all, occur after the battle or off the battlefield. Many of the horrific things which have occurred in our world, such as the massacres on the Eastern Front in World War II, or those in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars have been carried out by rear echelon troops. That is not to say that front line troops have not carried out atrocities, but usually, in battle at least, they have other things to worry about.

Moving on a little further, then, atrocities and the situations which give rise to them are not modelled by our wargame rules. It is true that occasionally you might get rule sets with ‘unconditional advance’, but in general they are towards enemy troops or baggage trains which are deemed to be legitimate targets. Civilians are not involved unless in scenario specific terms.

Another factor to be considered is that our model soldiers are the perfect, chivalric, knights. They do not, as I’ve said, get angry, nor do they go looting or any other of the awful things that can happen in warfare. There are no violations of the codes of chivalry in our games; we do not wish to model them, and so they are put to one side.

Furthermore, there are no violations of the Western just war tradition in wargames. If we lay aside the Ius ad bellum criteria (requiring a just cause; it is a bit late for that when the armies are on the table), we can see that the Ius in bello (just means) criteria are adhered to. Our wargames have no hatred, greed or brutality in them. The games and actions in them are proportional to winning and avoid unnecessary suffering. The rules and conventions of war are followed and, as just discussed, violence to non-combatants is avoided.

So our wargames follow both the stoic ideal of non-anger and the Ius in bello criteria of the Western just war tradition. This is what we choose to model in our games. It does not have to be like that, of course. We could choose to model other aspects of conflict, such as the looting of the Royal baggage train after Naseby, including the murder of a load of ‘Irish’ (more probably Welsh speaking) women. But we choose not to.

Now, why do we choose to model only some aspects of warfare and not others? We could argue that what we do model are the important aspects of warfare: the battles themselves. It is here that the decisions are made and wars are won and lost. We could even suggest that, in history, most casualties from battles themselves have been during the pursuit, when one side has lost. Some rules (perhaps most, I’m not sure) stop at the point when the battle has clearly been lost and do not model the subsequent slaughter. I suppose that campaign games go down this route, and so a claim could be made that they are more realistic but less moral than standalone games.

However, the point is that from this stoic-virtue ethic point of view, what we model is perfectly moral and acceptable. The only slight problem remaining is the question of how we choose what we do model. That, perhaps, is where the true moral choices of wargaming are made, but that will have to wait for another time.