Saturday 7 February 2015

Models, Articulations and Wargames

I have written rather a lot over the years of the blog about models and modelling. In short, we need models in our rules to wargame at all. We hope that, somehow, the outcomes of these models might be similar to the outcomes of the real life situations they purport to model, and hence that our wargame might, in some way, bear some resemblance to the original.

The danger of using models in wargaming is that our thinking about historical battles or other originals can become constrained by the models themselves. That is, we start to think about the battles of the original that we attempt to wargame using the model. The model becomes the battle and its interpretation is through the model.

Of course, this is a fairly inevitable way of thinking. We have something which, we hope, functions as a reasonable model for what we are trying to recreate. Even if the wargame has no specific historical precedent, we can still try to recreate the flavour of the period. The models in the rules must try to achieve this. We cannot separate the wargame, the rules and the models out. They are all one ‘thing’, even though they are conceptually separate.

We can turn this way of thinking around, however, and I suspect that many of us actually do so. A quick scan around the various wargaming blogs suggests that many bloggers like to report on their wargames, and many blog readers like to read such reports. I suppose that we like to wargame vicariously as well as in ‘real’ life. The thing is about a wargame battle report is that we use the models in reverse. Instead of attempting to model the ‘real’ world using a wargame, we report on the real world (at least, on the wargame as embedded in the real world) and use the models and rules as a mode for articulation of the wargame.

The upshot of this is, that if you read some of these ‘after action reports’ they tend to explain what happened in terms of the rules, that is, the models used to describe the real world. Thus, for example, the rules say ‘Russian infantry are shaken by French cavalry if within 300 yards if not in square’. This is an attempt to model a historical situation (I presume; I think the rules in question were WRG 1680 – 1850, or whatever they are). The after action report might read ‘the Russian infantry were shaken by the approach of French cavalry’, which is an articulation based on the model.

The articulation of the wargame is thus controlled by the models we use in the rules, and hence our understanding of the wargame is moderated by those same rules. The rules then are intended to work ‘forwards’ in that we hope that they reflect as historical period, a flavour or the action, and ‘backwards’ in that they allow us to speak about the waqrgame in terms of understanding what happened and why in the wargame.

Without the models, of course, there would be no wargame at all. But, additionally, there would be no means of describing the wargame either. Our descriptions of our wargames are constrained by the models we use to construct the wargames, the dynamics of the actual game, and so on. But we can only understand the game by establishing which particular model or set of models was in use at a given (perhaps critical) point in the game.

For example, we have some cavalry charging infantry in square. The model which underlies this interaction will probably indicate that the square, unless formed of really shaky troops, will probably stand and the cavalry flow around it. The model, of course, can be plugged back into the historical situations from which is arises. We can produce (or someone can, hopefully the rule writers, at least) historical evidence for the model and descriptions of the course of events when cavalry charge infantry in square. The rules can thus be justified ‘forwards’.

We can also describe the path through the rules to obtain the result. We can describe the morale checks, combat rolls and whatever else is required to obtain the outcome from the model or models of the situation. This is the interaction of the models in the rules and the concrete situation on the table. The pathway proceeds, more or less, automatically to obtain the given outcome. This is what we might call the rule mechanics, but it is simply the interaction of rule models.

Finally, we reach an interpretation. The square has broken. But the work of the models and pathway has not finished. We need to know (or want to know) why the square broke. After all, our models did plug back into reality and most squares, most of the time, did not break, at least, not when simply charged by cavalry.

This is where we need to models to enable us to be articulate about the events modelled. We can say something like ‘the square broke because he rolled a six and I rolled a one’. This might be a mechanical explanation of what happened. However, we can, and most of us would, go further. I might say ‘I rolled a one on the morale roll and my square ran away’. This is then interpreted as ‘the square had poor morale or was formed of poor quality troops’ or something of the kind. We are thus starting to make interpretations of the events in terms of the reality presented by the models but in the context of the rules, the period and the reports from which the models arise.

Of course, we cannot interpret the real world along these lines. Squares were not broken because Napoleon threw a one. We cannot easily get from our wargame outcomes back to the real world. A model, as a model, only captures some of the behaviour, the inputs and outputs of a given situation. We do make a mistake if we try to interpret a real world battle entirely in terms of our wargame models and rules.

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