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Battlefield Confusion

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Following on from yesterday's post I wanted to talk about ways in which boardgames have sought to replicate the effects of battlefield confusion. To an extent board games tend to aim for a different experience to "front line grunt", it's much more common to see games about being a general controlling the entire army. Still, having spoken to some of the generals of last weekend's battle they seemed far more surprised by their men than I've ever seen anyone be by their model soldiers.

One of the main obstacles to any sort of battlefield control was that individuals couldn't perceive the field as a whole, most didn't worry about how their actions affected anyone outside of their circle. A few games have had attempts at simulating this, generally through having troops make autonomous movements under certain situations. DBM is probably the most familiar to me. Impetuous units advance if they are not given any sort of order, while unreliable allies might refuse to move. It's far from the most sophisticated simulation, I've heard gamers at other tables summing large columns of factors to decide if their unit would refuse the order to charge or not, though I did not recognise the game.

I'm not sure how well a game in which units were highly autonomous would go. On the one hand it could be an interesting tactical consideration to try to organise how you hit the enemy because you know that once your guys are engaged you have no hopes of changing their orders until one side or the other runs. On the other hand there's always a danger of a game getting to a point that you're executing an algorithm for the games and do not get to make any interesting decisions. Computer games like the Total War series do a fairly excellent job of this because they're able to do all of the simulation automatically without causing long downtimes for the players. Perhaps a system in which units had a semi-structured system that was run by your opponent (e.g. This unit must attack an enemy if able but the opponent can choose which enemy, simulating panic and picking wrong targets or just bad intelligence). That would mean players are still engaged and making decisions, while still adding to that difficulty of battlefield control thing.

Another relevant phenomenon is the difficulty of implementing any plan that's complicated. One of the most successful bits of prep we did on Sunday was to make sure the priests and general knew that a cry of "Virtue!" means "All priests congregate on this point." The quick exorcisms did a lot to save our bacon and the instruction was simple enough that everyone could remember it and use it, in contrast to any discussion about the overall role of the army or formations that would be adopted which fell apart quickly.

Some games do an excellent job of simulating this. I can't remember which game it was as I only played it once (I think it might have been PoW or 6th), but there is a wargame that implements the difficulty of changing plans mid battle directly. Players write the routes that their armies will take down before the battle begins and their armies must follow these paths until the situation changes and they receive new orders.

I can imagine a system that goes further in implementing command and control issues in the field. Imagine a system whereby the general's tent was physically represented on the field and messengers were used to carry orders, with armies continuing along their pre-determined fixed paths until a messenger reached them to change their orders. There's rarely a delay between the general making a decision and the troops implementing it. The existance of one might change the sorts of decisions that a general would make.

The last thing I want to talk about is the impact of formation on small battles. Only large scale wargames seem to worry about the impact of this sort of thing, units representing a thousand men can be in a given formation, but if a game represents a skirmish between a few dozen it's not implemented. On Sunday we managed to get into a press where some individuals could not even draw their weapons, to my knowledge no skirmish game deals with this sort of thing.

Of the games that I've played Malifaux may come closest to dealing with this sort of problem. Each fighter has a zone of control which allows them free attacks on enemies that try to move away from them, which means that while no formal formation implementation exists there are definetely more advantages to careful positioning than in the average skirmish game.

Still, room to move is very important in skirmishes and it's rarely modelled. Often there's no more drawback to being surrounded than there is to having two enemies attacking in the same direction, but on the field there's a huge difference between these things. A simple implementation would be to make sure that there is an attack result that causes the target to move backwards an inch or take damage if it cannot. In a line that would make it important to leave space in the right places in formation and simulate the impact of being caught in a pincer, even if there is just a two vs. two battle the impact of making your opponents fight back to back and getting in each other's way would be present.

There's nothing new under the sun and I'm sure I'll get comments that some or all of these ideas have already been tried before, but it's still interesting to think about the gap between theory and practice and to see what new mechanics could fall out of that.
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