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Subject: Secrecy of unit type? rss

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David Hansen
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I understand why unit strengths are kept secret; this intelligence would be hard to determine at a glance or at a distance.

But why are unit types secret? For example, why would a corps be unable to tell enemy cavalry from enemy infantry? This would seem immediately evident, even at considerable distances. In any case, units near enough to threaten one another would almost certainly be near enough to identify the enemy's unit type.
 
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David Hansen
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A follow up question: what would be the ramifications if blocks bore a unit-type indicator on their "top" side, which remained visible at all times to both players?
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I had kind of the same - let's call it - 'doubts' in the very first hours after I got NT, but then I realized that I wouldn't necessarily depict a Napoleonic battle that way. Besides it wouldn't do in terms of gameplay.

One of the very first practical reasons for keeping your units hidden is to simulate the uncertainty concerning the unit you will have to fight once combat happens (BGG/NT veterans: 'good heavens! Is he really saying things that obvious !... this thread is lame' )

Imagine several detached units in a locale's reserve and defending units blocking the approach: if that approach had, say a cavalry penalty, and ALL your units were visible before you'd even so much as threaten the approach, your opponent would obviously know that you would not be attacking with your cav units; he would therefore only anticipate an attack with infantry units of a sufficient strength (2 at least). Given that he can see ALL your units within the attacking locale, there would be no suprise left in the attack.

ex: you are the attacking player. There are five units in your locale reserve: 1 cav, 1 artillery, 1 1-str inf, and 2 2-str inf. The defending player would OBVIOUSLY know that you would only be able to attack with the 2-str inf units, so he would opt for an appropriate defense as a consequence (yeah, you can attack with 1-str unit if you don't name it as a leading unit, but that's not my point here)

That's for the implications in terms of gameplay. Now for the representation of a Napoleonic battle:

Once 'face-to-face', each player discovers what are the types of leading units on the adjacent locale to the one he occupies during attacks ==> that's the abstract representation of battle in the game because enemy units on either side of an approach do not necessarily engage in combat. Given the fairly vast area covered by some locales, I think you could consider that several miles separate enemy armies, being sufficient not to engage combat, however enough to see that there is enemy presence in the distance through your spyglass (at Waterloo, neither Napleon nor Wellington were able to tell at first if the approaching troops late in the day were Grouchy's or Blücher's, although everyone soon became aware that troops were quite visible in the distance [please Bowen, give us a game on Waterloo!]). You understand now how impossible it would have been for both Brits and Frenchies to determine if there were grenadiers (3-str units), or light infantry bound to some skirmishing-scouting job (1 or 2-str units) in the first line of these approaching troops. Last but not least, beyond a certain distance, it is near to impossible to determine through a spyglass if what you see is infantry or cavalry moving at the same pace as infantry.
Therefore I do not agree with your statement:
Quote:
“This would seem immediately evident, even at considerable distances”.


for ex: take locales 83, 74 and 65. With locales 83 and 65 occupied by different armies and locale 74 empty, I see no reason for each player to determine for sure what the enemy is made of (he can if the other player launches cav attacks by road on another theatre of combat, thus seeing that enemy cav is moving, but that's all) because one can consider that there are at least two miles between each army - maybe more if you measure from one limit of locale 83 to another of locale 65 on the other side.

Detached cav units in reserve with other non-cav units or corps could be considered to screen the rest of your forces in that same locale, as it were. For optic reasons, one cav brigade could easily hide an entire corps from direct enemy observation at the time, with the help of terrain, weather, light, etc...

What's more, once armies were engaged in mêlée, it became almost impossible to remain attentive to what was happening on your flanks or even just behind the enemy line you were fighting against. Very close AND small cav squadroons were thus able to disband entire lines of infantry and make them run like chicken because they could not be spotted before. During the game, this is perfectly simulated because it soon becomes quite difficult to even remember which units of what strength are situated where when all your units are scattered all about the place.

Quote:
For example, why would a corps be unable to tell enemy cavalry from enemy infantry?


For example, why would a corps be unable to tell enemy cavalry from enemy infantry AT A DISTANCE (my addition)?

I proposed a variant in my recent thread to answer that issue, but sadly it does not work, either.




At all events, one has to face it: the game can not exist without all these layers of abstraction for it to be as balanced as it is, and perhaps you may have to come up with actual life-size representations of what all these abstractions mean, as most NT players do, apparently - which is also the magic of the game: to paint beautiful scenes in your imagination...
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Quote:
A follow up question: what would be the ramifications if blocks bore a unit-type indicator on their "top" side, which remained visible at all times to both players?


1st: it would turn out quite inconvenient quite early in the game, I guess, for the Allied player to remember properly which was the French fixed battery. Plus, that essential 'artillery dimension' to NT would be lost: what would be the use to secretly deploy your artillery units, waiting patiently for the right moment to hammer your enemy, if the latter knew from start to finish where your batteries were?

2nd: some possible confusion would also arise, especially for beginner players, between the unit-type indicator on top and the strength of the unit on the other side, even more so with one-strength cavalry and infantry units. How to make the difference between the two symbols, for ex at times when you have to declare your leading units, given that the symbols used are NATO's? I would personally think it very unpracticable in the development of the game, with units losing strength, etc...

3rd: It seems you made the same confusion as I made before I saw the appropriate thread on BGG: the strength of units does not correspond to the number of soldiers within that unit but to their fighting potential, or capacity to stay longer in combat if you prefer, before being demoralized. Therefore, when an enemy unit is 'destroyed', it does not mean that all soldiers have been gruesomely butchered but that there is no sufficient morale left in that unit to keep fighting (same as in Napoleon Total war when you find yourself yelling at your computer screen when you suddenly see your troops fleeing: '15 remaining out of 60!?? bloody hell, you can keep on fighting with 15 men! cowards! come back here!'...surprise) this is why the number of morale points units lose in combat in NT actually corresponds to the morale points YOU lose on the morale track.
Consequently, 3-str infantry units are line grenadiers (not Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, that's different), or any other elite company in a regiment (which could also be voltigeurs, light-infantry counterparts to line infantry grenadiers - but seriously, who would declare the best attacks in NT with voltigeurs !?? shake that would be preposterous, because voltigeurs s***, don't they? so 3-str units are grenadiers. full stop )
Any infantry unit, whether it be a 1-str, 2-str or 3-str unit, has the same number of soldiers: 2000. Same for cav: 1400.
This also the reason why the scale of simulation in the game may sometimes appear wobbling -even if it is NOT once you realize this: units correspond to regiments or brigades (cav units can NOT be regiments, because there never were any cav regiments lined up for battle with their full headcount, however theoretically numbering 1000 men or about for 1 regt - besides, the word 'regiment' is only an administrative term which had no actual representation on the battlefield, since some rgts were split with squadrons in Spain while others within the same cav rgt left for Armageddon in Russia. Therefore cav units in NT HAVE to be brigades). Infantry units can be either rgts or brigades, since some infantry brigades were only made up of one regiment.
Accordingly, corps have to be seen as either corps, divisions (St-Hilaire, Vandamme, Legrand, al three coming from Soult's corps) or as columns (for the Allied player). There are therefore two scale levels in NT.

Now, why all this smarty-pants development? simply because indicating the type of unit on its top would unbalance that scale level: you could not determine at the time if a corps' main force was made of cavalry or infantry, precisely because a corps was built up as a 'small army', or an 'army in miniature' with all the same elements arranged in the same fashion as in the Grande Armée (that was Napoleon's genius to invent the 'corps' ==> hence my using 'columns' for the Allied army c.f. Bowen's design diary and first draft maps, on which he also used the word 'column' for the Allied army)
You could not determine that, let alone what the corps' actual strength was (I'm talking about actual strength here, not morale potential), or at least very approximately: corps would spread over miles while marching to link up.

3rd bis: sadly, there would be no fog of war effect left AT ALL, obviously...
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Garry Haggerty
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DeathMosque wrote:
I understand why unit strengths are kept secret; this intelligence would be hard to determine at a glance or at a distance.

But why are unit types secret? For example, why would a corps be unable to tell enemy cavalry from enemy infantry? This would seem immediately evident, even at considerable distances. In any case, units near enough to threaten one another would almost certainly be near enough to identify the enemy's unit type.


DeathMosque wrote:
A follow up question: what would be the ramifications if blocks bore a unit-type indicator on their "top" side, which remained visible at all times to both players?


Both questions (the second includes a cost/practicality pov) were addressed by Bowen in the thread "Unit secrecy and trust" in the General forum:


bowen wrote:
kleinetommy wrote:
Out of curiosity, have there been tests with just the unit type (but not its strength) printed on the block side facing the opponent?


No. The wood piece cost is frighteningly high as it is. A requirement that pieces be turned during production and an additional silk-screening applied would drive the costs through the roof.

In general, the problem is also not that the players don't have enough information compared to their historical counter-parts but that they have too much. Reducing the amount of uncertainty in the game would be a move in the wrong direction, even though the uncertainty regarding this particular piece of information isn't always right in simulation terms. It is important to point out that always revealing unit types would, I think, create more simulation problems than it would solve. Yes, there are times when the game would be a better simulation with the type revealed, but there are even more times when revealing it would make it worse: the Napoleon battlefield was a place where visibility was often limited: smoke, undulations in the ground, other units, woods and towns often made it difficult or impossible to see units at all, much less identify their type. Finally, there is the question of not just whether the unit can be seen but WHO can see it. Just because a colonel can see the type of an enemy unit opposite him doesn't mean that his army commander, who may be a mile away, can do so, and in general it is more important to simulate the level of knowledge at the top of the command chain than at the bottom, who generally have less knowledge of local conditions than those at the scene.


I put the key point of Bowen's reply in bold. In effect, the design choice throws some useful "dust" in the player's famous god's-eye-view.

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David Hansen
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Garry, that is precisely the kind of explanation I was looking for. Many thanks for reposting it.
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