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Subject: A Comparative Review of Morale in Frank Chadwick’s ETO rss

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Robert Lloyd
England
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I have newly discovered Thunder in the East and am still at the stage of working on my Barbarossa operation to make it succeed. However, even in my second attempt I incorporated the Campaign Game Morale rules into my play. This article explains why.

The first reason is that I have comparative experience of a similar morale rule in another game series and I discovered it was a simple but powerful mechanism not just in creating a victory condition but also in influencing in a historical way the whole conduct of game play throughout the simulation of a long conflict.

The comparable game series was SPW’s Der Weltkrieg latterly distributed by Decision Games. It was also conceived as a complete campaign game but published in packets which covered individual WWI fronts and campaigns which were finally locked back into a Grand Campaign of the whole of WWI in Europe. A difference was that the designer, David Schroeder, carried out this project mostly as a one man effort and certainly never had the level of support in development and play testing that ETO has enjoyed to date. Nevertheless, I can testify that Der Weltkrieg worked both at the scenario level and at the Grand Campaign level and indeed apart from the counter management they seamlessly fitted into each other. I studied that game series intensely for four years and played two Grand Campaigns including a competitive Centenary Game conducted in real time one hundred years after the actual war. This concluded in late 2017 with Austria-Hungary suffering a morale collapse after an unhistorically successful Kerensky Offensive. This ending highlighted the most important game mechanism in Der Weltkrieg which was Demoralisation which provided a strategic backdrop to every action in the game.

The rule in Der Weltkrieg has much in common with that in ETO but there are also differences. In Der Weltkrieg most nations represented have a moral scale which is diminished by casualties, territorial losses (sometimes) and shipping losses. Morale only improves absolutely in the Grand Campaign at the start of a calendar year which has the effect of making revolutions and surrenders more likely in the last few weeks of the year and allows for a bit of hope coinciding with preparations for a spring offensive. Losses of morale pass through a few thresholds which apart from ultimate collapse also reduce the ability of a nation to carry on attacking in 1914 style and spread economic difficulties.

A feature of the rule in Der Weltkrieg (which is a division based operational game) is the large number of morale points available. Germany, for instance, has over 2500 morale points if the game lasts until 1918. Each combat has a trivial impact on the overall morale situation but many combats and repeated major offensives start to take a toll. In 1914, all nations have sky high morale and can attack with abandon but as the burden of demoralisation takes hold a more circumspect style of warfare is encouraged (not forced you can ignore the incentives at your peril). This morale effect leads to better prepared battles with more artillery support - this kind of trajectory is why this type of rule can be legitimately be classed as historical. Morale also becomes a feature of the units as important as combat strength. A reason a German division is much better than a Russian Division (or even a pair of them) in Der Weltkrieg is that with much higher levels of morale the German unit can be more active in combat attacks and will be more likely to stand its ground rather than try and avoid losses with voluntary retreat.

The effects are not just tactical or operational but they are also genuinely strategic at the same time. With different nations on different morale scales there are diplomatic incentives to focus against the weak members of enemy coalitions and protect the same on your own side. Morale manipulation is also very associated with having the initiative and the ability to initiate attacks as otherwise the passive defender just has their weaknesses turned into morale targets. Other effects include the pacing of operations to avoid over stressing friendly troops and also an incentive for last ditch saving offensives to try and preserve some control on the outcome before descending into a final desperate spiral of demoralisation. Under this system, Kerensky, the Kaiserschlacht, and the Army of Islam made sense.

Having finished with WWI, I have ever since been scouting for something similar in WW2. Even before stumbling upon Thunder in the East I had mused on what would be an appropriate comparable morale system for WW2.

One thing I realised was that 1914 and 1939 are completely different from a morale point of view. In 1914 everyone was almost insanely optimistic whereas in 1939 everyone was sensibly pessimistic and almost all the belligerents went into WW2 with what can only be considered low morale. This explains the phoney war and what might be considered the slow start to WW2. Hitler uncharacteristically allowed OKW advice and weather dictate the timing of the invasion of the west which was a kind of recognition that if things went wrong Germany would be in a bad 1918 type place. The Allies equally lacked resilience. Stalin bought time with his infamous pact. The British produced the smallest possible BEF signalling they wanted no repeat of 1916 and the French and Italians hardly displayed the unqualified national ardour they had during the first two years of WW1. A WW2 morale system seems to require that it begins with a condition of fragility and the powers need time to build up the nerve to commit to total war (and the Americans were no exception to this either with their focus on isolation, domestic prosperity and peace). This also incidentally identifies the strategic vulnerability inherent in the early period of the war where a major power such as France but possibly others might suffer a quick knock out.

The Morale rules of ETO seem to be pointing in this direction and I was immediately impressed to see the incentives for preserving manpower and trading guns for butter.

A difference between the ETO rules and that of Der Weltkrieg is that only the defender’s combat losses count to morale loss. However, it is not quite so simple because the aforementioned incentives to preserve manpower would be a brake on offensive operations as much as a reason to hope an enemy attack would come to an end. However, overall it would seem that the ETO morale rule will reward aggressive action and a readiness to counterattack. It would also encourage a strategic defender to take their opportunities in a spoiling attack such as the Soviet offensive in spring 1942 or the Battle of the Bulge.

The full impact of this rule will not be fully understood until players have experience of the longer timescales in ETO. However, this does not mean that morale only counts towards the end of the conflict. Absolutely one morale point lost at the beginning is just as important as the last one but relatively there is huge variation in the importance of morale points according to context. A player might shrug at the loss of Stalino but then fight to the death for Stalingrad even though both are worth the same number of morale points. What will be found is that morale points are like a commodity whose value fluctuates against the index of other nations morale. How much demoralisation is Germany prepared to suffer to keep Italy in the fight?

I guess I am saying that I find the morale rules of ETO very encouraging and think other players would be well advised to keep an eye on their development and be alert to the nuance they provide which is way out of proportion with their inherent simplicity. I would also encourage the designers/developers to be creative with this aspect of the game. I am not sure the US should be immune, Europe was not their only priority. Also although morale is designated a campaign game rule it has potential as a component of scenario victory conditions and this will start to familiarise more players with its potential.
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DAVID BROWN
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Robert,

I enjoyed reading about experience with Der Weltkrieg, with which I am unfamiliar (I have neglected WW 1 games). Like you, I could not resist bringing the Morale rules early into TITE, enjoying their effect on the simulation. I like long-range planning, and morale concerns add to this nicely. Later, German morale will be in play, which should be interesting.

In TITE/ETO, the only issue is the possibility of collapse--there are no other prior penalties, as a few might prefer--but there are so many interesting things to consider without having more complex rules here or elsewhere. For the most part, I think Frank Chadwick has been wise to keep the mechanics and systems relatively simple and free from exceptions.

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Asger Harding Granerud
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Excellent review, very inspirational!

Wonder how this would work as an end game trigger for the US side of the Vietnam war?

Asger
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Robert Lloyd
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Dave Brown wrote:
Robert,

I enjoyed reading about experience with Der Weltkrieg, with which I am unfamiliar (I have neglected WW 1 games). Like you, I could not resist bringing the Morale rules early into TITE, enjoying their effect on the simulation. I like long-range planning, and morale concerns add to this nicely. Later, German morale will be in play, which should be interesting.

In TITE/ETO, the only issue is the possibility of collapse--there are no other prior penalties, as a few might prefer--but there are so many interesting things to consider without having more complex rules here or elsewhere. For the most part, I think Frank Chadwick has been wise to keep the mechanics and systems relatively simple and free from exceptions.


I was not suggesting there needs to be additional thresholds prior to collapse. The beauty of this mechanism is that players respond to it naturally and play a nation differently when they are 20 points or 200 points from collapse. It is simple but it has subtle and continuous effects on player actions and also depending on player personality, skill and opportunity.
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DAVID BROWN
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If the Russians are doing well with MP's, they can: use MP's to build IDMs; use Economic Planning to convert 6 MP's into an EP, PP and FP; and need not worry about building up Reduced Armies to full strength (an 8-4 that loses a step does not result in a .5 MP loss). Knowing if Russians are in good shape does require some experience, of course.
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Ethan McKinney
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AsgerSG wrote:
Wonder how this would work as an end game trigger for the US side of the Vietnam war?
Isn't that exactly what Vietnam 1965-1975 does?
 
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