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Subject: Block Wargames and Fog of War rss

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Bill Eldard
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Sun Tahzoo wrote:
I really enjoy block games - though I've only played two: Crusader Rex and Prussia's Defiant Stand. The fog of war feature and step loss mechanics make for a thrilling experience.

I wonder, however, how realistic the block mechanic models the Fog of War. It seems that there would have been less FoW in real campaigns, especially in more recent historical conflicts. I thinking of WWII in particular.


There was plenty of fog of war in WW2.

Sun Tahzoo wrote:
Could an army of any size from the 1700s forward be able to march up to a point of attack and remain relatively anonymous in terms of the commander and the basic composition of the troops? I tend to doubt it.


I offer Pearl Harbor (1941). the 1944 Ardennes Offensive (Battle of the Bulge), and the 1968 Tet Offensive.

Fog of war still exists today. Talk to military professionals; they deal with it routinely. Improved reconnaissance and surveillance sensors reduce fog of war, but do not eliminate it.

Sun Tahzoo wrote:
Not that I would eschew block games for this perceived gap with reality, but as a history buff/wargamer it may limit the extent of my enjoyment and adoption of this mechanic.

I would like to benefit from the perspective of others, so please share your thoughts.


To each his own. Everyone has his/her own sense of a games' realism.

IMHO counters offer even less realism as they offer the players complete battlefield information, and complete information leads to precise mathematical calculations for combat resolution. Not very realistic, but I still enjoy it.

If you don't think blocks are appropriate for 19th-20th Century warfare, so be it.
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Chris Carnes
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I'll offer up the Chinese intervention in Korea, as well as the resulting battles that occurred in both X Corps' and I Corps' AOs.

from: http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/kw-chinter/chinter.htm


I highly recommend reading the entire brochure.

Quote:
Perhaps the most critical element in weighing the risks of Chinese intervention was the deference paid to the opinions of General MacArthur. America’s "proconsul" in the Far East, MacArthur was the American public’s "hero" of the gallant attempt to defend Bataan and Corregidor in the early days of World War II, the conqueror of the Japanese in the Southwestern Pacific, and the foreign "Shogun" of Japan during the occupation of that country. He was also the architect of the lightning stroke at Inch’on that almost overnight turned the tide of battle in Korea. When he stated categorically that the Chinese would not intervene in any large numbers, all other evidence of growing Chinese involvement tended to be discounted. MacArthur and his Far Eastern Command (FEC) intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby, continued to insist, despite the CCF attacks at Unsan and similar attacks against X Corps in northeastern Korea, that the Chinese would not intervene in force. On 6 November the FEC continued to list the total of Chinese troops in theater as only 34,500, whereas in reality over 300,000 CCF soldiers organized into thirty divisions had already moved into Korea. The mysterious disappearance of Chinese forces at that time seemed only to confirm the judgment that their forces were only token "volunteers."



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...Although his intelligence officer (G2) raised the estimate of Chinese troops in the area from 54,000 to 101,000, Walker still did not realize the size of the Chinese offensive. No one did. FEC headquarters merely reported to Washington that "a slowing down of the UN offensive may result" from these new attacks.


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Mark Christopher
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Even with blocks, we, the players, have far more information than the commanders would have. The blocks are a playable abstraction to get some fog of war and limit the gods' eye view that we have as players. Me, I love block games for it; they finally enable surprise and bluff in a way that a non-block game can't quite manage.
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Joseph
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I think that in the day of extravagant banners, flags and pennants, unit idenitification was significantly easier than today.

In WW2, units were identified by direct observation when possible, or otherwise by encounter and tracking. Uniforms and materiel were more similar looking, so sometimes it was difficult to know what specific unit you were facing without prisoners or wreckage. The campaigns in north Africa during WW2 were interesting, as deception and feint were used very frequently by Rommel.

Today, a sufficiently advanced military can use electronic surveillance to determine quite a bit. Fog of war still exists, but in a reduced form. Often times, it's the quality of the troops that is discovered last. That often doesn't get revealed until combat occurs.

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Alexei Gartinski
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If I am not mistaken, the whole battle of Gettysberg started precisely because both sides had no idea of who they were actually facing... If you are interested in ancient battles fog of war, wou can also have a look at the 3D battles in the Total War series computer games: visually you would have no idea who attacks you (ok, you'd be able to distinguish infantry from cavalry, but that's about it) until they are very very close...
 
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Was George Orwell an Optimist?
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Sun Tahzoo wrote:
Could an army of any size from the 1700s forward be able to march up to a point of attack and remain relatively anonymous in terms of the commander and the basic composition of the troops? I tend to doubt it.


Two points:
1) Read an account of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. That should give you an idea of how major forces could be redeployed and launch a significant offensive without detection in the 20th century.

And don't think it was an isolated incident. The Japanese capture of Singapore makes a fine example, as does the attack on Pearl Harbor.

2) The 1700s marked no important milestones in this regard; armies in that era were probably no more proficient at scouting than the army of Alexander the Great two millenia earlier.

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Joe Steadman
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I think that ACW is perfect for block games, I like to even add bluff blocks to the mix, like in Q1759.

WW2 is fine for blocks but I don't feel the need for bluff blocks. For the most part, with air recon, partisans, and spies you basiclly new where the enemy was. You may not of know his exact strenth but you new his general location. Sure there are exception: Bulge, Pearl Harbor, and others but they were not the norm.
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Bob Roberts

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In the 19th century and earlier fog of war was most present at the operational level. Finding the opponents army was the problem, once located the battles were generally fought in a stand up fashion. There was still some grand tactical fog of war, but at the tactical level you could generally see who you were fighting, as the average combat range was 200 yards or less.
As for identifying specific troops do to flags, uniforms etc, that only occurred at close range, usually 500 yards or so according to a chart published by a British general which I can't seem to locate right now(I'll post it when I find it) Too close to do much if anything about it really. Mass formations can be distinguished at 1700 yards according to the chart for example and at 1300 yards you can begin to distinguish infantry from cavalry formations. This is all with the naked eye btw.


In 20th century warfare the fog of war situation is somewhat reversed. Thanks to aerial recon and radio communications that can be intercepted, you often have a very good idea of where the enemy is and in what force at the operational level, but when you get down to the tactical level fog of war becomes a big factor due to the empty battlefield of modern war. Where a captain in Wellington's army could usually clearly see the enemy troops opposing him as they were only a couple hundred yards away and standing in plain sight, a captain in Patton's army had MUCH less information on where his enemy was located as they were all doing their best to stay out of sight. Read Company Commander by Charles MacDonald for an excellent insight into WWII as seen by an infantry captain.

Block wargames are a good step in the right direction, as are games like the old GDW Assault/Boots and Saddles series that used the blank backsides of the counters along with dummy counters to represent unspotted units.

The best method requires an umpire, or umpires and either blinds, hidden units on a map or double blind gaming.
I find it interesting that this is more common or at least more accepted in miniatures games. I have seen very few boardgames that suggest using an umpire to handle hidden movement.

The best way to get a feel for the crushing uncertainty that fog of war brings to a commander is to play Kriegsspiel
Kriegsspiel requires a lot of effort, you need an umpire for every 1-3 players or so to really make it work, but it is SO worth the effort if you can pull it off. Guys that in our normal tabletop games are super aggresive, charging everything in sight, became meek kittens when faced with commanding their units in Kriegsspiel.

There are some other map games that use umpires in a similar fashion.
Op Com is a good one for WWII era games, available here:
http://www.jimwallman.org.uk/wargame/index.htm
Also check out Jim's page on the massive Arnhem game they ran here:
http://www.jimwallman.org.uk/omg/index.htm
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Timothy Young
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I think blocks are a very realistic replication, particularly in operation level WW2 games - intelligence could often detect troop build ups but not the specifics.

I think particularly in WW2, dummy blocks would be quite realistic as many of the major campaigns relied on creating fake forces to deceive the enemy. Britain mastered it in the run up to D-Day with fake armies in Dover and up in Scotland, apparently poised at Norway. But it was also used by the Soviets in their preparations to counter Operation Citadel (cf. the Battle of Kursk).

However, I have not yet seen military intelligence replicated in these games, which would be very interesting and a neat ability of the system. If a player invests enough points/materials etc. into intelligence, they could perhaps force a player to reveal a certain number of blocks (or perhaps even more realistically, the enemy player must leave the room, so they don't know which of their blocks have been compromised, if they even have).
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Timothy Young
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Sun Tahzoo wrote:
To me, it seems blocks create compositional uncertainty (what forces and commanders the blocks represent) more than they create positional uncertainty (i.e. even though Pearl Harbour and the Bulge are excellent examples of Fog of War, you can't make blocks materialize out nowhere on the game map).


Perhaps you could, almost, if you used placemarker blocks.

The block would have a number on it which refers to a box on an off-map sheet, hidden by a screen. On the sheet, the player can place a specified number of blocks, all of which are assumed to be concealed in that one block (the player would need to expend extra points/energies (depending on the game system) to use a placemarker block, to represent the additional security and camouflaging required to maintain the silence).

Obviously to the opponent, the placemarkers would be indistinguishable from a regular army block - but they could reveal it with suitable investments in reconnaissance points.
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Pete Belli
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Interesting thread.

Block wargmes represent the best "quick & dirty" solution to the depiction of limited inteligence in board game design.

Quote:
Could an army of any size from the 1700s forward be able to march up to a point of attack and remain relatively anonymous in terms of the commander and the basic composition of the troops?


In the American Civil War the answer is "Yes."

The typical Civil War battle game probably includes units that arrive as reinforcements and other units that shift positions at the start of the battle. A commander might consider himself lucky if he knew the position and strength of his own troops. No general would have precise information about the strength, location, and arrival time of enemy forces during the course of a battle.

In addition to cavalry patrols Civil War generals had other methods of detecting the approach of any enemy force. Dust clouds often signaled the movement of an advancing column. The direction of march could be readily determined as well as the composition of the units; infantry threw up long, low dust clouds while cavalry and artillery churned up clouds that rose higher and thicker. This information source wasn’t totally reliable; one Confederate cavalry general used an old Indian trick to simulate the arrival of a large mounted force by dragging branches along a dusty road.

In a typical Civil War game we should have some uncertainty as to the strength of the enemy and the enemy's possible location. This could be recreated within a block game system. Some possible decoy units would also be a nice addition.

In might be fair to assume that a number of Civil War battlefield games have hexes or movement areas that represent about 400 yards of actual terrain. Civil War armies are normally represented by brigades of infantry, cavalry, and artillery. What could a Civil War general observe on the battlefield?

An officer equipped with field glasses could discern a formation of men and horses at least 2000 yards away. The gleam of infantry muskets and bayonets could indicate the direction of march since they shined brightest when approaching the observer. Details were difficult to make out at this range, and even at 1500 yards or less confusion could frequently occur.

Union general John Gibbon had written an artillery manual before the war. At the battle of Groveton in 1862 Gibbon observed the movement of a mounted force about half a mile away. At 800 yards he could not tell if this formation was cavalry or artillery until the horses wheeled in a textbook maneuver which indicated that a battery was moving into firing position. In another battle a Confederate general noticed a gap in the line and ordered his mounted staff officers to form a skirmish formation in an effort to mimic a cavalry unit. The ruse was successful.

Artillery doctrine recommended that firing begin at a range of between 1000 and 1500 yards. It might be assumed that under flawless conditions an officer would be expected determine the composition of an enemy unit at those ranges. Details of the approaching force could be seen with the naked eye at about 600 yards.

These distances are based on the unlikely assumption that the officer's view would not be obstructed by hills, woods, and buildings. When terrain prevented a commander from seeing his troops in action the sounds of battle were often used to determine the progress of the action. The pop-pop-pop of skirmish firing was usually followed by ordered volleys of musketry and then the long, low roar of continuous firing. An experienced general could follow the ebb and flow of battle as the direction and intensity of the gunfire shifted.

A Civil War battlefield was quickly shrouded in thick smoke from the guns. Low lying ribbons of smoke indicated small arms fire while billowing clouds revealed the presence of artillery. A clear view of the entire battle, even from a hilltop headquarters, was something seen only in newspaper engravings.
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Bill Eldard
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Sun Tahzoo wrote:
I qualify the statement above by saying that in a block game you can bluff and use lesser forces as diversions, but it still seems that pure surprise is not an option.


Pure surprise is only possible if there are units in the game that are not represented on the game board. Double-blind systems optimize this concept, but perhaps almost to a fault at the operational/strategic scales.

Sun Tahzoo wrote:
Additionally, in 18th century and before, the armies were slow and plodding and when marching throgh enemy territory there was often time to gather intellegence as to the leader and a rough estimate of strength.


As some have suggested, read some ACW history. Commanders were often plagued by incomplete or no intelligence. Pinkerton, for example, was notorious for overestimating the enemy's strength.

It was posted earlier that the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac engaged at Gettysburg quite by accident. Meade knew that Lee was moving north because of the cavalry engagement at Brandy Station, and set out to screen Washington enroute to intercepting Lee. Meanwhile, a Confederate corps -- needing shoes -- learned of a shoe factory in or near Gettysburg, and in the move there, ran smack into Buford's Federal cavalry. Stuart was on one of his "Rides Around the Army of the Potomac" and couldn't provide Lee with the locations of Meade's corps. The result was catastrophic for Lee.

Sun Tahzoo wrote:
So, give these two limitations, blocks (a) do not provide enough fog of war to allow pure surprise and (b) create too much fog of war because they mask to much.


It depends on what's being masked. For example, in EastFront, I know that each Axis block on the line is a German corps or Axis army; the only question is the strength. After a battle, I have a real good idea what the Axis strength is in that area. If I see two blocks reinforce the Axis line there, I can make a pretty good estimate of how much the strength has improved.





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That is not entirely accurate from my readings.
Lee had asked Hill whether he should concentrate the army at Cashtown or Gettysburg and Hill suggested Gettysburg. Thus Hill's corps was en route to G-burg anyway, as was Ewell's corps.
Aside from that, men of Ewells corps had passed through G-burg on the 26th, and though they captured some shoes from the militia they took prisoner there was only one tannery, a couple of cobblers and no factories at G-burg so the odds of getting enough shoes to make a difference were very poor compared to say York or Hanover.
Heth did write that his men were looking for shoes though, but recent thought on that is he was hoping to capture some off the militia that had been spotted in the area again like Ewell's men had.

Not as good a story though
 
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