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Subject: Why are ground stacking limits used in a strategic-level wargame? rss

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John Shepard
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Again and again and again I find strict stacking limits in wargames of the boardgame format, even with regards to ground units. I can see how it makes sense to limit how many aircraft may be stored on the same airfield. Furthermore if it is a tactical-level game (Squad Leader is a good example), I can see immediately how it makes sense to limit ground unit stacking, as, for instance, you can only crowd so many soldiers and heavy machine guns in a small room. However I cannot see at this present time why it is so universal for everybody who makes these games on the strategic level (like Fortress Europa or AETO) to be so determined to limit ground unit stacking.

Technically the size of the fighting ground is finite, but it would take millions, if not billions, to overcrowd a 40 square mile area. So why even bother with restricting players to, for instance, 10,000 soldiers or something (2 or 3 chits typically in the actual game representation)? It just doesn't seem right, but everybody is so determined that it should be done.
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Because it represents a logistical reality - you could theoretically fit a lot more people into the terrain, but keeping them supplied, refreshed, and organized? While fighting the enemy? Sorry, not a chance.
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dustin boggs
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often it is not just the units themselves that are represented, its the units, support elements and logistics attached with the units that are represented as well as their requirement for defensible terrain.

They would be spread out enough to prevent mass casualties due to artillery, air, gas, etc and have a defensive line that must be maintained. When deployed a unit may occupy a whole grid square (1 km square) and generally units will not be intermingled between the lines. They will each have their own defensive area and own areas of operations as well as their own support and logistics elements.

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Harald Torvatn
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Also there are limits to how many could realistically attack or defend the same area. (or a limit to how many would be helpful in attacking or defending.) Instead of making one attack limit, one defence limit and one staking limit, most games simplifies this by making just one stacking limit.

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T. Wesley
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Plus, in the end, it's just a game.

How much fun would it be to play if your opponent could just stack all his units in one hex?
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I have a similar issue as the OP, but regarding movement. In a two-month game turn, for instance, a motorised unit can probably cross the entire European Soviet Union. Hell, you could even cover a fair bit of it on foot in that time frame.

Yes, of course movement limitations represent supplies and all that. But maybe then limitations should be represented by supply rules. In fact,in many games supply rules would make excessive movement behind enemy lines impractical anyway.

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Michael Dorosh
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Try running two divisions down one road at the same time. Bradley and Simonds tried it on Sicily, I believe.

I understand it doesn't work too well. 40 square miles is one thing; the infrastructure to actually move around within it is another.
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Richard Irving
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ZirkvandenBerg wrote:
I have a similar issue as the OP, but regarding movement. In a two-month game turn, for instance, a motorised unit can probably cross the entire European Soviet Union. Hell, you could even cover a fair bit of it on foot in that time frame.

Yes, of course movement limitations represent supplies and all that. But maybe then limitations should be represented by supply rules. In fact,in many games supply rules would make excessive movement behind enemy lines impractical anyway.



That's why the hex grid movement systems break down at strategic scales. Any unit could be moved anywhere on the map by rail within the time frame of a single turn.

Some wargames do a have "strategic move" where unengaged (usually not an enemy's ZOC) can move very long distances so long it never enters an an enemy ZOC.
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Richard Young
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For all the reasons you've read so far.

Further, for the larger conflicts, the units are larger - instead of sections. platoons, companies and regiments, you have divisions, corps and armies. Designers usually strive to match the size of units to the hex scale and the stacking limit reflects the practical limit the hex can "manage" in reasonably realistic terms.

It considers frontage as well as reserve and rear areas, and generally matches accepted army doctrine in the size of area a military formation will be given responsibility over. The era being represented in the game is also factored in as doctrine or common practice varies through the ages and development of warfare. The map itself can have a significant effect as well and in some games the stacking limit will be a function of the terrain and other relevant features.

But, all that aside, sometimes such limits are simply there to make the game more playable...
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Seth Owen
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To some extent things such as movement allowances, stacking limits and combat values are arbitrary, representing typical practice or average performances, In real life it's sometimes possible to exceed those limits,although usually at some significant cost that may not be represented within the confines of the game design but are nevertheless real.

Stacking limits may sometimes represent the capacity of an areas to supply or support a given force, but that's usually in pre-20th century games. For games after 1900 stacking limits almost always represent the typical frontages that units can attack or defend.

Likewise movement allowances do not represent absolute distances that can be covered but the usual distances a unit might redeploy, given logistics, command control, the need to plan, etc. Unopposed movement is faster and many strategic games provide some sort of "strategic" movement to allow for unopposed administrative movements. Units moving in the vicinity of the enemy will naturally cover less ground.

The general design trend over the years has been to add further restrictions on the ability to move units and limit the ability of players to mass unrealistically. Things happening "too fast" is much more of a problem in wargames than things happening too slowly -- which is easy to see if you ever try to reproduce a historical battle.
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Seth Owen
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ZirkvandenBerg wrote:
I have a similar issue as the OP, but regarding movement. In a two-month game turn, for instance, a motorised unit can probably cross the entire European Soviet Union. Hell, you could even cover a fair bit of it on foot in that time frame.

Yes, of course movement limitations represent supplies and all that. But maybe then limitations should be represented by supply rules. In fact,in many games supply rules would make excessive movement behind enemy lines impractical anyway.



Movement is limited by much more than just supply. Planning large scale movements takes time. There are generally bottlenecks in the transportation grid -- particularly in underdeveloped areas such as World War II Russia. There's the effect of the enemy -- whether in the form of conventional forces, air attacks or partisans. Long-range movement takes a toll on vehicles, animals and men.

Most wargame designers these days take the historical performance of the troops as their baseline and work from there. In the early days of wargames there were some experiments in taking theoretical performances as the starting point -- such as in PanzerBlitz -- but experience showed that this led to an unrealistic pace.
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wargamer55 wrote:
ZirkvandenBerg wrote:
I have a similar issue as the OP, but regarding movement. In a two-month game turn, for instance, a motorised unit can probably cross the entire European Soviet Union. Hell, you could even cover a fair bit of it on foot in that time frame.

Yes, of course movement limitations represent supplies and all that. But maybe then limitations should be represented by supply rules. In fact,in many games supply rules would make excessive movement behind enemy lines impractical anyway.



Movement is limited by much more than just supply. Planning large scale movements takes time. There are generally bottlenecks in the transportation grid -- particularly in underdeveloped areas such as World War II Russia. There's the effect of the enemy -- whether in the form of conventional forces, air attacks or partisans. Long-range movement takes a toll on vehicles, animals and men.

Most wargame designers these days take the historical performance of the troops as their baseline and work from there. In the early days of wargames there were some experiments in taking theoretical performances as the starting point -- such as in PanzerBlitz -- but experience showed that this led to an unrealistic pace.


If you look at campaigns during the last 200 years that are noted for speed, the most rapid one is the British advance after at Megiddo in WWI using horse cavalry, beating the Israeli advances in the Six Day War some fifty years later.

Also, Napoleon reached Moscow in 83 days, speed 13.6 km per day. Compare this to the Germans in WW II. They used 167 days to Moscow at an average speed of 7.5 km per day. Motorisation is not the important factor. Human capability is.

I got these figures from a very interesting book for us wargamers. It is called "Numbers, predictions and war" by a colonel T. N. Dupuy, US Army, Ret. For wargamers, it is very interesting reading.

It was written before the Iraqi wars and I do believe that the advance in the latest was in fact as fast as, or possibly slightly faster, than what was achieved in the first world war. Does anyone have the sustained rates of advance for those two wars?

It is still interesting to note that the WW II Germans only managed half the speed of Napoleon's forces a hundred years earlier.

Edit: Turned a fuzzy sentence into something looking like English
Edit 2: And again. Sigh.
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Panzercrisis wrote:
Again and again and again I find strict stacking limits in wargames of the boardgame format, even with regards to ground units. I can see how it makes sense to limit how many aircraft may be stored on the same airfield. Furthermore if it is a tactical-level game (Squad Leader is a good example), I can see immediately how it makes sense to limit ground unit stacking, as, for instance, you can only crowd so many soldiers and heavy machine guns in a small room. However I cannot see at this present time why it is so universal for everybody who makes these games on the strategic level (like Fortress Europa or AETO) to be so determined to limit ground unit stacking.

Technically the size of the fighting ground is finite, but it would take millions, if not billions, to overcrowd a 40 square mile area. So why even bother with restricting players to, for instance, 10,000 soldiers or something (2 or 3 chits typically in the actual game representation)? It just doesn't seem right, but everybody is so determined that it should be done.


You are correct in one sense - in a 'strategic' level game, typically an entire city (possibly with a population of millions) fits into one hex. So in the sense of simply 'fitting' into a hex, an entire army of considerable size should 'fit' into a single hex.

However, there are some implicit assumptions built in. The limits build in considerations such as 'frontage' (i.e. the forces involved are not considered to be occupying the entire 'area', but a stretch of frontline within a particular 'hex'), logisitics, combat effectiveness etc. These are 'simulations' after all, and must abstract or simplify certain factors. In 'reality', the combat effectiveness of the forces represented would drop off as you 'overcrowded' them. They couldn't effectively move, fight or be supplied as the crowding got worse. If you were attacking out of a hex, then the frontage issue also comes up.

So really, instead of a fixed stacking limit, maybe you would prefer rules which affect your movement, supply and combat effectiveness the more you stack in a hex. You would quickly get past the point of diminishing returns, and learn that although you can pack many more units into a hex, such considerations drive the number that it makes sense to stack together, given the scale of the game. You would then have come full circle and have 'discovered' your own 'stacking limit'.

BTW, you should also reconsider your view that stacking limits 'make sense' for tactical games, whereas you believe they do not for strategic level games. For example, the hexes in Squad Leader are over 1,000 sq. metres in area (40 metres 'across' IIRC). As with the strategic game, you could easily 'fit' far more than the stacking limit into a single hex (in the case of SL, easily fitting 1,000 men, rather than the couple dozen the game allows with stacking restrictions). The same consideration for vehicle limits. In fact, very similar factors go into determining the stacking limit for tactical level games. Limited 'space' is not the sole determinant.
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Confusion Under Fire
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sgren wrote:


Also, Napoleon reached Moscow in 83 days, speed 13.6 km per day. Compare this to the Germans in WW II. They used 167 days to Moscow at an average speed of 7.5 km per day. Motorisation is not the important factor. Human capability is.

It is still interesting to note that the WW II Germans only managed half the speed of Napoleon's forces a hundred years earlier.


A non war example of how overcrowding can slow down movement, they say that a horse draw wagon back in the 1700s could cross the city of London at the same average speed that a motorised vehicle can nowadays.

Another way of looking at the stacking problem is to suggest losing one movement point for each unit in the hex, sooner or later you are going to have that many units in the same hex that none of them will be able to move.
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Ben Delp
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whatambush wrote:
Another way of looking at the stacking problem is to suggest losing one movement point for each unit in the hex, sooner or later you are going to have that many units in the same hex that none of them will be able to move.


I've never seen this (or to be more precise, recollect this) in a game, but I like it. A lot. This is a great idea.
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deadkenny wrote:
the forces involved are not considered to be occupying the entire 'area', but a stretch of frontline within a particular 'hex'

This is the crux of it right there. He hit the nail squarely on the head. Deployment in the hex is only considered to be along the front. Think of it as the hexside only is occupied.

In fact, the scale of the unit already reflects that fact that the entire unit does not even "fit" on the frontline, but also reflects troops held "in reserve" elsewhere in the hex.
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delp1871 wrote:
whatambush wrote:
Another way of looking at the stacking problem is to suggest losing one movement point for each unit in the hex, sooner or later you are going to have that many units in the same hex that none of them will be able to move.


I've never seen this (or to be more precise, recollect this) in a game, but I like it. A lot. This is a great idea.


In Unhappy King Charles!, your movement allowance depends on how large the stack is - the larger the stack, the slower it moves, which is a pretty solid representation of trying to manage a large army.
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whatambush wrote:
Another way of looking at the stacking problem is to suggest losing one movement point for each unit in the hex, sooner or later you are going to have that many units in the same hex that none of them will be able to move.

The GCACW series (AH/MMP) has a version of this. There are movement penalties based on the number of strength points already present in a hex.
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leroy43 wrote:
delp1871 wrote:
whatambush wrote:
Another way of looking at the stacking problem is to suggest losing one movement point for each unit in the hex, sooner or later you are going to have that many units in the same hex that none of them will be able to move.


I've never seen this (or to be more precise, recollect this) in a game, but I like it. A lot. This is a great idea.


In Unhappy King Charles!, your movement allowance depends on how large the stack is - the larger the stack, the slower it moves, which is a pretty solid representation of trying to manage a large army.


La Grande Armée has something similar. Individual counters can represent formations from brigade/division to corps to 'armies'. Players can combine lower formation units to form higher ones. However, the higher formations have a lower movement allowance. If one leaves the units uncombined, they can stack up, however, there is a movement cost for stacking / unstacking. Since the combat strength of the combined unit is higher than the total of the individual component units, the incentive is to build up for combat but breakdown for movement (as was the technique during the period). So there are two aspects of organizations / logistics being reflected here.
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I thought the obvious answer would have come up by now.

Because giant stacks of chits to be knocked over are annoying.


Right?
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Rastak wrote:
I thought the obvious answer would have come up by now.

Because giant stacks of chits to be knocked over are annoying.


Right?


Spoken like a man who has obviously never played a Europa game--
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deadkenny wrote:
leroy43 wrote:
delp1871 wrote:
whatambush wrote:
Another way of looking at the stacking problem is to suggest losing one movement point for each unit in the hex, sooner or later you are going to have that many units in the same hex that none of them will be able to move.


I've never seen this (or to be more precise, recollect this) in a game, but I like it. A lot. This is a great idea.


In Unhappy King Charles!, your movement allowance depends on how large the stack is - the larger the stack, the slower it moves, which is a pretty solid representation of trying to manage a large army.


La Grande Armée has something similar. Individual counters can represent formations from brigade/division to corps to 'armies'. Players can combine lower formation units to form higher ones. However, the higher formations have a lower movement allowance. If one leaves the units uncombined, they can stack up, however, there is a movement cost for stacking / unstacking. Since the combat strength of the combined unit is higher than the total of the individual component units, the incentive is to build up for combat but breakdown for movement (as was the technique during the period). So there are two aspects of organizations / logistics being reflected here.


Inrteresting. I have and/or have played games where overstacking has caused the stack to become disorganized/disrupted, which had a secondary effect of hampering movement (among other things), but that's not really the same thing.
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A more pragmatic answer might be: If they didn't have stacking limits, the optimal strategy would be to glob massive ammounts of units into single areas/hexes and obliterate the opponent every single battle. Just look what happens in Europe Engulfed with no stacking limits
 
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John Shepard
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I think I can see the general reason and relevance behind it all now. Thank y'all.

However concerning the claim that it would ruin gameplay if players were simply allowed to congregate gigantic stacks, totally aside from the fact that it may not be realistic, I disagree. Consider the Civilization series (which are just like board games and were apparently made with stuff like Avalon Hill in mind). These are exceptional-quality games, as a general rule. And as far as realism goes, yes, they are short of that in some aspects of gameplay (like the time warp they're always in), but the war aspect is fairly realistic - enough for a game.

Consider now the fact that they basically didn't have ground unit stacking limits. This NEVER EVER proved to be a problem, and that was for several reasons. One of those reasons was that units basically just defended their own space, with very little exception, so it would starve other areas of defense (this was not too much of a problem if you're the one who's on the offense, or if you were defending against somebody who wouldn't think too much about this).

Furthermore units basically just fight in 1v1 battles. This was indeed realistic and would represent frontage, and it would often slow down the attacker. Imagine if the defender had 7 ground units in a space and the attacker had 10 of them in a space right next to the 7. In this scenario if the attacker wanted to try to eliminate, or at least run off, the 7 (which he probably would want them to do to avoid isolating his 10 behind enemy lines), he would have to send each of his 10, one at a time, against one the 7. If at least four of his units failed to kill or run off one of the 7, generally this meant that he had failed to take that ground (as most ground units can only attack once per turn). At this point the defender could bring up reinforcements to that space on his turn and allow some of the units that are still there to heal, which would at least continue to slow the attacker in one way or another and might even allow him to take the offense (particularly if the attacker suffered serious casusalties).

This was excepted in Civilization II, where if the defender had at least two units in his space, then two of them would defend against each wave the attacker sent against them. However if the two were ever destroyed, EVERYTHING in the defending space was destroyed (representing basically all of the other problems that y'all have mentioned). But that rule would be excepted if the units were in a fort, in which case the attacker would have to take them all out individually. However vulnerable it made each unit on average though, players were entitled to stack ground units infinitely, so long as they were content with allowing for this tactical disadvantage.

More so though, I would prefer that y'all concentrate on the paragraph before the last one. I would like to emphasize how even though players were able to stack infinitely, even outside of the tactical disadvantage applied in Civ. II, everything worked out just fine. Place a beachhead before you're ready - your super stack will die with minimal success all the same. Or if the basic frontline is a big stretch of land, throw everything you've got into one stack - and while it takes a few cities, being slowed gradually by enemy garrisons and movement limits, the enemy will take several times as many of your cities all the same. Even if you throw everything you've got into that stack (or even two or three super stacks, for instance), the fact that they are capturing your cities much faster than you are theirs will eventually catch up to you, as your production will start to pale in comparison to theirs, providing for even their typical garrisons to gradually whittle down your super stack(s) to nothing.

Not to say though that it's a bad idea to make super stacks in the Civilization games. At least in III and IV, you'd be crazy not to in a lot of cases. However the other game mechanics still kept everything in a very good balance. And that is basically why I do not agree that game balance is any way a legitimate reason to severely limit ground stacking limits.
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No stacking limit may work fine in some environments, but not in all.

Consider the fall of France in 1940. Any WW2 ETO game must have a fall of France in 1940 as a possibility. This means that there must be some condition which causes France toi fall. A common one is the fall of Paris: When the french (and their allies) fails to keep the germans out of Paris, France surrenders. (Note that this is not the only possible condition, but it is a convenient one.)

Suppose the germans can make a superstack and the combat system makes such a stack unstoppable. What will the germans do then? Obviously they will make a superstack, and move shortest route to Paris. It is irrelevant if the French spread out and take some german Cities, as they surrender anyway. (Obviously, more detailled rules for french surrender may fix this, but then we must ask, maybe stacking limit is a better way to do it?)

On the other hand, if a superstack is almost impossible to attack, the french will pile up their entire army in Paris.

To make the campaign work, super stacks must be both stoppable and not impossibly hard on defence. Such a combat system seems quite difficult to design (but probably not impossible.)

But is such a combat system worth the effort? If, in the historical situation depicted by the game, the participants did not create superstacks, any game system in which they do that is less like the historical situation than a system in which they do not.

Also, stacking limits is a nice way to keep stacks both not to unstoppable and not to impossibly hard to attack.

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