There has been a little discussion over my ‘Chains of Command’ post from a few weeks ago, and also a question about orders in the Polemos: SPQR system, so I thought I’d try to expand on these points.
Essentially, the question boils down to the effect of generals on battles. I argued in the original post that the New Model Army generals at the battle of Naseby took, between them, less than half a dozen decisions during the whole action.
For those of you not familiar with Polemos: SPQR, the command system distinguishes between general orders, such as ‘advance’ and unit orders such as ‘open fire because the enemy are in range’. The general orders require resources from the commander of the army to start, while the unit orders are ‘free’, in the sense that the unit commander issues them.
Someone raised the question of how much a unit with ‘advance’ orders has to advance. There is no minimum in the rules, and I did not expect there to have to be one. But, my correspondent pointed out, there is nothing to exclude ‘cheesy’ moves such as advancing by one millimetre. Presumably this sort of thing is used so the unit can ‘wait’ for a suitable opportunity and then pounce of a convenient enemy flank or something of the case.
Now, I proposed previously that it was just as well that rules give wargamers command at various levels, as general and also as assorted unit commanders. The command and control system within a wargame is thus to prevent wargamers as generals having too much power and influence directly over their units, while at the same time permitting wargamers as unit commanders some flexibility and input, if only to keep interest in the game between the big decisions.
The upshot of this, however, is that the determination of an individual unit’s moves is still undertaken by the army commander, as these people are the same wargamer.
My initial reaction when this issue was pointed out was along the lines of ‘well, if people insist on playing like that, don’t play with them’. Perhaps that is a bit harsh, however.
The historical issue is a live one, though. Units did lag; commanders did drag their feet. This was not usually to gain some tactical advantage (although it did happen; think of Nelson) but through cowardice, political intrigue, incompetence and so on.
In a historical scenario, the offending commander would probably be relieved of his command on the spot and, in some cases, executed either on the field or shortly afterwards. Some, of course, may well commit suicide first; this was the honourable way out for Roman commanders accused of cowardice, such as the commander of the Second legion in Britain in the aftermath of Boudicca’s revolt, Poenius Posthumus. This, the honour school of warfare, is not covered by the normal run of wargame rules.
There is another issue here, as indicated in a comment by Timeshadows. There is a reception period for the orders from high command, before the unit commander can react, and then, indeed another one before the unit acts. It was suggested that there should be a dice for reception, interpretation and implementation of the orders. Our wargame units react almost immediately to the reception of new orders; it was not so historically.
So, how on earth can we try to get out of this maze? We need to allow some unit commander flexibility without permitting the misuse of this for cheesy gamesmanship. Furthermore, we need to build in some delay due to the reception and interpretation of orders, and also some mechanism to account for the fact that orders could be lost, or misinterpreted. And, on top of that, the system we adopt needs to be fool proof, simple and transparent.
Various systems have been adopted that I have seen. One is Piquet, where the movement of units and resolution of combats is determined by the use of a card deck. This seems to work OK, but the construction of the card deck simply shifts the problem elsewhere, if you ask me, aside from the fact that all this special production of components pushes the price of the rules up to that of a decent meal out for two.
Another system is the use of courier cards, which is suggested at least in Featherstone’s ‘Solo Wargames’. This does allow for the orders to be delayed or go missing, but as Don himself admits, it seems a little unlikely that the courier will be waylaid by bandits in the rear areas of a major army. The system also does not allow for misinterpretations, although something could be done, I’m sure, with the option of the courier arriving early and the unit moving too soon, but the wargamer would probably prevent that from happening.
The only realistic and feasible system I can think of is a combination of a mild set of courier cards with some sort of unit commander personalisation, which yields a probability of him understanding the orders and carrying them out. This requires a degree of pre-game preparation, in deciding on the characterisation of each of the commanders and recording them all, and then making the rolls during the game. This is probably too much effort for a straightforward “pick up” game, but may well be worthwhile for a campaign or series of connected wargames.
So, what do you do if you play against someone who issues ‘advance’ orders but hardly advances at all? Firstly, as I said, you can threaten not to play against them again. Secondly, you can remove his officer figures for disobeying orders. Thirdly, people who engage in this level of detail often get engrossed in one small part of the overall picture and lose anyway, so perhaps it simply isn’t worth worrying about.
Finally, you could incorporate a personalisation system into your officer characteristics and roll for reception of orders and implementation. That would require us, as wargamers, to have a more hands off approach to our units, and I’m not sure how happy most of us would be with that.