I have, perhaps, hinted before that wargames, wargame rules and wargamers do not really tolerate uncertainty. This is one of the issues there is with respect to wargaming which is one of the most difficult to tackle, both in general and in particular. So I thought I would give it a go, not really expecting to make much headway.
It seems to me that there are at least two issues at stake here. Firstly, there is the creation of fictitious forces in our wargame armies. What I am thinking of here is, for example, “morale”. Morale is often a critical element in our rules and plays a key role in the outcome of battles. But it is one of those things that does not exist, at least to a reliably measurable extent.
In a set of wargame rules morale is generated as a mathematical model, but it does not behave like that in real life. A person with a clipboard does not pop across to the 25th line battalion and have a survey of how the lads are feeling. Morale is a construct of those who report of warfare, perhaps, but it is perhaps more eminently a construct of wargaming. In perhaps over-technical language, we can stand accused of reifying morale, taking a concept which is useful to our games and making it concrete to suit ourselves. It could be argued that morale, at least as it occurs in most wargames, simply does not exist.
Another issue which occurs, which needs a concrete answer which cannot be given, is that of armies and order of battle. I have (remarkably) finished (insofar as any wargame army is finished) my late Persians, all 34 bases of a 20 base army, including two Great Kings in their chariots. Why, you might ask, two Great Kings? Well, firstly, of course, I had the figures. You might object that there was only one Great King at a time, and I would be forced to agree with you. But which Great King is the real Great King? Obviously, the one who wins the next battle…. The reason I had two Great King chariots was because one came with the early Persians and one with the late Persians, and I had never bothered to paint up the one for the earlies because the Great King was not present at Marathon.
Anyway, having now finished the Late Persians, I am now considering moving on to the Classical Indians, the ones who fought Alexander. Here, of course, information runs very thin. Our sources do not say a lot about the Indians, because they were exotic, far away and, by the time anyone got around to writing about them, they had reconquered themselves (as it were) and no-one was really interested in people who were on the far side of a hostile empire (with respect to looking from Rome, anyway).
So, much of what we do know about the Indians is conjectural, inferential and, if you do not mind a bit of sarcasm or rudeness, frankly invented, or at least it has alarmingly little evidence to back it up. Clearly, there is some evidence, contradictory as it is. The Indians had archers, a few swordsmen types, javelinmen, cavalry, chariots and elephants. They had what usually passes in ancient sources as ‘lots’ of these. At Hydaspes they had somewhere between 200 and 50 elephants, according to Sabin’s reporting of various modern reconstructions.
Here, again, the wargamer has to do some reification (have you ever wished you had not used a word like that?). We cannot do, as historians can, with a hand wavy ‘we don’t really know, does it matter?’ sort of response; nor do we particularly wish to move on to more interesting subjects such as Alexander’s sexuality (at least, I do not; classical scholars might demur). We need some sort of concrete number. Sabin makes a middle of the road estimate of 85 elephants in Porus’ army. He might be right. How do we know?
Now, you might argue, if you had read this far, that my claim of reifying morale in rules and my claim about doing the same for troop numbers in armies are two different things. To some extent I would agree with you, but in fact what we are doing in both cases is making something up to cover over something we cannot measure.
We cannot measure morale, so we make some sort of model up to cover the fact, and use that as the morale of the army, unit or whatever, even though it has no measurable equivalent in real life.
We cannot measure the number of elephants at Hydaspes, because time machines have not been invented so we cannot go and count them, the reports we have (at second or third hand) from people who could have counted them are contradictory. So, essentially, we have to make a reasonable guess.
The problem is, in both cases, unless we make these guesses – a guessed model for morale; a guess at the number of elephants present – we cannot really have a wargame on a historical basis. It simply cannot be done unless we invent these things.
Thus, we have to make concrete these things in a wargame in order to model them. We need a concrete model of morale in order to measure it. We need concrete (or is that lead?) models of elephants to show a given number of pachyderms in real life. These things have to be concretised in order to make the game work at all.
Of course, you could argue that it is only a game anyway and so it does not really matter, and, as a game, of course that is correct. As an imaginary encounter, we can deploy however many elephants we like, and we could, if we so wished, dispense with morale rules entirely, or simply make something outlandish up.
But then I suppose the worry would be that we have cut the final links between reality and human reason and the activities modelled on the wargame table. Even imaginations have some real world logic involved.