PBI re-write

Mission Command Designer Diary Retrospective: 4

Although Pete and I were very happy with the experience of our Eastern Front Big Game, we were conscious that the infantry side hadn’t gone particularly well. That game had been focused on tanks (which WW2 gamer doesn’t like a tank-heavy game?). But we also knew that WW2 armies were based on the PBI, the Poor Bloody Infantry, and we’d more or less fudged the modelling of this side of the coin.

Our infantry had the same 1:3-5 ratio as the tanks, took a hit to kill, and were crudely represented as large bases or small support bases. They noticeably melted away under fire, so that unlike their historical counterparts they couldn’t hold positions very well, and they had no stamina in a fight. We also had the movement rates all wrong for our rather lengthier turns, so that the infantry could scarcely make it to the fight. The last thing players want is to spend all day moving up shed-loads of infantry bases to no apparent purpose.

Bullet points

Our basic assumptions for the new infantry rules were covered in a few statements. We wanted to represent the command, control, firepower and morale effects of a company, not individual figures or individual elements. Using individual figures and elements provided far too much detail and was terribly time consuming. Our game covered company up to division sized units, not smaller. Therefore we had no need to model the internal structure of companies, but only its capabilities and to show any differences in doctrine. So an element didn’t represent a platoon, but instead part of a company’s capability.

It was expected that a company (or in some armies, possibly Russian, a battalion) would be expected to remain close together, or at least in some way in direct communication, and would suffer casualties and morale effects together. The company was the smallest unit to which players might be expected to give separate orders (with some exceptions, such as designated support elements from higher up units). This had the added advantage that we didn’t have to track losses at individual figure or at element level; it could all be done by companies.

The scale of the problem

We standardised on 1 millimetre to 2 metres ground scale instead of our original 1 millimetre to 1 metre, which gave us more room to work with on a standard 6’x5′ table. We also adjusted the figure scale, so that 1 infantry figure was roughly 10 men, 1 vehicle model was roughly 3 to 5 real vehicles. These figure scales were very approximate and referred to combat capability rather than actual numbers – so we could happily claim slightly larger or slightly smaller companies without having to add more figures. An extra element would only be needed if capability increased. Our large infantry elements therefore had 100m frontage, using 50mm bases, while small elements had about half that. Depth was not so relevant, so we allowed pretty much any depth.

Modelling company capabilities

Constructing an infantry company was then a question of modelling that particular company’s capabilities. WW2 infantry companies varied considerably in terms of numbers men, of MGs, rifles and sub-machine guns, as well as portable AT weapons, such as AT rifles, and later, PIATs, bazookas and panzerfausts. We were designing a method to cover all the war and each nationality. There was also variation in their flexibility and resilience. To enable modelling of these characteristics, while giving players the means to use existing basing systems, we decided to limit the ‘essential basing’ to just full sized elements with 50mm frontage, with the option of 40mm + space, and small elements with 25 – 30mm frontage. Full sized or ‘basic’ infantry elements came in 4 main flavours:

  • Coherent elements – 6 figures of which 1 is a LMG gunner and another an AT weapon (both LMG and AT may be depicted as the team rather than single figure). Otherwise rifles.
  • Integrated elements – 5 figures of which 1 is a LMG gunner, and the rest rifles.
  • Assault elements – 4 figures with SMGs
  • Bare elements – 4 figures with rifles only

Any of these basic elements could also have a command function depicted by an officer figure.

Coherent and integrated elements could shoot twice, once with small arms and once with one of their specialist weapons. This gave the basic elements a lot of flexibility and a considerable firepower. Later in the development we gave assault elements the ability to fire their small arms twice to reflect their specific training and weapons.

Even later on we added an enhanced assault element type to represent MP44 armed German infantry, British Commandos and US Rangers. Enhanced assault elements can fire as assault elements at short range and as integrated elements at longer ranges to reflect the effect of automatic assault rifles and the wide variety of weapons acquired by commandos particularly (sometimes unofficially).

While a full sized infantry element might represent around 50 men, the small sized ones were designated support elements with specialist weapons, such as MGs, HMGs, mortars, AT weapons like bazookas, and also specialist command elements with no combat capability. In keeping with our vehicle scale, support elements represented 3 to 5 support weapons, so we modelled the infantry figures for these as 3 to 5 too, rather than the approximately 10 per figure for the full sized elements. So a small element might be about a dozen soldiers. Again we’re stressing capability not headcount.


Here we see a late war British Para company deployed for all round defence. It has two full sized assault elements plus 4 support elements – its company HQ, two LMG elements and a PIAT element. Frequently it would be reinforced by a second PIAT element attached from battalion HQ.


The figures on the bases were purely illustrative, not definitive, because casualties were to be taken at company level. After multiple casualties were inflicted on a company, we chose to consolidate them down by removing elements from the company (owner’s choice) to show reducing capability. 3 casualties kills a full sized element, but it’s replaced by a small one from the specialists on the base. For example a coherent element could be replaced by an LMG element, an AT element or, if it had the command function, by a command element. A further 2 casualties kills a small element. In a final relatively recent tweak, we permit players to allocate 2 casualties to a full sized element, reducing its firepower to one rather than two shots per turn. This standardises the concept that 2 casualties has a perceptible effect – it will reduce the company’s capability.

This method of creating elements had two key capability effects that were vital to our infantry model. It gave them resilience in combat – no longer did we just kill off a unit if it took a casualty. And it tended to concentrate the support weapons as the company took losses, as happened historically. As the company numbers decline, the riflemen get fewer, but troops elect to keep the LMGs and AT weapons. It also gave players interesting choices; for example, do I keep the panzerfaust or the LMG? It also meant that players could use their already based figures simply by designating the meaning of the figures on the base – it’s not essential to use our configuration of figures, as long as the players know the type of element each base represents.


Now we could construct companies, taking into account the period in the war, the nationality and its methods. A late war German infantry company ran out as 3 coherent elements, one with command, plus an HMG support. A late war British rifle company was 2 integrated elements, a command element, a PIAT, a 2″ mortar, an LMG, and some trucks for transport. These differences reflect the continued presence of the light mortar at company level in the British Army, while the Germans had mainly moved to 8cm mortars concentrated in heavy weapon companies. The Germans had more generalised training and more blanket use of the Panzerfaust than was typical of the PIAT in the British company, the PIAT being a notoriously temperamental weapon. A panzergrenadier company had an additional 8cm mortar element, plus a light AT gun and PaK 40, with appropriate extra MGs on half-tracks (if armoured), and trucks if not armoured.

In contrast, early war Russian companies would be primarily bare elements, and we represented their smallest ‘commanded group’ as the battalion rather than the company. Russian companies in the same battalion therefore had to stick relatively close together to avoid adverse morale effects, reflecting their lack of radios and the lower level of initiative of junior officers and NCOs. Late war British paratroopers (see picture above) became 2 assault elements, a command element, 2 LGM elements and a PIAT; nicely different from the standard British infantry and very different from the Germans.

Deploying a company for attack, you close up the main elements with little or no gaps and have a second line of supports. This gives historically realistic company frontages of 300 to 500 metres in attack, but enabled companies in defence to spread out to 750 to 1,000 metres while still maintaining command ranges. Of course with wired telephones and fixed positions defensive positions could be much wider.


Infantry company deployment example

Next: Researching Mission Command


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