Archive for January, 2018


I’ll shortly be setting out across country from Warboys, Cambs, to Frome, Somerset, for a couple of wargame-related matters. Tomorrow (Saturday 6 January) we have the Abbeywood Irregulars monthly game – an American Civil War battle run by Jer. Recently, I’ve been restricting my outings to Frome to Mission Command games and occasionally Napoleonics, largely because it’s a bit of a trek, and also I’ve been focusing on design rather than playing. However…

On Sunday we have a photo-shoot for Mission Command, courtesy of Neil, for the photographic expertise, and Pete, for the miniatures and layouts. This is the first time I’ve really got involved in photographic illustration for a game. The idea is that the illustrations in Mission Command’s Reference Manual and Players Manual will be a combination of Vicki’s half-page illustrations for each section (more of that another day) and photos of examples of how to play – plus some generic pleasing action shots. I’ve done a few piccies with the iPhone of the kind of thing that I think we want, but our team should be able to come up with a professional “look and feel” for the production version.

Our beta version of Mission Command: Normandy (release date – April 2018, at Salute) will have black and white inside. However, we’ll have some samples of colour and a full colour cover. Final version will be colour throughout.

Here’s an example of my iPhone version (NOT the final version) of a photo showing a company of Panzer IVs in an inverted wedge. Hopefully I’ll be able to show an “after” shot for contrast!



The burden and rigour of battle – Part 2

Why might the modelling of combat at higher or lower levels be less problematic?

At higher levels (corps, army, army group, theatre), the focus of command was on the operational and the strategic. Decisions were vital at this level, but people in the higher commands relied on their subordinates at division and below to report on the situation on the ground and to carry out the nitty-gritty implementation of plans and variations on them. So, higher command decisions during a battle were dependent on the flow of tactical information to answer questions about how battalions, brigades and divisions were doing, and to provide information about the enemy. There was inevitably a loss of the granular detail of combat events in the transmission of information upwards, if nothing else to prevent overwhelming the senior commanders and their staffs with information, and thereby paralysing decision-making.

Reflecting this flow of information upwards in wargames at operational and strategic level means modelling through abstraction, typically through providing fewer unit representations (for example, counters in board wargames, elements, stands or blocks in wargaming with miniatures, unit graphics in computer wargames), and using numerical values to represent combat effectiveness, rather than delving into the characteristics of weapons or even of weapon types. In addition, time scales in game for operational and strategic level models are usually longer – a day, a week, a month – skating over detailed tactical events. These abstractions reduce the complexity of the combat aspects of an operational and strategic model, even if other elements, such as political context, logistics and strategic deployments, might make the overall strategic model more complex. Combat doctrine and the details of the organisation and utilisation of units below division level are generally not included, though they might be reflected in tweaks to the numbers. Examples of WW2 hobby wargames at this level include: World in Flames, Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, Axis & Allies, World War II: Barbarossa to Berlin, War in the East.

At a lower level – section, platoon, company – combat events were important for purely tactical outcomes, and there was only rarely operational or strategic impacts from the result of any single action. For the soldiers concerned, this was the sharp end of their personal experience, so I wouldn’t belittle its importance to them as individuals and small groups. However, in terms of the wider picture of combat outcomes and their impact on the results of operational and strategic engagements, decisions at the battlegroup level were vastly more significant. It is noteworthy that reading first-hand accounts from frontline soldiers who were not commanders at battalion or higher level, reveals little about the impact of small scale tactical engagements in the wider context of an operational or strategic action.

The complexity and type of wargames at the tactical level varies from the introductory (for a recent example, see Airfix Battles) to the highly detailed (for example Advanced Squad Leader) to the innovative (for example Up Front, Fighting Formations). The details of combat at the individual level are relatively easy to come by through the vast array of memoirs and first-hand accounts published and popularised. In addition, there is the canon of secondary sources to read and popular films to see. When we talk about World War 2 wargaming, this is very much the typical experience for players, and there are well-worn design mechanics, as well as significant innovation, in this aspect of the topic, with a lot of variation in the accuracy of the models, many preferring a good thematic feel and a high level of playability over realistic modelling of tactics. What might be referred to as “Hollywood wargaming” is the mainstay of tactical World War 2 commercial wargames design in board wargames, miniatures wargames and computer-based wargames.

There is a flood of examples of popular hobby board wargames at this level, including: Panzer Blitz, Advanced Squad Leader, Combat Commander, Memoir ’44, Tide of Iron, Conflict of Heroes and many more. Popular World War 2 miniatures wargaming rules include Flames of War, CrossFire, Bolt Action and many more.

There is also a small number of simulation wargames, rather than only thematic offerings. One example is Phil Sabin’s simulation game Block Busting, which models an attack by a reinforced infantry company in an urban area with the intention “to reflect more directly the key variation within the urban environment, namely the difference between the buildings, on one hand, and the open spaces…on the other.” This game is a variant of Professor Sabin’s game Fire and Movement. An important point about Block Busting is that it was designed with a specific purpose in mind, namely to model the problem of infantry combat in urban areas in World War 2, whereas the game systems of the earlier examples tend to be more generically about what could be termed “skirmish level” combat, often using unit sizes of 1 vehicle and a handful of men.

To follow, some examples from Normandy…

Achtung! Spitfeuer! Air combat in Open Battles

Open Battles update: Nick and I had a good session over the hols. We’ve focused on the basics at the moment. This is all about how to retain the essence of Airfix Battles within the context of a new Open Battles system without squares. We’re keeping the Unit cards, Command cards and the fundamentals of the combat system, so that the new game will be recognisably similar to AB – components will be compatible. But you’ll be able to use whatever WW2 miniatures and terrain you happen to have, or wish to acquire for the new game.

We are retaining the numerical movement points and ranges. These then convert into an appropriate distance on the tabletop depending on the scale of your minis. Typically, this would be 1 movement point or 1 range equals 4″ for 1/72 scale or 15mm scale figures. There’s a bunch of “how to…” things that we’ve drafted, which I’ll go into in a later post.

Open Battles will include Air Movement and Air Combat, and we’re looking for your comments on our current work. I’ve stuck a file called OpenBattlesAirCombat.pdf here, plus some aircraft unit cards here. Any comments would be very welcome!

The burden and rigour of battle – Part 1

As I’ve been developing Mission Command over the past 10 years or so, I like to believe that I’ve learnt something about wargames design, particularly in the field of WW2 land combat. There are probably some wider lessons learnt more generally, but I thought I’d focus a bit on some thoughts about modelling battlegroup tactics. Wolfgang Schneider has a relevant quote in his book Panzer Tactics: “The technical literature includes countless competent presentations at the level of operational / strategic command (army and higher). That also holds true at the tactical / operational level of army corps and division. Totally underrepresented are factually correct descriptions of the level of command that bears the actual burden and rigor [sic] of the battle, that of the regiment – generally, the brigade in modern usage and the battalion.

In World War 2, the level of command from battalion through regiment or brigade up to division was the level at which combat decisions and outcomes occurred that translated into decisive operational and strategic results. It was the foundation of, and implementation method for, operational and strategic decision-making interventions by the higher command levels. I have called this ‘battlegroup level’, as it encompasses formations variously called ‘kampfgruppen’, ‘combat commands’ or ‘battlegroups’, varying in size from a few companies up to whole divisions, and usually containing troops with a combination of different weapons systems.

I argue that designing wargames to model with reasonable accuracy the principal elements that impact decision-making with respect to combat at this battlegroup level is very challenging. It is perhaps more challenging than at higher, operational and strategic, command levels or lower intrinsically tactical command levels. Why this is so, requires some explanation, and may help to provide an insight into World War 2 combat and the modelling of it in this context. My approach is primarily using board wargames and miniatures wargames, rather than computer-based models. However, some of the general insights should also apply to computer-based models.

More to follow…

Unfinished Wargames – A New Hope

New Year’s Resolution: I will attempt to post here every day about some aspect of my wargame designing and / or experience. Posts may be short but hopefully of interest!

As a short stocktake, the wargames I’m currently working on are:

  • Mission Command – my big WW2 simulation miniatures game. C0-design with Pete Connew.
  • Open Battles – follow-up of Airfix Battles. Co-design with Nick Fallon.
  • The March of Progress – micro-game inspired by Clausewitz’ On War.

I have an article about wargame design that I’m working on at the moment. Over the next few days, I’ll post a bit about that to give me a few head start posts.