Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Manoeuvre, Psychology, and the War-game

On Twitter today, Nick (@Dozibugger)of the Too Fat Lardies crew flagged this short piece on a British Army professional development website by Dermot Rooney.

The gist of the article is that the pendulum in debates about infantry doctrine swings between Attrition and Manoeuvre.   Attrition is relatively easy to model in simulations because it can be matched to the known lethality effects of weapons systems (eg blast radius) whereas manoeuvre is harder to model because it depends on psychological factors (surrendering when you know you are outflanked and beaten). In other words, you can defeat the enemy at the tactical level through Attrition, as summarized in the saying “close with and destroy”, or by “manoeuvre and cleverness”.

  Attrition can seem more understandable because you can use numbers and models to analyze and predict the expected results of weapons systems, whereas Manoeuvre is a subtle art and hard to quantify.   Also, Attrition may seem more attractive to planners and accountants because the cost of a weapons system can be justified by its predicted effectiveness, whereas Manoeuvre is an expensive proposition that requires extensive combined arms training in the field, and its expected results are hard to model, because at its core Manoeuvre is about psychology:

“Manoeuvrism hinges on two psychological tricks: 1. Give the enemy more things to think about than he can handle; 2. Make it obvious that he’s going to lose."

Rooney notes that Manoeuvre on the battlefield is typically a low-level activity.  At the operational level, there may not be advantages of terrain or surprise that allow a general and his staff to be very clever.  Rooney quotes the British general Horrocks, who said of Operation Veritable (1945) that “There was no room for manoeuvre and no scope for cleverness”, but once the operation was under way, there were opportunities for his tactical leaders to get into positions where they could persuade enemy soldiers that they were beaten.

Surely this is true of the wargames table.    It seems to me that the more units we put on the table, the more we move the pendulum towards Attrition.   I am thinking of an AAR I saw recently for a Team Yankee game, where the table was packed with models and there was little opportunity for the attacker to do anything but trust in firepower to plow through.   Likewise the big battles so beloved of us gamers, whether Waterloo or a 2500 point per side W40K game, surely are resolved by Attrition.    
In such games, a player will not be willing to concede defeat until the math works remorselessly in the opponent’s favour.   We can model psychology in rules such as “Army Break Points” but those rules are only triggered by a sufficient amount of Attrition.   

So what would a game look like if it was set up more at the Manoeuvre end of the pendulum?   It would presumably have fewer units, and a table that allowed more movement and less sheer brute force frontal battering.  It would also model the effects of combined fires, including the loss of initiative, command and control, and morale under the effects of those fires.

Of course, there are all sorts of mechanisms out there already which try to include these factors, including rules for troop quality types, the cumulative effects of shock, and the gradual loss of command and control as leaders are lost.  None of this is new.   Rules systems like WRG have modelled the effects of being flanked on morale checks forever.

In his article, Rooney says that “Sometimes there’s a cellar of scared men waiting to put their hands up; sometimes there’s a fight right up until the last few metres and then a Mexican wave of surrendering happens”.  I guess that’s really the challenge for tactical wargamers - at what point does that seemingly impregnable unit, dug in with hard cover, suddenly become those scared men waiting to put their hands up?   And, more mysteriously, at what point does my opponent across the table start to lose heart as the battle turns against him/her?

Surrendered British paras at Anhem.  What makes the best troops decide that they’re done?

I don’t have all the answers to this, but for years now I have used this quote at the end of my work email signature block, from B.H. Liddell Hart: “Loss of hope, rather than loss of life, is the factor that really decides was, battles, and even the smallest combats”.
Blessings to your die rolls.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Work In Progress: Space Cats Are Coming!

Sometimes the best cure for the hobby doldrums is a new project.   My friend James deserves the credit and the blame here.    We are both fans of the TV SF series The Expanse, based on the novels of James S.A. Corey, and that got James into an impressive 15mm SF gaming project.    I have long admired James’ determination to bring a project to fruition - his contemporary Afghanistan project went from scratch to some very impressive, convention level games in a few years, and his SF efforts are similarly impressive.  There is an example here, including some nicely written fluff.

Some of James’ UN (Earth) Marines in power armour, figures by Ground Zero Games.  James’ project encompasses the Expanse universe, and I decided that I wanted a piece of that acton, but he seemed to have the various factions well represented.   That led me to start thinking about an alien race, of which there are plenty in the various 15mm SF anger out there.   But which one?

Kitties, of course!

Errr, no, not those kitties.    My partner Joy introduced me to the Larry Niven Ringworld series this winter, and I loved the Kzinti character Speaker to Animals, so a race of martial cats seemed like a good choice, especially as James has (unkindly but aptly) accused me of being a Crazy Cat Chaplain.  It seems a natural choice for trash-talking and chirping - I am sure there will be lots of jokes about distracting my force with laser pointers, catnip, and guided tuna missiles.    I’m there for that.

Khurasan Miniatures does a nice line of 15mm SF felines, which they call Tigrids, so that was my Kzinti infantry sorted.   I got several packs of these light infantry, who unlike James’ troops apparently don’t need or have vac suits, and then several packs of heavier infantry who I will call equivalent to James’ guys in power armour.

 The paint scheme is pretty simple.   Citadel flat back primer (my usual choice for 15mm figures) and the armour in GW Khorne Red, which seemed an appropriately bloodthirsty colour for Kzin.  The red echoes the base colour that James chose for his Martians, so I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and besides, the Kzinti don’t care about your copyright protocols.    The blue shoulder plates allow me to identify the various sections.    I was quite pleased to see the figures come alive when I started to add the white whiskers and ruffs to the figures.    They just need green eyes and adorable little pink noses and they’ll be ready to go.  I think orange tigers for the rank and file, and white tigers for the leaders would make a nice contrast.

At first I thought about some sort of disruptive pattern, or even something drab like black or olive grey, but then I recalled a recent conversation with a former boss of mine, an infantry battalion CO, who said that he wondered why armies even bother now with camo and disruptive clothing.   There are so many kinds of sensor packages out there, he said, why don’t we just put soldiers in “pink tutus or Napoleonic hussar uniforms and just have fun with colours?”  Perhaps he has a point, though I am secretly glad that he’s not working in procurement!    Also,  I suppose one could argue that a proud martial race of fighting felines would consider camo and concealment to be dishonourable.


 Khurasan offers a trio of jet-bike riders, so that was irresistible.   The idea of fast attack cats seemed very Kzinti, so I ordered three sets, which will give me a respectable recon and fast attack element to my force.   I would imagine that the youngest and most aggressive warriors would be selected for this hazardous and dangerous job.  These chaps aren’t quite finished but are getting there.  


Space Kitty Bike Leader looks like the sort of type who would happily buzz the tower.  He has some very aggressive looking missile pods that should prove helpful.


Finally, there is a an armoured component to my force, because who is going to drive across the galaxy to invade a bunch of high-tech monkeys without some decent AFV support?   I also ordered a few vehicles from Ground Zero Games from their line of Kra’vak alien vehicles.  This is one of three anti-gravy APCs which will carry a section each of my light infantry.   Again, a red base coat, but I have a pattern for it which should make it look more menacing.    The little blue swatch on the side is to remind me which section it belongs to.  There is also a tank, a SPG, a pair of drones, a pair of skimmer light attack craft, and a smallish spaceship to debut down the road.  The base is from a GW W40K set of Ork Deffkoptas that I have since gotten rid of.  This project is much more serious!


I will show more of my progress soon, I hope.   For those of you who are wondering, the rules we are using are mostly a bodge of James’ devising, very simple.   We hope to get our forces in action sometime by late winter or spring.

Blessings to your brushes!


Thursday, September 20, 2018

Office War-game Thursday: Red Vengeance

I’m a fortunate chap in that I have my own office at work, with space to layout a small game to noodle away at during my lunch hour.   Somedays I’m too busy, but some days I get to push some cardboard and roll some dice.
Currently I’m playing an OOP Avalanche Press title, Red Vengeance, which is a little gem I found in an estate sale purchase I made this spring.
Red Vengeance is a simple, high-level (armies and corps) operational game focusing on the Eastern Front 1944-45, a “Bagration to Berlin” approach .  The designer is William Sariego, not exactly a household name in wargaming circles but he has a respectable CV posted at Boardgame Geek.  Sariego designed a Barbarossa game, Defiant Russia, using the same system, which is still in print.
Turn 1: June 1944.  Here’s the opening setup, with the Germans opposing the Russians on a solid line running from the Baltic to the Black Sea.  This is a mandatory setup, with the German infantry deploying first along an indicated line of hexes, then the Russians, then finally the German armour.    Armour units have a higher combat value and movement, and also get to move and attack again during an Exploitation Phase, along with certain other types of units such as Soviet Guards.  The logical setup for both sides is to mass the armour in the centre, either north of south of the Pripet Marshes.
The game mechanics require Soviet units to attack Axis units in adjacent ZOCs.  German units do not have to attack units in adjacent ZOCs in their turn.   This rule means that on Turn 1, all hell breaks loose as the Soviets attack every single hex on the German front line, guaranteeing a huge bloodletting for both sides. One Turn 1, the German defensive rolls were generally poorer than the attackers, so the Wehrmacht was roughly handled and it has been going badly ever since.  When my son and I tried the game, we found that the first turn went slowly as it was a LOT of die rolling, but the game picks up speed thereafter.
Three months later, here’s the situation at the end of Turn 3, August 1944.   Not good for the Germans.   Warsaw is threatened, and the Germans are practically broken into northern and southern pockets with little linking the two.
Army Group North is in falling back and is in serious trouble if Warsaw gets taken.   The Panzer reserve was thrown against the two Soviet Shock Armies at 0708 but that fight ended with no casualties on either side.  A reduced SS Corps grimly hangs on to Riga as a distraction, Combat in this game is very simple.  Each unit throws a number of device equal to its combat victory and each 6 causes a step loss on the opponent.  It’s that simple.   The number of dice can be slightly modified by terrain, or goosed upwards if leaders, air or naval support are present.   Provided that a stack takes as many hits as it has steps, it can lose one step and retreat a number of hexes equal to the remaining number of hits.  If the hits are one or more above the number of steps, the stack is eliminated.   Attackers and defenders shoot simultaneously.   

Meanwhile Army Group South is falling back on Bucharest, leaving that one poor Hungarian unit at 2313 to hold the mountains against the Red Horde.  On the southern flank there are two hexes with oil wells which are quite strategic.   For each one that the Axis hold, they get one additional armour step replacement.   It is possible to build up and even reconstitute lost units in this game, but there are never enough step replacements, generally just 4-6 per turn, and the armour step replacements dry up in 1945.  There are some reinforcement units that arrive, so the German strategy as I can see it is to counterattack where possible, fall back, trade land for time and hope that the reduced movement in the winter turns slows the Soviet juggernaut.  
Red Vengeance is a small game that is well suited for solitaire play.   There are a few chrome and optional rules to experiment with, but the joy of the game is how simply it plays.     It certainly keeps my mind diverted on those rare days when I have a free lunch hour.
I’ll check in again next Thursday and see whose flag is flying over Berlin.
Blessings to your die rolls!

Monday, September 17, 2018

More Good Doggoes

Hello friends!

As I mentioned in my previous post, my partner Joy is very much a dog person.  In her life she’s owned several pure-bred huskies, and we occasionally talk about getting a husky puppy when I retire in a few years, though there are all sorts of pros and cons there.

Joy with war dog statue near Ottawa City Hall, June 2018

Joy is not much of a wargames person, but she does appreciate a crossover angle, like my friend Jame’s goblin wolf riders in my last post.

I don’t remember how, but I came across a crazy Kickstarter project called Dungeons and Doggies.  The idea is that various breeds of dogs decide to become D&D characters and set off, appropriately acquired, for the local dungeon.   How that is any more ridiculous than, say, a giant floating eyeball?


How do they draw their swords?  They don’t have thumbs!!!!?????

The KS project does include a paladin husky dog wearing armour, which painted would make a lovely gift for herself.    Lord knows what I’ll do with the rest of them, but I know enough doglovers that individual figures will make nice gifts.  I am a bit leery of Kickstarter projects generally, but this one is fully funded and then some, so hopefully it will deliver.

Blessings to your doggos!



Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Life Goes On - Part Two

Hello all:

I was totally bowled over by all the support that I received on my last post, where I resumed blogging after my wife’s death last winter.   Thank you all so much. It’s been a few months since then, so a little catch up.  Back in May I said here that “A lovely lady, a cancer widow, has entered my life and made it much richer”.   Well, “much richer” barely describes half of it.    Her name is Joy, and she is well-named.   

I met her through the Anglican parish where I serve as a volunteer assistant priest.  Her husband was being treated for cancer at the same hospital where Kay was a frequent flyer, so we often crossed paths and would meet for coffee and mutual encouragement, telling the war stories that only caregivers can really understand.   Then, last November, mysteriously and ten days apart, first Randy died, then Kay.   That winter was hard, but we got through it, checking in and feeding each other as necessary, and gradually realizing that life, and love, can go on.

In April we celebrated Joy’s birthday with a trip to Mexico.   On the flight home, we talked about how difficult it was visiting each other’s houses with a dog and three cats in the equation, and so high above the Gulf of Mexico we decided to throw in together.   


It was a splendid decision, and looking back on it, totally the right one.   We weren’t expecting to find love so quickly, but as is the case with a long terminal illness, we had both been in mourning for a year before our spouses passed, and coming back into the land of the living was an unexpected blessing.   As C.S. Lewis said in another context, I was truly Surprised by Joy.

As I moved into Joy’s house, she was a little dismayed at what came with me.   Most of my furniture I left for the tenants of my house to enjoy, but I did bring a steady stream of boxes full of games, terrain, and little soldiers.     She was a good sport, even as she lamented how her basement was now overrun with things that she didn’t truly understand, but she did appreciate the paintwork on my “little men”.

In late May, a bemused Joy had the chance to see some of my collection set up on her dining room table when my mate James came up the three hours from Stratford for one of our ongoing EX THUNDERING DICE dustups.     We don’t see each other as much as we’d like, so we try to get a lot out of our EX TD weekends.  Here the hordes of Middle Earth prepare to do battle - I think we each used about 40 points of figures using our favourite quick play fantasy rules, Dragon Rampant.

I love James’ work, and am always curious to see his latest units.   That day he debuted this impressive unit of wolf riders, old Vendel figures, with a handprinted banner of little doggies circling the Eye of Mordor.  Joy, who adores husky dogs, was suitably impressed.

Much mayhem occurred that day, and while the Wolf Riders died in the end, they were a right pain in the arse.  Even when they were reduced to one figure, they tied up my Rohirrim cavalry and were generally annoying.  Good doggies.

James has some more pictures here.  Also that weekend, I tried to introduce James to one of my fav GMT games, Space Empires, but I think it was all a bit much for him.  On Saturday we decided to play TFL’s Sharp Practice, but the unpacking was still in progress and since I couldn’t find my ACW figures, we used my SYW figures, Russians versus Turks.   It made me realize how much I enjoyed this period, and how much I would like to get back into it.


Joy and I spent a lot of time together this summer, solidifying our relationship, and everyone we know says we just look like a pair of happy idiot kids, so that bodes well, I think.

There was a little more gaming, and I’ll tell you some more about that sometime.   Oh yes, there is a project involving Space Kitties.    More to follow.

Blessings to all of you in the land of the living.


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