Combat – basic logistics

Time to move on from command and control in my thinking aloud series, to tackle a different set of problems for V3 of the system. Now I want to get to the basics of representation of the men on the table, and the implications of this for combat mechanisms.

V2 of DTN was based on the Grande Armée system of strength points which combined actual strength with effectiveness. This was creating increasing stress as I took the simulation side more seriously. I want to make the representation a bit less abstracted, and allow more subtleties to the combat mechanism, and a more straightforward narrative. So I want strength points to be based on actual numbers of men, as with Volley & Bayonet. As V+B I think 500 men per SP would work for infantry. This is quite high – but with one-hour turns these rules need to be quite crunchy. A unit will be in the range of 4-8 SPs. My cavalry units are going to be much smaller, regimental size, as I think that is typically how cavalry was used at this level. That means I need a smaller number, say 200 men per SP, which means 2-3 per unit typically.

According to my Prussian kriegsspiel rules the 400p base frontage would be covered by about 1,400 men – 3SP. The maximum frontage, double this, means about 6SP. So the unit tends to cover the base frontage in a double line, or extended frontage in a single line. A single line has less chance of being overlapped, but is fragile – one hole in the line and it is gone. A double line is more resilient, and can also handle flank threats. Which type of formation the unit is in will have to be inferred from context. I’ll deal with that later.

First there is a bigger issue. How to represent loss of effectiveness due to casualties, fatigue/clogging of weapons and loss of cohesion? These factors are long-term and short-term. Previously this was represented by loss of SPs, some of which might be recovered; one hit meant that one SP was lost. This is how both GA and V+B work. In other words loss of cohesion was treated as the same as loss of men. Very often, though, the men would still be in formation, occupying the same frontage. The number of men is critical to stamina.

The alternative is to reflect loss of effectiveness purely through a qualitative factor, usually referred to as cohesion or disruption, depending on which way up you are looking at it. I’ve seen this idea referred to on TMP, and it is the way Sam Mustafa’s Lasalle works – and Paddy Griffith in his Napoleonic Wargaming for Fun of 1980. If I use a morale grade, then a “hit” means a loss of one grade.

Of course a hit could mean both a loss of an SP and loss of a morale grade. Let’s think this through.

Morale grade will determine fragility in impact combat. The lower the grade, the more chance of a refusal (for an attacker) or fracture (for the defender). Strength determines what a unit can achieve tactically – the frontage it can cover and the reserves it can call on.

I am very tempted by the cohesion loss idea. Units did tend to cover their frontage more thinly with the loss of men, rather than shrink; and the more important loss effects were qualitative.  But then what’s the point of SPs when the bases are on a standardised frontage?

Let’s think of an infantry unit (cavalry and artillery are going to work in very different ways, so I’ll leave them until later). It takes 3SP to cover its front. Smaller units are compromised. SPs beyond this are reserves, which be used to extend the line, or be available to plug gaps, or deal with threats to the flank or rear. The problem is that designing a combat mechanism that reflects this in detail gets out of hand. Players have to do too much mental work to figure out what is going on – so say nothing of a detailed knowledge of the rules.

If hits represent a qualitative loss, then it is difficult to avoid units being of a standard size. In that case they do not accurately represent historical units, and a dimension of the simulation process is lost. .

A hit might just “delete” an SP, so that a unit Is withdrawn from play once it receives as many hits as it has SPs. The question then is whether hits should affect the morale level too? Is it double jeopardy? Wouldn’t a larger units be at a disadvantage to smaller ones? (The same number of hits would do less damage to the same number of SPs if he units were smaller in size). The idea of separate hits for morale and strength will fail the complexity test – I found this from an earlier rules incarnation where I experimented with temporary and permanent hits. Some form of percentage casualties system is an alternative (e.g. a unit is “tired” if 25% or more of its SPs are lost, and morale reduces by one level). This looks a bit more promising – Fire & Fury (ACW rules with a Napoleonic development under the name Age of Eagles) uses this arrangement.

That then leaves the tactical options for units of different strengths . 3SP needs to be the minimum unit size (unless we create a special sort of small unit, on a smaller base). But a unit of this size has little resilience. One idea is to grade units as small (3SP), medium (4,5 SP) and large (6SP or more). Two units would be allowed to pool by being in base contact (forward to back), so two small units would then fight as a single large one.

There are three situations where this matters: standard combat (one unit against another on the same frontage); overlapping; and flank or rear attacks. How these situations are defined and handled is a subject for another time.

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