Of Pips, command and games, brainstorming.
Yesterday I significantly changed things in my Napoleonic rules. Sort of half departing with the decades old regimental/brigade units towards more flexible (and more fiddly?) 1000 infantry and 4-600 cavalry “units”, mashed up into brigades (with small, average, big sized ones for accuracy). A sort of “sub accounting” of brigades. It would allow flank guards, garrisons, independent cavalry brigades on two waves. It would give cavalry their flexibility. I remember a cavalry division neatly going around the enemy and not doing much damage as it could only crush two batteries per half an hour, from its two brigades’ components, clearly silly. Not battalions, as I still don’t want too many and besides, they will be too small to look good, of infinite sizes variations (to remember!) which means often never right in representations anyway. This prompted a big brainstorming about command and control.
I have a system of orders, with delays and mishaps which, I think, gives a decent rendering of the command problems at higher echelons (army-corps). Parallel to that, in last few weeks I was toying with the need (need?) to play something like Bataille Empire with battalions, to finally be able to use the scenario books of Michael Hopper. This means more painting! I played twice his big Eckmühl scenario, it was fine but the big chunky units were not flexible enough to do it justice. The Austrians should have been able to spread more. Hence the idea that after all, why not use smaller components of my manoeuvre elements (yes I kept it, in honour of my 20 years of Empire playing)?
So I went on changing things, new QRs and so on. Then doubts hit. Will this be too fiddly?
There were 2 basic premises in my game scale choices long ago:
1 lower number of “things” to handle= more troops possible per player. Brigades.
2 The nice-looking big units. More figures per unit.I will now have potentially 12 semi-independent “units” in my Austrian divisions, instead of 4. Sure they can now have only one in square to secure a flank, make refuse flanks in echelons and more. But even if the system promotes grouping for movements and attacks, players being like lawyers, will still sneak into the limit edges of the system.
I was then thinking of re-establishing (it was jettisoned decades ago) a system of control inside the divisions. You know the pips or something similar. Players think it a command system.
1 You must make choices. Good game wise. Does a division general in 1809 have to make choices if he can “move” 4 or 8 of his 12 battalions? I think not. He might want to, say assault a hill. He wants it coordinated. It comes down to how many sub commanders he must explain that to disseminate the manoeuvre to all the units. In the case of this Austrian, two brigadiers and 4 colonels or just the brigadiers who will in turn do it. The difference between Erz. Ludwig and Friant, one relatively inept young, there because of family, and one with 15 campaigns and a position because of his obvious abilities? Not hat Ludwig will move 5 and Friant 9, but that Friant might have it ready in 20 minutes when the other one will take an hour.
2 The limit on units going all over the place. Right. But why should they do that? We have a forever contradiction: Some claim we have too much control over the troops, but in the end we, the players move them, turn left or right, no matter what pips or not we have, we just can do it less. More important I think is the orders/ the intend/ the attitude these troops have. If they are ordered to assault that hill, in most cases, once orders are received, they will go and try. There can be bad coordination, delays, lack of enthusiasm, but overall, they will go unless some more pressing threat arises. The threat thing is often under evaluated in games. We the player also overrule it. We might carry on things the real ones would be reluctant to attempt, because we see and know more than they do. The famous helicopter general. Pips limit your freedom of pushing everything, but you entirely chose what to push. If coupled with orders (as in Bataille Empire) you get a bit of both command and control. But…
I remember an officer telling me, loosing control of the troops (that was about urban fights, groups you can’t see, without comms etc.) is not like in games that they do nothing, that would be easy. It is that they do things, you don’t know where and what. I tried to get a bit with this, having a system for uncontrolled units, doings things linked to the situation and their orders. My take is that in the game control is a fast intervention of the leader, things under his eyes, in the end often via the famous directing unit. Many other things would be reactions to threats, not easy as you the gamer do it in the end, not the troops.
My main pet against pips came from old DBm games. You have this big cavalry wing you sent on a wide outflanking move., you just had a 5 for them. Then they slow down as you have only 2s fine, they got cautious, found obstacles, missed alignments, you name it. But...
Then the enemy who often interferes with your best plans, gets something on the opposite wing that gets nasty. It literally swallows your pips into a fight. Your flanking wing who in real life you told to go an hour ago, suddenly, slows down or halts, the pips being used elsewhere. They still have their orders, they have possibly no clue of what is happening on the other wing. To change their orders would take a big delay in real life. Perhaps your general got all his attention into this new fight, his aides there too. In that case the flanking wing would even more do what it was sent for, not stopped.
I have this with orders, distances, and delays. Most of my orders, you will be happy to know consist of a simple marker under the commander, arrow and code attitude. Nothing is perfect. We still don’t have to be lazy. The occasional slow down and stops of Fire And Fury systems are better for control than pips. They and their occurrence don’t depend much on you. Events cards played with a chance to work can do that too. The problems of command:
Delays, distances, misunderstandings, coordination, cretins, smoke, terrain,sheer bad luck and more. If the game turn or decision segment, is long enough it can “swallow” many of these.
I don’t want an excellent commander with 15 bn (Davout’s corps divisions in 1809) be in trouble because too many, and a smashed-up Austrian with only 6 left, happy with life as clearly, we don’t read of Gudin, Friant, Morand etc. having terrible problems with my list above.
So, I will resist the pips. Also fighting anything that adds plenty of dice rolling, storing etc.
So far, I am very satisfied with my orders system (command quality and use of time) and my uncontrolled random reactions. As of 6/23 have added an optional system using directing units, just like they did from Romans to the "empty battlefield" of 1900+.