Saturday, 23 July 2011

Wider Concerns Than Pitched Battles

Beware Greeks bearing gifts...

Cue photo....

It is perhaps no accident that wargaming, in general, adheres to the Clauswitzian concept of decisive battle. No doubt there are some who would argue that it cannot be any other way. A game requires a winner and a loser, (unless it is Moustrap in which everyone loses).

Yet this ignores that in the majority of conflicts, for the majority of human history, wars are not fought in this manner. Indeed if they were, it is unlikely that writers would pen works like '10 Decisive battles' or 'Battles that Changed History'.

In order to research the Russian Civil War, I have been reading Churchill's Crusade by Clifford Kinvig.

The snippet that leapt out at me is the orders given to Major General William Graves as he set out for Siberia, "This contains the policy of the United States in Russia which you are to follow. Watch your step; you will be walking on eggs loaded with dynamite."

Hardly 'march to the sound of the guns.'

In truth this was rock solid legalistic talk compared to his counterpart Colonel George Stewart at Archangel. His orders restricted him to guarding military stores and "rendering such aid as may be acceptable to the Russians in the organisation of their own defence."

Which would seem clear enough, except he never recieved them. And on arrival in Russia had his troops taken off him, plaved under British officers, leaving him effectively without a command in a town with few pleasures, in the Arctic Circle.

There are sets of rules that attempt to address this option, and there are game mechanics like objectives, timed reinforcements, victory points etc that can be employed to try and ensure the player does not opt by defeault for the decisive battle. But I wonder how many wargamers upon recieving the equivilent of Graves' orders would attempt to follow them?

There are mitigating circumstances behind both sets of orders.

The employment of American troops was a reaction to the deployment of Japanese troops, and was as much a political as a military move in the ongoing trade and strategic struggles that would ultimately lead to Pearl Harbour.

There was also the matter of $1000 million of war supplies at Vladivostok -

(which offers the opportunity for one of my favourite anicdotes of WWI... which comes form Norman Stone's excellent book War on the Eastern Front.

The Tzarist regime's inefficiency in part stemmed from the use of monopoly suppliers. One such contract was boots for the army. The monopoly contractors failed to meet the requirements, and resourceful army quartermasters sought to gain supplies of boots from the US. The monopolists complained to the government who put a stop to it. But a way around this was found by ordering individual pairs of boots for each soldier, which were sent via the postal service, as gifts. Obviously this arrangement caused total chaos. And equally obviously the contractors complained; though they still failed to supply the required number of boots. At which point some bright spark noticed that the contract was for "pairs" of boots. And so the illicit postal trade began again, this time with the boots being dispatched left boot in one parcel and right boot in the other, as gifts, to soldiers in the front line


It is subject with which I have been wrestling in the set of rules I am writing.

One option is for the opposing player to enforce caution, by way of the card mechanism, by stopping overlying agressive movements. Another is to allow for command cards which require the player to withdraw from combat and fall back, or rigidly remain in defence of specified location.

I am loath to go own the scenario route, as I am trying to design someting that gives players freedom of action, and options. And scenarios are too easily 'gamed.'

It is certainly a quandry.


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