thread: 2006-03-05 : No, THIS is the perfect medium

On 2006-03-06, Valamir wrote:

Sydney's doing a pretty great job of summarizing this issue, I thought I'd add a couple of additional pertinent ideas.

1) On the matter of efficiency vs. is quite correct to say that they two are often at odds.  The simplest example is that the most efficient way to organize a bunch of soldiers is to have them all together where Command, Control and Communication (the 3Cs of all miliatery endeavors since cavemen days) is MUCH easier (and Logistics/supply even more so) if all the men are in the same place.  Keep them together = maximum efficiency.  It also means, dang easy to blow them apart with air strikes and artillery...which is why standard doctrine of any top tier modern military in a combat zone is to disperse the infantry as far as possible...something made possible only with the development of man portable communications...the single most revolutionary factor in warfar ever (vastly more revolutionary than steel, or gunpowder, or even the stirrup...though the last comes close)

2) the value of tanks and helecoptors and air power lies principally in their offensive capability.  Each has a defensive role as well (tanks can make handy portable pill boxes in a pinch, the presence of armor busting choppers can put a damper in the mobility of enemy armor, and gaining air superiority is a good way to help keep your boys from getting bombed), but the principal role of each is to deliver maximum firepower onto a target.

The idea here is the standard principal of ground warfare (also largely true throughout history) of Find, Fix, and Flank.  The neat thing about FFF is that its one of the few military maxims that is equally true regardless of the scale of battle you're talking about.  A squad of infantry encountering facing an enemy strongpoint will find, fix, and flank.  Several divisions, thousands of men strong, will endeavor to find, fix, and flank.

Finding is the key.  Unless the enemy is found, they can't be fixed or flanked.  If you're found, you can be.  Tanks and choppers are horrible for finding.  You can't see or hear much of anything in a tank.  You might think that choppers being airborne are great for finding things but (as any player of the old battle suit wargame will attest) being airborne makes it far easier for the enemy to find you, than for you to find the enemy...which is why choppers spend most of their time flying nape of the earth and hiding behind hills.

For awhile it looked like the Find mission would be taken over by sattelites, high flying recon planes, or even drones...and to be sure those assets have proven very useful and Finding enemies who are helpful enough to hang around out in the open to be spotted.  But in the end, the main thing those technologies have done is scared the enemy off of the "battle field" and back into "civilian" areas.  Since sattelites are really bad at telling the difference between civilian sitting in the window talking on his cell phone to his wife, and civilian sitting in the window calling in Forward Observor coordinates to RPG armed bad guys hiding down the street...all that vaunted technology is, while not entirely useless, at least much less useful than they wanted to believe when they were paying for it all.

So, once again it falls to simple human eyeballs to Find the enemy.  Where in the past, this was a key role (and indeed, except for the relatively brief dominance of the armored knight, the primary role throughout history) of cavalry, today it falls to the infantry...although, to be sure, sometimes to mechanized infantry riding in a variety of small, fast, scout vehicles.

Even today, however, nothing quite matches the tried and true method of finding the enemy...marching in until someone starts shooting at you.  We try to use intellegence, and recon, and the like to swing the odds, but bottom line, most enemies are discovered simply by putting your infantry into a place where the enemy is unwilling to allow them to remain unmolested...and considering them "found" when they start molesting you.  While the media likes to build up all of the "ambushes" and the like against our troops in Iraq as being some horrible terrible truth...most of it is simply the normal way of finding out where the enemy is.

Fixing the enemy simply means keeping their attention, keeping them occupied trading fire with the fixing unit.  The fixing unit is not supposed to defeat the enemy, that's not their job.  They're supposed to keep the enemy pinned down, and if possible prevent them from withdrawing (very difficult in an urban environment).  Defeating the enemy is the job of the Flanking unit.  This is the role that Tanks, Choppers, Airstrikes, and over the horizon artillery was designed to play.  Anyone who's spent any time watching Vietnam war movies has seen this in action...although many movies take the angle of the infantry being hung out to dry.  In reality, the infantry in Vietnam were doing their job admirably...finding the enemy, and fixing them until they could be blasted apart by artillery or airstrikes (terrain not be conducive to tanks).

Unfortuneately, we've gotten way way too good at blasting apart found enemies with artillery and airstrikes.  throughout the 80s especially we made such advances in airpower and artillery that now there is no other military force on the planet (NATO allies included) who could stand up to the US army on the battle field.  We can find you with high tech recon, fix you with very fast deployed mechanized infantry, and flank you with a combination of the most powerful tanks in the world, airpower, or artillery (now most commonly in the form of cruise missles with smart warheads which beat the tar out of tube artillery in terms of maximizing badness to the enemy). a chess player who can't find anyone to play him because he's too good...we essentially eliminated 70% of our own military effectiveness.  We have the power to blast any enemy on the battlefield to the enemy simply stays off the battlefield.  Our super powerful flanking weapons (tanks, cruise missles, air strikes, etc.) lose alot of their value when the enemy target is surrounded by civilians.

So once again the infantry proves their flexibility.  Tanks and Airplanes are designed to be exceedingly good at very specific roles...roles which are no longer in that much demand.  It typically takes a decade or more to get new vehicles designed for new roles deployed to front line troops.  It takes much less time to train infantry to perform those roles the hardway.


This makes NinJ go "Very interesting, Ralph..."
... this really makes me start thinking about a tactical game.

This makes SF go "Finding through fighting, absolutely"
Even if your high-tech recon gear could spot every enemy, you still don't know how hard they're willing to fight until you fight them -- and how hard they fight for Place A compared to Place B can be valuable data in and of itself.

This makes VB go "wow finding's HARD."
Finding is hard to do in a tabletop game where you want to play for only a couple-few hours per game. I mean, to find your forces, I can just look at the board.

This makes ecb go "stratego? battleship?"
simple finding exercises, literally.

This makes NinJ go "Well, V., here's an idea:"
This is a little like Stratego, I guess.

I've got units on the field. They each have certain obvious characteristics: this guy's a tank, that guy's infantry, that thing's artillery... but only I know how many dice I have to roll for each of those, for the whole rest of the game.

So I've got a bunch of Infantry dudes in a town. You're debating coming into the town after me, cuz you know there's a lot of guys there. But what you don't know is that those guys have only three dice left. I skimped on those guys so my tanks could be there for the end-run so I could hit your rocket installation a couple miles off.

Basically, you've got a bunch of guys, but the opponent doesn't know how good they are.

Imagine that the rule is, if you have more than 33% blue dice, you're infantry. If you have more than 33% red dice, you're artillery. If you have more than 33% blue dice, you're armor.

Alternately, imagine that you have a town. You're attacking, I'm defending. I don't place my guys; either you make a successful Search roll on a building, or I decide to shoot at you out of it. When you root out some of my guys from a stupid place, I'm like "Damn! Those guys didn't get the orders!" and when I get to shoot at you from wherever I want, they did.

This makes Chris go "Tenjo"
The boardgame Tenjo has you use chips with the number of troops you have that are left face down until you engage in combat- so you don't know if the opponent has only 1,000 troups or 25,000 troops- all you see is one chip. Advanced players can try to guesstimate the maximum you can pull out by an estimation of the number of troops you COULD possibly have and how many chips you have on the board overall, but it still leaves a lot of room for surprises. The other option is also to send in a small recon group to get sacrificed to find out the number of troops a given chip stack has as well.

This makes NinJ go "That's certainly similar to what I'm talking abnout, yeah."

This makes TB go "COMBAT MISSION!"
Sorry to shout. Play computer games - they do this very well. Specifically play Combat Mission 3/Combat Mission Afrika Korp (same game, depends where you live).

This makes PJB go "Steel Panthers, World At War"
Also is a good one dealing with the spotting issue. It's free at Matrix Games, and has a pretty vibrant community at which runs an Academy to learn the game better.

This makes luke go "I'm pulling a Ben Lehman:"
...Or you could come and demo our new project this summer. Hee!

This makes TB go "Steel panthers is okay"
In fact, it's great because it's free. Combat Mission is wildly better apart from that, in terms of realistic simulation certainly.

This makes Val go "Finding is VERY hard"
Its a key reason why so many old school board games would use dummy counters and other clumsy methods and why the hard core grognards play their wargames double blind. I once played operation level Napoleonics where orders where emailed blindly based on sparse intelligence and maps...when forces blundered into each other, we'd fight the resulting battle on table top. VERY educational. For most of the game 80% of my cavalry was scattered hither and yon looking for bad guys. My opponent on the other hand, hadn't spent anytime looking for me, just driving on towards his objective, and so the final battle was fought at the time and place of my choosing (allowing me to crush him mercilessly). For your mecha game, I would assume that the Finding part has already been done, and the game is playing out the Fixing and Flanking part. Just build the Finding piece into your scenario set up rules. For instance you can spend points on "Recon & Intelligence" instead of Mecha in your army build up and then the ration of such points spent by the players gives the advantage of initial set up to one side or the other (i.e. overwhelming means I know 80% of your force composition and you set up 80% of your troops before me. BTW: the Combat Mission Series is the single greatest squad based combat simulator of all time bar none. It is scary how realistic and educational the game is. I Highly recommend it, even if you are anti grognard. The interface is all graphical (watch guys die and bodies pile up) you give orders (while the game is paused) by clicking and dragging troops to where you want them to go (with delays for how quick they follow your orders based on leadership, morale, and so on), and then watch for 1 minute unable to intervene while they play things out able to rewind, replay, slow mo, and change camera angles. The first time you send a line of 3 rifle squads across an open field, watch enemy machine gun positions open up on them, watch them fall to the ground for cover, watch the rookies break and run while the veterans start lobbing grenades, and watch as your skillfully placed tank opens fire on its own to supress the machine guns you'll be amazed...and then you'll say "that's why you call in smoke before crossing an open field...I get it now". You'll learn more about small unit tactics (and how hard it is to keep tanks alive) from playing a couple hours of this game, then any amount of research possible short of actually being a soldier in war time.

This makes JonH go "Or Columbia block games..."
The Colmbia block wargames do the Stratego thing pretty well.

This makes TB go "The thing about PCs"
Is that they can totally hide information from one side, really easily. And Like Val says, Combat Mission is great. You pretty quickly stop sending three squads across a field at once unless you know what is on the other side.

This makes SF go "Find, fix, & flank is...."
small-scale maneuver (you go around the enemy) in service of large-scale attrition (you come back and kill 'em from behind). "Find, Fix, and Bypass Altogether" would be pure maneuver warfare. (See my longer comment below).

This makes BL go "The thing is..."
There's gotta be a way to hide information in a game without, you know, hiding information. If the problem is properly understood, you shouldn't need the brute force of a computer / referee to do it.

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