13 July 2011

GameTalk - Orders, FRAGOs, Recon, and Objectives

This idea came to me as I'm reading over previous posts in both Sound Off! and GameTalk.

(caveat: I have a Napoleonic frame of reference on this discussion, but it's more broadly applicable with some changes in terminology)

So on the real battlefield, you've got recon units and scouts and light cavalry that all play different (but similar) security roles in trying to identify enemy threats on the battlefield before you encounter them the hard way, and enable your forces to react appropriately to newly-detected threats.

On paper, you can get away with (a) violating doctrine, (b) chasing around anything that pops up, (c) ignoring the recon missions of these sorts of units and instead using them as highly-mobile, light combat units. This skews force ratios from the historical battles, changes the information available to the participants, and introduces all sorts of battlefield wackiness.

What might a system look like that has a main body with a fixed
objective, whose recon assets have some more flexibility of maneuver, but who cannot deviate from the base orders without 'knowledge' of what else is out there. So if the scouts don't get high enough on the ridgeline to see the cavalry regiment hiding behind the hill, the corps main body never reacts to it.

How do you designate that route of march? The recon objectives? The triggers between the recon units looking for the enemy and the corps HQs reacting to reports of the enemy and issuing the changes in orders to change the movement?

On a more modern battlefield, the plan in the Designing Out Loud project is to have recon assets focused on NAIs. Depending on what's detected within those NAIs, additional orders may be triggered for certain units to change the plan to react to those actions.

What sayeth the crowd? How do you keep scouting/recon units in their historical/doctrinal role? How do you limit the knowledge of the HQs such that the scouts are once again the "eyes and ears" of the command without resorting to a double-blind game?

By: Brant


ltmurnau said...

Since you mentioned your Napoleonic frame of reference, it might be useful for you to research a few sets of Napoleonic miniatures rules, many of which rely on starting the game with an overall plan, from which units can deviate during the game. Miniatures games also can "do recon" better than many board wargames I've seen. Unfortunately I can't think of any examples that you could check out right now. (That's me, a helpful guy but only up to a point... B~)

besilarius said...

What you are describing sounds very similar to the classic Kriegspiel as developed by the Grosse General Stab of Prussia/Germany.
It was one of the first wargames, but was intended to train officers about warfare.
There is a little section on this on HMGS.org website in the History of Wargaming.
The General Staff system was take a map, give each side commanders and staff, units, objectives, and a judge adjudicates.
An early attempt to show junior officers how things work on campaign.
Still used with a lot of the friction of combat able to be modelled. Couriers can only go so far on horseback. If they take a wrong turn or get lost, the message arrives late.
If the general goes to the front to see how an attack is going, then the couriers may not find him.
Lots of meaty possibilities that boardgames don't generally try to model.

Brant said...

I get the Kriegspiel similarities (hey, I gotta listen to James Sterrett talk about it every time we're on a panel together!). The key is that you need referees with KS - it's intended as a double-blind game. I'm curious if there's a good way to do this in a traditional 2-player hex-and-counter board game.

Anonymous said...

Is not the primary role of recon to address fog-of-war factors? This would include intelligence on enemy forces (strength, type, location) and also geographic considerations (bridge out, passable roads).
If so, the challenge with most boardgames is that a) the mapboard is generally "known/known" to both players, and b) enemy disposition is also mostly known (except in "wood block games"). Yet another factor is scale. If your board game features battalion / division size units, then the attached recon unit is very small, comparitively speaking. In such cases, I assume that the recon units act somewhat like screening units, which is what enforces the typical "zone of control" around a unit. If you are dealing with small unit games, then recon will likely occur via "recon in force" (ie: identification occurs when contact and possible combat is made). Last, there is also the problem with accuracy or reliability of the recon. I can't recall the exact time/date/location, but I believe that one of English kings lost a signficant battle because his recon units mistook the "Sun in splendor" banner of an enemy unit as the "sun radiant" banner of a friendly unit and failed to raise an alarm.

Having said all that...I think you could possibly model geographic recon via the use of generic counters. For eg: at beginning of game, defending army must place a generic "bridge" counter on all locations on map board that have a bridge. The reverse side of the "bridge counter" will have either an icon of an intact or destroyed bridge (decision left up to defender as to what bridges are up or down). Attacker would therefore have to recon bridges to determine optimal routes.

Enemy unit recon could be done either using a woodblock mechanic, or, as in AH's Patton's Best, an "optimum unit marker" that stays in play unit unit is properly identified (ie: all guns that show up on battle board perform like an Pak 75 until they are spotted, when their "true" identity is revealed.)

It would be interesting to see a game that solely models recon ops. IIRC, Mosby Raiders did an okay job of "recon + guerilla raiding" and wasn't there a fairly average game called Commando (looked like the movie "the wild geese") that also used recon to identify objectives?

Yours in gaming,

Jack Nastyface