22 September 2011

Some Thoughts on Recon

This was originally posted as s response in a discussion over at Blackcloud's Military Analysis Blog at the ConsimWorld Forum. The top line is me quoting a question, and then presenting my thoughts in response.

Does wargaming really reflect how recon is supposed to work?

Nope. Not in the least. For several reasons.

1) They rarely have the right footprint on the map. Recon units, especially US ones (and the French, too) are designed to take up a lot of real estate, and this is rarely modeled on the map. The Fifth Corps series tried, by making the cav units TRP/CO size while most of the game units are BN/RGT.
A point of comparison: at NTC, a typical BDE w/ 2 maneuver BNs could attack thru the central corridor on line w/ each other (approx 14-18km of frontage depending on where in central corridor you are). An ACR w/ 2 SQNs will be crammed in to cover from the live-fire area in the northern corridor to the south end of the Whale Gap.

2) Because the spatial ratios are frequently off, cav units end up being significantly up-gunned compared to their maneuver brethren. This was especially apparent in the SPI ModQuads, where the div cav in Wurzburg was more high-powered maneuver battalion that often gets used as a 'fire brigade' to plug holes in the US player's lines, instead of spread out in front of the division where he belongs. And why not? There's no real cav mission for him, so why not take advantage of his higher combat value?
Note - the higher combat value is accurate if you have a cav unit occupy the same space as a maneuver unit. An ACR squadron is organized with 3 TRPs of 9/13 (tk/brad) + a TK CO of 14/0, so their start strength is 42 tanks (9x3 + 14 + SQN CO) and 40 M3 CFVs (3x13 + SQN S3) plus another 6 M109-series howitzers in the gun battery. Oh, and each CAV TRP has its own mortar section, too. That's a lot of firepower at a BN level.

3) Over 50% of the cav's mission is non-existent in a wargame. Someone already said this a bit, but when I can see where the other guy's counters are - and aren't! - then sending a cav unit out to look over the hill for Injuns becomes less vital. I'm not looking for composition/disposition of enemy forces at that point, because I know what they are when the shrink wrap comes off.

4) A significant part of the cav's mission is knocked off by the very nature of wargaming. The W@W series{1} varies the way the two sides pull their chits and says it's based on the variances in doctrine between the two sides. Fair enough. But that's hardly a substitute for a doctrinal portrayal/employment of units on the map. There's absolutely no rule in place requiring the Forward Security Element of a regimental attack to consist of x, y, and z elements, and to move in a certain fashion with a certain mission according to Soviet doctrine. Once you get your ORBAT, the gloves come off, and there's no constraint on the player to fight according to doctrine, which would include a Sov-style Combat Recon Patrol (roughly equivalent to a US BN SCT PLT) that spreads across the BN frontage in teams of 1-2 vehicles to ID critical targets and get the FSE pointed at the key element of the NATO force. There's no requirement that the FSE be organized w/ it's appropriate reinforcements, nor that they follow their doctrinal mission of engage/fix the lead enemy element. There's no requirement for the regimental main body to fight a certain way, to employ chemical munitions or FASCAMs a certain way, or to allocate reinforcements into the battle a certain way.
Without those doctrinal requirements, the recon units' missions of identifying parts of the enemy formation, and comparing that to their anticipated doctrinal layout on the terrain to try to 'fill in the gaps' of the rest of the formation is pretty useless, even if you were playing a double-blind game where you didn't see everything on the map as soon as the game started.

{1} note, I'm not picking on W@W, which is one of my favorites. Assault had the same problems. So did Fire Team. So did First Battles. So did (your favorite NATO-Warsaw Pact game here).

By: Brant


ltmurnau said...

Point 4 is the strongest IMO - wargamers don't want to spend time doing properly the "feely-outy" of where the enemy might be, or might not be, no more than they want to spend gaming time looking after the "eaty-fixy" (supply, rest and maintenance) issues. These are the very things they need to be doing, if they are to understand anything about warfare, modern or not. But it's not fun, not when you want to get to the "shooty-shooty" part, within the time you have available.

(I think I may have invented a new doctrinal vocabulary here.)

Brant said...

> (I think I may have invented a new doctrinal vocabulary here.)

"Hey S4, how are we doing on the eaty-fixy stuff?!"

besilarius said...

The only way to realistically model recon activities is in a Kriegspiel method.
In that you have two sides, usually represented by teams, but not always, and a moderator who adjudicates such things as hidden units, and the recon elements that search for them.
Personally, I have never seen a two player game that can even begin to approach a realistic handling of the situation.

ltmurnau said...

Cue references to NATO Division Commander (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/7112/nato-division-commander) for operational, and Cityfight (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/4436/cityfight-modern-combat-in-the-urban-environment) for tactical combat. The most ambitious board wargames I can recall to take recce seriously, the others on this geeklist (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/1483/item/20945#item20945) fall far short, yet so far ahead of so many other "perfect information" wargames.