21 August 2011

Battle Lab: Sequencing the Fight

Another older reprint from a few years ago.

Sequencing the fight, AKA Backwards Planning

What is Sequencing?

Sequencing is the process of arranging units on the battlefield such that a commander (or gamer) creates favorable matchups for his forces at the critical points on the battlefield. While this sounds simple enough in theory, the truth is that it can be difficult in practice for a variety of reasons.

First, a player has to determine where the decisive point on the battlefield likely will be. In some cases, that decisive point is in the instructions: "Seize the city of Bugtussle from the enemy." In other cases, it requires some predictive analysis to know where the enemy is headed, especially if the mission is kill bad guys.

In some cases, sequencing is easy, especially in games where the player can control what units set up in specific locations. In other cases, it can be difficult, especially if some of the sequencing is designated for the player, such as reinforcements that are mandated to appear on certain turns.

As always, the examples discussed below follow some general US doctrinal principles, but are not bound by US doctrinal terms. Also, although these principles apply to other types of games (naval, air, etc) the examples focus on ground combat, since that's what I know best.

OK, so what?

Hell, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

more after the jump! (click the article header for the full article)

Players planning their future moves need to consider a variety of issues. Where is the enemy going? Why is the enemy going there? How can I stop them? Based on the best killing systems available, players should look to create the most favorable matchups for identifying the enemy, and then killing them.

Sequencing is especially important in 'double-blind' games, such as Columbia's 'block' games or Avalanche Press' naval games. In these games, not unlike real life, fast units cover a lot of map looking for the bad guys. Once the enemy is located, moving units forward to engage in combat should focus on creating overmatches the enemy cannot easily contend with.

Given the back-and-forth nature of modern combat, especially when mobile units are involved (i.e., not guerillas and light infantry, but tanks and APCs) there is an even greater need to plan for the sequencing of units. In this case, the matchups a player is looking to create are not merely the immediate ones needed to seize an objective, but also the anticipated ones in defending an objective. In these cases, a player needs to establish the desired end-state of units, and then plan backwards from there to organize them into the proper formations to reach their objectives in the order needed (see scenario 2, below).

Scenario 1

In this scenario, the Soviet units have sequenced themselves such that they are making initial contact with a relatively weak unit. That unit can head for either OBJ A or B. Once the German units are located and identified, the Soviet player can bring forward his two high-attack-value tank units.

The German player has not successfully sequenced his units. He has his high-value units up front, minimizing the flexibility to redeploy them to meet new threats on the battlefield. His reserve is too weak to affect much damage on the battlefield.
Scenario 1, click to enlarge

Scenario 2

Based on the desired end-state and current starting formation, with the Germans spread out along a highway and the Brits clustered in-town, how could the units be sequenced forward such that those most needed for the defense are kept intact as long as possible? Note that there is a difference between start- and end-strength of the overall force, but none of the counters change values.

Scenario 2 start, click to enlarge
Scenario 2 end, click to enlarge

Scenario 3

Finally, a third scenario here demonstrates this principle in action. Where scenarios one and two were based around battalion/regimental units, this scenario shows platoon-level units executing an assault on an objective. Each step in the scenario is played out to show players how sequencing can influence the best 'flow' of units on the battlefield, to ensure the ideal matchup at the right place and time. The Russian mission is to seize a town from the partisans and secure it against a counterattack. By deploying his units in the correct order, the Russian player can counter the enemy threats with an appropriate unit at each stage of the mission. Because the partisans have no heavy vehicles, there is no need to commit the tanks to the lead. Reserving them for unexpectedly tough resistance ensures that the shock value of the tanks won't be wasted anywhere on the battlefield, and it saves the toughest unit for the defense of the town against an expected counterattack.

Scenario 3 start, click to enlarge
Scenario 3 step 2, click to enlarge
Scenario 3 step 3, click to enlarge
Scenario 3 end, click to enlarge

Another Tool for the Toolbox

Is sequencing the be-all and end-all of tactical competence? Of course not. But it is one more tool in the toolbox of a sound tactical thinker. All other things being equal, the commander who can sequence his forces into the battle appropriately can exploit favorable force ratios across the battlefield, and best match their units to their missions. Used in conjunction with some predictive analysis of enemy intentions and likely courses of action, sequencing allows a gamer to position his units on the battlefield to inflict maximum damage on the enemy. And that is, usually, the point.

By: Brant


Anonymous said...

Good article and good illustrations. What happens if:
a) you're fighting asymmetrically? IN this situation, the over-power force may want to use their force majeur as a "honey pot" to attract enemy asym fighters (who may be intercepted and destoryed via satellite patrols, etc) and what of the under-powered force? Can you still use sequencing when you are basically trying to harry your opponent to death?

And b) if your opponent is also using sequencing, then are't you basically headed for a big brew up?

Obviously best for situations (and games) with Fog-o-war.

best regards,

Jack Nastyface

PS. PM'ed you via your WGer account.

Brant said...

This wasn't exactly intended for non-MCO situations.

and I got your PM... thanks. I'll start rotating in some of those suggestions over the next few weeks.

We appreciate you reading over here :)