As I was busy building stuff over the last few weeks I find that the activity of the hands frees the mind to wander along different paths. One of the things that I have been playing around with is a way to represent the advantage that highly skilled, highly motivated and confident troops have over their opponents. Simply making them shootier, or tougher to kill doesn't represent the advantage because the opponent still has a full range of choices and reactions every turn, they are just not as good at the mechanics (don't misread me there, the mechanics are part of the well-spring of better troops).
Warning! What comes next is a whole lot of observational and theoretical blather and then a set of rules for WW2 tanks that is definitely a W.I.P.
So what is it that makes a couple of USMC fire teams (or almost any other Western troops) more dangerous than a company of say, ISIS terrorists? At the zero-level a 7.62x39mm round will make you just as dead as a 5.56x45mm. An AK-47 will fire as reliably and strike what it is aimed at just as well as an M-4, so there is little to choose there. Both weapons are easy to operate and shoot, and can be competently handled by any able-bodied person. The staggering number of OPFOR casualties that occur in exchanges between Western Forces and ISIS (or Al-Quaeda, Taliban, Somalis.....take your pick) indicates that the enemy is not afraid to appear on the battlefield and stand (at least initially) and fight; simply put you have to be in the fight to get killed there. So why is that they are so bad at it and our troops are so much better?
The troops on both sides are humans, no genetically-enhanced super troops are present on the battlefield (sorry Space Marines, you are still 30K years in the future). So what is the real difference?
I would argue that it is training. Not just in weapons handling, or tactics, or theory. It is the ingrained training at every level; you know your job, you know that the other guys in your squad know their job, you all know each other's jobs and you know that each and every one of you will perform to your absolute best to carry out the task at hand. This produces a speed and certainty under fire that shocks and stuns OPFOR troops with lesser training and individual skills. The ability to work together seamlessly, to fill in for casualties or malfunctions, to react without waiting for orders and to tirelessly work toward the objective is what sets those USMC troops apart from ten times their number of un-integrated OPFOR troops. This stunning effect is multiplied as each moment of the fight passes, the trained troops observe, recognize, process, evaluate and eliminate threats faster than the enemy can present them. This leaves the OPFOR at a progressively greater disadvantage with each passing minute. The disparity in action and reaction grows until something forces a break in the combat; the house is cleared, forces run out of ammo (or opponents), a new force becomes active in the fight, etc etc.
Now I can hear you thinking, "Well, that is all well and good, but how does this impact wargaming?". That is exactly my thoughts; how can we incorporate this sort of thing in our games? What mechanisms can we implement to bring this sort of thing into a miniature game format? My idea (which we will get to eventually, I promise) springs from several different but compatible thoughts. I will explain each one in turn and then try to show how they can be integrated into a usable system.
I have long been fascinated by the difference in perceived time; the way that exactly the same amount of time can seem to take ages for one participant while another scarcely notices it passing. I experience it most often when shopping with my wife; the same forty minutes seems like months to me while to her it is barely more than the blink of an eye. I'm sure she finds a similar effect when I'm staring at "some old gun" in a museum. In my own experience as a Police Officer I can say being rear-security on a house while the entry-team goes in through the front door to execute a search warrant is the most nerve-wracking thing. From the moment you hear the ram punch the door until they call the "All Secured" seems like several eternities. But, having more often been the officer with the ram, I can say that everyone going in is moving at maximum speed and trying to get everything locked down with the utmost dispatch. Normally the whole thing takes less than a minute, but the way the participants experience that time is vastly different. The objective is to bring these uneven time-streams together on the gaming table in a workable fashion.
The next, and hugely important, idea is the OODA Loop. USAF Colonel John Boyd first explained it as Observe, Orient, Decide, Act ( a good explanation of the OODA Loop is here on Wikipedia). Essentially it is a combination of your ability to understand your environment well enough to make a coherent evaluation of what is occurring, Observe. Followed by an effort to use all of your existing training, skills, ideas, experiences and intelligence to develop an understanding of what the observations mean has occurred, and what is likely to occur in the near future, this effort allows you to process the information through your skill-set, Orient. Once you have completed this process you can now consider what is the next best step to take in the effort to complete your objective, Decide. The final step is to execute your decision, Act. Troops with good and continuous training, combined with analyzed experience will have much shorter OODA Loops than troops deficient in either. This means that when confronted with event on a battlefield they react quicker, make better decisions, execute the decisions faster and more efficiently and observe the results of those decisions to begin an new decision-making process faster than their opponent can. Essentially you are thinking one step ahead, then two steps, then three until your opponent is simply overwhelmed.
This leads me to my next subject, Superior Training and its offspring; confidence. The above-discussed OODA Loop is materially effected by the certainty with which a soldier feels he can handle his weapons and confidence in his fellow soldiers. A soldier that has intimate knowledge of his weapon is more confident in its function and use that someone without those skills. He will deploy it swiftly, hit what he aims at, clear jams and execute reloads faster. If he feels that everyone on his squad has a similar skill-set he will be calmer under fire, knowing that his mates are all acting swiftly and skillfully to eliminate the threat. Training based on real-life scenarios combined with actual experience under fire will sharpen those skills and increase that confidence. This confidence extends upward in a ladder of trust; you trust your mates to have your back, you collectively trust the other squads are doing their jobs, your platoon trusts that company-level assets will be available if needed because you have trained in that environment. It is your habit of thought that you will overcome your opponent. You have been exposed to situations in training where assistance isn't available and have come up with practical solutions for those problems. You don't have to stop to consider what actions to take, your training has installed a practical and effective set of answers to battlefield problems. Simply put, you know what you are doing and you damned good at it.
The next step is to try to distill these ideas into a functional way of operating a wargame. I have long been a fan of the Two Fat Lardies rules, there is a lot of creative, out-of-the-box thinking going on there on Lard Island. What first caught my attention was the random unit activation used in most of their rule sets, combined with the Turn Over event which, more often than not, leaves some units not having activated in the course of a turn. This leads to a discontinuous time line, unlike other rules where either everyone acts at once (simultaneous turns/orders) or everyone acts alternately (the dreaded I-Go/U-Go ping-pong game) but everyone acts with the certainty of getting to do so. War is chaotic, experienced generals know that miscommunication and friction are a certainty, the only question is to the extent that it will interfere with one's plans. TFL games are generally set a very low level, where fire-team and squad leaders can make a huge difference, and they function very well at the task. I was looking to play games at a higher level of command, where the individual leader has less impact but the collective skill of his soldiers makes a real difference. So I stole the idea of random activation from TFL (in retrospect they probably lifted it from someone else too).
I looked at Bolt Action, another set of rules that function at the skirmish level but found them too plain vanilla for my taste. They represented the problem of differentiating troops by making them braver or shootier than others without embracing the other aspects of highly motivated/better trained troops capabilities.
After much thought (which for me is a real effort) I began to form the idea of not just randomly activating troops but adding the chance that, within a turn, better troops may be allowed to take more actions. These I called Action Impulses; consider them to be moments of time where the player can make decisions for his troops. The next step was to allow them more choice of what type of action they could undertake. Initially I had broken down troops actions into tiny parts; observe, load, fire, move, take cover etc. but found that this level of step-by-step granularity took away player agency, the feeling that the player's decisions were driving that action on the table, not the deck of cards. So I backed up and brutally pruned away the number of types of dictated actions that were offered on the turn of a card. After much work I had reduced them to four types of card; Move, 1/2 Move & Free Action, Free Action or 2xFree Action. Within these ideas there are a choice of actions left open to the player. Move meant that they could move up to the maximum allowed, or go onto Overwatch, or become Stationary. Free Action meant that they could do everything on the Move card as well as Observe, Fire and Test Morale. 2xFree Action allows the choices of a Free Actions card to be executed twice in a draw. A 1/2 Move & Free Action allowed exactly that, with the added note that only 1/2 move is needed to become Stationary or to go on Overwatch if using this card. By changing the number and type of cards in the deck we can represent poorly trained troops (a few cards and mostly Move or Free Action) or superbly trained troops (lots of cards and mostly 1/2 Move& Free Action or 2xFree Action cards). To return the randomness a couple of Turn Over cards are inserted into the deck as well. Just to spice things up a bit each opposing Commander is given one Side Commander's Free Action card; this card may be used at any point in the turn to interrupt the flow of Action Impulse draws and allow that Commander's units to take a Free Action.
This all pulls together into what I call Fluid Time Concept, the idea that time is perceived, and utilized, by the participants in a battle in very different ways. Central to this idea is that you are doing what you are doing until you decide to change that status. Thus, if you are moving on your last Action Impulse you will be considered to be moving for all of your interactions with the battlefield (and enemy) until you decide to become stationary. If you are on Overwatch you will remain so until an enemy enters you field of fire and you choose to "break the spell" and open fire, or you decide to move or fire as the result of an Action Impulse being drawn for your unit. Because better troops have more cards and those cards have more open choices on them we can represent the better skills and shorter OODA Loops of those soldiers.
So, for all you heroes that have waded through the above I now give you the bare-bones of my rules: these are probably best considered an Alpha version, if anybody is brave enough to give them a try please give me an AAR, if you have any questions don't hesitate to ask . I welcome any and all input. I will get a inventory of the card deck that I am using now for Russian Front 1942 as quick as I can manage.
Have been moved to HERE