Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Waiting for the Guns

Waiting for my artillery to unlimber before advancing at Aughrim

As wargamers, we are often guilty of taking actions with our pixeltruppen that no real general in his right mind would ever do. Casualties in wargames often exceed even the worst defeats real armies suffered, even when you win the game!

Granted, sometimes this is an artifact of the game system. Sometime it can be justified that the casualty numbers reflect not just dead and wounded, but those troops that have decided to hunker down for the remainder of the battle, that have just plain noped out of there, or are tied up "helping the wounded."

Usually though, this is a justification. We want to come to grips, and we tend to slam our forces together without regard for really sensible tactics, or concern for the welfare of our troops (who are, after all, imaginary and will just get back up and fight again the next time we play). In the past few months, I have had opponents in PBEM games who started off on top of hills, behind fortifications and were supposed to be in the role of the defender come down out of these positions to attack me, when I should be attacking them! I have others who, rather than having any real plan simply launch all of their troops in an attack, trying to cause as much mayhem as possible, hoping to win the game. And I'm certainly not guiltless; I'm engaged in a game of JTS Aspern-Essling right now where I'm the Austrians, and I launched an all-out concentric attack against my French opponent - my well set up with hundreds of guns sighted in opponent - without having hardly any of my own artillery in place to support my attack. I did though, by God, attack him all along his line! I can tell, since my casualties are twice what his are. Then there was that unsupported cavalry attack I launched that ended up with most of a cavalry brigade deep in his lines and completely surrounded by fresh infantry and artillery...

This kind of thing might initially be entertaining, but it isn't realistic at all. No actual armies fight like this. Or at least they don't very often (Malplaquet, I'm looking at you, and okay, most of the Western front in WWI...). I find that I'm more and more interested in realistic combats and outcomes, and not just in creating mayhem or even winning the battle. Sometimes that depends on finding games that have sufficient simulation fidelity to allow for accurate tactics and strategy, but usually that's not the issue.

Usually the issue is not waiting for the guns.

That's what I'm calling it, anyway, the most obvious pointer in my own command style that indicates that I have my head stuffed firmly up my posterior. I have a terrible habit of being too impatient to wait until I have my artillery in place before launching attacks. This is really a symptom of being too impatient to wait until I have supporting units in place, regardless of what those units are. Infantry attacks without artillery support, cavalry charges without supporting infantry...it all boils down to poor planning and taking an opportunistic, "let's see what happens and react to it" approach.

Infantry attack on Kilcommadan supported by cavalry. Low morale dragoons have been pulled back to shelter in the farm behind the lines.
I'm now trying to be very conscious about "waiting for the guns." Doing so means being a lot less worried about the time pressure of the turn track/game clock. Sure, there's a time limit, which means I need to get good at timing things, but not feel so pressured that I just throw troops into the fight. In operational scale games, it means focusing on what can be done via maneuver rather than just trying to bash armies together. Tactically, it means understanding how the troop types and weapons systems of the era were used together to support each other, and then doing that.

And probably most importantly, it means having a plan. I think that there's an assumption by many wargamers that prior to WWII generals really didn't plan much, except maybe Napoleon, and he lost in the end, anyway. OCOKA applies regardless of the era, you may just have to ride your own damn horse over to take a look rather than relying on recon units and satellites. Marlborough didn't have much of a staff, but that doesn't mean that he didn't have a plan at Blenheim.

Early modern, Napoleonic, American Civil War, Medieval period, Renaissance, Ancients - all of these are periods where things happen more slowly. We have been done a disservice by certain games, seeking to be more "playable" that have removed or mitigated much of the waiting. These games cater to our Modern Era ADD and rapid pace of combat. We think everything should be a blitzkreig. As I commented in the setup to a recent Kreigsspiel game: "Napoleonic cavalry are not panzers!" Good generalship means patience. It means not just throwing your troops into a general advance and hoping for the best. It means having a reserve, pulling fatigued or demoralized troops out of line for recovery, and it means always seeking to minimize your own losses while maximizing those of the enemy, even if they are just pixeltruppen.

But most of all, at least for me, it means remembering to wait for the guns.