Having established that there are scenarios and battlefield configurations which are perhaps not ideally suited to the Command Cards activation system in Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, what else might fit the bill?
On the small number of occasions when necessity has obliged me to come up with something suitable (typically because the battle was the wrong size or shape for left/centre/right demarcation), I’ve successfully used a dice-based system, whereby the number of units which may be ordered is the total of nD6 (or, more usually, nD3), where n is given by an algorithm involving the current number of units and generals in each army, and might make some allowance for the historical abilities of the commanders involved. This system (and it has evolved a bit) is derived from assorted sources: Portable ™ wargames of various types and shapes, an OOP edition of Hearts of Tin, articles in Bicycle News and elsewhere, and even some stuff of my own. Personally, I prefer something simple, preferably linked to the structure of the army, which does not involve counting the distance between each leader and his units – not every turn, anyway. The ability to carry forward a small “float” for later use is nice, too. All good – the only potential weakness is that the algorithm has, thus far, been based on guesswork, the only check being that the resultant numbers of ordered units are not dissimilar to those in a straight game of CCN.
What I have actually done, though, is less important than the fact that the world is full of alternative ways of activating an army, and probably a fair number of them would have been suitable. It’s mostly a question of effecting a smooth join at the edges.
I had a lengthy exchange with Prof De Vries about what else I could have done. He is invariably amusing, but he also has a refreshing tendency to produce crazy extrapolations, which sometimes are more useful than he intended. How would it be, he said, if we dropped activation completely, and fell back on what we might consider a streamlined Old School game, where you can move or fight with anything you like, yet still keep the neat, quick, simple moving and combat systems from CCN? As far as I know, Peter Gilder and Charles Grant Sr didn’t bother about limiting the number of units under your command on any given turn (apart from the ones who were stopped or routed by the copious morale tests, of course), so you would expect a deep-throated murmur of approval from the traditionalists. In truth, such a game sounds like it might be a blast, and I am very keen to try one. Being of an analytical (not to say pessimistic) bent, however, the Prof and I also came up with a few potential problems.
1. One of the reasons why CCN works so well is that the games move quickly – your turn usually doesn’t give you a great amount of scope for moving stuff about, but it will be your turn again very soon. In direct contrast, if I could get back all the accumulated time that I’ve spent over 40 years wargaming, watching people scratching themselves while they decide what they should do with their other 33 units this turn, I would have more than enough left over to build an Austrian army. I might even have enough to read all the way through the Empire rules. If we’re going to allow a free-for-all, then it will be necessary to impose some time limit on a turn – if your time runs out before you’ve fired then perhaps you will learn something for next turn.
2. If all units can be ordered every turn then there is no opportunity cost, there is no need to prioritise, or to choose the best use of a limited resource. In normal CCN, if you wish to order a unit to come out of square then that will be one less order that you could have used to do something else. With no limits, you can have your cake and eat it as well, every single turn. This would not have occurred to me 10 years ago, but it seems quite uncomfortable now.
3. The Prof also made the point (and it may be a very good one – this is not the bit of game design where I have a very strong intuitive feel for things) that if everyone can move and fight then the balance of the game may alter. Attacking will become easier, because you can just throw everyone in, and deploy the artillery nicely in support, but on the other hand everyone in range will be able to fight back. He saw a number of potential distortions which could arise, the chief of these being that it would be much easier to move units to gang up on an isolated enemy unit – especially on the end of a defensive line. One suggestion was that the traditional SPI/Avalon Hill Zone of Control idea should be applied – it should become necessary to engage every adjacent enemy unit, you can’t simply ignore some of them to concentrate on getting a local superiority over others. Also, since the normal CCN game is expected to involve action from only a few units each turn, the kill rates might need to be reduced a little if the game were to become a free-for-all in this way.
As ever, we have no convincing answers, but we have at least identified a number of questions. I am determined to try a no-activation-limits game of CCN (without cards), just to see what happens. Solo, I think…
In the next post I’ll talk a bit about another possible approach I discussed with the Prof, which probably will not work either, but is not without interest, I think. After that, if I’m still up and running, I’ll have a look at possible tweaks for Leaders in CCN, which might offer some more useful results.