A discursive look at Napoleonic & ECW wargaming, plus a load of old Hooptedoodle on this & that

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Tweakle Tweakle Little Star (3) – Hot Spots and Standing Orders

Mostly waiting
Preliminary Waffle: Partly, this comes from a description of a battlefield which I heard not long ago in a re-run of the classic Thames Television World at War series about WW2. An eye-witness described a large area in which mostly nothing was happening – a great quantity of men and equipment, waiting and watching while, in isolated pockets, it was apparent that a relative few were fighting desperately for their lives. The eye-witness said that it seemed strange afterwards, when people asked him was he present at the battle of such-and-such, because often it had not felt like a battle at the time.

With that in mind, around January time I was walking through the park in a nearby village while a class from the primary school were playing football (soccer) on the public pitch there. This was obviously timetabled school games rather than a formal match or a get-together of enthusiasts, and they must have been 7-year-olds or thereabout. There is something distinctive about matches involving 7-year-olds, especially if the players are conscripts rather than a collection of those who wish to be there or those who are chosen on merit.

Often you can’t see the ball – you can see where it must be, because there is a knot of players which travels around the field, like a very small, brightly coloured tornado, and sometimes the ball pops out of it for a moment, before a group charge swallows it up again. The overriding impression is of a speeded-up movie. Out near the edges of the playing field, placed there by personal choice or for purposes of damage limitation, you will find the less committed members of the teams – those who make up the numbers – the weedy, the unco-ordinated and the exercise haters – chatting to each other or making solitary daisy chains. On occasions the ball will bounce out of the frenzied knot, heading toward some bespectacled dreamer on the touchline, and a shout of “your ball, Ainslie” will wake him, far too late, from his reverie, in time only for him to trot away to fetch the ball from the rhododendron bushes and back into play.

Hot Spots, and Threat Ranges: I wrote of my observations in the park to the Professor, and mentioned that it had occurred to me that there was some kind of activation system at work here. It is recognisably specific to football as played by 7-year-olds – proper, grown-up football is not like this. By contrast, senior players are coached to run into space, manoeuvring off the ball, to arrive at places where it is expected to be soon, if things go to plan; that version of the game is much more like a military action, with an overlay of strategy, than it is like the 7-year-olds’ bar-room brawl. Of course, in a battle (or a wargame) there could be more than one “ball” on the field at any moment – more than one “hot spot” (as the Professor called the focus of activity) around which the action was taking place; the instruction to the winger to be up there, on the left flank, in time to co-ordinate with other players in a manner which they have practiced on the training ground, has very obvious military parallels.

De Vries’s idea was that any wargame unit which was close to a hot spot would be automatically activated. We debated what “close” meant in this context, and it was suggested that it meant within their own “threat range” of the enemy, which – again – we defined as being within the greater of their own weapon range or charge distance – basically, the maximum distance at which they could take some offensive action. Thus anyone who was within range could fire at the enemy, or move, without a specific order. It took us longer than it should to realize that this would not be sufficient in itself – any unit outside their own threat range would remain inactive indefinitely unless the rest of the action moved close to them; the foot artillery battery which was 6 hexes from the enemy (maximum range being 5) would be unable to move any closer unless we allowed some additional activation. Thus we needed some extra system – dice based or whatever – which would allow some unengaged units to be deployed (this, presumably, would handle the daisy-chain makers). We also realized that the unfortunate infantry boys who are currently being fired on by artillery would be stuck there, to stand and take it, if they were outside their own musket range – maybe the extra activation slots could rescue them, or maybe being themselves within the threat range of an enemy is a trigger for activation in itself. At this point we felt there were too many threads developing, and that the two general groupings of “those within their own threat range” and “a few other activation slots” would suffice – the second category can be used for bringing up reserves, shifting the guys who are taking a battering etc.

That’s as far as I’ve got with that one. The basic idea is that activation sort of ripples around the hot spots, with additional measures being taken to switch on outlying or remote units.

Standing Orders: This is different again, but seems worth consideration. Iain contributed some thoughts on this – his particular point was that artillery would be easier to utilize, and maybe less of a consumer of available order slots, if it were possible to nominate a target and leave them to get on with bombarding it until further notice. His original note says:

Guns would be given a target in real life, and tasked to destroy/suppress/reduce [it]. What if an order given to an artillery battery in CCN specified a target, and allowed the battery to continue to fire each move until that target either moved out of range, or was destroyed? Then a new order would be needed to direct the fire against a new target.

In passing, this also would potentially allow a battery to continue to fire upon a target which moved but stayed within range.

The concept of standing orders has come to my notice previously in the rules of White Mountain, a 30 Years War period game, heavily based on CCA, which is the work of Anubis Studios. I reproduce here the relevant section from the White Mountain rules – it is set in the context of a card-driven system similar to CCA, and it stipulates that only one such order is permitted at any one time, but it should serve to give an idea how it might work:

A standing order is an order for a nominated group of units who will continue to carry out that order, turn after turn, in addition to any other orders you perform elsewhere.
You may only have one standing order in play at any time.
Units operating under a standing order may remain in place or may move only toward the objective marker. If any unit affected by the card makes a move away from the objective marker for any reason the standing order is broken and the Command card is removed from play.
You may also cancel a standing order by removing the Command card without acting on it, and then take a normal turn instead.
To issue a standing order:
1 Play a Command card on the table in the nominated zone (left, centre or right). This is the order that you want to units to act on automatically in future turns.
2 Mark each unit affected by the order with a [blue] token.
3 Place an objective marker anywhere ahead of the affected units in the same zone. This is the point where the units, if they move, must move toward.
4 The units may now be moved or otherwise acted on in accordance with the Command card played.
5 Draw a card to replace the one just played. Your turn now ends.
6 On your next and all subsequent turns until the standing order is broken, you may act with the nominated units as if you just played the standing Command card.
In addition to this continual order, you may play Command cards elsewhere and act with other units as usual.


  1. This standing order system sounds simple enough amnd clear cut enough to be workable, AMND add something to the game.

    It seemed to me, though, that, along with discussions elsewhere recently about where morale consideration should lie (with die rolls determining reactions, or should it remain in the mind of the commanding player). I have known war gamers who will visit every unit on the table and do something with it, including engaging in counter-battery at extreme range. At the other extreme, there are gamers who will play with just a few units and forget (pretty much) about the rest. Me? I'm sort of somewhere in between.

    Again, it might be well enough to let 'activation' remain at the discretion of the player. It is a whole different question when it comes to solo play, though. There has to be some way of keeping the right hand in ignorance of what the left hand is doing.


    1. I recall that my old Ancients games had a tendency to develop into a long grinding match in the centre, which would be fought out until one side retreated or both sides ran out of steam. Only then would we consider doing something with a reserve, or with some group of daisy-chainers out on a flank somewhere. Recently, I've seen this one-eyed sort of battle development in my ECW (CCN variant) games, in which it is very common for a big cavalry scrap to develop on one or both flanks, while the infantry stand tight (presumably shouting encouragement and looking fierce) until they see how the cavalry action has worked out. I imagine that 7-year-olds fighting a wargame (with strict adult supervision, of course) might tend to ignore the flanks too, though some solitary soul out there might play a separate game with a flank brigade - marching them up and down.

      All this, of course, is merely playing with ideas - I don't think I am really going to do anything radical with CCN's command rules, though I do have some house tweaks I can use to speed up mass manoeuvre if the scenario warrants it and - as discussed - I can substitute a dice system if the battle doesn't have sensible flanks and a centre.

  2. At the sight of the words standing order I was struck my memories of voluminous compilations of "if this situation applies do this" under the okd 3rd ed w4g ancients. I think there is some merit in the sort of system you describe.

    The problem I have with the 7 yr old soccer is that it is more or less self directed. Theoretically armies employ generals to impose order and purpose onto armies. Ideally a wargame should allow a player to begin with a plan. (Noting that any scenario that dictates disposition also dictates much of the plan.)

    Lastly I tend to think of the generals job as being to get his units to the right place at the right time while the unit or brigade commanders job is to fight the enemy when the time comes. One trick with firing in wargames is that most us don't want to be bothered tracking things like ammunition supply and fatigue. Thus some other system is needed to avoid blazing away at long range at any target that presents.

    Some systems have initiative rules that allow reaction moves without orders if the enemy within a given distance which might be adjacent or some farther distance. I've tripped over a couple of attempts to use a form of this but I think it is a good direction.

    1. Some of these ideas, I guess, are impracticable, and merely a sounding off about some of the difficulties of CCN. It is fiendishly difficult to attack - collecting a set of decent cards for the required section(s) takes a long time, and can be made or broken by the arrival of the Grand Manoeuvre card (and who gets it); actual deployment and development of an advance is tricky, and positioning artillery for an initial barrage is virtually impossible. That said, the game is obviously fun, but my own record of attacks is littered with many incidents where the guns got stuck behind the infantry, a co-ordinated attack was fragmented by lack of cards to support it (and fire casualties in the line).

      Sustained artillery fire sounds nice but, as you say, would require some form of ammo limitation to avoid changing the game balance.

      One of the gripes I've heard about CCN is the lack of a facility to return fire - you may battle back in melee, but you can't shoot back. Also, you get many situations where lack of appropriate cards results in opposing groups sitting next to each other while their melee is stalled.

      Main difficulty, though, is the difficulty of moving the army - I have some Leader tweaks in the laboratory which I hope will help with that. With luck, the next post will get to this.

  3. Always much to contemplate with your postings...

    I'll start with Hot Spots and Threat Ranges. Clever name, that! I suppose you could rearrange things a bit by combining "Hot Spots" to yield "Hotspots and Threat Ranges" with a nifty acro of "HaTRs." Of course, pronounced, "Haters" but I digress.

    Your notion of HaTRs (see it rolls off the tongue easily!), is an interesting observation ported over from child's play. If you reflect on the mechanisms of CCN, the mechanisms already lend themselves to addressing HaTRs with the exception of automatic firing.

    Consider Hotspots. Think of a Hotspot as a Sector (Left, Center, Right). A Hotspot is a sector where card play is focused. If cards are being played primarily in one sector then by definition, that is the Hotspot. When no more cards are available for that sector, a lull develops and that sector is no longer "Hot."

    While CCN does not allow for "Threat Range" activation to get inside the
    decision loop of the active player (with the exception of the First Strike and Short Supply cards), card play can be used to bring far-flung units into play. One way to bring distant units into action is by having reserves straddling a sector. That way, these sector-straddling units can be activated in the Hotspot and utilized in either of two sectors. Sector straddling is quite a handy tactic in CCN.

    Another way to bring in reserves is by diverting action from the Hotspot briefly to activate another sector and move these distant units towards the Hotspot.

    It can be annoying as the passive player to receive volley after volley from the phasing player with no response. Perhaps, allow a passive unit to fire upon an active unit in a return fire (something akin to a Defensive Fire phase) without need for an activation? I wonder what this would do to play balance? It would certainly reduce the advantage to the aggressive player who sees victory in attacking first and often.

    Perhaps, additional Tactics Cards could be added to the deck to offer the passive player more chances to get inside the active players decision cycle?

    I guess my thoughts boil down to leaving the game as is but consider,
    1. Adding Tactics Cards for use by the passive player to trump active player actions
    2. Adding a Counter Volley / Counter Battery option requiring no unit activation.

    1. Good, insightful comment - thank you, sir. Since I am a bit of a pacifist at heart, I think I'd be happier if your acronym was pronounced "hatters" (as in "mad as a…") but no matter. Agree with what you say - the big discontinuity in the activities of the phasing player, of course, is that melee combats allow the defender to battle back, so they do get to do something aggressive out of turn.

      As you say, leaving the game unaltered is probably what I will do, but I am thinking seriously of souping-up the Leaders a bit, which will allow armies to get a bit of a move on - more on that next time, I think.