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Mark Herman's Wargaming Blog
Sunday, 30 March 2008
FTP 'suicide' attacks and OOS
Topic: For The People Material

I was at a conference over the last couple of days, so I could not enter into this discussion in any detail as my fingers get tired on a blackberry.

One of the constants in our hobby is when something occurs in a game that doesn't feel right the first reaction is to declare such an occurance 'gamey' (my personal favorite), 'flawed', or 'broken' (without moving parts this is an interesting metaphor). I have no trouble with the expression of personal views, its why people do or do not play a particular title. Where I get cogniative dissonance around is the fact that the statement is made as an ascertain of fact without any facts.

I would like to take a moment to describe the 'suicide' one SP tactic in FTP in historical terms. Playtesting back in the 90's revealed the tactic, so I had to understand it in terms of the war or I would have added rules to eliminate it. In all wargames there is some atomic level unit or said another way every game has a smallest increment of strength below which the game cannot go. Technically this is the level of simulation granularity resident within the design. In FTP the smallest increment is actually the forts with zero SP (representing 2500 gunners), but practically it is one SP (about a division: 6000 men, although this number changed over the course of the war). An issue in any design is how to handle the collision of two atoms in a perverse version of simulation quantum mechanics. Most of these interactions are covered in 7.33 and 7.34, although the rule on General casualties also accomodates this notion.

I checked this once with Dr. John Hatcher (National Park Service Superintendent of the Gettysburg Battlefield) and he tells me that they have not discovered any reason to alter the official view on casualties for this battle. My point being is the factual data on battlefield statistics has not changed in a very long time. As I am working on a new ACW game at this time, I am deeply steeped in the statistics of the war and nothing has changed that would cause me to change the FTP CRT in any manner. If it is flawed it is my mathematical interpretation of the facts. Basically in the ACW both sides in almost every engagement lost about the same number of soldiers. There is variation and some notable exceptions (e.g., Fredericksburg), but this basic fact remains.

It is also true that units rarely fought to the last man, so the CRT is based around an SP being eliminated when losing around 40% of its strength, which is calculated into the CRT in synchronization with the reinforcement and attrition rules to get to a reasonable approximation at any point during a game of how many effective divisions you have on the map. All this was preamble to get to the issue of the how I view an allowed tactic of sequential assaults on a major campaign card.

There are several historical models for this, but I think the 1864 campaign (as noted in an earlier post) is a good instantiation of my point. Now one of the downsides of a manual simulation is simultaneous movement is difficult to portray especially with three activations unless you have three hands. Grant's constructed coordinated advances for numerous forces, but in the East he envisioned an advance in the Valley, from Fort Monroe, and the main force advancing directly on Richmond. The flanking forces were small 'armies', but this is what a major campaign is simulating. And historically each of these forces although advancing more or less in a coordinated fashion were dealt with sequentially by the South in three seperate actions that permanently halted the flank activity and led to a protracted series of flank movements that were successfullly blocked until the siege of Petersburg began. So from my perspective handling a major campaign card as three seperate actions makes reasonable historical sense.

Then there is the issue of being OOS. What does it really mean in this period? First off, 19th century armies are not 20th century armies. At the operational level warfare is non-linear and there is no POL requirement, or artillery shell needs, that ties armies rigidly to lines of communication. There are lines of communication to be certain, but they have a very different impact as the forces do not require regular delivery of supplies to function at full effectiveness (which is why I treat OOS as a positive for the attacker and not a negative for the defender). Again note the fact that Lee at Gettysburg has a LOC (so in FTP terms he is in supply), but there is no rail connection or supply columns moving toward him from some distant base to keep the AoNVa in the field. It should be noted that Richmond and Petersburg fell to the Union not because they were successfully assaulted, but their LOC was about to be cut due to Five Forks and Lee withdrew. That is how 19th century generals dealt with this situation. I would also note that the more aggressive generals in FTP were willing to forgo their LOC on occasion, hence their one rating, which occurred numerous times during the war. Many have commented on the fact that CSA raids, a staple of FTP tactics, would not have occurred because they would be out of supply. Of course the Vicksburg campaign and four CSA invasions of Union territory would seem to dispute this view.

In FTP when a force is OOS, although it is still portrayed as being in a space, in actuality (the spaces are very large areas) the army is dispersed, not necessarily concentrated. So the normal dynamic of a combat whereby both sides lose the same amount of casualties can be altered as the raiding SP in our case is running into a more dispersed force and it is conceivable in this circumstance that they will give more than they get. Again the one SP suicide force is not a bunch of Union soldiers arranged like kamikaze pilots, but a small raiding column that is attacking dispersed foraging columns and catches them in an unconcentrated manner. Once the raiding column loses around 40% of its strength, the column withdraws (in FTP it is removed from the map) to be reconstituted (achieved through the reinforcement process). If you look at the CRT for this interaction on the small battle CRT (the quantum side of a 1sp vs 1sp or such encounter), the losses are usually 1-1 with no losses and the attacker being repulsed. Again a low density fight.

However, in a medium battle, the 1sp force is running into a higher density of enemy forces and a more intense fight is inevitable with the attacking SP being eliminated in every case, although usually only taking an equal number with them. The reason you get a different dynamic is the attacking force is not afforded the luxury of pulling out and a cornered force is much more dangerous than one with a way out, so the defender losses are more substantial. The attacker can get lucky with a six, but overall the attacker without drms loses 5 out of 6 battles, demonstrating the defense dominated nature of ACW combat. As you add drms to the medium CRT you get an array of results based on the ability of one side to shape the battle a bit more (picking and using terrain in a superior manner or catching the defender dispersed in the OOS situation).

Anyway this is a long discussion to say that the use of a major campaign card to conduct sequential attacks on an enemy force to gain advantage is based on a real historical model and the results that occur from this action are supportable from the historical statistics. People do not have to agree with me as most internet conversations do not change minds too often, but I think ascertians need to be debated otherwise they become facts.


Posted by markherman at 4:23 PM EDT
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