Coffee Break #9/2022

Friday. The 29th of April, year of Our Lord 2022.

Days becoming brighter and sunnier and less time spent inside and the tradition after office hours walks to the seaside become frequent. Less time for games. Wargames. The game of war. Or is it the game about war !?… Is an odd definition and a chasm difference, of war and about war.

One of my pleasures in the hobby is to find a conflict, an event within, a game that allows to explore said event and/or conflict, and then proceed to enjoy it. Some do and some don’t, explore the events in a correct way, or rather… in the perspective I expected.

Maybe I try to read too much into the mechanisms of the game sometimes. For example, a game that deals with the era of armoured knights versus peasant longbows might feature a very inadequate scale, with segments of 120 – 300 meters, or totally off-scale where an inch might be 30 yards but the same inch is a figure tall representing 120 man-at-arms.

Looking at a map of a battle the eyes travel to the geographic main features and the big bodies of troops.

Somehow I always find these representations a stone in the path, like the fabled rock blocking a path in the Alps which Hannibal Barca had to contend with. Be it that it broke it with fire and vinegar or is simply an allegory for the challenge of surmounting the mountains range itself, the challenge of understanding exactly why a game selects a certain scale is a wonderful prospect.

Abstraction is therefore what I should actually be looking at ! … As opposed to what is represented the focus should be on what is not and then maybe I get a better understanding.

Zooming in, especially in tactical battles games, is an interesting scale to explore because it is a very popular scale across the entire spectrum of wargames, be it paper/cardboard, miniatures, computer, etc.

We take a counter and imagine it to represent a certain amount of combatants. Then place it upon a space in a map and imagine that group of individuals is somewhat evenly and optimally spread in the space represented by the hexagon or square or whatever.

In the same way we place a miniature and decide if it represents an individual or, usually when grouped with similar others, a formation of troops like a company, a regiment and other similar ones usually found in tactical and grand tactical wargame designs.

Back to the knights and peasants armed with the longbow and how to represent time and space. How much time is a full sequence turn of play ? How many paces are in a hex or an inch in the map ?

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Let’s take Crecy as an example. The horsemen at the gallop can be upon the English lines in seconds… literally. I’ve seen it done at the horseback and galloping through a ploughed field. Less than 16 seconds from a stand still from the first Battle of the French lines to the point of contact with the English man-at-arms and longbows. That’s in the scale of 100 – 300 yards depending on the game scale. Literally the game elements, should them be representing charging horsemen should be at position A and then end up in position B in X steps of turn sequence.

I think abstraction of this particular time and space realism will break the simulation, but I must continue lest I get the thoughts lost… (Coffee!!!! )

King John of Bohemia at the Battle of Crecy, by merl1ncz

While the longbows taken on campaign could reach 240 yards and over and given the way of shooting for that range it would mean hitting the target from the vertical and not straight on horizontal.

Additionally the effect of shooting at such distance could spell disaster for the campaign.

Yes. Arrows simply cannot be created out of thin air ( wow! seriously !? ). Surprisingly enough it took a very intricate process to make them arrows to be used with longbows given the energy released by the bow and the impact force that the arrow would have to endure, especially against caparisoned horses and other hard targets ( let us not be distracted with arrows against plate, please… ). So shooting them at maximum range would mean less effect, more expenditure or arrows and none left to use in future battles in a campaign ( yes, yes, in hindsight we know how many battles there were but what about simulation ? did the commander have the knowledge we have ? how many battle there would be after that one ? ).

100 paces…50…30 paces !!!!… shift, archers to the back, men-at-arms to the gaps and brace ! That’s three deadly volleys in five seconds and that’s about just in time as the the horses hit home…

One of those books that is mandatory in any modest wargamer bookshelf… with an interest in the non gunpowder eras that is.

Once the melee starts its duration becomes a wildly unknown measurement as warfare history shows both ends of the spectrum in equal measure to the median – short bloody resolution with one side being destroyed; long protracted combat and neither side gains any advantage; and the push back and forth displacement of elements.

Is it five minutes ? One minute ? Four hours ? Can be any of those and should be any of those.

But it takes only seconds to perform a horse charge while it may take hours of locked combat – abstract all the minutiae of elements fighting in bursts, falling back and giving place to rested elements, rinse and repeat – very roman legions like and very high and late medieval drills as well.

So… inches and hexes 150 yards !? Turns of 15 minutes !? Suddenly there’s a total detachment and the abstractions chosen are such as to model the rules to be able to conform with a certain result.

Yet…. and yet… every single wargame will model and simulate the battles very well.

If I nitpick specific aspects I will divert from the whole perspective. The looking across the battle map, populated by the forces and imagine the lines bending, fusing, separating and finally breaking and shattering.

Not tiny pieces, but a whole. A complete animation of a mass of colour, of sound, of a battle being resolved. Is there any benefit in representing a Roman legion cohort each in 6 elements for the centuries. Should the Cohort be represented in pairs of Centuries ? Why ? Is there a specific drill for pairs of them ? Or is the drill specified at Cohort ? Where does the break down ignore the authenticity of the warfare era to accommodate for the time and scale of the model ?

Is there any real benefit in breaking down the Battles and Contingents into abstract individual elements just for the sake of it ?

As always, have a good weekend. Thank you for reading.

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