Monday, 20 September 2010

Combat Resolution Systems

When I first started wargaming, every set of wargames rules seemed to include two separate combat resolution systems; one for fire combat and one for close combat or melee. A lot of modern wargames rules now only have one (e.g. DBA, HOTT, BATTLE CRY, and MEMOIR ’44), and I am tempted to ask … Why?

Did the earlier wargames have separate combat resolution systems because many of the post-War wargaming pioneers were ex-soldiers who had served during the Second World War, and therefore saw fire combat and close combat as two distinct entities ... or was it something that was retained from the wargames rules written by H G Wells?

Do present-day wargames designers view combat as continuum, where the distance at which the combat takes place is just one of several inputs into the process by which the result of combat is generated, and is that why they tend to opt for a single system?

For my part, over recent years I have tended to fall into the second of these two wargame design ‘camps’ ... but I am asking myself why I have gravitated to that end of the spectrum. Was this a conscious choice or was I merely influenced by current trends that I have short-sightedly – if not blindly – followed without questioning?

I don’t know what the answer is … but I think that the questions are worth asking.

10 comments:

  1. Good question!

    To an extent I think it might depend on the period but ingeneral I think the two are different.

    Certainly in the 20th century I think distant fire became more about suppression and close range combat (including SMGs, pistols etc) more about the achieving of a decision.
    This is all very generalised, of course!

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  2. At the end of the day all combat resolution systems boil down to "Do I want to stick around? And if not, can Sarge make me?" so really there's not a lot of reason to do anything other than apply modifyers for distance.

    Generally I've found that hand-to-hand combat is regarded as a lot scarier than taking artillery fire for some reason. I have no idea why designers think that.

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  3. Steve,

    What is interesting is that more soldiers seem to be killed or wounded as a result of artillery fire – which is supposed to suppress them – than by any other weapon. By the time things have got to pistol range, the fighting is very personal and brutal, which is why soldiers will often fall back (or run away) to avoid it. It is at this point that what John Keegan termed ‘the will to combat’ comes into its own.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  4. Certainly "pre-modern" combat needed two separate systems since there were often combats between "missile troops" and "close combat troops" . . . could the missile boys hold off those nasty swords, axes and spears or were those nasty bladed things going to turn them into buzzard meat.

    Modern warfare has now very much turned into missile warfare . . . even up close.


    -- Jeff

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  5. Arquinsiel,

    You are I seem to share similar thoughts about combat resolution ... and I certainly agree wholeheartedly with your comments about artillery!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. Bluebear Jeff,

    As ever, you make a very telling point.

    Not being an Ancients wargamer (as opposed to being an ancient wargamer … which I am!), I tend forget that pre-gunpowder, things are usually decided by hand-to-hand combat after both sides have tried to ‘soften’ the other side up with missile fire. I can see why this sort of warfare might need to have dissimilar combat resolution systems for missile and close combat, although I do note that both DBA and HOTT do not.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. Once you get to the horse & musket era, actual hand-to-hand combat starts to get a whole lot rarer. What gets modeled is the morale effect (or 'threat'), not the actual casualties. So, close combat tends to be more intense (higher combat factors) than ranged combat, plus more morale checks apply.

    I think it is moving away from modeling the physical effects of combat and towards the morale effects of it.

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  8. Dale,

    I think that we are in general agreement on this; by the time that fire combat replaces hand-to-hand combat as the main means by which one side prevails over another on the battlefield, the latter becomes much rarer, and it is the difference between each sides morale – or as Keegan terms it, ‘will to combat’ – that decides matters.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  9. I think there are 2 separate things at play.

    A lot of the early rules tended to look at things at a very low/tactical level with wargame "armies" being a handful of battalions. (1:10 or 1:20) At this level, if you want to capture the feel of the memoirs, reports and histories you need to include both firefights and assaults or charges (even if actually crossing bayonets rarely happened there seems to be a recognition that the attempt to force a contest of wills could be decisive)

    Many of the newer systems which merge combat into 1 mechanism operate at a higher level and intend to allow whole historical battles to be fought with the wargamer playing the role of general with the tactical details being below his radar.

    Of course, the earlier tactical systems were often used to refight whole historical battles despite this causing a whole host of inconsistencies. (Grant often comments on these in his works but chooses to live with them) In effect it gives the illusion of being both Captain and General.

    These days that is considered "improper" in many circles (not all) and most new games are designed to be one or the other. If you look at many newer low level games such as Blitzkreig Commander and Sharp Practice, or the new Regimental Fire & Fury, you will see the old division between fire combat and melee.

    -Ross

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  10. Ross Mac,

    You have summed up the situation pretty well. I must admit that most of my wargaming tends to be higher-level rather than low-level, and this has probably skewed my view of things (for example, I have never played or read 'Blitzkrieg Commander', 'Sharp Practice', or 'Regimental Fire & Fury' so I was not aware that they had kept the distinction between fire and close combat).

    When I started out in wargaming, I did take part in some of the large-scale battle reconstructions, but usually as a very lowly commander where I was much closer to being a Captain than a General … and at that level the distinction between fire and close combat is important, especially the timing of the change from fire to close combat. Now I rarely ‘command’ much less than a brigade in my wargames, so the differentiation between the two types of combat is far less important.

    All the best,

    Bob

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