Thursday, May 11, 2017

Wargame Design: Command and Control

You may recall that all wargames must deal with the 4Ms.  For review, those are Movement, Melee, Missiles, and Morale.  The way you solve for those M’s will dictate your game’s core mechanics.  As designers, we must constantly choose what we wish to emphasize in our games, and how we choose to handle the 4Ms will naturally flow from these decisions. 

There are other major components in wargame design to consider outside of the 4Ms.  One of them is Command and Control, or how do you want the player to be able to provide instructions to their little men on the tabletop and how will there soldiers respond to these orders?    

It is common to think of Command and Control as an extension of Morale.  After all, Morale is trying to model how troops in you game will react during combat.  However, Morale tends to focus on how your units respond to actions by the enemy.  For example, it is a Morale situation to determine how your soldiers will respond when the enemy shoots at them, charges them in the flank, moves into their line-of-sight, etc.  Command and Control is not concerned with the enemies actions, it is concerned about how your troopers respond to their own commanders, officers, and staff. 

In many games, this feature is simply glossed over.  Miniature soldiers will always do what they are ordered to do by the player.  They automatically know what is intended and carry out the orders without any hesitation.  It doesn’t matter if it is obviously suicidal they just do it.  This is the easiest solution to Command and Control.

As a designer, I find this solution to be lacking.  Clausewitz often refers to the “Friction” of war.  This is a series of obstacles that make it increasingly difficult for a commander to achieve victory.  This “Friction” takes many forms and can lead to key units not responding appropriately.  Part of what makes war gaming interesting is determining how you are going to overcome this mounting friction of the unanticipated.  Most friction does not come only from enemy action but by the mounting difficulties of enduring operations.  As a war game player, friction forces and creates choice and decision points and that helps make a good game.   

Different genres and different periods will have varying levels or causes of Friction.  For example, in Ancient battles communication was difficult due to space and distance.  Greek commanders were expected to be in the front-line putting themselves in harm’s way with his fellow citizens.  This made Command and Control difficult outside of their own unit.  In the Horse and Musket period, the commanders would send Aide-de-camps riding around with their orders but these brave souls would have their horse shot out from under them, killed, get lost, or captured before the orders could arrive.  In modern skirmish, radios get wrecked, maps turned around, and interference scrambles signals.  In Sci-fi settings, enemy jamming and ECM could be disrupting the signal or units could be operating silently.  You can see the potential obstacles to proper Command and Control are not limited by genre and time period so therefore should not be ignored by a designer either. 

Now that we have established that Command and Control is important for a designer to think about what are some ways to model it in our games?  I am sure there are countless ways to do it, but I can think of a few methods:

1.       Command Checks
2.       Resource Management

Command Checks
A command check is a simple dice roll or card flip with a success number associated with it.  In order for the Unit to do what it is being ordered to do they must first successfully pass this test.  If failed, they will not respond as anticipated. 

The examples I can think of are Hail Caesar/Black Powder, DragonRampant/Lion Rampant, and The MenWho Would Be KingsIn Hail Caesar your commander has a rating and as long as the commander can pass command checks, they can give orders for troops to do stuff.  For Dragon Rampant different unit types have a different success level based on the order and unit type.  In both games, Command failures turn play over to the opponent.  The Men Who Would Be Kings is a bit more complicated as some units can always do certain orders based on their training, but other actions require a test.  Failure means the units becomes confused and must be rallied at a later date. 

As a player, you have to decide which actions are the critical actions that must be done first, or risk losing the initiative and having play go back to your opponent. 

Resource Management
In this scenario, a player may receive a certain number of orders that they can use.  Typically, there are not enough orders to do everything that needs to be done.  Therefore, the commander must decide what actions are going to take place when.  This is the method used in Blucher with a bit of a spin.  Your opponent knows how many actions you can take, the player does not. 

A more common variant is to have the Command Tokens unlock special moves.  All units can do standard orders such as move, shoot, etc.  However, the Command tokens may give bonuses like extra movement, dodging, steal initiative, re-rolls, etc.  However, the key is that these additional actions are limited and the player must choose how and when to use them.  You may have seen this in games such as Robotech: RPG Tactics, DuxBellorum, and All Quiet on theMartian Front
Final Thoughts
I am sure there are many more clever and interesting ways to make Command and Control a vital part of the game.  Some other game examples I can think of but have no personal experience with are Soldiers of God, Saga, and Sword and Spear.  There are probably many other interesting ways to deal with the issue and I encourage you to point me towards more examples in comments. 

Command and Control introduces more “Friction” for a player of war games to overcome.  This in turn forces choice and decision points.  Choice and decision points are vital to make a game fun.  Therefore, as a war designer you will want to strongly consider adding some sort of Command and Control element into you games.   


  1. Hi. You might want to check out Too Fat Ladies Sharpe Practice for interesting command and control options. Their other rules like Chain of Command, I ain't been shot mum and Dux Britannica all provide interesting variations. Some video tutorials are here

    1. Thanks. Lardies products have been a bit of a blind spot for me, and I have Chain of Command on on my "To Buy" list!

  2. Hi. In my near future era game I developed back in 2012 the player picks a unit to issue an order to and rolls a D6 to see what orders are available to the unit. You deduct 1 point for each suppression marker on the unit. And you add 1 if the unit is classed as elite. You also add 1 if the unit's orders from previous turn were regroup or conceal. If the total score was 1 or less the unit could take no action for the turn other than call in support fire.

    1. That sounds interesting. Did different units have different charts for potential orders?