Monday, February 25, 2019

Men of Bronze- Command, Control, Morale, and Friction

Thanks to all of you who have all ready purchased your copy of Men of Bronze from Osprey Games. I appreciate your support and I look forward to reading and hearing what you have to say about the game! I hope you have as much fun playing it as I did making it!

Command, Control, and Morale has always been an element of wargames that has interested me as a designer. These are two distinct concepts that never-the-less work closely together. To me they are defined thus:

Command and Control-
How you give orders to your little plastic men, and how they respond to these orders

How your little toy soldiers respond to the actions of the enemy toy soldiers.

The BIG QUESTION about these elements is how much player agency is involved vs. how much friction should be created when dealing with these two very important concepts? On one extreme, the player can not dictate what their soldiers do, and instead the act and react based on some sort of mechanic outside of the players ability to influence it. On the other side is the player being able to have their army men do exactly what they want them to do every time.

No Control is represented by a mechanic like the following: Once a unit reaches 50% casualties they are removed from the board. In this case, the player can not stop or respond to a unit that reaches 50% casualties. The unit is simply removed.

Exact control is represented like the following: A unit is not routed until it has reached 100% casualties and then removed from the board. In essence, the toy soldiers will do whatever the commander wants until it is completely annihilated.

The wording in these two examples is the same except for the % of casualties but you can see the result is completely different.

So, the next thing to to think about is what exactly is “Friction” in a wargame? I am no Von Clausewitz, but essentially friction is the 'difficulties' that a commander of little metal men needs to overcome in order win the battle. Typically, friction is not necessarily caused by the enemy but by all elements combined such as terrain, objectives, your cat, unit fatigue, morale, etc. These frictions are considered to compound as you are exposed to enemy actions, and therefore make victory more difficult to achieve.

The final interaction between Command, Control, Morale, and Friction is what leads to the “depth” of a game. If the game provides tactics and options to help a player minimize friction and morale effects while providing options for Command and Control. The decisions that the player makes in Command and Control can be used to offset or reduce the worst effects of Morale and Friction.

As a designer and a player, the question is how much of these extremes do you want in your game and where does it meet somewhere in the middle? It can be thought of as an equation.

Decisions+ (Command + Control) – (Morale and Friction) = Depth

That was a long introduction to talk about how I went about trying to tackle these issues in Menof Bronze.

Command and Control
Leadership, especially military leadership; was a topic of much discussion and debate in the ancient world. The Greeks spilled much ink on the topic, and many of their ideas are still relevant to our modern ideas of what Leadership means. One of the key concepts was that of Arete.

What the heck does that mean? Arete is the idea that a leader's purpose was to raise up those he commanded to a higher morale purpose. He was to act as an example to his soldiers and fellow citizens of what is “correct” behavior. This can be seen in action many times during Xenophon's Anabasis. 

This aspect of leadership is reflected in the rules in two major ways. The first is the importance of using a unit leader to establish a unit's movement, charges, line-of-sight, and flanking. The unit leader moves, and then everyone moves to position themselves around them. When combat occurs, the units rank up around their leaders.

The second way is that each unit on the table is assumed to have a leader. These leaders generate an Arete point that goes into the armies pool. These points represent the individual unit leaders inspiring, commanding, and organizing their troops in the field. This field of points has a number of uses while in the game and properly utilizing your Arete points will be a key element to victory.

These points are used to bid for initiative, try to interrupt your opponent and gain initiative, provide dice re-rolls, trigger special abilities, and declare charges. If you may not be able to complete all of your objectives. Therefore, as the commander you need to decide how you spend your Arete or command influence over your troops. There will be times where you have more than you need, and other times where you will not have enough.

All movement distances and ranges for shooting are known. However, like ancient commanders, there is no pre-measuring. Instead, you must eyeball the distance and decide if your unit can hit the foe with a javelin shot. Is the distance right for a charge? You decide, and your soldiers will carry it out without question.

Finally, as the player you can choose what units activate in what order. However, a unit can only perform 1 action per activation. They can move, shoot, fight, or charge. The player does not have unlimited choice, instead the choices are limited and a decision must be made. Is it better to shoot, move away, or charge an enemy? Once a unit is engaged in combat, it will stay until a decision is met.

Morale is a critical component of wargames. To me, it is one of the 4Ms which are the core building blocks of any wargame. As I define Morale it is how our models react to the actions of enemy models. In the case of Men of Bronze, enemy actions that can cause morale related reactions is being shot and fighting.

All Units have a Courage stat that is depleted by combat actions. Units that take Courage loss will have to take a Morale test or begin to waver. Once a unit reaches a certain level of Courage, they will change to wavering status automatically. This impacts their target numbers for combat rolls. Once their Courage is reduced to 0, they are turned around and eventually removed from the board as routing.

However, this will trigger a Collapse Test. All units that have leaders that can see the turned unit will have to also take a discipline test. As more Collapse tests are taken the likelihood of failing increases. If failed, the watching units will start to waver or rout as well. Like ancient battles, armies can disappear quickly as their nerve collapses. Leaving those that remain in a difficult position and forcing more friction on you as the player.

The final morale related component is the “push back” mechanic. Units that lose more Courage than they inflict will be pushed back 1d3 base widths at the end of the turn. Therefore, enemy units can be pushed off objectives, out of terrain, etc. In addition, this feature can force units to “join” a combat that may not have initially been engaged.

Therefore, as a designer my preferences are clear. On the continuum of Exact vs. No Control I like to mix it up with a leaning to less control as friction mounts. When Unit's reach certain points their ability to perform as expected will be degraded, they will still carry-out what you want them to do; but at a lesser efficiency. If they degrade too far, they are no longer in your control. This causes additional follow-on effects that may reduce your control further in a cascade of “friction”.

However, players have complete control over how and when they use their Arete points to influence the battle and your soldiers always use these points as intended. If you want them to charge, they will charge. Change formation, then they will change. Move and shoot, they will do it. There are no random charge distances or ranges, they are all set and known. The decision is yours for your men to carry-out.

I prefer a game that generates mounting friction for you as a commander that forces you to make choices. Often, the commander who faces the most “friction” is the one who will lose, but successful commanders find a way to overcome such “friction” through tactics. That is where a games “depth” comes from.

Hopefully, I have found the right combination of Command, Control, Morale, Friction, and decision making to create the right level of depth for you in Men ofBronze. There is only one way to find out!

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