Zones of Control: A further progress report

I am still slowly reading my way through this book. I usually read books at quite a phenomenal rate, but so far each section and contribution in this book has given me something to think about, and in some cases I have felt compelled to re-read them before moving on to the next to ensure that I have fully understood what the writer was trying to communicate.

PART II: WAR ENGINES

  • War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer by Henry Lowood
  • The Engine of Wargaming by Matthew B. Caffrey Jr.
  • Design for Effect: The “Common Language” of Advanced Squad Leader by J. R. Tracy
  • Combat Commander: Time to Throw Your Plan Away by John A. Foley
  • Empire of the Sun: The Next Evolution of the Card-Driven Game Engine by Mark Herman
  • The Paths of Glory Lead but to the Gaming Table by Ted S. Raicer
  • New Kind of History: The Culture of Wargame Scenario Design Communities by Troy Goodfellow

This section examined the development and use of what have become known as ‘war engines’. In other words, the mechanisms or systems that drive the wargame along. Matthew B. Caffrey’s contribution was extremely interesting in that regard, and provided an overview that I found easy to follow and which dealt with ‘war engines’ that I know something about. I did have concerns as I read J. R. Tracy’s article that the chapter was going to become dominated by all things ASL, but once I began to read Mark Herman’s contribution about card-driven systems I was reassured, and this was born out by what Ted S. Raicer wrote.

PART III: OPERATIONS

  • Operations Research, Systems Analysis, and Wargaming: Riding the Cycle of Research by Peter P. Perla
  • The Application of Statistical and Forensics Validation to Simulation Modeling in Wargames by Brien J. Miller
  • Goal-Driven Design and Napoleon’s Triumph by Rachel Simmons
  • Harpoon: An Original Serious Game by Don R. Gilman
  • The Development and Application of the Real-Time Air Power Wargame Simulation Modern Air Power by John Tiller and Catherine Cavagnaro
  • Red vs. Blue by Thomas C. Schelling
  • Hypergaming by Russell Vane

As one would expect, Peter Perla’s contribution was succinct, informative, and well-written … and I wish that it was more widely available than just through the pages of this book. Brien Miller’s article may have a long title, but the content is an excellent exposition of the importance of validating the models one creates, and Rachel Simmons’ explanation of the thinking that went into the design of Napoleon’s Triumph is one that will resonate with anyone who has every tried to design a wargame. Whilst I agree that Harpoon is a very good naval wargame, I’m not sure that it could be described as wholly ‘original’.

The contents of Red vs. Blue resonated with me, and put me in mind of a wargame about the Cuban Missile Crisis that the Jockey’s Field Irregulars played some years ago. The various teams were separated by a considerable distance (one team was in London and the other in Sheffield!), and had to communicate with each other and the umpires using texts or notes. When one is face-to-face with an opponent, one can ‘read’ their reaction, whereas when one has to do so by trying to read the subtext of their messages, miscalculations and misunderstandings don’t so much creep in as hurtle in! Add in the additional problems of information and transmission delays, and one has a real cooking pot full of problems.

Russell Vance’s Hypergaming describes Game Theory, what Hypergame Theory is, and then explains how it was applied to the First Gulf War. As such, it more than justifies the use of gaming to examine what one’s enemy might do, why they might do it, and what the best counters to that would be.


Zones of Control: A progress report

I am gradually making my way through this book, and so far I have read:

  • Editors’ Introduction by Pat Harrigan and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum
  • Series Forword
  • Foreword: The Paper Time Machine Goes Electric by James F. Dunnigan

As one would expect, the introductory part of the book sets the scene for what is to follow, and explains the logic behind the thematic approach adopted by the editors.

James Dunnigan’s contribution gives a brief but interesting personal oversight of the development of wargaming, particularly since the height of the Cold War and in light of world events that have occurred since it ended. It covers the way in which military and commercial/hobby wargames had drifted apart, only to re-engage when the military realised that the commercial/hobby wargamers had useful tools/games they they could use … a trend that has gained wider currency in recent years if CONNECTIONS UK is anything to go by.

PART I: PAPER WARS

  • A Game Out of All Proportions: How a Hobby Miniaturized War by Jon Peterson
  • The History of Wargaming Project by John Curry
  • The Fundamental Gap between Tabletop Simulation Games and the “Truth” by Tetsuya Nakamura
  • Fleet Admiral: Tracing One Element in the Evolution of a Game Design by Jack Greene
  • The Wild Blue Yonder: Representing Air Warfare in Games by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
  • Historical Aesthetics in Mapmaking by Mark Mahaffey
  • The “I” in Team: War and Combat in Tabletop Role-Playing Games by A. Scott Glancy

Part I covers the development of what we have come to regard as wargaming in its multiple forms, and although to some readers it may appear to have a bias towards what the American view of that development is and has been (John Curry’s contribution being a very noticeable exception to this), it is an extremely useful examination of that development as well as raising some very interesting points.


Zones of Control: Perspectives on Wargaming

I ordered my copy of ZONES OF CONTROL: PERSPECTIVES ON WARGAMING when its forthcoming publication was announced last year. Recently I had heard that its publication was imminent … but the announcement did not include an actual publication date. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when my copy was delivered yesterday afternoon.

The book has been edited by Pat Harrigan and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum and published by MIT Press (ISBN 978 0 262 03399 2). It has 806 pages and is intended to provide ‘a diverse set of perspectives on wargaming’s past, present, and future.’ It is divided into nine sections, each of which starts with what the editors term ‘an anchoring chapter by an established authority.’ These are then followed by ‘a variety of shorter pieces both analytical and anecdotal‘.

The contents are as follows:

  • Editors’ Introduction by Pat Harrigan and Matthew G. Kirschenbaum
  • Series Forword
  • Foreword: The Paper Time Machine Goes Electric by James F. Dunnigan

PART I: PAPER WARS

  • A Game Out of All Proportions: How a Hobby Miniaturized War by Jon Peterson
  • The History of Wargaming Project by John Curry
  • The Fundamental Gap between Tabletop Simulation Games and the “Truth” by Tetsuya Nakamura
  • Fleet Admiral: Tracing One Element in the Evolution of a Game Design by Jack Greene
  • The Wild Blue Yonder: Representing Air Warfare in Games by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood
  • Historical Aesthetics in Mapmaking by Mark Mahaffey
  • The “I” in Team: War and Combat in Tabletop Role-Playing Games by A. Scott Glancy

PART II: WAR ENGINES

  • War Engines: Wargames as Systems from the Tabletop to the Computer by Henry Lowood
  • The Engine of Wargaming by Matthew B. Caffrey Jr.
  • Design for Effect: The “Common Language” of Advanced Squad Leader by J. R. Tracy
  • Combat Commander: Time to Throw Your Plan Away by John A. Foley
  • Empire of the Sun: The Next Evolution of the Card-Driven Game Engine by Mark Herman
  • The Paths of Glory Lead but to the Gaming Table by Ted S. Raicer
  • New Kind of History: The Culture of Wargame Scenario Design Communities by Troy Goodfellow

PART III: OPERATIONS

  • Operations Research, Systems Analysis, and Wargaming: Riding the Cycle of Research by Peter P. Perla
  • The Application of Statistical and Forensics Validation to Simulation Modeling in Wargames by Brien J. Miller
  • Goal-Driven Design and Napoleon’s Triumph by Rachel Simmons
  • Harpoon: An Original Serious Game by Don R. Gilman
  • The Development and Application of the Real-Time Air Power Wargame Simulation Modern Air Power by John Tiller and Catherine Cavagnaro
  • Red vs. Blue by Thomas C. Schelling
  • Hypergaming by Russell Vane

PART IV: THE BLEEDING EDGE

  • Wargaming Futures: Naturalizing the New American Way of War by Luke Caldwell and Tim Lenoir
  • Creating Persian Incursion by Larry Bond
  • Modeling the Second Battle of Fallujah by Laurent Closier
  • Playing with Toy Soldiers: Authenticity and Metagaming in World War I Video Games by Andrew Wackerfuss
  • America’s Army by Marcus Schulzke
  • We the Soldiers: Player Complicity and Ethical Gameplay in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare by Miguel Sicart
  • Upending Militarized Masculinity in Spec Ops: The Line by Soraya Murray

PART V: SYSTEMS AND SITUATIONS

  • Wargames as Writing Systems by Sharon Ghamari-Tabrizi
  • Playing Defense: Gender, Just War, and Game Design by Elizabeth Losh
  • Debord’s Nostalgic Algorithm by Alexander R. Galloway
  • The Ludic Science Club Crosses the Berezina by Richard Barbrook
  • War Games by David Levinthal
  • Troubling the Magic Circle: Miniature War in Iraq by Brian Conley

PART VI: THE WAR ROOM

  • Wargames as an Academic Instrument by Philip Sabin
  • Lessons from the Hexagon: Wargames and the Military Historian by Robert M. Citino
  • Simulation Literacy: The Case for Wargames in the History Classroom by Rob MacDougall and Lisa Faden
  • The Amateur Designer: For Fun and Profit by Charles Vasey
  • Struggling with Deep Play: Utilizing Twilight Struggle for Historical Inquiry by Jeremy Antley
  • Model-Driven Military Wargame Design and Evaluation by Alexander H. Levis and Robert J. Elder

PART VII: IRREGULARITIES

  • Gaming the Nonkinetic by Rex Brynen
  • Inhabited Models and Irregular Warfare Games: An Approach to Educational and Analytical Gaming at the US Department of Defense by Elizabeth M. Bartels
  • Chess, Go, and Vietnam: Gaming Modern Insurgency by Brian Train and Volko Ruhnke
  • Irregular Warfare: The Kobayashi Maru of the Wargaming World by Yuna Huh Wong
  • A Mighty Fortress is Our God: When Military Action Meets Religious Strife by Ed Beach
  • Cultural Wargaming: Understanding Cross-Cultural Communications Using Wargames by Jim Wallman

PART VIII: OTHER THEATERS

  • Wargaming (as) Literature by Esther MacCallum-Stewart
  • Tristram Shandy: Toby and Trim’s Wargames and the Bowling Green by Bill McDonald
  • Third Reich and The Third Reich by John Prados
  • How Star Fleet Battles Happened by Stephen V. Cole
  • Total Global Domination: Games Workshop and Warhammer 40,000 by Ian Sturrock and James Wallis
  • When the Drums Begin to Roll by Larry Brom
  • War Re-created: Twentieth-Century War Reenactors and the Private Event by Jenny Thompson

PART IX: FIGHT THE FUTURE

  • War, Mathematics, and Simulation: Drones and (Losing) Control of Battlespace by Patrick Crogan
  • How to Sell Wargames to the Non-Wargamer by Michael Peck
  • Wargaming the Cyber Frontier by Joseph Miranda
  • The Unfulfilled Promise of Digital Wargames by Greg Costikyan
  • Civilian Casualties: Shifting Perspective in This War of Mine by Kacper Kwiatkowski
  • Practicing a New Wargame by Mary Flanagan
  • Acknowledgements and Permissions
  • References
  • Index

This is a massive tome, and it is not a book that one is able to read overnight. Neither is it a book that is one could describe as ‘not put downable‘ … in fact to someone who has become used to reading most books on a Kindle, it feels like it weights a ton! That said, I think that it has something for everyone who likes to think about wargames and wargaming, and from what I have read so far, I believe that it is going to become a book to which people will refer for many years to come.


Airfix Battles: Inside the box!

As I had a spare hour or two today, I decided to open my newly-arrive copy of AIRFIX BATTLES: THE INTRODUCTORY WARGAME.

The whole thing comes in a sturdy cardboard box, and the box lid looks like this:

The bottom of the box has a description of the contents as well as a number of illustrations of the various components.

When the box lid is taken off, the contents of the box look like this:

The game comes with 54 Force cards (top left), 54 Command cards (top right), and a bag of ten D6 dice,

The rule book is 24 pages long …

… and the scenario (or ‘Mission’) book covers 10 scenarios/missions within its 12 pages.

There are two A2-sized double-sided maps/battlefields depicting a ‘Crossroad’, …

… a ‘Checkpoint’, …

… a ‘Long Road’ …

… and a ‘Forest’.

Each is divided up into a 7 x 5 grid of 8.5cm squares.

The three sets of double-sided cardboard counters are quite substantial, and give an interesting mix of figures, vehicles, equipment, and terrain.

Set One (Front)

Set One (Back)

Set Two (Front)

Set Two (Back)

Set Three (Front)

Set Three (Back)

Inside this game is everything that you need to fight a battle, and I can foresee wargamers having this to hand as a great ‘stand by’ for those occasions when they do not have the time, the space, or the inclination to set up figure game. It is also a great way to introduce people (both young and old) to wargaming, and the fact that it is designed so that the counters can easily be replaced by figures and model vehicles makes it even more flexible.

The team at Modiphius (Nick Fallon, Alan Paull, and Chris Birch) and Airfix (i.e. Hornby Hobbies Ltd.) have come up with what I think is a winning combination … and I look forward to future expansion sets being developed and becoming available.


Some interesting things were delivered whilst we were away

Some time ago I ordered a book and a game online, and expected them to be delivered after Sue and I returned from our cruise. Both products were released earlier than I expected, and as a result the book was waiting for me when we got home, and the game was at the local post office distribution office awaiting collection.

The book was one of Osprey’s latest publications, IMPERIAL CHINESE ARMIES 1840-1911.

It was written by Philip S Jowett and illustrated by Gerry Embleton and is No.505 in the ‘Men-at-Arms’ series (ISBN 978 1 4728 1427 2). It is divided into a number of chapters with the following titles:

  • Introduction
  • Conflicts with external enemies
  • The Armies
  • Character of the Imperial Army
  • Weapons
  • Uniforms & Equipment

This book fills a niche in my collection and will hopefully spur me to sorting out the small collection of Chinese figures that i have in my collection of 15mm-scale wargames figures.

The game was AIRFIX BATTLES by Modiphius.

(This image is taken from their website. © Modiphius)

I bought this game for a number of reasons, including:

  • Nostalgia: Like so many wargamers of my generation, my first ‘proper’ wargames were fought using Airfix figures and tanks, and buying this game seemed to be the obvious thing to do.
  • Interest in the period: I grew up with stories about the Second World War, and it has always been one of my wargaming areas of interest. For this reason I seem – over the years – to have collected quite a few sets of rules etc. and if for no other reason than that, I wanted a copy of this game.
  • Interesting design features: I have met one of the designers at COW (Wargame Development‘s annual Conference of Wargamers) and he has promised to demonstrate the game at this year’s conference. As I know that he designs games with interesting features and mechanisms, it struck me that having a look at the game before the conference might be a good idea.

I have yet to take the components out of the box and to use them … but rest assured that when I do, I will write a blog entry about my play-test.


Simulating gunfire in naval wargames: Fred Jane and Fletcher Pratt

The following photograph of a Fletcher Pratt Naval War Game in progress surfaced very recently on Facebook.

When I saw it I was struck by several things. Firstly that nearly 50% of the participants were women; secondly that they all seem to have deployed their destroyers between the two battle lines; and thirdly that at the distance on the floor at which they were estimating the range between their own ships and their targets was very short indeed

Of these points the first is easily explained. By 1938 taking port in one of Fletcher Pratt’s games had become a social event, and both men and women took part in quite significant numbers. Amongst the latter was Inga, Pratt’s wife, who ran wargames during her husband’s wartime service in the United States Navy, and the former included Isaac Asimov, L Ron Hubbard, L Sprague de Camp, Trevor N Dupuy, and Jack Coggins.

The second point I find less easy to explain. It has always been my understanding that once the battle lines had formed up and begun firing at each other, smaller vessels kept well out of the way until they could be deployed to administer the coup de grace on crippled enemy ships. In this game they seem to be being used to try to disrupt their opponent’s battle lines during the slogging match between the opposing battleships, and may well be the result of one of Fletcher Pratt’s experimental tactical exercises.

The third point is the most difficult to explain. Having taken part in quite a few naval wargames over the years using Fletcher Pratt’s rules, I know that the estimation of range is quite difficult. It is my experience that players who are new to the rules vastly underestimate the distances between the models, and so end up trying to get as close as possible to reduce the level of error in their estimations, whereas once more experienced players have ‘got the range’ they tend to try to keep any changes relatively manageable so that they can keep hitting the enemy. In this case both sides seem to have shortened range and in theory should be hitting each other with almost every shot they fire. (I say ‘in theory’ because in the excitement of battle I have known players to mistakenly increase their range estimations when they should decrease them and vice versa.)

What I find interesting is the method that Fletcher Pratt adopted for simulating gunfire in his naval wargame, especially when it is compared with that used in the earlier but equally famous Fred Jane Naval War Game. In Fred Jane’s game players had to try to hit a paper target with something that looked like a wooden fly-swat (known as a ‘striker’), in the face of which was embedded a small pinhead. The pinheads were not in the centre of the head of the strikers, but offset … and players were not allowed to look at the the face of the striker before they used it.

Examples of the equipment used to fight a Fred Jane Naval War Game. Included are two wooden strikers, one of the 1:3000th-scale models used, a target, and a scorer (i.e. an image of the target ship on which any hits are recorded).

In addition the size of the target they had to hit varied depending upon the range.

A reproduction of a target. The smallest was used when the range was 4,000 yards, the middle-sized target when the range was 3,000 yards, and the largest when the range was 2,000 yards. The ship represented here is the Turkish battleship Torgud Reis.

Fred Jane’s method was developed when battle ranges were expected to be short, and when individual gunlayers were expected to use sighting telescopes to aim their guns themselves. At the time Sir Percy Scott was at the forefront of the improvement of British naval gunnery, and one of his training methods was the use of the ‘Dotter’. It was developed and used as follows:

Fortunately it occurred to me that I could design a contrivance with a target moving up and down at about the same rate as a ship rolls, and compel the pointer to manipulate his elevating wheel quick enough to follow it. This contrivance was made, and the men christened it the ‘Dotter’. A description of the arrangement may be of interest.

On a vertical board, opposite to the muzzle of the gun, was a metal frame which, by means of rollers and a handle, could be moved up and down at either a slow or a fast rate. On this frame was painted a bull’s-eye, and beside it was a card with a line drawn upon it. On the face of the board, and moved either up or down by the muzzle of the gun, was a carrier containing a pencil. When the men under instruction pressed the trigger of the gun the pencil, actuated by an electrical contrivance, made a dot on the card, and the pencil at the same time moved a space to the right. If the gun was truly pointed at the bull’s eye at the moment of firing, the dot would be in line with the bull’s-eye. If the gun was not truly pointed, the amount of error was indicated on the card.

At this machine the men were given constant practice, and in a very short time they were able to follow the target up and down with remarkable accuracy. In other words they had all learned to do what the one man had done intuitively.

The next time we went out firing there was a considerable roll, but it made no difference to the men, whose shooting was admirable, a fact which I attribute entirely to their course of instruction at the ‘Dotter’.

FIFTY YEARS IN THE ROYAL NAVY by Admiral Sir Percy Scott,
BT., K.C.B., K.C.V.O., HON. LL.D. CAM (Published 1919)

A ‘Dotter’ in use.
A ‘Dotter’ being used in combination with a deflection teacher. This was also developed by Sir Percy Scott.

When compared with Sir Percy Scott’s ‘Dotter’, Fred Jane’s method of simulating naval gunfire seems to be quite a reasonable analogue of it.

During the period after the Russo-Japanese War the world’s major navies began to experiment with coincidence and stereoscopic rangefinders in place of sighting telescopes. Alongside these came director control of a ship’s armament, where all the guns were controlled centrally by the gunnery officer rather than by individual gun captains, and the introduction of electro-mechanical gunnery computers such as the Dreyer Fire Control Table which enabled director controlled naval guns to attained even greater accuracy.

The Scott Director Tower.
A 1918 Mk.V Dreyer Fire Control Table.

Fletcher Pratt’s method of simulating naval gunfire seems to have been developed with these changes in mind. Players sight their guns as if they were all firing a single salvo in unison at the same target, estimate the range, and write orders on the firing arrows they have placed down. In an earlier version of the rules the players could stipulate where the shells landed (e.g. ‘All shells will land on the same spot at x-inches range‘ or ‘Shells will land x-inches apart, starting at a range of y-inches‘), but in the later version it was assumed that two shells from a salvo would fall at the range written on the firing arrow, with each additional shell in the salvo alternately falling one inch short or over (i.e. in a salvo of eight shells, two would fall at the given range, three would be under at distances of one, two, and three-inches respectively, and three would overshoot by distances of one, two, and three-inches respectively).

The Fletcher Pratt system in action. The red golf tee indicates a hit whilst the blue tees indicate the fall of shot of misses.

This certainly seems to reflect the results of live gunnery fire exercises that took place between the wars, and as such it must also be regarded as a reasonable analogue.

The only problem with both the Jane and the Pratt methods is the time it takes to adjudicate the results. In Fred Jane’s gunnery rules mechanism the umpire has to carefully examine the target and then transfer the results over to the scorer. It has the big advantage that the firer has no idea what the results of their gunnery are, but once squadrons of more than three or four ships per side are involved, the process can become tediously slow. In the the Pratt rules it requires two umpires to adjudicate the fall of shot (i.e. one at each end of the tape measure, with one making sure that the tape lines up with the firing arrows and the other placing the fall of shot markers) and sometimes a third to mark up each ship’s record card. The damaged caused is secret from the firer, but as they can see where their fall of shot markers actually land they can use that information to adjust the aim and range estimation for the next turn.


The photo of the pieces used to play the Fred Jane Naval War Game comes from the collection of Curator Branch, Naval History and Heritage Command.

Comparing hexagons with squares: The ‘forgotten’ factor

Having convinced myself that I could get a larger number of grid areas on my mini-campaign board if I switched from hexes to squares, I sat down today to see if it was possible …

… AND IT WASN’T!

Look at the following photograph of my mini-campaign board.

Can anyone spot the very obvious (blindingly obvious … but not to me!) factor that I had forgotten?

Yes! You’ve got it! The 3’/90cm x 2’/60cm board has a frame! The hexes fit inside the frame … but the squares will not.

Just as final proof that it always pays to look properly at a solution before pursuing it, I drew a 9 x 6 squared grid over an 8 x 6 hexed grid, making sure that the face-to-face distances on the squares was the same as that of the hexes …

… and it doesn’t fit in the same space.

Serves me right for trying to find something to occupy my mind when I could not sleep!