Tuesday, June 4, 2013

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Command Failure

Our last 3 Napoleonic games have all featured command blundered that significantly altered the course of events on one of the flanks.  Many rules feature some sort of command and control system that adds in arbitrary "failures" which prevent commands from reacting (or reacting in an unexpected manner).  Often command leader failures lead to frustration--I've certainly experienced it--but I don't think a set of rules is complete without it, notwithstanding the many variations of "they're 200 yards apart of course they will advance together!"  As the title of this post suggests, I'm embraced my inner Dr. Strangelove and embraced the Command Failure.

Austrian's sitting pretty, but watching idly as their comrades are routed.
My club played two games over memorial day weekend and on our rest day in between, I was poignantly reminded of why command friction and failure is so important.  First, off a disclaimer... I have no military background nor do I have expertise as a military historian in the 18th and 19th Centuries.  However, I have had the opportunity, the pleasure, and the sometimes headache of organizing and leading small to large groups in various PvP (player vs player) MMO or FPS settings, which recently reminded me just how common command and control failure is--even when everyone involved has the equivalent of a radio strapped to their heads.

This past Saturday (between our miniature games) was a minor affair.  A skirmish between two sides of approximately 10-12 combatants each.  I was leading a slightly outnumbered group in defense, awaiting for allies to arrive.  Long story short, the allies approach is noticed by the enemy, who conveniently string themselves out chasing our allies.  I manage to redirect my force, rally them, look back and confirm everyone   was on site, then called for a "follow me".  I tear into an orchard, find the enemy's flank/rear in a perfect opportunity to divide and conquer the larger force and charge.  I quickly realize once the our foes turned to face us that the only person with me is my sub-commander/NCO (who up to this point I always had bringing up the rear ensure our coalition force remained together).  Instead of wiping out our foes we end up trading kills man for man.  The rest of my force was off in the woods chasing a lone straggler.  Command Failure.

12th IR taking advantage of Marshal Ney's command and control failures
and rolling up Girard's division. 
I've been playing PvP games for 15 years as a commander, NCO, and grunt.  I've commanded numerous skirmishes on the order of 10-75 combatants, a handful battles (often defensive sieges) closer to 300 total combatants.  I've been an NCO in battles and coalition political leader in combats of up to 1000-1500 and I've been a grunt "trigger-puller" in battles involving up to 3000 players.  More or less in everyone one of those contests the leadership/commanders job was 40% preventing internal friction from splitting up the force (and giving the enemy easy kills) and 60% worrying about whatever the enemy is doing.  (Smaller more veteran forces proportionally shifts that balance more heavily in favor of the enemy--and really takes the load off the man at the top).  Much of the cohesion issues in PvP gaming is player stupidity, desire for independent action, and quick kills.  In historical gaming/simulation our rules are attempting to model our figures putting a lot more on the line than pixels.

Which is a long way of saying I was once again reminded How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Command Failure.

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