When is high, too high?
“Frenchmen! Don’t go further back! It’s here that you will find the keys to your liberty!”
– Marshal Michel Ney
Keep in mind that Ney was notoriously rash, and it was this very rashness that probably lost Waterloo for the French.
Let me put the issue in perspective. In this last game we are talking a casualty rate 2X that than at Aspern-Essling, widely regarded as the biggest and bloodiest battle of the Napoleonic wars up to that time. We are also about 2X the casualties at Wagram. We're 2-3X the rate at Quatre Bras, and 3X the rate at Ligny. The Allies in our game, with just 24,000 or so troops engaged, suffered nearly the same amount of casualties as the Union Army did at Fredericksburg - and they had 114,000 troops engaged. The combined casualties for our little battle last weekend almost exactly equal the casualties for the entirety of the battle of Antietam, still the single bloodiest day in US history.
This is worth a discussion. I agree that one should not "game" a scenario and send men after men into the meat grinder. One should consider several things:
• The overall objective
• Scenario isolation.
• Commander experience
• Simulation limitations
I agree that all of these are factors that could impact the level of casualties that would be experienced during a game.
The overall objective.
When is high to high? It could be that the objective must be held or taken at all costs. This is realistic historically. Costly but realistic.
"At all costs" is a very unique situation, bordering on pretty much never happening, for two reasons:
- Commanders, particularly during the 18th and early 19th century in Europe, were very loathe to render their armies combat ineffective for just about any geographic objective. A commander that did so would soon find himself commanding a garrison somewhere. To be fair, there are exceptions, but they are rare exceptions. This is not the Western Front in WWI.
- Unless trapped and surrounded, soldiers wouldn't fight to the finish. They would rout or surrender before they would fight to the finish, with the exception of certain elite units in exceptional situations (the Old Guard at Waterloo, for example)
Both Quatre Bras and Ligny were pretty close to "at all costs" situations for the Anglo-Allies and the Prussians, but our casualty rate is far higher than that suffered by the losing sides in those battles.
So, it happens, but it doesn't happen as a matter of course. I can't see that it should be the situation that happens in every game we play.
When the scenarios are played in isolation. That is not part of a campaign. Then one is less likely to consider the future needs of the army. If however another battle was to be fought, then you would be more careful.
This speaks to my first point above. It's also an issue in all tactical-scale wargaming that makes it unrealistic. We play HITS for the immersion of feeling like a 19th century general. Well, a huge part of that is not rendering your unit combat ineffective fighting to obtain an objective that isn't worth it.
A lot of this is simply the fault of the games themselves. I've yet to find a wargame, and definitely not a Napoleonic wargame, that provides adequate incentives in the victory conditions to stop players from doing this to win the scenario. I read a thread not too long ago over at the Napoleonic Wargaming Club concerning the Tiller games and this same issue, for just this reason.
I completely get why
players do it. I also get from the perspective of enjoyable game that a lot of players just aren't interested in worrying about this. For people that are playing a simulation like SOW in HITS mode though, there's probably more of a desire to experience "the real deal" than with the average player.
This can have a very large effect on casualty rates. Not to say that an experiences player would not make a mistake or get caught up in "holding/taking at all costs". Mostly experience will help to lessen needless losses. One will hopefully learn when to fall back or push forward. The commander might be emotionally invested with the opponent. They might not want to concede to them. This should not be a factor but it can be.
This was a genuine factor in real battle, and it's reasonable that it'll happen in game. Historically the opposite probably happened as much or more though, with inexperienced commanders hanging back and not committing their troops, and therefore experiencing lower casualties.
So I think this is a genuine reason that you might see higher casualties in the game, that lines up with historical realism. This is magnified in games like this past weekend, where large numbers of formations were commanded by a single human, whose decisions then impacted more troops than might have been the case in reality.
There are limitations in the simulation. It can be difficult to control your troops at various times. You have to know how and when to "Take Command (TC). Sometimes the troops can't disengage.
It was bloody hard to control your troops in reality! Probably a lot harder than anything we experience in the game. At Blenheim, Prince Eugene rode around and shot several retreating men when their battalion wouldn't rally and return to the fight.
No, the simulation isn't perfect, but the problems with it aren't enough to contribute 20% higher casualties in a battle with commanders that otherwise know what they're doing and are striving not to wreck their commands.
A general might send an order via courier which gets intercepted. The order might go to the wrong person. The order might not get seen, etc. This can have an outcome on results relating to pushing forward or falling back.
Well yeah, but that's the entire point of playing HITS with couriers. Again, while an issue with a courier might impact some specific unit at some specific point, and that might result in serious losses for that particular unit, there's a big difference between that and an overall command approach that just shovels troops into the fire for the entire battle. It shouldn't result in 20% or more higher casualties.
Overall, I agree with you Panzerde. However I am not sure about a house rule. It is maybe a question of doctrine.
Keep in mind that I'm not talking about trying to account for small variations due to this being a game, but rather really massively overdone numbers of casualties happening in more games than not. If it's important to us to play as realistically as possible, then one of the things we should be concerned about is trying to preserve our force as much as possible while still carrying out our objectives.
Now, should it be a house rule? It most definitely is a question of doctrine, as much as operating with actual armor tactics should be doctrine when playing Steel Beasts. I'd say that there's a lot less awareness of 19th century doctrine and the concerns of a general of the period among players than there is about modern armored warfare, though. Conversely, I'm not a fan of putting a lot of house rules in place that make playing constrained, difficult, and less fun for people.
At the end of the day, we play because it's enjoyable. While at least some of that enjoyment comes via immersion, some of it is just the sheer joy of crashing big piles of virtual pixeltruppen together and seeing all of the little pixel corpses scattered on the fields. Where each player lands on a spectrum between one or the other of those two points is going to be different for everyone, and maybe every game.
Still, I'd argue that part of the point of all of this is for everyone to learn a little bit each time about what it was really like for the 19th century general. I think that's a part of what attracts people to play the way we play. Part of the immersion and playing like an actual general of the era is to actively be concerned with preserving a force in being during every battle, even though there's no actual constraint in the game forcing you to do that. I think it's something everyone that plays with us needs to be aware of (which is really why I've written such a long-winded response, as a means of raising some awareness).
Ultimately tolerance for casualties probably should be left up to the judgement of individual generals. But unless there's some way to compensate for the effects of scenario isolation, casualty rates in games will always be much higher than they were in reality.