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Author Topic: When is high, too high?  (Read 227 times)

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Online Asid

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When is high, too high?
« on: January 20, 2017, 02:20:46 PM »
When is high, too high?

This discussion is from this post. A battle where there were very high losses on both sides.


This was a bloodbath. To the point of being pretty unrealistic, really. Armies during this period would typically break off combat and withdraw once casualties reached about 30%.

“Frenchmen! Don’t go further back! It’s here that you will find the keys to your liberty!”
– Marshal Michel Ney

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
•   Couriers
•   Etc.

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.

Scenario isolation.
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.

Commander experience
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.

Simulation limitations.
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.

Couriers.
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.

Overall, I agree with you Panzerde. However I am not sure about a house rule. It is maybe a question of doctrine.

Thoughts?


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Offline panzerde

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Re: When is high, too high?
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2017, 03:59:42 AM »
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.

Quote
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
•   Couriers
•   Etc.

I agree that all of these are factors that could impact the level of casualties that would be experienced during a game.

Quote
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.

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Scenario isolation.
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.

Quote
Commander experience
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.

Quote
Simulation limitations.
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.

Quote
Couriers.
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.

Quote
Overall, I agree with you Panzerde. However I am not sure about a house rule. It is maybe a question of doctrine.

Thoughts?

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.
"This damned Bonaparte is going to get us all killed" - Jean Lannes, 1809

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Offline Beef

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Re: When is high, too high?
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2017, 06:35:55 PM »
Interesting post from civilwartalk.com forum about casualty statistics at the Battle of Gettysburg. The post references "The Gettysburg Campaign in Numbers and Losses" by J. David Petruzzi and Steven A. Stanley as the source of the information. The casualty rates for both sides were astronomical, most above 50% and many approaching 80%. I think this speaks to the knowledge on both sides of the importance of winning that battle and their willingness, as painful as it must have been, to accept heavy casualties.

As Union Army Major Sullivan Ballou wrote in a letter to his wife at the beginning of the war, "And I am willing—perfectly willing—to lay down all my joys in this life, to help maintain this Government, and to pay that debt." I think many soldiers on both sides were of the same belief and most fervently believed in the cause.

And so, while I believe high casualty rates are not normally "acceptable", given the right circumstance they do occur.


Offline panzerde

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Re: When is high, too high?
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2017, 08:04:48 PM »
Even at Gettysburg, the casualties for the entire battle - versus individual units, which is what your statistics are referring to - don't come anywhere close to 50%. Union casualties are less than 25%, and Confederate losses are just over 25%. Sure, if you cherry pick casualties in the regiments engaged in Pickett's Charge, or the Wheatfield, you can find regiments that were nearly wiped out. But that's not the entire battle, or the casualty rates for all the troops engaged.

But okay, let's go with that assertion. Gettysburg is the exception that proves the rule. Here you had a three day long battle (very different from a three hour long engagement like we play). Both sides knew that this was the big battle - the Confederates had to win to make the invasion work, and the Union had to stop them or Lee might well have taken DC. And so it's that very unusual "at all costs" situation. It's also the ACW rather than than the Napoleonic era, a war infamous for high casualties due to the use of antiquated tactics versus drastically improved weapons.

Union dead at Gettysburg were 3,155. Allied dead in last weekend's game were 3,422.

Here is an excellent chart giving casualties, in numbers and percentages for several major engagements of the ACW: http://www.historynet.com/gettysburg-casualties

Here's a list of all of the actions, engagements, and major battles of the 1813 campaign in Germany. By the 1813 campaign the Allies have adopted most of Napoleon's innovations, they have adapted to French tactics, and the French army is of the lowest quality it has ever been, having lost nearly all of it's veterans in Russia. The campaign is capped of by an absolutely enormous battle, Leipzig, which dwarfs that number of troops engaged at Waterloo, or at Gettysburg. Indeed, the French casualties at Leipzig, including not just killed and wounded but 15,000 captured, account for more troops than Lee had in the entire ANV at Gettysburg.

http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/listings/c_germany.html

But even then, total French casualties for Leipzig - the single bloodiest battle in all of the Napoleonic Wars - are around 37%.

Now again, granted, it's a game and we do it for fun, and it doesn't have to be 100% realistic. My only intent here is to raise some awareness that our approach when we play is probably a bit over the top in terms of aggressiveness compared to what really happened. It may even be that being more cautious, using maneuver more effectively, employing artillery more effectively, and most importantly, not advancing and maintaining troops in exposed positions might not only end up being more fun, but might also result in more victories.
"This damned Bonaparte is going to get us all killed" - Jean Lannes, 1809

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Re: When is high, too high?
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2017, 08:43:27 PM »
Hi Panzerde

I accept the majority of what you are saying. However we are dealing with a few limiting factors:
•   Simulation engine.
•   Player experience with the engine.
•   Player experience with the subject matter.
•   Player experience with the group
•   Etc.

For me the biggest problem is when a player is not willing to learn a simulation or how a group plays. I have experienced sessions, not just with SOW, when the immersion was broken just because players were not willing to learn, setup or read in advance.

We can discuss this some more when we meet on TeamSpeak again.

Fascinating discussion though.

Regards


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Offline Mr. Digby

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Re: When is high, too high?
« Reply #5 on: January 21, 2017, 11:18:40 PM »
It is an interesting discussion. For the KS Mod we've tweaked the unit morale system considerably so that units (and therefore armies as a conglomerate of units) will fall back out of the more extreme areas of combat (melee, close range) sooner and will quit the field sooner. They also suffer higher morale penalties when fired on from the flank and when the rate of casualties over time goes up steeply (more so than the vanilla game). There is also a higher penalty on unit morale when friends nearby rout or fall back.

In a KS game what you find therefore is experienced players husbanding reserves more and rotating tired units out of combat to rest them more often. Our cavalry also spends a lot of time standing about resting and merely "threatening" rather than actively moving and charging. I have seen eager players throw in attacks against a fresh defence have whole brigades collapse in moments. In a game on Wednesday I was lucky enough to witness one of my hussar regiments charge an Austrian battalion in column. It collapsed and ran and three more battalions very close to it also ran, a whole brigade was shattered by one well-timed charge. Casualties were minimal but those battalions played little further part in the action.

We are working on a "brigade level collapse" or "brigade exhaustion" system though the means to achieve this are proving tricky to implement.

By these means we experience lower % losses in our games with the mod. Its rare for our battles to exceed 35% losses and often they are around 30%. We do see 40% or so losses in games where fortified positions are in use.

As a suggestion.... whether your games are modded or not... you could attempt to apply a house rule such as when 20% of a brigades battalions have routed, that brigade may no longer attack and may only defend. So a brigade up to 5 battalions strong will be unable to attack after 1 battalion routs and brigades of 6 or more battalions, when 2 rout. Your scenarios will need to design in greater numbers for an attacker if you use this rule.

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Re: When is high, too high?
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2017, 10:32:22 AM »
"A few more such victories and my army will be ruined!"

Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis after the battle at Guilford Court House: March 15, 1781.

A British tactical victory.

25% of the British troops were  captured, wounded or killed.


Lieutenant General Charles Cornwallis: 1,900 British soldiers under Cornwallis went on the offensive against

General Nathanael Greene: 4,400 Continental troops and militia.


Casualties:
British casualties were 550 dead and wounded. The Foot Guards had lost 11 officers of 19 and 200 soldiers of 450.

The American casualties were 250. In addition the North Carolina militia who left the field did not return


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