Sunday, May 5, 2013

Levels of Tactical Proficiency: The Beginner Wargamer and Terrain, Part 1 - Combat Mission Battle for Normandy

This is is going to be a series of three blog entries. The main idea is to make an educated guess of what the game play of three war gamers (one beginner, one intermediate and one expert) would look like for the same scenario. The focus will be the use of terrain and depending on the reception I can expand it to other aspects of tactical proficiency. I have chosen just three levels but I am sure there are more in between and that what I will show for both the low and high end of the scale may be the subject of debate.

The current modules of Combat Mission are the mecca of tactical war gaming.  Despite their limited capability in terms of forces and map sizes and some other minor peeves gamers may have out there, the series has become a genre in itself. Most importantly, the use of real life tactics is the bread and butter of gameplay.

I am going to use a very tiny stock scenario from the Combat Mission Battles for Normandy. This scenario features a platoon sized US infantry team supported by a mortar tube. Their mission is to secure a ford. Resistance is light and the terrain is close bocage countryside. Spoilers ahead!

This is the mission that I will use for the three levels of proficiency.
Right click and open in a new tab/page for a better view. This is the official briefing of the mission.
A panoramic view of the battlefield. Own forces (green icon) are on the left and the ford is in the center of the screen.
The beginner war gamer is able to recognize some relevant terrain features but it is unable to figure out how these terrain features impact his mission or how enemy actions and use of terrain may prevent him to accomplish it.

The first terrain feature to catch our gamer’s eye is the terrain objective. In this case it is the ford and the area around it. He recognizes that there is high ground beyond the ford (background) and that the ford itself is a chokepoint of sorts that he can't avoid. This somehow simplifies his maneuver options.
The approaches to the ford have some cover and concealment. For example, this trail leads to the river and it is covered in hedgerows and trees that offer a concealed approach. However, an enemy machine gun on the other side of the river (far background) could wreck havoc on the approaching troops. Cover and concealment may or not be recognized by the beginner player, but the subtle points of using them are not grasped.
The beginner wargamer only recognize the impact of terrain during the mission execution. The hedgerows pose a mobility problem to his troops, but he will only recognize the problem when the orders have been issued. In this picture, one hole in the hedgerow line is yet another dangerous chokepoint for the US troops approaching the ford. 
The beginner player will certainly recognize obvious terrain features where his troops can move at ease. In this case, this open field on the near side of the river is a place where he can move infantry with no obstacles. However, the player doesn't recognize the high ground on the side of the river (background) as a position where the enemy can deploy and have good fields of fire upon his troops.
If at all, the beginner war gamer rarely goes beyond a mere checklist of terrain features.

  • His understanding of cover and concealment develops after or during contact with the enemy
  • His choosing of avenues of approach doesn't include any consideration of his own troops'  or the enemy's possible fields of fire or the presence of obstacles
  • His appreciation of key terrain is limited by the piece of real estate he is assigned to occupy. He can only see his objective as the important terrain feature
In the next installment: how the battle goes for our beginner war gamer.



Doug Miller said...

Very good idea, JC!

Marco said...

Nice, although I never play CM (a lots of others wargame involve), it seems pretty interesting your idea. I'll keep looking forward in this one.

Anonymous said...

Excellent idea, JC

Looking forward to reading more,


Anonymous said...

Despite their limited capability in terms of forces and map sizes

Not sure what that means - you can field limitless forces if you wanted to and the maps are out to 4km x 4km ... really - for what is a tactical game why would you want more than that ?

Jerry said...


Offtopic, but have you played around with the campaign expansion to Steam and Iron at all?

Very tempted to take the plunge on the game.

JC said...

Thanks for your comments, gents.

Anonym: put a US 1944 infantry battalion (arguably the smallest formation able to do something tactically significant by that time) in a 4x4 km close terrain Combat Mission map, play it and then we will talk.

Jerry: it's simply fantastic. Didn't post about it because of time constraints.

Anonymous said...

Yes JC - but thats not my point.
A Btn on a 4x4 km map doesnt work well - my point was have you seen how many units a full battalion deployed in a combat mission game is ?

CM I think works best at the level of a company - maybe two. Anything larger than a company certainly isnt playable in real time and for turn based its not real fun to move that much stuff around each turn.

Anthony Mercando said...

I get where you're coming from, Anon. I have trouble dealing with anything larger than a company in Combat Mission games, but if there are people who can manage it, no reason to cap it, I guess. Really just a matter of making the map cap size bigger for some custom maps and increasing the deployable force size/tacking on additional HQs and whatnot.

Looking forward to seeing the rest of this series. I'm atrocious at CM, so any boiled down tips are always welcome.

Phil said...

Great idea. Very useful for me.

JC said...

Anonym, I hear you. Don't get me wrong, I love Combat Mission. But I feel like it has shrunk in tactical scope since the original CM x 1. I enjoy taking the farm, the bridge, the pillbox and whatnot ... But I feel it leaves me short off the next level of tactical gaming (some sort of intermediate between purely tactical and grand-tactical).

Let me give you an example: Authie, June 7th 1944. Great tactical battle IRL. There is an awesome 4x4 km map already made for it at the repository. It would require a German reinforced Bn. vs. something similar for the British. I am willing to move all the pieces, if somebody makes an scenario. However, there is no such scenario. CM x 2 can barely manage this size of engagements in the average computer.


Bil Hardenberger said...

JC, I think you are missing the point of CM.. it's sweet spot is company, company plus level combat. You can go bigger, but like you say the workload makes it hard to stomach.

Something like Panzer Command would be a better game for Battalion and larger games.

That being said, I love large maps.. I like to have the elbow room. And of course there is room to improve this game, and it's getting better with every release. For example the improved FOW with the new CMFI : Gustav Line release changes everything especially for H2H.

Good series of posts.


JC said...

Hi Bil,
Panzer Command ... It's a pity they didn't follow up with it.

What are those FOW changes in GL?


Bil Hardenberger said...

JC, where have you been? Check out this post form my current AAR on the Battlefront forum:

JC said...

Hi Bil,

Je! I will check it out as soon as I get home. Corporate IP is blocked by (?!).