Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reverse Planning and Terrain Objectives

In most war gaming scenarios you are given terrain objectives. Sometimes too many of them! But that's another issue. Among all games out there, there are different types of terrain objectives that are supposed to be (in real life tactical parlance) occupied, retained, seized or secured by the player. Some games even feature hidden objectives.

For the most simple type of terrain objectives (occupy), a thing that I always enjoyed in war games is, given an objective imposed by the scenario designer, to plan for and designate objectives for each of my subordinate units.

Let's take this small and simple scenario from Squad Battles Grenada. This is a demo from John Tiller Software that packs 10 scenarios. Pretty much a free game. Go get it!

In this scenario, two US Marine Squads swam from the bay and under the stern watch of Gunny Highway (no kidding, he is actually there) have to exit towards the Grand Anse Campus. For this blog entry, I will focus on that 5 point objective at the road intersection.

My first question is: what needs to happen so I can put boots on that 5 point objective? In this case I used the line of sight tool (highlighted area) which shows me which positions overlook that 5 point objective. The most dangerous positions are the ones that offer cover and concealment from which the enemy can shoot at my Marines.
Because I have two subordinate units, I created just two new objectives (A and B in the screenshot above). Both A and B have to be controlled if I want to occupy the 5 point objective.

I usually repeat the process for each new objective. Shown here, the line of sight from objective A. I do this to find out the best avenues to approach and assault the newly created objective. There is no way to get into objective A under full concealment without a time-prohibitive convoluted route. Crossing the road a few meters from A is not a nice prospect, but needs to be done for the sake of time. From there, I determine that the treeline at A1 needs to be under our control to cross the road, assault objective A, so in turn we can occupy the 5 point objective.
The same process as above, this time for objective B. While assaulting objective B, I want to make sure that the enemy is not firing from any of the positions highlighted in the screenshot. In this case is very interesting because there are many positions from which the enemy can fire while using cover and concealment. But the time constrains and the limited amount of forces at my disposal limits my choices. I chose the huts and treeline in B1 as the new objective I need to control to assault B and from there the 5 point objective.

The plan in action. 1st Squad on its way towards A1 and A. 2nd Squad, assigned objectives B1 and B has made contact with Cuban forces. A protracted firefight ensues, but the MG attached to the squad the overwhelms the enemy. 
Endgame. The 5 point objective (brown counter in the road intersection) is taken after a couple of assaults both south and north of the road. The end of scenario timer hits us with just two units exiting the map (green counter with a number two).
This is a very small scenario and off course it can be argued that a good tactician can do all of the above in a second after a cursory look of the terrain. But this type of reverse planning plus cascading down of objectives is very useful whatever the size of your battle. I learnt to appreciate this approach while editing scenarios and assigning objectives to the computer opponent. In a way, giving orders to a computer opponent sometimes feels like giving orders to real subordinates (in the short term, there is no much you can do to affect the outcome once you have ordered them to do something).

At least it beats just moving forward aimlessly your troops.

"Alice: Which way should I go?
Cat: That depends on where you are going.
Alice: I don’t know.
Cat: Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


Sam Spackman said...

As soon as I read the notes for this scenario I immediately had to go watch Heartbreak Ridge again. Great movie.

Doug Miller said...

JC, this is a great post. This is a really clear explanation of a process that almost no one ever manages to explain clearly.
My problem is I get too excited and target fixated and forget to execute on this!