Sunday, 1 May 2011

Limited War Games by Joseph Morschauser

The following article appeared in the July 1963 issue (Volume 2 Number 5) of TABLE TOP TALK
-oOo-

LIMITED WAR GAMES
By
Joseph Morschauser

Like Le Grand Charlie (De Gaulle) most war gamers seem fascinated with a "grand design". It is rarely enough to fight a good, small battle. There is nothing for it but massive campaigns, huge battles, ponderous manuevers. This can get mighty dull and so tiring that it can slowly kill the excitement a good war gamer should get out of his hobby. An occasional Waterloo is fun but too many Waterloos will drown the spirit of even the most avid player.

If you have reached the stage of massivitis in war gaming I might suggest that you stop and consider limited war gaming. Some years back a lot of thinking people suddenly realise that all out atomic war was hardly the answer to every nibble our enemies tried to reduce free world influence. Out of this came the concept of "limited war", wars fought with a minimum of force, equipment and trips to gain limited ends. The same idea can be applied to war gaming. You need not always set up thousand-man battles to satisfy your ends. Limited war in miniature will often fill the bill.

A limited war in miniature is one with a minimum of soldiers whose commander has limited objectives. The object need not, should not, be the total destruction of the enemy, nor the complete occupation of enemy territory on the table. In limited war gaming certain limited objectives are set at the beginning of the game, and the game itself is limited to a certain number of turns. The winner of such a battle is the commander who gains a greater percentage of success in achieving the limited objectives.

Possibly the best illustration of a limited war game is the small, modern offense/defense type of battle. The defensive side consists of perhaps 75 to 100 soldiers, including riflemen, machine guns, mortars, anti-tank rocket launchers and possibly a heavy anti-tank gun or two. Their objective is to hold a series of designated strong points along their front. To this end their commander entrenches them as he sees fit, keeping some elements in reserve. The exact area of each strong-point is marked on the table so there can be no arguments over the proper occupation during the battle.

The offensive side is detailed a somewhat larger force which might consist of 100 to 150 soldiers; riflemen, sub-machine gunners, rocket launchers, satchel charge carriers. In addition their attack will be supported by several armored vehicles, such as a tank and several armored cars. These vehicles should mount weapons with shorter range and lower killing power than the heavy anti-tank guns of the defense. (I know many modern war gamers will scream at this, but we are seeking an enjoyable game, and if the attacker can out-range and out-power the defense he need only sit back and pot the defense to pieces. This is hardly a "fun" game.)

The battle might be limited to eight turns with the offense moving first from a line well back towards the edge of it's table. The objective of the offense is to capture or occupy and hold as many of the defense's strong-points as possible during the eight moves. The objective of the defense of course is to hold as many of these strong-points as possible. (It is quite possible that a defense commander might willingly give up several without a fight to begin with, then try to retake them before the end of the eighth move.) At the end of the action each side receives a certain number of points for each strong-point it holds. If there are soldiers of both forces in several strong-point areas, the points are broken up according to numbers and strength of each side.

What is being done in this type of limited war game is usually listed in modern war communiques as, "improvement of positions". For example, "our troops today on the western front improved their positions." The "improvement" in a campaign may go on for months without a Waterloo, each such being a miniature battle, a limited battle. On the other hand the "improvement" may merely be the preparation for a major push. Still such limited battles can be fun on a war game table. They are easier on the nerves, back and temper. You can fight a whole series of them during a period when other activities (non-war game activities like making a living,) may eat up a lot of your time. Then when you do have time and energy you can plunge into your Waterloo type massive battle and really get full kicks from it.

Limited war games in miniature can be played in any period of time, any era of history. The Romans had lots of limited actions, so did the British, the French in the early 1800s. I have used modern period here because limited actions are so typical of modern times but that doesn't mean the ancients fought only massive actions. (The US army was engaged in limited war with the Indians of the west for years and years.) You can "improve your positions" no matter what period of history you favor.

If massivitis and the Waterloo psychology has begun to afflict you war gaming (and it does to most) then it is time you tried the modern (?) concept of limited war, limited actions on your war game table. It is not a substitute for those glorious, sweeping panoramas of hundreds, thousands, of tiny troops crushing a foe to the last man. But it is a good carry-over for war gamers between the big ones, a carry-over which can give you a lot of fun and entertainment at a minimum of cost and exhaustion. Try limited actions in miniature for the maximum of fun from your hobby.

18 comments:

  1. Hi Bob,

    Many thanks for making this available - he certainly had a very good point and I am quite sure that most wargamers have been so afflicted at some point in their gaming career with the 'Waterloo' syndrome!

    'Massivitis' - what a good word!

    All the best,

    DC

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  2. David Crook,

    I am glad that you enjoyed it!

    Mind you, 'massivitis' did give the spellchecker a few problems!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  3. Bob,

    A stimulating read. I'm increasingly convinced that - although they may have been less historically accurate in many ways - the old school games with small armies I played when I started wargaming (when Airfix figures were two bob a packet)were a lot more fun.

    Thanks from me, too, for putting this on your blog!

    Arthur

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  4. hmm, once again I struggle to a conclusion, only to find that Joe Morschauser has already been there! Thanks for that Bob.

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  5. Arthur1815,

    The article has a resonance for modern wargamers. When you consider that it was written in 1963 – 48 years ago! – it shows how far (or how not so far) we have come in that time.

    As I get older, I seem to hanker after smaller, faster battles with the minimum of rules … just like the battles I fought were when I started out in the 1960s. I am now collecting Britains 54mm Deetail figures for a FUNNY LITTLE WARS-style battle at COW, and have already given serious thought to using them for a large-scale version of my portable wargame, with a grid of fout-inch or possibly six-inch squares. If I do, I will be fighting the sort of battles I wanted to fight when I was a child.

    Makes you think, doesn’t it?

    All the best,

    Bob

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  6. Ross Mac,

    I don't often quote the Bible, but in this case I will:

    Ecclesiastes 1:9 (King James Bible)
    The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

    I think that it is rather appropriate in this case.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. Thanks for doing this, Bob.
    It is a great piece of wargames writing, as relevant now as it was in 1963. The comments are also stimulating. I do feel that the most enjoyable games have at least 12 and no more than 20 units per side, whether these are skirmishing individuals, battalions, brigades or divisions. Fewer are too limiting, more are extra hassle for no extra enjoyment.

    Enjoy the Bank Holiday!
    Steve

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  8. Steve,

    It is a very stimulating article, and - as you say - as relevant today as it was in 1963.

    That particular issue of TTT has some other interesting articles, and I may well transcribe them as well at some time in the near future.

    What you say about games being played with 12 to 20 'Units' per side is very interesting, and bears out my experience (and I suspect of many other wargamers). For example, DBA and HOTT use 12 to 20 bases per side, and in Megablitz an average division (the usual size of command given to a player) has 12 to 20 manoeuvre units.

    I hope that you Bank Holiday as well.

    All the best, bob

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  9. This is exactly what's happening to me right now. I do enjoy the HUGE scale of some games I've been playing of late, but just the same I've also found lance-on-lance games of Battletech or beleagured platoons of British regulars in Ambush Alley to be highly satisfying.

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  10. Arquinsiel,

    Too much of any one type of wargame can start to become boring after a while ... so keep chopping and changing and your interest will rarely wane.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  11. Thanks very much for transcribing this and the Scruby article. One can never have too much wargaming wisdom! It is a constant surprise - though it shouldn't be - how often reading the words of people who have travelled the road before can help you avoid falling into the traps...

    Regards

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  12. JWH,

    Thanks for your very kind comments.

    As a historian, I am very well aware that documents like these can be 'lost' so easily, and by making them a blog entry I have done a little to keep them accessible. In addition, I am also aware that sometimes we need to look back in order to get a clearer view of where we are going. In addition, both articles still have a resonance today, and as such they should have a wider audience.

    Just doing my bit for the ‘History of Wargaming’ project!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  13. Bob,

    I agree with most of what has been said (except the "Bank Holiday" stuff--what the heck is that, asked the Yank), but I do disagree that fewer than 12 units is not advisable. Many of the games you have played and written about, both Portable and otherwise, have involved fewer than 12 units per side, and they appear to have been fun, yes? I think the key has to be what the rules allow the players to do; 6 or 8 units might be more than enough, given the right circumstances.

    Best wishes as always,

    Chris

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  14. Chris,

    I did not – and do not – want to give the impression that 12 was the minimum number of units I thought was advisable for each player to command during a battle; what I was trying to say was that between 12 and 20 units was what most people felt comfortable handling without becoming too stressed.

    I agree that I have had great fun with far fewer than 12 units on a tabletop … and I hope that I will continue to do so!

    All the best,

    Bob

    PS. Bank Holidays are public holidays in the UK, so called because the first four were laid down in the bank Holiday Act (1871). The term is now commonly used for public holidays that are not officially bank holidays.

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  15. Bob,

    Thanks for postings this - I've not read this one since late 2006 when we posted this on the Table Top Talk site.

    As always reading Morchauser is a pleasure.

    Your post also reminds me I need to finish scanning the old TTT issues so I can get them all online.

    - Mike Taber

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  16. Do you believe the higher end is more of a maximum - that games where a player controls more than 20 independent units is not likely to be a good game?

    Regards

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  17. Mike Taber,

    I will be more than a little pleased if this blog entry encourages you to scan in and make available online all the remaining issues of TTT. It will mean that I can read the rest of Joseph Morschauser's articles that were published therein.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  18. JWH,

    I am sure that some people enjoy playing games with far more than 20 'units' ... and good luck to them.

    My comment about players seeming to be happier moving and deploying 12 to 20 'units' on the tabletop is based upon what I have observed over many years of wargaming. I am sure that there is probably some deep-seated, psychological reason why this appears to be true, but I have yet to find one.

    All the best,

    Bob

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