Sunday, 10 August 2014

Morale: Believing you can win ... and thinking you are losing

I watched the third day of the cricket Test Match between England and India yesterday ... and saw a prime example of morale at work. By the start of the third session of the day you could almost feel the English side's belief that they were going to win ... and the Indian side's increasing feeling that they were going to lose.

This is not to say that the English team were outstandingly more skilled or lucky than the Indian side, but their belief in their ability to win seemed to motivate them all to make that little bit more effort. The converse of this was the fact that the Indians didn't appear to have any desperate desire to win and seemed to make mistakes that they would not normally have done.

The question that has been forming in my mind as a result of watching this match is:
CAN THIS BE MORALE EFFECT BE MODELLED ON THE TABLETOP?

Traditionally morale has been modelled in a negative way. For example, a set of wargame rules will state that when a unit suffers x% losses, it must take a morale test ... and if they suffer further casualties they will have take another morale test. In the end the chances are that the unit will refuse to continue to fight and may even cease to exist as a coherent body of men.

I may be wrong (I frequently am!) but I cannot think of a set of wargame rules that give any kind of bonus to a unit that has just forced an enemy unit to retreat or that has caused considerable and visible casualties to an enemy unit. In both cases you would expect the unit that has inflicted these sorts of effects upon the enemy to be highly motivated and to fight with greater vigour – and effectiveness – for the immediate future.

On a personal level I am not a great lover of morale rules, preferring to rely upon the personal morale of the individual players to determine how units react on the tabletop.

I can cite an example of this. Some years ago Channel 4 attempted to make Kriegsspiel into a spectator sport. Unfortunately it did not work very well and only lasted for a single, short series of three programmes ... but it did illustrate the effect of a commander's personal morale on the outcome of a battle.

The first battle featured in the series was a re-fight of the Battle of Naseby, and I remember that at one stage both commanders were convinced that they were losing the battle, and began to make plans to retreat ... and then one of them realised that the enemy army was in a worse state than his army was, and he began to push his troops forward ... which precipitated an even faster enemy collapse. He believed that he was winning ... and he did; his opponent thought that he was being beaten ... and he was.

I began writing this blog entry just after 9.00am this morning ... but have only just been able to complete it and upload it now (1.50pm) thanks to a constant stream of interruptions to our Internet access. Apparently the fault they 'cured' yesterday is still dogging the digital cable network in our area. It should be fixed later today. I will believe that when it happens!

14 comments:

  1. There are sets of rules that allow units (often, but not exclusively, cavalry) that have won a melee to breakthrough and attack further units. Command & Colours certainly does as does Piquet; I'm sure many others probably do as well.

    One could also argue that the Crossfire mechanic of keeping going until one fails at something - shooting, moving whatever - is a version of rewarding success.

    And Featherstone's morale rules in Advanced Wargaming might not give any upward adjustments for causing casualties, but they do give a bonus for advancing.

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  2. The old wrg Ancients rules had morale pluses for seeing enemy troops retiring. Given enough of these and a shortage of negatives, good roll could send your troops into an advance without orders. The Hastings gambit.

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  3. Epictetus,

    I was aware of the 'take ground' rule in the C&C rules, but not of the other examples.

    Phil Barker's HORSE, FOOT AND GUNS rules have a similar 'keep going till you're stopped' mechanism, but although it allows a unit to breakthrough the enemy's frontline, it does to necessarily cause the enemy's precipitate collapse.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  4. Ross Mac,

    I regret to say that I have never used any of WRG's pre-DBA/HOTT rules, hence my lack of knowledge of their 'advance without orders' positive morale test result.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  5. Interesting idea. I was unaware of these rulesets having these features. A shame about the internet connection. Mine has improved slightly since I upgraded the 10 year old modem. What I find interesting is that my bill has gone up quite a bit and now for only $5* more a month I can double my speed. The * lets me know that this $5 rate is only for the first 6 months. I also wonder why my increased rates don't already qualify me for as fast as will allow.

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  6. Sean,

    A positive morale effect struck me as something that most sets of wargame rules did not take into account ... hence this blog entry.

    With regard to my Internet access, I have also been offered a higher-speed Internet connection for a very reasonable rate ... for the first six months. After that the cost rises by quite a lot.

    Like you I wonder how they can provide this faster service without upgrading the line or the modem ... and yet paying a bit more money seems to make this possible. Interesting ... but difficult to understand.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  7. I believe that Brig Peter Young tried to model this by keeping his own morale rules simple and basic. Of course you do need something - especially in a contextless war games battle - that will arrest the 'fight to the last man' type of game. His was the 50% rule, which applied to tactical units, and to the army as a whole.

    Incidentally, and as an aside, it is not usual for a chess game at much beyond beginner level to end in checkmate. There comes a time at which the losing player will recognise that he has run out of defensive resources, that defeat is inevitable, and that to continue will be 'pointless and vexatious' for both sides.

    But each player's judgement will differ. I know one guy on Gameknot who is notorious for 'premature resignation'. I've seen him resign games he was not losing, and on one occasion a game in which he had available - but overlooked at the point of resigning - a forced win. You can imagine, then, that he has lost a heck of a lot of games he might have saved by a more determined defence. (Just as aside, players who insist on 'playing to mate' are often looked upon as unsporting. Although my own views on this are less unforgiving, I can understand that attitude).

    The thing about Young's elementary system, is that it permits certain subtleties to present themselves. Once a unit has received, say, 40% losses, you start to feel chary about committing it to further action - especially if the issue is still in doubt, or if the task contemplated is likely to result in heavy casualties. We're looking at a 'shaken' unit here, even though there are no formal rules about 'shakenness'.

    A wise commander might therefore be inclined to draw this stricken unit out of the line, place it in reserve, and have a fresh unit take up the fight.

    Many rules designers object to casualty/element removal citing 'fog-of-war' reasons. I don't buy this argument. One way or another - personal observation, reports from subordinates and feedback from messengers - commanders will know, broadly speaking, the state of his command and its constituent parts. How else would he determine whether a battle is lost or won? (Of course, he will have less knowledge about the enemy's state, but he will know something).

    I have occasionally wondered whether one aught to include a 'formation morale' factor into a 'Charge' type rule set. Brig Young and Lt-Col Lawford didn't, nor did Mr Grant, but they didn't have any formal command structure between battalion and Army. Volley and Bayonet does, but then the rule set wrests control completely out of the player's hands. A defeated command doesn't get to draw off covered by the remaining brave souls still in hand...

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  8. The 'stimulus of success' thing was quite well simulated by the modified 'Charge' rules we used, in which the winner of a melee was permitted, in subsequent moves, to continue advancing. Presumably it had rallied (reordered itself) 'in between' moves.

    I had my doubts about this, but what it did mean was that, having pierced the enemy line, your advance became a drive that could be arrested by only by the intervention of reserve units, or troops drawn from a less hard-pressed sector of the line.

    These days I'm inclined to enact that the winner of a melee (close combat) be given the option (player's discretion) of rallying for one turn, or remaining disordered but continuing to advance. Disordered troops encountering ordered enemy will, of course, not be very happy about it. That the unit can remove disorder by spending one move rallying offers the defending side a brief 'window of opportunity', given the resources available, to mount a quick and effective counter-attack to recover the ground. You read about this kind of thing frequently - villages changing hands several times, or the many occasions in Spain where it was a British second line, hastily cobbled together, that finally defeated the column.

    One thing I don't hold with: moves 'out of turn' or accelerated moves. The defeated troops didn't enter the fight simply to help the enemy on its way. That simply makes no sense at all to me. If you wanna pursue, you do it your own time...

    In my current 'Corsican Ogre' rule set (very Old School - using simul moves, for one thing: IGoUGo just looks wrong, to me) compulsory moves (that resulted from end-of-turn morale checks the previous bound) take place before all others, whether pursuits or retreats. Too bad if that means someone's going to get run down by screaming routers. They shouldn't orter've been so close...

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  9. I can't leave this without the comment of some historian or other about Genl Frossard, French commander at the Battle of Spicheren, 1870.
    "General Frossard, undefeated, thought he was defeated, and so he was."

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  10. Coincidentally, I have just played a Franco_Prussian game in which I (French) only just managed to boost my own morale sufficiently to enable me to risk an attack in the centre which lead to a breakthrough and the defeat of the Bavarians. Worth mentioning that it was a Portable Wargame with 24 bases a side and using 2mm figures.
    Most of the game was spent in trying to avoid attacking deftly chosen defensive positions.
    I know that they are only lead but somehow the losses still hurt!

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  11. Archduke Piccolo,

    I am very much in favour of keeping any morale rules that I might include in my game mechanisms as simple as possible, and I have used something like Peter Young’s 50% rule in most of my most recent work. It has the merit of being both simple and effective; what more could one ask for?

    I think that your example from chess is well made, and I love the expression ‘ that to continue will be 'pointless and vexatious' for both sides.’ That sums up exactly the way I want the overall effect of morale (or force losses) to work in my wargames.

    I also agree that players will – as their units start to lose casualties – begin to look at ways to ensure that they don’t go over the edge and cease to be a coherent fighting unit, which is why I also like the concept of figure removal rather than a roster system. That said, the system of hidden losses used in Megablitz works very well in that large-scale sort of game … as long as you are playing it with honest players. It does rely quite a lot on the players updating the strength markers on their individual unit bases … something that is very easy to forget in the excitement of a battle.

    I have experimented with the use of formation morale, and it worked well … when players remembered to use it! As they got more and more involved in what was taking place on the tabletop, players tended to forget to record the data they needed for it to work. I therefore removed it as being one extra layer of complication that did not improve or detract from the basic rules

    All the best,

    Bob

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  12. Archduke Piccolo,

    The idea that a unit that has just forced an enemy unit to retreat and then ‘followed-up’ by moving forward has considerable merit … but should have some restriction placed on it otherwise if could produce some unusual results where the winner advances so far that they actually exit from the main part of the battlefield … rather like the Royalist cavalry so often seemed to do during the English Civil War.

    My preference would be for something along the lines that a victorious unit that pushes back an enemy unit after a close combat can immediately move forward … and possibly engage the retreating enemy unit again. If the attacking unit wins the next round of close combat, the retreating unit falls back (if it hasn’t fallen apart completely) but the victorious unit may not follow-up … and will be in a weakened state if it is counter-attacked next turn.

    Your ‘Corsican Ogre’ rules sound very interesting, although I am firmly in the IGOUGO camp when it comes to game sequences. I have tried simultaneous movement and never found that it worked for me … but that is probably due to me fighting most of my wargames solo where a form of card-driven IGOUGO works.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  13. Archduke Piccolo,

    This quote exactly encapsulates what I was trying to say about people think that they are beaten and therefore being beaten!

    All the best,

    Bob

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  14. Barry Carter,

    It sounds like it was an exciting battle … and I am pleased to read that you were using the Portable Wargame concept.

    All the best,

    Bob

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