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Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Modelling the human in the loop

Whereas is is relatively simple to test a prototype weapon on the firing range to see how effective it will be, and thence predict the effectiveness of its production line version, it is impossible to test - and therefore predict - the how well the humans who are armed with the weapon will use it. Time and time again, it is the human in the loop that has been the ultimate determinant of success or failure in battle, not the sophistication (or otherwise) of the weapons they are armed with.

Many people have attempted to model human behaviour on the battlefield, and pre-eminent amongst them is David Rowland. His book, entitled THE STRESS OF BATTLE: QUANTIFYING HUMAN PERFORMANCE IN BATTLE FOR HISTORICAL ANALYSIS AND WARGAMING, has become a standard work in the field, but until very recently its availability has been very limited and second-hand copies have been very expensive to buy. Thanks to John Curry of the 'History of Wargaming Project, this situation has now changed, and a paperback edition is now readily available.


The book has two Forewords, a recent one (for the second edition) written by Peter Perla and an earlier one (for the first edition) by Charles Messenger. Besides an Introduction, the book is divided into eight chapters and two appendices:
  • Chapter 1: Introduction to Operational Research and Historical Analysis
  • Chapter 2: From Field Trials to Historical Analysis
  • Chapter 3: The Beginning of Historical Analysis
  • Chapter 4: Further Infantry Combat Trials and Historical Analysis
  • Chapter 5: Armour and Anti-Armour Combat Effectiveness
  • Chapter 6: Heroism and Combat Degradation
  • Chapter 7: Historical Analysis of Surprise and Shock Effects
  • Chapter 8: Conclusion
  • Appendix A: A Typical King's Ride Battle
  • Appendix B: Q and T Factors
Whilst this book could in no way be described as unputdownable, it is - in my opinion - essential reading matter for anyone who likes to consider themselves to be a designer of serious wargames. It is well illustrated, and includes numerous diagrams and charts that certainly made the analysis clear to me. Furthermore, the mathematics used by the writer is relatively easy to understand, even for someone with only a basic grasp of the use of statistics.

THE STRESS OF BATTLE: QUANTIFYING HUMAN PERFORMANCE IN BATTLE FOR HISTORICAL ANALYSIS AND WARGAMING was written by David Rowlands and this edition was edited by John Curry. It was published in 2019 by the 'History of Wargaming' Project (ISBN 978 0 244 20305 4).

14 comments:

  1. Bob,
    This book sounds very interesting, but does it have much to offer someone like me who only wargames the black powder era?
    Regards,
    Arthur

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    1. Arthur1815 (Arthur),

      It looks as if Martin Rapier and JWH have answered your question better than I could.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. It is fabulous book and highly recommended, but from an Operations Research point of view, it is focussed almost exclusively on armour/infantry/artillery operations in the latter half of the twentieth century with lots of quantification of weapons effects, force ratios and outcomes etc. in the context.

    So for Horse and Musket stuff, very little applicability outside of it being a fascinating read.

    Dupuys much older 'Numbers, Predictions and War' does do some modelling of nineteenth century warfare and even includes Waterloo as one of the battle examples, but its main focus is predicting the outcomes of mechanised warfare in WW3. The analysis of weapon lethality, dispersion and casualty rates as rifled weapons are introduced in the mid 1800s is very interesting though.

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    1. Thanks, Martin. I had suspected as much.
      Regards, Arthur

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    2. Arthur, may I recommend Leo Murray's "Wargames" (formerly known as Brains and Bullets) for having a little more universal interest? It does focus on the C20, but it does have stuff relevant to ancient and horse-and-musket warfare too. It is also very cheap on Amazon at the moment https://www.amazon.co.uk/War-Games-Psychology-Leo-Murray/dp/1785903519/ref=sr_1_1?crid=F75X04CKCJLP&keywords=leo+murray&qid=1574188022&sprefix=leo+murray%2Caps%2C588&sr=8-1

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    3. JWH,Thanks for that recommendation. I've read the pages one can access on Amazon and it is certainly a most interesting discussion. I wonder, however, how much of the author's conclusions will be really relevant to the earlier eras.
      Regards, Arthur

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    4. Some of it, but as you suspect, not all. In particular, the research on the psychology of massed formations, the last safe moment/point of no return discussion, the fight-free-flee-fuss paradigm, aversion to combat and the effects of surprise, shock and outflanking should all be useful to the student of horse and musket warfare. It is almost like an extension, in a more modern style, of Ardent du Picq (who is covered) as well as Paddy Griffith's Forward Into Battle. The psychological effects of different weapons and the way that leadership works in small dispersed units probably isn't of so much relevance. For your favoured period, I think it contains much of relevance for why Napoleonic columnar infantry attacks failed or succeeded for instance, particularly in understanding the ranges at which they were stopped.

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    5. Martin Rapier and JWH,

      Thanks for your very helpful comments and suggestions. They’ve certainly given me a few ideas about further reading that I can do.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Sounds a very interesting book, even for those not involved in rules design - I might very well add it to my Amazon shopping basket :)

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    1. TamsinP,

      I found this book to be very thought-provoking, and the mathematics/statistics used were comprehensible to even someone of my advanced years!

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. It sounds like one of those books I'd like to have a good look at before buying. I am interested in the mathematical side of battle and war games design, bearing in mind that war, like climate or economics, is the realm of uncertainty (which is not, by the way, the same thing as risk). War is a 'complex system' - so complex, withal, that I long ago reached the conclusion that, for war to function, it is as much a cooperative activity between adversaries as a competitive one - kinda like war games in that regard!

    Napoleon himself remarked that the whole art of war lies in knowing just how much to leave to chance. Even his sureness of touch failed him at times.

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    1. Archduke Piccolo,

      It’s not a simple read, but it is written in a way that makes it easy to follow the arguments and evidence the author uses. Unlike Dupuy’s work, the mathematics/statistics are comprehensible ... which is no mean feat.

      To me, one of the biggest failings of many wargame designs is the lack of good ‘human in the loop’ modelling. Morale covers one aspect, as do bonuses (or otherwise) for training ... but these (and other mechanisms) are often too bland a way to model what they are trying to recreate.

      You are right, war is very complex ... but just having complex rules isn’t the way forward to creating a model of warfare. The friction of war can be recreated relatively easily, and it is how a commander reacts to unfolding events that is - to me - the best way to model human reaction on the tabletop ... just as you intimate in your comment.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Sorry to come to this comment stream so late (have been busy in the garden these days as spring threatens us with summer). Your summary of the book put in mind another book out there which IS a great read, considering the subject matter. It is 'On Killing' by Dave Grossman. It's a study of human stress / killing / survival practice in conflict from ancient times to relatively modern (american indochina war). Available in paperback.

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    1. Adelaide Gamer,

      I know the book very well as I read the draft and make comments on it to Dave Grossman. It is a great book about human reaction to combat stress, and I agree that it is a seminal work on the subject

      All the best.

      Bob

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