Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Prufrock's Wargaming Blog

Friday, March 22, 2013

Introducing pre-battle stratagems.

A chap called ToneW at the miniatures page recently posed this series of questions:

Are people interested in gaming pre battle strategies in order to influence the set up of the miniature battle?

If so what do you find are the best methods to achieve this? or are there any rule sets that cover this well?

This is a topic which I have thought about a bit in the past.

I've often wondered if playing a mini matrix game beforehand would not be an easy, low-rules-overhead way to introduce stratagems into an umpired game (if you are lucky enough to have an umpire, that is!).  Each player would be allowed to make one argument for a stratagem and one counter-argument against potential enemy ruses.

The umpire would consider these arguments, rate them on their merits, dice to see which, if any, of the arguments succeeded, and then decide on appropriate in-game effects.

For example, before a typical ancients equal-points field battle, Player 1 might approach the umpire and proffer a "for" argument, which could go something like this:

"I give my troops an early breakfast and deploy them at sunrise.  The enemy has no time to eat and therefore his troops will begin to suffer the effects of hunger as the battle goes on."

At the same time, and without knowing the enemy's "for" argument, he would present a "counter" argument.  Let's say this one:

"To prevent the enemy getting the jump on me, I've had scouts out during the night who will immediately report back to me any suspicious movements, such as marches towards prepared or ambush positions."

The umpire might then decide that although Player 1's "for" argument is reasonable, the enemy has a slight advantage in light troops, so this reduces the probability of such a ruse working.  He gives the argument a 33% chance of succeeding.

Player 2 then approaches him with his own"for" and "counter" arguments.  Perhaps presenting something like this:

"As we are in home territory and know the terrain well, we infiltrate light troops into the wood in the centre of the board.  The troops are able to conceal themselves there until I give the signal for them to show themselves and attack."

His "counter" argument might go something like this:

"The enemy has been relying on local guides, and they will surely get a message to our camp if the enemy has a scheme that they are working on."

The umpire might consider that Player 2's argument is sound, given the situation, and gives it a 50% chance of success.

He now dices for each argument, but let's say for example's sake that both succeed.  In such an event, the umpire would compare each "counter" argument with the successful "for" argument and see how effective it might be in hindering the stratagem.

For example, Player 1's 'early deployment causes hungry enemy' argument is quite well countered by 'the local guide reports enemy intentions', so he gives the counter-argument a 50% chance of succeeding.

Player 2's 'ambush' argument is conceivably countered by the 'scouts out' argument, but feels that local knowledge is against them, so gives the counter-argument a 16.5% chance of cancelling the stratagem.

If we assume that both counter-arguments fail, the umpire will decide the effects of the stratagems and tell the players as appropriate.

He might tell Player 2 that his infiltration plan has succeeded, and he can order those troops from turn 3 onwards, but that the rest of his army is hungry because of the enemy's early start.  He would then note down the appropriate effect in his little notebook, perhaps something like this: "from turn 4 onward, Player 2's army must dice for hunger during the morale phase.  A score of 6 means that the army attacks from then on at a -1, the troops of the ambuscade excepted."

He might tell Player 1 that the enemy is indeed hungry, but instead of mentioning the success of the enemy stratagem he will secretly note that Player 2 has two units of skirmish infantry concealed in the wood in the centre, but their cover will be blown if Player 1 moves any of his units into said wood.

It would be the umpire's job to ensure that the arguments are kept reasonable.  Rating unreasonable arguments 'impossible' would probably help to keep commanders from getting over-ambitious.  It could even be done remotely if the umpire is familiar with the scenario and the rules.  An email exchange before the battle, after which the umpire dices for results and send instructions to the players could do the trick.  Of course, some of the fog of war would be lost doing it this way, but necessity being the mother of invention, no doubt means could be found to retain it as long as possible.


  1. I saw the same post. It's an interesting idea, and very few rules seem to have anything like it.

    The matrix argument system is very interesting and I'm going to use it in a campaign set I'm writing.

  2. Well, if you can manage it, I'm definitely in!

  3. You're writing a campaign set as well, Simon? That sounds good. You are a busy man!


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