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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Semi Random OOBs for game scenarios

Operational Game Design Thought of the Day

Having been reading up on typical Divisional OrBats for WW2,  it is easy to come to the conclusion that what happens on paper back at HQ has little resemblence to what happens at the front line.

Excellent site here with lots of detail on WW2 OOBs :

For a number of reasons, the actual mix of fighting battalions that face off against each other when Divisions meet on the battlefield is rarely (it seems) in synch with the paper strengths of those units.

So from a game design point of view, there are 2 aspects that can be addressed to cover this.

1) To what extent should the scenario notes detail the composition of Divisions on the battlefield ?

2) To what extent can good old Clauswitzian 'Friction' be applied to this to muddle up the game a little ?

Well, at first glance, the answer to Part 1) appears obvious - Like all good scenarios, the scenario notes should detail exactly what units make up each Division on the table top. There .. all done .. problem sorted.

On second thought, maybe not so obvious. How about this idea to spice up the game a just a little :

- In each scenario, the OOBs for each side shall be well defined in terms of Corps, with each Corps having a set number and type of Divisions.

- The Divisions are deployed on the tabletop as 'blinds', which represent Divisional sized formations moving on the battlefield. The Blue Force commander knows that Blue Blind number 3 represents the 'Blue Force - 24th Infantry Division'. The opposing Red Force player only knows that Blue Blind number 3 represents something within the Blue Force up to the size of a Division. Could be infantry, could be armour, could be a lone cavalry squadron.

- The exact composition of the 24th Infantry Division is unknown to BOTH players until the bullets start firing.

So, on contact, or on a successful recon mission against Blue Blind number 3, the Blue Force commander rolls a few dice to determine the exact make up of the 24th Infantry Division, and replaces the blind with a set of combat bases.

From a scenario design point of view, this makes the job of scenario design much much simpler. As I am currently putting together a set of scenarios for Poland 1939, endless hours of research are telling me that almost every single Division on both sides has a distinct lack of uniformity once the first shots were fired. 

I would love to get the OOBs for some of these battles exactly 100% historically correct ... which is possible given enough research ... but that may take forever to pull off.  At best, it may only be possible to know the theoretical book strength of various units from the start of the conflict.

If you march a week or 2 past the date of 1st September, and look at some of the dramatic Polish counter moves to break out of the Poznan pocket ... information on the make up of the remnant units is next to impossible to determine.

From the Grand Commander's point of view, we need to ask how reasonable this is.  It is difficult to imagine that a commander in a professional army does not know exactly what troops are available in the 24th Infantry Division at the start of a campaign. Very true.  But then again, it is also reasonable to expect that the actual combat capabilities of the 24th Infantry are an unknown quantity up to the point of battle .. and those combat capabilities may well vary from the unit's book strength.

Supply state, sickness and injury, equipment breakdown, bad weather, confusion, and a million other factors may determine the real effective strength of the 24th as compared to its book strength on the day. These factors may well remain unknown to the commander until it is truly too late.

From a game point of view, it adds an extra level of friction and fog of war, in that you dont know exactly what state your units are in at the start of a battle.

Should make game setup a lot quicker - just place the Divisional binds on the table and get rolling immediately. No need to spend ages sorting out all the figures into lovely little organised piles before you start playing.

Scenario writing becomes a lot simpler - just specify how many Divisions of which type make up each command, and provide a randomization table for determining the make up of each Division.

To simulate a well supplied and supported force for a scenario, flatten the curve .. or create a dramatic randomization curve for a force that is well less supported.

So anyway, here is a proposed Divisional OOB randomizer for infantry Divisions in this Poland '39 period. At best, units will hit combat at full strength .. generally they will fall a little below full strength, and sometimes they will be severely depleted.

To use this table, roll 1D6 for each stated type of unit in the Division. Cross reference the die roll with the column on the right to get the number of bases capable of putting up a fight at this point in time. Repeat the die roll for each unit type listed within the Division.

Division Dice Score (D6) -> 1 2-4 5 6
1939 German Infantry Division Infantry Battalions 6 9 9 9

Border Guard Battalion 0 0 3 6

Heavy Weapons Company 1 2 3 3

Field Gun 1 1 2 3

Recon 0 1 2 2
1939 German Motorised Division Motorised Infantry Battalions 4 6 6 8

Heavy Weapons Company 1 2 3 3

Field Gun 1 2 2 3

Recon 0 1 2 2

AT guns 0 1 1

Tank 0 0 0 1
1939 Polish Infantry Division Infantry Battalion 4 6 6 7

Onrova Nardona (National Guard) 0 0 4 6

Heavy Weapons Company 0 1 1

AT guns 0 0 1

Field Guns 0 1 2 3 (Onrova Nardona)

Recon 0 1 cav 1

As an optional (nasty) rule, you could specify that on rolling a '1', finish rolling for that Division.

eg :

A German Infantry Division first contacts the enemy, and needs to be deployed on the table.

First D6 rolls a 5, so they get 9 full infantry battalions.

Next D6 rolls a 3, so no border guards at this time.

Next D6 rolls a 4, so they get 2 heavy weapons companies.

Next D6 rolls a 1 ... so they get 1 field gun, and due to running low on fuel, the other Divisional guns and the Recon battalion are out of effective action for this battle.

The Polish Infantry Division they contact rolls :

First D6 is a 6, so they get 7 infantry battalions

Next D6 is also a 6, so they get 6 Onrova Nardona (National Guard) battalions.

Next D6 is a 1 .. ouch ! The rest of the Division, it seems, was caught on the march by a Stuka attack, and wont be able to make it to the front for this one.


  1. This is a good idea. I like the fog of war working its way into the OOB.

    Another thought though when gaming at the operational/grand tactical level is cross attachments. Most of the time, battle groups, kampfgruppe, combat commands, etc. were of mixed combined arms types. I am working with battalion sized bases in my concept and that makes such cross attachments an impossibility. I might play with your idea and use it to roll for each battalion to see what cross attachments it might get. Of course, that means certain battalions should be left out of the OOB altogether and only show up as attachments. An example for attachments for a panzer grenadier battalion might be engineers, antitank, SP guns or AA guns. This limits the cross attachments somewhat, since panzer grenadiers will never get a panzer attachment and vice versa, but it does add some variety!

  2. Oh...forgot to add that the cross attachments would simply be factored into the combat strengths assigned to the battalion and not represented by the troops on the base. Those are fixed, of course, by the design of the stand.

  3. Good thoughts.

    Couple of ideas to add to that :
    - In my setup I have 2 levels of 'bases' The larger bases represent combat battalion groups, or equivalent mixed formations. An infantry battalion would be 1 base, but an armoured PzGren (of the same size) battalion would be 2 bases to represent having a wider field of operation and projection of force.

    - Then there are smaller support bases - heavy weapons, engineers, etc. The support bases do not fight alone, they just add to the combat factor of units in the same grid sector. At Divisional level, the commander may move support bases around to represent allocating cross attachments.

    - Thinking about the combined arms aspect, I would like to see this rewarded in the game rules without a rock-paper-scissors type approach. You can assume that when a group of battalions fight each other, some companies will be assaulting, some giving fire support, etc. To abstract that out though, I was thinking of giving the side with a 'combined arms overlap' an additional combat bonus. ie - 3 infantry battalions vs 2 infantry + a tank battalion ... the mixed force would be fighting at an advantage. Another example : 1 infantry, 1 tank, 1 AT vs 1 infantry, 2 tank ... the first mixed force would get a combat bonus for having a better mix of combined forces.

    More ideas for the playtest games :)

  4. Yeah, I toyed with the idea of smaller support stands, but I prefer keeping the game simpler in standard base sizes and unit sizes. The random attachment idea is a cool idea though and gives more fog of war. I can see giving bonuses when attacks involve mixed arms though. Also, some negatives in situations that should require support. For instance, armor attacking into a twon without infantry support would get a negative.

  5. Maybe we should work together on some rules and then market them? I was the main writer for the Guts 'N Glory skirmish rules. I see being in different continents as an advantage for this!

  6. Great idea - am happy to work on that. The rules I have at the moment are coming along well for playtesting - they are 'published' here under the 'Corps Level Rules' tab on this blog, but I am finding blogger pretty bad for publishing in this format .. so they are barely readable on this blog.

    LOL - I tried replying to your last comment, but hit bloggers 4096 char limit :)

    Posted the reply as a new topic here :