Time

One damned thing after another. You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your rifle grenade.
One damned thing after another. You pull on your finger, then another finger, then your rifle grenade.

One damned thing after another is the going rate, the obligatory gait of narrative, ludic or historical. In life, of course, there is simultaneity. But comprehension, language itself, dissolves under the stress and confusion of all the damned things happening at once. Event tends to the discrete and comes to be expressed out of sequence. Here is the sound of a 90ID veteran trying to bring order to his experience:

“I was a rifle grenadier. We hit the dirt because of 88s coming in. We advanced and I was supposed to use a rifle grenade on a German tank. My grenades were gone. I told Lt. Duncan I must have lost them when we hit the dirt. We went into combat with about 200 men. About June 12 there were only 12 of us, and after the artillery there were only six.”
— Ralph O. Sinamon, L/357IR

In order for players of a manual game to resolve actions between them there must be discrete events. One game event has to end before another may begin. A strict scale worsens the time compression for which board wargames are infamous. Myself I have no direct experience of combat, but I’ve participated in multi-day NATO command post exercises. It’s true: simulated war can be deadly boring. Play a decent computer land warfare simulator, something like Battle Command, at 1:1 time scale to get a taste of the waiting around for maneuver elements to coordinate properly, artillery preparation to complete, and assaults to resolve. But if you compress it at all, it is over in a blink. The problem was recognized from the start of the squad-level wargame idiom:

Time was said to be two minutes per turn, though the developer, John Hill, admits that this is “fudged” and that each game turn should be considered a “module of time, such that the (game’s) events can occur and interact with one another.”
Squad Leader Rulebook, Designer’s Notes.

The engine which powers my game is similarly loose about the time scale. Many traditions are worth continuing. But for the multi-day scenarios in From the Ground Up I need something else again. Time (even “modules” of it) only matter if you don’t have enough. Anticipating a shortage of time is the cardinal skill of operations planning and one that the officers of 90th ID initially had great trouble with.

Division and the regiments constantly ordered complex attacks late in the afternoon, often with the result of the line companies waking up to well-sighted barrages on the forward slopes where they were obliged to spend the night. Daylight conditions at 49 degrees north in the early summer mean fourteen-hour days. I figured night would be around seven, leaving three for morning and dusk conditions. Adopting a strict two-minute time scale would mean 30-turn hours. Experienced players maneuvering to contact require thirty to forty minutes to play out one turn. One hour of game time would therefore equal about 15 hours real time. Flexible time keeping is in order.

Pulling the focus a little has had a flattering effect on the base system. The basic mechanic of Band of Brothers is ten-sided die roll against a target number. Low numbers are good. There are fourteen hours of daylight conditions. Why not check at the end of every recovery phase against the number of turns already played? A number equal to or less than the die roll advances the lighting condition (day becomes dusk, dusk becomes night, night becomes morning). But what about pushing your unit harder to get more done in the day? Simple. The game gives you command points representing the quality of your command. So spend those to modify the number downward. If both players allocate these command points in secret, the exact end of the day will still be randomly determined and it remains possible to go beyond the fourteen-hour day in a number of turns. This strikes me as elegant and playable. I’ve used it in preliminary testing. A turn that represents something between two minutes and an hour accounts for short lulls, confusion, inefficiency, and passing weather effects. A lie? Sure. I’ll leave the 1:15 game-to-real-world time ratio to others.

And, no, there will be no Major Jack Celliers counter. Including one would mean the game could never fit in any box. Merry Christmas anyway, Mr. Lawrence.

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