Author Archives: EzraSidran

Ty Bomba’s Primer on Strategy & Tactics

Legendary wargame designer Ty Bomba.

I can think of no better introduction for Ty Bomba than his Wikipedia entry: “Ty Bomba is a prolific wargame designer from the United States. He is credited as the designer of over 125 board games or game items. At times between 1976 and 1988, Bomba held a security clearance as a certified Arabic and Russian linguist for the US Air Force, US Army, and the National Security Agency. In 1988, he was elected to the Charles Roberts Awards Hall of Fame. He was previously a senior editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. Bomba was co-founder and designer for XTR Corporation, a company that existed between 1989 and 2001. ” In other words, a very impressive career in wargame design and military strategy and tactical thinking.

Ty recently posted his Primer on Strategy & Tactics on Facebook and I asked his permission to repost it here, which he very kindly gave. I have spent much of my professional career trying to create computer algorithms for military tactics and strategy (a subject that I call ‘computational military reasoning’ and have written extensively about here). Ty has very succinctly stated much of what I’ve attempted to accomplish in his Primer below. Ty can be found on Facebook as ‘Ty Bomba’.

Ty Bomba’s Primer on Strategy and Tactics

Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean everything is very easy” – Carl von Clausewitz.

Strategy Defined
A plan or policy intended to achieve a major or overall aim, and having to be
achieved in the face of opposition from others. All strategy is a contextual
interpretation of a problem and a compromised rationalization of a
solution. There are no formulas to end the tensions inescapably imposed by
uncertain intentions, faulty assumptions, unknown capabilities and vaguely
understood risks.

Laws of Strategy

  1. Know your own capabilities.
  2. Know your opponent’s capabilities and objectives.
  3. Pit your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.
  4. Prevent your opponent from pitting his strengths against your
    weaknesses.
  5. Never pit your strengths against your opponent’s strengths.
  6. Maintain an emergency reserve of five to 25 percent of your strength.
  7. Keep in mind your desired end-state: only do things that move you closer
    to it.
  8. Never repeat an already failed strategy with the expectation of getting a
    better result from it.
  9. The overarching objective of your strategy should be to create a state of
    surprise in your opponent. That uncertainty will delay, and otherwise make
    less efficient, his countermoves. That is a force multiplier for you.

Common Reasons for Strategic Failure

  1. Overconfidence due to previous successes.
  2. Analyzing information only after sifting it through the filter of dogma.
  3. Operating with insufficient reserves.
  4. Mirror imaging – using one’s own rationales to interpret the actions or
    intentions of an opponent – is the most common fault among decision
    makers.
  5. Objectives not well explained to those below the highest level of command.
  6. Objectives not adjusted according to new data coming from the
    operational environment.
  7. Unanticipated outside influences.

Tactics Defined
An action intended to achieve a specific end, undertaken while in contact with the
enemy.

Laws of Tactics

  1. Always seek to control the local high ground or its aerial or outer space
    equivalent.
  2. Move in short bounds from cover to cover so as not to be caught in the
    open by your opponent.
  3. Maneuver so as to engage your opponent on his flank or from behind and
    so as to prevent him from engaging you in that way.
  4. Don’t confuse “concealment” with “cover.” The former only gets you out of
    sight; the latter also offers protection from enemy fire.

Juncture of Tactics & Strategy
Your superior strategy can make up for your poor tactics; however, your superior
tactics will not make up for your poor strategy. As Sun Tzu put it: “Good strategy
combined with poor tactics is the slowest route to victory; good tactics combined
with poor strategy is just so much noise before your final defeat.”

Surprise
Surprise is a state of confusion in your opponent, induced by your introducing the
unexpected. At the strategic level, surprise is often viewed as the tool of the
weaker side, as the stronger side has the option of simply applying greater force.
At the tactical level, surprise is considered a force multiplier for the side causing it
by creating a temporary period of confusion and vulnerability in the surprised
force. Having multiple objectives lies at the heart of creating surprise in an
opponent.

The Most Difficult Thing
The most difficult thing in a dynamic situation is to know when to change
strategies. If you do it too soon or too often, you’re not a strategist; you’re an
opportunist. If you do it too late, or refuse to do it no matter what, again you’re
not a strategist; you’re a fanatic. Opportunists and fanatics are both easily
defeated by good strategists.

Fog of War

Carl von Clausewitz painted by Karl Wilhelm Wach. Credit Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.

Carl von Clausewitz in his On War wrote, “War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty. A sensitive and discriminating judgment is called for; a skilled intelligence to scent out the truth.” Though Clausewitz never specifically wrote the phrase ‘Fog of War’, the above quote is the source of the term which we abbreviate today as FoW. FoW in the 18th and 19th centuries (the era specifically covered by General Staff: Black Powder) was especially problematic because of the lack of modern day battlefield information gathering techniques such as drones, aircraft and satellites (yes, hot air balloons were used in the Civil War but their actual value during combat was minimal).

General Staff is a wargame that can simulate the FoW experienced by an 18th or 19th century commander and his staff. We use the qualifier ‘can simulate’ because General Staff can run in five different ‘modes’:

  • Game mode / No Fog of War
  • Game mode / Partial Fog of War
  • Simulation mode / No Fog of War
  • Simulation mode / Partial Fog of War
  • Simulation mode / Complete Fog of War

Game mode came from a strong desire to create an introductory wargame, with simplified rules, played on historical accurate battlefield maps that could be used to introduce novices to wargaming.

1st Bull Run, 11:30 AM, Simulation Mode, No Fog of War. Reinforcements shown. Click to enlarge.

Antietam, 0600, Game Mode. Reinforcements shown. Click to enlarge.

In the above two screen shots from General Staff you can clearly see the differences between Simulation and Game mode. In Simulation mode a unit’s exact strength in men, leadership value, morale value, experience value, number of volleys and the time it will take for a courier to travel from it’s commander’s HQ to the unit are displayed and tracked. In Game Mode, unit strength is represented by the number of icons (1 – 4) and leadership, morale, experience, and ammunition are not tracked. Units are moved directly by the player and there are no HQ units. In Simulation Mode, orders are given from the commanding HQ down to the subordinate commander’s HQ and then to the actual unit. The leadership value of each HQ effects how long the orders will be delayed on the way.

Little Bighorn, Simulation Mode, Complete Fog of War (from the commander’s perspective). Screen shot. Click to enlarge.

In the above screen shot, we see ‘Complete Fog of War’; only what the commander can see of the battlefield is displayed. In this case, this is what Colonel George Custer could see at this time.  Just as in real life, in Complete Fog of War the commander receives dispatches from his troops about what they have observed; but this information is often stale and outdated by the time it arrives.

Little Bighorn, Simulation Mode, Partial Fog of War. This displays what all Blue forces can observe. Click to enlarge.

In the above screen shot Partial Fog of War is displayed. This is the sum of what is observable by all units (in this case, the Blue force). This is historically inaccurate for the 19th century and is included as an option because, frankly, users may want it and, programmatically, it was an easy feature to add. Throughout the development of General Staff we have consistently offered the users every conceivable option we can think of. That is also why we have included the option of, “No Fog o War,” with every unit visible on the battlefield. It’s an option and some users may want it.

We have experimented with different ways of displaying ‘stale’ unit information including this method, below:

An example of how units that are not directly visible to HQ are displayed. The longer that a unit remains unobserved, the fainter it becomes. (Click to enlarge.)

We are now experimenting with overlays.

As always, your questions and comments are appreciated. Please feel free to email me directly.

Follow Progress with the Changelog

A typical screen shot posted in the Changelog. Click to enlarge.

One of the many techniques that Andy O’Neill has brought to the General Staff project is the Changelog. A Changelog is, “a log or record of all notable changes made to a project,” and is common in developing business applications. Currently, it is over 23 pages of screen shots, updates and commentary.

The General Staff Changelog is here: http://grogheads.com/forums/index.php?topic=21270.0


You can subscribe to updates in the Changelog and also make comments or report bugs that you have found. If you’re reading this, you’re probably a beta-tester.

I will continue to post updates here at this site. But, if you want more frequent – and often more technical – updates I would suggest subscribing to the Changelog.  You can do this by registering on the GrogHeads forum and clicking on the ‘Notify’ button.

 

Movement & Maps

Screen shot showing unit movement arrows for the battle of Antietam scenario. Note how movement is stopped by the small creek in the upper left hand corner of the screen. Click to enlarge.

I‘m in self-quarantine. As many of you know, I had a bone marrow / stem cell transplant in 2014 followed by a year of intense chemo. I’m fine (all things considering) but my immune system took a beating. In 2014 H1N1 put me in the hospital for 3 days so I’m taking COVID-19 seriously as, uh, the plague. In a way, being cooped up in the house (the weather hasn’t been cooperating, either, as I had hoped to replace my daily gym workout with long walks with my dog, George) is a lot like a typical upper Midwestern winter: it’s what I call ‘good programming weather’. There’s not much else to do but hunker down and write code. So, obviously, I’m working on General Staff and I wanted to show you an update (above).

General Staff is being written in C# and Windows Programming Foundation (WPF). There are a number of technical reasons why this was a good idea but I’m not overly familiar with WPF and doing some basic things, like creating these transparent movement arrows, took far longer, and involved a lot more programming, than I thought it would.  My partner on this project, Andy O’Neill, is a WPF rockstar; I’m a novice. I would much rather be working on the ‘under the hood’ stuff (like AI) but for the last week or so I’ve been working on movement arrows while Andy is busy with another project (the kind that pays the rent). Anyway, I’m very pleased about how they turned out. Please feel free to write me with comments.

Movement arrows for units at Quatre Bras. Note how blue units are stopped by the stream feeding the large pond. Click to enlarge.

Forward movement of this blue division is stopped by this tiny creek.

But, I also discovered a very interesting problem while testing these movement routines: our maps are too good! If you look at this detail (right) from the Antietam screen capture (above), you’ll see that movement is stopped when it encounters a tiny creek. I’ve walked that area of the Antietam battlefield and that little creek (well, I think it would be more properly called a ‘crick’) wouldn’t stop a division moving forward. However, the movement validation routines stop units from crossing bodies of water (except in column formation while crossing a bridge or a ford).  Ed Kuhrt, who digitized these great maps and copied every small detail was, perhaps, too precise. Definitely better to err on the side of being too precise when it comes to maps, Ed.

We’re seeing the same thing at Quatre Bras (above): the little streams that feed Materne Pond (Etang Materne) are also stopping the French from attacking. I haven’t been to Quatre Bras but I know the French crossed the small streams to attack the Anglo-Allied army’s positions.

Luckily, fixing this is easy. If you have done any work with the General Staff Map Editor you know that erasing terrain features, like water, is quick.

Removing the water in the little stream that feeds Antietam Creek by placing a ‘field’ over the water. Note that the ‘Field’ object is ‘above’ the ‘River’ object on the left Edit Terrain tab. Screen shot. Click to enlarge.

In the above screen shot we’ve opened the Antietam map in the General Staff Map Editor and drawn a ‘Field’ over the ‘crick’ that kept the Union forces from advancing. Note that both the Field and the River are objects and whichever object is higher in the list on the left ‘overwrites’ lower objects. If, for whatever reason, we wanted to restore the water in the creek we could either delete the Field or move it lower down the list than the River object.

Edit: After originally posting this, some readers (see comments, below) suggested that units crossing a small stream should suffer a movement penalty. This is absolutely correct. Instead of ‘painting’ with ‘field’ terrain, I should have used ‘mud’. This allows for a movement penalty (set in the Scenario Editor).

Adjusting unit type speeds across various terrain types in the General Staff Scenario Editor. Screen capture.

And now that that obstacle to movement has been eliminated the I and XII Union Corps can advance:

Now that the water has been removed from the little stream feeding Antietam Creek the Union forces can advance again. Screen shot.

As always, I would love to hear any comments or feedback that you may have.