Home Forums General Game Design The Pros & Cons of Persistent Orders

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  • #11066
    Avatar photoBandit
    Participant

    This is largely about grand tactical games where larger formations are at play.

    Persistent orders are orders that persist beyond the turn. This is in contrast to say ‘per turn orders’ which are issued and executed each turn.

    Persistent orders were most common during the hay day of written order mechanics but have since been largely replaced by per turn orders quite pervasively. Most people link written orders and persistent orders but really written orders are simply a particular implementation. Persistent orders can be implemented in other ways like chits or cards.

    I’m of the mind that persistent orders are a lot more historical / realistic than per-turn-orders simply because orders were historically issued on the basis of a mission or circumstance, not the arbitrary amount of time allotted to a game turn. Thus, it really makes no sense that a player has to “renew” an order like “march to that hill” over and over again.

    There is also at least one big practical downside of persistent orders: players need stuff to do… After a persistent order is issued, the player really doesn’t have any decisions to make until a new order must be issued. Senior commanders issued stunningly few orders in many cases. So what do players do?

    In games like Empire and the like where grand tactical orders were written as persistent orders and were paired with allowing the player explicit control of tactical units… the player had plenty to do – all those tactical executions. A lot of the complaints about that scope of game really come down to this: That the game plays slow, because it is so complicated, because it is covering so much. But… it does give the player something to do.

    My pondering is can grand tactical games using persistent orders without tactical control be fun for players? Or will players just be bored because there is a bunch of time between decision making where they are just executing their previous decisions?

    What are people’s opinions and insights?

    #11074
    Avatar photoSteve Burt
    Participant

    Another mechanism which you’ve not mentioned is the ‘arrows on a map’ method used by Shako and Spearhead. This works very well in my experience.

    As a practical matter, the players still have to handle the various things which go on while the orders are in effect – artillery bombards, units encounter enemy and have to change formation, engage in firefights and melees and so on. But they still keep trying to follow their orders until the CinC changes them or their morale fails.

    I think Shako is a good example of a fairly simple set of rules which nevertheless models command challenges quite well, and allows large battles to be played out in 2 or 3 hours. We also experimented with a variant where the various phases were put on cards and drawn in a random order. As well as making the game a bit less predictable, we also found this had the merit of not allowing you to forget a phase.

     

    #11080
    Avatar photogrizzlymc
    Participant

    What will they do?

     

    Move the troops, roll the dice, drink wine.

    I don’t think this becomes a problem until I build Grizz’s house of fun where the games are played on a tennis court sized table and troops are moved by scantily clad women who are suspended from the ceiling like stage fairies, fighting the game using orders in a smart phone, sent by commanders with a smartphone.  Of course, at this stage the guy doing the flank march may well be glad of the spare time.

    #11103
    Avatar photoJohn D Salt
    Participant

    Though it might not seem so at first blush, I think this question is deeply intertwingled with the discussion about historical movement rates. One of the points made by Don Glewwe (I think it was) in that debate was that each game-turn represents a chance for the players to make or review decisions. It seems to me, therefore, that a game where the length of time represented by a game-turn is well-matched to the “battle rhythm” followed by the historical commanders, one can get away with no, or almost no, rules covering command and control, because its limitations are already reflected in the choice of turn length. Of course it might be that the two sides do not make decisions at the same rate, so one might get to do more in a turn than another — reflected by some scheme of command points (a player doesn’t have to be able to move all his or her units every turn) or something like the wonderful chit-picking system in VG’s “Panzer Command”.

    The idea of matching the turn length to a real-life “battle rhythm” seems to me to be more suitable for higher-level operational games — it’s the way headquarters work at formation level. Persistent orders seem to me to become more and more necessary as one gets lower down the command hierarchy, as the comms get patchier, and the pace of tactical changes gets quicker. Although wargamers often don’t much care for planning, it is what real armies do, and the point about requiring players to stick to orders they’ve issued is that it makes them plan ahead. I like this, from the game point of view, because I think it rewards tactical skill, and from a simulation point of view because it reflects the difficulties of co-ordination on the battlefield — it’s all very well making smug remarks about the need for combined arms coordination, but getting supporting fire and maneouvre elements in the right places at the right times is a bit harder than moving chessmen.
    Regarding the problem of players getting bored while their existing orders are being carried out, I am quite tempted to say “what we need is a proper variable-length bound system”, then stand back and watch the fireworks. But even short of VLB, there are lots of things one can do. As a lot of the dull bits of orders involve the approach march, take a leaf out of the Ragnar Brothers’ “Whipping Bobby Lee” and let regiments out of contact motor along at a ripping pace (why wargamers still tolerate turn after turn of tedium moving the troops up into contact I do not know — even in Featherstone’s day players would agree to take several moves at a time in order to speed this bit up).

    I used persistent orders in a very slight game I wrote years and years ago for the Miniature Wargames “rules on the back of a postcard” competition, which was announced and then strangely failed to happen. The game was eventually published in “The Nugget”, and was called “Section Attack”. As you can probably tell from the name, it was about section attacks, and one novelty was that it was played on a range-card, which didived the play area into sectors. The senior NCO on each side had a command rating, using the British rank system, of one command per turn per stripe — so one for a Lance-Corporal, two for a Corporal, or three for a Sergeant. This was the number of commands the player could issue or change in a game-turn, and a command could be issued to any number of men occupying the same terrain cell, and doing the same thing (an exception was the “reorg” command, issued to everyone in a cell, to group them back into a single address group after they had been given separate tasks). As fire effects for HE and automatic fire affected everyone in a terrain cell, players were faced with the puzzle of balancing splitting into lots of groups for protection, and globbing up into few groups for control, and never having enough commands to do all the things you’d like in any one turn.

    All the best,

    John.

    #11104
    Avatar photogrizzlymc
    Participant

    VLB – the design concept that Dare Not Speak Its Name.

    Section attack sounds interesting.

    I think that, absent Prometheus getting off his rock and teaching us how to implement the VLB the mixture of Spearhead arrows, fast movement for units out of contact and the use of a CoC type scouting phase to avoid the inevitable scrum system of managing contact goes a long way towards getting the job done.

    There is still the problem that it can be boring to command the reserves, or the refused flank, or the flank march.

    #11108
    Avatar photoShecky
    Participant

    My thoughts are more along the line of leader morale or even specific leader characteristics.

    A commander would be given one of three orders – attack, maneuver or defend – and the ability to change that order would be either due to an order  change from the overall commander or due to battlefield circumstances. I thought about rating a commander in each of the three order areas. So for instance a commander who is strong on the attack may have an attack rating of 5, a defense rating of 3 and a maneuver rating of 2. So if he has an attack order, each turn his command is engaged with the enemy he has to roll for his morale. If he passes he continues with the attack order, if he fails he may either revert to a defend order or perhaps even break.

    There’s still more I need to work through but the basic concept is the ability to sustain an order depends on the commander’s “morale”. (I not sure morale is the correct term but it’s what I’m working with now).

    I’m also debating whether or not the commanders need to have three ratings – perhaps it’s easier just to have one.

    The other requirements are:

    • no written orders.
    • Account for leaders commanding large formations vs. small ones
    • Use the same type die for leader morale as combat
    • ability of overall commander to influence the morale level

    So there are ways to incorporate persistent orders in a game and I don’t think it has to be complicated.

    #11112
    Avatar photoMcLaddie
    Participant

    We also experimented with a variant where the various phases were put on cards and drawn in a random order. As well as making the game a bit less predictable, we also found this had the merit of not allowing you to forget a phase.

    We did the same thing with Volley & Bayonet.  It made for a lot of card counting.   In any case, it was an interesting game twist on the regular rule dynamics.

    #11113
    Avatar photoMcLaddie
    Participant

    …that a game where the length of time represented by a game-turn is well-matched to the “battle rhythm” followed by the historical commanders, one can get away with no, or almost no, rules covering command and control, because its limitations are already reflected in the choice of turn length.

    Hi John:

    Napoleonic and ACW generals spoke of this ‘battle rhythm’.  The game would need to reflect their conclusions to some extent.

    Regarding the problem of players getting bored while their existing orders are being carried out, I am quite tempted to say “what we need is a proper variable-length bound system”, then stand back and watch the fireworks.

    I think Grizzly has the right idea with some suggestions of what mechanics to combine that might accomplish something like that.  The problem of players standing around and doing nothing with persistent orders is a game design issue…  It is how time/activities are parsed out between the players and their opportunities to make decisions.

    it was about section attacks, and one novelty was that it was played on a range-card, which divided the play area into sectors.

    The dividing of the battlefield into sections, both along the front line and the depths behind it is something I know Napoleonic and ACW military men spoke about. Like their  modern equivalents, generals saw the divisions created by the breathe of a command along a front, “sections” often created around objectives and command junctures. By depth, the divisions were by activity.  The March to within deployment range of the enemy, deployment and approach, and finally close combat itself.  For Napoleonic officers that tended to be march up to 1200 to 1500 yards of the enemy [often artillery range], deploy and approach the enemy through artillery fire to about 200-300 yards where fire and close combat would take place, often when forward skirmishers were met.

    I think that fits the idea of sections, but does it qualify as the ‘rhythm of battle?’

     

     

     

    #11114
    Avatar photoMcLaddie
    Participant

    The other requirements are:

    • no written orders.
    • Account for leaders commanding large formations vs. small ones
    • Use the same type die for leader morale as combat
    • ability of overall commander to influence the morale level

    So there are ways to incorporate persistent orders in a game and I don’t think it has to be complicated.

    Shecky:

    I agree: they don’t have to be complicated and I am no fan of written orders.  They tend to be either very involved, with lots of conditions and thus a legion of loopholes in a game system or they hamstring the player into complicated rules about how to write the orders to counter all the loopholes… which generally I have found to be a pain in the patoot.

    The rest of your points, they are all game design/ mechanics issues.

     

     

    #11142
    Avatar photoBandit
    Participant

    Persistent orders seem to me to become more and more necessary as one gets lower down the command hierarchy, as the comms get patchier, and the pace of tactical changes gets quicker.

    John, that is an interesting observation. I’d come to the opposite conclusion but maybe that depends on the time increment used. My thinking is that if the purview of the game is tactical and a player is commanding just a couple tactical units, then while he may have a persistent objective, the tactical orders he is giving turn to turn are small adjustments, commands to fire, etc… Whereas in a grand tactical game, an order might be given and many turns pass before its execution has been concluded.

    #11158
    Avatar photoMcLaddie
    Participant

    Clausewitz noted that as one moves down the military hierarchy, an officer’s options go from very open to very few at the bottom.  He notes that the men commanding a company or battalion can’t be given much latitude in decision-making, everything being ‘mechanical’ because they are the least experienced officers with the most limited view of the battle.  Of course, this is Napoleonic battle.  I can imagine as the battlefield opened up and troops more spread out, the company commander or below began to have far more command decisions to make.  This also has something to do with the level portrayed by the players too.

    McLaddie

     

    #11188
    Avatar photoPhil Dutré
    Participant

    Although I very much like the idea of written/persistent orders, I always have seen them as problematic during the actual gameplay. It really requires both players to have the same mindset about the goals of the game. In a sense, a game with written orders focuses more on watching the plan unfold on both sides – and be curious about that – rather than wanting to “win” the game (whether straight encounter battle or interesting scenario). Without an umpire, it can be a real hassle to have a game with written orders play out smoothly.

    Example: suppose a unit has an order: “March to and occupy the hill. Engage enemy if necessary”. Suppose the unit does that, and finds a strong enemy unit on the hill. Do they have to attack immediately? Can they wait for reinforcements? Can they deviate from the original order? This touches on the problem what a change in the original order is, and whether it requires a new order according to some game mechanic. Problems like this have resulted in written orders containing zillions of if-then-else clauses.

    The core of the problem is that the local unit commander, who should give a reasonable interpretation to the order, and the commander who originally wrote the order, are not the same person IRL, but are the same person in the game. There is no real consequence for not executing an order as written in the game. Hence, I do think an umpire is a necessity in games that use written orders. When in doubt, the umpire takes the role of the local commander, and executes the order to the best of his knowledge.

    I have experimented with (multi-player) games in which player wrote orders for an entire force, then subforces were randomly allocated, so one could end up with a force on the enemy’s side. Each player was then bound to execute the orders written by someone else, and a player got a score from the original order-writer. However, even then, it was difficult to avoid any discussions about correct interpretations of the orders.

    Tiny Tin Men Blog: http://snv-ttm.blogspot.com/
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    #11190
    Avatar photoBandit
    Participant

    Clausewitz noted that as one moves down the military hierarchy, an officer’s options go from very open to very few at the bottom.  He notes that the men commanding a company or battalion can’t be given much latitude in decision-making, everything being ‘mechanical’ because they are the least experienced officers with the most limited view of the battle.

    I think that is true, though what I was saying is that while the latitude of those decisions may be greatly reduced for low level commanders, the frequency of them expands. Napoleon gives one order for Soult to advance, Soult gives an order to each division to advance, the division commanders send their regulating battalions forward. The individual battalion commanders are going to be giving orders to divide into wings or change formation to deal with obstacles, refuse flanks, send out skirmish companies, etc. Very limited purview but many things to do.

    #11191
    Avatar photoMcLaddie
    Participant

    The individual battalion commanders are going to be giving orders to divide into wings or change formation to deal with obstacles, refuse flanks, send out skirmish companies, etc. Very limited purview but many things to do.

    Yes, quite true. I think that for a player at the divisional level moving those brigades, that limit on what could be used to limit players’ use of units under ‘persistent orders.’   While the decisions *might* need to be done more often, once in the approach, those options were even more severely curtailed by the situation.  Just some thoughts.

    Best,   McLaddie

     

     

     

     

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