I have been an avid tabletop wargamer for more than 3 decades, having started with Knights and Magick from Heritage Miniatures, USA, then moving on to a new game called “The Chaos Wars” released in the US by Ral Partha, and Wahammer Fantasy Battles. Move forward a couple decades, I am a retired military intelligence analyst, from 2001-2003 I was assigned to a unit that taught tactics and the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP). One of the important documents we focused on was the 9 principles of war: Mass, Objective, Offensive, Security, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Simplicity, & Surprise, also known as MOOSEMUSS. I had played a game of Warhammer against a friend in which I got tabled on a Sunday afternoon, the following morning, as I was getting my coffee in the office, I looked at the MOOSEMUS paper we had hanging above the coffee machine, which got me thinking. On reflection over coffee that morning, I realized I had violated at least 6 of the 9 principles in that game, and that if I were to improve, I had better put my tactical and strategic knowledge to work.
Mass means bringing the right amount of force to overwhelm your enemy at the critical point on the battlefield. This can be in decisive hand to hand combat, or through use of firepower. In wargaming terms, this means to achieve mass, you should be able to win the fight on the charge, luck of the dice notwithstanding. Obviously, theory comes into play here, but the key point of massing your forces at the right time is gaining the overwhelming advantage. In KoW, this can be achieved by a combined charge front and flank (or rear) that will force the enemy unit to break. It can also mean combining your missile fire on a single target to either waver, break, or reduce its strength to something that can be easily overcome on a charge. It sounds simple on paper, but it isn’t always so. Using hunter-killer teams or using a formation of units is a way to achieve mass at the critical point. Heavy cavalry in Kings of War may not win the fight on their own, but if you do a frontal charge with an infantry unit supported by a cavalry troop charge in the flank, the odds of the enemy unit holding are severely reduced. Hunter-killer teams are effective when you are using an economy of force fighting style. One of the clearest armies in Kings of war for hunter-killer teams is the ogres. Ogres will never out-number their enemy on the table, so need to develop a means to achieve mass in a much more limited way.
Objective is defined as each unit has a specific purpose on the battlefield. In game terms, this can mean seizing and holding an objective, destroying an enemy unit, hunting war engines, or defending your own artillery. When you place a unit on the table, you need to know what its specific purpose is. Obviously, objectives can change in the course of a game, but this should often be considered a follow-on mission. Have your units accomplish their mission before changing what you want them to do if at all possible. It is also very important to understand your over-all objective, and the objectives of each unit before you even deploy your first unit. If a unit’s mission is to hunt war engines then it needs to be fast and elusive. A good war engines hunter is not likely to survive more than a round of combat when charged. A flanker force should consist of both hard and agile units, such as light and heavy cavalry or flyers and monsters. Flankers will likely have to break through at a point in the line, so require some hard hitting force to do so.
Offensive is just that, if you have the initiative, your enemy does not. It means fighting the battles of your choosing in the means you want. This works hand in hand with mass. If you allow your opponent to play the game of his choosing, you will likely lose the fight. You need to take and hold the initiative, and force the opponent to adjust to your style. In so doing, you will have the greater advantage. In 30 years of wargaming, I have only won a couple of battles in the defense, so I am not the best choice for discussing a defensive fight. Just so you can understand my mindset on this, when I was an infantryman, our unofficial view on defense was: “If they tell you to dig in, dig well. The hole you fight from is the hole you’ll be buried in.”
Security is a key factor in preparing your force. All too often I have seen a player send his un-killable unit out into the open without any support, and have watched said invincible force get wiped out. Security and reserve go hand in hand. If you have war engines on the table, you need to have something to protect them, or you are handing your opponent victory points. If your knights are advancing down the flank and get too far ahead, someone will flank them, and then you are left without your hardest hitters. If at all possible, try to pair your units to ensure that they won’t get flanked, it is the same as covering your pieces in a chess game. If you put out an unprotected piece, he will be taken. Again, the example of hunter-killer teams comes into play, the hunter is the anvil, the killer is the hammer, but if either gets hit head on, then the other can flank to protect. I was in an Armored (tank unit) in 1991, and one of the things that was always important, even to the M1 battle wagons, was that you have a wing man. In Desert Storm, Iraqis tried to climb on top of the tanks to plant explosive charges on hatches or electronics, etc. The wingman’s job was to hose off his partner, in this case spray the top with 7.62mm machine gun fire. This was not enough to damage the tank, but it did do a number on the infantryman standing on it.
Economy of force is one of the harder concepts to come to grips with as a force commander, especially on a tabletop battlefield. It is our natural inclination to place our forces across the width of our deployment zone. This can be very detrimental if it is a smaller points game or a force such as ogres. When you are spread out too far, you lose continuity of the force, and you end up sacrificing security for appearance. A 1000 point ogre army is going to have most likely 4 units plus a couple characters. If those four units are spread across a 4 – 6 foot area, there are holes in the line you can drive regiments through. This is quite literal. Part of economy of force is accepting risk. You know you can’t control the whole battlefield, so instead control what you can in keeping with the other principles. My 1K ogres have two regiments, two troops, and three characters, these form two teams who operate fairly close together to ensure mutual security. Such a tight knot of force can bring a lot of mass, thus my opponent with units all over the battlefield now has to adjust his entire army to respond to the threat. I maintain offensive using the two teams as hunter-killers that each protect the other’s flank, and then they punch through in a single location. Suddenly, in order to counter, the enemy has to re-align his entire army, and ends up piece meal attacks with his forces into me without ever achieving the mass needed to defeat me.
Maneuvering your force is so much more important than fighting. In the grand scheme of things, it is the agility of your force that will allow you to achieve mass at the critical point. Maneuver can also be defined by the formations you choose. The three formations I am most likely to adopt against you are the echelon (either left or right), the double envelopment (or beast horns formation) or the wedge. I will choose which formation to adopt based upon the terrain, the enemy I am fighting, and the mission. That however is a topic of discussion for a separate treatise. I can see now that I am going to want to write separate reports on METT-T (Mission, Enemy, Troops available, Terrain, and Time) and OCOKA (Observation and fields of fire, Cover and concealment, Obstacles, Key terrain, and Avenues of approach) for wargaming. What is important about this is that each of my units will maneuver to accomplish their roll (objective), maintain security, reach point to mass, and force the enemy to adapt (offense). The formation selected will also help me to mitigate the risks to an acceptable level (economy of force), and will allow me to achieve my desired end state; winning the game.
Unity of command really only comes into play when the game is more than one player per side. Large games can be problematic in following the principles as each of your fellow generals has a battle plan, and if there is no coherent oversight, then it can all go horribly wrong. Close to a decade ago, Games Workshop stores put together the million point game. Each store worldwide was supposed to play a good vs. evil army game at the same time. During that game, I carefully lined up my forces, and was ready to crush my opponent and start the march down the flank of the good army when the guy next to me made a bad move that completely screwed up my plan. (I was on the extreme left flank of the table, so my breakthrough would have enabled the entire evil army to crush the good guys.) The mass never happened because of the poor plan of the guy to my right. It is very important when playing a multi-player game that each player knows the plan, and understands what is going to happen to his left or right.
Simplicity is another factor that doesn’t really matter as much on the tabletop battlefield. Simplicity means the plan is easy to understand so that everyone knows his job, and how his job impacts on everyone else’s jobs. Again, if in a multi-player game, each player on a side is doing his own thing, then there may not be a win, but if all the players work together on a plan that everyone can understand and follow, then there is a much greater chance for victory. (It is always important to remember when making a plan, the enemy gets a vote.)
Finally we come to surprise. This is a principle that is very hard to achieve on the tabletop battlefield because both generals have a bird’s eye view of the battlefield and can see where all of the action is happening. You can still surprise your enemy by doing something completely unanticipated. I can remember a game where I had my big nasty knights all set to run down a unit of dwarfs with crossbows when they did the one thing I would never have expected; instead of shooting me they charged me, as did the unit of crossbows next to them, who just happened to have a flank. The short shooters ended up wiping out my knights, instead of dying to a man (dwarf). In a game more recent, an orc ax regiment charged a regiment of human arquebusiers. The humans held, and instead of counter charging, the two units left and right of them shot the orcs, as did two cannons and a wizard. End result, orcs dead or fleeing, human line unbroken.