Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Last Man Standing

One of bloggers I frequent, Der Alte Fritz, brought up a very interesting issue here.    It is the idea that many wargamers always want to keep fighting to the last figure.   This idea might seem ideal if you're fighting cannibals, or playing Custer's men during the Little Big Horn, but ruining your units to achieve a statistically fleeting victory in one battle is historically foolhardy.  In fact, it could result in disciplinary action of the commanding officer.

Now, if you're playing Burning Plastic, where 90% casualties are not only expected, they're FUN, that's one thing.  Same thing stands if you're playing a one-off tournament style game like 40k, where objectives and victory points matter more than if the surviving unit could barely pull itself off the table, much less fight another day.

In a historical game, the lives of your men are not only considered a managed commodity, but they're actual human lives.  Unless you're a meglo-maniacal commander who does not mind sending his men to their doom, husbanding your troops so you can fight another day is imperative. 
In a campaign setting most are a renewable resource that not only can be used again and again, but certain rules might actually allow them to improve somewhat.  You also may be allowed to alter troop selection in a later battle because you have a larger reserve to choose from.  Soldiers deaths only result in an economic boom for gravediggers and scavengers.

While researching the Second Samoan Civil War I'm finding casualty rates that would make anyone's eyebrows raise, especially the Win at All Cost player.  Most battles, dealing with hundreds of men, resulted in less than 10% casualties.  Even if those were positively exagerated, let's double that and say 20% of the men were killed or seriously wounded.  For many gamers, that's the casualties on the board on turn ONE!

I am not immune to the Win at All Costs category, although I will present arguments that in the spirit of the game, I was not swept up

Way back at Cold Wars '99, the theme was the Boxer Rebellion and I was in my glory.  I played in a computer moderated game, Carnage & Glory.  I was part of the relief column heading to Peking and had sit some significant native aggression.  When the GM (who sounded remarkably like Patrick Warburton) asked if anyone had any troop preference, I immediately jumped on the Japanese.  After playing 55 Days at Peking the night before, I was awestruck at just how effecient and vicious they were.  While most of the European were given thirty or even forty figures, I was given ten... and chose to charge right into the center of the battlefield.  By the time the game was called, I had smashed through a Chinese buffer line, and jumped had seized two artillery pieces on the main trenchline. My troops were bloodied, exhausted, and surprisingly might have been able to take on the Chinese troops on three sides that had not run away in fear. 

Yes, it was last man standing, as I threw all caution to the wind and was willing to sacrifice all my men in the name of rescuing the consulates, but I would rather consider it a test drive at a Ferrari dealership.  I knew I had a high performance car in my hands and wanted to push it to its limits, because it could handle it.  If I had tried the same with the Austrians and their forty troops they would have been either slaughtered to the man, or mired in first defenses like they were in the game.

The second game was one of the Midnight Massacre Fire & Fury game at Historicon.  I was given my stands of infantry and my initial objective was clear:  a few batteries of Confederate artillery atop a conveient hill.  For four hours I ordered repeated charges up the hill, only to be repelled at the last possible second.  As 4 am rolled around, my units were shattered and yet the rebels had one gun atop the hill.  Looking at the small picture, I had failed my objective and tremedous cost to both sides.  But as I surveyed the rest of the giant battlefield, I found a small bit of solace.  The entire Union right flank had not only been repelled, but crushed in a cavalry counter-attack.  Compared to them, I held my own.

The left flank was a different story.  After dispatching rebel skirmishers and cavalry, their troops had nearly a clear line to the fort we were trying to reach.  My stubborness at seizing that hill had prevented a sizable portion of the Confederate artillery from firing at a far more serious threat.  My sacrifice had allowed eight times the number troops to move behind that hill relatively unscathed.

After we finish our Tanga game (IF might be a better word), I would love to play in a post-Tanga game, where the Germans and their Askaris fight on the run against the British, Belgians, and South Africans.  It would be resource management at its finest, and even if the Germans are a lock to win a particular scenario, I would have to prepare an escape route, just in case the dice rolls totally collapsed.  Fighting to the last man is naturally foolish.  Who would want to be the last man standing in East Africa with little water, no food, and large predators?  Better to fight another day together than be alone and eaten by a lion.

*Sigh*  yet another project on my list.

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