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The Theoretical Basis of Piquet

The Theoretical Basis of Piquet
by
Bob Jones

Since the initial release of Piquet in March of 1996, there have been more than a few postings on the Web, E-mails directly to me, and phone calls from people reacting either in praise, or in total abhorrence, of the design techniques used in the game. Arguments about whether it is a game or a simulation are on-going.


I now believe a few words from the author (me) are in order. In this article, I hope I can make it clear to critics and fans alike what I was attempting to do with Piquet; why I believe it provides a new and refreshing approach to gaming, and why it is both a game and a simulation of various means of warfare through the ages.


First, Let me state what I dislike in most present Wargames, and what Piquet was written to adjust or change.


In many current Wargames, all players have total knowledge as to the forces arrayed, their combat values and exact movement capabilities, and these "generals"are guaranteed an immediate, unvarying, and predictable, response by their troops. They are in total control.


This NEVER happened on any battlefield throughout history! It happens every week on wargame tables from New York to San Jose!


Ibelieve rules that function this way can only be games. Any "simulation" with pretensions to realism must address each of the following topics before any historical citations have a role in the design other than as curiosities:


A HELICOPTER VIEW (NO FOG)…


No general in command ever had every unit in his army and the enemy army in view-in fact, as the battle progressed the commander's view often degraded, not only by vision blocking smoke, but battle confusion, and command infrastructure failures, making accurate tactical assessments, and adjustments, more difficult. This was counterbalanced by a growing realization of the battle's rough outline as combat outcomes revealed the strengths and weaknesses of each side. Even when the enemy was clearly in view, commanders had only the broadest of assessments of enemy strength and could only estimate their current effectiveness until engaged.


Much of the capability of good commanders was in this art of estimating, not knowing, the enemy's intentions, quality, and likely actions. His knowledge of his own troops' mettle was also a mix of knowledge and estimation (sometimes sheer hope!).


PERFECT UTLIZATION OF TIME…


Anyone who has tried to get their family into the car to start on a vacation knows that some things always take more time than they should (little Mary can't find her Teddy bear) or less than we imagined (Jimmy and Jack have been in the back seat for 20 minutes, are bored, and have started to fight over who gets the armrest). If four or five people are hard to corral, what about an army of 50,000 men!?


And yet, we blissfully look out over our little tin army as it does exactly what we want, exactly when we want it to. We are blessed with a degree of control that no army commander ever had, as we "realistically"simulate our leadership and genius. No unfortunate delays; no sudden surprise moves by the enemy; every tin brigade moving precisely as we will it! Coordination of attacks have all the precision of the Notre Dame Marching Band at half-time.


Oh, a few rules designers are embarrassed enough by this nonsense that they introduce an "on-off"switch called an Activation Roll. However, once the switch is "flipped on" the troops are, once again, the tame little robots we have always known.


SYMETRICAL EVENTS…


Gamers all too willingly accept the single greatest artificiality in game design - The Turn. Most Wargames have opted for this standard game structure for rigidly measuring time - the symmetrically balanced, absolutely equal, "I move -You move"turn.


It can be disguised in many clever ways. You can roll for the right to move first, i.e. initiative; break the move down into sequences where the artillery on side A moves, then the artillery on side B, then cavalry, then infantry, etc.


No matter how artfully fragmented, it remains a rigid and predictable sequence. Commanders witness all the cavalry, artillery, or infantry moving, or firing, at one unvarying moment and then remaining passive for the remainder of the turn. They can absolutely count on this and plan accordingly.


The fixed turn sequence forces a unfolding of events that never occurred on the battlefield. I know of no battle narrative that reads like most Wargames play. Can you imagine a battle report that stated? First the enemy artillery fired, then ours replied, followed by his cavalry maneuvering, then mine; finally his infantry advanced, followed by mine - at this point we all fired! Then the enemy artillery fired, then ours replied, followed by his cavalry maneuvering, then mine; finally his infantry advanced, followed by mine - at this point we all fired! We then repeated this exact order of actions for the next three hours. Balderdash!


It leads to common use of the most uncommon tactic "the General Advance". Since there is no penalty for moving everything, nor is there any fear that the enemy can unexpectedly take advantage of our actions, commanders are encouraged to move the whole damn army. Focus of attack, economy of force, or the cautious keeping of reserves exist in history, but are rare, indeed, on the wargame table.


The fixed turn also ignores the relativity of time as expressed by Einstein where he commented that time moves quickly when you're kissing a girl, but drags interminably when you're sitting on a hot stove! The police often comment that the hardest thing for witnesses to get correct is the elapsed time of an event. Historians have great difficulty synchronizing the timing of events during a battle, other than in the broadest sense, particularly prior to the common use of timepieces. Subjectively, Time is NOT equal, nor is most people's use of it, or sense of it - yet the fixed, rigid, turn system creates a "model"world where we experience time far differently than we do in real life! Is our perception of the time elapsed in a half hour as we get ready for work, the same as the half hour prior to the 5:00 PM close? Objectively equal, yes, but the way we "experience"it is decidedly unequal.


PREDICTABLE FUTURE SEQUENCE OF EVENTS…


During any fixed sequence both commanders can see into the future, knowing exactly when the artillery will fire; when they are, or aren't, in danger from a cavalry charge, and when the infantry will fire. In fact, since the opportunity for, and the danger from, fire is so predictable, we often find units firing at extreme range even at extremely low odds. They just might hit something, and there is no penalty for trying. Through most of history, fire was held until well within range, but, then, historical battalions couldn't unfailingly see when the cavalry had finished moving this turn and know they had a "free"shot!


UNIQUE EVENTS CAN NOT BE EASILY MODELED…


It doesn't take too many history books before the novice wargamer finds some fascinating and colorful event that he wants to introduce into his games. He writes a rule to cover this rare , but exciting, event. He has almost certainly triggered the Law of Unintended Consequences.


Jim Getz tells of the time when one of his fellow gamers read of a battle event where all the drummers in an attacking French regiment were cut down by canister. After this terrible blow the officers had no effective way of communicating orders to the regiment, so the command control of the unit dissolved, and the attack halted in confusion. The gamer immediately wrote a rule to cover this event, stating that any unit that lost its drummers would fall out of command!


In the next wargame this led to the highly suspect tactic of targeting the musicians in every unit for death! Novel, but hardly realistic! Perhaps accordionists and mimes deserve such attention, but not drummers!


Most present Wargames are so mathematical and formulaic in their structure that they are decidedly unfriendly to unique events, so these events are often left out. This leads to a bloodless, uncolorful, and, again, predictable games. If an attempt is made to introduce colorful events into such a design, The Law of UC usually rears its ugly head.


ATTRITIONAL LOSSES AND BATTLE RESULTS THAT ARE PRONE TO PROTRACTED DRAWS ARE COMMON…


Designers long ago learned that if you want to build the illusion of realism and accuracy in the mind of the typical gamer, slather on the variables, tables, and die rolls. The more arcane, convoluted, and involved the process, the more the player believes he has covered everything and that the result is realistic. This leads to several interesting problems.


It conflicts with many gamers stated goals to be generals and deal only with the problems of command. Generals did not greatly worry about range estimation, number of muskets brought to bear, exact number of firers, exact number of enemy, etc. Ultimately they just wanted to know whether success or failure had occurred. Do we want to lead like generals, but fight like sergeants?


The more variables, tables, and die rolls brought to bear, the more the outcomes collapse on an average and completely predictable result. Extreme results are eliminated and a warm and fuzzy certainty dominates the battlefield. Battle report after battle report speaks of sudden calamities and inexplicable escapes. Frequently the resolution of an historical engagement is like the crescendo of a symphony, but many Wargames limp to a gray and weary end, ending with a whimper, not a bang. Average and Mediocre share more than a few traits


Many rules have a combat system that is highly attritional in nature. Partially this flows from the "collapse on the average" described above, but it also stems from the limitations of an absolutely equal and fixed turn sequence. It is so difficult for a force to gain any advantage in a universe that conspires to be equal, average, and controlled that they are fighting in the design equivalent of W.W.I. Direct, frontal attacks, delivered in the face of an enemy with total intelligence, with little or no tactical or equipment advantage, will give you attritional battles more dependent on die rolls than any tactical decision that can be made.


Most combat decisions in the typical game design are not meaningful choices that have a discernible impact on the outcome. All too often the gamer gets so caught up in process that he fails to realize that the net result is unchanged (the WRG plus and minus lists are a classic example of this).


Ultimately the worst effect of this fractionalizing of combat into multiple variables, multiple tables, and multiple die rolls, is time of play. Every roll, or table consulted, takes time. By aggregating fire and melee variables into as few key tables, and making each die roll more decisive in its effect, you reduce the playing time of games and drive toward clear resolution of combat.


These are some of the qualities of many Wargames that Piquet was written to change. How is this done?


THE CHARACTERISTICS OF PIQUET


MASKED UNIT QUALITY (Semi-fog)…


Piquet masks combat and morale values by providing variability within type that is not totally a function of numbers mustered. This allows for large, but poor, units and smaller, very potent units. These qualities are not immediately observable by the opposing commander, but only become apparent during combat. Counting noses is only of limited value in assessing the enemy threat.


It could be argued that the placement of blocks, or marked maps, would totally eliminate the helicopter view, but functionally little is added to the disguised value advantages described above and it avoids a typically very clumsy game mechanic of placing and/or removing troops.


Besides we didn't paint those little buggers to hide them in a box!


Piquet accomplishes this masking by rating prior to play, and without a roster that must be marked for losses, thereby keeping the game play simple and clean.


TOUGH DECISIONS ON USE OF TIME…


By using a combination of Sequence Deck Cards and initiative pips, Piquet rewards focus and efficiency and severely punishes lack of objectives. Each gamer is taking a limited and finite supply of time (impetus pips) and trying to use it to execute a plan. Should he move a unit that only peripherally affects an attack? Should he move one command group or unit rather than another? Should he use his time to flash through many cards to end the phase or turn, or to get to a more useful segment of the turn sequence? He can't do it all - he must choose.


More battles are lost in Piquet when the player/commander has vacillating objectives and wastes time, than any other single reason.


The use of time in Piquet is imperfect; coordinating attacks takes planning and may still become disjointed! The enemy may close before we thought he could - just because he's two moves away doesn't mean you're safe. The battlefield is a dangerous, confusing, and swirling environment; unpredictable and surprising. In the face of these assaults on reason and order, we must manage our resources to withstand the physical assaults of our adversary and launch our own attacks against him.


One other unique aspect of Piquet's "turns"is that they are of an undetermined and variable length. Some are made up of many phases and initiatives and some are made up of just a few (or none). When related to real battles this very effectively models "lulls in the battle", "sudden rushes", and other battle descriptions. It also speaks to Einstein's observation stated above that equal time isn't always equal.


Because the amount of time available (Initiative pips) and the exact order of sequence are not guaranteed from phase to phase, and the length of a turn is unknown to either side, the General Advance becomes as rare on the table top as it was in history.


�ASYMETRICAL EVENTS…


The Sequence deck is at the core of Piquet's design. Each Army has its own separate deck. It is as if a normal turn sequence has been cut up and each step has been placed on a separate card. After the cards have been shuffled the exact order of events is randomized. Even more significantly, the two opposing decks need not be identical! By stacking the deck with more move, reload, or maneuver cards for one army than the other, the designer may model the battle characteristics of an historical army in some new and novel ways.


Piquet is the only set of wargame rules where the sequence of play for the two armies changes on every turn, and may not only in sequence be different, but each army's deck may contain events not found in its opponent's deck!


One offshoot of this asymmetrical Sequence Deck design is that the games may be easily handicapped. A father, or older brother may create a greater challenge for himself, and give a younger, or less experienced opponent a better chance of victory (and enjoyment) by "stacking the deck". Cards may be added, or removed, to make sure the engagement is more "balanced". Fathers, please note: you don't have to tell your young son that you gave him a break - let him enjoy battling Dad toe-to-toe! He might want to play again next week!


�THE FUTURE ISN”T PERFECTLY KNOWN…


In play the Sequence Deck adds the drama and tension of "What's next?" to the battlefield. A very natural tension is created, particularly during a critical attack. One never knows for sure when the cavalry will move, the Artillery will regain peak efficiency with a reload card, or when the melee will be resolved.


Gamers that are new to the system often proclaim that the cards drive events and force them to take actions. It only takes a few games to begin to realize that this is untrue. It is very important as to how each card is used, and that it is used "well". It is equally important that the gamer fit each card into his plan, and that his plan can accommodate change and surprise. Remember you may pass on any card, spend an impetus pip, and move on to the next card. The toughest concept for gamers rooted too firmly in traditional designs is to feel that they have to do something with every card. Nothing could be more wasteful of impetus, more destructive of a plan, and more likely to bring on defeat. Efficiency of time use is one of the keys to the game - using every card, moving units that don't figure to influence the outcome of an engagement, and counter-marching, fiddling about, and trying to attack the enemy everywhere is very inefficient and will lead to defeat.


UNIQUE EVENTS CAN BE TRULY UNIQUE


Flexibility of the sequencing allows cards to be added and removed from decks during play. This allows even the rarest of events to be introduced into the Sequence Deck of one, or both, sides. Upon its appearance, this colorful event can be enjoyed for its novelty, challenge, and fun, and then immediately removed from play. Rather than muddling up the entire game play, it only affects the one moment and then is gone, remaining as fleeting and ephemeral as its historical precedent


. COMBAT IS DECISIVE AND NOT TOTALLY CONTROLLED BY THE COMMANDER…


Many of us have experienced the convention wargame where the players dedicate a day or more to some gigantic multi-table battle. Every time we wander by this monster game we hear the muttering and mumbling of calculation, but the front line doesn't appear to move! Hours go by with no visible gains or breakthroughs. The fast moving drama of combat becomes a still photo!


As I discussed above, multiple die roll design, and "everything, but the kitchen sink"combat tables have allowed entropy to rule the game.


In Piquet we are more concerned with a general's view of battle - What happened? Who won? The counter die roll combat and morale systems are designed to consider a number of pertinent variables - advantaging or disadvantaging one side or the other - and then deliver a decisive result.


This decisiveness is increased by a system that encourages "extreme" results. Extreme, in this case, means either combat results that eliminate large fractions of the targeted unit , or give a "no effect" result. Losses come in large chunks rather than grinding attrition and the "collapse on the average". Since the time of a turn is up to a half hour, and we are interested in the general's view of success or failure, the system delivers clean, quick, and historically defensible results.


Because Piquet handles many historical issues in new, novel, and unfamiliar ways - it is to be expected that some of the combat methods can be misunderstood.


One of these is the Missile/Musket Reload card. In retrospect, I wish I had opted for a card that said "Peak Fire Effect". Reload was such an easy concept that I went with it, only to have some literalist critics say "What! Artillery or infantry run out of ammo and need to reload???" This, in spite of the fact they are quite content to have infantry or artillery fire only once or twice in a normal fixed sequence turn.


The need for a rule that prohibits firing again until a reload card appears stems from allowing fire to occur at any time within a turn, and yet still limiting the rate of fire to realistic levels. If a "fire" card had been created then fire could only occur during that card and not when it historically happened - when a unit had the best range and need to fire - not when the sequence says you should fire. The reload card then functions to allow fire at any time after its appearance.


The best way to visualize this, is to think of fire going on at a constant low effect level until a reload card allows "peak effect" fire to once again occur.


One off-shoot of this rule that speaks to the issue of historicity is that units tend to hold fire until the enemy is well within range. The commander only controls the initial fire of a "loaded" unit. Since the ability to fire with effect awaits the next reload card and that is a variable, and the enemy's ability to move forward is also a variable, one holds fire until absolutely necessary. One can always fire upon the appearance of a reload card (which guarantees a reload) but this is strongly dependent upon the tactical situation for its desirability - just as it should be. Above all, it brings home the point that commanding generals are not in a position to totally optimize and control tactical fire as they are in most Wargames.


Melee Resolution is another card deserving of elaboration. Many Wargames allow melee to begin upon contact, and yet the examples are plentiful of units coming to extremely close quarters and not closing, but firing at each other, hurling insults and generally refusing to come to grips. The exception to this is units attacking on the flanks or rear where their perceived advantages are such that they just pile right on in.


So it is with Piquet. A commander may put his unit's in position to melee an enemy, but he cannot control the actual closing as to when, or if, they will close. This particularly true of cavalry that can hover in front of infantry, flow around it, and confront it directly, but is always seeking flanks, and unsettled troops, for decisive effect. Only upon the appearance of a Melee Resolution card can the affair be brought to a decision. Some army's are far more likely to cross bayonets or swords than others. This is easily modeled by the number of Melee Resolution cards in their Sequence Deck. In Piquet, that resolution will be quick and decisive.


TIME IN PIQUET IS A CONTINUUM…

Rather than the firm and jerky motions of a sequenced game, it ebbs and flows. Units may be thought of as continuously moving throughout the time it moves from its initial position to engage a unit. Only in Piquet is time used rather than merely dictating limits to movement.


Piquet is about managing diverse, ever changing, variables in a fluid situation, not, as in many Wargames, managing constants in a rigidly structured, fixed, situation.


PIQUET’S STRENGTHS…


Piquet's strengths are many and refreshing. Most importantly, it brings you, the gamer, into the design process. Constructing the Sequence Decks' proportions, introducing unique cards, some of which you can create, and modifying the core rules to fit a particular battle or campaign can be a very creative process. The design's modularity encourages experimentation.


It's dramatic - A suspense novel, not a mathematics treatise. Since events can be surprising, and their occurrence is not totally structured, each game is tense and full of wonderful twists of fortune. Replay of scenarios always leads to new insights. We replayed one Franco-Prussian battle six different times with the same troops and terrain. Each battle was unique and unlike its predecessors.


It's a clean design. Most rule complexity is prior to the game; Only 3-4 tables are used during play.


Above all, It plays like battles read. It plays rapidly. It is a lot of fun! Those may be the only things about Piquet that are guaranteed!


All materials © Copyright Piqiet Inc, 1995 to 2006