One of my biggest pet peeves with wargames is when they treat units as nothing more than cardboard counters on a map. This is an easy trap to fall into, probably because the units are actually nothing more than cardboard counters on a map. But that’s not the point- it’s called conflict simulation for a reason, sports fans, and conflicts aren’t fought between bits of printed paper and resolved on neat little tables. They’re fought between armies made up of men (or people, if you’re gaming the last few decades), who have very human weaknesses. Their primary one, from a strictly military standpoint, being an overwhelming and not unreasonable desire to survive the war, go home, and have 2.3 kids with Peggy Sue/Lili Marlene. They’re trained, disciplined soldiers (unless this is 1941 Eastern Front, when all bets are off), so they’re going to accept a certain amount of risk. But if you keep ordering them to hold back King Tigers with a few jeeps and bazookas, sooner or later they’re going to decide they don’t care how important this crossroads is, and they’d rather be elsewhere. Specifically, further to the rear away from the big scary armored things, and possibly even under cover of some weapons that can do more than scratch its paint.
But in a lot of wargames, you don’t get that. Your counters move where you tell them, when you tell them to, and will hold there until they lose their last strength point and finally give up the ghost. Early versions of Bulge suffered from what one of our playtesters called the “This is MALMEDY!” syndrome, where every Strength 1 American regiment would stand and die like they were the Theban Sacred Band. It made getting some decent momentum going very tough on the Germans, much harder than it was in real life, and it also fundamentally misrepresents the nature of land warfare. The reason battles to the last man get so much attention in the history books is that they’re rare. In reality, victory usually means convincing the other side to leave, not wiping them out or even rendering their units completely ineffective.
Players aren’t going to solve the problem- from their perspective, much like a real-world commander’s, the best thing that could happen would be for those small bands of men to slow down the onrushing horde long enough for help to arrive. That’s where all the incentives lie, and as I’ve discussed before in this space players will almost always follow the incentives you give them. Not much to be done about that. John’s solution- and, in retrospect, the only one that can really work in this situation- is to take the decision out of their hands. Bulge now includes a table that compares the hits an attacker inflicts to the damage a defender can take and adds a random factor, then tells you whether or not your troops bug out. It’s not a decision to make lightly, because few things frustrate gamers faster than things they can’t control, but I think anything else does a disservice to our subject. So the next time the Tigers come roaring over the river and one of your only armored Combat Commands decides they’d really rather be elsewhere, just remember- the real generals had to deal with this too. They could, and they did, pulling victory from the jaws of defeat. Can you?