Variable Unit Strength in Wargames

A typical wargame unit, called a battalion in some rules, a brigade or division in others

Hesse-Darmstadt Infanterie-Regiment Erbprinz. Old Glory 15 mm figures painted by Jörg Geyer.


Szenario design can be a detailed and time consuming process, requiring true genius or the equivalent number of hours of laborious testing and play balancing. Badly designed scenarios are no fun for players on either side of the battlefield, because the game does not provide enough challenging situations to stimulate the mind. One element which game designers find particularly tedious is the enormous accounting work involved in creating the armies. Troop strengths need to be considered right down to the historically accurate ratio of cavalry to infantry, and artillery pieces per thousands of men. Leaders need to be classified as exceptionally good or bad, based on their historic performance, an area typically involving a good amount of guesswork and folklore.

The top-down approach to scenario design is very complicated, open to error and argument. The designer must be able to support the claim that the 57th Infantry was an elite unit and that it deserves a better combat rating than the 3rd Grenadiers, a unit which may have been elite by name only. Regimental performance changes over the course of a campaign. Most units increase their performance as a direct result of combat experience, some more than others. Many units are shattered in battle, and some never recover from the trauma. The problem of evaluation is compounded when we look at historic commanders. Some are exceptionally capable, but they fall from grace politically and are never heard of again. Others are less capable, reckless and incredibly lucky, they are the ones we read about in many books. Which of the two is the better General? Which one deserves a special saving throw to give him the long and prosperous career his historic counterpart enjoyed?


When we reverse the design process, it becomes much easier to decide that a particular army had a certain amount of brilliant, capable, average, poor, and despicable leaders. We would expect to find a statistical distribution of these attributes, with some variance from nation to nation. Once the number of exceptional commanders is found, it will be entirely up to the owning player to name them. Most likely, the player will chose matching names from history, labeling his good commanders Lee, Grant, Rommel, Patton, Montgomery or Konev, and finding equally compelling names for the lesser ones. Conversely, in a campaign game, it may be perfectly acceptable to camouflage a brilliant command figure by naming him or her after a well-known bungler. This is how legends are made in campaigns.

Variable Unit Generation Tables

Variable unit generation is not entirely at random, we will be working with statistical distributions based on historic outcomes. The beauty of the system is that it can be adapted to match the players' interpretation of history. Scenario designers and players decide what kind of games they like, and they can easily change the tables to meet their needs. The tables are designed to produce historically accurate miniature armies for a particular period in history.

Dice are used, and there will be a certain amount of luck involved, turning the tables against one or the other player occasionally. When this happens, players and umpires need to decide if the imbalance is historically acceptable. In the rare event that a game becomes unplayable, consider re-balancing it by inserting another reserve brigade/division on the losing side. If such a reserve is used, the player may have to surrender a certain amount of victory points to pay for it, a concept discussed in our article on automated and weighted objectives.

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