Situational Morale in Miniature Wargames

Glorious Moments and Dishonor in Wargames

Bayonet charge.

Permanent Army Lists

Unit morale ratings in most wargames are a constant, they do not take into account that real infantry battalions, cavalry regiments, and artillery batteries may undergo a temporary shift in morale as an immediate result of combat experience. Role-players understand the concept of changing morale and skill levels, but their system of collecting experience points is unrealistically linear, too predictable, normally irreversible, and needlessly encumbered by bookkeeping tasks. What the wargamer needs is a simple game system which simulates the changes in unit morale we often read about in historic accounts.

Russian Pavlovski Grenadiers acted like Guard-Grenadiers at Friedland, and they officially received the Guard designation shortly afterwards. Swiss Regiments Diesbach and Planta, and Kreisregiment Hesse-Darmstadt resisted bravely at Rossbach while the shattered French and Imperial Army streamed off the battlefield in full flight. Saxon grenadiers refused to surrender at Kesselsdorf, and again during the Napoleonic Wars, when the Prussian center and right wing was crushed at Jena and a lone Saxon battalion skillfully covered the retreat. Baden Hussars sacrificed themselves in the famous Death Charge which bought valuable time for the Grande Armée retreating across the Beresina. What these units have in common with famous regiments from other nations involved in war is that they acted bravely while the rest of the army was disintegrating around them.

Looking at historic battlefield reports, it seems that battalions and regiments typically earn and confirm their reputation in defeat, in stubborn defence of a position or heroic attack against impossible odds. This is not surprising, because armies in defeat are typically without leadership, i.e. their superior officers do not wish to take credit for the final phase of the event. Decisive victories, on the other hand, are routinely attributed to the skillful generals who achieved them, more or less discounting the efforts of individual units involved in the process. It will be easy to simulate this phenomenon, especially if a victory determination procedure is in play as well.

Regimental Aggrandizement

Experienced and veteran units do not suddenly become elite formations just because they prevail in melee or successfully assault an enemy position. When we read about regular units being elevated to elite or guard status, it is very likely that we are witnessing the inevitable manifestation of a process of gradual improvement. What reads like a small miracle is actually a direct result of training, combat experience, and an opportunity to show off what has been learned. Unless we study the regimental history, it will be difficult to tell how long a particular unit had been underrated.

Sooner or later, a truly elite unit will be recognized as such, and its official status in the army may be changed accordingly. To be eligible for advancement, the unit must be a regular line formation with a secure recruiting district. If the recruiting district is under enemy occupation, the unit would not be able to maintain its elite status, because replacements cannot be called up as before. Some revolutionary cadre units may qualify for advancement, but militia and irregular formations do not. The wargamer need not maintain regimental histories to keep track of variable morale states, it will be sufficient to look for obvious manifestations of the change:

  1. The unit wins a melee attack against incredible odds, e.g. with a modified probability of success of 10 % or less. Example: A line regiment facing another line regiment in open combat usually has a 50 % chance of winning the melee, but in certain situations there may be modifiers against the attacker which change the melee probabilities to 10 % versus 90 % in favor of the defender. If the attacker rolls low and actually wins this impossible attack, the unit qualifies for advancement. However, the unit must continue to advance or occupy the former enemy position for at least 15 minutes of game time, i.e. one or more game turns, depending on the type or rules in play.
  2. The unit defends a position against determined melee attack. A determined attack is one where repeated assaults are launched against a position, and each assault has at least a 50 % probability of winning. If the defending unit repels three consecutive melee attacks it will be eligible for advancement.
  3. The unit shows exceptional determination under fire. Exceptional determination means that a morale check due to fire combat casualties was required, and that the unit had a mere 10 % chance of passing the test. If the owning player rolls low, and passes the test, the unit will be eligible for advancement. This is probably the most difficult form of advancement, because the unit may lose the bonus again when it disintegrates under fire.
  4. The unit attempts a last stand. If victory determination procedures are in play, and if an army is withdrawing from the battlefield, 1 in 20 units may attempt to cover the withdrawal by resisting heroically. Do not round fractions up or down, but roll percentage dice against them. If the required number of non-disordered Guard units are within engagement range, they automatically adopt a last stand posture. Otherwise, available non-disordered grenadier, line elite or regular line units fill the slot, in that order.

Advancement is immediate, the unit morale level should be raised 33 % for the rest of the game. As an example, Empire players would raise a veteran line unit to elite morale status, crack line to grenadiers, elites and grenadiers to guards. Fire and Fury veteran units are upgraded to crack units.

The effect will be temporary or permanent, depending on the unit’s subsequent action. If the unit is routed, captured, or elimated later in the game, the new morale status does not carry forward. Survivors and stragglers may regroup after battle, but the unit will have suffered enough to lose the combat morale advantage. If the unit conducts itself well and remains intact, the new morale level is made official after the battle. The unit receives a better recruiting district and other priviledges which will allow it to maintain elite status henceforth.

Grandiose Failure

Frederick the Great promised to reduce any regiment to garrison status which failed him in battle, and he did. The most prominent failure involved Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 3, the only three-battalion line regiment in the Prussian army, rated the best in the army immediately after Grenadier-Garde Nr. 6, and previously owned by the Old Dessauer, the famous innovator and drill master of the Prussian army.

Two battalions of Nr. 3, then known as Anhalt-Bernburg, were thrown out of the lines of circumvallation near Dresden, by a Saxon sortie on the night of 21st July 1760. The King had them reduced to garrison status the next day, requiring that the men remove their side-arms, hat and coat lace. The unit redeemed itself only three weeks later, when it launched a reckless bayonet charge against enemy cavalry at Bienowitz, a feat not normally expected of infantry. Frederick the Great rehabilitated the regiment right on the battlefield, telling the officers that the blemish had been removed. Not all units were this fortunate. East Prussian regiments fell into permanent decline when their recruiting areas were overrun by the Russian army, and adequate replacement levels could not be maintained.

Designated Guard and Grenadier units are normally able to maintain elite status for centuries. They are beyond reproach, even if they were to fail in battle, which is unlikely, because Guard units are generally prepared to perish rather than accept dishonorable defeat. And, as a unit, they can afford to, because Guard formations have access to the best replacements and the most reliable equipment, enabling them to put adverse battlefield results aside more easily than other units in the army. Therefore, we need not concern ourselves too much with the possible long-term decline of Guard or Grenadier units. Their number may drop when decimated units are amalgamated temporarily, but morale will most likely be maintained.

Line elite units are much more fragile, particularly early in their careers when their reputation is not established firmly enough to ensure preferential treatment. Their elite status depends on variable factors like exceptionally resourceful battalion commanders, innovative and effective drill masters, an above average recruiting district, royal patronage, a string of well documented successes on the battlefield, and a little luck, of course. One or more of these important ingredients may be lost if the unit is disgraced in battle:

  1. The elite unit bungles a simple melee attack or defense, e.g. any melee combat with a modified probability of success of 90 % or more. Clearly, this is a major blunder, the unit should have won, but it failed dismally.
  2. The elite unit routs at the first shot. An exceptional morale failure occured if the unit had at least a 90 % chance of passing a morale test, and failed anyway.
  3. The elite unit loses a melee, resulting in the loss or capture of an attached general. A rare worst case scenario immediately disgracing the unit.
  4. The elite unit is destroyed in battle, and its recruiting district has been occupied by enemy forces for the past four months.

Demoralization is immediate, the unit morale level should be reduced to veteran line for the rest of the game.

The effect is temporary if the battle is won, and the disgraced elite unit was not destroyed or routed off the field. Otherwise, the unit is permanently reduced to veteran line status. Players may wish to consider further reductions to conscript or militia status if units fail repeatedly, but doing so requires more bookkeeping than it’s worth.


Once the system of advancement and reduction in morale status is understood, it will be very easy to implement. Most players already have an eye for grandiose successes and failures in dice-rolling. These events are particularly easy to monitor if wargame rules are used which employ percentage dice or 2D6 for melee combat resolution and morale checks. Players can tell that a required dice-roll is exceptionally difficult, and they probably will not forget to claim the reward if they succeed. Conversely, a player at the receiving end of a sure-fire dice-roll will immediately be reminded to apply a demoralization result against the enemy unit which bungled the attempt.

Miniature Wargaming