Author Archives: EzraSidran

Layers: Why a Military Simulation Is Like a Parfait

Detailed military simulations and wargames are made up of layers1)Here is the obligatory link to Shrek and the layers, onions and parfait bit. by necessity. Layers keep simulation designers and users from being overwhelmed by oceans of data. In General Staff every scenario (battle) is made up of these layers (some are optional):

The Background Image. Ironically named because even though it’s underneath all the other layers it’s makes up most of what the user sees of the battlefield. However, the background image contains no data that is actually used by the computer; it is completely ‘eye candy’ for the user. That said, us humans get most of our data from looking at this map (we can make sense of the hills, roads, forests, rivers, etc.). But that’s not how computer vision works (see below).

The Background Image for the Antietam scenarios. Click to enlarge.

This map came from the Library of Congress (here). The Library of Congress is a great place to get royalty-free battlefield maps from American history. Personally, it’s exactly these old maps that inspired me to create General Staff. There is, however, one problem: these old maps are just not ‘GPS accurate’. That is to say, even though the General Staff Map Editor allows the user to directly import Google Maps elevation data, it won’t align properly with maps made over a hundred years ago without GPS data. That means the scenario designer will have to enter the elevation data by hand and not import it from satellite data.

The Terrain Layer. This layer is a visual display of what the computer ‘sees’ of the terrain: forests, water, fences, hedges, walls, swamp, mud, field, city, road, river, fortification, buildings (seven kinds), fords, and bridges.

The terrain layer for Antietam. Click to enlarge.

The Terrain Drawing tab (right). This is one of the tabs in the General Staff Map Editor (click here to go to the online Wiki for more detailed information). Click on the desired terrain type and then draw with either the mouse or a digitizing tablet and pen. I have absolutely no drawing abilities, but I’ve watched actual artists create a map using a digitizing tablet and pen in about 30 minutes. If you’re drawing a river, the harder you press with the digital pen the wider the river gets.

There are three ways you can input water and roads in the Map Editor: mouse, digitizing tablet and XAML code. For me, because I have very limited drawing abilities, I find using XAML code the easiest (below):

The Road Net Layer (optional). This image (below) was created in a paint program (PhotoShop, though any paint program that you’re comfortable with will work just fine). It was then imported into Inkscape (free download here) and exported as XAML.

The road net at Antietam. Click to enlarge.

The Water Layer (optional). Like the Road Net image (above) this was created in a paint program (PhotoShop). It was then imported into Inkscape (free download here) and exported as XAML.

Antietam water map. Click to enlarge.

The Elevation Layer. There are four ways to input elevation in the General Staff Map Editor: you can draw with the mouse, use a digitizing tablet and pen, input elevation data directly using Google Earth and directly importing a BMP image.

Antietam height map. Click to enlarge.

The Slope Layer. This layer shows the extrapolation of slopes from the elevation layer (above). Combined with the Background, and Elevation layer it can produce a dramatic 3D effect. See Trenton, below.

The Slope Layer for Antietam. Click to enlarge.

Blending Multiple Layers. This is a blend of the Background, Elevation, Terrain and Slope layers. The user can set the blend values (see screen shot from the Map Editor, right).

 

Antietam with background, elevation, slope and terrain blended. Click to enlarge.

The Places and Victory Points Layer. This layer allows you to set certain locations as Victory Points or Placenames. A Placename is a descriptive text placed on the map that has no importance to the simulation; e.g. labeling the Potomac River (below).

The Victory Point and Placenames Layer. Click to enlarge

The Units Layer. This is a visual representation of the current simulation state showing unit locations. This information may be filtered by Fog of War (FoW) and what units can observe other units (both friend and foe) using 3D LOS (see below):

The Units layer for Antietam. Note: reinforcements are displayed on this layer even though they won’t enter the scenario until later. This screen shot was taken from the Scenario Editor. Click to enlarge.

The Fog of War Layer. This layer is a visual representation of what can be observed from any point on the battlefield; in this case, the 3D LOS view from the Pry House (McClellan’s Headquarters at Antietam).

Antietam with complete Fog of War displayed for McClellan’s HQ at the Pry House. Click to enlarge.

The AI Layer. This layer is a visual representation of the output of a number of AI algorithms including Range of Influence (ROI), battle groups, and flank units. This is how the AI ‘sees’ the battlefield.

The AI Layer displays Red and Blue Range of Influence. Click to enlarge.

Trenton. I recently began working on a Trenton scenario. One of the best places to begin a search for a contemporary map of an American battle is the US Library of Congress. That is where I found the extraordinary campaign map for Trenton published in 1777.

From the US Library of Congress (published 1777, London). Click on the map to go to source.

From the above original map, Ed Kuhrt created an elevation or height map (see above) in PhotoShop. From that Elevation Layer we extrapolated the slopes and displayed them using an algorithm created by Andy O’Neill. When blended together the result is striking:

Screen shot of the Trenton map in the General Staff Map Editor. Note how the blending of the slope layer with the elevation and original background create a 3D effect. Click to enlarge.

References

1 Here is the obligatory link to Shrek and the layers, onions and parfait bit.

Wargames, Slopes & the High Ground

Rules for how slopes effect attack and defense from Avalon Hill’s Gettysburg (1960 edition). Author’s collection. Click to enlarge.

One of the first rules that we all learned when we began to play wargames (at least this was true of early Avalon Hill games for me way back in the 1960s) was that if the defending unit was on a hill and the attacking unit was on the slope, the defender’s ‘defense factor’ was doubled. Under some circumstances, a defending unit could even have its defense factor tripled (see right). And, yes, there were situations (see below) where an enfilading attacking unit could negate the defenders 2:1 advantage.  For my entire wargaming life – over fifty years now – this basic rule of thumb applied: a unit on a hill was twice as strong, defensively, than it would be on the plains below.  I’ve used this ‘defensive factor multiplier’ in every wargame I’ve designed going back to UMS in the 1980s. I never gave  it a second’s thought. Until now.

Detail of rules from Avalon Hill’s Waterloo (1962) showing when a defender’s strength is doubled on a hill and when the effect is negated.

General Staff has no concept of “defense factor.” Think about it, what is a ‘defensive factor’? It seems to act like armor of some sort. It certainly is a valid concept in naval warfare or armored warfare or jousting, but it doesn’t apply in 18th and 19th century warfare that General Staff: Black Powder is designed to simulate. Instead, units in General Staff are weapons platforms. Units project firepower which result in casualties. Indeed, all combat resolution boils down to this equation: How many casualties did this unit inflict on that unit?

Since there is no ‘defensive factor’ to multiply by two for being on a hill defending against an attacker climbing a slope, how or what does General Staff multiply or divide? What is the source for the 2:1 defense factor multiplier for having the high ground? These were the questions that I recently investigated.

It turns out there has been very little research done on the subject of military movement on slopes of various degrees, and the effect of angle of slope on defending a position against a unit attacking up slope.  Yes, the U. S. Army has published this on foot marches and slopes but it doesn’t cover 19th century cavalry, artillery, horse artillery, etc.).1)I contacted respected military historian and researcher Brent Nosworthy who wrote back, “The effects of slopes on the speed of movement and the cohesion of troops is a very interesting question indeed. I am enclosing a rough draft of a chapter from The Metrics of War booklet I was working on last year. I think here and there is some information as to how it affected beast of burden’s ability to draw artillery. There were several articles about defending and attacking heights in Rider, John (Editor); British Military Library: A Complete Body of Military Knowledge; second edition, 2 volumes, London, 1798-1801. I cannot remember if there were specific references to these issues in these articles. I also recommend if you have not already consulted: Tielke, Johann Gottlieb, The field engineer; or instructions upon every branch of field fortification: … with plans and explanatory notes. Translated from the fourth … London, 2 volumes, 1789. Russell, John (Lieutenant – 96th Regiment of Foot); A Series of Military Experiments of Attack and Defence, Made in Hyde-Park, in 1802, London, 1806. Adye, Ralph Willet; The Bombardier, and Pocket Gunner, Second Edition, London, 1802. However, I am not certain they contain any references to the effect of the angle of slope on speed and cohesion.”

What I was looking for was a table that cross-indexed angle of slope with its effect on attack, defense and movement. What I found was Table D, (below) from the rules for Charles Totten’s Strategos: The Advanced Game. on the Grogheads.com site:

From. “Charles Totten’s Strategos: The Advanced Game.” found at Grogheads.com. Published in 1890.

What this chart shows is:

  • Unit types respond differently to moving up or down different slopes; e.g. no artillery can ascend a slope greater than 15°, no cavalry can descend a slope greater than 30°, and infantry can only ascend slopes of greater than 30° in skirmish formation.
  • Having superior elevation does not impart any defensive advantage by itself.
  • Having superior elevation on a steep slope can actually be a defensive disadvantage; e.g. artillery cannot fire down a 15° slope, and cavalry cannot charge down slopes greater than 15°.
  • Units firing uphill have increasingly less effect as the angle of slope increases; e.g. infantry has limited or no effect firing uphill at greater than a 20° slope, cavalry cannot charge up a slope greater than 15°, and artillery has no effect when firing up a slope greater 15°. Indeed, this is where the the traditional defensive advantage of holding the high ground derives from: defensive fire is not more effective, rather offensive fire is much less effective when attacking uphill.

If we look at two battles of the American Civil War that are known for assaults up steep slopes (Fredericksburg, December 13, 1862 and Missionary Ridge, November 23, 1863) we find that the values in Table D, above, are largely validated.

Detail of map of Missionary Ridge from the Library of Congress. The crest of the ridge is about 275 feet above the plain below. In numerous places, the slope is greater than 20°.

The story of the successful Union attack on Missionary Ridge is legendary: Union forces originally assigned to capture the rifle pits at the base of the ridge pushed up the slope without orders, primarily to escape defensive fire from above. They scaled the ridge in a loose, skirmish formation, not firing until they reached the crest.

As we can see from the above map the slope of the Union attack up Missionary Ridge is, at points, greater than 20°. In Brent Nosworthy’s, Roll Call to Destiny: The Soldier’s Eye View of Civil War Battles he writes (page 250), “One of the most notable characteristics of this engagement was the relatively light number of casualties suffered by Van Derveer’s attack force, even though it had to break through two sets of fieldworks.” “To the untrained eye looking at the defenses way up on Missionary Ridge… the Confederate position must have appeared impressive, possibly impregnable, and if not impregnable, then capturable only after the expenditure of many lives. This was the opinion of the Confederate commanders who had chosen to defend the position. (page 252)” “Unfortunately for the Confederates, the military reality was quite the opposite. A high ridge immediately above a steep gradient is one of the worst imaginable defensive positions, about equivalent to placing one’s forces in a line with their back to a river and no avenue of retreat. (page 253). ”

This map of Fredericksburg from the Library of Congress (1931) shows a 90 foot rise in elevation above the plain for Marye’s Heights.

Union forces attacking up the gentler slope at Fredericksburg were not so fortunate. Except in a few steep places that offered shelter from Confederate artillery most of the Union attack was under constant fire. Quoting from Nosworthy’s Roll Call to Destiny (page 129), “a British artist on assignment for the Illustrated London News would recall the effect of the artillery fire on the advancing  Union lines: ‘I could see the grape, shell, and canister from the guns of the Washington Artillery mow great avenues in the masses of Federal troops rushing to the assault.'”

Nosworthy, in, The Bloody Crucible of Courage: Fighting Methods and Combat Experience of the Civil War, writes (422-3), “It had long been a general maxim that artillery should only be placed at the top of a slope which it could defend by itself. The artillery had to be able to direct an unobstructed fire against the base of the hill otherwise the enemy force could form in the dead zone and begin its assault up the hill unopposed by the artillery. Officers were cautioned, however, against ever placing artillery on either steep hills or high elevations. Ideally, artillery was placed on elevations whose height was 1% of the distance to the target and were never to be placed upon hills where the elevation was greater than 7% of this distance. When artillery was required to defend a lofty hill or elevation, whose height made it impossible for the artillery to command the base, artillery officers were advised, if at all possible, to place the battery lower along the slope, such as at the halfway point.” The problem of course, was that artillery could not lower the barrels of their guns sufficiently to fire down steep slopes.

Slopes in General Staff

General Staff does not use hexagons or ‘zones’ of any sort. One of the failings of a system using hexes is that the entire hex has one elevation; there are no gradual slopes, just precipitous cliffs. From primary source elevation and topographical maps (like below) three-dimensional battlefields are constructed in the General Staff Map Editor (see below).

Topographical map with contour lines of Keyes’ attack at the battle of 1st Bull Run. From Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.

The General Staff Map Editor has a Terrain Visualizer tool (see below). It allows a line to be drawn between any two points on the map and a cross-section of the terrain and elevation to be displayed.

The area of Keyes’ attack in the General Staff Map Editor showing the cross-section Terrain Visualizer with slope calculations along the blue line drawn between the two user selected red circles. The white circle on the blue line is the current point being displayed by the vertical line in the Terrain Visualizer.

In the above image we see that the steepest part of the slope up Henry House hill is 19°. This is confirmed by the contour map, above and a photograph of the actual area below:

This panorama photographic view of the area covered by Keyes’ attack at 1st Bull Run was taken by Johnnie Jenkins December, 2020. The Robinson House was beyond the large tree, center. Click to enlarge.

As always, please feel free to contact me directly (Ezra[at]RiverviewAI.com) if you have any questions or comments.

References

1 I contacted respected military historian and researcher Brent Nosworthy who wrote back, “The effects of slopes on the speed of movement and the cohesion of troops is a very interesting question indeed. I am enclosing a rough draft of a chapter from The Metrics of War booklet I was working on last year. I think here and there is some information as to how it affected beast of burden’s ability to draw artillery. There were several articles about defending and attacking heights in Rider, John (Editor); British Military Library: A Complete Body of Military Knowledge; second edition, 2 volumes, London, 1798-1801. I cannot remember if there were specific references to these issues in these articles. I also recommend if you have not already consulted: Tielke, Johann Gottlieb, The field engineer; or instructions upon every branch of field fortification: … with plans and explanatory notes. Translated from the fourth … London, 2 volumes, 1789. Russell, John (Lieutenant – 96th Regiment of Foot); A Series of Military Experiments of Attack and Defence, Made in Hyde-Park, in 1802, London, 1806. Adye, Ralph Willet; The Bombardier, and Pocket Gunner, Second Edition, London, 1802. However, I am not certain they contain any references to the effect of the angle of slope on speed and cohesion.”

A Game of Birds & Wolves

Commander Roberts going over the lessons learned from “The Game.” Photo from, “A Game of Birds and Wolves,” by Simon Parkin.

Simon Parkin’s A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II, tells the fascinating story of a wargame created during the height of the U-Boat Atlantic campaign to be used as a testbed for discovering new anti-submarine tactics. In early 1941, when German wolf packs were destroying Allied shipping at a devastating rate, British Naval Commander Gilbert Roberts was taken out of retirement and personally ordered by Winston Churchill to, “Find out what is happening and sink the U-boats.”

Roberts was given the top floor of the Western Approaches HQ in Liverpool and a small group of WRENs (Women’s Royal Naval Service) as assistants to invent tactics that would counter the enemy wolf packs. His project would be called the Western Approaches Tactical Unit (WATU). (The Western Approaches HQ in Liverpool is now a museum and I can’t wait to visit it when this pandemic is over and General Staff is finished.)

The WATU project – known simply as, “The Game,” – is not the first example of a wargame used as a testbed to discover and improve combat maneuvers. Indeed, Scotsman John Clerk, wrote, An Essay on Naval Tactics: Systematical and Historical in 1779 after using, “…a small number of models of ships which, when disposed in proper arrangement, gave most correct representations of battle fleets… and being easily moved and put into any relative position required, and thus permanently seen and well considered, every possible idea of a naval system could be discussed without the possibility of any dispute.” Using these models Clerk proposed the tactic of “cutting the line,” that Nelson employed at Trafalgar1)https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Clerk_of_Eldin. Nelson would quote from Clerk’s essay in his famous Trafalgar Memorandum.

When Roberts reported to Sir Percy Noble, commander of Western Approaches he explained that he intended to, “develop a game that would enable the British to understand why the U-boats were proving so successful in sea battles and facilitate the development of counter-tactics… The game would become the basis for a school, where those fighting at sea could be taught the tactics. With a few adjustments.. [the] wargame could be used for either analysis or training.”2)A Game of Birds and Wolves, p. 143 Not surprisingly, Roberts was met with skepticism and not a little bit of derision. As one who is constantly pitching the importance of wargames to the U. S. military I understand the uphill fight that Roberts was facing. British destroyer commanders definitely did not want to go to Liverpool to, “play a game.” But, since the orders had come directly from Churchill, Noble had little choice but to give Roberts the top floor of the Western Approaches HQ for his ‘game’. Roberts made a tactical mistake by referring to WATU’s ‘product’ (in modern bureaucratic parlance) as a ‘game’. I learned this early on in my career: never say the word ‘game’ if it can be avoided. Call what you’re working on a ‘simulation’. Chess is a game. Risk is a game. But I write simulations; and clearly what Roberts was working on was a simulation, too. (That said, the phrase, “game it out,” has now passed into the common idiom and is synonymous with ‘simulation’.)

WATU simulated Fog of War by requiring the users to view the board through peep holes cut in canvas drapes. Submarine tracks (see above) were drawn in green chalk which, apparently, was not visible from the other side of the canvas sheets. The photo shows British destroyer commanders playing, “The Game,” and learning from the simulation. Photo from, “A Game of Birds and Wolves.”

In order to simulate Fog of War Roberts invented a system in which the destroyer commanders would view the board from behind a canvas sheet; their view of the battle restricted by peep holes cut in the canvas. Furthermore, submarine tracks were drawn with green chalk on the floor (see above photo) which, somehow, became invisible when viewed from the other side of the canvas. Consequently, the destroyer commanders had only a restricted view of the battle around them and were completely in the dark as to the simulated U-boats positions.

When Roberts began his work nobody in the British Admiralty knew U-boat tactics. Indeed, the German U-boat commanders were creating their tactics on the fly often ignoring the Kriegsmarine’s Memorandum for Submarine Commanders to fire torpedoes at no closer than 1,000 meters. U-boat ace, Otto Kretschmer was the first to insist that the most efficient way to attack convoys was to slip inside the destroyer screen, launch torpedoes at a range of about 500 meters, submerge and wait for the convoy to pass over them to make his escape ‘out the back’ of the convoy. Interestingly, this was the same technique that I discovered playing Sierra On Line’s  Aces of the Deep.

One of the first scenarios that Roberts investigated using his new wargame was the battle of Convoy HG 76. This was a multi-day contest involving 32 merchant ships, 24 escorts and 12 U-boats. It was considered a great Allied victory because five U-boats were sank (though the Allies only knew of three at the time) and 30 merchant ships made it home safely. Assisted by WRENs Jean Laidlaw and Janet Okell, they replayed the historical situation hoping to understand Allied commander Captain Frederick John “Johnnie” Walker’s anti-submarine maneuver ‘Buttercup’. The Buttercup maneuver (named after Walker’s pet name for his wife) involved, “on the order Buttercup… all of the escort ships would turn outward from the convoy. They would accelerate to full speed while letting loose star shells. If a U-boat was sighted, Walker would then mount a dogged pursuit, often ordering up to six of the nine ships in his [escort] group to stay with the vessel until it was destroyed.”3)A Game of Birds and Wolves, p. 155

What confused Roberts was that the Allied merchant Annavore was torpedoed while in the center of the convoy. As he and the WRENs replayed the scenario they could not duplicate reality unless the U-boat had, “entered the columns of the convoy from behind. And it must have done so on the surface, where it was able to travel at a faster speed than the ships. By approaching from astern, where the lookouts rarely checked, the U-boat would be able to slip inside the convoy undetected, fire at close range, then submerge in order to get away.”4)The Game off Birds and Wolves. P. 158

Using the scenario of when the escorts actually sank a U-boat using the Buttercup maneuver it was determined that they had succeeded by only accidentally hitting a U-boat that was joining the attack on the convoy and not the actual U-boat who had made the attack that they were pursuing. This makes sense when you realize that the attacking U-boat had submerged immediately after the attack and was waiting for the remaining convoy to pass overhead while the escorts were running far outside the perimeter of the convoy looking for it.

In other words, Walker’s Buttercup maneuver was, in fact, a terrible anti-submarine tactic.

The ‘Raspberry Maneuver’, created from numerous runs of ‘The Game’ was determined to an effective anti-submarine tactic. Here it is drawn by Admiral Usborne. From the book, “A Game of Birds and Wolves.” Click to enlarge.

The first successful anti-submarine tactic to be invented using the Game as a test bed was, “Raspberry,” (so called by Wren Ladlaw as a ‘raspberry‘ to Hitler). As you can see from the above drawing, upon discovery of a U-boat or a torpedo hit, the escorts draw closer to the convoy, not the opposite as in Walker’s Buttercup maneuver. When Roberts and the WRENs ran a scenario for Western Approaches commander Noble and his staff, Noble – who at first was highly skeptical – was so impressed that he immediately sent a message to Churchill, “The first investigations have shown a cardinal error in anti-U-boat tactics. A new, immediate and concerted counter-attack will be signaled to the fleet within twenty-four hours.” 5)The Game of Birds and Wolves, p. 162 By summer of 1942, using these new maneuvers, U-boat losses had quadrupled. Eventually other anti-U-boat maneuvers were also developed by the WATU team and all Atlantic destroyer commanders were ordered to WATU to play, “The Game,” and learn the lessons.

Obviously, there were other improvements in anti-submarine warfare that also contributed to the Allies winning the Battle of the North Atlantic. Nonetheless, it is interesting to read about the proper application of simulations in wartime. I have long been an advocate of simulations to test, “what if” scenarios. Indeed, this has been the main focus of my professional career for thirty plus years. It’s still an uphill battle.

References

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Clerk_of_Eldin
2 A Game of Birds and Wolves, p. 143
3 A Game of Birds and Wolves, p. 155
4 The Game off Birds and Wolves. P. 158
5 The Game of Birds and Wolves, p. 162

The State of the Game

Grant’s Overland campaign that began at the Wilderness and ended at Petersburg. It can be argued that Grant did not win one battle but, clearly, achieved a great strategic victory. This was the beginning of the end for Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and the beginning of the end of the American Civil War. Map by Hal Jespersen (www.posix.com/CW), found on Wikipedia. Click to enlarge.

I had just sat down to write this blog when a derecho,1)Ironically, the first person to use the Spanish word “derecho” to describe this type of storm was Gustavus D. Hinrichs, a German immigrant who settled in my hometown of Davenport in 1861. with wind speeds that peaked at 117 mph, flattened much of Iowa and dropped a hundred year old maple tree on my ’98 mustang. We also lost power and internet for a week. I spent much of that time reading old favorites including Horace Porter’s Campaigning with Grant. Porter, who served on Grant’s staff during 1864-5, provides a first person account of many extraordinary events from the start of the Overland Campaign to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Admittedly, the 19th century prose does get a bit flowery at times, but the he was actually there when it happened aspect of this memoir makes it invaluable.

I was struck by this passage from the beginning of the campaign and how it felt like what I wanted to write about to explain where we are on completing General Staff:

“[Grant] said,… “The only time I ever feel impatient is when I give an order for an important movement of troops in the presence of the enemy, and am waiting for them to reach their destination. Then the minutes seem like hours.” – Campaigning with Grant

At this point Grant was now General in Chief, commander of all U. S. armies including the Army of the Potomac. Orders had been issued and every U. S. army was to be on the march at this very moment and there was nothing more that Grant could do. Grant was confident that his plan would ultimately be successful. If we look at the map of the Overland campaign (above) we see that Grant wanted to fight Lee in the open. If that was not possible he would move by his left and Lee would have to respond. Eventually, Lee would be forced to entrench around Richmond and Petersburg and Grant would trap him. It was like a chess master looking sixteen plies ahead: there was nothing Lee could do, his defeat was inevitable.

There are two programmers coding General StaffAndy O’Neill is working on the actual game from my design documents and me (I’m working on AI).  Andy specializes in Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) development of business applications. General Staff is a wargaming system that utilizes multiple interlocking programs (like Microsoft Office) so it is logical to use Microsoft WPF for development. Andy is literally a  Microsoft gold medal developer. Andy also specializes in the Model-View-View Model (MVVM) development technique. This is a method commonly used in Microsoft business applications.  Despite repeated efforts to learn MVVM I confess that I am just an old coder, set in my ways, and I can’t get it. While Andy and I both write in the C# programming language, it’s best if I do not muck about with Andy’s code. What I do is write AI routines in C# and Andy imports them into his code.

In early July or late June Andy, who lives and works in Liverpool, England, fell very ill with an undefined infection. He became very dizzy and nauseous and was unable to write any code for over a month. Andy reports that he is now, “sort of…nearly…better.”

And this is why I felt like Grant on May 2, 1865: there wasn’t anything I can do to move the game forward. I’m working on the AI Engine and researching battles, maps and OOBs but that’s it. And then we lost power and the internet for a week.

My wife says that when I can’t work I get, “very testy.” Grant, however, outwardly was imperturbed. This is how Porter describes him this day:

General Grant Whittling Again – Civil War Reenactor Kenneth Serfass portraying Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant whittling at the site of Grant’s headquarters knoll at the Battle of the Wilderness. 150th Anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness, 1864-2014

“… most of the day he sat upon the stump of a tree, or on the ground, with his back leaning against a tree. The thread gloves2)It is assumed that Mrs. Grant gave him the gloves. Grant wore them out whittling and never wore them again. remained on his hands, a lighted cigar was in his mouth almost constantly, and his penknife was kept in active use whittling sticks. He would pick up one small twig after another, and sometimes holding the small end away from him would rapidly shave it down to a point, at other times he would turn the point toward him and work on it as if sharpening a lead-pencil, then he would girdle it, cut it in two, throw it away, and begin on another.” – Campaigning with Grant

So, in summation, almost nothing has been done in the last six weeks to move development of the actual game (what we call the Game Engine application) forward. For this I can only sincerely apologize and repeat what you know: there’s only two of us coding it and when the lead coder falls ill everything stops.

What’s Going on with the Scenario Editor?

There are three stand alone programs that create data files used by the General Staff Game Engine: The Army Editor, the Map Editor and the Scenario Editor. The first two have long been available to early backers. What’s holding up the release of the Scenario Editor?

The Scenario Editor is actually done, and has been completed for some time. I use it to create the scenarios that you’ve seen and that I use to test the AI:

Screen shot of Antietam with battle groups, range of influence and objectives displayed. Click to enlarge.

So, why haven’t we released it? Because as we (that is to say, Andy) works on the Game Engine we discover that we need to make changes in the data files. For example, I left out the time it takes for a unit to change formations. To correct this, we need to add that value to the scenario data files and that, in turn, means a change to the Scenario Editor, itself. And, even worse, it means that previously created scenario files are no longer compatible and have to be redone. Andy, specifically, said he didn’t want to make the Scenario Editor available to early backers for this very reason: you could lose your earlier work.

So, in conclusion, again please allow me to apologize for these delays. There will inevitably be more delays before General Staff is completed. But, like Grant at the beginning of the Overland campaign, I am supremely confident in our inevitable success. Grant famously said at this time, “I propose to fight it out on this line if it takes all summer.”  It actually took all summer, fall, winter and next spring before Lee surrendered. But the ultimate success of the campaign was never in doubt.

And, as always, please feel free to email me directly at Ezra [at] RiverviewAI.com.

References

1 Ironically, the first person to use the Spanish word “derecho” to describe this type of storm was Gustavus D. Hinrichs, a German immigrant who settled in my hometown of Davenport in 1861.
2 It is assumed that Mrs. Grant gave him the gloves. Grant wore them out whittling and never wore them again.

Ty Bomba’s Primer on Strategy & Tactics

Legendary wargame designer Ty Bomba.

I can think of no better introduction for Ty Bomba than his Wikipedia entry: “Ty Bomba is a prolific wargame designer from the United States. He is credited as the designer of over 125 board games or game items. At times between 1976 and 1988, Bomba held a security clearance as a certified Arabic and Russian linguist for the US Air Force, US Army, and the National Security Agency. In 1988, he was elected to the Charles Roberts Awards Hall of Fame. He was previously a senior editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. Bomba was co-founder and designer for XTR Corporation, a company that existed between 1989 and 2001. ” In other words, a very impressive career in wargame design and military strategy and tactical thinking.

Ty recently posted his Primer on Strategy & Tactics on Facebook and I asked his permission to repost it here, which he very kindly gave. I have spent much of my professional career trying to create computer algorithms for military tactics and strategy (a subject that I call ‘computational military reasoning’ and have written extensively about here). Ty has very succinctly stated much of what I’ve attempted to accomplish in his Primer below. Ty can be found on Facebook as ‘Ty Bomba’.

Ty Bomba’s Primer on Strategy and Tactics

Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean everything is very easy” – Carl von Clausewitz.

Strategy Defined
A plan or policy intended to achieve a major or overall aim, and having to be
achieved in the face of opposition from others. All strategy is a contextual
interpretation of a problem and a compromised rationalization of a
solution. There are no formulas to end the tensions inescapably imposed by
uncertain intentions, faulty assumptions, unknown capabilities and vaguely
understood risks.

Laws of Strategy

  1. Know your own capabilities.
  2. Know your opponent’s capabilities and objectives.
  3. Pit your strengths against your opponent’s weaknesses.
  4. Prevent your opponent from pitting his strengths against your
    weaknesses.
  5. Never pit your strengths against your opponent’s strengths.
  6. Maintain an emergency reserve of five to 25 percent of your strength.
  7. Keep in mind your desired end-state: only do things that move you closer
    to it.
  8. Never repeat an already failed strategy with the expectation of getting a
    better result from it.
  9. The overarching objective of your strategy should be to create a state of
    surprise in your opponent. That uncertainty will delay, and otherwise make
    less efficient, his countermoves. That is a force multiplier for you.

Common Reasons for Strategic Failure

  1. Overconfidence due to previous successes.
  2. Analyzing information only after sifting it through the filter of dogma.
  3. Operating with insufficient reserves.
  4. Mirror imaging – using one’s own rationales to interpret the actions or
    intentions of an opponent – is the most common fault among decision
    makers.
  5. Objectives not well explained to those below the highest level of command.
  6. Objectives not adjusted according to new data coming from the
    operational environment.
  7. Unanticipated outside influences.

Tactics Defined
An action intended to achieve a specific end, undertaken while in contact with the
enemy.

Laws of Tactics

  1. Always seek to control the local high ground or its aerial or outer space
    equivalent.
  2. Move in short bounds from cover to cover so as not to be caught in the
    open by your opponent.
  3. Maneuver so as to engage your opponent on his flank or from behind and
    so as to prevent him from engaging you in that way.
  4. Don’t confuse “concealment” with “cover.” The former only gets you out of
    sight; the latter also offers protection from enemy fire.

Juncture of Tactics & Strategy
Your superior strategy can make up for your poor tactics; however, your superior
tactics will not make up for your poor strategy. As Sun Tzu put it: “Good strategy
combined with poor tactics is the slowest route to victory; good tactics combined
with poor strategy is just so much noise before your final defeat.”

Surprise
Surprise is a state of confusion in your opponent, induced by your introducing the
unexpected. At the strategic level, surprise is often viewed as the tool of the
weaker side, as the stronger side has the option of simply applying greater force.
At the tactical level, surprise is considered a force multiplier for the side causing it
by creating a temporary period of confusion and vulnerability in the surprised
force. Having multiple objectives lies at the heart of creating surprise in an
opponent.

The Most Difficult Thing
The most difficult thing in a dynamic situation is to know when to change
strategies. If you do it too soon or too often, you’re not a strategist; you’re an
opportunist. If you do it too late, or refuse to do it no matter what, again you’re
not a strategist; you’re a fanatic. Opportunists and fanatics are both easily
defeated by good strategists.