Category Archives: Wargames

The Friction of War

The delay in the transmittal of orders from headquarters and staff is one example of the Friction of War. Note the calculated time for couriers to arrive displayed in the Subordinate Orders list on the left of the screen. The red lines are the routes that couriers from General HQ to Corps HQ to individual units will take. General Staff: Black Powder screen shot. Click to enlarge.

Carl von Clausewitz, in has seminal work, On War, (Book 1, Chapter 7) originated the phrase, “Friction of War”:

Carl von Clausewitz painted by Karl Wilhelm Wach. Credit Wikipedia.

“Friction is the only conception which, in a general way, corresponds to that which distinguishes real war from war on paper. The military machine, the army and all belonging to it, is in fact simple; and appears, on this account, easy to manage. But let us reflect that no part of it is in one piece, that it is composed entirely of individuals, each of which keeps up its own friction in all directions.”

I knew that if General Staff: Black Powder were to be an accurate simulation, and not just ‘war on paper’, that the friction of war would have to be calculated into the command / orders chain. One part of this – the distance the couriers will travel from one headquarters to the next to deliver their orders and the time it takes to travel this distance – can be calculated with reasonable certainty (I’m using the rate of 10.5 kilometers per hour for a horseman, I’m not an expert but this seemed reasonable, and it’s easy to change if somebody has a more accurate value).

Another example of friction of war is factored into the delaying of the arrival of orders is Leadership Value:

In this example, the Imperial couriers will travel over 4.3 kilometers, taking 24 minutes, to deliver their orders. Also, note the cost of the combined Leadership Values. Because Napoleon and Vandamme have very high Leadership Values little additional delay is added. General Staff: Black Powder screen shot. Click to enlarge.

You can specify at what time the order is to be executed (in this case 6:15), however you can not set a time earlier than when the couriers would arrive. This allows for coordination of attacks across units. General Staff: Black Powder screen shot. Click to enlarge.

The other value – and it is arbitrarily set – is the cost of ineptitude, incompetence, lack of motivation, and sloppy staff work. In the above scenario (Ligny) Napoleon’s Leadership is set at 93%:

The slider adjusts Napoleon’s Leadership Value which effects the delay in issuing orders. General Staff: Black Powder Army Editor screen shot. Click to enlarge.

I understand that Napoleon may have been feeling a bit under the weather during the Hundred Days Campaign. You can set his Leadership Value to anything you want in the Army Editor (above).

Major General George B. McClellan’s Leadership Value can be changed in the Army Editor. Click to enlarge.

Did I set McClellan’s Leadership Value too low? He was amazingly incompetent. Note below:

The combination of McClellan’s and Burnside’s extremely low Leadership Values adds an additional 29 minutes to the transmittal of orders. The blue lines trace the route that couriers would travel from McClellan’s headquarters to Burnside’s headquarters and then to each division and battery. General Staff: Black Powder screen shot. Click to enlarge.

The combination of McClellan’s and Ambrose Burnside’s Leadership Values results in almost a half hour delay in transmittal of the orders (remember after receipt of the orders, Burnside has to send couriers to his divisional and battery commanders, too and their Leadership Values effects the delay before their unit executes the order). After factoring the time it would take for a horseman to travel the distance between McClellan’s headquarters to Burnside’s headquarters (14 minutes) the earliest that a unit could be expected to respond to the original order from General Headquarters would be forty-one minutes later (and, in reality, a bit after that because of that unit’s Leadership Value).

The path of the couriers from McClellan’s headquarters, to Burnside’s Headquarters and then out to the divisions and batteries. General Staff: Black Powder screen shot. Click to enlarge.

I have spent some time at Antietam and studied it at length and this delay of about three-quarters of an hour between the time McClellan wanted to issue an order and the men of Burnside’s IX Corps moved out seems if anything, too optimistic of a timetable. In fact, as I write this, I think I need to increase the penalty for poor Leadership Value. McClellan and Burnside couldn’t possibly have got units moving in less than an hour.

As I have begun playtesting General Staff: Black Powder I found the delay between issuing orders and wanting to see something move now was a bit disconcerting. It shouldn’t have been. I’ve read enough military history to know that battlefield orders were often transmitted the night before and moving units around during the battle could be a risky proposition. Some armies, however, were less afflicted with these problems than others, and that I would attribute to ‘leadership value’ which also encompasses the army’s general staff.

If you don’t want to use General Staff: Black Powder as a simulation that inserts a calculated delay between orders and execution, and would rather just move units instantly, there is ‘Game Mode’:

The Select Mode screen in General Staff: Black Powder. The user chooses between ‘game’ and ‘simulation’ with differences in rules and unit icons. Click to enlarge.

Game Mode has the same maps but uses simpler icons and rules. I originally envisioned Game Mode as a way of introducing wargaming to a new generation (I wanted to write it for the XBox). Anyway, it’s included with General Staff: Black Powder.

Lastly, I know everybody is waiting for news about when can I get my hands on the game?!!?!!  My friend, Damien, wasn’t able to work on  finishing it using Unity so I’m finishing it up using MonoGame. As you can see I’m pretty far along and I think I will be playing the first ‘actual game’ (that is a simulation from start to finish) within the next couple of weeks; maybe sooner. After that, probably at least another month of fixing bugs, but then I’m hoping to set up a Beta download for all the early backers via Steam. We have a space on Steam but I haven’t even begun to build it out. Obviously, I’m just one guy, I’m working as fast as I can, but I think this is all good news. Also, I’m working on a video to show everything off.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact me directly.


Schwerpunkt: Calculating the Optimal Point of Attack

MATE’s analysis of Blue (Union) position at Antietam. NB: Unable to outflank Red’s position, MATE has calculated the Schwerpunkt, or optimal point of attack on Red’s lines. Click to enlarge.

The holy grail of military science is an algorithm that calculates the optimal point of attack upon an enemy’s lines. In German, the word is Schwerpunkt and is commonly translated as “the point of maximum effort.” I have written extensively about Schwerpunkt previously in this blog, in academic papers and in my doctoral thesis.

MATE (Machine Analysis of Tactical Environments 2.0, the AI behind General Staff: Black Powder) is now able to calculate Schwerpunkt to a new, substantially greater, degree of accuracy. There are a number of reasons why this is now possible, but the primary cause must be the ability to analyze the battlefield in 3D and to accurately map where every unit on the map can project its force. Indeed, for many years now I have looked at the problem of computational military reasoning (AI for tactical situations) as a force projection problem.

Below, is a visual representation of the total force projection of all units at Gettysburg, Day 3 (July 3, 1863 0600 hours):

Visual representation of the total force projection (Range of Influence, or ROI) for all units at Gettysburg Day 3. Note: normalization and alpha values affect color output. Also, note how the terrain (woods, depressions, hills) shape the projection of force. Also, all projections are independent of unit facing. Click to enlarge.

If we ask MATE to determine the Schwerpunkt for the Confederates in the above situation, it responds with:

MATE’s selection (labeled OBJECTIVE) for Red Schwerpunkt. Click to enlarge.

And adds the following commentary (edited for brevity, the numbers are the Premise Statement ID#s. This is basically a logic trace of MATE’s thinking):

8|∴ The enemy does not need to capture more Victory Points.
9|∴ The enemy will be on the defensive.
22|The enemy's flanks are anchored.
23|[9] + [22] ∴ Frontal assault is the only remaining option.
25|COA: Battle Group #1 (Mixed) assigned objective Weak Point Calculated by ROI coords: 551,232
33|Red Battle Group #1 is opposed by Blue Battle Group #6
34|Red Battlegroup # 1's strength = 21,663
35|Blue Battlegroup # 6's strength = 13,635
36|Red Battlegroup # 1 has a numerical advantage of 8,028. Red has a 1.59 / 1 advantage over Blue Battle Group #6.
37|Distance to objective is 1,029.86 meters.
38|The maximum slope along the line of attack will be on an upward slope of 3.64%.
39|The attacking avenue of approach will be in enemy ROI for 541.18 meters.
40|The greatest enemy ROI along the avenue of approach is: 1,276.00 .
41|There is an unrestricted avenue of attack.

In other words, MATE has found a path to its objective that encounters the least amount of enemy projection of force. MATE would much prefer to flank the enemy position but it has calculated that this is impossible (#22, above).

ROI (Range of Influence) is calculated using values set up for each unit in the General Staff Army Editor and running a 3D Bresenham line algorithm to ensure that there is direct Line of Sight (LOS) to that point.

Screen shot of the General Staff Army Editor showing the interface for entering values for a typical artillery unit. Note that the accuracy curve is user editable (there are also default curves for various common weapons). Click to enlarge.

It is because every unit has an accuracy curve attached to it we can exactly map out the overlapping fields of fire (see above) and we can precisely calculate how long each attacking unit will be under fire and its intensity. That is how MATE chooses the optimal attack point: the path where its troops will be under the least amount of fire.

When MATE is presented with a tactical problem it first determines what it needs to do to win; is it on the offense or defense? On the offense, MATE will next check to find the enemy’s open flank and, if there is one, are there any crucial choke points on the flanking route? If MATE is unable to ‘fix and flank’ the enemy, and it has determined that it must be on the offensive, MATE then calculates Schwerpunkt (above). With this new Schwerpunkt algorithm the last big piece of the offensive AI puzzle is in place. Ironically, much of MATE’s defensive calculations involve first figuring out how to attack itself and then countering what it determines are its own optimal moves against itself (see this blog).

As always, please feel free to contact me directly with comments or questions.

A Human-Level Intelligence at Antietam

“Map of the battlefield of Antietam,” by William H. Willcox. Published in Philadelphia. Lithograph of P. S. Duval and Son, 1862. From the US Library of Congress.

There are many reasons that I am intensely interested in this particular American Civil War battle fought on less than twenty square miles wedged in between the Potomac River and Antietam Creek. The battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862) exhibits a number of significant battlefield attributes which I use as base line cases to test algorithms used in creating a human-level tactical artificial intelligence 1)MATE: Machine Analysis of Tactical Environments. Specifically, Antietam definitively demonstrates 2)see the following attributes:

  • Choke Points
  • Anchored Flank
  • Interior lines of communication
  • Exterior lines of communication
  • Restricted Avenue of Retreat
  • Restricted Avenues of Attack

For example, in a blind survey of Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), it was overwhelmingly agreed that the RED (Confederate) left flank at the battle of Antietam exhibited the attribute of ‘anchored flank3)a flank that is attached to or protected by terrain, a body of water, or defended fortifications. and other positions, such as RED’s (Russian and Austrian) left flank at Austerlitz SMEs overwhelmingly agreed that the flanks do not exhibit the attribute of ‘anchored’ and are, therefore, unanchored. Once we have an example of an anchored flank and another example of an unanchored flank we can begin testing algorithms to detect the attribute of an anchored flank.

In my doctoral thesis (above) I demonstrated the algorithm 4)see pages 45-6  for detecting the attribute of anchored and unanchored flanks. I have made a number of substantial improvements to the original algorithm since then which are now incorporated into the current MATE.

We have recently posted analyses of other battles that did not exhibit the attribute of an anchored flank (Ligny and 1st Bull Run, or Manassas). MATE correctly recognized that Ligny and Manassas do not have these attributes.

The tactical situation for Blue at Antietam is quite different than Blue’s positions at Ligny and Manassas (is it not curious how often Blue is the attacker in wargames?). The key difference, of course, is the lack of an open flank to attack. MATE will always attack an open flank if it can. Without an obvious objective, like an exposed flank, MATE will next look at opportunities to fulfill victory conditions. For Antietam, as Blue, MATE sees the situation like this:

MATE Analysis of Antietam from the Blue position. Screen shot. Click to enlarge.

Below is a list of statements, predicates and conclusions generated by MATE during the above analysis with my commentary added on the right:

MATE analysis of Antietam. Click to enlarge.

I recently added a set of algorithms that recognize the composition of battle groups and exploits any possible advantages. For example:

Screen shot showing MATE analysis of BLUE position at Ligny. NB: Battle Group #3 (Pajol’s and Exelmans’ cavalry divisions) are, “snatching the pawn,” at Balatre. Click to enlarge.

At Ligny, above, MATE has recognized that Battle Group #3 and Battle Group #4 are uniquely cavalry (and horse artillery) battle groups and are to be used differently. While Battle Group #4 is held in reserve, Battle Group #3 will snatch Balatre. Though it is valued at only 10 Victory Points, MATE realized that no enemy force could oppose it. That said, I can still hear the voice of my old chess tutor, Mr. Selz,  warning me against ‘pawn snatching’; that is grabbing a minor point that can lead to defeat because the position was not thoroughly analyzed. MATE, however, is correct in this analysis and can safely seize the objective.

While, at Antietam, Battle Group #1 (all the cavalry of the Army of the Potomac commanded by Brigadier General Alfred Pleasonton) is frozen ‘in reserve’. This is not a case where MATE can snatch a pawn. MATE looked at the situation and said, ‘nope’, there are no unattended Victory Points to snatch and there is not an open flank to exploit so, the default setting is ‘in reserve’.

This leads to the interesting conundrum: what exactly was the Union cavalry at Antietam doing? Honestly, I had never really thought of it before. Now, when I look into the question I find, Was McClellan’s Cavalry Deployment at Antietam Doctrinally Sound? This monograph argues that McClellan massing his cavalry in the center for a great coup de grâce exploitation of a breakthrough across the Middle Bridge was acceptable within the framework of Jomini’s theories as taught at West Point before the Civil War. But, then it is countered with this:

In Landscape Turned Red, Stephen Sears has this to say: Shortly before noon, McClellan had ventured to push several batteries across the Middle Bridge, supported by Pleasonton’s cavalry and a force of regulars from George Syke’s Fifth Corps. He was nervous about the move-it was taken against the advice of Porter and Sykes-and he cautioned Pleasonton not to risk the batteries unduly. As an afterthought, he asked, “Can you do any good by a cavalry charge?” Pleasonton wisely ignored the suggestion. – Sears, Stephen, Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1983. page 271. (as cited in above)

Would a great massed cavalry attack across Middle Bridge have been suicide? Or brilliant? For the first time in memory I took the 1st edition of McClellan’s Own Story off the shelf and discovered… nothing. McClellan died suddenly of heart failure just as he was writing about Antietam and his memoirs end abruptly with very little insight into his side of the story. But, using cavalry to support horse artillery – rather than the other way around – seemed a bit odd.

I do not know of any other great cavalry charge in the American Civil War than Sheridan at Five Forks (above). Is this what McClellan envisioned at Antietam? Would it have worked? Could American Civil War regiments have formed square against a massed cavalry charge?

Moving on, let’s drill down to the Course of Action (COA) for Blue Battle Group #3 (Burnside’s IX Corps) at Antietam:

MATE tactical analysis for Blue Battle Group #3 at Antietam (Burnside’s IX Corps). Screen shot. Click to enlarge.

The author walking across Burnside’s Bridge in 1966 (age 12).

The above is MATE’s output that concludes with the COA for Burnside’s IX Corps. Perhaps, the greatest mystery of the battle of Antietam is what took Burnside so long to take this bridge (now forever linked with his name)? It is true that there were numerous, futile and bloody attempts to cross it. Note that MATE, above, recognizes the bridge as a critical Choke Point. When MATE sees a Choke Point that is within the enemy’s control (see statement #8, above, “Chokepoint (bridge) is under Red’s Range of Influence ROI = 5958″ and 5,998 is very high ROI value) it brings up artillery (see statements #9, #10, #11, #12, above). All the artillery in the IX Corps is to be within 630 meters of the objective. Why 630 meters? Because at that distance it is guaranteed a 50% accuracy rate. This rate, by the way, was set in the Army Editor:

The accuracy curve for the 1st Division, IX Corps artillery as set in the Army Editor. Screen capture. Click to enlarge.

So, MATE says 5)I apologize but I find it easier to describe how the AI works using such phrases as ‘thinks’, ‘says’, and ‘decides’. It’s not worth straining over. Trust me, “My objective is a Choke Point. I’m not sending my units into a meat grinder. I’m sending artillery to a point where they are guaranteed a 50% accuracy per volley and have a clear 3D Line of Sight to the target. This is how I’m going to project as much force as I can at the objective.” War is about force projection. MATE knows this. Is this a better plan than what Burnside actually did? Yeah, it is a lot better with a far greater probability of success. I’ve stood on that plain just east of Burnside’s Bridge and thought that nine batteries of 12 lb. Napoleons aimed at the crest of that hill just beyond the bridge would provide a substantial amount of force projection and covering fire. About half an hour of force projection followed up with an infantry assault would probably take the bridge.

I once described good AI as: Don’t do anything stupid, fast. MATE is doing that. I think MATE is on the way to beat most human opponents because humans do stupid things, fast.

We’ll see. Should be an interesting journey.


1 MATE: Machine Analysis of Tactical Environments
2 see
3 a flank that is attached to or protected by terrain, a body of water, or defended fortifications.
4 see pages 45-6
5 I apologize but I find it easier to describe how the AI works using such phrases as ‘thinks’, ‘says’, and ‘decides’. It’s not worth straining over. Trust me

A Human-Level Tactical Artificial Intelligence at Ligny

Map 159 from the superb, “West Point Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars,” (Esposito & Elting, 1999, Stackpole). Scanned from the author’s collection. Click to enlarge.

The seeds of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo were sown two days earlier at his victory near Ligny. Napoleon needed to surround and completely remove the Prussian army as a viable force on the battlefield. Instead, they escaped to Wavre in the north and resurfaced at the worst possible time on Napoleon’s right flank two days later at Waterloo.

MATE1)Machine Analysis of Tactical Environments 2.0 is now capable of analyzing the battle of Ligny, June 16, 1815 from both the Blue (L’Armée du Nord on the offensive) and Red (Prussian on the defensive) positions. (MATE is the AI behind General Staff: Black Powder. For more information about MATE see these links).

The Ligny map was donated by Glenn Frank Drover. Jared Blando is the artist. Ed Kuhrt did the elevation, roads and mud terrain overlays. The unit positions are from the West Point Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars (above) and from David Chandler’s Waterloo: The Hundred Days. If any one has a better source for unit positions, please contact me directly.

Screen capture of the Ligny scenario in General Staff. Elevation and slope layers enhanced.

Below is MATE’s analysis from the Blue (L’Armée du Nord) perspective. MATE correctly identifies the key positions and realities of the battlefield:

  • Red is on the defensive
  • Red has an exposed flank
  • There are two key choke points on the route to Red’s exposed flank

MATE then creates an appropriate Course of Action (COA) for Blue:

  • Battle Group #1 (The French III Corps) is assigned the flanking maneuver.
  • Battle Group #0 (The Imperial Guard) is assigned the objective of St. Amand with the support of Battle Group #4 (IV Corps cavalry and reserve artillery).
  • Battle Group #2 (IV Corps) demonstrates against Ligny.
  • Battle Group #3 (The Cavalry Reserve) seizes Balatre and a crucial bridge located there.

MATE’s analysis of Blue’s position at Ligny. Screen capture. Click to enlarge.

A log of MATE’s thought processes, with my commentary, follows:

Text output of MATE’s analysis of Blue’s position at Ligny. Click to enlarge.

MATE also analyzed Ligny from the Prussian (Red) perspective:

Screen capture of MATE’s analysis of Ligny for Red (Prussian army). MATE recognizes the two choke points on the route of the enemy’s flank attack and dispatches cavalry units to cover these critical areas. Click to enlarge.

MATE, analyzing the Prussian (Red) position correctly recognizes that it is on the defensive, it has an exposed flank, there are two crucial choke points on the route that Blue will take on its flanking maneuver and dispatches two cavalry units to cover the bridges. A log of MATE’s thought processes, with my commentary, follows:

Text output of MATE’s analysis of Red’s position at Ligny. Click to enlarge.

Critique of MATE’s analysis:

As the author of MATE any critique I have of its performance should be taken with a grain of salt (also, see this video). If I was back in academia I would put together twenty or thirty Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), set up a double blind web site, get all the SME’s solutions to the problem, and compare their solutions to MATE’s. If they match to a statistical significance it proves the ‘human-level’ part. But, I’m not in academia anymore and you’ll just have to take my word for it. That said, MATE did what I expected it to do.

It first sussed out if it was on offense or defense and what it had to do to win.

Then, as Blue, MATE discovered a back door to Red’s position and ordered a classic enveloping maneuver. MATE assigned Blue Battle Group #1 the task of implementing the flanking maneuver. Blue Battle Groups #0, #4 and #2 are the fixing force. See my paper, Implementing the Five Canonical Offensive Maneuvers in a CGF Environment (free download here) for details and algorithms.  The Blue Cavalry Reserve is given the COA to seize the town of Balatre. This, in my opinion, is a pretty good tactical plan.

When MATE finds itself on defense, as it does as Red at Ligny, one of the first things it does is ask itself, “how would I attack myself?” So, of course it finds the back door right away. Then it compiles a list of available units that are not actively engaged in holding crucial parts of a defensive line, selects the optimal (fastest) units and assigns them orders to defend the crucial choke points. This was a better plan than Field Marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher had. So, again, I’m going to argue that MATE is operating at a ‘human-level’.

As always, please feel free to write me with the questions or comments. MATE is going to take a look at Antietam next.


1 Machine Analysis of Tactical Environments