Tag Archives: Napoleon

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.


A Human-Level Intelligence at Quatre Bras

Quatre Bras, June 16, 1815. Click to enlarge

Napoleon has humbugged me, by God!” Lord Wellington swore. “He has gained twenty-four hours’ march on me!” 1)David Chandler, Waterloo: The Hundred Days, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York 1980, p. 85 And, indeed, he had.

The Armée du Nord, racing north on the roadnet from Paris to Brussels, now occupied the crucial strategic ‘central position’ between the Anglo-Allied army under Wellington assembling at Quatre Bras in the west, and the Prussian army under Blücher at Ligny in the east. Napoleon, outnumbered by the combined forces of Wellington and Blücher only had one realistic option: destroy his opponent’s armies separately before they could combine and destroy him.

Napoleon divided the Armée du Nord into two wings (the left commanded by Marshal Ney and the right by the Emperor, himself). The Imperial Guard would serve as the strategic reserve. In our previous blog, we showed the MATE (Machine Analysis of Tactical Environments) artificial intelligence analysis of the battle of Ligny.

The starting positions of the Armée du Nord (Blue) and the Anglo-Allied Army (Red) at the battle of Quatre Bras. Screen shot from General Staff: Black Powder. Click to enlarge.

The positions in the above screen shot come from the West Point Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars and Chandler’s Waterloo: The Hundred Days. I’ve ordered Mike Robinson’s The Battle of Quatre Bras, 1815 (which is very highly regarded) but it’s coming from Europe and will be a while before it arrives. I’ll update the positions accordingly when it arrives.

Today MATE is going to show off a new trick that it learned.

MATE AI analysis of Blue’s position. General Staff screen shot. Click to enlarge.

Text output and author’s commentary of MATE’s analysis of Blue’s position at the battle of Quatre Bras.

The salient points of MATE’s analysis of Blue (Ney’s) position at the battle of Quatre Bras are:

  • Red (Wellington) has an open flank (in fact, both of Red’s flanks are exposed but MATE has calculated a left flanking maneuver is shorter than a right flanking maneuver)
  • Blue has a reserve cavalry division (Line #25 in the text output above, Battle Group #3, Pire’s 2nd Cavalry Division) that is in position to spearhead the left flanking maneuver ahead of
  • Battle Group #1 (the 6th Division commanded by Prince Jerome) which will follow as the main strike force of the left flanking maneuver (Line #23)
  • Battle Groups #0 and #2 (Reilles and Foy’s divisions) will be the fixing force attacking Gémioncourt in the classic envelopment maneuver (see below):
  • Battle Group #4 (Kellerman’s reserve cavalry division) will snatch the important crossroads at Thyle.

In other words, Battle Groups #3 and #1 will be the Enveloping Force and Battle Groups #0 and #2 will be the Fixing Force as illustrated in the above graphic from the U. S. Army Field Manual 3-21. Algorithms for implementing this maneuver (an early version of MATE) first appear in my paper, Implementing the Five Canonical Offensive Maneuvers in a CGF Environment.

And MATE’s new trick? It’s in line #25, above. If there is a Battle Group that is composed entirely of  cavalry and horse artillery, and it is close enough, it will be used as the spearhead for the flanking maneuver.

MATE’s analysis of Ligny. Screen shot from General Staff AI Editor. Click to enlarge.

But, in this situation (Ligny, above) MATE has calculated that Battle Group #1 will get to the crucial Choke Point (labeled in black, above) before the reserve cavalry Battle Group #4 will arrive and would create a tremendous bottleneck at the very choke point that MATE wants to quickly capture. Consequently, the cavalry has been left in reserve.


Can MATE read and analyze any battle map from history?

No. MATE is integrated into the General Staff Wargaming System. MATE can only ‘understand’ Order of Battle (OOB) tables created in the General Staff Army Editor, maps created in the General Staff Map Editor and scenarios created in the General Staff Scenario Editor.

What is meant by a ‘human-level’ artificial intelligence?

Perhaps you have heard of the famous Turing Test (from Alan Turing’s Computing Machinery and Intelligence). In it he describes, “The Imitation Game,” where a computer is in one room behind a closed door, and a human is another room behind a closed door. A third person, the ‘interrogator’, can only ask questions via a teletype (an ancient I/O device consisting of a keyboard and a printer) and must determine in which room the computer is and in which room is the human. In Turing’s original paper the interrogator would ask questions of the two subjects such as, “Please write me a sonnet on the subject of the Forth Bridge,” and, “Add 34957 to 70764.” Currently, no Artificial Intelligence (AI) could pass such a test; the subject area is far too broad. However, it has been my thesis, that an AI could pass such a test if the subject area is restricted to a narrow field of human endeavor, such as commanding units on a battlefield. If, in the above Turing test, the computer in one room was replaced with MATE, the human in the other room was replaced by Napoleon, and the teletype was replaced by the General Staff Wargaming System, I argue that MATE could (or soon will be able to) pass such a test (subject matter experts would not be able to discern if it was MATE or Napoleon giving orders).

Can MATE analyze current military situations?

Though MATE came out of the TIGER (Tactical Inference GenERator) project funded by DARPA, it is currently set up specifically for the General Staff: Black Powder project which limits analysis to scenarios in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is intended that this project will be followed up with General Staff: Modern Warfare to specifically work with 20th and 21st century combat.


1 David Chandler, Waterloo: The Hundred Days, Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. New York 1980, p. 85

First Scenario Created!


Screen capture of the Select Scenario screen from General Staff. Click on image to enlarge.

The above is a screen capture of the Select Scenario screen from General Staff. We anticipate shipping with about 20-30 scenarios and this is the first. This first scenario is an – obviously – fantasy match-up between Napoleon commanding portions of the Young Guard and U. S. Grant commanding the famous Iron brigade supplemented with an extra artillery battery and two regiments of cavalry.

We anticipate producing three or more scenarios for every map that we create. Most of the maps will be of historical battles from the 19th century and before. Are there particular battles that you would like to see in General Staff? Please drop us a line.

This first scenario was created to test the AI (crossing rivers and defending bridges), taking advantage of hills and the road net.