The mechanics that regulate Orders (in the pre-radio era) are always a nightmare for the Game Designer. Basically, what we want to represent is what a Commander may and may not do when he is under a certain Order from his Superior. We will skip for the moment the order comprehension by the subordinate, and concentrate on the “MAYs” and “MAY NOTs”. Let’s take a typical “set” of basic orders: ATTACK, DEFEND, MANEUVER, HOLD and start from the top of the list.
ATTACK: Your CinC wants you (his subordinate general) to attack an enemy unit, defending a hill. Within the above set of orders this is the most offensive order, so everything seems simple: you have to attack your target, i.e. move your troops to engage the enemy to annihilate it or force it to abandon the position (and carry it). So you cleverly move your – say – 6 units of infantry at full speed towards the target, and sooner or later you’ll engage the enemy.
There’s always a BUT, because battlefields are rarely empty, or one Vs. one affairs. There is Artillery threatening, Cavalry lurking behind hillcrests or woods, strong enemy units in reserve. So it happens that while you boldly move towards your target the local situation changes (an 8” pdr battery unlimbers just in front of the target) and your attack seems doomed. You desperately need an Order change from the CinC but it will take time (turns) and in the meantime that battery will cut your units in pieces.
In this situation, I think that 1 player out of 10 would carry on the order (and have his command slaughtered) while the other 9 would REFER TO THE RULES. Why? Because they want to check what they are allowed to do when under an attack order they don’t want to execute anymore.
And here the can of worms opens….
Some rules don’t say anything about this, so in principle you are free to do what you want. You apply the concept: “if the rules don’t say it is not allowed, you can do that”. Your opponent will not agree, however.
Some rules try to stop the flood with a spoon, stating that “under an attack order, units must advance towards the target”. How many units? How many inches? You may fulfill the order moving ahead 1 unit of less than 1 inch…
OK, let’s rephrase the rule: “under an Attack order, all units must move towards the enemy at full speed”.
A rather drastic rule that players will not like (“I don’t like suicide rules. I’d like to have an option”).
Mmmmhh… try this: “under an Attack order, more than half of your units must move towards the enemy at full speed”. Problem solved…..? Nope, for two reasons: rounded up or down? (this is easy) and “what does moving towards the enemy means”? If I’m allowed to wheel or oblique, for instance, I could make all sort of evolutions, spending inches as I go, so that at the end of the movement, my units used up their movement allowance, even if they are just ¾ of an inch nearer to the enemy than before.
Giving a proper definition of moving toward the enemy could help.
What about this: “under an Attack order, more than half (rounded up) of your units must move towards the enemy at full speed, wheeling only once and using the most direct route to the enemy. Oblique movement is forbidden”.
Even so, the most direct route can be an argument, and there is another problem: changing formation.
If your game has formations (most Napoleonic games do) you must be allowed to change formation in order to attack, but at the same time you must be prevented from doing it too much. A common trick in fact is to change formation several times per turn in order to decrease the movement allowance of your units. It is so common that many game designers specify that “consecutive, unnecessary formation changes are not allowed”. This (apparently) simple rule becomes more and more complicated… Sharp gamers could also have noticed another potential bug when it comes to moving “towards the enemy”. Which enemy? “The one in front, it’s obvious..” you would say. Nope, it’s not. Because in linear games (i.e. those not using hexagonal or square grids) quite often you have more than one enemy around, and it can be difficult to determine which one is in front of another. Should we try with the “nearest enemy”?
“Under an Attack order, more than half (rounded up) of your units must move towards the nearest enemy at full speed, wheeling only once and using the most direct route to the enemy. Oblique movement is forbidden and consecutive, unnecessary formation changes are not allowed.” Sounds good?
Not so much. Who is the nearest enemy? If I have 6 units in my Command maybe the leftmost unit has enemies belonging to command X nearby, while the rightmost units may have enemies belonging to command Y just in front and near. Who is the enemy?
I could go on for hours.
Now multiply the problems above for each other order (Defend, Maneuver, Hold) and I think you’ll realize that – in a competitive environment – it is simply impossible to use such an Order system unless you write a 100 pages chapter about it. And please don’t tell me that you are not so competitive. Maybe you are not, but I’m sure there is a rules lawyer in your group, and the problem will pop up.
The vast majority of the wargame rules out there simply ignore this problem, even in good faith: many rules are the result of years and years of Wargaming in a Club where people is always the same and – little by little – some conventions take over, so that no one is arguing about this or that rule. It is so because…. It has always been so. Many, though, ignore the problem because they are not able to solve it.
So there is no solution. Probably not, but maybe… slightly changing the angle something can be done. If you are interested follow up (and comment) …