Sunday, 16 September 2018

Less Than 60 Miles - Designer's Notes, Part 1

As already happened for 1985: Under an Iron Sky, I'm going to share a first draft of  Less Than 60 Miles Designer's Notes, in three parts. 

The game covers the 1985 Warsaw Pact offensive in the V Corps / Fulda area and takes its roots from SPI's Central Front and NATO: Division Commander. An overview of the game can be found here.

This first part focuses on the high level design choices and their rationale. All the example images are made using the map and counters graphics you will find in the game. Counters could still have some retouch, but nothing substantial.

Confusion and Disorder

The goal is to collapse adversary’s system into confusion and disorder causing him to over and under react to activity that appears simultaneously menacing as well as ambiguous, chaotic, or misleading.

John R. Boyd, “Patterns of Conflict”

As probably any other Grognard, I've been reading a devastating number of books on military campaigns and operations.

In almost all of them, I’ve found descriptions of apparently simple plans that turned into a disaster due to poor planning, wrong orders or bad execution. Even when planning, orders and execution went as smooth as silk, the plan was sometimes outmaneuvered or outsmarted by the enemy.

The final causes for these disasters are of every imaginable type. A Division had to move from point A to town B, but enemy reacted faster than expected and occupied the town hours before. A Regiment was preparing to attack an enemy position, but an unexpected enemy counterattack routed it. A Brigade was digging in to defend a city, but the enemy attacked while it was still deploying. A river had to be crossed, but all the available ribbon bridges have been used somewhere else.

In most operational and strategic wargames, replicating this kind of events is very difficult. Players have an almost complete control, and units react instantly to new directives. During years, several solutions have been developed (random events, variable initiative, command points and similar), but the basic problems remained:

  • The typical time frame of a game turn is tailored to allow execution of almost any desired action within a single phase, thus leaving the enemy no possibility to react.
  • The distance covered in a single turn by a unit could be considerable, thus forcing players to adopt a continuous line of units and zones of control as the only solution to avoid being bypassed or encircled during the enemy’s movement phase.
  • Any decided course of action has no inertia and can be rapidly modified should necessity arise. You don’t need a real plan, and you’re not taking anyone really by surprise unless rules decide so.
Defender’s classical problem using a "long" time frame: stop the attack and avoid being encircled

With no possible reaction for 12 hours, Defender has only a solution: Continuous Front, 1915 style.

Less Than 60 Miles tries to convey a realistic approach to the above problems by giving the correct importance and impact to four basic elements: Time, Posture, Orders and Command Chain. In the end, the interaction among these four elements will put players in front of the underlying concept: the OODA Cycle theorized by John Boyd in the early ‘80s and used as basis for several key military doctrines.

By using the four elements above better and faster than the opponent, a player will get inside the OODA Loop of the enemy, undermining its capability to react in an appropriate and timely manner to the unfolding events.

John Boyd's OODA Loop


Probably the most important factor in war is time. Every action needs to be executed within a certain time frame and becomes useless or even dangerous if carried out later.

One of the first design decisions was to have fast-playing game turns, each one representing only two hours of real time, then increased to three to allow more "strategic scope" in each scenario. This has a decisive impact on player’s actions and possibilities.

By using time segments of two hours, a unit typically moves only a few hexes during its movement phase and will not be able to instantly outflank a position without any reaction. Also, moving off-road becomes highly undesirable as it would give the enemy even more opportunities to react accordingly.

Moreover, once the fastest approach routes are guarded the defender is not forced to keep a continuous defense line as the only viable solution to avoid encirclement. By keeping a mobile force ready, enemy moves can be countered as they happen, and Meeting Engagements become finally possible.

Defender with appropriate orders may react to enemy moves before it’s too late.
The front is no more continuous and static, but fluid.
Finally, most actions cannot be completed during a single game turn. A dug-in mechanized battalion that successfully defended a town will not be able to instantly launch a counterattack against the attacker. It will need to change to an attack formation, leaving itself vulnerable to enemy reactions for the time needed to change its posture.


Posture defines the current tactical formation of a unit and has a heavy impact on its movement and combat capabilities. Each unit type has specific possible postures, and each one gives advantages and disadvantages. Moreover, some postures allow to simulate specific military doctrines, like Warsaw Pact’s Assault from March and NATO’s Counter-Blitz.

A unit Posture is the result of the last orders received, and limits the tactical choices available to that unit. A Battalion that received a "Defend" order from its HQ is not going to abandon its position to attack an enemy unit, no matter how good the opportunity looks. 

Each Posture allows a unit to change to another "related" Posture without additional orders from the HQ. For example, a unit in "Screen" Posture may decide to change to "Defend" autonomously. More radical changes are allowed, but for a price in Time and Attrition.

Posture markers, indicating Movement Mode and Combat Differential Shifts.

Changing a Unit’s Posture typically requires more than a single game turn, and during the transition from the old to the new Posture the unit will be more vulnerable. Once again, the enemy will have the possibility to react and exploit any reckless move.


Ordering large formations to move out or attack is a complicated business, usually more complicated than expected. Even the over-celebrated 90 degrees turn of Patton’s III Army at the Ardennes took 72 hours.

According to several military analysts, a Soviet battalion in the ’80 needed 8 to 12 hours to plan and execute a deliberate assault against an enemy defensive position. A Division or even worse an Army would of course require a greater amount of time to change its course of action.

US Army literature theorizes on the 1/3 – 2/3 rule: if you have 18 hours for preparing Brigade orders, brigade HQ will take 6 hours, Battalion HQs 4 hours, company HQs 2.6 hours, and so on. That’s a good rule of thumb for assigning available time, but avoids the real question: how long does it take to get ready to move? Most sources indicate 12 hours as the minimum time needed to prepare orders and deploy a Brigade in march formation, even when using the so called FRAGORD procedure (FRAGmented ORDers written as things moves on).

In Less Than 60 Miles, most orders will require more time than desired to be carried out. Players will have to prepare and execute a real plan, as changing their course of action once things started moving could be slow and problematic.

For example, Warsaw Pact player will need to apply the “Operational Manoeuvre Group” concept to its full extent. One or more Divisions should be kept in a fast-moving Posture like Road or Tactical, ready to exploit any decisive breakthrough when the enemy has no more reserves available to react. This cannot be improvised at the last minute and must be prepared beforehand.

On the other side, NATO could decide (or be forced) to keep a part of its units as a rapid reaction force to counter any unexpected event or to counterattack locally should the opportunity arise. Even in this case, creating this reserve force in the instant it is needed will be invariably too late.

Chain of Command

In order to issue and execute orders in a timely manner, you will need a Command Chain starting from a higher-level Headquarters and going down to the units executing the order.

Command Chain is not an abstract concept you’ll worry about only occasionally. Each side will have to balance the advantage of having Headquarters near the Forward Edge of Battle Area and directly influencing the battle, with the disadvantage of making them targets for enemy air, missile and artillery strikes.

Another point to evaluate constantly is having Headquarters in Deployed or Moving Posture. A deployed Headquarters is more efficient and harder to detect as it uses cable communications, but it’s static. On the contrary, a moving Headquarters is less efficient and radio communications makes it easier to detect, but it’s able to move out quickly.

Attrition and Fatigue

We were succeeding. When you looked at the specifics, this became a war of attrition. We were winning. 

William Westmoreland

At least on one point, General Westmoreland was right: since the beginning of history, Attrition at all levels and in all its forms has always been one of the key factors of every war. Imposing an unbearable attrition rate on your enemy, while keeping your own at an acceptable level, is one of the more tested and certain methods to obtain victory.

In order to handle attrition, Less Than 60 Miles refines one of the most interesting and innovating concepts of  SPI's "Central Front" series: Friction Points, here renamed Attrition Points.

Attrition Points represents the many factors deteriorating the combat abilities of a military unit: losses, vehicle breakdowns, ammunition and fuel shortage, fatigue and in certain cases also desertions.

Units have a limited capability to recover from attrition, depending by the efficiency of their supply chain and by replacements available. Units in safe rear areas and in Refit Posture will recover faster. Most Warsaw Pact units in particular are never able to completely recover from attrition, due to the doctrine of using units up to exhaustion and replacing them with fresh ones.