Chronicles on the “Test of Battle”

If you have the rules [Command Decision: Test of Battle or CDTOB] or have seen them, you may have noticed the section on ‘Test of Battle’ (ToB). If you haven’t, what follows below is a brief description as to how ToB works. ToB allows players to create their own ‘Battle Groups’ which they can personalize within the constraints of the rules. With these ‘Battle Groups’ you and your opponent may then play a ToB game.

Before you may begin a ToB game each player must agree on period, then they must decide who uses what army. This shouldn’t normally be done at the last minute because it will delay the game with time spent devising your ‘Battle Groups’. Next players must agree on terrain--maps are included but players may create their own battlefield. After players have their army and a battlefield, they draw a mission. Each mission states which part of his army he may deploy on the battlefield and which part of his army arrives later as reinforcements. In addition, some missions allow for a flank march, and one modifies the end of game die roll. Each mission defines your objectives--that is to say, what you need to do to win the game. Neither player knows what the opponent’s mission might be but at the end of turn 5 both sides reveal what their mission is. The game is played until turn 8--at the end of turn 8 a die is rolled for the end of the game. If the die roll equals or exceeds the end of turn number the game is over. If not, the game continues until the next turn, and the end of game roll is repeated each turn until the game is over.

There is more than one way to win the game but there can only be one winner. The first method is an instant victory--a few of the missions allow for instant victory if a player achieves certain objectives within a very limited time frame. Instant victory is probably the most difficult to achieve. The next method of victory is controlling your objective at the end of the game. The final method is an attrition victory. If neither side has achieved its objectives then an attrition victory is possible. To determine attrition victory both players add up their attrition points and the highest side wins if his total is at least 100 points greater than his opponent--if the difference is less than 100 points the game is a draw. Attrition points are award for destroying at least half the stands in a company and for destroying battalion or higher commanders. Note: if four companies of four stands each lose one stand per company, the opponent would receive no points; however, if two companies of four stands each lost two stands per company the opponent would receive attrition points for two partially destroyed companies.

Points?? I know some of you find this dreadful, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. Points are the least painful way of creating diverse ‘Battle Groups’. Give it a try, and if you still hate it that’s OK, but please don’t write it off because of some preconceived notion about fairness or historical accuracy.

ToB has assigned points to all available units in the army list. As I said above, some of you, no doubt, will find this appalling, but, from a designer’s stand-point, there was no easier way to do ToB. For many years charts and matrixes were experimented with, but creating historical armies with plenty of choices was simply mind boggling. For me and Frank, points were the only solution. I might add the parameters defined in the army list create historically believable units. All organizational restrictions have been included to police the creation of your ‘Battle Groups’. I’m not claiming a person could make a ridiculous army (I don’t think it can be done but the world is too complex for me to make this assertion); however, this fictional ridiculous army would be no better than the other ‘Battle Groups’ created.

Now for the points--since I created the formulas for the points I will take the heat. All the costs of units are based on my formulas. The formulas include almost every rating a personnel stand, gun or vehicle might have. You might notice there are some classes of vehicles which have identical cost but not identical ratings. When this occurs, it’s because the rounding of the factors created numbers which were equal. An example of this is light trucks--all light trucks cost 5 points.

The formulas for ToB took about a year to complete. To begin with, I decided all base points would be rated as Regular and Morale 8--all other troop experience rating and morale levels are a plus or minus percentage of the base number. My initial version had a problem with infantry cost which was far less expensive when compared to the cost of an Armored Fighting Vehicle(s) (AFV). As it turned out, I changed the infantry formulas the most--at least three times. The formula for AFV was, surprisingly, the easiest to complete. In its evolution only minor changes were made--among them a slightly different formula for weak AFV evolved. Although the formula for AFV was the easiest to write, it is by far the most complex. As a point of information, the formula for AFV has no less than 16 factors, and some include over 20 factors. Some of the factors are not linear, while others are. Lastly, artillery was rather simple after I decided how to factor direct and indirect fire.

To briefly state the ToB point philosophy, the formulas are, of course, subjective, but the applications of the formulas are objective. Oh yes, I almost forgot…each nation gets a little something which is 5 points less than the formula dictates. What are they you ask?? It’s a secret known only to me and my imaginary friends.

The primary incentive for ToB was the CD mailer--for years there was lots of chatter about balanced scenarios. Many people were worried about game balance and how to create their own scenarios. In many groups one or only a handful would attempt to put on a game--the others seemed to break out in a sweat at the mention of them doing the next game. I believe the biggest reasons were a question of balance and a problem with Orders of Battle (OB). As a note, I noticed whenever I conducted a convention game, I invariably received requests for the scenario. I must say I was slightly surprised, because I usually made up the scenario. Yes, the scenario was similar to some combination of historical events but never close to exact. To quote Frank, ‘Glenn, history is my mistress but it’s your harlot’. I like to compare Frank and his type to Ken Burns and my style to Sam Peckinpah. Frank’s scenarios model the truth, mine on the other hand are more like epics--somehow the legend creeps in. For some of you, maybe most, you like Frank’s history, but for others, the “Wild Bunch’ out there, you know where I’m coming from.

At the very start of this project, ‘Test of Battle’ started with the following design goals:
1. The game could be played in less than four hours--hopefully three or less.
2. It would have clearly defined victory conditions.
3. Missions would be unknown and variable.
4. The battlefield (table) would have a finite size.
5. All armies would have a flexible OB.
6. Almost all the troops (AFV and soldiers – little army men) would be on the table. The few not on the table would not require any secret map or bookkeeping.

In most of the groups with which I’ve been involved with games, there are time constraints--three to four hours seems the norm. With this in mind, we decided a game should be on average 9 turns. Some games end on turn eight, but others are longer--around nine or ten turns seems about right.

In many scenarios the game has foggy victory conditions--with ToB they are clearly defined.

To add to the fog and friction of our little wars we decided on keeping victory conditions unknown to the opponent. In some cases you can make a guess, but if you guess wrong it could cost you the game.

Deciding on the battlefield size was a debate, because most new systems use a four by six table. For and Frank this seemed a little restrictive, so we recommend a six by six table. The game may still be played on a four by six table, and we give guidance on how to do this.

From the very beginning we decided on the ‘Battle Group’ concept. All we needed to do was make them historically believable with as many choices as possible. The ‘Command Decision’ rules book come with a late war generic list for the US, UK, USSR and German battle group. More specific lists will follow for other nations and time periods.

Another major decision was to throw out the concept of hidden counter. For me and Frank, half the fun of our hobby is our little army men--seeing a half empty table seems mighty boring to us. We do have rules for a few hidden stands, and we also have phantom stands. It seems to me if you’re playing a miniatures game, you should see the miniatures, not little cardboard counters or an empty table.

Design History
After I created the initial formulas and calculated the points, I fashioned two army lists: one German and the other American. The list was a composite 1944 OB for the Germans and Americans. I started with the basic unit, which is now called the ‘Holding Force’. For both armies it was basically a reinforced infantry battalion, and you had your choice to make this force Regular 8, Experienced 8 or Veteran 9. Any points left over could be spent on augmenting this force. Next a player created a ‘Reserve Force’ and an ‘Assault Reserve’, which could be anything on the list. The total units in your ‘Battle Group’ could never exceed the limits on your army list.

The original play-test was conducted by me, Jake Strangeway, and Marc Raiff. The first battle was a meeting engagement and the winner was...I don’t remember?? After the battle, I did some more tinkering, and Jake and I had a second play-test which ended in a draw. What was interesting about the game was the almost complete loss of our company commanders, which is the primary reason for the company commander replacement rule,

After two play-test games, I had a solid foundation to make further changes. I had, at this time, only two missions, but this was about to change. When conferring with Frank about the progress of system, I learned he wanted random missions with mission objectives unknown to the other side. After a few emails, we settled on the current selections and spent much time in redefining the mission objectives.

To simplify this system, it was decided each side would have two objectives placed on the player’s side of the battlefield. One of the objectives was revealed to the opponent while the other remained hidden until spotted or the end of turn 5, whichever came first. Why are some objective known and other unknown? In my reading of US Company and Battalion battle accounts, I noticed as soon as an objective was achieved the units were immediately assigned another. Yes, in some of the accounts there was some resentment, but what’s a soldier to do?

At this time we confirmed our desire games would usually last at least eight turns, but the exact end of the game would be unknown.

After many more play-test games, the system ended up pretty much where it is now. The next issue to decide was what to do about the early and mid war points. My dilemma was the late war point cost of AFV was pretty high--using the same points for early and mid war lists would create very large armies and make the game difficult for two players. In order to fix this problem, we changed the points allowed for early and mid-war.

If you are in this hobby for history, and only history, Test of Battle might not fit your needs. On the other hand, if you love gaming, little tanks, and even smaller army men, I suggest you try Test of Battle.

Test of Battle has rules for points, army size, battlefield size, number of objectives and length of game. If any of these do not fit your needs, go ahead and make any changes you desire. There are no Command Decision “police”, and, until I win the lottery, there are no plans for such a force.