Mass and Economy of Force

Mass and Economy

Mass and Economy of Force
with Chris Jackson

To me, the hallmark of a well-designed wargame is how well using historically correct tactics, techniques, and procedures translates into successful results on the game table. I have found that the WWIII: Team Yankee and Flames Of War systems both reward the use of correct doctrine. Therefore I believe those who want to improve on the game table should learn more about the doctrine behind those tactics and how it developed. With that knowledge they can then apply what they learned to their little plastic soldiers and see greater success on the battlefield. The first step in this process would be learning the 9 Principles of War.

MOOSEMUSS is the acronym the US Army teaches its soldiers to help them remember all nine. The letters stand for Mass, Offensive, Objective, Simplicity, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Security and Surprise.  So let’s discuss how we can turn these Official sounding words into tabletop victories.

MASS: This refers to the concentrating of combat power at the decisive point. It means nothing more complex than focussing your effort. Military lore has it that for an attack on a prepared position to succeed the attacker will need a 3-1 advantage in combat power. How on Earth can a gamer accomplish this in a game where both sides are guaranteed the same amount of forces at the beginning? This is probably the hardest technique to master. The tools you have to accomplish this task are range, smoke, and terrain.

Mass is achieved by two methods, physical presence and weight of fire. It is more easily accomplished in games that run from long edge to long edge. There is physically more space to place your forces so they can fire on and affect the decisive point. It becomes much more difficult in No Retreat where you only have a 4 foot/100cm space to deploy your forces.

Mass and Economy

The corollary is true for the defender, it being much easier for them to mass on a 4 foot board than a 6 foot board, as they must spread their forces out to cover the additional space. In all cases, success depends on your proper management of the real estate on the table. When you deploy, you have to have in mind the avenues of approach, where your forces will advance on the enemy, and your avenues of fire, where your forces will engage the enemy. If you do not, you will block your own shots, you will fail to mass on the enemy and he will destroy you piecemeal. Range and terrain are important tools you use to deny enemy return fire either by picking an avenue of approach that blocks the Line of Sight from the most dangerous units or is outside (or inside, don’t forget minimum range) their effective range. Smoke is essentially temporary tall terrain that you have the ability to place. Use it accordingly. On the offense, you determine where to go, how you want to get there, and who does the actual going. You then deploy with that in mind. Factor in what units have longer range, and what units you want to protect more and prioritize them getting the use of concealing terrain. Some units need to be stationary to be effective, so their placement also needs consideration. If you do not have enough terrain to support this, then you have to prioritize. 

Mass and Economy

In the defense this is much harder. You have to defend two points while your opponent can focus on only one. You also have to account for reserves, which further deplete your forces even if only temporarily. To be successful, you must use the assets you have to channel the enemy into the area where you want him to die. The U.S. Army calls this “Building an Engagement Area”. The only problem with this most excellent plan is the enemy gets a vote, and since he probably isn’t interested in dying today, he isn’t going to want to go where you want him to die. How do you force him to? You have to make going that way more appealing than his other options. You have several tools to help you in this endeavor.  Going chronologically in game sequence, the first option you have is the placement of objectives. Defenders generally place objectives first, when they get to place them at all, and since one of the goals of placing objectives is to spread the defenders out as much as possible, when the defender gets to place the first objective, he is almost always also selecting the general area of where the attacker places his. 

Mass and Economy

This is especially powerful in No Retreat. The second tool is minefields. Put them where you don’t want him to go. They should be tied to impassable terrain as much as possible and be overwatched by fire. An unwatched minefield is a breached minefield. Artillery ranged in markers should also be sited where you don’t want him to go. If he has Air Defense Artillery to counter your air, place your ranged in markers to deny him the hiding places to put them. If he has a covered and concealed route into your defensive position, place them so he gets steel rain the whole way in.  Finally, don’t forget your ambush.  It is the best way to achieve mass at the point of decision. Select your ambush unit based on whatever you believe will be your opponent’s main effort.  Whatever he is relying on to take your objective or kill your little toy soldiers, your ambush should be geared to killing it. PAK 40s versus tanks, HMG platoon versus infantry, or even ADA if your opponent is aircraft centric. Reserves come into the fight and add their weight where needed most. They help the defender achieve mass at the decisive point. 

The Art of Reserves

The corollary of Mass is Economy of Force. In the real world, the commander requires Economy of Force because he has a limited number of assets to allocate to multiple requirements. It is the same in the game, with the added requirement that in most cases, the opponent has an equivalent force, something a real world commander would strive mightily to prevent. To win, one side must tie down a substantial portion of the enemy force with a token force of his own. This is best seen in missions such as Rearguard, Encounter, and Free for All.  In these missions, whoever is acting as the aggressor threatens one of the opponent’s objectives with enough force to prevent them from moving to reinforce the defenders on the other objective, where the bulk of the friendly forces are attacking or in the case of Rearguard, be available to be withdrawn. 

For example, a 4 vehicle German armored recon platoon or light tank platoon holding a position just out of sight, but within one turn of threatening the objective would force a US Infantry platoon and anti-tank platoon to remain in place because neither would be able to defend against them confidently on their own. The infantry has weak antitank capability and the AT guns could be maneuvered on so as to negate defensive fire. So we see 4-6 points of friendly forces tying down 3-4 times that number of enemy combat power. Key to success is not being too aggressive and losing friendly forces. You are more potent just sitting there out of sight but close, than you would be engaging and risking being whittled down.

This will conclude our lesson on Mass and Economy of Force. In the next article I will cover Offensive, Objective, and Simplicity.

Last Updated On Thursday, March 5, 2020 by Luke at Battlefront