One of the motivating factors behind the TOCS design and development was a litany of pet peeves that I had with other games that resulted in tactics that were either illogical or close to suicidal. In my opinion, when gaming the system becomes necessary to win, it cheapens the entire experience. Designing a game that is fun, simulates reality fairly well, but is still very much a game, is a challenge. Listing all the quirks that irked me in other games was a good way to remind myself of the things that should not be part of the TOCS system design. Here is my list of design limitations found in most games:
Omniscient views of the entire map provides the enemy with information they would not have known about. There is no way to pull off a surprise attack by massing in one area because the opponent sees everything. While some games allow concealment and/or dummy markers, allowing counters to be hidden or placed off-map, and/or preventing stacks from being examined, these game mechanics are all trying to compensate for the fact that it is still mostly an omniscient game. In comparison, a double-blind game has none of these issues. If you have ever read any of the US Army in World War II series, aka the Green Books, you would agree that no one had a full understanding of enemy intentions or disposition. The TOCS system by design focused primarily on creating that same fog-of-war that the actual commanders had to deal with.
Factoring up to the next CRT column
Factoring up on combats to achieve the next CRT table odds column is not only time consuming but it becomes boring for the opponent to watch; in general, it slows down game play while each player tries to make that perfect attack. Players spend too much time trying to factor up to the next odds column and not developing good military practices. Often the reconnaissance units are the ones thrown into the battle as the last factor to get to the next column shift, whereas in reality the reconnaissance units would be the first in the battle, performing the job they are intended for. These effects are a fallout of the omniscient game where battles can be predicted before they are fought and where reconnaissance units have no special capabilities. In the TOCS double-blind system, players don’t bother factoring up combat odds because they have no idea what the enemy strength is. Instead it is far better to focus on whether the battle is properly planned and supported. The TOCS system design has factored in all of the combined arms activities into a simple CRT table that rewards good planning with supporting elements. This alone changes the entire way that players approach planning battles.
Combat strength alone wins battles
In many of the classical games it is obvious by looking at the CRT that a 3:1 combat will win the hex, but at some cost in casualties. At higher CRT columns the attackers casualties drop off. I always had an issue to this because it couldn’t explain how only a few well supported soldiers could hold off an enemy force that out numbered them 7:1 or up to 10:1. In these games, it meant that the attacker needed to roll poorly and that the CRT had at least one “-“ no effect for the defender. Situations where the defenders were outnumbered and holding off wave after wave just didn’t appear to be modeled properly.
Over time, the gaming industry started introducing changes to make the game combat systems better model how battles are really fought, but they still had limitations due to the omniscient vantage point. In contrast the TOCS double-blind system hides the enemy’s strength so that players focus on what they need to win the battle. The result is, a smaller force that coordinates its capabilities well can defeat a larger force that doesn’t bring its capabilities to bear. In TOCS, focus is put on capabilities and not shear combat strength.
Igo-ugo systems where everything can move
Many of the classical are systems alternate player turns where every unit can move. This typically resulted in a mass withdrawal and a wave of attacking units hitting the new line, repeating itself over and over until the attacker was weak enough for the defender to now counterattack. This had a few drawbacks, like making it hard to breakthrough and exploit. Later games introduced a double impulse Igo-Igo-ugo-ugo to try to compensate for blitzkrieg-type breakthroughs and exploitation.
The TOCS system player turns are resolved as a series of alternating interactive Operational Impulses where players spend OPs, which is a form of logistical military currency to activate units. This TOCS design concept has several significant affects on game play, strategy and tactics within the double-blind system. Since OPs limit how many pieces can be activated, players must prioritize what is urgent and important, the rest will just need to wait. As a result, battles are planned and executed to consume the fewest OPs to accomplish the desired outcome, leaving the remaining OPs to conduct additional actions. The lack of unlimited OPs means that the logistical effort of the entire Division must be considered, resulting in night turns being used to Refit and move units closer to the front.
The short interactive impulses make game play fast and keeps both players involved and results in only a few battles per impulse. The end result is a fast paced game that allows players to act and react each impulse to swiftly developing situations, where battles result in ambushes, engagements, breakthroughs and exploitations within a fluid battle space.
Reconnaissance within the battle space
One of the biggest problems that I experienced in most games was just how unimportant the reconnaissance units are when you can see everything. Every account I have ever read about reconnaissance units impressed me on their speed and agility and just how elusive they were. To my disappointment, I had yet to find a game that properly models these important units that were the Division’s eyes on the ground.
The TOCS system by design needed to model these reconnaissance unit properly and it turned out in a double-blind system it was relatively easy. Reconnaissance is one of the primary means of finding the enemy units and avoiding being ambush while moving. Performing reconnaissance identifies if a hex is empty or occupied and whether it contains any defenses or facilities. It also provides a combat advantage if a battle occurs in that hex. In the TOCS system, empty hexes that are not in EZOC (Enemy Zone Of Control) immediately become friendly hexes, allowing a swarm of small reconnaissance units to erode an enemy perimeter pretty quickly. While most unit types could perform reconnaissance, the Reconnaissance Units will perform it much more efficiently, which is why most Divisions always include a Reconnaissance Battalion. In TOCS, reconnaissance is absolutely essential. Otherwise, your units would be stumbling around in the dark.
ZOCs disappear when the unit moves away
One aspect of omniscient games is that when the unit moves away the ZOC moves away with it, which makes sense ZOC is based on the unit’s ability to interdict enemy movement in adjacent hexes. But that didn’t appear to be the case in many things I had read, where it was unknown that the enemy had withdrawn and units in the area were cautious or were even preparing for an attack on a now empty area. The omniscient game doesn’t handle this well, but the double-blind TOCS game system does. The problem was if you announced the EZOC was no longer there, the enemy would immediately know about it. Again this simply would not model it correctly.
This was actually very easy to resolve from a design objective, by making all EZOC persistent until reconnaissance or movement determine that it is now an empty hex. Since TOCS is based on alternating interactive player Operational Impulses, reconnaissance is often performed on the same hexes to determine if the enemy disposition has changed, just like in real life. The persistent EZOCs represent a lack of intelligence that resulted from civilian misinformation, rumors, indecision, fear mongering or procrastination leading to troops being cautious.
Units having too few states of degradation
In many games the units have too few states to represent their current capabilities. In many classical binary game systems units are either good-order or they have been destroyed. To compensate for this, some game counters have a flip side to indicate reduced strength. While in other games, the concept of “hits” or Step Losses was introduced. However, any other activity the unit does has no affect on the units combat effectiveness, such as moving, digging in or any number of activities. For example, a unit that continually moves will lose combat effectiveness due to exhaustion, thirst and hunger. Going into combat after a forced march implies a risk of lowering combat performance.
The TOCS system models casualties with Step Losses for reduced combat strength, and a series of worsening degraded states that model unit performance and cohesiveness. There are many things that cause units to degrade, such as being activated to perform any action or combat, or being shelled by artillery or attacked by aircraft, or being forced to retreat, or stumbling into a minefield. All units start off as good-order and then can transition to fatigued, disordered, disrupted, demoralized and, finally, dispersed. This allows Commanding Officers to drive units into the ground at the expense of being more vulnerable. However, the TOCS double-blind system does not announce this to the enemy, allowing units and sections of the front to be in a hazardous situation but hidden. Aggressive play results in this all the time, but it remains secret.
Artillery and Air Missions are not modeled
I found that in omniscient games artillery was used to factor up the attacking or defending combat strength, or that it might be used to target enemy units for an attack. When I started studying the employment of artillery in WWII from a battery, Battalion, Regiment and an entire artillery network, I realized that many games do not model what they were capable of. The same held true for all the different air missions that were available to the Commanding Officer if he had ordered them through his air liaison officer, or that could occur within the battle space as an autonomous activities.
So the need to model these properly in the TOCS system was an essential design objective. The TOCS system allows artillery to provide support for battles, perform artillery strikes, bombardments, fire interdiction, and counter battery fire. The accuracy is improved based on reconnaissance, forward observes and aerial spotter missions. Modeling counter-battery fire allows units on hills or aircraft acting as an observer to see hexes that fire (by seeing gun flashes and smoke) to give away their position, allowing friendly artillery units to counter battery fire on those hexes.
Psychology within the battle space
It’s pretty hard to bluff in an omniscient game where the opponents can study the map, the OOB and the victory conditions intently, in addition to seeing everything on the map board. In many of the classical games, I’ve tried to unnerve opponents by simply moving fast and confidently and then paying almost no attention to the opponent’s move, while I stare at an area of the map that I’m not interested in, just to focus his attention there. In an omniscient game, it is not possible to strip a front and mass in another area without the enemy knowing about it, so my options were pretty limited.
In the TOCS double-blind system the ability to bluff is ever present. As a player, you need to train yourself to ignore everything unless the game mechanics proves it true. It is hard to explain what it is like playing within a blind system; there are a lot of things that cross your mind that manifests itself as “fear of the unknown”. There could be boogymen in every hex, or there could be no one in the area. Every time the enemy spends all his OPs in secret and not change the perimeter, you fear the worse. It plays on your anxiety level, but in a good way. It also hones your skills on how to deal with limited intelligence situations, which lead to developing tactics and plans. Eventually, you simply execute your plans against an enemy perimeter using these newly developed skills. The TOCS system provides such a wide range of actions that can be sequenced to handle almost any situation. Bluff becomes part of the arsenal, but a skilled opponent will simply ignore you.
Ambush is impossible in omniscient games
Over and over, I read of units that when moving had run into an ambush. But I recognized that in omniscient games you can’t enter an enemy hex, because you ran into his ZOC in the hex adjacent to the enemy unit. So one of the design objectives was to properly handle ambush attacks. In the TOCS double-blind system, ambushes are a bad thing that should be avoided through proper reconnaissance to locate enemy occupied hexes before anyone accidentally moves into it. However, you don’t always have reconnaissance units handy, or the pace of the battle warrants the occasional ambush.
Take, for example, the Soviets. The fastest way to find the Germans is to move your worst troops into their hex and suffer the ambush. This is a great use of those penal battalion units. As the defender, when an enemy unit moves or performs reconnaissance you can decide whether you want to announce EZOC in adjacent hexes. Announcing EZOC definitely broadcasts that there is an enemy Company nearby. However, not announcing EZOC masks the presence and improves the opportunity to ambush an aggressive unit.
Attacks all have the same result regardless of time
In many games, the combat result is the same regardless of whether your units started adjacent or had to move up to the line and attack. This means that there was no difference in attacks or the preparation that goes into them, instead it is a simplified move and attack game system.
The TOCS system had to handle different types of attacks, such as the attack that happens when you come off a march. This is known as a Hasty Attack. There is also the ‘advance to contact’ attack where units move and then launch a Deliberate Attack. Then there is the prepared attack of an adjacent hex known as an Intensive Attack. This design concept of hasty, deliberate and intensive attack results in different combat results on the CRT table. An example, if a smaller force wants to pin a larger force, launching a Hasty Attack will result in fewer combat losses and an increased probability of being locked in an engagement battle. This would allow reserves to move up and join the battle without having suffering losses because the defended is currently engaged against the first wave.
This list could just go on and on, but you can see the limitations in how omniscient games were being designed, and how some newer designs tried to compensate for these issues. They just weren’t designed from the ground up to model what happens in real life. As a training system from military cadets and officers, this wasn’t going to fly. The TOCS system broke down every aspect of military activity into primitive actions and then worked to find how they would be represented within a game framework. This was a daunting task, but as the pieces of the puzzle started falling into place, it resulted in a very playable system. I am proud to say that all of my pet peeves with games in general were designed out of the TOCS system, and that the TOCS system models maneuver and combat better than any other game that I have ever played. It is our hope at Brick Mill Games that the TOCS system offers you the opportunity to experience a gaming environment different than any other… and that the 35 years in development was well worth the wait.