Prussian Space-Time Theory & The OODA Loop
The following is from a short guide I am writing on contemporary, amateur wargame design that I plan on working on for the next few years:
2.2.1 Prussian Space-Time Theory & The OODA Loop
OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, act, and in military terms is usually referred to how quickly a force can act upon receiving new information. One of the most severe historical examples of this concept in action is the first few months of the Franco Prussian War in 1870. The French army, who was highly regarded by most of Europe at this point, was utterly destroyed and conquered in less than 2-3 months by a united Germany. While the armies looked somewhat even on paper, the French army was constantly paralyzed by an inability to act. A commander would get shot and the unit would wait for hours until receiving orders to act. Troops would fail to follow the sound of guns without direct orders to do so, and the French army structure was simply incapable of this kind of flexibility given the French tradition of having the Emperor (Napoleon III at that time) command the whole army. While this worked for his uncle Bonaparte, Napoleon III was no tactical genius and suffering from gout for most of the war, he eventually was surrounded and gave up his empire on September 1st at the Battle of Sedan.
The Prussian army on the other hand, was in a perfect position to exploit this inflexibility because wargaming had come up with a new warfighting concept loosely translated as Mission Command. Mission Command meant empowering officers at a tactical level make decisions based on their own their own initiative and experience. The main result of these ideas being the Prussians were able to do several things in the time it took the French to do one thing. This breakthrough was simply too decisive for the French to make use of their superior technology or numbers in instances where they had the edge, like at Mars La Tour how the whole of the French army basically froze unable to retreat because of the harassment from a few Prussian corps.
There is a solid reason I went into this tangent, it’s because this phenomenon in military history is something that would be relatively easy to abstract and replicate in game form, it's also necessary to do for a wargame. Let's say you are designing a card game on this conflict, and each card in your hand represented various maneuvers your forces could make. Germany could, for example, have 5 cards in their hand as opposed to 4 for the French. That example is fairly quaint but the same concept applies on a number of levels. In a chit pull wargame, where units would be activated by drawing markers randomly out of a cup, we could put several activation chits for the Prussian units and only several for the French, meaning the Prussian side can act more times during a turn. A final example i’ll use is the idea of initiative, say units have a rating, 2-5 that represent their ability to think on their feet. We could give Prussian infantry brigades an infantry of 3 compared to a two for the french. Initiative would then be checked during a turn if units were, for example, outside of the command range of a leader.
Your ability to synthesize your research into concrete ideas for game design will ultimately depend on your knowledge of the topic and experience. In the most crude sense, you are simply applying abstractions and probabilities to your research, but depending on the scale, it can become more complicated. What I’d like you to take from this tangent is that a wargame must reflect actual history and not just simply in theme, if you are going to design mechanics around history, you need players to feel as though they are taking part in history, and the best way to do so is immerse them into the subject through relevant mechanics that require them to focus on the bigger picture.