Anything but pitched battle
By far the most common game played in wargaming must be the ‘pitched battle’. This generally involves both sides lining up balanced forces and fighting it out until, usually, only one side remains (with maximum kill points earnt). Pitched battles are certainly simple - which probably explains their general popularity.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of the pitched battle, despite all its simplicity. It just seems strange to me: each side is hemmed in and stuck on the ‘sandbox’ which makes up the wargaming table. They are artifically stuck with (more or less - endless debate here) equal forces, both unable to voluntarily retreat or unable to outflank the enemy off table (hough some games and specific scenarios can have clever ways to get past these limitations). I often wondered if any real life commander ever faced such artificial boundaries. Sure, they can be challenging, but this generally means taking the best advantage of terrain or being lucky enough to have the right kind of terrain on your side of the table.
When I was given the opportunity to write Siege and Conquest for Warhammer Ancient Battles, I was determined the scenarios be varied, including raids and ambushes, and in fact included almost anything but pitched battle. Likewise, when writing the scenarios for Black Ops, I wanted a wide variety which would reflect the challenges of asymmetrical warfare - whereas pitched battle surely is the archetypical symmetrical scenario. Sure, you will find a pitched battle in there, but it is one scenario compared with the 36 potential ‘stealth’ scenarios in the book. War is not fair and typically involves unbalanced forces and I believe games should reflect this. Moreover, eliminating the enemy might not be the primary objective. Black Ops scenarios typically have one objective which determines success or failure of the mission, not killing the enemy. In fact, in stealth missions killing the enemy is the best way to raise the alarm.
So while there is nothing ‘wrong’ with the pitched battle scenario, I would ask gamers, and perhaps more importantly, game designers, to think out of the box. Games should be more varied and involve a host of scenarios with differently sized forces and different objectives (beyond eliminating more of the enemy). I do have some ideas about varying victory conditions further, dependent on the army depicted. Some armies or factions will be very cautious about gaining casualties, others will care more about remaining undetected or keeping their own casualties out of sight. These ideas haven’t quite taken form yet, but I’m sure they will adorn the pages of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy some time…