I got this interesting email from Mike today. I’m sharing my response below!
I’m not familiar with the Columbia system, but I do see a close relationship with the PB philosophy and that of Phil Barker’s De Bellis Antiquitatis system. This game covers the ancient era, and there is no step loss, either the unit is fine, retreating, or eliminated. In his Designer notes he says (as well as I remember), “that games that track unit losses and morale levels and such were not accomplishing anything as far as giving the feel of battle to the commander. All he would have known is if his unit was pushing the enemy back, or if it was giving ground, or running in headlong flight, and that’s all the info the game gives you. Over time you see the well regulated army formations breaking up and order eroding away. This forces you to commit more command resources to just holding your army together.” This is what PB does beautifully as well.
Yes, I’ve thought along similar lines. When we started Pub Battles, we actually tracked casualties on a separate sheet. This creates more work. It’s not too bad. The big reason we dropped it? It “looked” complicated. It also takes up more table space. Not good for playing out. It is a valid model in some respects.
I’ve seen many games go way too far! You know the complete status of every regiment or battalion at all times: men, combat factor, defense factor, morale, unit cohesion, even ammo level. Lots of computer games do this. It might be an interesting model in some ways but no commander knows all that as the battle is unfolding. Even if you did, why sit around and analyze tables of stats during a battle? There are lots of people to talk to a deal with! This looks more like an accounting exercise than actual leadership or command.
That is kind of the way it feels playing Total War also. Either your troops are rested, supplied, in good order and ready to do something, or they are all disheveled from their last bout or they are totally shattered and streaming from the field. What more do you need to know? What more can you know as a commander?
If you want more detail than that, it really should revolve around your communication and relationships with your subordinate commanders. Timing. Planning. Communicating. How can you win with those tools?