Monday, 5 August 2013

On the nature of friction....

Take one carefully planned operation...

While this wasn't Operation: It's A Small World After All, it was planned with an alarming degree of precision.

And yet the timescale went to pot inside 2 minutes of reaching objective 1 (Magic Kingdom main entrance), because several members of Section #2 decided they needed the loo. The operation also suffered from mission creep ("Ooo, look, that ride we were saving for our second visit only has a 15 minute wait, let's do it now!") at least twice ("We could do Buzz Lightyear before we go") with the wrong personnel ("You do know your mother won't want to do that, right?), as well as random events ("Ah. Looks like the heavens just opened while we were in PhilharMagic", "Why is the queue for "it's a small world" four times longer than we expected?"), etc.

End result, we left the park 2 hours later than planned, hot and tired, and then spent 20 minutes longer than planned getting off Disney lands due to signage and map-reading issues.

This, folks, is what von Clausewitz calls friction:
“Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war. 
”Countless minor incidents – the kind you can never really foresee – combine to lower the general level of performance, so that one always falls short of the intended goal. 
“Action in war is like movement in a resistant element. Just as the simplest and most natural form of movements, walking, cannot easily be performed in water, so in war it is difficult for normal efforts to achieve even the most moderate results. 
“Friction, as we choose to call it, is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult.” 
If something as simple as a trip to Magic Kingdom can't happen without friction getting in the way, when the most dangerous things we encountered are my mother-in-law, large American tourists with heavy backpacks and a Florida afternoon thunderstorm, why should we be so naive as to believe that a military action involving real bullets will go exactly as its commander wishes?

Why does this matter?

It boils down to the question: are you a gamer, or a wargamer? Do you claim to be interested in gaming for its own sake, or because you want to command a historically accurate force in encounters that bear a resemblance to what might have happened in real life, using authentic tactics of the period?

If the latter, I'm not entirely sure how you can without at least paying some attention to the concept of friction in your rules.

Now, does anyone fancy running Operation: It's A Small World After All using (say) Charlie Don't Surf?


  1. Good post- did you try nuking it from orbit?

  2. A typical day out for many, plans go awry, delays and incursions happen all this does create plenty of friction, Great post enjoy the rest of your trip

  3. Brilliant post! Had a big laugh reading it

  4. Lol! Great post. Hope you are having a great time.

  5. Excellent post, Mike. I am well familiar with the friction of excited children visiting theme parks!! Have a great time, all the same!

  6. My own views on friction are two-fold. I friend of mine, a non-wargamer, once remarked that in the only war game he ever played in (with 'Charge!' type rules) he found it difficult to achieve what he wanted to achieve, simply because it took several turns to do much of anything at all (and this with quite generous move allowances!). I felt the same in early games. What he was experiencing was, in my view, something very akin to the friction von Clausewitz was talking about.

    For the rest, that is where the apparent movement rates and time scales comes in. Although we might suppose that any given turn represents, say, one minute; yet a 12 move battle seems to 'feel' more like half a day - call it 6 hours (or 12 half-hours). That 'friction' we are talking about is subsumed in the missing 29 minutes per half-hour.

    For mine, I like this explanation as it frees me to ignore friction for the most part. The rest will be taken up in the chance reactions to events by units and formations.

    Just by the way, one possible method of introducing 'friction' in a real sense is simply to have the figures individually based...

    1. I do, though, venture to disagree with your 'lost 29 minutes' argument - it still assumes that given enough time, things will work out, and what happens in those 29 mins will not be pounced on by your opponent, as by some miracle he'll also spend those 29 mins only sorting out HIS issues.

      Hrm - the more I think about that the less I buy it :)


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