Design Notes

The Operational Combat Model System is designed to provide a 'view' of operational level military actions for many different historical eras. The ‘basic system’ can easily cover combats from ancient history, to future operations, with only minor changes in terms of ratings, and scale. Thus the system provides a common thread for a large number of games, and coverage for many conflicts.

The initial project series is "The Second World War - European Theater", covering Europe and Africa from 1939 - 1945. Other series will cover the Pacific Theater, and the China-Burma-India Theater from that war. Also planned are series for World War I, and other eras.

Who is the player representing?

The player (assuming only 1 per side) represents the highest operational level command in the theater for the forces on each side. Teams may divide this up by service, nation, or area; but the focus for the player is the same, control of the forces, and attaining the objective set down by the national command authority. This system in enables players to gain experience in specific areas, enhancing group play by making command at the branch level a value to a team. In effect, the system opens the doors not only to the ‘panzer jock’, but to all branch and specialty ‘jocks’ allowing a player to offer a contribution to any group or gathering. It also encourages writing on these topics at the community level, study, practice, learn and become the admiral or air marshal as well as an army general!

The game focus level:

The focus of this series is on the operational level of command, with the needed strategic inputs and limits applied to it. To make it clear, it is best to review what is meant by the various ‘levels’ of war: The following is adapted to game conditions from "The Art of Maneuver" by Robert Leonhard (Presidio Press, Novato CA, 1991).


Planning Level

Structure (action)

Execution level

Strategic National Objectives
Theater Goals
National Command Authority
Operational Campaigns
Major Operations
Theater, Army Group, Army
Tactical Battles
Corps, Division, Brigade, Battalion

A more detailed definition of these (for game purposes) is:

1. Strategic: The planning level that is responsible for applying military means to achieve national aims; The planning level that develops war plans and theater goals.

This represents the decisions made by the national command authority to fight, and to set down the overall objectives of the ‘war effort’ - the desired ‘end state’ conditions to be reached though the actions of the military forces. It covers mobilization, and equipping of forces, the decision of what theaters to create, and the allocation of force created to theaters.

In the game this is represented by the ‘mission statement’ for the respective commanders, which sets down what their respective leadership pictures as ‘victory’ for the guidance of the theater commander (player) to strive for. This is the condition that should be used as part of the discussion of the level of victory achieved in the game. Note should be made that the national command authority, and the theater commander may be the same (or very close) in some situations, The USSR for example against the Germans. IN other cases very distant indeed, The British in the Mediterranean theater for example, where the directives to ‘help Greece’ change the course (or destination) of the possible victory in the theater (strategic goals override the operational ones).

2. Operational: The planning level that constructs campaigns and major operations in order to accomplish the theater goals articulated at the strategic planning level; the intermediate planning level that integrates tactical efforts and events into a campaign.

A campaign is a series of related joint actions (air, sea, land) designed to achieve theater goals. A major operation is defined as a subset of a campaign - the link between specific battles and the overall campaign. Thus the strategic goals set determine the planning for the theater (campaign) and with that determine the tactical (battles) that are intended to be joined.

You, as the player, are primarily concerned with this part of the process, guiding the campaign to achieve the strategic goal assigned to your forces. Fail to achieve that, and no matter what else you may do, you have failed.

3. Tactical: The planning level that deals with battles and engagements. In the game actual combat actions.

A battle is a direct conflict between large tactical units (corps, divisions) that have been committed as part of a major operation. An engagement is a subset of a battle, fought by divisions and smaller units on a scale that develops incidentally (even accidentally) in relationship to the plan. For example, an engagement can occur unexpectedly as two forces are moving. The key concept (for the players) is that in order for a battle or engagement to be relevant, it must be directly related to the campaign plan. Indeed, history abounds with examples of battles that should have not been fought and that were irrelevant to the outcome of the campaign.

The player is responsible to ensure that the correct forces are used to accomplish missions, to further the campaign. You (to use the cooking analogy), ‘season’ the basic force with the ‘spices’ provided by non-divisional units to make the chance of success as high as possible, at the lowest cost in losses to your own forces. The actual deployment, force structuring (in the battle), and conduct of the actual tactical actions are ‘below’ your level and handled by the corps and lower level commanders not shown in the game. You ‘give them the tools’ in effect.

The impact of planning: A study of military history makes clear that the demands of the three planning levels of war are often in competition. Indeed it is fundamental to recognize that for example, what is good for the tactical plan may be counterproductive for the operational plan and that planning in warfare must deliberately prioritize among the objectives of the three levels. The priorities are clear for the player, what the strategic plan demands, the operational art must supply. Likewise the tactical objectives must slavishly submit to the operational plan, or they lead to ineffective, and often costly, diversions.

The player should make plans, and conduct actions, remaining constant with this architecture which will lead to attaining the ‘victory’ goal set. Effective planning, organization, and maintaining of the objective are vital to success in the game as in real life.

Players should note that maneuver is as vital a tool for the commander as is direct combat. Reduction in enemy combat power by supply reduction, or increasing friendly combat power by attacking from multiple directions are part of the change in emphasis in this system from others. Maneuver is elevated to parity with pure combat power to reward superior planning and execution of operations more than just the ability to mass firepower against a target.

The map and ‘detail’: The map is NOT a detailed study of the terrain, but instead is focused on the areas of concern for the operational commander. Thus general terrain features, and transportation routes are shown, but terrain is ‘graded’ as to the relative ability to pass through it for large forces (the presence of a single road would render the area almost impassable due to the funnel effect on a large force). Note that towns and such have NO effect on combat at this level, while large urban areas do. Transport lines, and ports are of high importance to large scale operations, and have a greater level of representation accordingly.

Comments on specific rules:


Stacking in the series is designed to show the numbers of units that can be easily fitted into the areas the hexes display. The three (3) stacking types help point this out as well, making the planning ‘fit’ to the real world space situations. We are dealing with some pretty wide variations in space representations, (the full hex is 250.28 square miles, while Betio island (the main action inthe Tarawa operation) is 0.45 square miles!). It is vital to show a scale for stacking to eliminate many of the ‘gamer’ options that emerge when ‘land is land’ and the land mass of the hex is clearly NOT the same as the full hex.

Game Turn:

The game divides time into 15 day increments. There are 365.25 days in a year, so division here provides for 24.35 ‘turns’. This does cause some minor changes in months, (February picks up a couple days), other lose a day. This ‘packaging’ is accepted to maintain the turns as half a month for ease of historical reference (not just a turn sequence number). Think of it as part of the ‘skewing’ that is mandated by having the rivers follow hex sides. Just as we cannot actually invade the USSR on the 22nd of June, or France on 10 May, but have to skew to the closest turn ‘date’ for play purposes.

Please remember that this is a ‘I go - You go" game system, so it is the entire game turn that covers 15 days, with the player turns showing events in the EXACT same 15 days, not one nations forces acting and another acting in the next few days. The mechanics of the game create an artificial separation of activity.

Ground Movement:

The unit movement ratings are based on the 5 day period, with the ratings scaled to show the best movement rate the unit can obtain in clear terrain, and friendly territory. ALL movement then scales from this starting point. Instead of tracking the movement rate from the tactical view, it is from the ‘administrative’ viewpoint. The change over to this system eliminates all this ‘fuss’ and makes movement much simpler.

Rail networks:

The system now integrates movement of troop units, with the transport of supplies. It also allows the integration of the impact of transport system damage on national production systems. The system shows consistency for material shipment by land, sea and air. It also brings into bear the impact of actions such as air attack, and partisan activity on all aspects of railroad operations, and the resulting impact on military operations.

Hasty Attack:

The traditional ‘automatic victory’ attack by overwhelming odds is presented with the more accurate ‘hasty attack’. The moving force tries to ‘bull’ its way through the enemy force without stopping and fully deploying (as in a ‘combat’ type attack). The change gives the defenders the option to ‘delay’ or ‘DIP’ (die in place) based on force committed to the hex.

Limited intelligence and Deception units:

This brings the "fog of war" into the game at a recognized and official level. The limiting of the ability to "be sure what is on the other side of the hill", which brings that delightful element of uncertainty to the players experience. This element is part of the requirement to place the player into place as representing the historical commanders. It also increases the realism felt by the player as it reduces the ‘omniscient’ view point that players can exploit.

Combat Efficiency:

Based on the work done by Trevor N. Dupuy, Martin Van Creveld, and many other analysts, its clear that there is an effect involved in combat that is greater than the impact of the physical weapons involved. The bulk of this impact comes from ‘soft factors’ which change, and cannot be easily measured (compared to the rate of fire of a weapon for example). They are judgments, and as such can be explained and justified more than hard shown. In this system the factors are the result of my own research on the relative impacts over time on each nations forces. The effects are NOT a mathematical change to the combat ratings, but instead show column shifts. The effects are also internal to each nation, rather than being subjective by the opposing force.

This system also allows variations in the various units (the ‘up or down’ marking) which brings even greater texture to the units in the game, without artificially creating larger unit ratings and such. Thus identical TO&E units can be shown to be more or less effective than their ‘kin’, without creating a mess for play.

Ground Combat:

The ground combat system makes use of basic odds (force strength vs. force strength) modified with column shifts for the effects that impact combat. No change to the actual numbers (math) is needed.

The "mobility" rating is a measure of the tactical (battlefield) maneuver capability of the force, where the movement rating shows their ability to move over long distances.

The change over to making the "anti-tank" factor an ‘add on’ makes it simpler to show that aspect of many AT weapons (they can fire at lots of targets, they are just better at armored ones).

The whole concept of the ‘converging attack’ is to reinforce the size of a hex, and the multiplication of force strength through the attack from the flank or rear of an opposing force. This shows that the effective use of ‘maneuver’ can be a force multiplier.


The supply system is designed to show the need for adequate logistical support to have successful operations, and how reduction the enemy supply capability leads to less combat capability for them. The system also incorporates the movement of supply in areas covered by the continental system, a vital component in bringing more realism into the game. This system ‘opens up the box’ better, making the impact of supply more graded, and shows that while it is possible to sustain forces by air, but to sustain large forces is most difficult. I have set the ‘value’ of cargo points to ‘375 ship tons’ to eliminate much of the cross confusion over the multitude of weights and measures you get into when trying to find this type of information.

Rear area:

The rule is designed to bring the features of the partisan war, and the security forces, to light. The combat system is designed to further highlight that this type of operations requires a far greater manpower commitment to fight, than to sustain. The security forces are really so small and lightly armed that they rate nothing in pitched combat with regulars, but they can provide ‘bodies’ in emergencies. Most of the time they are operating in small packets dealing with the partisan forces, and the special force elements sent into the rear area by the opposing forces.

Air Rules:

The air system is designed to highlight the factors vital to air combat and operations, Altitude, performance, weapons load, as well as doctrine, experience, and many more. This system brings air operations into a level equal to those of the land, in effect an ‘air commander’ specialty is now a valid one compared to that of purely ground operations. Doing all this while retaining the level of play ability required has been a challenge, but one well worth the effort. The final step in this concept is the ‘full’ strategic air system (which brings the national production and strategic bombing war into the game), including the en-route interception and AAA combat, making planning of air operations a skill set rather than just an accounting exercise.

Naval Rules:

The naval system currently is a simplified one, allowing only the effects of naval action impact on ground campaigns to be portrayed. The effort is to limit the player involvement regarding naval action to a bare minimum. The full naval system module ‘inserts’ into all the games bringing the "naval" command element up to par with the Ground and Air command levels.


The weather system is now closely linked with real world climate zones, and with the variable nature of the internal weather effect of a player turns weather (unknown until the beginning of the player turn, as to what impulses will be impacted). The player is again looking forward with the ‘climate’ chart, and trying to plan in accordance with the ‘probable’ weather, and dealing with the actual (just like the real counterpart would be doing).

Victory Conditions:

In the games, a defined set of conditions or goals to be achieved is laid down to provide guides to the players as to what their goals are IN that game.

"Victory" in all the games in the series, and the total system, is really a matter for the players to decide. The game will provide both sides with the political guide as to the objective set out by the national command authority, and the players will discuss the final state of things set against the national goals, history, and their own views of these things. The purpose of this exercise is to enjoy and learn, ‘victory’ from our view point is this process.

Final design comments:

There is an introduction game ("Auspicious Beginning") for the OCMS system, and as such it is using a battalion of heavy artillery to engage a squad of infantry (‘just a little excessive’) in terms of the machinery involved. However, it was felt that having a ‘low cost’ way to examine and test the product was something people would desire. Once you have, you can feel much more confident investing the funds and time into the large games that make up the system. All the physical components are the same so you get a good look at all of them for the lower price as well.

General tips for players:

In "The Maneuver Warfare Handbook" Contributors: William S. Lind - author. Publisher: Westview Press. Place of Publication: Boulder, CO. Publication Year: 1985.) German General Hermann Balck is quoted that in warfare: "Therefore, one of the first principles has to be: There can be no fixed schemes. Every scheme, every pattern is wrong. No two situations are identical. That is why the study of military history can be extremely dangerous.

Another principle that follows from this is: Never do the same thing twice. Even if something works well for you once, by the second time the enemy will have adapted. So you have to think up something new."

Balck is speaking of the real world, but it holds also for the games. Your efforts are not in a vacuum, but are interacting with the opposing player. You both have abilities, and both will experience learning curves. Just as with anything that can be done over and over, experience on both sides will lead to changes in play. Expect this, anticipate it, and you will gain one advantage over the one who does not. You will be better able to see and plan alternative means to the end state of the game. In the final analysis it is you against the other player, (plan vs. plan, execution vs. execution) that the game is showing you.

In the end, you should study history, and operational art to provide you with the working tools to analyze the situation, and plan your campaign to lead you to the stated end goal of your team. All else is waste and leads to failure. BUT - it is YOUR plan, and YOUR execution of it that is being ‘tested’. This is why ‘leadership’ markers in a game are worth nothing in the final analysis, since its still YOU that is making the plan and executing the orders.

In conclusion:

This is a game, the purpose of which is to provide you with both a product that is enjoyable, educational, and rewarding;

  • Enjoyable, in providing many hours of enjoyment;
  • Educational, in providing you with understanding of the military process, and history;
  • Rewarding, in doing all this for a price that makes this a very cost effective investment.

We hope that these objectives have been obtained, and you are both enjoying and learning by playing the game, and predict that it will take many plays before anything like the ‘doctrine’ or ‘sure fire’ play methods arise.

You are most earnestly solicited to comment, and make play reports to the discussion list on ‘Yahoo’
( ) to get a wider assortment of comments on the end state of your game, and issues that arise in it. Answers to your questions will also be available there.

‘Good gaming’!

For the entire design team.

Tom Johnson

Design team:

Brian Burmeister

Mike Gerbing

John Gitzlaff

Melanie Johnson
Tom Johnson Mike Kaspar Duncan Maclean Keith Martinson
Steve Marshall Charles Meyers Craig Peterson Rick Schultz
  John Soper Ken Wittmann  

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