Hidden Movement System

In the 20th century a battlefield became “empty”, at least at first glance. All sides made great efforts at concealment and even when field works were visible, camouflage and “dummy” positions misdirected the enemy while smoke was used to conceal movement.

So it’s natural that gamers wanting “realism” would strive to allow the defender to set-up hidden at least. Most of our early Tractics games in the 1970s would require the attackers to move on the board in full view. Eventually we felt that they should be allowed hidden movement until they come into view and spotting distance. this meant both sides had a clipboard with map marked with positions that the judge needed to compare. This seemed to be ideal realism but was not as playable. Then the next issue was when a stand of troops was spotted, the players had to scramble to find the revealed item in several boxes! More time taken from playing.

After using a cigar box with small map, OB and place to put the player’s troops in it, we had grandiose notions of a larger system. The map on the box lid (under a plastic sleeve was a bit tiny to mark up with movements. But it was unclear to the judge what was where. He would ask “is that infantry—thus harder to spot—or vehicles?” This was for Command Decision:


But on balance, with my experience, I think smaller games are better and the cigar box was not so bad. One thing that might have improved the use of the cigar box concept would be to have some magnetic trays, each to hold a company of stands (typically 3 platoons). The tray would make it easier to pick up and carry the troops (which were magnetized to the bottom of the cigar box) to the table when “spotted”. The tray could help delineate the TOE ID of the company (since typically we did not mark the stands).

This cigar box was the genesis of Frankenstein‘s monster, whose initials were HMS…

So I embarked on a lot of digital design of a “Hidden Movement System” which was (2) 2×4′ half-scale gridded sheets on which you drew the adjacent 4×8′ terrained table with Audio-Visual wipe off markers. One map was laminated and you place a piece of storm door plastic and redraw the terrain on that and put it over the other map.

I made up trays (about 1×2.5″) that would hold a company’s worth of 6mm troops… on which pushpins would be turned to the appropriate orders/movement direction.

A T-shaped screen was placed between the 2 hidden grid maps and the judge could stand at the base of the T and adjudicate what was seen after movement (Command Decision was simultaneous movement)… and placed on the 4×8′ game table.

Here is an overview diagram of the HMS concept:


The original idea came from seeing a repro of a German Artillery Grid map in the US Army’s period “Handbook of German Military Forces” (what we referred to as Hog Muffin). So here is the 2×4′ half-scale map with its square grid subdivided:

According to the Handbook Of German Military Forces, tank commanders must have had a clear overlay that they overlaid on a local map and using the the (2) capital letter grid (like CP or CQ) got in the general area, the (9) numbers, 1-9, homed in further, and then using the (4) lower case letters narrowed it down even further. I drew this in Illustrator and had it printed out by a Blueprint shop inexpensively.
Here’s a scan of the page from Hog Muffin. Unfortunately, the Figures (which is mislabeled as 10 in the text but it is actual number 8) are not found on the web version of this book. You can see the reference to this Figure #8 at the end of section (b) of #4 “Conduct of the Attack” at this link: http://www.lonesentry.com/manuals/tme30/ch4sec4sub4.html

But what we found was that the Artillery grid may have been great for calling fire in the real war, but it wasn’t very practical for gamers. So I remade the artwork first with another square grid and then with hexes that represented 5 centimeters on the game table (and so at half-scale, 2.5 cms or an inch). Each centimeter on the game table represented 50 meters of real world distance. And so with (4) such 250 meter hexes across a 1 kilometer master hex.

Why 5 centimeters? We played CD version 2 in centimeter scale then and almost all the ranges and movement rates were in multiples of 5. So it made it easy to both move an measure hidden fire ranges at a glance. No tape measure needed.

1 Kilometer master hex that corresponded to the Campaign game hexes subdivided to (4) 250 meter small hexes for ease of game movement, spotting and range determination.

I made these half-scale player maps as blueprints and they were designed for a table as big as 6×12′ but we never had a table that big—which is ridiculously large for a CD game in centimeter scale!

“My name is Bill. I am a Grandiose Gamaholic.” To which the assembled gamers respond “Hi Bill.” [In the Alcoholics Anonymous pattern.]


We had counters to ID the company trays and orders…


Because we wanted to play a campaign game involving the whole beachhead, one needs campaign maps in the then CD campaign scale of 1 Km per hex (although I later added 1 mile per hex and 600 meters per hex, the latter is the one pictured immediately below the next paragraph). And it took me 7 years to draw it all… using period maps (Michelin from 1947) was the overall but needed to add contours etc.

There are better renditions of the maps in (4) hex scales at that blog post page: (click here for) D-Day Hex Map Series.

But the problem was after assembling the (10) 23×35″ maps, I couldn’t figure out how to stand back and take a picture of all of them—they were too big! So I took them to the Arts Council when they were changing from one exhibition to another; they had super-duper walls that one could pin right into the wall and attached the map and could move the camera far enough back…


There’s more about this map project and where you can buy the hex gridded maps at my blog: (click here for) D-Day Hex Map Series.

Back to the HMS Hidden Movement System, this is what the player’s view of the hidden movement map looked like: (with a regimental box of troops at right).



A larger picture of one of the hidden maps in action with the company trays deployed:


And the Judges view of HMS at the base of the “T”:


This one is larger but kind of a bad picture because one the regimental boxes lid is open and obscuring the right hand hidden map:


And before the game, drawing the half-scale hidden map which is in the foreground, next to the full size terrain table:


Here’s what one of the player maps looked like in color but a bit smaller (with the hexes instead of the square artillery grid immediately above):


Aside from whether it’s worth all this effort to set up (!), another drawback is that you need a lot of room to set this up, approximately 75% more length. So another 6′ about on top of the 10′ that an 8′ table needs = 16′ which I barely had. So this view of hidden map area gives a sense of the space and stuff:


I made up trays for about 2-3 regiments and here is one of the regimental assembly area boxes showing that one could have (5) companies per battalion plus HQ group and various detachment trays for self-ordered.

These trays were on foam-core with “fun-tac” poster-hanging blog to attach the stands too. Later I had magnetic lined vacu-formed trays. You can see the push pin which you’d use to dial your orders:


So is HMS worth it?

After all this building and rigamarole, I think not. There’s some realism inherent but rarely is there a real life situation where neither side had any “intel”. But the players do take reconnaissance more seriously!

Mix & Match

I just think that one could do better with a combination of various fog techniques in a given game:

  1. Hidden counters (representing 0-6 stands). Ideally, to look nice on the table they should look like bits of terrain, rather than ugly cardboard counters (though that would work). Sort of the Macbeth Birnam Wood effect if you use trees, so try bushes with small numbers or letters.
  2. A limited amount of truly hidden map movement.
  3. A Command Reserve for one or two stands or companies. This is described in CD:ToB’s Hidden Movement section.
  4. Falsely identified types. A “Tiger” turns out to be a Panzer IV or vice versa. Discovered when close enough.


“The Perfect Captain” made up an ingenious device that is used to facilitate Hidden Movement described here: http://perfectcaptain.50megs.com/feldmach.htm

Feldmachink is a small part of a website full of free game rules with campaign elements on some of the more arcane periods of history:  http://perfectcaptain.50megs.com/captain.html. There is a Facebook group for TPC aficionados: https://www.facebook.com/groups/113762575989139/.

Deployment from Reserves

It is worth mentioning that the ruleset may provide an element of hidden movement if reserves, units not on the table, can appear at the player’s direction. Most rulesets do not feature the concept of reserves at all. But GBoWWII does and that it is one of the reasons I like that game.

Limited Intelligence as to process

There are other potential hidden aspects of wargames. With Tractics, I nearly always acted as the “Judge” and rolled for all spotting and combat results. Partly that was because I was the first reader of the rules and so became very familiar. And so that saved time in scenarios that were often rather larger than Michael Reese indicated was their expectation (this comment I got from a Facebook poster who indicated that when asked, the designers thought of it as primarily an infantry game with very few tanks). Tractics was a game of  fire from cover that wouldn’t be spotted if the target did not specifically direct spotting to the hidden position. And that makes sense for a skirmish level game, but much less so in a game scaled with longer turns and each model representing a platoon of tanks.

It also gave the game more of refereed kriegspiel style (like Michael Korns’ SUTC) where the players must learn over time what conditions mattered by experience. But I can also express a downside: few players gravitated to creating and judging their own scenarios. All the action in a larger game had to funnel through what one judge could handle. So I was both a bottleneck and blockade to people learning. On balance, I think it’s better that the players learn and then resolve their own combats. Even if it’s not as “realistic”. The obvious benefit of the players taking an active role is that I could eventually play a game another had designed. I do think that players like to roll the dice!

The following hidden system would allow you the best of both worlds: players can handle much (if not all) of the process while maintaining both the hiding of the enemy (until spotted) and the visibility of all your own side’s troops.

Double Blind

Actually better and a lot less work than my HMS, is the “Double Blind” concept with these rather simple parameters:

  • Make the game smaller, and so more manageable
  • Play with a curtain between two identical terrain boards. Only the Judge can stand at the curtain to see both boards.

True, it’s not grandiose and you may need two* of everything but you might even finish the game. And it will be a really fun nail-biter.

Another advantage of smaller scenarios, is that you might be more careful with each stand.


The designers of Command Decision suggest handling the issue of hidden movement by disregarding it. That point of view comes from the Modeler-emphasis because they rationalize that you go to painting all your collection so carefully, but rarely see it. They make concession to the Realism-emphasis by providing some suggestions about how to handle some limited hidden features excerpted in the Mix & Match section above.

Many systems of hidden maps or my big HMS development are a lot of work which takes away from playing time effectively by requiring more preparation and set-up. There’s low return on big investment.

One thing that is rarely mentioned in discussions of realism of hidden and spotted items is that when your opponents’ stands are on the table, would the enemy know they were spotted? That gives him a premature clue that it might time to skedaddle. This is exacerbated by how CD:TOB has “deterministic spotting” (automatic spotting at a precise distance for items already on the table) which I make a suggestion of how to ameliorate this by clicking here.

So the Double Blind approach is a rare compromise that has several positive trade-offs:

  1. You get to see all your own stands… which the modelers will like.
  2. You need no hidden maps… which the Player and the Judge appreciate.
  3. You might keep the scenario OB smaller… which means you  might finish the game.
  4. The aspect of suspense is heightened… which will heightens the Thrill factor.
  5. The key negatives are the limitation of TOE—which is actually a positive reinforcer for smaller games—and making the same terrain twice. But this latter point is less of an issue than it seems: you were going to make a 4×8′ table worth of terrain, right? So instead you make (2) 4×4′ tables of terrain; same amount overall really, see?

I think that this is enough on the subject for now. But perhaps you have better ideas?

*Actually you could just represent anything you don’t have 2 of all troops/vehicles, you could use generic stands or a little block of wood painted green …like I did for transport. This was a concept I called “Motor Pool”. Mostly transport in wargames is either Hidden or Destroyed so you really don’t need that many! So I made a whole bunch of wooden blocks painted in different colors to represent various types like halftracks, trucks, wagons etc. and had them pasted to a rub-off board where you can reassign what a given block/color represented.

The generic stands might simply be a bunch of cheap figures spray-painted gray-green for use as any nation’s soldiers. A bunch of these could be turned out quickly without the usual modelling skill applied.

PS the picture below shows some Motor Pool blocks upper left (red arrows are pointing at them) before they have attained their “cotton” to cover them over after getting blown up. (Also pictured are regular vehicle models on the road.) Really with micro armor, you could also spray paint gravel to represent vehicles!


Update 30 SEP 18:

I post about different ways to use hidden forces in wargames occasionally on various Facebook groups. Mostly I get brickbats from those who are fans of what the Command Decision forum guys would call TOT (all Toys On Table) because understandably they want to see what they have painted up. I freely admit that my troops are so badly painted that I do not want to see them!

Obviously, the serious goal is to simulate more closely the reality of how it was rare for either side to have “perfect intelligence”. And we found that sort of game to be very challenging and with lots of suspense.

A minority of responses do play some form of hidden forces and occasionally I get a provisional good word from those who give me an “E” for effort but still land on the said of how the visual aesthetic is ruined by such an approach. So I responded thusly by acknowledging the kind words before they reach of conclusion that others summarize with the word yuck:

“Thanks for the kudos. My obsession about this at least may help you avoid what’s ultimately undesirable! Still, we enjoyed over 100 such games using hidden forces.
Re the aesthetic, you may be half right. In a double-blind game you see at least half of components—your side plus spotted enemies.
But just as art can be more about negative space and imagination than photo-realism, games can prioritize aspects differently to taste. No accounting for taste, right?
Or a wargame compared to a mystery program: would the latter be as interesting if filmed from a helicopter showing the whole cast most in lounge chairs, 1 of whom is stabbed and 1 skulking away with a bloody knife?
PS I have always done a nicer job of terrain than troops including 70 custom sand tables when we had HO scale.”
It fascinates me how provisional some wargamers are that they cannot seem to imagine that players around the world don’t have the exact same set of priorities that they have arrived at. Some that are really great modelers (as opposed to gamers) often get into a certain groove and show little sign of wanting to pop their head above the trench they live in and defend with a bit of fanaticism. And then there are modelers who rarely or ever play games and so they have really (returned) to their first love, model-building.

One thought on “Hidden Movement System

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.