December 3, 2023

Design x Dragoons: Recon, FRAGOs, Orders, & Objectives

Each week, our #DesignXDragoons panel will offer their thoughts on a talk about game design, game development, or gameplay.  You’ll see what they have to say, and get a chance to chime in yourself, either in the comments below, or in our forums

This week’s question:

So on the real battlefield, you’ve got recon units and scouts and light cavalry that all play different (but similar) security roles in trying to identify enemy threats on the battlefield before you encounter them the hard way, and enable your forces to react appropriately to newly-detected threats.
On paper, you can get away with (a) violating doctrine, (b) chasing around anything that pops up, (c) ignoring the recon missions of these sorts of units and instead using them as highly-mobile, light combat units.
This skews force ratios from the historical battles, changes the information available to the participants, and introduces all sorts of battlefield wackiness.

What might a system look like that has a main body with a fixed objective, whose recon assets have some more flexibility of maneuver, but who cannot deviate from the base orders without ‘knowledge’ of what else is out there. So if the scouts don’t get high enough on the ridgeline to see the cavalry regiment hiding behind the hill, the corps main body never reacts to it.
How do you designate that route of march? The recon objectives? The triggers between the recon units looking for the enemy and the corps HQs reacting to reports of the enemy and issuing the changes in orders to change the movement?

What sayeth you? How do you keep scouting/recon units in their historical/doctrinal role? How do you limit the knowledge of the HQs such that the scouts are once again the “eyes and ears” of the command without resorting to a double-blind game?

(caveat: I have a Napoleonic frame of reference on this discussion, but it’s more broadly applicable with some changes in terminology)

John Gorkowski, designer / In The Trenches series, Balance of Powers, plenty of others

Use fog of war (FOW) markers and keep recon unit combat values very low, but movement scores very high. Each player uses FOW markers to mask his units so the other guy does not know what they are. Each player also has a certain number of dummy stacks under FOW markers to give the impression of a unit that is not actually present. The mix of “real” and “dummy” stacks means the other guy does not know where your true units actually are. You can “strip off” FOW markers by “spotting” the target. Rules for spotting would depend on scale, but generally require coming close. Recon units with high move scores would be ideal for riding/driving around the map to strip the enemy of FOW markers. If those recon units also have low combat scores they have strong incentive to avoid protracted fights.


Byron Collins, designer & owner/Collins Epic Wargames

Players see everything going on and the “perfect intelligence problem” is a tough one. In Polyversal, a futuristic (or modern) sci-fi miniatures game, the Command and Control mechanisms use a Command Radius, which may change in the game, to effectively limit giving orders to a particular zone of control around Command Units. So while players can see beyond that zone, if attached Units go too far, their ability to be controlled diminishes. Units may be used in recon roles and equipped with EWS systems to extend the zone of control of the Command Units. The result is a “feel” of fog of war and recon units that “feel” like recon units- without resulting to the complexities of double-blind rules.


Steve Overton, designer/Fire Team: Red Elipse, and scenario developer for too many people to list

Wow…let’s ask an encyclopedia worth of questions all at once about recon/fog of war. This entire section seems to simply boil down to how to do recon on a board where you have God View and don’t have a fog of war. There are a few ways to do that.

The most important element of Fog of War is scale: portraying a corps with unknown values isn’t the same as portraying a squad you can’t see.

  • Back printed counters. Where the unit values are on the back of the counter and you must recon to find them.
  • Concealment markers. Either completely – where the counters are held off map in a holding area with only an identifying counter on the map. Or simply placing a concealment counter on the top of a stack of units that are on map.
  • Not being allowed to inspect the other person’s stacks if they haven’t ‘reconned’.
  • The use of stacking counters. Blanks that can be added to show larger formations than are really there.


Michael Eckenfels, senior writer/Armchair Dragoons & (newly-minted) developer/Compass Games

There’s plenty of board games out there with loopholes or rules that are not terribly clear. In this day and age, with BGG and developers being nearly instantaneous with answering questions, this is not as big a deal as it was, say, in the 80s, when you just had to grin, bear it, and make something up to bridge the gap.

There’s a few instances of this that come to mind, one of which is the original Axis & Allies. It wasn’t entirely clear but it IS possible, if you game the system and it is allowed by your fellow players, for the Germans to invade and conquer England on the first turn. I’ve not played A&A in a long time so I can’t speak to this, but it happened a handful of times in the dozens upon dozens of times I played A&A with my buddies back in high school/early college.

The bottom line is, if you’re having fun with it, even if you’re playing it entirely wrong, who is to say you’re incorrect? If it adds a level of tension or interest to your game, and all players agree it is okay to do, it should be incorporated into the game.

Playing a game a-historically is exactly, I think, why we play wargames. We want to try different tactics. We’re always asking ‘what if’ questions, or thinking about them, and doing this directly in a game means we get to live out that fantasy of wanting to know what might have happened if a different tactic or strategy was used.


Russ Lockwood, Staff Developer / Against the Odds

This conundrum of scouting depends upon the scale. If I understand you aright, what you are seeking is a tactical mechanism for identification and then higher level reaction. How much detail you want depends on your preference.

Block games, like those from Columbia or like Stratego, use the hidden unit mechanism, although attacking seems the only way to discover what lurks in a hex or square. The upcoming WWII Operation Ichi-Go wargame from ATO uses Chinese unit counters (not Japanese) with one side devoid of information, not unlike the old SPI Panzergruppe Guderian game – albeit again you need to attack to discover the combat factors.

Dummy counters have long been a staple. The more the merrier, although at the expense of longer turns to move ‘em.

Perhaps Recon counters linked to charts for accuracy of the report, or, a number of recon ‘calls’ on specific hexes that flip over units to reveal actual strengths or dummies.

I remember a modern miniatures game that covered the board in ‘unknown’ counters. Some auto-spots (turn over counter) and most die roll spots by different units. It didn’t look all that great, but the outnumbered defender did a job shifting units around out of attacker LOS (behind the ridge as you noted) and keeping the attacker off balance. Some great ambushes (reveal unit) there. As the turn limit approached, the attacker, after wading through lots of ‘dummy’ counters (removed from game), pressed the attack to match a timetable, resulting in more ambushes and sharper firefights. Clumsy, but effective if you had an afternoon.

Rosters can help, although many gamers don’t like the extra paperwork. Rosters can track steps (combat strength) out of sight of enemy. So, recon can spot an enemy unit, but not necessarily how strong or weak it is – maybe a die roll to determine accuracy.

For multiplayer games, spreading players out on multiple tables can have the same effect, but you need the table footage. In the aforementioned Snappy Nappy 1814 game, C-in-Cs issued written orders for routes of attack based on what players reported (the 3×5 cards). Each player had no idea what was on the other table until he got there, so the veteran players sent cavalry across to other tables to get an idea.

Surprises occur often when you stop being a general looking down on the tabletop. For example, a French and Austrian corps kept sending recons across tables on their east-west front for quite some time. Napoleon decided that corp was needed north, so off it went, exiting the table.

The next time the Austrians poked a nose onto the table, it was empty…so the Austrian corp advanced and ultimately exited that table to the south. Just as the Austrian corp exited unseen, the French corp returned, a little worse for wear from a battle in the north, thinking that the Austrians were still to the east. That Austrian corp then marched westward onto the ‘Paris’ table (the ultimate goal for the Austrian-Prussian-Russian Allies) and engaged the defensive corp, prompting appeals to a surprised Napoleon for help and upsetting some French timetables as Nappy rushed troops back…

It’s extremely hard to do that when looking at an entire mapboard, and doubly so if you have perfect intel (can see all the enemy stacks). Much depends on the other aspects of the game design and how much time and effort gamers want to devote to such recon activities.


We appreciate you visiting the Armchair Dragoons!
Please leave us your feedback in our discussion forum, or in the comment area below.
You can also find the regiment on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and occasionally at a convention near you.

Brant G

Editor-in-chief at Armchair Dragoons

View all posts by Brant G →

Tell us what you think!

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

%d bloggers like this: