Crossposted from the Design and Effect blog at GameSquad.

Zones of Control have been a concept in wargaming since the very early days. The traditional version is a ‘hard’ ZOC where any unit that moves adjacent to an enemy unit must immediately stop moving. This is generally described as the idea that a unit does not exist solely in the hex it counter is in, but rather would have detachments out covering the flanks, etc. Thus an enemy unit needs to ‘stop’ and deal with the enemy in the adjacent hex before continuing through the area (i.e., combat).

I would like to point out that there are plenty of other interactions that could also have this effect. Most notably, that the defending unit is going to react to the movements of the approaching enemy, including shifting its units around to get in the way of the approaching enemy, counterattacking anyone moving by without proper flank protection (which would slow it down…). At this point, it gets easier to see ZOC for what it is: a mechanism for keeping the on/off system of alternating turns from wrecking the simulation of warfare.

There are problems with this coping mechanism, as the full stop demanded can be too limiting. Considering that the mechanism dates back to the original Tactics, a bit of primitive simplicity can be forgiven.

There have been all sorts of adjustments to the basic idea to make it work better, such as dual-impulse turns, automatic victory… and ‘soft ZOCs’ which impede movement rather than stop it. A Victory Lost, a game chock-full rules designed for maximum elegance uses an extremely effective ‘soft-ZOC’ system.

The rule effectively boils down to the fact that entering or leaving a hex in an enemy ZOC costs two extra movement points. So moving adjacent to an enemy costs three (one for the hex and two for the ZOC), and the same is true for pulling out of combat. Moving directly from one hex in enemy ZOC to another is permitted with an expenditure of five movement points (two to leave the current hex, one for the movement itself, two to enter the new ZOC).

What makes this work so well is the movement factors given to the various units. Soviet and allied Axis infantry units get a ‘4’. Beyond the usual meaning of how much mobility on the map this grants, it means that such a unit can go one hex, and then move into an enemy ZOC. If the enemy line is further than two hexes away, they will not be able to engage in a single movement. This also limits the units to a two-hex move when pulling out of the line.

German infantry (and Soviet cavalry) gets ‘5’ movement, which opens up a number of additional options. As the Germans are generally on the defensive, and will be pulling back to new lines at several points, the ability to put themselves 3 hexes away from the Soviet line from being in contact is not to be overlooked. However, 5 MP is [I]also[/I] exactly what it takes to be able to shift a hex within an enemy ZOC. While Soviet units are generally ‘stuck’ once on the line, German units retain some mobility. I find this an exceedingly elegant way to reflect the relative tactical flexibility and capabilities of the two armies.

This comparison continues to the mechanized units as well. Soviet tank corps and mechanized units have a movement of ‘6’ and German panzer and mechanized divisions have a movement of ’10’. This last makes the German panzer units (which also have very high offensive values) very dangerous. Away from the front line, they can cover large distances very quickly and can easily show up to plug a distant hole in the line. They are also capable of moving two hexes at a time in direct contact with the enemy—generally much to the frustration of a Soviet player that is trying to isolate an overextended counterattack.

Soviet doctrine was solidly a complete ‘top-down’ approach. Orders were generated at the top, flowed down to individual units, and tactical flexibility was not expected, and was discouraged. German doctrine was heavily dependent on the individual initiative of individual officers and NCOs, and was geared around principles of mobile warfare. This campaign, especially, saw the use of armored ‘fire brigades’ used to blunt and halt the Soviet breakthroughs. A Victory Lost, through a single simple rule, and some intelligent choices on factors achieves a great sense of the historical strengths of each side.