While designing and testing my wargame software project, I have been led into thinking about stacking, as a concept. This in turn has led me to considering the relationship between the rules and the wargaming experience in general.
Stacking is a very necessary device if you want to simulate the correct intermixing and density of occupation for any given era, unless you choose a very large geographical scale. But frankly, it is a very contrived device. You have to worry about the significance of stack order, and what it means in terms of the rules to combine units. Compromises have to be made for practical reasons - such as insisting that a stack attacks as one unit. You can't readily see what is underneath the top counter, which detracts from the fun in playing - though at least on a computer you can't knock the damn thing over ...
I personally wanted to create a computer gaming experience that is fun and flowing. Not that it can't be fun and slow, but that's a different sort of 'fun' - the sort that savours historic detail, I guess. Fun and flowing is most easily achieved by making historical accuracy a low priority.
But even if you play a game that has hardly any simulation or historic detail, it can still feel like a wargame. What is war but the achievment of objectives against an opponent in a rule bound environment? In real war of course, the rules are the laws of physics, and hopefully the Geneva Convention.
But on the other hand, if the decisions and thinking you make as a player aren't of a certain type - then the game will not be a wargame - it will just be a strategy game - chess for example. Wargames require a 'natural' use of two dimensional space, and a 'natural' sense of time and movement. So chess is not really a wargame, because the pieces do weird things spatially, and only one piece can move a turn.
Stacking is really a way of deciding to concentrate forces at a spot, or to signify that units are cooperating closely. These are two spatially oriented decisions that a player can make.
However, it is quite possible to do away with stacking, and still retain the ability to implement such decisions.
For example, if you leave gaps between units, then you are spreading your forces out. More so if you leave double gaps. Even more so if you leave triple gaps. Though it has to be said that the use of ZOCs really enhances the distinction between triple gaps - without ZOCs, single and double gaps are almost like huge gaping triple holes.
So I found that lack of stacking does not impair the wargaming experience. Once I realised that, I also realised that abandoning realism in general does not have to mean that you abandon the 'realism' of the wargaming experience. It was like a weight off my shoulders! Because believe me, making a fun flowing game that is historically realistic is hard!
So I started developing the software 'backwards'. I asked myself what I wanted the experience to feel like - what sort of level of planning and what sort of decsions I wanted players to be thinking about, and made the rules of the game fit around them. The result is a very 'abstract' game in some ways, but also very naturalistic in terms of space, time and resource allocation. Take a peek here if you like www.mapperleygames.com.
My next project is a WW2 version. I have always been fascinated by divsional structures, and wanted to play a game where I could decide things like whether to have a recce batallion as part of an infantry division. Should the anti tank batallion be motorised? Should I reduce the number of heavy tank batallions in a division in order to save resources? That sort of thing. So I am really looking forward to starting that.
But I can't think how an anti tank batllion could support an infantry batallion without actually stacking with it ... so maybe I will allow some stacking!